Naomi Klein's shock doctrine theory explains on so many levels what has been happening in our country since Bush took office. In a nutshell, different shock triggers are used to compel people to accept policies which are against their own interests. The shock trigger mechanism may be wars, terrorism, natural disasters or similar crisis which throws people off their feet long enough for the government to implement its plans.
Katrina was the natural disaster shock which Bushie parlayed into a golden parachute for corporations by quickly --- and sometimes quietly --- implementing bathtub policies that may have been successfully opposed if we, like NOLA residents, were not in some state of shock since 9/11. The government has managed to maintain this shock in NOLA by waging a political war on at least 3 primary aspects of daily lives: homes, jobs and education. The scope of the shameful governmental policies in NOLA is an enormous, tangled spider web of roadblocks to life.
The Shock Doctrine
This short film (only around 6 minutes) by Naomi Klein provides a good general explanation of how governments have used this doctrine to further corporate interests:
As shown in the video, the doctrine is based on secret experiments that the CIA conducted in the 1950s to determine how best to break down prisoners by electro-shock and sensory deprivation. The goal was to compel obedience by reducing adults to child-like states so that the prisoners would be more receptive to suggestion and compliance. Many of these shock techniques are now used by the Bushies to abuse and torture prisoners: the brown paper bags placed over their heads when they are captured, the isolation from other prisoners, the torture, the loud continuous music etc.
The doctrine applies to entire societies as well where the shock is a collective trauma (e.g., war, coup, natural disaster, terrorist attack) and then the government uses the disaster to reap benefits for corporations by privatizing public services. Sometimes the government creates the disaster, as in the unnecessary Iraq War. Economist Milton Friedman was the guru of "economic shock treatment" which he advocated because "only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change." This is really what has been happening in America. Bush has used the shock of 9/11, the unnecessary Iraq War, and real as well as exaggerated terrorist threats to create a continual trigger of shocks to all Americans. In the aftermath, we, like the prisoner, become more child-like, more receptive to follow our leaders who promise to protect us and take care of us. Thus, immediately after a collective trauma, the shock doctrine government moves quickly to enact or implement laws before they lose their shock-induced grip over us. Maintenance of our shocked states is key because in our unshocked states the government is not likely to succeed in enacting these laws and policies. This describes Bush perfectly. There have been many laws (e.g., FISA, torture, telecom immunity, Patriot Act, military tribunals) which Bush insisted had to be passed pronto or terrible things would happen to Americans. And, when Americans started recovering from our collective shock with protests, criticisms, and dissent, then Bush often whipped out some of his fear mongering to push us back toward a submissive, compliant state. It is a government which can not countenance true bipartisan compromise or the checks and balances of three branches of government. It is, in short, the new America under Bush.
Other times the government does not create the disaster, but is simply the vulture lying in wait to unscrupulously prey on a shocked public. My diary may actually be some variation of the shock doctrine because I have not yet read her book. For me, the Bushies see NOLA as a laboratory to test and implement the "bathtub shock doctrine" where government obligations to its citizens are shrunk to the size that can drown in a bathtub. While right wingers often publicly promote shrinking government responsibilities to its citizens, these policies have not generally been adopted during times of calm reflection. These bathtub policies are now being implemented in NOLA:
Controversial proposals and program cuts that have failed to pass muster in calmer times are now being prescribed as supposedly necessary measures during a period of national crisis.
Triggers For The NOLA Shock Doctrine: Katrina, Home, Jobs & Education
The trigger shock for NOLA was Katrina: The fear and anxiety of the storm, abandonment by your government, fighting for your life, having no place of safety, watching loved ones die and then being exiled to other states. It created the perfect setup for our government to take action to implement its bathtub policies that had been collecting dust on the shelves. While Katrina residents were exiled to other states and prevented from returning home, the Bushies were busy exploiting the crisis by selling off NOLA to private corporations to implement fundamentalist corporatism policies while residents remained in a state of shock and grief, or what Klein calls disaster capitalism.
The NOLA community has literally been bombarded with secondary trigger shocks that are designed to keep them in a submissive state long enough to implement as many bathtub policies as possible. Bush did not have time to evacuate NOLA beforehand, or rescue victims or even provide food and water to those left behind at the stadium. But, he managed to find plenty of time to implement his policies.
Our homes are the nucleus of our lives and also the primary focus for Bushies who have left no bathtub tile unturned in their efforts to sustain shock by depriving Americans of their home, their livelihood and their education.
Katrina damaged or destroyed 52,000 rental units, which partially contributed to the now doubled homeless population of 12,000, and growing due to different governmental policies designed to make it difficult to find a home. The government has permitted rents to increase by 50% because rent control --- even on a temporary basis --- is apparently a foreign concept. In the wake of Katrina, while people were scattered and shocked, the city passed an ordinance which permits razing homes that pose a "serious, imminent and continuing threat to the public health, safety and welfare." This ordinance has resulted in demolishing "thousands of homes that could have been rehabilitated," which was at least the partial intent of the ordinance given that government has neither assisted nor encouraged residents to find the "means and methods to rehabilitate their homes." Another city law provides that any property --- which includes private homes --- damaged by 70% or more may be demolished without needing the approval of the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (HCDRC). A lawsuit was filed on the grounds that "city officials inflated the damage estimates of nearly 2,000 homes in New Orleans to expedite the demolition process. " Even the HCDRC hearing process is tainted by scheduling hearings when homeowners may not attend, such as New Year's Eve.
The government has failed to ensure that there are incentives for landlords to rehabilitate rental properties. The Louisiana Recovery Authority's "Road Home" program provides incentives for "small rental property owners." However, the landlord must obtain a bank loan which is then repaid by Road Home but "banks are very hesitant to give loans to people this way." It would have been very easy to ascertain beforehand the best manner of implementing the program if the goal was truly to provide incentives.
Meanwhile, HUD has only rehabilitated 1,500 of the 4,600 units it has set aside for seniors, the disabled and poor families. HUD says people should not worry about its "mixed-income" policy that will replace the public housing being demolished at Lafitte, BW Cooper, CJ Peete and St Bernard. However, prior to Katrina, one housing project was demolished and replaced by mixed income apartments, but only 130 out of 1,500 units were affordable housing, the remainder leased at market rate.
The "displacement of tens of thousands of people is now expected to be permanent because there is both a current shortage of affordable housing and no plan to create affordable rental housing for tens of thousands of the displaced." Indeed, government reports confirm ½ of the working poor, elderly and disabled have not returned because there is no longer any housing for them and participation in social programs and the use of public infrastructures are equally decreased: Medicaid, Social Security, public school enrollment, public transit riders, food stamps and welfare.
Education is another central component of family life and thus became another mechanism of shock in NOLA. Economic shock guru Milton Friedman penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal 3 months after Katrina, stating that the destruction of the NOLA schools was a tragedy which presented a golden parachute opportunity for corporate America. Friedman proposed that reconstruction monies for Katrina should not be wasted on rebuilding NOLA's public school system but diverted to a voucher system for private schooling, otherwise known as the "educational land grab." It only took 19 months to replace the NOLA public school system with private charter schools while the survivors were still relocated in other states and banned from returning to NOLA. At the college level, an historically Black college and a public college was closed for 1 or 2 years while private colleges reopened very quickly.
The third primary component of our daily lives is jobs, which was another way to trigger and hopefully maintain a shocked, submissive citizenry. Eager to further dilute unions and pay workers less wages, Bush suspended a law which required that companies executing federal contracts for reconstruction must pay local prevailing wages. In this case, Bush secretly suspended the law and Congress was not informed until almost 2 months later. The suspension caused bipartisan balking at the underlying profiteering motive. One GOP Rep. stated:
"The danger we have in the Gulf Coast in general is profiteering. When you have these large contracts and again, when you suspend some protections ... it appears you can pay people whatever you want to pay and the rest of the money goes into the profit column of the corporation."
A Democrat was similarly concerned:
"At least those wages will be protected where federal money is involved, and that's very important to the economy of that region. This is why we couldn't understand how the president could take such a callous position immediately after the hurricane to just decimate the protections for the wages of people who are trying to rebuild their families, their communities, their lives."
After Congress balked, Bush reinstated the rules guaranteeing wage levels within 2 weeks.
Undaunted, Bush pursued another tact aimed at union workers. Prior to Katrina, a unionized company called Waste Management Inc. handled trash pick-ups for NOLA. After Katrina, FEMA took over garbage collection and then subcontracted to companies, including Waste Management, which then "dumped its unionized workers and replaced them with temps." When FEMA pays the bill, then the company claims the workers are automatically reclassified as emergency workers, who have no seniority.
In short, what has emerged in the Katrina aftermath is an "unregulated free market" where there is a "meltdown of wage and hour laws, OSHA laws, and practically every other standard that exists for work in this country." Workers are busy filing lawsuits to obtain unpaid wages while corporations line their pockets with reconstruction monies.
So the Bushies used the trifecta shock triggers of home, education and jobs to both exacerbate the initial shock trigger of Katrina and to implement their bathtub policies. To ensure the maintenance of shock, other little triggers are used, such as establishing artificial deadlines that pressure both NOLA and the residents. For example, this week Sen. Vitter informed NOLA city officials to move forward with demolishing public housing because the "window of opportunity that provides tax credits and other financing mechanisms for the redevelopment is rapidly closing." Several years after Katrina, many citizens still do not have housing, but all of a sudden the government sees the need to rush demolitions in an effort to ostensibly provide housing. The true motivating factor here may be the fact that citizens are recovering from all the shocks: Dissent is seen by the lawsuits being filed and by protests in NOLA.
The fringe benefits of shock doctrine are numerous. Bush implements laws and policies that would not pass during times when calm and reflection is allowed. Corporations obtain a golden parachute of tax cuts, deregulation, privatized services, cuts to social programs and an underpaid labor force. And, of course, there is preferential treatment for cronies and sycophants. As for private contractors involved in the recovery, "HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson declared to a meeting of minority executives in Texas that he would never give a contract to someone who did not like President Bush." Another fringe benefit is the de facto political reorganization of NOLA for Goppie benefit:
The political implications of a dramatic reduction in poor and working mostly African American people in New Orleans are straightforward. The reduction directly helps Republicans who have fought for years to reduce the impact of the overwhelmingly Democratic New Orleans on state-wide politics in Louisiana. In the jargon of political experts, Louisiana, before Katrina, was a "pink state." The state went for Clinton twice and then for Bush twice, with U.S. Senators from each party. The forced relocation of hundreds of thousands, mostly lower income and African-American, could alter the balance between the two major parties in Louisiana and the opportunities for black elected officials in New Orleans.
Ending The NOLA Shock Doctrine
The good news is that many are realizing that Katrina residents are victims of the shock doctrine and are taking action to stop it. A week after Katrina hit NOLA, ACORN realized that tens of thousands of evacuated residents might lose their homes by unscrupulous bank foreclosures despite public reports of mortgage relief. ACORN determined that lenders provided middle-class customers 90 days or more to make mortgage payments, but "sub prime" lenders only provided one month relief for low-income customers. ACORN published a report on this double standard, "How the sub prime mortgage industry is sandbagging Katrina-affected homeowners," which was picked up by major media organizations. Then ACORN, labor unions, and consumer groups demanded and successfully negotiated plans with the sub prime lender to prevent the foreclosures.
Many lawsuits have been filed to stop the loss of public housing. For example, in (E.D. LA 2006), NOLA citizens sued US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) in a class action for injunctive and declaratory relief as well as damages. The complaint explains how HANO adopted a policy of inaction to prevent the return of residents to their public housing homes:
Despite this massive shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing, the ... HANO as taken virtually no steps to repair housing units that could bring back many of the 5,146 displaced, predominantly African-American families that resided in public housing. Instead of moving quickly to re-open habitable units and make repairs where necessary, for the most part, HANO boarded up units. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made clear that these families would not be able to return anytime soon when it announced its plan to demolish 5,000 public housing units.
HANO and HUD simply refused to reopen housing units that were not damaged by Katrina and failed to repair other units, or allow the residents to conduct repairs, choosing instead to refuse to allow residents to return because the government wants to demolish the existing public housing stock in NOLA. This is a continuation of a pre-Katrina government policy to force low-income African-American families out of NOLA by reducing public housing stock from over 13,000 to around 7,000 units. Now, after Katrina, the government plans to reopen only 2,000 apartments when more than 5,100 families lived in public housing.
Public statements indicate that the government's strategy of inaction and delay is motivated by racial animus to ban the return of low-income African-American families. Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA) laid out the goal: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Alphonso Jackson, HUD Secretary, stated one month after Katrina that NOLA "is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." In April 2006, Jackson reiterated the terms of his cleansing policy: "Only the best [public housing] residents should return. Those who paid rent on time, those who held a job and those who worked." Local officials agreed. In February 2006, New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas stated: "We don't need soap opera watchers all day."
Even the UN is working toward stopping Bush from continuing racially discriminating policies, which have effectively barred the poor from returning to New Orleans. Given that our courts and Congress have not been particularly helpful in enacting or enforcing laws against discrimination, it is handy that in 1994 the US ratified an international treaty which mandates all member countries to take steps, including affirmative action, to eliminate racial discrimination, which is defined as:
[A]ny distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
This International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) treaty also provides broader protections than the US Constitution by granting rights to housing:
The CERD explicitly mandates its signatories to recognize discrimination in policies that have a disproportionately unfair impact on individuals and groups based on race and ethnicity. And, unlike the rights enumerated in U.S. Constitution, the CERD explicitly grants individuals the right to quality healthcare, education, and housing.
The CERD treaty mandates member countries to "amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists."
As a member nation, the US is required to submit compliance reports every 2 years to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on its progress in eliminating practices or policies that promote inequality. The US has only submitted two compliance reports, including the 2007 report in which the Bushies claimed to be helping all victims:
Despite undeniable evidence of the disparate impact that Hurricane Katrina continues to have on low-income Black residents, the U.S. makes only one reference to the hurricane's aftermath in its 124-page report -- to congratulate itself for its commitment to helping "all victims." However, the U.S. government denies that race was a factor in the federal response, claiming that "the post-Katrina issues were the result of poverty...rather than racial discrimination."
The government report highlights Operation Home Sweet Home, a 2006 fair housing initiative "inspired by victims of Katrina, who lost their homes and were seeking new places to live," which it called "a major new civil rights initiative." But two years after the initiative, tens of thousands of New Orleans residents still do not have permanent or safe housing.
In rebuttal, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights submitted its "shadow report" to the CERD committee to point out issues not adequately covered by the US compliance report, such as the:
government’s role in the continuing racial and ethnic disparities that undermine equality, including issues such as environmental racism, threats to affirmative action programs in education and employment, the lack of more effective laws to combat hate crimes, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, erosions in the rights of indigenous peoples, threats to voting rights for racial, ethnic, and language minorities, racism in national immigration policies, continued discrimination in housing, the erosion of civil rights and liberties that has been an outgrowth of the so-called "war on terror" since 9/11, and the lack of effective response to the social and economic issue laid bare in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
CERD responded to the US report by stating that the US needs to "halt the demolition of public housing" and "protect the rights of Katrina victims:"
We are deeply concerned about information we continue to receive about the housing situation of people in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region. African-American communities were badly affected by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The spiraling costs of private housing and rental units, and in particular the demolition of public housing, puts these communities in further distress, increasing poverty and homelessness. There are reports that more than 12,000 people are homeless in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area alone.
A number of reports suggest that federal, led by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and local government decisions concerning public housing in New Orleans would lead to the demolition of thousands of public housing units affecting approximately 5,000 families who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The demolition of the St. Bernard public housing development apparently commenced the week of 18 February 2008 and others are planned for the Lafitte, B.W. Cooper, and C.J. Peete public housing developments... .
The authorities claim that the demolition of public housing is not intentionally discriminatory. Notwithstanding the validity of these claims, the lack of consultation with those affected and the disproportionate impact on poorer and predominantly African-American residents and former residents would result in the denial of internationally recognized human rights.
The right to an adequate standard of living enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to adequate housing. The international community has made it clear that those displaced from their place of residence, whether by conflict or natural disaster, should have their rights particularly protected in reconstruction efforts. The inability of former residents of public housing to return to the homes they occupied prior to Hurricane Katrina would in practice amount to an eviction for those who returned or wish to return. International human rights law prohibits evictions from taking place without due process, including the right of those evicted to be given due notice and opportunity to appeal eviction decisions. It also requires the authorities to ensure that large-scale evictions do not result in massive homelessness and to consult those affected on relocation or alternative housing solutions.
International human rights law, including relevant provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, also clearly prohibits actions that result in a discriminatory impact denying individuals or group's equal enjoyment of human rights because of their race, ethnicity, social or other status.
We therefore call on the Federal Government and State and local authorities to immediately halt the demolitions of public housing in New Orleans.
The UN is one forum which can pressure the US by exposing its shame on the global stage to compel changes. While Bush belittles the UN, when the US submitted its 2007 report, it sent a "delegation of high-ranking officials" to Geneva to defend its report.
Many people are working to help NOLA fight back against Bush. We need to do our part by keeping the public informed of the many inhumanities occurring in NOLA. This is not just a NOLA issue. What happens in NOLA is happening now in other parts of the US or will happen in the future. There are tent cities in NOLA and there are tent cities in California: 60,000 homeowners became homeless in one month due to the mortgage crisis and are now living in tent cities in the Los Angeles area:
Note: This is a 3-part documentary on the public housing crisis in NOLA called "This is my home."
NOTE: All 3 paintings are by artist David Bates and are screen caps.