Be Ready for the First Shocks of Trump’s Disaster Capitalism

January 26, 2017

Be Ready for the First Shocks of Trump’s Disaster Capitalism

We already know that the Trump administration plans to deregulate markets, wage all-out war on “radical Islamic terrorism,” trash climate science and unleash a fossil-fuel frenzy. It’s a vision that can be counted on to generate a tsunami of crises and shocks: economic shocks, as market bubbles burst; security shocks, as blowback from foreign belligerence comes home; weather shocks, as our climate is further destabilized; and industrial shocks, as oil pipelines spill and rigs collapse, which they tend to do, especially when enjoying light-touch regulation.

All this is dangerous enough. What’s even worse is the way the Trump administration can be counted on to exploit these shocks politically and economically.

Speculation is unnecessary. All that’s required is a little knowledge of recent history. Ten years ago, I published “The Shock Doctrine,” a history of the ways in which crises have been systematically exploited over the last half century to further a radical pro-corporate agenda. The book begins and ends with the response to Hurricane Katrina, because it stands as such a harrowing blueprint for disaster capitalism.

That’s relevant because of the central, if little-recalled role played by the man who is now the U.S. vice president, Mike Pence. At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Pence was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee. On September 13, 2005 — just 14 days after the levees were breached and with parts of New Orleans still underwater — the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Under Pence’s leadership, the group came up with a list of “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices” — 32 policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook.

Vehicles form a line at an Exxon gas station off of Interstate 55 in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. The station was one of the few in the city with both power and gas one day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. (AP Photo/The Calrion Ledger, Rick Guy)

Vehicles form a line at an Exxon gas station off of Interstate 55 in Jackson, Miss., Aug. 30, 2005. The station was one of the few in the city with both power and gas one day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Photo: Rick Guy/The Calrion Ledger/AP

To get a sense of how the Trump administration will respond to its first crises, it’s worth reading the list in full (and noting Pence’s name right at the bottom).

What stands out in the package of pseudo “relief” policies is the commitment to wage all-out war on labor standards and on the public sphere — which is ironic because the failure of public infrastructure is what turned Katrina into a human catastrophe. Also notable is the determination to use any opportunity to strengthen the hand of the oil and gas industry.

The first three items on the RSC list are “automatically suspend Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas,” a reference to the law that required federal contractors to pay a living wage; “make the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone”; and “make the entire region an economic competitiveness zone (comprehensive tax incentives and waiving of regulations).”

Another demand called for giving parents vouchers to use at charter schools, a move perfectly in line with the vision held by Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

All these measures were announced by President George W. Bush within the week. Under pressure, Bush was eventually forced to reinstate the labor standards, though they were largely ignored by contractors. There is every reason to believe this will be the model for the multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments Trump is using to court the labor movement. Repealing Davis-Bacon for those projects was reportedly already floated at Monday’s meeting with leaders of construction and building trade unions.

Back in 2005, the Republican Study Committee meeting produced more ideas that gained presidential support. Climate scientists have directly linked the increased intensity of hurricanes to warming ocean temperatures. This connection, however, didn’t stop Pence and the RSC from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf Coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the United States, and to greenlight “drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

All these measures are a surefire way to drive up greenhouse gas emissions, the major human contributor to climate change, yet they were immediately championed by the president under the guise of responding to a devastating storm.

The oil industry wasn’t the only one to profit from Hurricane Katrina, of course. So did a slew of well-connected contractors, who turned the Gulf Coast into a laboratory for privatized disaster response.

The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar gang from the invasion of Iraq: Halliburton’s KBR unit won a $60 million gig to reconstruct military bases along the coast. Blackwater was hired to protect FEMA employees from looters. Parsons, infamous for its sloppy Iraq work, was brought in for a major bridge construction project in Mississippi. Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill — all top contractors in Iraq — were hired by the government to provide mobile homes to evacuees just 10 days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up totaling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required.

And no opportunity for profit was left untapped. Kenyon, a division of the mega funeral conglomerate Service Corporation International (a major Bush campaign donor), was hired to retrieve the dead from homes and streets. The work was extraordinarily slow, and bodies were left in the broiling sun for days. Emergency workers and local volunteer morticians were forbidden to step in to help because handling the bodies impinged on Kenyon’s commercial territory.

And as with so many of Trump’s decisions so far, relevant experience often appeared to have nothing to do with how contracts were allocated. AshBritt, a company paid half a billion dollars to remove debris, reportedly didn’t own a single dump truck and farmed out the entire job to contractors.

People wait for assistance after being rescued from their homes a day earlier in the Ninth Ward as a small fire burns after Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 31, 2005, in New Orleans. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Even more striking was the company that FEMA paid $5.2 million to perform the crucial role of building a base camp for emergency workers in St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. The camp construction fell behind schedule and was never completed. When the contractor was investigated, it emerged that the company, Lighthouse Disaster Relief, was actually a religious group. “About the closest thing I have done to this is just organize a youth camp with my church,” confessed Lighthouse’s director, Pastor Gary Heldreth.

After all the layers of subcontractors had taken their cut, there was next to nothing left for the people doing the work. For instance, the author Mike Davis tracked the way FEMA paid Shaw $175 a square foot to install blue tarps on damaged roofs, even though the tarps themselves were provided by the government. Once all the subcontractors took their share, the workers who actually hammered in the tarps were paid as little as $2 a square foot. “Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung,” Davis wrote, “where the actual work is carried out.”

In Mississippi, a class-action lawsuit forced several companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to immigrant workers. Some were not paid at all. On one Halliburton/KBR job site, undocumented immigrant workers reported being wakened in the middle of the night by their employer (a sub-subcontractor), who allegedly told them that immigration agents were on their way. Most workers fled to avoid arrest.

This corruption and abuse is particularly relevant because of Trump’s stated plan to contract out much of his infrastructure spending to private players in so-called public-private partnerships.

In the Katrina aftermath, the attacks on vulnerable people, carried out in the name of reconstruction and relief, did not stop there. In order to offset the tens of billions going to private companies in contracts and tax breaks, in November 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress announced that it needed to cut $40 billion from the federal budget. Among the programs that were slashed were student loans, Medicaid, and food stamps. In other words, the poorest people in the United States subsidized the contractor bonanza twice: first, when Katrina relief morphed into unregulated corporate handouts, providing neither decent jobs nor functional public services; and, second, when the few programs that directly assist the unemployed and working poor nationwide were gutted to pay those bloated bills.

Jenny Bullard carries a pair of boots from her home that was damaged by a tornado, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Adel, Ga. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in several counties, including Cook, that have suffered deaths, injuries and severe damage from weekend storms. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

Jenny Bullard carries a pair of boots from her home, which was damaged by a tornado, Jan. 22, 2017, in Adel, Ga.Photo: Branden Camp/AP

This is the disaster capitalism blueprint, and it aligns with Trump’s own track record as a businessman all too well.

Trump and Pence come to power at a time when these kinds of disasters, like the lethal tornadoes that just struck the southeastern United States, are coming fast and furious. Trump has already declared the U.S. a rolling disaster zone. And the shocks will keep getting bigger, thanks to the reckless policies that have already been promised.

What Katrina tells us is that this administration will attempt to exploit each disaster for maximum gain. We’d better get ready.

Portions of this article were adapted from “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”

Populism ‘not inevitable’:

January , 2017

Populism ‘not inevitable’:  Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at LKY School of Public Policy

by Charissa Yong

Image result for Singapore's Tharman at LKY School of Public Policy

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam delivers his keynote address at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) held on January 7, 2017.

Govts must offer hope and real solutions by helping people regenerate careers, and those left behind: Tharman

While Singapore has experienced some of these disquieting trends, he believes policies here and in some other societies made a difference in addressing their impact.

He cited four global trends: stagnant wages, declining social mobility, the sense of togetherness in society eroding, and politics and the media becoming more polarised.

“The only surprise is how long it has taken for those underlying domestic changes in society to be reflected in politics,” he told 350 people at a global affairs conference, Has The Game Changed?, hosted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. While last year’s populist upsets, driven by anti-globalisation, have created a despondency about global cooperation, Mr Tharman said: “The real challenge is not about globalisation. The real challenge is in domestic policy responses.”

Image result for Quotes from Tharman of Singapore

He added: “There are countries where you don’t get the same trends played out, although globalisation happens in the same way.”

 He cited how in Sweden and Singapore, middle-income workers’ pay went up by more than that in other advanced economies. But lower- and middle-class workers’ wages in America, parts of Europe, Britain and Japan have stagnated.

In America, in 1970, 90 per cent of 30-year-olds had real incomes above what their parents had at 30. Today, the figure is only half, and it affects people’s sense of hope.

The second trend he highlighted was a general decline in social mobility across advanced economies.It is now a stubborn fact and “people know that their chances of moving up in life are less than they used to be if they start off at the bottom”.

Third, people no longer think of themselves and society in terms of “we” but in terms of “us versus them”. This is complicated by how sectarian strife in one area can go global, widening domestic fissures.

Fourth, politics is increasingly polarised, reinforced by how social media algorithms filter “news” in ways that reinforce people’s bias.

Mr Tharman suggested four ways countries can tackle these issues. One, pay attention to cities that have been left behind, in particular through schools and education.

Two, help people regenerate their careers throughout their lives, through skills training.

“You need redistribution in society, and you may need more in some areas, but it’s not at the heart of the matter. It doesn’t give hope. Regeneration is what brings hope because you allow individuals, communities and cities to rise through their own abilities,” he said.

Three, neighbourhood and urban planning must discourage segregation and encourage people to mix. This will enable communities to do well together, said Mr Tharman.

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Four, bring honesty and the need to look to the long term back into politics. He noted a long drift towards “short-termism” reflected in the brazen neglect of issues such as unsustainable pensions and healthcare funding. And neither the left nor the right has offered solutions which give confidence for tomorrow’s generation, he added.

There is a need for honest politics that “tells it like it is” but offers hope and real solutions, he said.

“There is nothing inevitable about the drift towards populism. We have to regenerate the politics of the centre. It can be done.”

Listen to the Brilliant Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore

September 19, 2016

Listen to the Brilliant Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore

I admire and respect Singapore’s  Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam for his intellect, eloquence  and  leadership. He is a living example of what a meritocratic society can produce, irrespective one’s race, colour, religion  and political bent. It is a culture of integrity and competence that makes Singapore what it is today. Malaysia pales by comparison.

DPM Tharman’s official resume (below) is impressive.–Din Merican

The Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore


DPM Tharman has served as Deputy Prime Minister in the Singapore Cabinet since May 2011. He was also appointed Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies on 1 Octöber 2015. He is in addition Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Singapore’s central bank and financial regulator.

He has spent his career in public service, in roles mainly around economic policy and education. He served as Minister for Finance for eight years, over 2007- 2015. He was Minister for Education for five years, over 2003-2008. He spent much of his earlier professional life at the MAS, where he was the Managing Director before entering politics in 2001.

Among his current responsibilities, he leads the Skills Future initiative, which seeks to build the skills of the future among Singaporeans, and empower them to learn at every stage of life.

He was appointed by his international peers as Chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), the key policy forum of the IMF, for an extended period of four years from 2011, and was its first Asian chair. He is also a member of the Group of Thirty, an independent global council of leading economic and financial policy-makers and academics.

He chairs the International Academic Advisory Panel that advises the Government on strategies for the university sector. In addition, he chairs the International Advisory Council of the Singapore Economic Development Board.

Besides his responsibilities in Government, he chairs the Board of Trustees of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), which seeks to uplift educational performance and aspirations in the Indian Singaporean community. He also chairs the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute.

He was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2001 in Jurong GRC, and has been reelected three times since. He was elected to the Central Executive Committee of the People’s Action Party in 2002, and was appointed 2nd Assistant Secretary-General in 2011.

He did his schooling in Singapore, before studying at the London School of Economics and Cambridge University for undergraduate and masters degrees in Economics. He later obtained a masters in Public Administration at Harvard University, where he was named a Lucius N Littauer Fellow.

He is an Honorary Fellow of the London School of Economics. He was also made the fifth Honorary Fellow of the Economic Society of Singapore, in  2010.

Married to Jane Yumiko Ittogi, a lawyer by background and now actively engaged in community work and the non-profit arts sector. They have a daughter and three sons.

Copyright @ The Government of Singapore. All rights reserved.

ASEAN 2017–Partnering for Change. Go for it, Rodrigo Duterte

September 10, 2016

ASEAN 2017–Partnering for Change. Go for it, Rodrigo Duterte

by Mergawati Zulfakar

Image result for rodrigo duterte in Laos

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte  in Laos–with a strong message for change in ASEAN

ONE is the new kid on the block in the international arena while the other is making an exit.

Their appearance at the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Vientiane this week did not fail to excite the media. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who made his maiden appearance, hit the headlines for the wrong or right reason depending on how you look at it.

US President Barack Obama, a regular attendee at these summits, made his swan song but not before talking tough on the South China Sea issue.

All the drama this week in Vientiane seemed to be generated from one source, to the extent that even host Laos had to take a backseat while other ASEAN leaders, including first-timer Myanmar’s Aung Sang Suu Kyi, happily stayed out of the spotlight.

Chinese officials and their premier, always being hunted by the media for a line or two on the South China Sea territorial and maritime disputes, must have been quite relieved that the attention was elsewhere.

The headlines surrounding Duterte’s rants and his absence from several meetings at the summit have overshadowed the positive outcome on other issues. For one, ASEAN leaders were able to get their eight dialogue partners to issue a declaration on migrants and human trafficking.

he East Asia Summit (EAS) declaration is in support of the ASEAN Conven­tion Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Actip) signed during last year’s ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur.

Actip’s objectives, among others, are to effectively prevent and combat human trafficking, especially women and children, and to protect and assist human-trafficking victims with full respect for their human rights.

The EAS declaration precedes the UN General Assembly’s summit on Sept 19 to address these problems. EAS also decided to issue a strongly worded statement expressing grave concern over the missile tests conducted by North Korea.

The statement, among others, urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear tests and ballistic missile programmes, and condemned its nuclear tests conducted early this year.

An ASEAN official noted that although the previous EAS had issued a similar statement, the language used this time was stronger and an achievement considering that China, an ally of North Korea, agreed to the language.

As the statement was issued on Thursday, the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported a 5.3-magnitude earthquake close to North Korea’s nuclear test site yesterday.  USGS said the shallow depth and precise timing of the quake suggests it was man-made.

North Korea has threatened to hold another test as it presses ahead with its nuclear weapons prog­ramme in defiance of international sanctions.

On the South China Sea issue, some ASEAN officials agreed that Beijing had a big role in making sure the issue was not played up at a summit hosted by Laos, which is pro-Beijing.

Although the leaders after their ASEAN-China summit issued two statements – one to commemorate the 25th anniversary as a dialogue partner and the other, the usual ASEAN-China statement – there was no mention at all of the international arbitral ruling that sided with Manila, stating that China has no claims in the South China Sea.

An official felt that Duterte was probably “conciliatory” in how Manila should treat China. “The Philippines already won the ruling. The important thing is how to manage relations with a big power like China,” the diplomat added.

Image result for Obama with Najib in Laos

Obama’s Parting shot to Malaysia’s First Couple?

Obama’s parting shot at the summit was that the ruling against China “was binding” and “helped to clarify maritime rights in the region”.

There will be more interesting times ahead as far as the South China Sea issue is concerned. ASEAN and China have agreed to come up with a framework for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea by the middle of next year, which lays out how the claimant countries – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, China and Taiwan – should behave.

Laos has passed the ASEAN chair to the Philippines for the next year. Just like the previous ASEAN chair, Manila’s theme for next year is “Partnering for change, engaging the world”, which Duterte said reflected the Philippines’ resolve to consolidate ASEAN to enable it to take its rightful place in the international community.

“We will pursue initiatives and enhance cooperation with global partners to ensure that ASEAN citizens live in peace, stability, security and growth, all the while retaining ASEAN’s centrality, unity and solidarity, which we will maintain for all time,” he said in his acceptance speech.

Yes, ASEAN unity lately has been tested and as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said (as if his views mattered–Din Merican), it is important for ASEAN to stay together for the grouping to be respected as a credible community.


This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected!

August 24, 2016

This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected–We in Malaysia can learn from LHL’s Leadership style (Din Merican): Singapore first before self

by Wan Wei

I’m proud of my Prime Minister! And how many citizens of the world can say that of their Prime Minister?–Wan Wei

This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected!


Wow, I was watching the live streaming of the National Day Rally 2016 from Helsinki, and my heart skipped a beat at this moment, when our Prime Minister basically paused awkwardly and felt ill.

Loong created by SE Wong

So today I just want to write a brief note about why Lee Hsien Loong (LHL), the Prime Minister of Singapore, is so respected in and outside of his own country.

It is because as the head of the little red dot, he really does put Singapore’s interest before his own.

Tonight GBA’s event is testimony of that– he could have chosen not to continue the speech. But knowing that this event would probably appear on the global press the next day (well, it IS a big deal that Singapore’s prime minister sort of “collapsed” briefly during its own National Day Rally), he had to and wanted to finish the speech.

And he did! 

The position of Prime Minister of Singapore–in spite of its perceived huge pay cheque– is hardly enviable. For one, Prime Minister LHL probably has to worry about the issues of this small country all the time– will we survive another 50 years? Will we be the next targets of terrorism? etc. It doesn’t take much for Singapore to suddenly perish as a country–after all, small cities have risen and vanished in the past.

Then anti-government folks always complain about lack of freedom of expression, lack of support for local arts/sports/entrepreneurship, lack of human rights in Singapore. Oh yes, and huge income gap of course. Then it is always the Prime Minister’s fault and of course the 69.9% (including me since I vote for PAP) who are blamed.

I don’t think the “Singapore system” will ever change in the next 20 years, but apparently for most Singaporeans, it works fine. And to head this system as Prime Minister with no doubt, with compassion and with the utmost mental strength is absolutely admirable.:)

Oh yes and as a sidenote, haha, LHL actually is a great photographer and coder as well. I’m proud of my Prime Minister! And how many citizens of the world can say that of their Prime Minister?

Malaysia: Looking Back at Kuala Kangsar and Sungei Besar

June 21, 2016

Malaysia: Looking Back at Kuala Kangsar and Sungei Besar

by Sahabat Seperjuangan


“The influence of Dr Mahathir Mohamad has waned among the Malays. The older generation still remember him as a leader who, while making Malaysia prominent by fast-tracked materialistic development, indulged in dismantling the checks and balances which he saw as a hindrance to his autocracy. They are not prepared to have him and his ilk again. It remains to be seen whether the Citizens’ Declaration will survive this setback, and whether the motley crew of Opposition politicians, NGOs and NGIs with thinly-veiled political ambitions will continue to forlornly prop him up.–Sahabat Seperjuangan 

Once in a while, an event occurs that leaves a profound effect on the political scene. While some rush to label such events with less compassionate terms like divine intervention, others simply prefer to call it neutral serendipity.”–

Now that the by-elections have come and gone in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, what are the lessons that can inform the future course of the political parties involved in the fight?

1. The support base of PAS is still intact. Efforts by Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) have failed to make inroads into the rural strongholds of the Islamist party. The liberals in Amanah can garner some support from the chattering classes in the towns but they have not found fertile ground among country folk accustomed to finding solace in a more spiritual outlook to tide them over hard times.

2. PAS, alone as a political party, contributes as many votes as the other three political parties grouped together in Pakatan Harapan. If DAP is counting on Malay support from PKR and Amanah to boost its chances for federal power, it has got to have a serious re-look. Whoever underestimates the hardy “jentera” of the committed Islamists, and the ideology which makes them tick, is making a serious mistake.

3. The semi-rural Chinese in these communities can swing their votes just like their brethren in the urban enclaves. We have seen many examples of this before. What bothers them is their livelihood more than all the political intrigues and all the national issues which the less deprived middle classes are so fond of. Whoever can put food on their tables looms large in their thoughts when they mark the ballot.

4. What were the other factors which made those Chinese swing? Disillusionment with the endless squabbles among the politicians in the Opposition (and government in the case of Selangor)? Or simply a dawning realisation that they’ve been had, that politicians who gained power in their name have pulled a fast one on them by using political office to acquire material assets, leaving them to look foolish and still neglected.

5. PAS has failed to gain Chinese support. While its call for hudud is definitely able to rally the party faithful to withstand the onslaught of a DAP-backed Amanah to break their ranks, the same issue still spooks the Chinese. They still see it as a frightful threat of harsh punishment being visited upon them, and not an issue which boils down in the end to letting a part of a diverse nation exercise its democratic right to practise a religion the true way as the followers see it, without infringing on the rights of the other parts of the nation who do not believe in the same religion.

6. The influence of Dr Mahathir Mohamad has waned among the Malays. The older generation still remember him as a leader who, while making Malaysia prominent by fast-tracked materialistic development, indulged in dismantling the checks and balances which he saw as a hindrance to his autocracy. They are not prepared to have him and his ilk again. It remains to be seen whether the Citizens’ Declaration will survive this setback, and whether the motley crew of Opposition politicians, NGOs and NGIs with thinly-veiled political ambitions will continue to forlornly prop him up.

Sahabat Seperjuangan is a non-Muslim grassroots activist in a Muslim political party.