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“Shock Doctrine” in Wisconsin

[1]First, a few notes about Wisconsin:

•  Speaking with Rachel Maddow, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett observes [2] that when Gov. Scott Walker spoke last week with the “fake David Koch,” he made no mention of a “fiscal crisis” that he claims compels him to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights, but spoke only of union-busting strategy and tactics.

•  Also on Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson points out [3] that the “fiscal crisis” argument for revoking collective bargaining rights falls apart when you look at Texas. The Lone Star State has no collective bargaining rights for workers, practically no unions, and a $27 billion deficit. Why would revoking collective bargaining help Wisconsin if it doesn’t help the Lone Star State?

•  See below: video [4] of American Federation of Teachers’ Local 212 [5] marches in Milwaukee and Madison on Feb. 24, 26.

Disaster Capitalism in the Heartland

Leave it to Paul Krugman [6] to notice that what Gov. Scott Walker is trying to do in Wisconsin is precisely what Naomi Klein described in her best-selling book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism [7]. Briefly, the shock doctrine is the use of crises and public disorientation (as by a natural disaster, political upheaval, or economic crisis) to push through free-market economic shock therapy disguised as “reforms.” The traumatized public is too concerned with basic survival to notice what “the authorities” are doing. (The book is Excellent, Highly Recommended.)

Naomi Klein opens with the (Iraq) Coalition Provisional Authority’s opportunistic attempts to “corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises” and “wean [Iraqis] from the idea the state supports everything” (in American viceroy L. Paul Bremer’s words) in Baghdad in 2003. She then explains that the shock doctrine has been used, very deliberately, after the U.S.-supported coup that overthrew Argentina’s Salvador Allende in 1973 up to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with the privatization of formerly public institutions of housing and health care in New Orleans (shutting down public housing projects, Charity Hospital), etc.

Since Chile in the 1970s, Krugman writes, “right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.”

[4]Now, he says, the same methods are being used in Wisconsin:

What’s happening in Wisconsin is . . . a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.

And then there’s a section stipulating that “the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state.”

What’s that about? The state of Wisconsin owns a number of plants supplying heating, cooling, and electricity to state-run facilities (like the University of Wisconsin). The language in the budget bill would, in effect, let the governor privatize any or all of these facilities at whim. Not only that, he could sell them, without taking bids, to anyone he chooses.

If this sounds to you like a perfect setup for cronyism and profiteering — remember those missing billions in Iraq? — you’re not alone. Indeed, there are enough suspicious minds out there that Koch Industries, owned by the billionaire brothers who are playing such a large role in Mr. Walker’s anti-union push, felt compelled to issue a denial that it’s interested in purchasing any of those power plants. Are you reassured?

Eternal Vigilance Is the Price of Liberty

Even if the popular resistance in Madison foils Walker’s sneak attack this time, writes Krugman, “don’t expect either Mr. Walker or the rest of his party to change those goals. Union-busting and privatization remain G.O.P. priorities, and the party will continue its efforts to smuggle those priorities through in the name of balanced budgets.”

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few. . . . The hand entrusted with power becomes . . . the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.

Wendell Phillips [8] (1811–84), speech in Boston before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Jan. 28, 1852

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