Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nagin Still Chewing Over Shock Doctrine

Surely you noticed that Mayor C. Ray Nagin gave an interview to his friend, the great Irvin Mayfield. You probably saw an extended online summary of it from Frank Donze of the Times-Picayune. Or, you opened up your Saturday paper and found that same synopsis wasting all the good space in the weekly Orleans Parish Politics segment.

(Aside: That feature is my favorite thing the T-P does. The only time I ever actually buy the print paper is on Saturday and the only reason I do that is for this short weekly piece. Sometimes I feel like the editors see it as a dumping ground for extra stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else but I think a lot of people really look forward to this piece, so they should devote more space to it and concentrate more on making it consistently substantive.)

The separate, extended online version of that summary was available last Friday. Check it out.

The Times-Picayune synopsis focused on Nagin's comments in regard to the media and City Council but what he said was unsurprising and hardly newsworthy given how repetitive that tone has become.

The actual interview itself was conducted a week ago by the great trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and it's available here.

How many people read the article but didn't listen to the interview itself?

I bet not many of you actually listened to the interview.

I'm not necessarily saying you should have done so because listening to more than fifteen minutes of Ray Nagin has been known to induce immediate, permanent, and simultaneous blindness, hair loss, and impotence in some women and men.

But that's what I do for you here at We Could Be Famous. I risked sight, looks, and potency to sit through that thing. It was rough. The Mayor was chewing gum through the whole thing and there are a bunch of points where the mic really pics it up. You feel way too close to his mouth. It was gross.

I thought that the most remarkable point of the interview had nothing to do with E-maelstrom, his relationship with the Council, or his hatred of the media. No, the most interesting thing was when Irvin transitioned away from the politics stuff for a bit to ask about the Mayor's hobbies. You can listen to what I'm talking about yourself if you go to around the 43 minute mark when they come back from a break.

Mayfield: What are you reading right now? What is the Mayor reading?

Nagin: You know, I just, I had the book for awhile, Obama's Audacity of Hope. I just finished that one, which I thought was pretty interesting. And then I'm also reading The Shock Doctrine, Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein. And she talks about, it's very interesting, she talks about how the Bush administration and others have used disasters as a means for transferring wealth or dollars from public hands into private hands. So I'm reading that one, it's pretty amazing.

Now to me, this is the much more interesting than anything the Mayor said about emails or Council. It exposes the degree to which the Mayor is in denial about his own culpability as a vessel for the very kind of punitive neoliberalism that Naomi Klein condemns in her book.

Of course, this isn't the first time that Mayor Nagin has mentioned Klein's book. In an interview he gave to Ethan Brown that appeared in Details this past November, Nagin indicated that he'd just picked up the book.

The writer Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine, describes actions like those as “disaster capitalism”: profiteering and privatization in the wake of shocks such as 9/11 or Katrina. So when I spot Alan Greenspan’s memoir, The Age of Turbulence, on Nagin’s desk and ask him about it, I’m surprised to learn that he’s not reading it but The Shock Doctrine, which he pulls from his briefcase.

"I understand exactly the premise that they're presenting," Nagin says, holding the book aloft, "that's for sure. Look, man, after this disaster there is big money! The shock-and-awe piece of what they're talking about is absolutely correct." I ask if he's read the chapter in which Klein laments that the public sphere in New Orleans is "being erased, with the storm used as the excuse." Nagin replies cheerily, "I haven't gotten that far! I just picked it up."

So even now that he's gotten further along in the book, it would appear that Nagin still doesn't quite grasp that when the book condemns Bush's disaster recovery policies, it also condemns his recovery policy. That's not just because Nagin was a Republican for so many years and worked for George W. Bush's election by speaking at the RNC in 2000 and donating to his campaign. And it's not just because Mayor Nagin was generally supportive of President Bush and Karl Rove after the immediate Katrina aftermath. It's because the Mayor's own policies, the municipal recovery agenda that he himself set, is the same type of neoliberal shock capitalism described in the book.

If he's interested in issuing an apology for generally supporting policies that prevented our displaced neighbors from exercising their right to return...

...I'd buy him a whole pack of Juicy Fruit to hear that.


Darwin BondGraham said...

I suppose what's often most shocking about Klein's book is that in many ways it's a re-statement (critical yes, but still true to the form) of so much mainstream economics, not just the radical neoliberal ideas of the Bushies, Rummies, and Cheneyes of the world.

It's all there in Marx's Capital. It reappears in almost every socialist and anarchist treatise on political economy. The economy needs disasters, it creates them. This is how primitive accumulation works. All capitalist accumulation requires primitive accumulation to feed the cycle. Katrina was "prime-time" like no other.

Nagin gets this, even if he doesn't seem to get that Klein - and you, and me, and millions more - are upset with him for it.

But beyond Nagin, most of the powerful in New Orleans get it on this level. The City Council certainly understands the shock doctrine. The mainstream business community get it. The affluent 20% of N.O. gets it. They all used the storm as an opportunity to privatize schools, housing, health care and more.

I think what we sometimes forget is how many people understand capitalism at this level, and see no problem with it. Instead, they see opportunities.

Or maybe Nagin is just an idiot? Who knows?

Clay said...

Nagin spoke at the RNC in 2000? Where's the evidence on that one???

Anonymous said...

Forget Nagin. The front page story in the Times pic about Morial says it all. The Greenspace plan, which the Times Pic and the New York Times to this day still support as a good idea, is the cause of all the racial distrust in the city and has turned every issues into a symbolic racial contest of power-. Nagin recognizes this and plays to his crowd, as the Uptown Elite do and play to their crowd.

The solution? White people need to make public at every opportunity that they oppose that plan, that it was a gross violation of the democratic rights of displaced black people, that it was not some "conspiracy" but instead was widely supported, and that we need to make every effort to bring people home. More importantly, that we repudiate the business, civic, and religious leaders who supported this plan by action or, more insidiously, by silent bystander behavior.

You need to start a petition E!

ps. Why does Lee Zurick get an award for Karen's investigation? I have no praise for a reporter who takes credit for someone else work--Lee, give the award to Karen.

E said...

You know what Clay. Upon further review I do believe I totally pulled that out of my ass. I'm going a little crazy over here apparently. Good fact check.

DAMIAN said...

@David BondGraham

"All capitalist accumulation requires primitive accumulation to feed the cycle."

I don't understand this line. Can you elaborate on it?

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mcbrid35 said...

He's still reading it, as of June, 2009:


Of course, he can't remember the title.

I'd say this qualifies as a canned answer at this point.