Annie Leonard, Ben Bradlee, and an iPad walk into a bar…

How do you sell a newspaper in the 21st Century?  Well, The Washington Post is on to something with this new iPad app and campaign.  This video blends the past successes at the Post, personified by Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee, with the contemporary moment.  Here you have Bob Woodward, typing away on a Watergate era typewriter, interrupted by some young reporter with an iPad.  He doesn’t know what to do with it, and in that moment Bob Woodward is like a lot of us, how exactly could you use this fancy new product?  Bob walks by some folks using the app, and I have to say, it does look intuitive and appealing.  Woodward asks Bradlee, the old lion of journalism, how does the iPad fit in to the Washington Post?  Bradlee, sagely says to Woodward: “These kids think tweets twit themselves.”  Brilliant.  This is very effective marketing for the iPad.  However, my enthusiasm is tempered this morning by the latest from Annie Leonard.

The Story of Electronics examines what happens to electronics before and after their useful life.  In the context of the iPad, I wonder, what is its useful life?  If I could count on daily use for at least 10 years, that would be a start.  However, given the shelf life of cell phones these days, I am not so certain that it will still be useful in 10 years.  The MacBook Pro I am typing on is 4 years old, and I hope to get at least two more years out of it.  What if the iPad was designed so that critical components could be upgraded in the future, easily?  That way, I could take the costs of the iPad production, in water, resources, and waste, and spread them well into the future.

What toxic chemicals are used in the production of the iPad?  What will happen to those chemicals when the device breaks? Apple does take back old products, which is good.  All electronics manufacturers should follow suit.  The recycling should be incentivized at purchase, so that consumers have it in their best interest to return the device to the manufacturer for safe, effective recycling, instead of throwing it out in the trash.

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Review of The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

I was born in 1976, and came of age in Ronald Reagan’s ‘Morning in America.’   After reading Naomi Klein’s 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, I feel as if a veil has been lifted from my perception of history, and the important events of my youth stand out in new significance.  The story told in this important book centers around Milton Freidman, and the fundamentalist capitalist beliefs espoused at the University of Chicago School of Economics, where Freidman taught.

Klein’s main thesis in the book, which travels across continents and decades, is that in order to implement the fundamentalist economic policies espoused by the Chicago School, a clean slate is required.   The technique to facilitate that clean slate is what amounts to the shock doctrine.  Klein uses a quote from Freidman’s introduction to his seminal work, Capitalism and Freedom to quantify the shock doctrine.  Freidman observes that:

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.  When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.  That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

The crisis that Freidman describes is crucial.  To analyze how that crisis and the clean sheet are created, Klein uses torture as a metaphor, tracing the ghastly experiments at McGill University by psychiatrist Ewen Cameron, under the direction of the CIA (through its MK FrUltra program).

Dr. Ewen Cameron

Cameron believed that in order to teach his patients new behaviors, old pathological patterns needed to broken up to create a tabula rasa.  The way to create that blank slate was to attack the mind with electricity, uppers, downers, and hallucinogens to, in Cameron’s words, “disinhibit [the patient] so that his defenses might be reduced.”

The CIA provided grants to Cameron starting in 1957; at this point Cameron started upping the number of shocks to unprecedented levels, increasing the dosage of drugs, and experimenting with sensory deprivation and extended sleep.  The CIA took the fruit of Cameron’s research and produced a handbook, Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, a secret manual on the interrogation of resistant sources.  The CIA taught these methods to authoritarian governments including Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, and Iran.

Klein traces the introduction of this fundamentalist form of capitalism over the last 40 years and finds that:

“Seen through the lens of this doctrine… some of the most infamous human rights violations of this era, which have tended to be viewed as sadistic acts carried out by antidemocratic regimes, were in fact either committed with the deliberate intent of terrorizing the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for the introduction of radical free market ‘reforms.’”

Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia were part of the first wave of the imposition of Freidman’s reforms, and those junta regimes used disappearances, as well as torture techniques from the Kubark handbook, to eliminate opposition to the implementation of reforms.  Klein also views the 1990s crises in China, Russia, and Asia through the lens of the shock doctrine, and closely looks at the role of the International Monetary Fund in creating the necessary shock condition.  Ultimately, Klein turns to 9/11, Iraq and Sri Lanka to show the rise of disaster capitalism as a global movement.

Economist Milton Freidman

In the 1960s, at the University of Chicago, Freidman saw a United States where its capitalism was tainted by “interferences”  (fixed prices, minimum wage, public education); while they may have provided benefits to the public, these interferences polluted the equilibrium of the market and inhibited market signals.  Freidman and his fellow Chicago economists (including his mentor Friedrich Hayek) wanted to purify the market, to get rid of these interferences.  Friedman saw the mixed economy supported by John Maynard Keynes as the enemy to be defeated.

Freidman’s prescription was as follows: remove as many rules and regulations as possible, privatize most state assets, and cut back most social programs.  Taxes should be low, and flat, if they should exist at all.  Protectionism was sacrilege to Freidman.  The invisible hand should determine prices, and there should be no minimum wage.  These were bold steps to take, even in the capitalist United States.  In order to prove his theories, Freidman would have to demonstrate them in the real world. He found a laboratory in Chile, one of the Developmentalist, mixed economies in South America that sought to find a middle road between the Cold War economic extremes.

These economies were linked around the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, based in Santiago Chile, and headed by economist Raul Prebisch.  In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Developmentalist economies prospered, and nurtured a burgeoning middle class.  However, American multi-national companies like Ford convinced the United States government create a program that, starting in 1956, educated 100 Chilean economists at the University of Chicago.  These Chileans, indoctrinated in Freidman’s fundamentalist beliefs, were unable to change Chile, however, without America’s help.

After the 1970 election of leftist Salvador Allende, the new government promised to nationalize sectors of the economy that were being run by foreign corporations.  President Nixon declared a virtual war on Chile through the Ad Hoc Committee on Chile, which included ITT, owner of 70% of the Chilean phone system.  Ultimately, in September 1973 General Augusto Pinochet took power in a military coup, but before the coup, the Chicago boys prepared a set of laws and regulations known as “The Brick” which went into effect immediately, a 500 page economic bible full of deregulation, privatization, and social spending cuts.

General Augusto Pinochet

Unfortunately, by 1974, counter to the expectations of Freidman and the Chicago Boys, inflation doubled to 375%.  The Chicago boys argued that the medicine wasn’t strong enough, and Freidman himself came to the country in 1975 to personally make the same case.  Freidman urged another 25% spending cut, and even more deregulation.  Unfortunately, in the next year the economy contracted by 15%, and unemployment reached 20%.  In fact, the economy did not start to improve until 1982, when Pinochet was forced to follow Allende’s advice and nationalize many companies.  Ultimately, the real legacy of Freidman’s prescription in Chile was that by 1988, 45% of the population had fallen below the poverty line, while the richest 10% had seen their incomes increase 83%.  But it wasn’t just poverty that eviscerated the middle class; Pinochet used the techniques in the Kubark manual to torture prisoners, who instead of being arrested, were “disappeared.”  In fact, the CIA trained Pinochet’s security forces, along with those in Uruguay and Argentina.  Ultimately, in South America, that was the effort required to create a tabula rasa: military coup, economic shock, and torture.

Klein’s conception of the Shock Doctrine is most clear when she looks at the brutal dictatorships in South America, as well as South Africa’s transition and Russia’s paradigm shift in the 1990s.  Klein’s analysis of Russia under Yeltzin is powerful.  I was in high school and college during those years, and my impression was formed from the jingoistic American press.  Klein makes clear that the IMF and Jeffrey Sachs, economic wunderkind, produced the kind of pressure that resulted in tragedy and mass killings.

However, Klein’s argument loses coherence when she looks at China, the United States, and Sri Lanka.  In the United States, Klein makes the leap from Freidman laissez-faire economics to the privatized homeland security apparatus.  I applaud the critique of Donald Rumsfeld, a Freidman acolyte, but it doesn’t fit the overall thesis.  In China, Klein describes the protestors as resisting the free market reforms of Deng Xiaoping.  Klein argues that most of the protestors opposed free market reforms, and that Xiaoping attacked those protestors to quell the rebellion and implement reforms while the Chinese population was still in shock.  This narrative is historically tenuous, at best.

However, the larger point of Klein, particularly as demonstrated in South America, is valid.  Freidman’s fundamentalist free market reforms require a tabula rasa, and the middle and lower classes will naturally oppose the lowering of their standard of living.  In order to create the tabula rasa, some level of force will be required.  The research that Ewen Cameron completed at McGill University is particularly troubling, especially in light of the torture that the United States implemented in Iraq.  In fact, Iraq is a Pandora’s box that should continue to produce troubling revelations.  Hopefully, those revelations will remain in the public consciousness the next time that we want to create the kind of fundamental change that President Bush wanted to in Iraq, that General Pinochet wanted to do in Chile, and that dictators have long sought to do in the name of the free market.


Rhode Island wind project needs a little more cowbell.

On Wednesday Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the development of Cape Wind, an offshore wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound.  While plenty of attention has been paid to the project nationally, little has been made of an effort to beat the Cape Wind development as the first offshore wind project in the United States.

Deepwater Wind, a New Jersey company, is proposing the development of two wind projects off of Rhode Island.  One, an eight-turbine array, would provide power to Block Island, which now relies on diesel generators.  The second project is a utility-scale project that would follow the Block Island farm.

The Block Island project, in addition to providing renewable energy to the island, would also include an underwater cable that would connect the island to the mainland.  In fact, the project seemed to be on track until March, when the three-member Public Utilities Commission (PUC) rejected the contract that Deepwater Wind and National Grid agreed to.  That contract would have set an initial 24.4 cents/kw-hr rate, which would have increased 3.5% annually over the 20-year contract.

Much was made of Senator Ted Kennedy’s opposition to the Cape Wind development; well here in Rhode Island, we have Christopher Walken opposing the project.  Walken owns a house on the Southeast corner of Block Island, which would be facing the project.  But wait, there’s more.  2010 is an election year, and this drama is full of head-spinning political twists.

The State General Assembly is debating a bill that would circumvent the PUC and give authority over the contract to different state agencies.  The Rhode Island Attorney General, Democrat Patrick Lynch, who is running to replace Republican Governor Carcieri, opposes the circumvention of the PUC.  Governor Carcieri believes the PUC misinterpreted its authority.  Yesterday the Governor released a letter that the PUC wrote last year, stating that determining the benfits of renewable energy projects is beyond the scope of the commission’s expertise.  Of course, the Governor appointed the PUC.   Additionally, Brian Hull of RIFuture.org pointed out that in February the PUC quietly approved an 11% rate hike for Rhode Island ratepayers by the London-based National Grid, which itself gained 12% of profit in 2009.

The fate of the Block Island wind project lies with the General Assembly.  If it passes, the project could still beat the Cape Wind development in the water, especially considering that the deep-pocketed opponents of Cape Wind are planning a lawsuit.  Deepwater Wind considers the Block Island project to be a pre-cursor to the utility-scale project, which would require Federal approval.

The benefits of the Deepwater Wind developments are clear.  The underwater cable will link Block Island to the mainland, and allow the island to end use of its diesel generators.  Deepwater Wind plans to create a staging area at Quonset Point, the location of an old Naval Air Station, decommissioned in 1974.  The development on the old NAS is notable because President Richard Nixon undertook his basic Naval Officer training there.   During his Presidency he created the Environmental Protection Agency, among other notable environmental accomplishments.  Republican Governor Carcieri hopes that the Deepwater Wind project will add environmental credibility to his own political legacy.  In addition to the Deepwater Wind projects, the Quonset Point development is the likely location for Cape Wind’s own turbine assembly.  That means actual longterm job creation here in the Ocean State.  With Rhode Island mired with 13% unemployment, this development deserves approval.

UPDATE: Here are some details on the contract that Cape Wind and National Grid agreed to yesterday.  Matthew Wald questions the contract’s chances with the Massachusetts equivalent of the PUC.