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July 5, 2009 – Have you ever heard of something called El Nino Modoki? I learned about it for the first time this week. El Nino is the weather phenomenon which, in the United States, causes us to have very wet summers. (La Nina causes them to be cool and dry.) In Peru, where this climatological aberration was first observed, the waters of the Pacific coast of Peru become warmer than usual. This aberration, astonishingly enough, affects weather all over the world. One effect of El Nino is a calmer-than-usual hurricane season. This year, however, has been – and, according to some experts, will be - different.

I’ve written about the weather this year from time to time. It’s been an exceptionally rainy year. Much of the rain seems to fall in torrents, the result of violent storms. Temperatures in much of the Midwest were lower than normal during most of the spring. Lately, they’ve become much higher, accompanied by very high humidity. But this is El Nino with a twist.

We’re now being told to expect an active hurricane season, beginning later in the year (hurricane season runs from June 1 to December 1). The reason? The newspaper came right out and said it: global warming.

Why El Nino Modoki? According to the article I read, Modoki is a Japanese word meaning “similar but different.” How very appropriate!

It will be fascinating to see if, in fact, the active hurricane season being predicted materializes. Fascinating – and frightening. Who will be most affected by this “similar but different” weather? The United States? Central America? The Carribean nations? Are we prepared for another Katrina, if that is what lies in our future? How many times will we have to help our fellow citizens when they are dealt such a severe blow? Where will the money come from?

Then there is a wholly different aspect to these crises, one that had not occurred to me. I only became aware of it because of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine (New York: Metropolitan Books. 2007). In it, she explains the principles underlying Milton Friedman’s “Chicago School” of economics. The long and the short of it is that Friedman insisted that the only opportunities for real change to occur to an economic system are those afforded by catastrophe. At such times, the disorientation and dislocation of the victims allows capitalist entrepreneurs to sweep aside their objections in the name of “improving” that which was destroyed. She cites Indonesia’s tsunami and its aftermath as an example. Klein describes this modus operandi as “Disaster Capitalism”. Not so long ago, such behavior would have been regarded as opportunism to the foulest degree. Now, however, that it has been propounded by a Nobel Prize-winning opportunist, vulture-like behavior no longer offends us.

I would suggest to you that President Bush’s seeming indifference to the plight of New Orleansian’s at the time of Hurricane Katrina was simply the behavior of a “Chicago School” economist, waiting for the private investment business would provide. (The fact that such investment has been extremely slow to materialize would indicate that we are dealing with racist vultures.) I would further suggest to you that Disaster Capitalism will rear its ugly head during and after future natural catastrophes. If, as I earlier suggested, Americans and the American government may no longer be able to help disaster victims because there are too many of them, will the only help available come from those whose desire to lend a hand is directly related to how this “help” affects the bottom line? If victims prove recalcitrant in accepting help in which they have no say, will it be forced upon them? According to Klein, it was in Indonesia, where fishing villages have been replaced by luxury hotels.

As a former boss of mine has been known to observe, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.


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