Shock Doctrine - The Screen New Deal

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Shock Doctrine - The Screen New Deal


FOR A FEW fleeting moments during New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, the somber grimace that has filled our screens for weeks was briefly replaced by something resembling a smile.

“We are ready, we’re all-in,” the governor gushed. “We are New Yorkers, so we’re aggressive about it, we’re ambitious about it. … We realize that change is not only imminent, but it can actually be a friend if done the right way.”

The inspiration for these uncharacteristically good vibes was a video visit from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who joined the governor’s briefing to announce that he will be heading up a blue-ribbon commission to reimagine New York state’s post-Covid reality, with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life.

“The first priorities of what we’re trying to do,” Schmidt said, “are focused on telehealth, remote learning, and broadband. … We need to look for solutions that can be presented now, and accelerated, and use technology to make things better.” Lest there be any doubt that the former Google chair’s goals were purely benevolent, his video background featured a framed pair of golden angel wings.

Just one day earlier, Cuomo had announced a similar partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop “a smarter education system.” Calling Gates a “visionary,” Cuomo said the pandemic has created “a moment in history when we can actually incorporate and advance [Gates’s] ideas … all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why with all the technology you have?” he asked, apparently rhetorically.

It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future....

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..a democracy now report

Screen New Deal: Naomi Klein on How Companies Like Google Plan to Profit in High-Tech COVID Dystopia


NAOMI KLEIN: Sure. Well, the billionaires I was referring to is, he didn’t just announce that partnership with Eric Schmidt, who will be chairing this blue-ribbon commission to, quote-unquote, “reopen” New York state with an emphasis on telehealth, remote learning, working from home, increased broadband. That’s what they announced during that briefing. He also announced that he would be kind of outsourcing the tracing of the virus to Michael Bloomberg, another megabillionaire. And the day before, at the briefing, Cuomo announced a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to, quote-unquote, “reimagine” education.

And during all of these announcements, there’s just been sort of effusive praise heaped on these billionaires. They’re called “visionaries” over and over again. And the governor talks about how this is an unprecedented opportunity to put their preexisting ideas into action. And this is what I’ve described as the shock doctrine previously.

And we have talked on the show during the pandemic about what I would describe as kind of lower-tech shock doctrines of the kind we’ve seen before — immediately going after Social Security, immediately bailing out fossil fuel companies. And I want to stress that all of this is still happening, right? The suspending of EPA regulations. So, there’s still this kind of lower-tech shock doctrine underway with the bailout of these industries, the suspending of regulations they didn’t want anyway.

But there is something else going on, that Eric Schmidt really epitomizes. And this is this, what I’m calling a “Screen New Deal.” And this is an idea that treats our months in isolation, those of us who are privileged enough to be self-isolating — and that, in and of itself, is an enormous privilege, because we have seen this sharpening and widening of a class dichotomy. And this relates to the calls to open up the economy, right? The people who are making these calls are not the people who are going to be most at risk. They’re calling for other people to be putting themselves at great risk, and there is a feeling of being immune to the worst impacts of the virus. But that’s another issue.

What this, what I’m calling a “Screen New Deal,” really does is treat this period of isolation not as what we have needed to do in order to save lives — this is what we thought we were doing, right? — flattening the curve, but rather — and Eric Schmidt has said this elsewhere. He said it in April in a video call with the Economic Club of New York. He described what was happening now as a “grand experiment in remote learning.” So, all the parents out there who are listening or watching, you’ve been struggling with supporting your kids on Google Classroom and Zoom calls, and you thought you were just trying to get through the day. Well, according to Google, you’ve been engaged in a “grand experiment in remote learning,” where they are getting a great deal of data and figuring out how to do this permanently, because they actually believe this is a better way of educating kids, or at least, and coming back to our earlier conversation, a more profitable way.

Eric Schmidt talked, in that clip that you just played there, Amy, about all of the opportunities for public-private partnerships. And what he is really talking about is public money going to tech firms, like Google, like Amazon, to perform public functions. So, once again, a bonanza for the tech companies — who, by the way, have been doing very well during the pandemic already — where they see huge opportunities in telehealth, in the educational market in public schools, in supporting us working from home and learning from home.

And they’re not looking for a kind of a traditional reopening, but, rather, a new paradigm, where the privileged classes, who are able to isolate themselves, basically get everything that we need either delivered through digital streaming or by drone, by driverless vehicle.

And we’re seeing a massive rebranding effort going on in Silicon Valley, where all of these technologies that were very, very controversial, and where there was a lot of pushback way back in February — whether it’s driverless vehicles, because there have been all kinds of accidents, or drones delivering packages, or telehealth, because of concerns about security for patients’ sensitive information, or the benefit of having our kids in front of screens all day. I mean, I could go on and on. There was a lot of pushback.

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Naomi Klein: Healthcare Industry Sees “Potential Bonanza” of Profits in COVID-19 Crisis


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Naomi, I wanted to ask you, this whole issue, as you’re raising, of a for-profit health system. We’re dealing with this coronavirus with actually three major initiatives that are occurring: One is on testing, the other is on treatment, and the third is on vaccines. And, for instance, Rutgers University developed recently a saliva test, which they are charging — the government approved — $100 per test. If you multiply that, the enormous amounts of money that is there to be made by medical entrepreneurs now in either one of these three areas — 


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — and yet you have the U.S. government refusing to participate with the European Union in some sort of governmental efforts to attack the needs, either whether it’s testing, vaccine or cure.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This whole issue of the money to be made off the virus, your response to that?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look. The healthcare industry, which in many countries that have universal public healthcare is kind of an oxymoron, is seeing this as a potential bonanza. And I think when you have an administration, like the Trump administration, that is just looking at kind of raw economic indicators, like whether stocks are going up, and looking to be able to claim that as some kind of victory in an election campaign, well, the fact that a large sector of the economy, the healthcare industry, sees a potential bonanza here — and the bonanza is not just in the rollout of these tests, but also in the fact that people are not using their for-profit, private health insurance right now because they’re too afraid to go to the doctor, or doctors aren’t even offering in-person services in lots of cases — that’s a win for them. And we’re seeing big profits registered here. And so I think they’re really loath, frankly, to interfere with one of the only profitable industries in the country right now, because they want to claim that as some kind of a victory.

And within the testing, I just want to underline, there are the tests, the tests to find out whether you have the virus, but then there’s also the antibody tests, which are going to be a whole other for-profit bonanza. And we saw something absolutely absurd happen within the Trump administration, where they decided that in order to expedite the rollout of antibody tests, they would not regulate it at all, just create a kind of a free-for-all, so you didn’t have to go to the — you didn’t have to have FDA approval. You could just kind of — if you were just sort of a couple of app jocks with no real medical experience, you could roll out your antibody tests. And so, the market was flooded with garbage antibody tests. Lo and behold, testing actually matters. Approval actually matters. Regulation of healthcare actually matters. And so, now people don’t know whether they can trust these tests at all, and we’re once again losing valuable time, because for-profit medicine doesn’t make any kind of sense.

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..more from #2


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to raise something here, both in terms of remote learning and in terms of telehealth services. My students at Rutgers did a survey of their fellow students on this issue of remote learning. And they found — they did a survey of several hundred students. Eighty-five percent of them said that their ability to concentrate on subject matter had been seriously reduced since the move to remote learning, and 65% of them said that their homes were not conducive to remote learning. So, no one is taking into account the impact on the actual quality of the kind of education that students are receiving.

The other aspect of this, I think, also is that, whether it’s in telehealth services or in remote learning, all of the material is then saved by the providers, so that —


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — whether it’s a professor’s lecture or whether it’s the interview between a doctor and a patient, that is no longer a private situation. It’s now recorded and saved, to possible detriment of both the professor’s right as a teacher or the patient’s right in their private discussions with their doctors.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, these are huge concerns. And what is, I think, a truly toxic combination is the preexisting for-profit model that Silicon Valley has been looking at and pushing when it comes to telehealth and remote learning, and the economic crisis that is being offloaded onto the states and onto municipalities by Washington. Right? So, we’ve had a series of bailouts, and again and again, the states and cities have been shortchanged, right? So the national economic crisis becomes a local austerity crisis, where you no longer have funds to pay for public health and public education. Right?

And that’s where these so-called solutions, that do allow you to archive information and engage in what they call predictive medicine, which requires fewer healthcare professionals, supposedly, or remote learning, where you can archive the videos put online by teachers. And they don’t have to do it again; you just replay them the next year. Right, Juan? So there’s two forces here, right? There is the desire to cut back the actual human beings who are employed on an ongoing basis, in favor of these kind of one-off, big-ticket payments for Silicon Valley.

And, you know, what you were talking about before, Juan, about these huge inequalities in who is able to work comfortably from home — and I personally don’t think it’s a — you know, I think most students are not enjoying this experience. There are huge inequities in who has access to broadband, who has access to laptop computers and tablets, but also who is able to learn well on screens. You know, there are kids with developmental disabilities who have much more trouble just sitting in front of a screen for long periods of time.

The tech companies are very quick to say, “We can solve the technological gaps. We can buy tablets for every kid.” Right? Because that’s another bonanza for them. That’s public dollars that are going to go to paying for tech.

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..yet more from #2


AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have Redfield being questioned by Burr. Naomi Klein is our guest for the hour, senior correspondent at The Intercept. If you can talk about what he’s asking about surveillance? Also, just as we came to the show today, BBC did a piece on Israel turning surveillance tools on itself, that they developed for Palestinians, and then turning it on themselves to track people during the pandemic. Your thoughts, Naomi?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think it’s — we talked about that a little bit earlier. Israel has been doing this from the beginning, and there’s been lawsuits about it, about their use of tracking apps. But it goes well beyond that. And I think one of the things that’s important to understand about Israel is that the technology that they use in their surveillance state — and for the most part, it is Palestinians who are under this constant state of surveillance, but, as you say, that BBC story is talking about a kind of a migration of those surveillance technologies into being used against Israelis — these are all technologies that Israel looks to export. There is a huge amount of cross-pollination between police forces, military forces, intelligence services, you know, going to Israel, communicating with Israeli intelligence, where all of these technologies often migrate to the rest of the world, are sold by Israeli companies as the solution. We saw it after September 11th....


Now, I want to be clear. I think there is absolutely a role, an important role, for technology in figuring out how we are going to live under these extraordinary circumstances. But the question is whether tech companies and government get the kind of carte blanche that they got in 2001 to massively invade our privacy. What is going to — where is this data going to be stored? Who is going to have access to it? Australia has rolled out one of these apps very quickly, and it turns out that Amazon is controlling the data. So, you know, that clip, I think, is a very worrying one.

The other thing that I think we need to be really acutely aware of is, a lot of the narratives that we’ve heard early on about countries that successfully controlled the virus, or at least much more successfully than the United States, a lot of it was attributed to these kinds of apps, to this kind of surveillance. And that narrative is a very convenient one for these tech companies. And in many cases, it erases the role of a functioning public healthcare system, of the fact that it was not merely an app that was placed voluntarily on people’s phones, but, much more importantly, a well-staffed public health system that allowed human tracing and tracking of the virus, which means a human being. Not an alert on your phone, but a human being calls you — best of all, a human being in your community, somebody who you might trust, who speaks your language — and says, “OK, you may have come in contact with this virus. What would you need to be able to self-quarantine? Can we get you a hotel room? Can we help you to make sure that your kids are cared for?”

This is the kind of human work and job creation that it actually takes. And what we’re being sold now, whether with the idea that everything is going to be solved with more surveillance and an app or remote learning and telehealth, is really taking the humans out of the equation. Right? It is humans who are setting up these systems. It is humans, like whether it is the teachers in their homes or the parents in their homes, who are helping students learn right now. It isn’t just Google Classroom that is doing it. But humans are being erased from this story. And we aren’t hearing the kinds of human solutions that, with proper control over good technology, we could actually come up with some viable models here.

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THE FEDERAL government has ramped up security and police-related spending in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including issuing contracts for riot gear, disclosures show.

The purchase orders include requests for disposable cuffs, gas masks, ballistic helmets, and riot gloves, along with law enforcement protective equipment for federal police assigned to protect Veterans Affairs facilities. The orders were expedited under a special authorization “in response to Covid-19 outbreak.”

The Veterans Affairs department, which manages nearly 1,500 health care care facilities around the country, has also extended special contracts for coronavirus-related security services.

Redcon Solutions Group, a private security company founded by Iraq War veterans, has won over $1.6 million in contracts to provide guards for “Covid-19 screening security guard services.” Similar contracts have gone out to private security firms to guard VA facilities in San FranciscoDes Moines, and Fayetteville, among others.

The increased security contracts appeared shortly after a recent Inspector General report noted an increase in absenteeism among VA employees and shortages among VA police. The IG report noted that there is “additional strain caused by the need for additional police presence for COVID-19-related screenings” of veterans at all VA health facilities and recommended the hiring of contract security services.


The CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion stimulus legislation passed in late March, also authorized $850 million for the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program, a federal grant program to prepare law enforcement, correctional officers, and police for the crisis. The funds have been dispensed to local governments to pay for overtime costs, purchase protective supplies, and defray expenses related to emergency policing.

The CESF funding may be used for a range of coronavirus response efforts by law enforcement, including medical personal protective equipment, overtime for police officers, training, and supplies for detention centers. The grants may also be used for the purchase of unmanned aerial aircraft and video security cameras for law enforcement. Motorola Solutions, a major supplier of police technology, has encouraged local governments to use the new money to buy a range of command center software and video analytics systems.

While the pandemic has coincided with a historic drop in violent crime across the country, analysts have expressed concern that the rapid spread of the virus will fuel confrontations.

There have been multiple inmate riots in response to Covid-19 outbreaks in prisons and jails, which have become dangerous hotspots for the disease. The economic upheaval and disagreements over coronavirus-related policy have also fueled demonstrations across the country.


The deficit hawks knew this. Yet they still railed against Canada’s debt, generating sufficient fear that Canadians accepted the brutal round of social spending cuts delivered by Liberal Finance Minister Paul Martin in 1995.

Since then, the doctrine of small government has prevailed, virtually unchallenged in public debate. Until now.

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..i love the pic

Workers of Europe: Compete!

Some neoliberal think tanks appear to have taken a turn towards the nation state in recent years. In the UK, think tanks like the Institute for Economic Affairs were instrumental in bringing about Brexit and the general anti-EU fervor that has accompanied it. On their website, the IEA even argues that “Brexit provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a more flexible, open and vibrant economy and set a shining example for other countries.”

This British, anti-EU neoliberalism has its roots in Margaret Thatcher’s famous 1988 Bruges-speech in which she identified the European Union as a sort of European super-state that served to undermine her neoliberal reforms in the UK. For a long time, this type of nationalist neoliberalism, which instrumentalizes patriotic sentiments to advocate favorable conditions for capital, was a mainly British phenomenon, at least in Europe. In recent years, however, Germany has seen the rise of the far-right populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which has strong ties to the Berlin-based neoliberal think tank Hayek Gesselschaft, whereas the right-wing populist and national-conservative Austrian Freedom Party has similar ties to the Vienna-based Hayek Institut.

Outside Europe, both Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro can also be described as nationalist neoliberals — firmly on the side of business and capital, yet with a nationalist approach to both ongoing culture wars and trade negotiations.

The much-discussed rise of a new nationalism is clearly a continuation of, rather than a break with the neoliberal era. It might thus be tempting to say that neoliberal ideology is finally showing its true colors, and to write it off as nationalist and tribalistic. A certain type of neoliberalism that is based on a racist idea of market societies needing certain cultural norms that only exist in the West falls in this category.

Historically, however, most strands of neoliberal thought have been profoundly internationalist — rooted in a Utopian vision of an interconnected world society, based on market mechanisms and relentless competition. Today’s EU bears some of its hallmarks and while truly internationalist, this vision is everything but solidaric. Neoliberal internationalism has undermined historical gains made by workers’ movement organizing at the level of the nation state, and so for many European workers today, the only kind of “internationalism” they are familiar with — the neoliberal kind —  has a negative effect on their lives.

This poses a serious challenge to the internationalist left that advocates cross-border organizing. Building an internationalist solidarity between the workers of different countries requires an understanding of neoliberalism’s origins and evolution in order to be able to regain internationalism as a progressive project for the left....