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Valuable Perspectives, Though Weak on Details
on June 19, 2007
"The Secret History's" Prologue provides an outstanding summary of the dark side of American generosity as exemplified by the World Bank's actions. The U.S. holds veto power over major World Bank decisions, and its president is appointed by the U.S. president. Perkins asserts that the World Bank's mission quickly became synonymous with proving the capitalist system superior to communism, and to further this role, its employees cultivated cozy relationships with multi-national corporations. This opened the door for economic hit men (EHM) to channel funds from the Bank into schemes appearing to serve the poor while primarily benefiting a few wealthy people.
In the most common scheme, staffers would identify a developing country possessing resources our corporations desired (eg. oil), arrange a huge loan for it, and then direct most of the money to our own corporations and a few collaborators. Infrastructure projects (eg. power plants, airports, industrial parks) would then spring up - however, they seldom helped the poor, and the nation was unable to be able to repay the loan about 50-60% of the time. The EHM could then demand eg. cheap oil, U.N. votes on key issues, and/or troops for eg. Iraq.
Perkins substantiates his "American Empire" label by asserting that the U.S. is run by a big group who collectively act much like a king. They run our largest corporations, and through them, our government. They cycle through the "revolving door" back and forth between businesses and government, fund political campaigns and the media - resulting in a great deal of control over elected officials and the information we receive, regardless of who is elected.
National disasters, like wars and aid projects, are highly profitable for big businesses. A great deal of money for rebuilding is earmarked for U.S. engineering firms and large corporations owning hotel, communications and transportation networks, banks, insurance companies, etc. Sometimes they also provide an opportunity for local governments to extend their oppression - eg. just prior to the 12/26/04 tsunami the Indonesian government was ready to reach an agreement with Aceh rebels largely favorable to them - however, after the disaster disorganized and weakened the Aceh, it instead sent in additional forces to break their resistance in the resource-rich (multinational target)Aceh sector.
Overseas bribery is usually accomplished without violating U.S. law by leasing eg. equipment from companies owned by the target (and friends) at excessive rates; they can then subcontract portions to others at inflated prices. This model can be used to contract for food, housing, cars, fuel, etc. Another means is to offer to arrange for the target's children to attend prestigious U.S. colleges while covering all their expenses and paying consultant/intern salaries while they are in the U.S. U.S. companies also pay local militias for protection, thus weakening local control over them.
Little specific proof of the preceding is offered - however, it follows Perkins' earlier "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" and numerous other sources. "The Secret History" then goes on to reference vague specifics in Asia, Africa, and South America in a conspiracy-mongering manner.
Some useful specifics come through, however. Examples include privatizing water in South America and then significantly raising rates to the point of provoking a mini-revolt, engendering political change in another country through energy-extraction agreements that provide little for the resident nation, etc.
Our "bottom-line" seems to be "go along with us or we'll foment revolution and/or assassinate you." Mid-East examples include Iran (early 1950s), and Iraq (early 1960s). (No wonder leaders are leery of American-style democracy.) Those wondering why the U.S. is so concerned about Israel's welfare have the answer provided by Perkins - Israel is America's foot soldier in the area, there to help keep the Mid-East in line.
Where have we ended up? Over half the world lives on less than $2/day, over 2 billion lack basic amenities such electricity, clean water, sanitation, land titles, phones, police and fire protection, the cost of servicing Third World debt exceeds their spending on health and education and is about twice what they receive in foreign aid, developing countries' 1970 trade surplus is now an $11 billion deficit, and U.S. corporations now pay less than 10% of federal taxes - down from 21% in as recently as '01 and over 50% during WWII.
Finally, Perkins is at his weakest in prescribing where we go from here. He senses environmentalism may offer the crisis for reform, and suggests that we all become less greedy.
Bottom Line: Despite the general weakness and generally conspiratorial tone of the book, I still found "The Secret History" to offer compelling perspectives in enough areas to be highly worthwhi