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Confessional Hit Men

23 Jun

St. Augustine is said to have prayed “Lord, make me pure, but not yet!” John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man would likely relate to that statement; there seems to be quite a gap between his realization that his professional life is an amoral one and his abandonment of that life.

We didn’t know anything about Perkins before we read this book, and from what we gather, his other work is about the teachings of shamans he met in South America. Perkins seems to be sort of a latter-day Carlos Castenada without the drugs. In Confessions, Perkins explains that an economic hit man (EHM) is one who travels to Indonesia, or Panama, or wherever and persuades officials of that country to accept development projects with inflated growth projections. The terms of the contract stipulate that American firms do the work, so the boys from Bechtel or Halliburton, or Perkins’ (now defunct) employer Chas. T. Main come in and make lots of money. If the debtor county struggles under the weight of the debt that they’re saddled with, no problem – the creditor nation (the US) can trade that for favorable United Nations votes, or access to the debtor’s natural resources, or to force the nation to allow American military bases.

Perkins seems to be a love-him-or-hate-him kind of guy (or in Greg Palast’s assessment, a guy that you hate then come to love http://www.gregpalast.com/john-perkins-jerk-con-man-shill/).  Some think him a complete nut job who made up everything in the book while others laud him for mending his ways and telling it like it is.

As per usual, we’re on the fence.  We don’t quite know what to make of Perkins’ tale of being brought into the shadowy EHM world by an attractive woman named Claudine Martin, who then vanishes without a trace.  This story seems far-fetched, but to us, its not the main point of the book, so we don’t ultimately care how he got into the biz. What strikes us are the parts of the book that don’t seem far-fetched. Call us conspiracy freaks if you wish, but  Perkins’ accounts of ‘corporatocracy’,  collusion between the US government and corporate interests in various places around the globe don’t seem all that hard to believe.  (Given the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran and Allende in Chile, to name just two examples, many of the book’s assertions seem quite plausible.)

We’re not sorry we read the book, but it’s not as substantial as we had hoped.  Perkins also shades the truth at times to make himself appear in a better light.  After he leaves the EHM life, he lands a lucrative position as an expert witness for a nuclear power company.  He writes: “Unfortunately, the longer I studied the issue, the more I began to doubt the validity of my own arguments.  The literature was constantly changing at that time, reflecting a growth in research, and the evidence increasingly indicated that many alternative forms of energy were technically superior and more economical than nuclear power.” Perkins doesn’t state the exact time frame, but this seems to be in the early 80s.  The near-meltdown at Three Mile Island occurred in 1979, making this claim seem a mite disingenuous.

Abraham Lincoln is said to have (but probably didn’t)  opined “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing that they like.”  That reflects our feelings.  We generally liked the book, but many who suspect Perkins of being an unreliable narrator have a valid point.

silhouette of a man

Confess, hit man!

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Oil Redux

6 Feb

Some guy has been comin’ ’round the neighborhood talkin’ to folks  ’bout the benefits of signing a paper giving the oil company he represents the right to extract the oil that is supposedly underneath our households.  We’ve had the good fortune not to be home both times.

Don’t get us wrong – we’re as greedy as the next guy.  It’s just that we’re not crazy about the possibility of the noise and disruption that such an operation may bring.  However, that pales in comparison to the possibility that these oil folks’ll do something that contaminates the ground water.  We get our water from a well, y’ see, an’ if it gets contaminated, we’re stuck with no water an’ a house that nobody in his right mind would buy.  Where will our friendly neighborhood oil company be if that happens? Probably in court swearing up and down that they had nothing to do with it.

The state we live in has forced pooling laws.  This means that if these oil people can get enough of us to cave, we can be forced into this deal.  The good news is that the majority of us seem to have grave reservations about this thing.  If the center holds an’ nobody gets all pie-eyed about the promise of easy money (for about six months to a year anyway), we have a fighting chance of beating back this attempt on our way of life, which consists of complaining about the weather and hoping that the next season will come soon.

Oil rigs

Oil!

The Door Handles of Perception

15 Jan

We’re not car nuts, but today on the radio we heard several interviews with Chrysler auto execs extolling the virtues of the 2014 Chrysler 200.

2014 Chrysler 200

The door handles better not break …

We’ve always wanted to kvetch about the door handles on Chrysler cars, and now’s our chance.  We once had a Plymouth Horizon (OK, we needed cheap transportation), the door handles of which would suddenly break, and then we’d have to head to the dealer to purchase another door handle that would inevitably break. After several handles had broken, we got a brilliant idea – we’d head to a junk yard and purchase some handles there.  Alas, it was not to be. The junk yards we tried would only sell the handle if we bought the whole door.

We then got another idea.  We’d put the broken handles into a box and send them to Lee Iacocca, along with a note that read “Dear Lee, Here is why our next car will not be a Chrysler.” That’d fix him.  We ended up not carrying out this plan, as we were simply too lazy to find a box, fill it with the broken handles, and take it to the post office.

This new model might be OK. But it had better have decent door handles.

“Corporations are people, my friend”

30 Nov

Over the years, the holiday shopping season has gone from crass commercialism to truly depraved crass commercialism. We’re of course referring to news stories of violence at shopping malls across the country as folks seek bargains. (Us, we’re wusses – we wouldn’t go through that ordeal if they were giving away Cartier diamonds.) As we read these accounts of crazed consumers going mano-a-mano with their fellow shoppers, we can’t help but notice that many of these incidents occur at Wal-mart stores.

Wal-mart has been in the news a lot lately, not just for the yearly brawls at its stores, but also for food drives at two of its locations to provide foodstuffs for its employees. When we first read this, we were incredulous, but we dug further and it appears to be true (http://www.businessinsider.com/second-walmart-holds-employee-food-drive-2013-11). This is weird in light of the fact that the Walton family are the richest family in America. This got us to thinking. If Mitt Romney is right that corporations are people (they aren’t), who would Wal-mart be if it were one of us people? We’ve got several ideas from the world of fiction:

Darth Smiley

Search your feelings, Luke. You’re a Walton.

1. Luke Skywalker’s dad
2. Ebenezer Scrooge
3. Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life”
4. You-know-who from the Harry Potter books.

And from the world of non-fiction:

There was this guy who frequented the Whitechapel district during the time of Queen Victoria …

Corporate e-mail

23 Sep

1st law of e-mail:  e-mail The echelon from which a corporate e-mail originates is inversely proportional to its importance.  An e-mail from the CEO looks important, but when you open it,  you find that the big boss is rhapsodizing about the fantastic turnout at some conference where a lot of customers were present. In contrast, an e-mail from some little peon at the same level as you is a lot more likely to contain information that’s actually relevant to doing your job.