Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

I’ve been really busy recently, and as a result, my book list has been ignored. I’ve had an ever-growing pile of books which I optimistically purchased, but never got around to actually reading. When I found out I had two weeks off between semesters, I promised myself I would dig in. Alas, less than a week remains of this ‘vacation’ and I’ve only just finished my first book. The reason I dug this particular book out of the pile was because I’ve been avoiding it for about 2 years now, always putting it off because of something or the other.

Well, now I’ve finished it. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is described as “the shocking inside story of how America really took over the world”. It’s about a guy named John Perkins (the author), who worked for a private consultancy firm called MAIN (which no longer exists), which was very loosely associated with the US government and various organizations therein, such as the National Security Agency (NSA). MAIN worked for various governments and international organizations such as USAID, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Its consultants would go into third-world countries to assess how a certain development project/initiative might benefit the country i.e. charts and graphs showing the estimated economic growth, GNP, GDP, etc.

Now according to the book, MAIN, the US government, and several large private-sector organizations formed what Perkins refers to as the “corporatocracy”, a collusion of major power brokers that cooks the statistical data presented to third-world/developing countries to show higher-than-realistic levels of growth, justify the acceptance of huge loans by these countries, and make sure as much money is funneled back into the US as possible. Here’s how it works: Country X is presented with a development opportunity by an international organization such as the IMF or the World Bank. In order to fund this development, X will have to take large loans (the goal here is for X to never be able to repay these loans). In order to develop the infrastructure necessary to carry out these development projects, foreign firms have to be hired to handle the construction, planning, design, etc. So a large amount of the money (loaned by the IMF or WB, which are majorly funded by the United States) goes towards paying companies in the United States. The growth levels predicted are either never achieved or unsustainable, and therefore, X can never really repay its loans. When it defaults, the lender organization or major power brokers therein demand their “pound of flesh”, a phrase that Perkins has used repeatedly throughout the book. This can be in the form of UN votes, military bases within X’s borders, etc.

John Perkins was one of the people who made all of this possible. In fact, he often played a key role – in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Panama, Iran, Columbia and Ecuador – and in the end, his conscience got to him. After repeatedly selling out to ‘the Powers That Be’, so to speak, he finally broke free and wrote this book to assuage his feeling of betraying the world and humanity at large.

The book is largely critical of the US government, and often names key officials such as George H. W. Bush, his son, Dick Cheney, Weinberger, Rockefeller, and many other prominent personalities. The author writes in a style that provides a broad overview of his career, occasionally zooming in to provide an in-depth view of his secretive training as an Economic Hit Man, how he first made the decision to ‘toe the company line’ and predict faulty future statistics in Indonesia, how a herd of goats inspired his ideas to manipulate the Saudi government in SAMA – the Saudi Arabian Money-laundering Affair, how a Vietnamese puppet master eerily predicted that the US would strike the Middle East – which it did, etc.

In Pakistan, conspiracy theories have a tendency to be easily accepted. As a nation, we are usually willing to believe that the US is out to get us, or that the terrorists are noble, or that Zardari was somehow involved in his wife’s death, and other things like that. Many don’t even ask for proof. They usually just nod their heads as if to say, “Yeah, we knew it. We knew it all along.” I don’t know if it’s like that all over the world, but it is certainly how it is in Pakistan. But what this book talks about is how our modern notion of capitalism has come about – how the bottom line has become a sharp edge where any means justify the corporate end, and how human feeling has gone out of the functioning of our governments and our companies.

Perkins talks a lot about how he cares about the world his daughter will grow up in, the world the children of his day will inherit. In reading this book, I felt that Perkins’s goal in writing it was not to expose the US government, as a lot of books do these days, but primarily to explain how our motivating factors have changed. How greed and personal ambition have come to dominate our interactions, and how everyone is out to get their cut. There is a lack of attention to traditional values – caring about the ecosystem (oil companies dumping waste in Panama’s rivers), caring about the poor (tricking countries into accepting erroneous development loans), taking money from a government to provide it with technology that its people are essentially incapable of running without you – a constant source of income for you, a permanent reliance, and a country going to the dogs (Saudi Arabian Money-laundering Affair & JERCO).

Everyone who reads this book will perceive it in a different way. Talking to another reader, I had the opportunity to hear her views. She thought the book was just a publicity stunt by Perkins. On an online discussion forum, I read a review that took the book as an affirmation of all anti-US conspiracy theories. There is a range of opinions out there, and the book is full of details to analyze and factors to form an opinion about. Is it wrong for a country to seek to strengthen itself in terms of relative power? Realists might think so. Is it wrong for a country to take advantage of the superior education and training it is able to offer individuals to gain dominance over other countries? Is it Saudi Arabia’s fault for accepting JERCO in the first place? Isn’t this an example of Saudi Arabia being greedy, just like the US? Shouldn’t the developing countries look out for themselves? Why should industrialized nations be forced to babysit them?

In the end, it’s one opinion against another. This book is interesting, not only for political science buffs, conspiracy theorists, and economists, but also for a reader like me, who enjoys historical and cultural descriptions of countries around the world, and different perspectives regarding them. I’ll end with a line from the book:

The coincidences of your life, and the choices you have made in response to them, have brought you to this point.

Running the Kitchen – Day 2 (Zucchini Corn Pancakes!)

So with mom gone for Umrah to Saudi Arabia, Dad expecting dinner ready at aftaar time, my brother hungry after a hard day at work, and a bunch of friends coming over, I had little time to relax and even less time to cook! I needed something simple, easy, and delicious. It had to filling enough to be the main course, and ‘cool’ enough so that my friends would attempt eating it. Here’s what I came up with.

Okay so this recipe makes about 15-20 pancakes, if you make them about 4-inches wide. If you want humongous pancakes, that’s up to you, but you will have to double the recipe.

Ingredients:

4 large eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
3 cups grated zucchini (one large zucchini, usually)
1 cup sweet corn (my favorite is the one from Malee)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Directions:

1) Get a bowl. Make sure it’s clean. Combine the eggs, oil, salt, pepper and dried herbs, and whisk. That means, take a fork and make circular motions in the mixture until your arm goes numb, or use one of those amazing blender machine thingies.

2) Add the zucchini, corn, and cheddar and flour, and a huge spoon and start mixing like there’s no tomorrow. The goal here is make it all one big gloopy mix, with no dry pockets of flour hiding here or there. If you’re lazy like me, you’ll just use the spinny blender thing again.

3) Heat a large cast-iron skillet or griddle to medium heat, adding a very small amount of oil to it. In desi language, this means a tawa with a little ghee. Using a scoop-type spoon, or an ince-cream scooper (I used a little measuring cup), or anything that can “scoop”, start taking some batter and pouring it onto the skillet. Like I said earlier, pour in quantities that make about a 4-inch wide pancake. You can flatten it out with the back of a spoon if it looks too round-ish.

4) Cook on each side about 3-4 minutes, until its nice and light brownish, and remove from the skillet. Serve warm, with whatever topping you’d like.

You can add meat to this recipe if you’d like, but it would have to be pre-cooked.

Obama+Muslims = Celebrating Ramadan?

Obama says Ramadan Kareem

Obama says Ramadan Kareem

“To Muslim Americans across our country and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month.” – Barack Obama

August 13th, 2010 – The President hosts an Iftar at the White House & Talks About the Ground Zero Mosque
Obama’s stirring speech is going to hit home with a lot of Muslims this month, but the sad part is, it’s going to be ignored by a whole lot more. The President stresses “the role of faith in the lives of the American people”. For anyone living in a Muslim country, it’s not hard to hear the critic in the back of your head as you watch the US President.

“We are all children of God.” Indeed, Mr. President, we are. Even those you killed in Iraq, even those you killed in Afghanistan. During the Cold War – your generosity was not as puritan as you’d like to claim. Yes, you gave the Afghanis arms and ammunition to defeat the Soviets. You gave them millions and billions of dollars. But you threw them into the fodder, making no effort to minimize losses. Uncle Sam is indeed beneficent.

If religion defines “who we are as Americans” then why can’t we let Muslims define who they are as Iraqis, Palestinians, Pakistanis?
Our founders understood” that in order to create peace amongst your people, you must “protect their freedom to practice religion“. Then why can’t we protect the freedom of those outside our borders? Every man with a beard is a victim. Customs is a nightmare for even the innocent man named Muhammad.

I’ve always liked America. I was raised in Texas, right in the thick of the Bible Belt. But moving across the world, coming to Pakistan and listening to all the propaganda from a third-world perspective, it’s hard NOT to see why people hate those bloody Americans.

In his defense, Obama does seem to be making a number of gestures to the Muslim world. There is no more ‘War on Terror’. Thomas Jefferson said: “all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion” and maybe, just MAYBE, this guy’s trying to live up to that. Maybe, by taking little steps, there might just be religious tolerance of a certain degree. Right now, I don’t think anyone should be asking for utopia, but let’s at least put an end to the killing. Let’s make little peace offerings and show a little compromise in order to stop even bigger disasters from occurring. It’s not just the United States that could do with some down-time diplomacy. The Muslim world needs to step up and help spread the message of peaceful Islam. The one thing that every Islamic country needs to be broadcasting: WE’RE NOT ALL TERRORISTS. WE STAND FOR MORE THAN BOMBS AND JIHAD.

The first amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is what Obama vows to ensure. He says that for US citizens of different religions to “coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in stark contrast to the religious conflict that persists elsewhere“, he may not be 100% right, but he’s not all wrong either. With faction fighting tearing Muslims apart everywhere you look, it’s not hard to understand why there’s so much turmoil in the Middle East. So many are out there ‘fighting’ in the name of Islam without understanding what theyre fighting for. Islam does not promote violence. The WORD ‘Islam’ is derived from the Arabic root “Salema”: peace, purity, submission and obedience.

The Muslim community’s need for solidarity aside, Obama makes an effort to reach out to the Muslim population of the United States in this speech. Did you know there’s two Muslims in the US Congress? Andre Carson and Keith ElisonAs President, and as a citizen, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in their country.”

Further on in his speech, he makes a valid point:
There are those who fight in the name of Islam, but what they fight for is “a gross distortion of Islam”.

I’m not saying the United States is all holy and wonderful, I’m just saying it’s time we ALL stood up and looked at what is going wrong in our world.

Click here to watch the President’s speech.

Why Pakistan was good for me:

I have a goal in life. I want to make a difference in the world, no matter how miniscule. I want to leave a mark, my mark.

My name is Zainab Khawaja, and though I am Pakistani, I was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in the Unites States. I moved to Pakistan in June 2005, at the age of 13 – old enough to have started to understand the world, but still too young to understand the need for change, and to resist the subsequent transformation of my life. Moving across the world, entering a culture I had absolutely no connection with, and ingratiating myself with people who viewed me as a complete alien, seemed at first to be an unconquerable impasse. I felt as if I was being robbed of the happy life I had had up till then. In retrospect, however, it is easy to see how positively this change affected me.

It is my firm belief that moving to Pakistan has helped me become a better person. From the poverty and helplessness, I’ve learned the lesson of humility and appreciation. From the corruption and the lack of structure, I’ve learned the value of justice and organization. From the shortages of everything from utilities to basic food substances, I’ve learned to live with less and make the most out of what I have. Most of all, however, it is from the sincerity and hospitality of a few that I have learned to hope for better, that amongst all that darkness, the light of a single candle will always shine clear and true.