May 17, 2007

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A Game as Old as Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption, edited by Steven Hiatt (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007, 250 pages)
Reviewed by Eric W. Saeger news@hippopress.com

Pop quiz: Name the politician who said in 1991, “I think to have American military forces engaged in a civil war inside Iraq would fit the definition of quagmire.”

One thing that has somehow managed to survive the neocons’ unrepentant shredding of constitutional liberties is a stunted version of freedom of speech, if only by virtue of a few lines of fine print overlooked by the right wing in their frenzy to protect the American social sphere from rational discussions of human sexuality.

Indeed the truth is out there for any American who wants out of the Matrix. Chalmers Johnson, Noam Chomsky and many others have written powerful books warning of the perils of allowing the American empire to continue mercilessly stomping the world. On TV, late weekend nights on C-SPAN’s Book TV often feature these authors guiding tours through the looking glass, while the independent documentary The Corporation made a strong case for characterizing corporations — entitled to many of the same rights as individual persons under current law — as clinically certified psychopaths.

For folks who have precious little time to read but serious interest in discovering Just What Exactly Is Going Wrong With This Country, A Game as Old as Empire is the only — repeat, only — book you need seek out.

At one point during its scant couple of hours, The Corporation touched on Bechtel Corp.’s military-backed effort to privatize Bolivia’s water supply, a murderous scheme that left Bolivian citizens needing to choose between drinking and eating. This is precisely where A Game as Old as Empire picks up and drills to the core, exposing such terrifying realities as the catch-22s attached to “humanitarian aid” packages for Third World countries that keep them in perpetual, impossible debt and, in turn, enrich First World countries by keeping imports cheap and affordable.

John Perkins, author of 2005’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, happily wrote the introduction to this book. Confessions, in which Perkins gave an account of his nefarious deeds in the name of the “corporatocracy,” is the biggest worldwide (and New York Times) bestseller you’ve never heard of, owing to the complete lack of coverage provided by the corporate-beholden mainstream media. He’s obviously delighted that Game isn’t one man’s first-person account (which media outlets used as an excuse to cancel interviews with him, citing the possibility of hearsay) but a collection of anecdotes and discussions from insiders and journalists who’ve seen the devastating (and often genocidal) effects of corporate greed.

If you’re curious enough about this topic to have read this far, there’s little point in going over the particulars and ruining the book’s surprises for you, but for decorum’s sake we shall in brief. Texas Monthly editor S. C. Gwynne contributes a jaw-dropping account of his days as a young gun in banking, relating how easy it was to manipulate his incompetent superiors into rubber-stamping multi-million-dollar loans for an already insolvent Marcos regime in the Philippines. Later, activist Greg Muttitt examines corporate scrapping over the Iraqi oil pie and native resistance to privatizing that resource, altogether a sure-fire recipe for yet another violent showdown.

Oh yes, the quiz. That was Dick Cheney. A+