Thursday, January 24, 2008

Books, Books, Books 3

I enjoyed “STATE OF DENIAL: Bush at War Part 3” and “THE SECRET MAN: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat” both of which were authored by Bob Woodward. For the uninitiated, Bob Woodward was the Washington Post investigative journalist who, together with Carl Bernstein, reported the Watergate break-in in 1972 which eventually led to President Nixon’s resignation a few years later. His first book “All The President’s Men” published in 1974 was an instant bestseller and was adapted into a movie in 1976 starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein.

Deep Throat made Bob Woodward. His Watergate expose, which he wrote when he was just in his mid-20s, made him famous not only in the U.S. but in the whole world. All of the ten books he subsequently authored or co-authored so far were consistent no. 1 bestsellers. Because of his celebrity status, he has amassed a wide network of contacts and unprecedented access to the “corridors of power.” I enjoy reading his books because they are always full of insider information and intimate details about who’s who in American politics.

Of the two books, I found the “THE SECRET MAN” more interesting. “THE SECRET MAN” is about Deep Throat, Woodward’s enigmatic source who helped him and Bernstein decode the Watergate scandal in 1972 (played by Hal Holbrook in the movie “All the President’s Men.” It was Deep Throat who advised Robert Redford to “follow the money” and the phrase has since become one of Hollywood’s most memorable lines). In the book, Woodward finally confirms Deep Throat to be Mark Felt, the No. 2 man in the FBI during Nixon’s time. Felt was a career civil servant and a protégé of J. Edgar Hoover. Deeply resentful of being passed over by Nixon, he felt no allegiance to the man and when the opportunity arose to hit back at the man who refused to promote him Mark Felt struck back.

I found “THE SECRET MAN” fascinating not because I wanted to learn about Deep Throat’s true identity (Mark Felt already came out in 2005) but because it tackles a common and very difficult dilemma faced by journalists today – how to protect confidential sources. Up to this day, the code of journalism has no clear-cut rules on when or under what circumstances a reporter can reveal the identity of their confidential informants. “THE SECRET MAN” offers an intimate insight into the pressures, struggles and difficulties Woodward had to face in safeguarding Deep Throat’s identity for the last 33 years. It was not an easy thing to do considering that Deep Throat aroused great interest not only in the political circles of Washington D.C. (where secrets do not keep for long) but the American general public as well. In fact, due to this immense public interest, the subject has spawned an entire genre of conspiracy theory books and Deep Throat has become some sort of “Americana enigma” (akin to the UFO sightings in Roswell or the Manhattan Project or the JFK assassination). In fact, one student from Turlock, California even chose it as a subject for his masters’ thesis (The said thesis paper, a copy of which was sent to Woodward, systemically considered 120 possible Deep Throat suspects, including Nixon’s nephew, Nixon’s brother, even Nixon’s personal secretary Rose Mary Woods. In the end the student guessed wrong.)

Going back to the subject of sources' confidentiality, Woodward claims that there are basically two schools of thought on the matter. One school maintains that journalists can reveal the identity of their confidential sources only upon the person’s consent. The other, more strident school of thought insists that journalists have a sacred duty to protect their sources and that they can reveal only after their sources’ death (with some even suggesting a period of 20 years after the person has died). As a celebrity journalist, Bob Woodward regularly gets invited to give a speech in various fora and every time he was asked whether the identity of Deep Throat would ever be known, his answer would invariably be that “it should be revealed only after his death, unless in his lifetime he changed his mind and agreed to have it disclosed.”

Woodward was prepared to wait until after Mark Felt died to reveal that he was Deep Throat but on May 31, 2005, he was surprised to read an article in Vanity Fair entitled “I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat.” The author of the article was John O’Connor, Felt’s lawyer, and (as the title not so subtly suggests) it basically says Mark Felt admitted to his family that he was the person people referred to as Deep Throat and that he has decided to surface to bring some clarity to the issue. Woodward initially declined to confirm the Vanity Fair article, believing he had promised Felt unconditional confidentiality till his death. Also, at the time of the Vanity Fair article, Felt was already 91 years old and was suffering from dementia - his memory was all but erased. Woodward justifiably felt something was amiss but in the end, his editors at the Washington Post prevailed upon him to confirm Felt’s claim in order to bring closure to the issue. He issued a curt press statement: “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.”

It is perhaps the height of irony that the greatest “iskoopero” of all time, Bob Woodward, would be out-scooped not by some heavy investigative media outfit but by a magazine more known for its light entertainment and lifestyle articles.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Books, Books, Books 2

The Philippine Left has always insisted that America is hell-bent on total world domination thru economic imperialism (via USAID, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund). Their regular protest rallies are replete with colorful slogans like “Ibagsak ang Rehimeng US-(Whoever is the President at that time); “President (Fill in the Blank) Tuta ng Kano;”WB-IMF Imperyalista,” etc. I have always viewed their advocacies with a certain level of skepticism and maintained that their views are somewhat skewed. I, together with I assume many Filipinos, somehow find it hard to believe that there is a worldwide conspiracy to keep not only our country but the entire Third World poor. Now, someone has actually come out with a tell-all book to confirm their allegations. And this person is not some loony or some two-bit conspiracy theorist but at one time worked as a junior partner in one of America’s biggest international consulting firms.

John Perkins has come out with a real page-turner and his “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” should be a must-read not only for our economic policy planners but all our political leaders. His book’s dramatic opening lines is enough to hook you:

“Economic Hit Men (or EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillion of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play the game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.

I should know; I was an EHM.”

John Perkins, is your garden variety WASP-Eastern Establishment type. He went to all the right prep schools and Ivy League institutions and counts among his ancestors some of America’s Founding Fathers (like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen). After marrying a classmate from college, he met his wife’s “Uncle Frank” who worked for the National Security Agency. Perkins points to this mysterious “Uncle Frank” as the one who recruited him to be an EHM and he credits this same person as the “invisible hand” which guided and helped him fast-track his career. Here’s a passage from the earlier parts of “Confessions…” where “Uncle Frank” sent a woman codenamed “Claudine” to instruct John Perkins on the “EHM arts:”

“Claudine told me that there were two primary objectives of my work. First, I was to justify huge international loans that would funnel money back to MAIN and other US companies (such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Stone & Webster, Brown & Root) through massive engineering and construction projects. Second, I would work tobankrupt the countries that received those loans (after they had paid MAIN and the other US contractors, of course) so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favors, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.

My job, she said, was to forecast the effects of investing billions of dollars in a country. Specifically, I would produce studies that projected economic growth 20 to 25 years into the future and that evaluated the impacts of a variety of projects. For example, if a decision was made to lend a country $1 billion to persuade its leaders not to align with the Soviet Union, I would compare the benefits of investing that money in power plants with the benefits of investing in a new national railroad network or a telecommunications system. The project that resulted in the highest average annual growth of GNP won.

The unspoken aspect of every one of these projects was that they were intended to create large profits for the contractors, and to make a handful of wealthy and influential families in the receiving countries very happy, while assuring the long term financial dependence and therefore the political loyalty of governments around the world. The larger the loan, the better. The fact that the debt burden placed on a country would deprive its poorest citizens of health, education, and other social services for decades to come was not taken into consideration.”

After a short stint in Ecuador working as a Peace Corps volunteer helping indigenous tribes living in the Amazon, John Perkins returned to the States and landed a high-paying job as an economist at MAIN, an international consulting firm (both jobs he got thru Uncle Frank’s “facilitation”). Like its more famous rivals Halliburton, Bechtel, Stone & Webster, etc., MAIN’s main business is with foreign governments. In 1971, Perkins was given his first assignment as part of an eleven-man team that will design the master energy plan for the island of Java in Indonesia. Since electricity demand is highly correlated with economic growth, the only way for the loan to be feasible was if Perkins, as the team’s lead economic forecaster, would come out with a study predicting Java’s economy skyrocketing in the next 25 years. According to most experts, a typical area’s electricity consumption never grew by more than seven to nine percent a year for any sustained period - six percent was the more reasonable figure. Applying the lessons he learned from EHM school, Perkins proceeded to bloat his 25-year forecast of Java’s economic growth. He predicted a whooping 17% growth rate for Java – an electric load growth rate last seen during the California gold rush! The people of Java got their electricity, the US consulting firms got their money, and the Indonesian leaders got their commissions. In short, everybody happy!

After Indonesia, John Perkins went on to head various “development” projects in countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, and Iran where the U.S. had vital interests. He hobnobbed with the rich and the powerful and was hugely successful in his career, becoming the youngest partner in MAIN’s 100-year history, conducting regular lectures at Harvard, and publishing a series of influential papers in the States. But although he was successful professionally, his personal life suffered and he eventually divorced his wife in 1979. Suffering from guilt and depression, he quit his lucrative job at MAIN in 1980 and proceeded to establish his own power generation company focusing on developing environmentally-friendly sources of electricity.

John Perkins published his “Confessions of an EHM” only in 2004 and he had allocated a chapter in his book explaining why it took him so long to come out. Now, Perkins is back where he first started – in Ecuador but this time helping promote the rights of indigenous tribes against the giant multinational companies looking to exploit their lands. In fact, when the 9/11 attack broke out he was deep in the Amazon jungle. He points to 9/11 as one of the main reasons why, despite threats to his life and reputation, he proceeded to publish his book to bring this message across: America must become compassionate and Americans must change their lifestyles. John Perkins is now an advocate of New Age ideas and what he calls a “sustainable lifestyle” (see his website for more details) He wrote:

“They have brought us to a point where our global culture is a monstrous machine that requires exponentially increasing amounts of fuel and maintenance, so much so that in the end it will have consumed everything in sight and will be left with no choice but to devour itself.”

“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” is a fascinating read and John Perkins should be congratulated for his courage.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Books, Books, Books

I have not been in a writing mood because I have been in reading mode lately. These past few weeks, I have been trying to finish reading the books my wife and I accumulated this past year which have been lying around the house for months just waiting to be read. I will be writing about a couple books I liked and sharing some of the insights I learned in the next days.

“TO RULE THE WAVES: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World” by Arthur Herman retraces the entire history of the Royal Navy from its “birth by fire” during the Spanish Armada invasion of England to Admiral Horatio Nelson’s glorious victory over Napoleon Bonaparte’s fleet during the Battle of Trafalgar up to the Falklands War in 1982.

While it is already a well-known fact that Great Britain built its empire on the back of its Royal Navy, it is not common knowledge that most of the men who built, manned and captained her ships came mostly from one small corner of England, in an area commonly referred to as “West Country” comprised of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. It is quite astonishing to learn that although no place in Britain is never more than 65 miles from the coast (much like the Philippines), the British were not really a seafaring people. Instead, the bulk of its naval officers and seamen came from rugged coastal communities and the great “maritime cities” like Cornwall and Norfolk. From the Elizabethan Age up to the Second World War, the West Country region has supplied the Royal Navy with more officers and men than any other region in England. If we compare it to the Philippines (since the UK archipelago is similar in size to the Philippines), its like saying that their navy was built on the back of men mainly from Panay or say Samar.

Most of Britain’s most famous naval captains such as John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Walter Raleigh all grew up in Devon and Cornwall (John Hawkins and Francis Drake were in fact first cousins). During Queen Elizabeth’s reign in the 1500s, these “West Country men” assembled a hodgepodge of ships and surprisingly, defeated the mighty Spanish Armada thereby setting off England on its path to imperialism. Although England’s greatest admiral, Horatio Nelson, came from Norfolk in the North Sea and not in West Country, he was surrounded by West Country men. Nelson’s mentor, Admiral Hood, came from Dorset as well as a number of his sea captains at the Battle of Trafalgar in the 1700s. Even the officer who sailed back to England with the news of Nelson’s death was born in Tavistock in the West Country region. At the time of the Falklands War in 1982, the First Sea Lord Sir Henry Leach, was from the West Country and the commander of the Falkland Task Force, Rear Admiral John “Sandy” Woodward, was also from West Country Cornwall. So was the leader of the Marines who assaulted the Argentinian positions in the Falklands, Marine Brigadier General Julian Thompson who was from Cornwall.

During its heyday, the Royal Navy had an all-encompassing influence on British society. Not only was the Royal Navy viewed as the savior of Britain (after their stunning victories over the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Trafalgar) but also became the symbol of Britain’s imperialist might during the Victorian Age. Her admirals were deferred to by politicians, her sea captains adored by the public and her fighting ships were viewed almost as persons with identities and distinct personalities of their own (so it is by no accident that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, chose to make his famous English spy a naval commander and not an army officer).

Two World Wars sapped the imperialist spirit of the British and by the 1970s, the Royal Navy was just a mere shadow of its formal self (so much so that when Argentina invaded the small British outpost in the Falklands in the 1980s, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher forgot to invite the Royal Navy to her command conference meeting on how to address the crisis – an outrageous thought just 50 years ago). Here is a passage from the concluding pages of the book:

“One by one the substance and symbols of British naval supremacy, the embodiment of three centuries of tradition and pride, vanished. The mighty battleship Queen Elizabeth has served 33 years and carried the flags of 16 admirals, including David Beatty the day he received the surrender of the German High Seas Feet in 1918 – the greatest bloodless naval victory in history. As her ensign came down the last time in March 1948, a Royal Marine band played “Auld Lang Syne” and “God Save The King” as the commander in chief and other senior officers stood at attention.

HMS Renown has been Repulse’s sister ship. Rodney was one of two battleships that had sunk the Bismarck. Both were gone by 1948. Bismarck’s other opponent, the King George V, lingered on for a while in reserve. She was finally sold for the broker’s yard in 1958. HMS Vanguard had been finished too late to see action in World War II but she managed to survive the budget cuts until 1959 as Britain’s last remaining battleship. Then it was decided the Vanguard too had to go. As she was being tugged out of the Portsmouth harbor, she ran aground and would not move for more than an hour – as if in silent protest against her sad fate.

But none were sadder, perhaps, than that of HMS Implacable. Like the rest, the ship had held the king’s commission during the war: but her heart was not of steel but oak. The Implacable was the last survivor of Trafalgar still afloat. After Trafalgar, in 1855, Implacable was refitted as a training vessel for boy seamen at Devonport. For fifty years she taught young men the art of handling sails and going aloft on it, on the very sound where Hawkins, Drake, Raleigh had begun the modern age of fighting sail.

By 1908 that era had closed for good. The navy put the Implacable on its disposal list. However, a millionaire bought the ship and refurbished her at his own expense, so that she was able to serve as a training ship again in 1932, this time in Portsmouth. When war came, she was still in service as a coal hulk – the oldest wooden warship afloat. Then in 1947, the Admiralty decided it could no longer afford to keep her. There was a public outcry, but in an era of economic austerity, no money could be found to save her.

And so on December 2, 1949, she was towed out into Portsmouth harbor, as the Victory watched the only other survivor of Trafalgar pass by for the last time. Implacable was flying both the Union Jack and the French tricolor – and carrying four hundred tons of pig iron and a set of scuttling charges in her hull. After the two national anthems were played, the charges were detonated. But Implacable fooled her would-be executioners. As Nelson or Blake could have told them, the wooden ship of old did not sink like her modern steel descendants. Instead of turning over and plunging when her bottom blew out, Implacable stubbornly remained afloat, for several days until workers finally had to go in and break up her mighty timbers so she would not be a navigation hazard. Implacable had died unwanted but not unmourned: the most venerable victim of imperial overstretch.”

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Golf Wisdom

Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle, followed by a good bottle of beer.

Golf! You hit down to make the ball go up. You swing left and the ball goes right. The lowest score wins. And on top of that, the winner buys the drinks

Golf is harder than baseball. In golf, you have to play your foul balls.

If you find you do not mind playing golf in the rain, the snow, even during a hurricane, here's a valuable tip: your life is in trouble.

Golfers who try to make every thing perfect before taking the shot rarely make a perfect shot.

The term 'mulligan' is really a contraction of the phrase 'maul it again.'

A 'gimme' can best be defined as an agreement between two golfers ... neither of whom can putt very well.

An interesting thing about golf is that no matter how badly you play; it is always possible to get worse.

Golf's a hard game to figure. One day you'll go out and slice it and shank it, hit into all the traps and miss every green. The next day you go out and for no reason at all you really stink.

If your best shots are the practice swing and the 'gimme putt', you might wish to reconsider this game.

Golf is the only sport where the most feared opponent is you.

Golf is like marriage: If you take yourself too seriously it won't work , and both are expensive.

The best wood in most amateurs' bags is the pencil.