Big-stick Diplomacy In Panama

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

The wee hours of Dec. 31 by tradition are a time of celebration for people everywhere. Complaints of nitpicking numerical purists aside, that tradition becomes all the more significant when the last digit of the calendar year is changing from nine to zero — the unofficial end of a decade, a century and/or a millennium.

We are fast approaching one of those milestone dates — Dec. 31, 1999 — and the world is preparing for one big party. Some countries have more reason to celebrate than others, though, and Panama is one of them. At the start of 2000, new millennium or not, Panamanians will be rejoicing at their new-found freedom to control the canal that cuts through their nation.

That date will mark the official end of American imperialism in Central America, an era that arguably reached its zenith 96 years ago this month, with the signing of a hastily negotiated treaty giving the United States the right to build and control the Panama Canal “in perpetuity.” How the United States managed such a one-sided treaty is a fascinating tale indeed — and one worth examining as a subsequent 1977 treaty that promised to relinquish the canal to Panama is about to take effect.

Choosing the best route
Long before President Theodore Roosevelt selected the then-Panamanian region of Colombia as the site for a canal connecting the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, the U.S. government desired such a waterway. Congressional Quarterly pegged federal interest to the presidency of Andrew Jackson, who in the 1830s sent Charles Biddle to explore canal routes through Nicaragua, two countries to the north of Panama.

The 1855 construction of a railroad across the Panamanian Isthmus, made possible by an 1846 deal between the United States and Colombia, heightened pressure for action. Commercial interests dreamed of a more direct oceanic trade route. And in 1898, with the United States warring against Spain in Cuba, Americans recognized a military need for the canal — to get battleships from one U.S. coast to the other, without having to go around South America.

The voyage of one ship in particular, the USS Oregon, changed the dynamics of the canal debate. Newspapers chronicled the Oregon’s 12,000-mile journey around Cape Horn for more than three months, and canal advocates noted that a canal would have cut 8,000 miles from the trip.


The Next Chapter In The E-book Revolution

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Back in the spring, when Washington was abuzz with news that a family of beavers had taken to felling the nation’s prized collection of cherry trees, my wife, Kimberly, had an idea: Why not write a children’s book with the beavers as the heroes? Her random thought triggered my imagination. So inspired was I that I finished the first draft of the book in a day.

Like any writer, I assumed publishers would rush to print the story. It had a news hook (the battle to capture the beavers and save the trees), a broad market (anyone familiar with the nationally publicized story), and an annual marketing opportunity (Washington’s Cherry Blossom Festival). I quickly researched the market and pitched the book to a dozen publishers.

Those who are less naïve about the book business than I will not be surprised to hear that I found no takers. But my experience with “traditional” book publishing, and my commitment to sharing a good story, motivated me to explore the world of electronic publishing — and I am most intrigued by what I found.

Gotta book to sell?
Generally, I found an online environment that, true to the promise of the Internet, allows any author with an idea to bypass the less-than-visionary gatekeepers of the print world and take his pitch straight to the people. And specifically, I found, and, Web sites whose missions in part or in whole are to sell e-books (or “eMatter”, in Fatbrain’s case) that might not get to market otherwise.

All three sites are more about marketing than publishing. They do not solicit book ideas, pay advances to writers or anything like that. They are outlets for writers of existing works who simply want to sell their writing online or who, in the pattern of novelist M.J. Rose, hope to use the Web to generate a following and attract the attention of traditional publishers. But marketing, as any New York editor will tell you, is at least as important to book sales as content.

That said, if e-books are going to “change the publishing industry,” as publisher Angela Adair-Hoy believes, then e-book authors could use a few good marketing tools. BookLocker, Fatbrain and eBookCity are relatively new — BookLocker has undergone two recent site redesigns, Fatbrain’s eMatter just launched in mid-October and eBookCity is still in the making — but they may be just the tools.

The Lost War On Poverty

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Poverty is making a political comeback.” So said the Chicago Tribune in an Oct. 21 story that echoed a theme just about every media outlet has reported at some time over the past several months.

Although arguably unwarranted when you consider the White House’s Sept. 30 announcement about the declining poverty rate, the media emphasis certainly seems justified by the attention some policymakers and candidates have been giving poverty. President Clinton, for instance, heralded his poverty tour to Appalachia in July. And Vice President Al Gore recently upstaged Democratic presidential rival Bill Bradley by introducing his plan for attacking childhood poverty one day before Bradley announced his ideas.

No one, of course, ponders the state of poverty today without first recalling President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s. Whether for good or bad, it is the milestone achievement in the federal government’s quest to feed, clothe, house and employ the nation’s poor.

The three-legged stool of poor policy
Before Johnson’s presidency, poverty rarely was a cause for federal intervention. The “charity begins at home” mantra had shaped the nation’s thinking on the poor for much of its history. In his 1992 book “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” conservative Marvin Olasky, a key adviser to GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush, said the traditional approach to poverty consisted of “a three-legged stool of family, church and neighborhood.”

The admonition of colonial preacher Cotton Mather served as a guiding principle for more than two centuries. “Instead of exhorting you to augment your charity,” Mather told his followers in 1698, “I will rather utter an exhortation … that you may not abuse your charity by misapplying it. … Let us try to do good with as much application of mind as wicked men employ in doing evil.”

Even when the growth of cities made the three-legged-stool model less workable, the government was reluctant to get involved. In 1854, President Franklin Pierce vetoed a bill that would have authorized money for federally supported mental hospitals. His reasoning: “If Congress has the power to make provision for the indigent insane, it has the same power for the indigent who are not insane.” Pierce did not think it wise for the nation to head down that path, and Congress upheld his veto.