Pushing Back the Desert

Preview: Prologue through Chapter 2


It's the spring of 1952, and nine years have passed since Claudine Demaureux, in the spring of 1943, called on the members of her University of California doctoral study group, "The Six Sentinels," for assistance. She had become concerned that the same German industrialists who had supported Hitler and his National Social Workers Party (Nazi) to power were planning to smuggle their two-billion-dollar fortunes of war out of Germany before an Allied invasion of France. It was rumored that the founders of the Third Reich were anxious to protect their wealth so that it could be used to fund a Fourth Reich in furtherance of their goal of imposing Aryan supremacy over Europe and possibly beyond.

Over the next nine years, the original Six Sentinels had developed an enviable track record of opposing abusive agendas of concentrated power. Recently, they had prevented a coalition of military contractors from manipulating the congressional appropriations process for their self-interests.

The time had arrived for them to step back and analyze what they had learned and to discuss what needed to be done to perpetuate what they had accomplished.

It had become apparent to all involved that irresponsible agendas of self-interest were emerging at a faster pace. At the same time, the demands of their personal lives were making it necessary for them to engage in a longer-range planning discussion if they wished to continue their opposition to the major-power pursuit of self-serving agendas.

The weekly meeting of the Senior Loan Committee of New York's Stone City Bank was breaking up. Mike Stone, the bank's executive vice president, was still seated. He was talking to two of the most senior members when his secretary entered the executive conference room and made her way to where he was sitting. Handing him a handwritten note, she respectfully waited for his reply.

The message, penned on Jacques Roth's personal stationery, read as follows: "I'd like to discuss something. Could you join me for lunch at Frank's at 12:30?"

Jacques was already standing at Frank's hot dog stand, across the street from the entrance to the Stone City Bank Building. Engaged in an animated conversation with his old friend, Frank, he was aware of Mike's arrival at their long-time favorite lunch locale. After standing aside to allow Mike to say hello and order his usual, a footlong hot dog with sauerkraut, hot mustard, relish, and a Coke, Jacques suggested they take their lunches into the park, sit on a bench, and talk.

Mike, sensing Jacques' serious mood, was wondering, 'What could be so important that he needs to talk on such short notice outside the confines of the bank? Has some Sentinel event occurred that requires our immediate attention?'

Wasting no time, Jacques asked, "Did you receive Tony and Natalie's invitation to attend a retreat at the Sentinel Vineyards next month?"

"I saw the envelope in my pile of unopened mail. What's so important about our holding another retreat? Don't we regularly schedule an all-hands retreat following the conclusion of our most recent Sentinel endeavor?"

Reaching into his inside coat pocket, Jacques withdrew his invitation and handed it to Mike. "I could not help but notice the invitation included both Tony's and Natalie's names. I didn't know they were seeing each other, much less that they had taken up residence in Tony's home at the Sentinel Vineyard. Having dated Marcus and you unsuccessfully, why would she be attracted to yet another Sentinel with the same driven personality? How can a successful star of London's and New York's musical stages find happiness with a man who has spent the last ten years of his life committed to birthing a national vintner of premium wines?"

"But that's not all," Mike said. "Look at the bottom of the page. Cecelia has announced she is going to present her report on the founding of the Sentinel Institute. I can assure you she has spent a lot of time thinking about where all our Sentinel efforts may be leading. She is convinced that, if we hope to attract, train, and motivate qualified people to perpetuate what we have started, we need to become serious.

To accentuate what she is preaching, she has a habit of saying, 'It will take a minimum of ten years before the institute will be able to graduate students capable of continuing our work, and another five years of our coaching. Fifteen years is a long time before we can hope to withdraw.'"

After nodding in agreement, Jacques said, "In protecting the congressional appropriations process, it's important that we appreciate that this was the first time we encountered a coalition of connected military prime contractors. By combining their resources and their influence, they have learned that they can leverage their efforts into a more formidable force, capable of managing congressional approval for their own self-interest. In thinking about our future effectiveness, don't we need to pay particular attention to this coalition of corporations?"

Part One: "Surfacing the Problem"

Chapter One "The Retreat"

NAPA VALLEY: January, 1953

For ten years, the Six Sentinels and their colleagues had endured the strenuous and dangerous demands of opposing three separate "Power Cycles."

This year, Tony Garibaldi, along with his new significant other, Natalie Cummins, were hoping to continue the Sentinel retreat tradition. They also wanted to use the opportunity to announce their engagement.

During the first night's dinner, the frivolity that customarily occurs when old friends gather was enhanced by all the questions, answers, and sarcastic comments of old friends concerned about each other's happiness.

Mike was the first to ask a tough question. "Natalie, why do you think this self-confessed bachelor, committed to his work, will find the time to be supportive of your individuality and love you the way you deserve?"

"I am glad you asked," Natalie said, and then launched into a response that surprised her listeners for its candor. "From the first night when we met in the Algonquin Hotel's Blue Bar in New York, that has been a frequent topic of conversation. You may be surprised to learn it was the central question we needed to solve if either of us hoped to have a successful relationship.

"Better than most, we understand the demands of big, complex challenges, and the need for supportive, caring, and understanding mates. For years, each of us has had to endure the difficulties that arose when our mates were intimidated by the demands of our careers or were too preoccupied with their own lives and failed to respond in an appropriate fashion.

"What has changed? We are older, we have achieved success, and we enjoy a certain amount of freedom in our own careers. Now that I have retired from the stage, I am no longer tied to six performances each week. My work as a producer of a successful Broadway show, coupled with the able assistance of my crew, makes it possible for me to come and go when needed.

"Admittedly, Tony's work is on the West Coast and mine is one the East Coast. Geography should not be a problem when we aren't required to be on the job. For the rest of the time, long weekends and air travel will have to suffice. We have agreed that, when one of us calls, the other will come running."

Realizing it would be inappropriate for Jacques, Natalie's earlier beau, to say anything, Cecelia asked, "Tony, we all watched when you failed to pay attention to Claudine when we were graduating.

"She adored you and would have given up her banking career in Switzerland if you had invited her to remain in California and join you in your wine endeavors. What has changed? How were you able to convince Natalie that you would always be there for her?"

"Not long after Claudine returned to Geneva, I regretted my allowing someone of such importance to slip away," he said. "I have promised myself I wouldn't make the same mistake twice. After living alone for all these years, I have learned you can't wish for someone's love, care, and support if it's not a reciprocal relationship.

"I never thought I would have the chance to have a relationship with someone who is as talented, exciting, and can be as loving as Natalie. I love her and will never, knowingly, do anything to jeopardize what we share."

With their curiosity satisfied, the Sentinels devoted the next two days to discussing Sentinel business at hand.

Since the problem of multi-corporate affiliations was Jacques' principal concern, he assumed the responsibility for conducting that portion of the agenda. After several hours of discussion, it was Jacques who concluded, "When corporate coalitions combine their resources to support a common agenda of self-interest, it appears they have learned to do so without breaking laws. Maybe it's not the laws that should be of concern. Shouldn't we focus our attention on protecting the public's interest?"

"In our democratic, free-market society, somebody needs to decide whether the achievement of these self-serving agendas is in the public's best interests or at its expense. Dating back to the start of the 20^th^ century, antitrust provisions protecting the public from monopolistic practices have been incorporated into law. Why have we learned that antitrust laws are no longer capable of defending us from all the abusive agendas of concentrated wealth and influence? What might have happened had we not focused our attention on the problems that arise when multi-corporate resources are used to manipulate the political process for self-serving purposes?

"Since we will have little if any opportunity to attack these corporate coalitions directly, we must concentrate our opposition on their agendas. Starting today, we need to start thinking about what form our opposition needs to take!"

The second day, by agreement, the agenda was devoted to Cecelia's presentation of her progress report on the pending development of the Sentinel Institute.

Addressing the subject, Cecelia said, "You have, prior to the completion of our last plan of action, found it necessary for us to finalize our commitment to proceed with the development of the institute. Once we developed an actual plan, we have concentrated our attention on initiating the acquisition of a suitable site, organizing our proposed curriculum, designing the campus, completing the funding, and starting construction.

"Fellow Sentinels and honored guests, I am here to inform you that we have completed our plan for the institute, established a preliminary budget, and identified a potential site. In short, we have proceeded to the point where we require your approval before we can proceed.

"Now if you will join me in the next room, I have something I would like to show you."

As they entered the room, they saw a big table covered in a sheet. Curious about what lay beneath the sheet, they stood quietly around the table patiently waiting while Cecelia and Mike carefully removed the covering to reveal a precisely prepared topographical model, depicting the park-like setting of the campus. The view of the buildings, the driveways, space for future expansion, model cars, replicas of students walking, sitting, standing in small groups, and the proximity to the Monterey Bay caught everybody by surprise. Labels had been attached to the roof of each building designating its anticipated purpose. What had previously been a theoretical idea had just become a real-life project.

Jacques was the first to speak. "I had been wondering what a Sentinel Institute was supposed to be like.  Never in my wildest imagination did I think it would take so many buildings to house all the different curricula and students we hope to introduce to the institute."

Continuing her presentation, a serious Cecelia said, "If you look very closely, you will see that we have only half of the available land for our present needs. It's important for us to realize that each time we commence a new endeavor, our opposition requires us to develop a new set of tools. If we are to think of the institute as our toolbox, we need to make room for more tools."

It had been a long day. Tony and Natalie, hoping to make that night's dinner special, decided to treat their guests to the same experience they offered their most important wine buyers. Arrangements for their final night's dinner had been made to have the dinner to be presented near the mouth of the large, tunneled storage area where the big vats used for aging the wine were located. During the cocktail portion of the evening five of, the Sentinels and their guests were encouraged to walk among the big oak casks, experience the rich aromas, and learn of the variety of wine by reading the labels.

Standing near the mouth of the big cave, they could see the setting sun painting a full range of pastel colors on the oak-studded hills surrounding the Napa Valley. Standing in groups of two and three, they were all busily engaged in conversation.

Several waiters carrying trays of long-stemmed, large, white, and red wine glasses were mingling among them. Other waiters were carrying trays piled high with smoked salmon, translucent caviar sorted to Beluga standards, New England, Blue Point oysters, pâté de foie gras, and toast points.

Five of the Sentinels' best wines, red and white, had been selected. Each of the five guest chefs had been employed to prepare their course to amplify the unique qualities of the different wines.

No expense had been spared with the setting of the white linen-covered, oak-planked table. Ornamental gas lights ran the length of the table. Each place setting included five wine glasses, five forks, four spoons, and three knives, all of them carefully arranged. At regular intervals along the length of the table sat vases filled with an assortment of flowers native to the region.

Dinner was soon in full swing. Encouraged by the elegant setting, the promise of a unique dinner, and the opportunity to sample the Sentinels' latest wines, one by one, each of the Sentinels and their guests stood up and expressed what they were feeling.

The noisy, wine-influenced atmosphere made it difficult for the guests to hear what was being said. They were never certain if a toast was being made as an expression of appreciation for the previous three days, as a celebration of the successful conclusion of their most recent victory, or simply as a way to speculate how long it would be before the next concentrated power's abusive agenda would emerge.

The euphoria of the moment was suddenly interrupted when the waiter-captain announced that Jacques and Mike's presence was urgently requested in the headquarters office. David Marcus, who was calling from Tehran, Iran, was waiting to speak with them.

Chapter Two "Trouble in Tehran"

NAPA VALLEY: February, 1953

Once the transatlantic operator announced that Jacques and Mike were on the line, David came right to the point. "After two years of unsuccessful oil negotiations, the Iranian people have become aware of the British unwillingness to increase the rate of royalty payments on Iranian oil production from twenty percent to the prevailing Middle Eastern market rate of fifty percent. The thirty percentage point difference would provide the Iranian government with the billions in funds that they could use to transform a nineteenth century agrarian country into a twentieth century developing nation.

"Prime Minister Mossadegh and his constitutional government have become convinced the British are refusing to negotiate in good faith. Left with no viable alternative, the Iranian Senate, and the Majlis, voted to nationalize the country's oil industry. No one knows how the British may choose to retaliate."

Jacques, familiar with the contemporary history of the Middle Eastern oil industry, asked, "What makes Iran so different from its oil-rich neighbors whose royalty fees have already been raised from twenty percent to fifty percent?"

Ready for the question, David quickly responded. "In 1949, voting control of the Majlis shifted from the authoritarian rule of the British-controlled Shah government and his Royalist Party to the popularly elected National Front Party. It is believed the combination of reduced political control coupled with the renegotiation of its 1941 oil-production agreement has convinced the British they need to secure a tighter grip over their historical source of oil."

Jacques asked, "If that is the case, wouldn't the British use Iran's nationalization of its oil to justify taking over the country?"

David replied, "That is the purpose of my call. To make matters worse, I have received reports from Iran's government that agents of the American CIA and the British MI-6 have been observed arriving in Tehran. Could it be that we are already witnessing the initial phase of an Anglo-American covert effort to take control of the Iranian government and the country's oil production?"

"Duly noted," Jacques said before asking, "David, if I could change topics for a minute, I am curious to learn if, in your travels around Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, you have heard the name Sam Naraghi mentioned?"

"Who hasn't? You cannot be in Iran and not hear the Naraghi name frequently discussed. Naraghi is a well-known and highly respected family name. I have heard they have succeeded in converting four hundred thousand acres of arid desert land into intensively cultivated, irrigated farms. Frequently, they are referred to as the family that "pushes back the desert." With the introduction of their imaginative "lease-to-own" contract, they transferred title of each of the twenty-acre parcels that comprise the four hundred thousand total to the families who farm the land. It appears their reclamation efforts have made it possible for twenty thousand refugee farming families to enjoy the benefits of private land ownership, safe, modern homes, and dignified employment. The vertically integrated operations are referred to as "the nation of citizen farmers."

Jacques added, "Sam Naraghi is an old friend. Perhaps I need to speak with him. As the current Naraghi family leader, he should have a pretty good idea of what is happening."

Mike then interjected, "It has been my experience that funding covert operations requires a great deal of financial support. Someone in London, on Wall Street or in Washington, must be aware of what is being organized. Perhaps we need to dig a little farther?"

In a halting voice, David suggested, "I must still have some old friends in London who might know what is being planned. I think it is important I return to London and try to discover what the British oil companies and government are hoping to achieve. It may take some time, but if I dig deep enough and long enough, I should be able to obtain a fairly good idea of what is being planned."

Concentrating on their conversation, both Mike and Jacques failed to notice Jacques' wife, Claudine, quietly entering the room. Following a break in their discussion, she moved forward and said, "Tony is concerned your absence is becoming uncomfortably apparent. He is afraid it might disturb the wonderful synergy of the evening he has tried so hard to create."

Refocusing his attention on the phone call, Jacques said, "David, we understand your concerns. It's obvious that we need to learn a lot more about what is going on before we can determine if this is a power cycle type of threat requiring our attention. From what you have said, time must be of the essence. After we have talked to our respective sources, why don't we plan to meet in New York and discuss our findings with the other Sentinels?"

After a quick goodbye to David, they reentered the main dining room. Jacques immediately noticed all the inquisitive looks. After flashing his trademark charismatic grin, he asked everyone present, "Which one of you smartasses was speculating about how long it would take before the next power cycle threat appears?

"David, our missing colleague, has reported from Iran. The British government and their oil companies may be planning on restoring the shah's despotic puppet government to power, and in the process, seize complete control over Iran's oil production.

"If what David has suggested is accurate, we may be facing a serious problem of British imperialism. According to David, we don't have much time to get up to speed and develop a suitable plan of opposition. Knowing how difficult it is for all of us to be in the same place at the same time, why don't we adjourn tonight, extend our stay for one more day, and plan to reconvene tomorrow morning?"

Before a discussion of the Tehran problem could start, Cecelia asked, "If we become involved with this Iranian problem, how are we going to devote the time and energies the development of the institute will undoubtedly require? Should we choose to engage, I hope we can find time to pursue both objectives."