Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, by Ralph Nader

When I was 14 years old, I heard Ralph Nader say that box cereal was less nutritious than the box it came in, and you'd get more nutrition out of tearing up the box and pouring sugar and milk over it, and eating that for breakfast. That's the kind of genius that Ralph Nader produces constantly, and why his ideas changed the world for Americans more than perhaps any political thinker of the late 20th century. He remains more relevant than virtually every other political thinker currently on the scene.

Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:27 pm

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 4

Monday morning, after a light breakfast, Warren and his guests from the Posterity Project gathered in his office for the weekly closed-circuit TV conference with the whole core group. When all the screens were up, Warren began.

"It's hard to believe that little more than a week has passed since we last met in Maui. So much is happening, with people all over the country receiving assignments, preparing action plans, contacting affinity groups, and building the infrastructure, that it's been hard for the Redirection projects to keep up with each other. For that reason, I've cautiously doubled the size of the Secretariat staff to eight, and Patrick has established a Recruitment Department to stay on top of our staffing needs. That should help, and I'm counting on you to let me know what else the Secretariat can do to keep things running smoothly. Now, down to business. What's going on with Wal-Mart, Sol?"

"Just a second, Warren," Jeno said. "I'm as eager as everyone else to hear from Sol, but I've been thinking about that Roader column. I'm worried about it. There must be dozens of eager-beaver reporters out there trying to follow up on his suggestion of connections between us, and they may blow our cover. And you know all the corporate honchos and lobbyists read him, so what if they start thinking about a counterattack sooner than we anticipated? I've got two ideas for preemptive strikes, self-extending collateral drives to divert and distract the business lobbies.

"First, taking off from Sol's earlier concept, we buy some retail franchises and small businesses in just about every line of commerce and manufacturing around the country. I'm talking about local insurance agencies, finance companies, fabrication and assembly shops, auto dealerships, real estate brokers, stockbrokers, gasoline stations and oil dealers, small banks, pharmacies, cinemas, restaurants, grocery stores, beauty salons, mortgage companies, small radio stations, law practices, physician practices, plumbing and electrical businesses. You can always find these outfits for sale in the trade press classifieds, sometimes at bargain prices. Call this collection our attack sub-economy that will get inside each of these large commercial industries, inside their trade associations, inside their conventions, where our business managers can raise hell about bad practices and blow the whistle on marketing and product abuses. It never ceases to amaze me how much incriminating information pours out of these conventioneers' mouths with the drinks flowing. These inside units of ours can cause serious embarrassments and even force better practices, especially if they're joined by other long-exploited small businesses boiling with suppressed anger. Taken together, their efforts will expose the dirty linen and throw the powers that be on the defensive.

"My other idea is to establish a lecture forum for retired business executives who'll be induced to give their speech of a lifetime, their valedictory assertion of truths that they were either unable or unwilling to express during their active careers. Those who know finally say. Well-publicized and positioned at highly visible places like the National Press Club, these speeches will be literally sensational. Finally, the top insiders speak out. Free at last. Free at last! They'll name names and tell the untold stories. Week after week they'll keep big business distracted as it scrambles to rebut one of its prominent own and keep the lid on its internal Pandora's boxes. Like the attack sub-economy, the speeches will further our overall mission, and may also help us recruit new men and women for our efforts. Obviously this lecture series has to be handled with sensitivity and professionalism. We should extend the invitations personally, peer to peer."

There was silence for a moment as the group digested the wisdom and urgency of Jeno's proposals.

"What a way to start off a Monday morning!" Peter finally said. "A brilliant response to a provocation -- the best invigorator of the mind."

Warren looked around at the closed-circuit screens and at his guests from the Posterity Project. Everyone was nodding energetically. With their backgrounds, they were under no illusions about the looming counterattack from the Goliaths of industry and commerce once they were awakened to what was heading straight for them.

"As you can see, Jeno," Warren said, "your ideas are receiving unanimous acclamation. I'll have the Secretariat establish an implementation team to cost out both projects and enlist the necessary staff. There's no time to lose, especially with our assault on Wal-Mart coming up. Over to you, Sol."

''I'm making the first call to the CEO this afternoon, along with our fellow billionaire Raul Escalante, who's known for treating his workers superbly while making a fortune." Then, like an NFL coach planning an offensive drive, Sol laid out the next moves. "Assuming Wal-Mart has no comment or declines our demands as none of our business, we contact five members of the company's board of directors who've had dealings with some of us in the core group. Here's our message: Do you have any idea of the gravity of what's coming next? Please don't confuse what is about to confront Wal-Mart With the ineffectual maundering of the unions, which haven't managed to organize a single store after eight years of effort, even with a great case to bring to the workers. Wal-Mart is spreading a low-wage business economy, and its large regional competitors are pressing for worker cutbacks and givebacks to compete with the arriving behemoth, as in southern California. Wal-Mart employees make so little that they have to avail themselves of taxpayer-funded welfare services -- and Wal-Mart shows them how! Many can't afford the co-payments on their lousy health insurance. Wal-Mart is a union-buster like the nation has never seen in the retail business, rushing SWAT teams to any store where there's a glimmer of pro-union activity.

"For the workers and taxpayers and communities of America, Wal-Mart spells going backward into the future, reversing the very trajectory of economic progress in America -- higher wages, higher consumer demand, better livelihoods. Wal-Mart's extremely well-paid executives are presiding over a spreading pull-down economy, going to dictatorships like China for suppliers who pay their serf labor thirty to fifty cents an hour, and demanding that its remaining US suppliers pull up stakes and move to China if they can't meet the China price here. All this has got to stop. That's what we tell the five directors, who'll be given seventy-two hours to get a response from management. Meanwhile, two more billionaires will be calling the CEO every day for the next four days. Those conversations should get more and more interesting -- or shorter and shorter -- as pressure builds from the directors.

"If the deadline passes and the response remains negative -- I don't know why I bother to say 'if' -- then we roll out a two-pronged action plan. First, our organizers will select five Wal-Marts around the country to unionize. Workers will be invited to a secured auditorium and given ironclad guarantees. For being pioneers in unionizing Wal-Mart's more than one million nonmanagerial employees, they'll get full legal support for free, media backup in their communities, and a waiver of their union dues for the first three years. If they're illegally fired, we find them better-paying jobs in the same community. If they like, they can take jobs in one of the storefronts we're going to open, with names like Wal-Fart or Wal-Part. Wal-Mart is likely to sue, charging trademark violation, which plays right into our hands, since we already have any number of attorneys itching to defend the cases and find out more about Wal-Mart's internal operations in the process.

"The storefronts will also carry out multiple exposes of Wal-Mart, from the way they hire illegals and mistreat them -- remember that notorious case where they locked workers in overnight, fire exits and all? -- right down to the fact that many of its products aren't actually the cheapest, as they claim. The Wal-Mart SWAT teams will sweep down the minute they find out about the unionizing drive, as they're bound to, and through our worker intelligence system their maneuvers will be chronicled daily for an equally quick response. Things will really be heating up by the middle of next week. The ten billionaires will be available for national media interviews and will be well prepared to parry the obvious Wal-Mart counterattack that billionaires don't need Wal-Mart, do they? To spread the message in a more personal way, we'll have peaceful picketers in front of some two hundred Wal-Mart stores, including former employees. They won't be hard to find since the turnover is up to fifty percent a year."

Another hush greeted Sol's masterful presentation. Again Peter broke it.

"Well escalated! There's nothing a large corporation fears more than sustained second- and third-strike capabilities."

"I didn't think it was possible to be any more energized than I already am," Leonard said, "but I was wrong."

After briefer reports from the other Redirections, Warren urged everyone to make institution-building a priority in the coming weeks. He pointed out that when the assault on the citadels of corporate power began in earnest with the implementation of each project's substantive agenda, the resultant controversy and uproar might compromise the establishment of the necessary organizations, and that the substantive agendas would go nowhere without the infrastructure to support them. "It's tedious, detailed work, to be sure," he said, "but no harder than building a business from scratch!"

And with that he brought the closed-circuit briefing to an end and dispatched his troops to battle.

***

Out in Santa Cruz, it was 6:00 a.m., and the other Warren was already showered and dressed. He'd spent the night at the nineteenth-century mansion of an old friend who'd bought real estate in Hollywood and Beverly Hills in the fifties and made a killing. Not wanting to wake his host, he fixed himself some coffee and strolled through the manicured grounds until he came to his friend's sculpture garden of ribald Roman statuary. He sat down on a cement bench next to a fountain in the form of a satyr gleefully taking a leak. Normally he would have laughed, but he was absorbed by thoughts of the coming week. The People's Revolt of the Rich bus was steadily filling up with billionaires. They were four days away from Sacramento, and the rest of the seats had already been reserved by the additional super-rich they would collect as they completed their itinerary through Monterey, the Bay Area, and Silicon Valley, with deliberate detours through poor neighborhoods.

Warren gave the satyr a rueful salute and returned to the house. After leaving his friend a note of thanks, he packed his bag and rejoined his compatriots on the bus. A caravan of five hundred reporters and their gear was now following the billionaires' every move up the California Gold Coast, ensuring headlines all over the country and worldwide. Warren's years of Don Juanism with rich and famous women made him everlastingly fascinating to the media. At the state legislature, the air of expectation was so electric it could have powered a turbine, and it wasn't long before leaders of the Senate and Assembly invited Warren to address a joint session of both houses on Friday.

Warren wanted to see Arnold first, to give him a chance to join the movement, but his repeated calls were received by Arnold's secretary with a polite "I will give the governor your message." Falling back on a venerable Hollywood trick, he had another bus rider put in a call in the name of Arnold's former agent, and of course Arnold got right on the phone. Warren confessed his little practical joke and asked, "Can we meet Friday morning before the joint session?" Arnold knew he had to think fast, faster than in his most desperate movie scenes, and this time with no one to program him. He was on his own. He couldn't ride and he couldn't hide, so he decided to play. "Sure, Warren, how about breakfast at my home around seven thirty? Just you and me for some frank talk in confidence. I don't think bringing your bus friends would serve our mutual purposes." Warren agreed, and after some small talk about old times, they said goodbye.

Warren gazed out the bus window at the crowds lining the roadside mile after mile. It was like the Tour de France. People were holding signs cheering the bus on and thanking this or that billionaire known to be aboard. Many of the signs read, "You are not alone!" -- a message that touched the bus riders deeply. Imagine ordinary people telling them, with all their wealth and friends in high places, that they were not alone. Rolling through Monterey and San Francisco, the bus brimmed with animated talk, not about yachts and vintage wines, but about how to answer the barrage of questions the billionaires would face at their press conference in the state capital. Some of them were giving Warren suggestions about his speech to the joint session, which was sure to be carried live on cable television.

Outwardly Warren was the picture of calm, but inside he was feeling butterflies. He decided to put in a call to Richard Goodwin, one of President John F. Kennedy's most masterful speechwriters.

"Dick," he said, "it's been too long since you were at my place twisting the tail of the cosmos. Listen, I need your help, and I need it fast. After you get my notes and suggested tone, I want you to write my address before the California state legislature. You'll have to hit the Internet to beef up on current conditions out here, but I want the speech to close with my announcement that I'm going to run for governor on the Democratic ticket. I want vision, eloquence, uplift, policy seriousness, and a case for my ability to perform in this august office, all with dramatic pace -- and that means you."

"You're right, Warren, it's been too long," Dick replied. "I'd be delighted to dust off whatever modest skills I have and get you a draft in two days, but I'll need one more lengthy conversation to capture your voice. I don't recollect that you've given many political speeches that may have been taped, but if you have any, zip them out to me."

"Fine, done. Talk with you soon, Dick."

The bus rolled on into Berkeley, where students were massed in support -- "UC-Berkeley for THESE Billionaires!" -- and hop-skipped through Silicon Valley. By the time it reached Mountain View the last seat was taken, stranding some big dot-com investors, and a second bus was quickly commissioned to join the steadily lengthening caravan. To turn metaphor into reality, some joker rented a camel to trudge alongside the slow procession.

Among the spectators lining the road were two old friends, day workers on their lunch break from a construction job on a half-finished McMansion. Arnie Johnson and Alfonso Garcia, both in their mid-thirties, married, and with a couple of kids apiece, loved to argue politics and sports, especially sports. Where politics was concerned, they were died-in-the-wool cynics.

"People's Revolt of the Rich?" Arnie said as they watched the lead bus go by. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Beats me," said Alfonso. "Probably just some stunt by folks with too much time on their hands."

"Yeah, like the rich ever done anything good for my black ass. Or your Mexican culo," Arnie added with a jab to Alfonso's arm. "C'mon, amigo, we'd best get back to the plantation."

Hours later, as the caravan headed down into the Sacramento Valley, graced by a beautiful sunset, Warren called Barry to thank him for showing the way and jarring him out of his interminable inertia. "My wife has found a new reason to love me," he declared. "What are friends for," said Barry, who'd been following the bus trek closely and thinking about which Redirections Warren should speak out for. He suggested that the address to the legislature be titled "New Directions for the Good Life" and focus on the daily needs of Californians, with clear reference to poverty -- almost half of all children are classified as "poor" or "near poor" by the state's economists. "The bigger your message, the smaller Arnold looks," he concluded. Snapping his phone shut to turn to the media acquisition work, Barry thought to himself that there must be many more such repressed celebrities languishing in corners of self-inflicted futility, just waiting to be roused.

***

Monday afternoon, not long after the first wave of lunchtime rallies was breaking up, Sol placed his call to Leighton Clott, the CEO of Wal-Mart.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Clott, Sol Price here, with Raul Escalante on the line. We've been reading about your travails with your critics, the lawsuits, and the media coverage of your every slip-up, and we've got some advice for you, advice steeped in our own business experience and subsequent reflection."

"Well, this is a pleasant surprise," said Clott, "especially from the two of you. We're open to any advice offered in good faith these days."

"As ours most certainly is," Sol said. "We strongly urge you to announce your willingness to let workers in your stores, offices, and transport facilities form unions by cardcheck. If a majority in each workplace sign up, the union is certified and you begin bargaining in good faith. It will be good for Wal-Mart's workers, for wage levels in general, for consumer demand, and for all you folks in Bentonville sleeping at night. What do you say?"

There was stunned silence at the other end of the line. All the warmth had left Clott's voice when he spoke again. "I assure you that we have thoroughly and repeatedly considered every aspect of unionism with our top executives, our legal advisers, and our board of directors. The answer is a definite no, never. Gentlemen, kindly mind your own business, and good --"

"Just a minute," said Raul Escalante. "Wal-Mart is so big, so pervasive, that it's everybody's business. You're driving down wages inside the country, pushing your suppliers to China, replacing American workers with exploited Chinese workers, all to an extent unequaled by any other company in American history. From now on, what's good for Wal-Mart better be good for the United States, and not the reverse."

"Good day, gentlemen!"

***

As Leighton Clott hung up on Sol and Raul, the opening day of the People's Chamber of Commerce was getting underway in front of the Green Building in the embassy section of the nation's capital. A blue-on-white banner stretched across the facade, emblazoned with Alfred North Whitehead's sagacious words: "A great society is a society in which its men of business think greatly of their functions." Jeno was master of ceremonies, flanked by Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey on one side, Andy Grove and Peter Drucker on the other. Winfrey, Grove, and Drucker had been persuaded to present themselves by specific appeals based on their writings and public statements -- a case of words generating deeds, such as showing up. What also drew them was the PCC manifesto, which used phrases and formulations new to these seasoned luminaries, things like "the corporate destruction of capitalism," "crime in the suites," "high-status slavery," "corporate fascism," "constitutionalizing the corporation," "quo warranto," "dechartering with probation," "environmental bankruptcy," "chaordic restructuring," "the enforceable corporate covenant with society," "the foresight to foresee and forestall," "tort law as protector of the physical integrity of human beings, their property, and the natural environment," "solarizing technology," "the carbohydrate economy," "from greed to need to seed," "respect for taxpayer assets," "the commonwealth economy," "the seizure of leisures," "the commercialization of childhood," "the pornography of style versus the engineering of substance," and "We are the fauna!" Profoundly intrigued were the corporation philosopher of the century, the cofounder of Intel, and the talk show queen. So were several dozen scions of industry and commerce who during their tenure had displayed signs of compassion, vision, and reflectiveness about the human condition. Their attendance, together with that of Robert Monks, trenchant shareholder critic of "corpocracy," enraged the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, which both sent cameramen to record the proceedings.

Jeno minced no words in his opening remarks. He said that with few luminous exceptions, big business was myopic, inflexible, averse to quality competition, intolerant of strong democratic movements and unions, disdainful of democratic procedures, and lustful for political power. He said that its leaders were narcissists, stalwart in their mission to expand the corporate culture of greed, ferocious in their suppression of the rights of investors to control the companies they legally own, and single-minded in their determination to enrich themselves to the detriment of the corporations they were supposed to manage. They were more interested in buying customers through mergers than in attracting customers through superior goods and services. They were too friendly to accommodating dictatorships, and terminally shortsighted because of quarterly yardsticks of earnings and performance.

"All these traits," Jeno declared, "have ramifying destructive consequences for the innocent, for the environment, for representative government. In the long run they spell the ruin of these vast corporate empires themselves, as we've already seen with the Enrons and the WorldComs. Believe me, as a man who's spent a lifetime confronting corporate giants in a variety of business endeavors, I know whereof I speak. By contrast, the People's Chamber of Commerce will be known for doing just the opposite of what big business and its manipulative trade associations have been doing. As of today, we have more than eighty thousand members who are already practicing what the PCC is preaching. They're treating their workers well, pursuing sustainable environmental practices, holding their suppliers to these standards, and selling products or services backed by warranties guaranteeing automatic returns or refunds. Most of our businesses are small, with less than a hundred million in revenue per year, but some are reaching toward a billion in annual sales. Many sell innovative new products or services that empower consumers and laborers in accordance with progressive business standards. Dozens of them are in evidence here on this launching day, with exhibits and free samples that I urge you to try for yourselves."

Jeno was followed by Ted, who documented what he called "the omnicidal trajectory of unbridled corporatism." In one area after another, he detailed the global travesties attributed to or condoned by giant multinational corporations. "The world was never meant to be run according to one overriding and narrowly conceived standard of profit that smothers the values of a humane, sensitive civilization," he said in conclusion. "Not a single religion has approved of such a perverse channeling of people's lives. Indeed, every major religion has warned its adherents to limit the power of the merchant classes because their singularly obsessed drive for profit is so inimical to spiritual and civic values." Ted's speech, delivered in what one reporter described as "a resounding drawl," mesmerized the audience and even provoked scattered applause from the press corps.

Jeno was about to conclude the official ceremony when George Soros showed up unscheduled and was given a few minutes to speak. He used his time simply to ask whether there were any CEOs or trade association heads in the crowd who wanted to make a brief statement or debate him or his associates at a later date. There was a long silence. Nobody came forward. George had made his point. Now it was the reporters' turn, and the hands flew up.

"James Drew, Washington Post. How big are your budget and staff, Jeno?"

"Big enough to do the job. The budget is in the millions of dollars annually, and the staff is smart enough to scare the hide off the corporate fossils who've taken over our nation's capital."

"Is this another one of your Roman candles, Ted?" asked Sam Sniffen of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Are you really going to give it your time?"

"A lot more time than I ever gave the Braves," Ted said, drawing a laugh, since everyone knew he'd been the most actively involved owner in the team's history. "Giving business a new face and a conscience beats winning the World Series any day."

"Reginald Sesko, Business Week, question for Mr. Drucker. Why are you here, sir? What do you expect from the PCC?"

"I expect great things from them. At last there's a national organization that will vigorously pursue some of my longtime urgings to top management, such as reducing CEO compensation to no more than twenty-five times the entry-level wage in their public companies. You can't imagine how many tangible and intangible problems that one move of self-restraint would resolve. For one thing, it would curb the incentive to inflate profits, offload debt, and in general cook the books to increase the value of executive stock options. Great for employee morale as well. Look at Southwest Airlines."

"Oprah, you don't seem the type to be up in arms about big business," said Laurie Newsome of ABC. "Why are you here?"

"The type? And what type would that be? Day in and day out on my show I see the sad results of big business as usual -- parents with no time for their children because they have longer and longer commutes to dead-end jobs that don't pay them enough to have a decent life, people rushing around trying to keep body and soul together, turning to tranquilizers or worse. Family life is being disrupted by an unforgiving economy dominated by big business. Too many of these big companies have no respect for parental authority and are directly exploiting millions of kids with junk food, mindless games, and violent entertainment. Too many of them use spin, phoniness, dissembling, and fraud to push dubious products and services. Oh yes, I'm the type. Every one of us should be the type."

Cries of "Tell it, Oprah!" and "Right on!" rose from the crowd, and it was a minute or two before Tamika Slater of the Nation could make herself heard.

"Mr. Grove, your company is a huge recipient of corporate subsidies like tax credits, tax holidays in various communities, and free R-and-D transfers from Washington. The PCC is solidly opposed to corporate welfare. How do you reconcile your support for this organization with its stand against so much that makes Intel more profitable?"

"I'm no longer active with Intel in any executive capacity. I am, shall we say, emeritus, and a mere consultant. That means you're seeing a new Andy Grove, one who's no longer burdened by responsibilities to Intel and its shareholders. I'm free to speak my mind."

"Follow-up, Mr. Grove: You didn't answer my question. Are you for or against these government subsidies and tax abatements?"

"In most instances, I'm against them, and most certainly against the kinds benefiting Intel -- which I am still proud to say is one of the most profitable companies in the world."

"Jeno!" shouted a stringer for the New York Post. "What's your first attack on the corporate establishment going to be, and when can we expect it?"

"Attack? We prefer to call it competitive market discipline. Within a month or so, we'll release a major report on the plethora of tax-funded corporate subsidies and all the legislative loopholes that amount to backdoor corporate welfare. We'll enlist a coalition of liberal and conservative think tanks that have already come out against various business giveaways but have never been able to put political muscle behind their stance. I'm referring to Public Citizen, the Heritage Foundation, the Progressive Institute, the Cato Institute, and Taxpayers for Common Sense, to name the more prominent ones. There will be other compelling ways of communicating our message about the corporate raid on the taxpayers, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, I thank you all for coming and invite you to join us under the tent out back, where an array of food and drink from local producers awaits you."

***

A few blocks away, at the Congress Project suite, Bernard, Leonard, and Peter gathered to ponder their next move. The first order of business was to find qualified people to coordinate the fifty-plus-one Congress Watchdog Groups and administer the Blockbuster Challenge. From the now burgeoning talent bank, the project manager had come up with two names so prominent that there was no need to look further. The first, for the Watchdog Groups, was Donald Ross, founder of a large public relations firm for nonprofits. Before that, he was known for his exceptional talents as a student- citizen organizer. Huge rallies against nuclear power, organized with giant attention to detail and at lightning speed, bore his imprint. Now about sixty years old, he was wiry and tightly wound, sometimes cynical but always forward-looking. At the moment, he just happened to be out in the field organizing a few congressional districts against their terrible incumbents.

For the Blockbuster Challenge, the clear choice was Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and longtime partisan Democrat, also in her sixties. She'd spent a great deal of time lobbying on Capitol Hill and knew the twists and turns, the woes and whims, the gravity and the greed of the place. Her biggest issue? Campaign finance reform. She'd need very little convincing as to the Blockbuster's merits.

Two hurdles. Both candidates would have to be interviewed and vetted. And both would have to be willing to resign their present jobs and start their new ones right away. "We'll need assurances," said Bernard, "that they still have the energy and drive for their tasks, and that they'll keep our project in confidence despite their close ties to the Democratic Party. We'll send their dossiers over to Recruitment and tell them we want feedback in seventy-two hours, and then I'll call the two of them personally, if there's no objection."

The project manager reported that the paper on congressional accountability standards would be done by the end of the week. The talent bank was being scanned for the two hundred field organizers for the Watchdog mobilization. All feedback databases from the first month's initiatives were being culled for likely prospects to comprise the blocs of two thousand voters in each congressional district. At the same time, teams were preparing recruitment materials and interview instructions for the organizers. Once on board, the two thousand would attend training seminars and be equipped with timely information about their representatives in the House and Senate. This information would be available both on paper and online, at each Watchdog website.

"That reminds me," said Peter. "It is truly the acme of arrogance in this day and age that most voters cannot tap into their computers for data on their representatives' voting records. I suggest that we round up a dozen prominent citizens, perhaps including a few of us from the core group, to make an immediate public demand that every member of Congress join Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia and the other nine who've already put their voting records on their websites in clear, easily retrievable fashion. They'll be given a one-month deadline, and if they refuse, they'll be excoriated throughout their districts and states. The punishment process will be called Getting to Know You, and will expose all their bad votes along with any other facts damaging to their political reputations. An initiative like this will break their collective intransigence on disclosure, which is favored by an overwhelming percentage of voters."

"Getting to Know You. I love it," Leonard said, whistling a few notes from the song. "Go with it, Peter. Once it gets moving, we'll work it into the themes of the lunchtime rebellion. We've had modest turnouts for our first few rallies this week, but I'm confident that they'll grow and spread to more and more cities. All these people voting with their feet on their lunch hour give us another pool of possibilities for the Watchdog Groups, beginning with the rally speakers and volunteer organizers. For obvious reasons, we'll be making a special effort to draw out the veterans in these crowds and send their names over to Perot's Credibility Project. And let's remember that the two thousand voters should include people of local influence across a representative spectrum of the American public. Replication dynamics and leveraged velocity require careful attention to the composition of each Watchdog Group. We should also think about developing adjuncts to backstop the two thousand, like a youth auxiliary for door-to-door canvassing. Refinement, refinement, refinement." Leonard turned to the project manager. "Okay, give us the ASAP timetable for the big move-out. When can we get this show on the road?"

After summarizing proposals and progress to date, the manager estimated that once Donald Ross and Joan Claybrook were brought on board, it would take one month to consolidate organizing efforts in the districts and prepare for the public unveiling of the Blockbuster Challenge.

"A month?" said Peter. "Isn't that pushing it a little?"

"It's pushing it a lot," Leonard said. "And that's what we're going to do!"

***

Back in New York City, George was deeply absorbed in digesting the current abuses and lobbying issues attached to each of the business sectors that the CUBs would soon be challenging and countervailing. He was no stranger to business chicanery, but he found himself repeatedly taken aback by all the scandals in banking, insurance, and finance, and by the regulators who did nothing about embedded patterns of outlawry. A quick study, he saw that the regulatory laws were essentially no-law laws, dead-letter laws whose principal function was to deceive ordinary people into thinking that the government cops on the corporate beat were looking out for them. Then there were the utilities with their cost-plus pricing power, equivalent to a government's taxing power. Their coded monthly bills were inscrutable, and even if you could understand them, there was no way to challenge the accuracy of their meters. The patsy regulators had no way either, and in any case were too busy biding their time until the companies offered them lucrative positions.

As for the millions of direct or mutual fund small investors, forget it. They got whatever was dealt them, and they couldn't even take the broker boys or mutual fund moguls to court. The fine-print contracts all stipulated compulsory arbitration of disputes with no possibility of appeal. Privatized law dictated by the most powerful party in a dispute violated George's very notion of an open society under the rule of law. He was getting angrier by the hour. His own business career was all about taking speculative risks on the British pound or the Japanese yen -- basically, high-level gambling. It was hard to be attuned to abuses when you were rolling the dice, and he hadn't realized the extent to which manufacturers and vendors of goods and services could harm or defraud consumers. When he got to the food industry, his mouth went dry with astonishment over what was done to food and what was put into it these days. The countless cases of landlords pushing poor tenants up against the wall by failing to comply with building codes or maintain essential services made him wonder again -- where were the police, the prosecutors, and the judges? All the shenanigans before, during, and after elections weren't news to him. But the imaginative political drive displayed by both parties toward superficially differentiating each other and obstructing any smaller competitors made him feel a pang of self-reproach, inasmuch as he was a heavy financier of that stagnant system of least-worst candidates. True to his belief in an open society, George never allowed himself to be jaded about wrong-doing.

It was when he came to the memoranda on taxation that he really wanted to take a shower. He was only too familiar with the sleights of hand that allowed the wealthy to shirk their taxpaying responsibilities. His own attorneys and accountants had used some of these maneuvers to swell his fortune; after all, they were "perfectly legal," in the phrase used by New York Times tax reporter David Cay Johnston for the title of his book on the mastication of the tax code by the lobbies of the rich. What particularly caught his eye were the opportunity costs detailed in the memos -- the critical unmet needs of children, the disabled, the homeless, the sick, and every American who relied on public services, from good mass transit to clean drinking water.

Pondering all these harms, George had an idea that had somehow been overlooked in the previous week's head-to-head deliberations and planning for the CUBs launch. He put in a conference call to his consultants, Robert Fellmeth and John Richard. "Gentlemen, for at least a week before each mail drop, we should use the local and national media to highlight the most serious abuses in each business sector. Pronto, we need a clipping service to gather stories on hot spots in towns and cities where these scams are creating controversy or inviting prosecution or civil lawsuits. Then we'll place some hard-hitting ads, and between those and the coordinated efforts of the Promotions Project, along with the coverage we're bound to get on talk shows and news programs, we'll bring immediate and high visibility to the issues the CUBs will be taking on."

In their private conversations, Robert and John had been waiting to see if George would arrive at this conclusion, because coming from him, the effort would get underway more authoritatively. They vigorously seconded his idea and offered their services to this Promotions Project they hadn't heard of before. Instantly recognizing his slip of the tongue, George said, "Oh, it's just my nickname for some of the ad guys around the office who've been giving me feedback on our CUBs endeavor, but it's the two of you I want in charge of this new media strategy. The budget is there already. What do you say?"

"Consider it done," said Robert, and they signed off.

***
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:27 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 4 CONT'D.)

Out in Malibu, Max had been brooding about what to do as a follow-up to his words/deeds experiments. He'd had a number of ideas, most of them contemplations that visited him at bedtime, but he'd dismissed them all as banal -- he was very demanding of himself, brutally so, one of the traits that had endeared him to his Maui colleagues. He was about to throw up his hands when it came to him late one night in a mad flash.

The next morning, with the help of his computer-savvy assistant, he prepared two full-page ads and arranged for them to run in the South Bend Tribune on consecutive days. Initially he'd thought of going to the Observer, Notre Dame's student newspaper, but he didn't want the politically correct hassle and probable rejection. He called the Secretariat to give them forty-eight hours' notice, as agreed at Maui One, and then, as a courtesy, he called Phil, a staunch Notre Dame alum.

"I take your point," Phil said with a sigh after Max explained his plan. "I wish I didn't, but I do. Go for it with my blessings."

Two days later, the first ad appeared. It showed photos of Notre Dame's varsity football team over the past four years, rows of headshots of the starting lineup with their names and positions underneath. A majority of the players were black. The headline read, "Funny, They Don't Look Irish!!!"

The next day's ad ran the photos again, this time under the headline "Why Aren't They Called the Fighting Zulus???" The body of the ad marshaled data reinforcing the visual point that very few of Notre Dame's football players were Irish Americans anymore, as was no doubt apparent to fans and alumni. In years past, many of the players and coaching staff were indeed Irish Americans, with names like Ryan, Leahy, Hart, Doyle, O'Malley, and Shanahan. Those days were gone. White players were now a distinct minority -- except, interestingly, in the positions of quarterback and center. So why promote the fiction? Why the soft racism that described African Americans as "the Fighting Irish"? "It is time for fairness, for contemporary relevance, for color to matter in the words of description," the text concluded, inviting responses to the newspaper's letters column or to the website of the ad's signer, a group calling itself the Out of Africa jocks Lodge.

The subsequent uproar was beyond astounding, and it wasn't confined to South Bend. It erupted everywhere. Seldom had there been such outrage (sprinkled with gleeful support in certain quarters), not over the NCAA's exclusion of minorities from executive positions, not over the subordination of academics to football, not over the NCAA's gross negligence in failing to police the use of performance-enhancing drugs or the constant illegal gambling on games, not over the wholesale commercialization of amateur sports, with the players sweating for nothing on hard artificial turf while the NCAA, the coaches, the universities, and the advertisers raked in the bucks. But "the Fighting Zulus"? Historic bellowing from the sports media, the right-wing radio talk shows, and literally millions of opinionated Americans. In two weeks, Max would try to drive his point home in another full-page ad, this one delineating the NCAA's chronic greed and malfeasance, but he knew the words/deeds duality was going to be a hard nut to crack. It would require different kinds of nutcrackers down the road.

***

Up in her New York studio, Yoko was reflecting on the core group's mission and the progress of the various Redirections. They were all moving along, but she still didn't see the sizzle. To her, art was the sizzle, the catalyst. "We're all in the same boat," she reasoned, "us and the opposition. We have to act in ways that invite trust. The natural state of life and the mind is complexity. Art can do an end run around complexity by offering an unmediated experience of complete relaxation of mind and body. Art can put people in touch with their higher feelings and predispose them to think about peace -- in their households, in their nation, in their world."

Yoko liked art that made people say, "What's that about?" And then the conversation began. She loved to ask questions predicated on the power of aesthetics. For instance: What if the government required the infusion of a harmless red dye in all airborne emissions from factories and vehicles? How long would the regulators and the public tolerate air pollution if it turned everything it settled on red -- clothing, cars, homes, planes, ships, tanks, buildings, lawns, skin, hair? That one regulation alone, she believed, would stop polluters of the air. "We should be against pollution, if only because it is ugly," she had once heard a philosopher-scientist say, and now she had a plan for embodying his words.

Another somersault of the mind came to her. Without mentioning the Redirections per se, she would issue a broad call to artists in all fields -- visual, musical, poetic, and literary -- to submit work that would represent the core group's goals, work that would make justice beautiful in all its particulars and practicalities, and give the process of achieving it an aesthetic appeal in itself, though with one caveat stemming from her experience in the tumultuous 1960s. Artistic creations could be so overwhelming in their emotional impact as to distract from the practical work they were meant to inspire. In the context of social justice, aesthetics had to be means to just ends, not ends in themselves.

Working late into the night, Yoko shaped a scaffolding for the graphic and musical arts teams that she would assemble from the response to her call. A movement for the future that was not only powerful but beautiful would earn posterity's respect and gratitude, just as the great art and architecture of past centuries were cherished today. John Ruskin had known this feeling of grandeur, the liberation of the human spirit through art, and Yoko knew it now, tinged with poignancy, for she sensed her own John in loving communion with her thoughts.

***

On Thursday, Maui Month Two, Week Two, the People's Revolt of the Rich closed in on Sacramento. The city had never seen such a media crush. The two busloads of billionaires rolled into the center of the state capital trailed by hordes of reporters representing sixty different countries and every branch of the media, commercial, independent, and nonprofit. It didn't hurt that some of the billionaires had followings of their own, or that Warren had cultivated the leading anchors, columnists, and feature writers of the news business for years, some of them quite intimately before his marriage.

Arriving on the grounds of the imposing state capitol, the passengers disembarked for a reception hosted by the majority Democratic Party, which was eager to embrace Warren as a media-centric counterpoise to their arch-adversary, Governor Schwarzenegger. The party leaders assured Warren that the votes were there to pass the restoration of the tax on the super-rich, but added that they wanted the governor on board first. Puzzled, Warren asked whether the votes were sufficient to override a veto. "Theoretically, yes," replied the Senate majority leader, "but who knows once Arnold unleashes a media barrage accusing us of drying up investment money and creating a hostile business climate."

Warren quietly responded by describing the bus trip through some of the most devastatingly poor areas of the Golden State. He'd directed his drivers to go through these communities so that his wealthy friends, looking out the windows, could see for themselves what the gross maldistribution of income did to people's lives, to their families, to their immediate surroundings. The eyes of the children, stopping their play to stare at the sleek buses and the pursuing press vans, were haunting. It was clear that if the ruling classes did not restrain their greed, these kids were going nowhere, except to lives of drudgery, poverty, addiction, incarceration, or other varieties of desperation.

The reception hall grew still as Warren, with the actor's descriptive skill, enveloped his listeners in the gravity of purpose that had suddenly possessed him a fortnight ago. Then one of the billionaires told of his horror and disgust and shame at what he'd seen on the road in between mansion stops. A real estate magnate did the same, and then a billionaire with a shipping fortune, and another who had founded banks, and yet another who'd made it big in the insurance industry -- which itself was given preferential tax treatment right in the California constitution. The lawmakers simply were not used to encounters with people of massive means who wanted to give, not take. They felt cleansed somehow, as if the legislative halls had been fumigated.

The next morning, when Warren presented himself at the governor's mansion, Arnold personally flung open the door. Outwardly he was Mr. Universe, inwardly he was a calculating cyborg. Over fruit bowls, fair-trade coffee, ham, eggs, and seven-grain toast, he listened as Warren ardently made the case that Arnold should send a tax restoration bill to the legislature and set an example by giving up his own tax cut. Such a move would electrify the state, even the country. It would assure Arnold a place in history, outrage the slimy New York bond dealers, and focus political attention on the needs of the many Californians who were not among the fortunate. Warren rested his case and hungrily dug into his breakfast.

Arnold chewed ruminatively on a bite of toast, as if pondering the complexity of it all. He took a sip of coffee. "Warren, in many ways we are quite alike, not in terms of background or style or movies, but both of us like to win, and neither of us is satisfied with being a successful actor. We both believe there's more to life than fiction, than the set, than the accolades, than the swarms of beautiful, willing women and the big bucks. We are at that age, you know, when we want to go nonfiction. When I ran for governor, the most solemn promise I made was that under no circumstances would I raise taxes. Given my polls and my troubles with the legislature, I have little left but my dynamic personality, Maria, and my sacred word. Besides, I really dislike taxes philosophically -- I meant what I said on the campaign trail. You wouldn't want me to break my word, would you?"

Warren put down his fork. "More like two percent of your word. The revocation of a notorious ten-year-old tax cut for the rich is hardly what the people will consider a tax increase. With the massive debt saddling the state, you shouldn't have made that pledge in the first place, certainly not to the wealthier residents here."

"I will never go back on my promise to Caddyfawnyuns," said Arnold, stonily gritting his teeth.

"Aren't you going to ask me if I'm going to run against you?"

"Well, are you?"

"It would be utterly gauche of me to make that decision over ham and eggs in su casa," Warren replied, "and I've got to get over to the Assembly now anyway. Thanks for the grub, Arnold, and for letting me know where you stand. Whatever happens next, remember that it's all part of the price of politics, the agony of the arena, so to speak." And with that he took his leave.

The atmosphere at the joint session that morning was charged. Enthusiasm had replaced demoralization. The governor was going to get his comeuppance after three years of browbeating and ridiculing the lawmakers and having his way on issue after issue and bill after bill. In this heightened air of expectation, the off-again, on-again screen god soon had the audience eating out of his hand. Dick Goodwin had delivered a superb speech that needed just a few touches to make it vintage Beatty. It was direct, clear, eloquent, factual, and full of equity. It was an expression of irony with heart, of justice with logic.

Nearing the end of his remarks, Warren paused for dramatic effect. The legislators hung on his next words. "This morning I breakfasted with my friend the governor. I begged him to introduce the tax restoration bill and put an end to the indenturing of California to New York City's giant bond creditors. I told him that millions of Californians, young and old, would find their lives improved, and in some cases saved, by this reallocation of monies to those who should have received them before raw power prevailed for the benefit of avarice. He refused to budge, saying his word was his bond and he would never break his promise. But promise to whom? To the top two percent who already have more money than they can spend? He made a promise to be the governor of all the people of California, and that promise supercedes his pandering. After serious thought, I am now prepared to announce my candidacy for the governorship of this misgoverned state of California and to pledge --"

The roar that rose in the Assembly and, from the spillover crowd of staff and guests in the corridors, drowned out the rest of his sentence. Three years of pent-up frustration exploded like fireworks, and the bright light of optimism lit up the capitol. As the deafening applause continued, Warren decided to develop his pledge paragraphs into a major address to be delivered on the day he filed for his candidacy. He knew when to stop, took a bow, and left the podium with a triumphant wave.

Before the day was over, the joint session of the legislature had passed the tax restoration bill and sent it to Governor Schwarzenegger, who promptly vetoed it with the curt message "I will keep my word." A few hours later, the Senate and Assembly overrode the veto with 70 percent majorities in both houses. The Democrats joined by a substantial number of Republicans who already sensed a budding rebellion in the lunchtime rallies that were growing by the day in five California cities, not to mention the spectacle of Warren's billionaire bus buddies giving back their tax cuts, speaking out for social justice, and turning their backs on the grand old policies of the party of the rich.

***

By the Friday of Warren's speech, the first phase of Sol's offensive against the Wal-Martians was nearly complete, with the last two of the ten billionaires having bent the ear of CEO Clott. To keep the pressure on, Sol asked Bernard and Jeno to make the conference call to five of the company's board of directors.

The conversation began cordially enough, with everyone reminiscing about their past business dealings with each other, but it soon became apparent that the directors did not want to hear the pro-worker message their callers delivered once the pleasantries were over. Evidently they'd been well chosen and well programmed by the hard-bitten management. Gerald Taft, one of the newer directors, made the mistake of patronizing the callers as simply uninformed and too removed from the brutal competitive market that Wal-Mart had to face. "You all retired so long ago," he said. "It's a different world out there." Jeno ignored the slight and calmly said that this would not be the last attempt to get the board to adopt a cardcheck policy nationwide. Longtime director Joseph Cobbler stiffened. "Even if the whole world is against us, we will never abandon our opposition to unions, their work rules, their exorbitant demands, and their inflexibility on matters concerning our suppliers. We have a highly successful business model, you know," he finished in a huff. "Very well," said Bernard, "very well, but we urge you to stay tuned." When the call was finished, Cobbler sat staring at the phone. "Stay tuned? What the hell do they mean by that?" he said to his empty office.

So far Wal-Mart was playing right to Sol's script. He had his organizing teams on standby, and that afternoon they flew out to the five targeted Wal-Marts, in Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, and Arizona. They began by calling workers at home and inviting them and their families to a dinner the next evening, no obligations, just good food and drink followed by a discussion of how they might improve their economic prospects. The dinner, they were told, was being sponsored by Sol Price, retired founder of Price Club. Most of the workers were too scared or suspicious to accept; the minority who did in effect preselected themselves as more venturesome.

After drinks, appetizers, entrees, and dessert, each of the five lead organizers presented a proposal for a workers' union to bargain collectively with Wal-Mart management. The plan was put forth in detail, in the knowledge that one or more of the guests in the dining room would almost certainly leak it to the bosses the next day. The organizers passed out copies of an agreement guaranteeing the workers free legal representation, media support, and better-paying jobs if they were fired. For their part, the workers were to start meeting with the organizers right away to prepare their demands to management and gird themselves for the arrival of the notorious Wal-Mart SWAT teams. They were assured they would have support on this front too.

Of the forty or so workers attending each dinner, about half, give or take, signed the binding guarantee and declared themselves ready for the struggle to come. When those who declined to sign had left, the diners broke up into informal clusters of workers and organizers talking goals and strategy. Sol's people were on high alert because they knew that Wal- Mart had a network of informers who were given additional incentives to attend union organizing meetings and sign up. Sometimes these informers were known to their co-workers because they also operated inside the Wal-Marts, ferreting out disgruntled "associates," union sympathizers, or spies sent in by big-box competitors, but employee turnover was so rapid that new snitches popped up all the time. One way to spot them at union meetings was to see who was particularly gung-ho and who was simply prepared to do what needed to be done. Informers tended to volunteer for extra duty because it would get them into the more confidential meetings. Accordingly, at the close of the evening, the organizers took the most enthusiastic of the workers aside for intensive conversations in an effort to determine which of them were company plants.

Sure enough, the next afternoon, all Wal-Mart "associates" in the selected stores were summoned to a meeting with an outside team of "inspirational motivators" -- otherwise known as a Wal-Mart SWAT team. These worthies began by showing a film about the evildoing of corrupt union bosses who enriched themselves from the members' pensions and hefty monthly dues, dining at posh restaurants and vacationing at luxury resorts on cushy expense accounts. The film ended with a montage of union leaders under interrogation by congressional investigating committees or being led off to jail in handcuffs. In the hush that followed, the teams proceeded to paint a bleak picture of life under the unions, with their rigid work rules that would prevent "associates" from "exploring their full potential" by shifting from one job experience to another to see which promotional ladder fit them best. Regretfully, the teams implied that higher union labor costs might portend a reduction in the number of "associates," and predicted other thunderstorms likely to disrupt "the present harmonious relationship" between Wal-Mart and its employees, all the while skirting the line beyond which even the National Labor Relations Board, with its pro-company bias, would have to declare an unfair labor practice. And of course the SWAT teams knew that Wal-Mart's lawyers could tie up NLRB proceedings for months or years, and that even if the company eventually lost, the sanctions were soft, just a matter of reinstatement and back pay.

At the conclusion of their presentation, the inspirational motivators invited questions and discussion, confident that they'd dissuaded most of their audience from even thinking union. From past experience, they knew that only two kinds of "associates" would pipe up -- the intrepid and the ones who were about to quit anyway.

"Can we be fired if we go to organizing meetings and participate in their activities?" asked a young woman at the Missouri store.

"It is against the labor laws to fire someone for union organizing activity," the team leader replied smoothly, "but our experience is that associates who engage in such activity may not have the energy and attitude to do their jobs up to Wal- Mart's standards. So let's say that not meeting company standards can relieve you of your associate's position."

"Which union is behind this drive?" asked a middle-aged man with thinning hair. "Or are you just giving us an 'orientation' about the bad behavior of union bosses generally?"

"We have not determined at this time whether any particular union is activating. You must know that the unions are always swarming around our great company like gnats." The team leader wasn't lying here -- Wal-Mart really didn't know who was behind this latest agitation. "Now if there are no further questions, let's get back to work. And remember that no union activity is allowed on Wal-Mart premises or parking lots."

By the time the SWAT teams finished their sessions, Sol's organizers had rented empty stores near each of the five Wal- Marts selected for the cardcheck drive, and were busy draping the windows with banners provocatively proclaiming the opening of a Wal-Fart, Wal-Dart, Wal-Cart, Wal-Part, and Wal-Hart, in lettering that bore an ostentatious resemblance to the company's trademarked name. The next day, two hundred Wal-Mart stores around the country would each be picketed by groups of a hundred or more people, some of them former Wal-Mart employees, so designated by bright buttons on their shirts and caps. Barry's Promotions Project and Leonard's Mass Demonstrations Project had both been assisting for more than a week to lay the groundwork for these events.

Friday was a red-letter day. The pickets dominated the evening news in the communities where the two hundred Wal-Mart stores were situated. The ten billionaires who had called Wal-Mart's CEO held a joint press conference and made themselves available for interviews that were not just critiques of Wal-Mart and arguments for enlightened labor relations, but expose machines. All kinds of internal Wal-Mart e-mails, documents, and propaganda directed to "associates" were cited or released. One telling item was the company health plan, which had such high co-payments and was ridden with so many deductibles and exclusions that many of the workers didn't qualify or couldn't afford it on their paltry pay and shortened hours.

The billionaires had a field day with the overblown pay packages of the top Wal-Mart executives and the tens of billions of dollars amassed by the Walton family on the backs of workers who could scarcely afford rent in some cities, never mind food, fuel, transportation, clothing, and other necessities of life. Another hot disclosure was a recent memo to Wal-Mart suppliers declaring that global competitive pressures required them to meet the China price either by reducing costs (i.e., cutting wages and benefits) or by actually moving to China, which accounted for more than $15 billion in Wal-Mart orders annually, and was now Wal-Mart's official world headquarters outside the United States. The billionaires' press release, featured on most of the network news shows, included all this information and more, along with a state-by-state list of Wal-Mart suppliers, thus assuring follow-up stories in the local press: "Is it true? Are you closing down and going to China?"

On two other business fronts, waves were threatening to inundate Wal-Mart's vaunted PR machine. Mobilized by the core group, large stockholders, both individual and institutional, began demanding that Wal-Mart adopt the Henry Ford approach of raising wages in order to increase consumer purchasing power. These investors also pressured their brokerage firms to put the heat on Wal-Mart, hoping through their combined efforts to prompt a downgrade of Wal-Mart stock. But the other wave was the real stunner, never anticipated in any of Wal-Mart's worst-case scenarios. In the five target communities, dozens of small retail operations that had been hanging on by a thread took out full-page ads in the local papers to announce that they would beat Wal-Mart's prices on an abundant range of inventories, commencing in two weeks. The ads, adroitly designed and phrased by the anonymous wordsmiths at Promotions, offered huge savings on Wal-Mart's top forty hottest-selling products.

In Bentonville, Arkansas, the National Wal-Mart War Room went into 24/7 overdrive. The Wal-Mart SWAT teams had plenty of experience in thwarting union organizing, but they'd never encountered anything like this onslaught of small-competitor fire sales. Management turned to in-house corporate counsel for advice.

Wal-Mart's lawyers studied their options. Should they recommend trademark infringement lawsuits against the five storefront Wal-Mart knockoffs, which were openly disparaging the company in every conceivable manner, using satire and ridicule and attacking the veracity of the Wal-Mart pledge to meet any price, no matter how low? What about those fire sale ads, which did not mention any termination date? The company attorneys smelled rich angels backing all these stores; if they were right, they might succeed in a tort action for willful interference in Wal-Mart's economically advantageous relationships, without actually having to document a conspiracy, though it was a long shot. Wal-Mart could not just go on a fishing expedition hoping that discovery following a lawsuit would turn up the evidence. They also had to anticipate public opposition to this kind of bullying of the little guy, especially after the pummeling small businesses had taken for years at Wal-Mart's giant hands.

What Wal-Mart had not anticipated was that even as they scrambled to come up with an effective strategy, Sol was deploying SWAT teams of his own to bust the union busters. Each team had six members: a field-tested attorney; two people savvy about the media and publicity generally, especially at the community level; one experienced negotiator; an engineer skilled in staging and logistics; and an economist with expertise in the psychological impact on the managerial and executives classes of declines in the bottom line. In the course of his career, Sol had relied on such teams for a variety of purposes and had found their services invaluable. His lead team had worked together for five years and had ironed out all abrasions. leaving a smoothly functioning force in place. Its vital statistics: average age, forty-six; four men, two women; one African American, one Mexican American, one Jewish American, two Anglo Americans, and a Mongolian American. They'd been chosen on merit, not for diversity, and that was how it turned out.

Sol sent the lead team to the Arkansas site to coordinate the operation from Wal-Mart's backyard. By the Friday of the billionaires' press conference, comparable teams had arrived in the other four locations and were quickly at full throttle. operating in close contact with the lead team but two days behind in order to reduce error and false starts. The first order of business was to reassure the rebel "associates" backing the union drive and to bolster their efforts. The next was to convey to the store managers -- and thereby to the bosses in Bentonville -- that what was happening in these five communities was just the opening salvo in a well-funded, tightly orchestrated national assault to be unleashed on Wal-Mart in the coming weeks. Projecting a credible penumbra of threat over the vast rest of Wal-Mart's terrain was a key to success.

The secret strategy of the Sol-SWATs was to let the opposition in on the secret. With the lead team setting the tempo, they contrived a series of "leaks" to the overenthusiastic volunteers already identified by the union organizers as company moles. It was too obvious to leave "confidential" documents lying around for the moles to find, so the teams announced "deep background sessions" to give the workers a detailed rundown on the massive national campaign that would soon be backing the individual guarantees they had already received. Thoughtfully, the teams announced these sessions days in advance so that the moles would have time to equip themselves with hidden recorders.

With the union drive, the picketing, the investor revolt, the fire sales, and the widespread stirrings of anti-corporate sentiment, Sol's Wal-Mart offensive was now on track for victory, but the drama would be intense. Would Wal-Mart take any of the face-saving opportunities they were offered, or would they only respond to overwhelming force? In either case, ongoing pressure from deep resources would lead Wal-Mart, the largest of the giant corporations, to fissure. Being an inherently expedient and opportunistic institution, it would come around once it evaluated the more costly alternatives -- simple arithmetic, little to do with morality. That was the hope.

Sol crossed his fingers.

***

By the third week of February, the press was all over the lunchtime rebellion. It had taken a while, but now reporters were tallying additional cities and daily crowd increases as if they were covering major league baseball. The message was out: economic inequality broke down into non-livable wages, nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance, corporations and the rich not paying their fair share of taxes, big money counting more than votes, the poor paying more and absorbing more toxic pollution -- and that was just the beginning. In every city there were local illustrations of these gross inequalities, such as which neighborhoods got good police and fire services and which did not. Before long, the crowds were joining in with "Tell 'em about Ballard Avenue Dump!" and "What about our schools crumbling while our taxes pay for that big stadium over there?" and indignantly on and on.

Soon there was a spate of editorials wondering who was behind these lunchtime rallies. Editors set their investigative reporters on the money trail and found that it dead-ended with local billionaires. "Why?" they asked, nonplussed. "Why not?" said the billionaires. All over the country, Ted's boys were coming through. The Wall Street Journal editorial gang took notice with a lead screed titled "The 'Why Not?' Billionaires." It called them old fogeys with nothing better to do than play at being latter-day rabble-rousers. A quick letter to the editor from one of the billionaires asked simply, "Rabble? Is that what you call hardworking Americans who choose to exercise their right of free assembly on their lunch break?"

Just as Leonard had hoped, the rallies took on a life of their own, with spellbinding speakers, local musicians, poets, sketch artists, even dancers. Advance preparation by his teams of organizers assured that all this cultural excitement, important as it was, did not distract from the main themes: a living wage; high-quality cost-controlled universal health insurance; tax reform to shift the burden upward on the income scale and onto the speculators and polluters; and the immediate improvement of public services across the board. Schools, transit, libraries, parks, recreational facilities, public procurement, public works, and public administration (police, fire, child welfare, upkeep of the streets, enforcement of building codes) needed major upgrades. Since each city had its front-page urgencies in these areas, the rally speakers were never short of material.

But there was also room for the unexpected. In Fountain Square in Cincinnati, five thousand demonstrators turned their rally into a spontaneous protest against the Iraq War and occupation. In concert with Leonard's team, local organizers decided to make Iraq the theme of the week, which ended with a Friday rally that drew the biggest crowd yet. And what a rally it was -- the lunchtime regulars, their ranks swelled by thousands of citizens from all walks of life, and at the center the soldiers back from Iraq, some on crutches or in wheelchairs, defiant, articulate, passionate, hugging older veterans from past wars, challenging their smug, cloistered commander in chief, redefining the patriotic course of action as withdrawal from a war based on lies and soaked in blood, a war whose multiplying effect was the recruitment and training of more and more terrorists from more and more countries, as the White House's handpicked director of the CIA himself had told a Senate committee. Behind the speakers' platform was a huge screen, courtesy of the Mass Demonstrations budget, for live video appearances by Ohio's governor, senators, and representatives, who had been called days earlier and asked to reply to the ralliers' demand for a way out of Iraq. To the accompaniment of martial drumbeats, each politician's name was called out, and if said politician didn't come onscreen within a minute or so, the crowd roared its disapproval. Only one face appeared. "Although I cannot be with you in body, I'm with you in spirit," intoned a state congressman from Cleveland. "When can we have your body?" the ralliers roared back. Blushing, he replied, "As soon as my schedule permits."
"Not good enough!" a leather-lunged Marine bellowed. "God bless you, and God bless America," said the congressman as his frozen smile faded from the screen.

It was an altogether different scene in Orlando, Florida, where fifteen thousand workers showed up from the Disney dens, the farm fields, the fast food restaurants, the lawn care companies, and other low-paying sectors. A majority of them were Latinos and African Americans, but a solid minority were the "poor whites" whose plight was often overshadowed by the routine exploitation of minorities. Many of the workers were holding aloft signs showing their hourly wages: Wal-Mart, $6.75 before payroll deductions; McDonald's, $6.15; Superior Tomatoes, $5.50; Spick and Span Janitorial Services, $7.00. On wages like those, they couldn't afford even the basics of a decent life, much less frills like healthcare.

None of these workers were unionized, but many of the speakers were active in union locals whose members were passing out organizing literature that announced several upcoming meetings and guaranteed privacy in bold print. Leonard's people were also circulating through the crowd, some of them giving out submarine sandwiches and fruit drinks, others collecting signatures on clipboards. Few workers signed; most recoiled slightly, as if afraid of having their concerns recognized. They had come to the rally, yes, but they weren't about to jeopardize the little they had by doing anything to suggest that they might cause trouble. Even as they heard speaker after speaker deliver a powerful pro-labor message, they couldn't shake the atmosphere of intimidation that hovered over them at their jobs and in their neighborhoods. Every day they had to contend with abusive or absentee landlords, price gouging, shoddy merchandise (especially the contaminated meat and spoiled food regularly dumped into low-income markets), payday loans with interest rates as high as 400 percent, furniture purchased under usurious installment loan agreements, and a host of other predatory lending practices. No voice. No remedy. No political representation. Just plenty of police making sure they didn't stand an inch beyond the area approved in the rally permit.

Reporters at the scene noticed that the demonstrators didn't seem angry, unlike the California farmworkers under Cesar Chavez during the grape boycott decades earlier. Those campesinos had fire in their eyes as they shouted, "La huelga! Justicia!" These workers seemed resigned to their fate and just plain tired, as was also noted by the employer infiltrators wending their way through the crowd. However robust the speakers were, the reaction was subdued -- until the police grabbed two young women who were shouting slogans and pushed them into the street. One of them, discernibly pregnant, lost her balance and fell hard. Her husband charged the cops, and then it all unraveled -- more pushing and shoving, more police wading into the crowd with billy clubs, demonstrators fighting back, people screaming and falling, sirens wailing, bullhorns blaring threats of arrest. The rally speakers pleaded for calm, and the flaring tempers finally died down, but that evening all the national news programs showed the "disturbance," as they called it, and because it was tied to the demand for a living wage, the business pages gave the story play too, noting darkly that dozens of other big demonstrations for economic justice had taken place that day all over the country.

Watching the coverage at home in Waco, Bernard thought to himself that Orlando was a shot across the bow, just the thing to show that the proletariat, long considered moribund by the plutocracy, still had a cutting edge. Decades ago his father had immigrated to America from Russia and become a pushcart peddler, selling blankets and clothing door to door. Sometimes little Bernard would accompany him. When they finished their rounds, Papa would shake his finger with anger over the miseries of those downtrodden people and argue passionately for a major social upheaval on their behalf. Bernard never forgot his father's intensity at those moments.

Barry was also watching the televised coverage, which was generally above his expectations, apart from the usual yellow journalism of a few cable networks. But he knew that once the novelty wore off and the rallies and other Redirections showed seriousness of purpose- -- in demanding public control of the public airwaves, for instance -- the big media would either try to ignore what was going on or caricature such initiatives as dangerous revolutionary ideologies. Talk radio -- the hound dogs of the commercial media -- and the heavily right-wing cable news and opinion shows would lead the charge, in part through the technique of personal destruction, singling out vulnerable individuals and portraying them as ogres or deranged radicals.

Barry resolved to redouble his already accelerated schedule of leveraged buyouts for a radio and television network covering the entire country. His law firm could produce the boilerplate purchase contracts at a moment's notice, and bankers were always standing by for him, such was his sterling track record. By his estimate, the deals for the network would be cut by the end of February, and the actual takeover of the stations would be complete by the end of March -- and not a day too soon, given the huge coverage of the Redirections and the coming battles. There would be twenty-five television stations, two cable channels, thirty AM radio stations, ten FM radio stations, one satellite radio station, and links to associated websites. That should do it for audience saturation. The programming work had to start immediately, with the task of creating lively and controversial shows that would draw high ratings, after the 60 Minutes model, and the additional challenge of parrying the anticipated propaganda and smear campaigns from the opposition. That meant enlisting on-air talent and off-air investigative experts with dispatch.

Barry reached for his Rolodex.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:31 pm

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 5

While Sol was stepping up the campaign against Wal-Mart, the company's normally cool and calculating top executives were scurrying around like mice in a maze. They could hardly believe the reports coming in from the field. Dismayed by their disarray, their hands-on CEO assembled them for a briefing. He commenced soberly.

"Our great company is under a domestic attack that could have global repercussions, and we must deal with it now. In little more than a week, the balance of power has begun to tilt toward our enemies. There are picketers at two hundred of our stores, and though they can't get close to the doors because of private property restrictions, they're sufficiently intrusive that sales are suffering. Customers just don't want to endure the hassle of the chanting, the police presence, and the surveillance cameras.

"We have indications that the picket organizers are planning similar obstructions in front of more stores shortly. In the five areas most under assault, those despicably named storefronts -- Wal-Fart, Wal-Part, etc. -- are spreading the usual union slander about our company and picking up additional numbers of ex-associates who will no doubt feed them more grist for their noxious mills. Our SWAT teams in these five areas, including the one right here in Bentonville, where our revered Sam Walton started his first low-priced store, report that they can't get a handle on what's happening. Because no existing unions appear to be involved, all our teams can do is to try to infiltrate the meetings of the shadow opposition and the traitorous associates who've gone over to them.

"As you know, some important shareholders have been calling to demand that we raise wages and improve benefits. The timing of these calls indicates coordination, particularly since institutional shareholders -- mutual funds and pension funds -- have also transmitted their demands in writing. One retired billionaire after another has taken out an ad or given a news conference to brag about how successful his business was even with -- or because of -- high wages and good benefits for the workers, and to showcase ex-associates with tear-jerking personal stories that come across as very believable.

"Small stores in the vicinity of our discount havens are announcing forthcoming sales on our best-selling products at prices lower than ours, which also suggests close coordination in those five locations. The mom-and-pop businesses we replaced when we located in their backyard are coming back to bite us. Don't underestimate their local political power, especially given their backing. Yes, we have identified the ringleader. He is the patron-saint-turned-devil of the wholesale- retail discount store movement. Sol Price knows our vulnerable points along the whole chain of supply. He knows our margins, our spoilage. He knows how we think. He knows we're so big that we have few influential allies except for the politicians we take care of. He knows all we have are millions of satisfied customers. When he called me urging a cardcheck, he didn't say that he was the force behind this disruptive drive, but the trail leads directly back to him, even though we don't know the details."

"Sol Price?" exclaimed the executives around the table in a chorus of alarm.

"That man is a legend for his shrewdness and tenacity," said an executive vice-president. "And he can't be dismissed as a radical or a union boss."

CEO Clott tried to calm the increasingly distressed executives. He announced a week of intensive intelligence gathering, along with the destruction of sensitive documents and e-mails on advice of counsel, under his daily direction. "Then we'll be in a position to present the board of directors with a comprehensive plan of action," he said authoritatively. "Meanwhile, let's pay a visit to the Bentonville store to see what we can find out for ourselves. I'll also commission a poll to gauge the effect of this unprecedented campaign on public opinion and on Wal-Mart customers themselves. It's essential to know where we stand."

***

In the midst of all the core group activity, Warren was doing a superb job running the Secretariat and was also taking an active role in various Redirections, but he wanted to do more. He decided to deliver a blistering denunciation of the excessive pay of the CEOs and executives of the Fortune 500. He had spoken out before in measured terms, asserting that these huge compensation packages blinded executives to what was best for shareholders and the business in general, created a moral authority gap with workers, and produced incentives to engage in creative accounting that inflated profits and misled investors. Stock options for the bosses were particular tools of mischief. And they all knew that their pay packages were self-determined and would be rubber-stamped by their board members, who in turn were rewarded with large per diems and other payola. Year after year executive pay kept outstripping worker wages, economic growth, company growth, or any other indicator under the mother sun. A Fortune magazine cover story declared that nothing could stop this escalation, though the editors deeply deplored the greed at the top.

Warren begged to differ with Fortune's prediction, and he did so in an address before the National Cattlemen's Convention in Omaha's cavernous public arena. After laying out the red meat of his argument with calm precision and logic, he concluded with a stirring peroration. "We're not waiting for Washington or the White House or the Securities and Exchange Commission to do the job, because they are under the influence, and I'm not talking about booze. We're going to mobilize the mutual funds, the pension trusts, and the individual investors who own these corporations. They're going to demand shareholder approval of pay packages and accountability from the executives who are supposed to be working for them, not the other way around. Together, we've got the financial muscle to make it happen, and happen fast, you hear?"

They heard. Cattlemen are conservative people from conservative states working in a conservative business that puts steaks on dining room tables, but they had always felt manipulated by the "suits" in the pricing pits of Chicago and the skyscrapers of New York, by the giant middlemen and the giant supermarkets with their huge markups, by all the rich white-collar guys who never had to endure the grit and grime of raising livestock. Now the richest man in America was proposing a plan to put wheels on the wheels and "steer" to victory -- not just words, action! They roared their approval in a ten-minute standing ovation. The press was dumbfounded by the reaction.

As he left the convention. even the supremely confident Warren wondered if he had bitten off more than he could chew. He rarely, if ever, forecast his moves or predicted victory, but in this case he felt he had to put himself on the spot to provoke the burst of adrenaline that would be required of him and his colleagues. He also knew that with all the debate and excitement generated by the Redirections, executives were likely to be on the defensive, and that the vast majority of investors, including the institutions, would be supportive. Still, what had to be done had never been done before.

In his methodical way, Warren laid out his design for action. As CEO of a major holding company, he had already set the example with his annual salary of $350,000 and no stock options or bonuses. His company was the marvel of the investment world, with stock valued at $5,000 per share in 1986 now soaring to nearly $100,000 per share -- the highest by far on the New York Stock Exchange. From this pedestal, Warren served on the boards of several large companies, including the Washington Post/Newsweek corporation. He knew he could swing these companies, although he'd have to persuade the Post's dominant family, which controlled the voting shares on such matters. Then he'd marshal his own vast contacts and the relevant people from the core group's epicenters; set up high-level meetings with the heads of the large mutual and pension funds, the NYSE, and NASDAQ; ask Leonard to organize a demonstration of investors on Wall Street; and coordinate it all with Barry and his media network. As one big company after another fell into the fold and officially ceded investor control over executive pay, heavy publicity was likely to follow. Interlocking directorates would further the spread of investor control. The Fortune 500 would be holding their annual shareholder meetings soon, and Warren would stoke up all those securities attorneys from the pro bono talent bank to prepare resolutions calling for investor control over the pay packages of each company's top four executives. Major investors would be lined up to register their support either by signing the resolution or issuing a statement. The shareholder meetings, no matter how remote their sites, would be packed with supporters who would have good media backup from Barry as well as on-the-scene publicists. To send a political message, a resolution of support would be circulated in Congress and the larger state legislatures. State securities regulators, state attorneys general, and the White House would also be solicited for support. To implement all these objectives, Warren hired a skilled ten-person staff that he wryly referred to as "the Boiler Room."

When the plan was circulated to the core group, the first call came from Leonard. "Good news, Warren," he said with a laugh. "The CEO of the company at the top of your list is my younger brother, and I'm the major shareholder." But what really tickled Leonard's funny bone was the prospect of two hundred thousand investors surrounding the New York Stock Exchange and the major investment and brokerage houses. Warren was impressed, but not so much that he didn't ask, "How in the world are you going to get two hundred thousand investors?"

"Well, they'll be mostly small investors, of course, but with Barry's media and Ross's credibility groups, especially retired veterans and business clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis, we can do it. I'd say it'll take about two months -- a couple of weeks after Maui Four."

''I'm relying on you, Leonard," said an amazed Warren.

***

Out in California, a rejuvenated Warren Beatty was reviewing the latest draft of his formal announcement speech for governor. Once again, Dick Goodwin showed that he hadn't lost his touch. The address was magisterial, studded with historical allusions that legitimized the fundamental changes in power, wealth, income, and priorities so logically and factually laid out in scintillating paragraph after paragraph. Fundamental democratic values undergirded every sentence and idea as proof against distortions, red-baiting, and right-wing casuistry. Goodwin deployed quotations from America's best political leaders of the past, and from revered conservative economists like Adam Smith, Herbert Simon, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman, to deflect anticipated attacks from the corporatists. He made the beauties of California's geography the focus of the announcement and wove otherwise dry facts about devastating and cruel conditions into vibrant and sonorous rhetoric. But what most enthralled Warren about the speech was its seamless portrayal of his transition from movie heartthrob to actor/writer/director of political movies like Reds and Bulworth to passionate spokesman on crucial issues facing the country, and finally to crusading politician. As he sent back his edits and comments, he reflected that this was his best script yet. How on earth could the Democrats have failed to enlist Dick Goodwin in their battle for the White House in 2004? Did anyone remember any of John Kerry's speeches or campaign themes that year, except possibly his silencing of John Edwards' "two Americas" presentation on poverty and moral obligation, which had galvanized audiences during the primary season?

The next question was where and how to deliver his speech. Advised by the canny public interest lawyer Harvey Rosenfield, he decided to give it in four locations in one day, starting out in Los Angeles with his family on the steps of a decrepit branch library in South Central, going on alone to San Diego State University and then the Imperial Valley, where he'd be surrounded by farmworkers who harvested a large portion of the country's fruits and vegetables, and ending up at the Presidio on San Francisco Bay. He'd have to use a private jet and spend some of his own money, but for once it was worth it. He'd have a primary fight with three other Democratic candidates, but he was confident that the voting public would relish a showdown between him and Arnold. As launch time approached, Warren felt a great load lifting from his shoulders. Years of doubt, years of playing surrogate politician, years of hesitation about himself were washing away.

Ever since his speech to the Assembly, he'd been boning up on conditions in the state, not just the usual ones the press asked about, but all the needs government was meant to address and was ignoring. He'd consulted with specialists on children and schools; on sustainability and local economic development; on poverty, healthcare, immigration, tax equity, and corporate welfare; on land, water, and air utilization; on slums and sprawl; on law enforcement from the streets to the business suites; on the responsibilities of the wealthy to the people of California. When announcement day came, he exceeded the expectations of the media with his spectacular address, his refusal to pander, and his demonstration of resolve. His former days of womanizing were alluded to, of course, but what else was new -- and compared to Arnold the Stud? With the billionaire buses and the reinstatement of the old tax on the wealthy fresh in everyone's mind, Warren came across as both a man of action and a man of his word. Initial polls registered a 63-percent approval rating for the speech, and one columnist wrote that the race was Warren's to lose. Back home with Annette and the children, a tired but happy man planned his next move.

***

In weeks three and four of Maui Month Two, the rumble against the corporate supremacists and their political allies grew louder by the day, like the approaching hoof beats of a cavalry charge. The mass media knew that something was afoot, but they couldn't figure out whether it was just some eccentric rich guys on a justice lark or a bigger, more coordinated movement. The People's Chamber of Commerce was challenging its reactionary larger counterparts to specific debates at the National Press Club, and in the process defining what progressive businesses stood for -- unheard of in Washington, DC, where trade associations were supposed to collude, not debate. The lunchtime demonstrations continued to grow in number and spread to new locations. Two prominent retired CEOs gave tell-all valedictory speeches at the Press Club, leaving the real estate and agribusiness industries reeling. Even the business-friendly justice Department bestirred itself to announce that it would investigate the charges, and several members of Congress urged the attorney general to do so with dispatch.

Jerome Kohlberg, Warren's retired billionaire investment banker from the Hamptons, launched Operation Shakeup with a press conference on electoral reform, releasing a white paper naming the one hundred worst abusers in the area of campaign financing, and singling out a number of donations he claimed were illegal under federal law. He tied these sleazy contributions to the quid pro quo politicians who accepted them, raising intimations of bribery. An uproar ensued, but what could you do to a retired billionaire who'd preceded the press conference with fact-filled ads on radio and television and in the major New York newspapers? He concluded by saying that all campaign television ads under five minutes should be banned, citing the views of advertising guru John O'Toole, former president and chairman of Foote, Cone and Belding, who once worked for Richard Nixon's campaign and had written a book called The Trouble with Advertising. This blast caused Madison Avenue to go ape and unleash a volley of slashing attack ads in response. Kohlberg promptly fired back.

Bernard hit more media pay dirt with his own press conference on corporate commercialism in our schools. As a prelude to his project to establish after-school Egalitarian Clubs, he read out his roll call of the worst offenders, who replied with a chorus of indignant protestations of innocence, claiming they were just giving the kids what they wanted. "Yes," rejoined Bernard, "like junk food, junk television programming in the classroom, censored teachers, and an excessively narrow vocational curriculum."

Meanwhile, in the old Progressive tradition of the late nineteenth century, the Promotions Project began sending lecturers around the country to speak to civic groups and local chapters of the PCC. These were all people with experience in matters of social and economic justice, and with reputations sufficient to draw interested audiences. Promotions advertised their appearances well and made sure they were featured prominently in the local media. Their topics were diverse, but they generally started with some hot local issue and then linked it to broader themes of government of, by, and for the people, equal justice under the law, and the other concerns being addressed by one or more of the Redirections.

The radio attack dogs were baffled by the white-hot controversies erupting everywhere over real abuses of power. Their big advertisers kept calling to egg them on -- but on to what, or whom? They were like drooling bloodhounds straining at the leash to hunt down their quarry, but they'd lost their sense of smell. Sure, they spewed their daily denunciations of the lunchtime rallies, had a field day with the "Fighting Zulus" caper, tore into Joe's small claims litigation, snickered over Warren Beatty's alleged dalliances, and rushed to defend Wal-Mart, calling the giant retailer "the best anti-poverty program in American history." But they couldn't make any ism stick, couldn't cry conspiracy, couldn't plausibly tar the assorted billionaire elders with the usual labels: fags, atheists, child killers, flag desecrators, feminazis, socialists, communists, anarchists, French, national nannies, cop-haters, peaceniks, disarmers (gun controllers), traitors, the blame-America-first crowd. Epithet-starved, they turned to management for advice.

The media barons who syndicated their programs had noticed a pattern of mergers and acquisitions by Barry Diller -- unusual activity, and unusually fast, even for him. They'd also noticed that the strange goings-on of the past month were getting more than customary airtime on his existing brace of radio and TV stations. Of more concern was the steady daily decline in audience ratings for their bombastic right-wing loudmouths, and the slow but steady rise in ratings for Diller's stations. But there was no hard evidence that anything more was involved than the man's notorious idiosyncrasies, and all they could do was urge the talk show yappers to stay hot on the trail and ask their listeners for leads. "Something's starting to happen," said one CEO in an e-mail to Bush Bimbaugh, "and we damn well better find out what it is before it gets done happening."

***

On the morning of the hastily scheduled meeting of the Wal-Mart board of directors. the company's top six executives gathered over an early breakfast in their war room. On the long wall was an elaborate mural of the Wal-Mart Colossus bestriding the globe, but the Big Six were not admiring the artwork. They'd done their best to digest the huge volume of intelligence and anecdotal reports they'd received from their operatives, and they'd crafted their presentation carefully, but they were still nervous. They had two plans, one if the board simply went along with the CEO's recommendations, and the other if there was a board rebellion. Either way, they all knew events were accelerating so fast that a decision had to be made by the end of the day. The company had been in hot water before, over local dustups that were sometimes widely publicized but could be easily defused by an apology and a little cosmetic corrective action. This was drastically different. With stiff upper lips, they raised and clicked their customary glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice, chugalugged, and walked down to the board conference room for pre-meeting pleasantries.

The board members seemed unusually subdued. A few of them were conversing quietly, but there was none of the standard small talk about golf and grandchildren. For a week or more, they had all been under unprecedented pressure from shareholders, mutual funds, billionaire friends, and badgering reporters inquiring about their stance on Wal-Mart's labor practices, and even about their own personal pay and perks. Some of them had seen their names on placards at the lunchtime rallies in the cities where they worked. And then there were the websites, those awful blogs with no sense of propriety and no barriers to rudeness.

CEO Clott brought the meeting to order at 9:00 a.m. sharp. He asked everyone to turn off their cell phones and said that the room had recently been debugged and that no staff would be allowed to enter until lunch. Then he began.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to preface my remarks by assuring you that our intelligence capabilities are close to total. Little of what our shadowy adversary is doing escapes us. We have a direct line into its moves in the five targeted stores and around the country. What you are about to hear is not supposition and rumor. What you are about to hear is fact, reality, the adversary's forward plan of attack. True, we do not have the whole story, but we know enough to go toe to toe with this adversary on the ground.

"We are entering a period of grave uncertainty. Already our company's stock has lost ten percent of its value. That translates into billions of dollars and does not augur well for our management incentive program. Of course, stock can go back up after a company weathers a crisis, and more than a few large corporations have done just that. But what we are confronting is not just a major crisis, and not a steady-state one at that, such as a major product recall with known parameters. We are facing the most sophisticated assault on a company's wage and benefits policy ever. Our in-house Wal-Mart historian finds nothing comparable, nothing remotely on this scare, in any of our prior unionization confrontations, or indeed in any such confrontations in our nation's past.

"Many of us have been on the receiving end of calls from Sol Price. You know what a formidable adversary he can be, with his knowledge, his labor relations record, and his bull terrier personality. He knows the nerve points of our business and the nature of our customer base. Already the storefronts are spreading lies about the indirect costs War-Mart passes on to the taxpayers, small businesses, workers whose wages are depressed by our policies, workers who lose their jobs as a result of the China price, and on and on. His people are even delving into alleged differences between our shelf prices and our register prices. Moreover, given our labor turnover, there are a lot of grievances and allegations of wrongdoing circulating, and the storefronts are collecting all of them. The picketing at two hundred Supercenters is depressing sales because of the noise and ruckus. Sol Price has agitated a substantial part of our shareholder base, which has alarmed the investment advisory fellows in New York. And his very rich cohorts are all over us with squeeze plays that few besides people like us can understand. Particularly worrisome is that all these initiatives are being developed as models to be applied in every corner of the country that our stores service.

"At the five targeted stores, the number of our associates signing up to be the nucleus of the union organizing drive is reaching a critical mass. Imagine, Price's people are offering free union membership for three years, no dues at all, zero! Unlike past feeble and ultimately futile attempts by a few unions, this invasion has limitless resources, talent, and business acumen at its disposal. Price's SWAT teams, though not impenetrable, are producing more than a little anxiety among our Wal-Mart SWAT teams in the five localities. Our teams know how to quash budding union drives led by two or three local organizers who don't have the backing or the experience to thwart us, but they aren't trained to deal with guys their own size, so to speak.

"As if all that weren't bad enough, there are new blasts in the chute. Next week a national advertising buy will sharply compare how we're required to treat our associates across the Atlantic under various European labor laws -- decent wages, paid vacations, unionizing rights, pensions, childcare, family medical leave -- to how our stateside workers are faring. We have advance copies of these ads, and they are simply devastating, making our wonderful company look downright unpatriotic. We also have advance notice of a video campaign showing how our Chinese suppliers mistreat their workers, and how we allegedly coerce our domestic suppliers to close down and move to China at the expense of their loyal US workers, some of them military veterans. Both campaigns are pitched to the mass media, the investment community, the Congress, and the state legislatures. For the time being, they've written off the White House, but probably not for long.

"I don't want to sound too downbeat, but we have to face the bad news. On the other hand, we are not without resources and talent of our own. Over the last several years we have waged a successful fight against the unions. Not one Wal-Mart has been unionized, nor has there even been a majority sign-up of our associates, with the exception of one meat department that has since, shall we say, been discontinued. So permit your management to put before you, for your close consideration, several possible strategies of counterattack.

"First, we can simply hunker down and wait them out. Sure, they may cut into our sales, depress our stock a bit more, even unionize a few stores, but we can bargain in apparent good faith for a long, long time before we arrive at any labor agreements. You know what the hoops under the NLRB can be like in contested proceedings.

"Our attorneys have advised us that we can sue the storefronts and their backers for intentional interference with our economic right to conduct business, given their clear vindictiveness. However, we are a little large to gain much sympathy from the courts, not to mention the public out there -- Sprawl-Mart versus Main Street and all that -- and proving direct causation would be difficult, according to the attorneys. We might find out more through discovery, but we have good intelligence now, and besides, our opponents seem to have little to hide.

"Our economists are prepared to produce an analysis of cost increases resulting from any successful cardcheck effort, to show how many employees would have to be laid off to maintain our profit margin. If we disseminate this information widely among our workforce, our opponents may have difficulty getting a majority to sign on, even with the cardcheck.

"There is another possibility, something we haven't done very extensively to date, and that is to organize our customers into consumer associations opposed to higher prices. Our outreach department believes that with the proper inducements such associations would attract a large membership, but not a dynamic and driven one, given their ostensible purpose.

"Finally, we could go after Sol Price. Even though he appears clean, his discount stores, first out of the big box, were soon challenged by our estimable founder with his Sam's Club chain, built on Price's model but with bigger expansion resources. We could paint Sol Price as having a grudge match in his retirement. So what? most people would say, if they weren't yawning. This one has no legs. Everyone would marvel at his energy. We'd end up turning him into a sex symbol and watching him promote Viagra on TV.

"To summarize, then, with some combination of the strategies I've outlined, we can bring the onslaught against us to a protracted standstill. While our adversaries have deep pockets and can offer fired employees better jobs, free legal representation, sympathetic media, and so forth, we believe they are working within a limited time frame. To the best of our knowledge, they have not planned for the long haul. Assuming that's the case, the unanswered question is whether the resources and energies they've put into play will become self-replicating and self-sustaining. If so, waiting them out becomes a weaker option. Our company will be embroiled in constant struggle and under constant media scrutiny, a particularly troubling projection since we are not going to win all the battles at our thirty-eight hundred stores. It will become a war of attrition. It will be draining and distracting, win or lose.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think that's about it, short of calling in the Marines, but maybe we should take over their PXs first." CEO Clott paused for a laugh, which was not forthcoming. "The floor is now open for your reactions and suggestions," he said, coughing into his hand.

"What would it do to Wal-Mart to pay its workers more?" asked Alicia Del Toro, a recent addition to the board. "Say at the level of Costco, which seems to be making a pretty good profit. I know Costco isn't Wal-Mart, but they're a substantial big-box discount chain."

"You're right. Costco isn't Wal-Mart and does not share our business model. When reporters ask us this question, we say that if we increased our average pay by $2.90 an hour and reduced health insurance co-payments, the cost would be equivalent to our annual profits. Next question, please."

"Excuse me, Leighton, but do you take me for a reporter? First, the extra pay is deductible, and so are the added health insurance costs. Second, a reduction in executive compensation packages would go a long way toward making up the difference, not to mention improving the morale of over a million workers. Third, you're not taking into account your constant productivity increases from having fewer and fewer associates operating ever larger Supercenters. Fourth, you're ignoring the fact that higher pay reduces employee turnover, which is astronomical -- it's as if you're running a temp agency! Fifth, have you calculated how many sales you'd lose by raising prices enough to compensate for raising wages? Not many, I suspect, but I'm sure your experts can arrive at a very precise understanding of what consequences flow from what variables. Finally, please don't talk down to us. We're not rubber stamps, you know."

More than slightly taken aback, Clott coughed into his hand again. "Forgive me if I conveyed that impression. I certainly didn't intend to. I'll have a thorough analysis done for the board within a week, also taking into account any concerns others of you may have."

"With due respect, Leighton," said Frederick Buck, an emeritus professor of economics, ''Alicia has a point, and there are other productivities to consider too, such as going to just-in-time inventory, factoring in your China price savings, and who knows what else. But why in the world didn't you have all this data in our briefing books in comprehensible fashion?"

Clott stuck his damp hand under the table. "Well, quite frankly, I didn't think we'd have to go there. I assumed that the board had the requisite confidence in management to take our recommendations. Is it the general feeling of the board that you want further information, and if so, does that mean you're reconsidering our absolute opposition to unions and cardchecks? May I see a show of hands?"

"Time out!" said Sam Sale, retired CEO of the country's largest sporting goods chain. "The question is too ambiguous. It's not, at least for me, that I want to reconsider our opposition to unions, but I do want the information as a broader basis to assess our options."

"May I have a show of hands on the rephrasing of the question?" Clott said.

All but three of the seventeen board members raised their hands, throwing the executives off script. Had Sol gotten to the board? After what seemed an interminable silence in the large conference room, the CEO composed himself. Time for plan B.

"All right, if Wal-Mart changes its present labor policies, what can we do to take the steam out of the opposition? Basically, we'll have to adopt a new business model, but in such a way as to avoid the impression that we're capitulating. We adjust price schedules to allow for across-the-board increases in wages and benefits, from starting pay up to middle management. Top management takes a small cut in compensation, and officers take a slightly larger but still modest cut, which gives us some moral stature. Instead of capping the average work week at twenty-nine hours to squeeze savings out of the payroll, we give our associates a forty-hour week. We increase the company's share of health insurance premiums, eliminate the most restrictive deductibles and exclusions, and offer normal pensions or 401(k) retirement plans. This is essentially what we're doing by law in Europe, where we're still making good profits, and it will deflect the criticism that we enjoy a taxpayer subsidy because we refer our associates to federal or state welfare services, particularly Medicaid. Then we plan a major media campaign explaining that our kinder and gentler business model will necessitate somewhat higher prices for our loyal consumers -- which isn't the case because of our productivity and China savings, though of course we can't say that.

"In presenting this alternative business model to you, I am aware that I'm proposing the most revolutionary makeover of Wal-Mart since Sam Walton launched this great company. Even to think of this kind of change is humbling, to say the least, but your votes on the last question suggest that you're prepared to contemplate it. I and my fellow executives make no recommendation. We await your response."

"Here's my question, and it's simple," said a tight-lipped Joseph Cobbler. "What would Sam do?"

"He'd get the facts," said Ken Keystone, chairman of the board. "He'd want to know."

"I agree," said Gerald Taft. "I think I speak for all of us when I say that we board members in our individual capacities have been catching hell for the past couple of weeks. Reporters, shareholders, disgruntled employees, the New York investment crowd, cranks, Wal-Mart scholars, unionists -- you name them -- are all over us. Speaking just for myself, I am a banker, and in that capacity I believe I've contributed to the board's oversight of the company and its deliberations. But I did not sign on to the board last year to be viewed as an ogre and hounded by some of my own wealthy peers, no less. Sol Price doesn't play dirty, I know, but he does play relentless. He doesn't go personal, but he puts the pressure on and turns the screws. I simply do not see light at the end of the tunnel. Does anybody here?"

"What tunnel?" objected Robert Shear, former president of Wal-Mart. "I thought we only see horizons here in Bentonville. Are we starting to lose our cool? Let's not panic. We're still the number one company in the world. We're still the greatest retail innovator in the world. Our satisfied customers vastly outnumber the forces arrayed against us, and these forces do not include prosecutors, grand juries, or judges. In my view, management should continue to monitor the situation, gather intelligence, keep the opposition off balance in this intensifying game of chess, and think anew about this novel challenge. All of us board members must go on high mental alert, and perhaps try to meet with Sol Price. You never know what you'll find out."

"What I just heard sounds to me like a modified motion to table, adjourn, and meet again soon," Clott said. Alicia Del Toro frowned, but there were nods of relief from most of the board members. ''I'll see to it that you receive the requested information promptly, ladies and gentlemen, and I assure you that we'll stay in the closest touch."

***
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:33 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 5 CONT'D.)

On the last Monday of February, Warren devoted most of the closed-circuit teleconference -- now a daily event -- to a review of the critical mundane details of the core group's work. He reported that he'd hired Seymour Depth, longtime director of the Peace Corps, now retired, to head the Recruitment Department, which was up to speed with its staffing tasks for the CUBs, the Congress Watchdogs, the volunteer and paid talent banks, and the lecturers, organizers, interviewers, and media specialists. Applications were far in excess of the growing needs, but once qualifications were addressed, the number dropped. Many good-hearted people were applying mainly as an outlet for their personal discouragement or alienation, and some were intensely idealistic but out of touch with the practical demands of the assignments, so Recruitment was engaged in a very large but kind winnowing process. "We're keeping all their names, which now number over two million, because there will be other ways to invite their contributions at more modest levels," Warren concluded, turning to his colleagues for updates on their projects.

George, Jeno, and Max reported that the CUB mailings were on schedule and would reach more than 150 million households by the time they were complete, though with some duplication given all the different kinds of CUBs. They were optimistic about a good rate of return and would try to improve it with follow-up resolicitations. Barry reported that the websites he'd set up for the various Redirections were receiving millions of visits and that many people were leaving their e-mail addresses. He noted that in anticipation of the Pot-In at the White House this Thursday, the industrial hemp website was particularly hot. "Mine too!" Ted chimed in. "That Sun God site is hotter than a nun's dream, and the festivals have really caught on, as you'll see for yourselves on Friday when the first two blow your minds." Barry suppressed a smirk and added that the number of volunteers for both events was way beyond expectations, in part thanks to the mailing list of 3 million recipients of Yoko's bulbs.

Bernard's Egalitarian Clubs were off to a slower start. Parents were too busy working, commuting, or ferrying their children around to competing after-school activities like sports or music lessons. Middleclass mothers were virtually nonstop chauffeurs. Children from poorer families were left alone watching television -- the latchkey kids. "It looks like I'll have to hire field organizers to set up a few dozen clubs as models," Bernard said with a sigh. "Not all excellent ideas are received with immediate acclamation. I am heartened, though, by the rising clamor from parents in response to the commercialism-in-the-schools campaign. School districts are starting to review conditions and promising to report to parents soon."

After brief remarks from Ross Perot on the Credibility Project, from Peter on his forthcoming testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, and from Sol on Wal-Mart ("Enough already! Read the papers!"), Leonard said that the Congress Project was on track and that Donald Ross and Joan Claybrook had been hired, subject to strict cautions against Democratic partisanship coloring their work. They agreed to the terms and would commence the week after Maui Three. Bill Gates reported that every day hundreds of people were registering with his project to incorporate themselves. "As yet," he said, "no suitable corporations have presented themselves as candidates for political office, but I'm sure this counterintuitive tactic will bear fruit in plenty of time to make a blazing statement about the unequal treatment of 'persons' under the law. Oh, and by the way, after consulting with Newman and Cosby, Joe and I have decided to kick-start our State of Justice drive with the Pledge of Allegiance. We're holding a press conference tomorrow morning at ten -- apologies for the short notice -- and we hope you'll all tune in. I know these various projects will take a while to incubate, but when they do, Katy bar the door!"

"Katy?" Warren said with a chuckle. "Katy who? Has she been vetted by Recruitment?"

***


Early Tuesday morning, Joe and Bill met to go over their plans for the press conference. The previous week, they'd incorporated a small nonprofit in Washington, DC, with the single objective of legislating a change in the Pledge of Allegiance from "with liberty and justice for all" to "with liberty and justice for some." They'd rented a room at the National Press Club, and their staff was now festooning it with American flags and erecting a huge blowup of the Pledge with "all" crossed out and replaced by "some." The reputations of William Gates Sr. and Joe Jamail assured a respectable turnout of reporters and columnists, but those two gentlemen were taking no chances. The day before, they'd issued a press release announcing the two essay contests and the prize money, the support of the six state attorneys general for annual State of Justice reports, and the forthcoming introduction of the Pledge legislation in Congress by two representatives from largely African American and Latino districts, as well as two senators from states with great inequalities of wealth and income. Late in the afternoon, they'd briefed the most vocal right-wing members of Congress and invited them to respond, as they surely would. In an hour, an excellent sit-down breakfast would be served to the men and women of the fourth estate to put them in a receptive frame of mind.

Come 10:00 a.m., not a square inch of the large Press Club room was unoccupied. Bill Gates strode to the podium with no notes or script. He swept the room with a steady gaze and began.

"The law in our country is living a lie. When it isn't actually written by and for the abusers of power and the corporate crooks, it is applied very selectively, coming down hardest on lower-income people and with a feather touch on the affluent and well-connected. There are even many cases in which the authorities use the law as an instrument of direct oppression. You all know about our proposed change in the Pledge of Allegiance. We advance it with thanks to Bill Cosby and Paul Newman, who first suggested it in their telethon last month. Over the coming days we will back it up with studies and in debates all over the nation. Daniel Webster once said, 'Justice is the great work of man on Earth.' We will be devoting our utmost efforts to insuring access to justice for every man, woman, and child in America." He paused and looked out over the audience again. "And now I'd like to introduce Joe Jamail for a few remarks before we take your questions."

"Thank you, Bill. Societies that live by hypocrisy will decay in hypocrisy. On the battlefield of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln declared that our nation was conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That is an eloquent way of saying that our nation is one in which the people are afforded equal justice under law. Lincoln knew that his words expressed an ideal and that Americans would have to dedicate themselves to making it more of a reality. Our legal institutions must represent 'that inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect,' in the words of Adlai Stevenson. As a nation, as a society, we are far, far from that destination. 'With liberty and justice for all,' our Pledge of Allegiance tells us. Millions of Americans take that pledge every day. Tens of millions take it every year. And what happens after we stand and solemnly utter these words with our hands over our hearts? Words are not efforts. Words are not deeds. Words are not, ipso facto, truths. Untruthful words should not disgrace our Pledge of Allegiance when neither efforts nor deeds follow from the exercise of our vocal cords.

"We must not allow our recital of the Pledge to lull us into false complacency and patriotic self-praise. Americans progress when they face reality, not when they succumb to illusion. It is for that reason and no other that we're launching a national initiative to change the final words of the Pledge to 'With liberty and justice for some.' Already more than three hundred inner-city schools have adopted the change in the wake of the telethon, and we have provided them with handsome posters of the revised Pledge. We expect the movement to spread across the land. We also expect vigorous discussion and robust debate to spread, particularly when our supporters in Congress introduce legislation mandating the change later today. The more concrete these discussions and debates, the closer we'll get to the grim realities we must change. Liberty -- call it freedom -- does not exist without power. As Marcus Cicero said more than two thousand years ago in Rome, 'Freedom is participation in power.' We need both freedom from abuses and freedom to fulfill our dreams. We need a Pledge of Allegiance that helps us make good on Ralph Waldo Emerson's succinct definition of our country: 'American means opportunity, freedom, power.'" Joe paused for a moment. "For all."

A reporter from the Washington Times jumped out of his seat brandishing his notepad. "Isn't this just one gigantic gimmick, Mr. Jamail?"

"No. Next question."

"Are the two of you colluding with Bill Cosby and Paul Newman?" asked a young woman from Fox News.

"Of course not. We're just indebted to them for raising the issue so publicly. They really started us thinking, and we know we're not the only ones," Joe said smoothly as he turned to call on Jim Drew of the Washington Post.

"What reaction do you expect from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars?"

"I don't know. What I do know is that many of these veterans are living examples of the situation our revised words are meant to describe. I'm a veteran of World War II myself, and so is Bill, if that's anything to go by."

"Mr. Gates," said Basil Brubaker, the Washington correspondent f6r the New York Times, "Senator Thurston Thinkalot has just released a statement that reads in part, 'Two ambulance chasers trying to change our sacred Pledge of Allegiance to our sacred flag speak for themselves, don't they? All red-blooded Americans will give them a curled lip when they hear about this gross desecration.' What is your reaction?"

"Well, first of all, neither Joe nor I have ever chased any ambulances, but if we had, we probably would have found them full of people injured or sick as a direct or indirect result of the opposition of Senator Thinkalot and his conservative cohorts to health and safety standards. Second, we'll see in the coming days whether or not we speak only for ourselves. Third, anytime Senator Thinkalot wants to debate us, Joe and I will relish the showdown."

That was enough for the reporters. They had their lead, and off they went. From the back of the room, two older men who had been watching the proceedings intently approached the podium and introduced themselves to Joe and Bill as retired attorneys who had spent years in corporate law firms. One of them, John Tucker, said he was now a writer of novels and nonfiction books about miscarriages of justice. The other, Kenly Webster, said that they both wanted to volunteer their services to the State of Justice project. Delighted by the offer, Joe and Bill chatted with them for several minutes and referred them to the project manager for a set of immediate assignments on Capitol Hill.

As they were exiting the Press Club, Kenly said, "You know, for some reason your Pledge proposal reminds me of Patriotic Polly. Did you fellows have anything to do with that?"

Joe and Bill exchanged a quick glance. "I wish," Joe said. "Isn't she great? What a hoot!"

"Don't you mean squawk?" Bill said with a playful jab to Joe's shoulder. "She's a parrot, not an owl."

Kenly and John were still laughing as Joe and Bill climbed into a cab and went off to argue their case for changing the Pledge at the first joint meeting of the Progressive, Black, and Hispanic congressional caucuses.

***

On Tuesday afternoon, resolved to get the Clean Elections Party underway before Maui Three, Warren and Bernard sat down at a roundtable with a small group of scholars and practitioners knowledgeable about political party formation, historically, organizationally, and legally. Experienced and worldly wise as the two core group members were, they soon got an education about the barriers facing a new political party in a two-party political arena.

A professor of political science began by sketching the fifty different state laws, sometimes with county differences, that governed what a party had to do simply to qualify as a party, even before it started climbing the mountain to appear on the ballot. "And in some states," she added, "even if you do get on the ballot, it's likely to be in a spot nearly impossible for voters to find."

"Good grief," Warren said. "What ever happened to letting the little guy, the newcomer on the block, compete with the giants on a level playing field? Sounds like a rigged system, despite all our boasting about the world's greatest democracy -- or I guess we should call it the world's greatest duopoly."

"Suppose money was no problem. Wouldn't that make it possible to surmount all these obstacles?" Bernard asked.

"It's not that simple," the professor said. "True, plenty of money gets you the legal counsel and other assistance you need to get the requisite number of verified signatures under different state laws. But a new party with a lot of money will attract the attention of one or both of the major parties, which will see you as a threat to their cushy arrangements in each electoral district. Then the claws will come out of the big cats' paws, and your Clean Elections Party will be up against all the trap doors and litigable ambiguities built into the election laws and regulations by the two parties. And because of tight filing deadlines, time is on the side of the delayers."

"You're also fighting history," said a second political science professor. "The winner-take-all system, controlled either by the two parties (or as is more frequently the case at the state and congressional district levels, by one dominant incumbent party, whether Republican or Democratic) has instilled in voters a 'can't win' dismissal of third parties. Voters want to feel that they're backing a winner. Then there's the hereditary voter syndrome, which comes from a long family tradition of unswerving support for one of the two parties. All in all, you have a very discouraging prospect for newcomers, innovators, reform energies. Even if your new party has a charismatic set of candidates or a great agenda that polls superbly, the voters will desert you in droves when they enter the booth on Election Day. That is the lesson of American congressional history since the days of Teddy Roosevelt's break with Taft in 1912."

"Just hold it there," said a political organizer. "The assumption behind your gloom and doom is electoral victory for the new party." Leaving aside the fixed presidential elections propelled by the Electoral College dinosaur, it's my understanding that while our hosts wouldn't object to winning a race here and there, what they really want is to carry their issue of clean elections. That means, among other things, affecting elections at the margin where there are two closely contested major-party slates. In such circumstances, small third parties can swing the election in favor of their issue if they convince one of the major parties that adopting it is the way to win key votes."

"I'm sorry," the professor said, "but I can't agree. Even without knowing what our hosts' ancillary resources are, such as supportive networks, mobilized groups, media access, pro bono professional advice, and so on, I'd say their chances of affecting the margins are slim because of the overwhelming number of one-party districts in our country. In the 2002 election, and again in 2004, only five members of the House of Representatives were defeated, out of four hundred and thirty-five seats -- the fewest in American history. State races aren't much better. Almost half of incumbent legislators face no challenger at all from the other major party. They run unopposed, more a coronation than an election. Besides --"

"Listen," another political organizer said, "there are plenty of things you can do with money. For example, you can target key congressional leaders whose near-automatic reelection has led to complacency and long absences from their home districts. They are unprepared for a well-organized opposition candidate. Of course, you'd have to drop your single-issue party approach if you did that."

"We prefer to remain at arm's length," Warren said Crisply.

"Well, in that case, I've got a few things to say," interjected Bill Hillsman, a fiftyish man whose clothing and facial hair suggested a maverick mind and a touch of mad genius. "I run a political advertising firm in Minneapolis. All I do is win trophies from my peer group of much wealthier East and West Coast political consultants and advertisers, who hate my guts for what I keep saying about them: that they're dull and unimaginative. Why do I win these trophies? Because my ads are designed to be so eye-opening or controversial that they produce reams of free news coverage, which tremendously multiplies the number of eyeballs that see them. It gets people talking, and word spreads along the grapevine. Result? My candidates, of ten unknown and not all that well-funded, either win or do much better than expected."

"Then you're our man. What do you propose?" asked a half-convinced, half-skeptical Bernard, who had been hearing pompous pitches from political promoters for half a century.

"Here's what you do. Forget the conventional wisdom. Forget history. You have enough money, you run to win in every conceivable race you can enter, from dog catcher to city council to board of education to state legislator to attorney general to governor to Congress and the White House. Every race with a gripping message helps the other races. Every candidate generates epicenters of friends, relatives, coworkers, and people attracted to the issues. They create the proverbial buzz, the excitement that feeds on itself. There are two and a half million electoral offices at the level of local government alone. Many are filled by smug incumbents who wouldn't feel a new breeze unless it blew them over.
Often, there's literally no one running for a position until a desperate call at the last minute produces some guy wanting to puff his resume.

"It's now almost March, so you're up against some petitioning deadlines, mostly from June to September, and you've got to find candidates who are fluent and believe in a clean elections agenda. Fortunately, you can ignore all the other issues because of your single-issue charter from the get-go. I don't know what kind of mailing lists you have, or how many organizers, or whether you've got a brain trust, whether you can expect any business support, whether you can stage rallies, whether you have dynamic people who'll come out for you, whether you've lined up respected retired politicians to help you, whether, apart from advertising, the mass media will be interested enough in reporting your party's doings, whether you have some attractive, high-profile candidates, or whether you can achieve a civic presence in electoral districts -- sorry for the tedious list. I don't know any of this, and I'm not probing to find out. All I'm saying is that the more you have of these assets, the more likely it is that I can help you win and win and win until the politicos cry uncle and dutifully march off to vote for clean elections legislation. End of speech."

In the silence that overtook the room, the professors and the other two practitioners smiled patronizingly at what they took to be the rantings of a sincere simpleton who'd hit a few advertising jackpots for a few clients. But Bernard and Warren weren't smiling; they were stunned. Either this man had penetrated the core group's secure communications, or he was clairvoyant, or it was a case of great minds thinking alike. Preferring to believe the latter, the hosts politely invited comment from the rest of the attendees and then brought the meeting to a close. The moment they were alone, they rushed for the phones to have Recruitment check out Bill Hillsman down to the color of his jagers.

"This guy seems too good to be true," Warren said. "We have to find out fast if he isn't."

Bernard nodded. "He's a regular Energizer Bunny. It's amazing how his go-for-broke attitude changed the entire atmosphere when our learned friends were telling us about the insurmountable gauntlet of hurdles we'd face. We have to investigate thoroughly what he's done in practice, because if we take him on, there is no margin for error."

"No, none," Warren agreed, making a note to himself to ask around discreetly among his Minnesota business associates.

***

At ten o'clock on Thursday morning, fifty farmers and activists lined up shoulder to shoulder in front of the White House, holding flowerpots. Woody Harrelson let out a native Hawaiian yell, and all fifty dropped to their knees and started planting industrial hemp seeds. On the advice of DEA attorneys, the police waited until their act was accomplished, then moved in to arrest them all. As one, the demonstrators sat down Buddha-like, cradling their flowerpots between their knees. With reporters speaking furiously into their mikes and photographers taking digital pictures instantly transmitted around the world, two policemen grabbed Woody's arms to drag him away. Just at that instant, as if they had been rehearsing for months, the demonstrators began chanting in unison: "Energy independence! Great food! Tough clothing! Degradable auto parts! Clean paper! More farmer income, fewer farm subsidies! More trees! More jobs! Less cancer! Less lung disease! A healthy environment!" Some of the police paused, as if contemplating why they were taking all these good things to jail. Their captain, sensing hesitation, barked them back to reality.

A reporter for a leading Hollywood daily rushed up to Woody. "How does it feel to be dragged off to prison?" she asked. "Not bad," he said. "Do you want to have dinner tonight?" Woody knew that experienced attorneys were on site and at the district jail to bail the demonstrators out. Sure enough, they were all out within two hours, on bail of $50,000 each. En masse, they headed toward a downtown club where they feasted on Hemp Cheese Sticks, Hempnut-Crusted Catfish, Lemon Hemparoons, and other delicacies prepared by a New York restaurant owner who'd authored a hemp cookbook. Woody passed out autographed copies of his own book, How to Go Further: A Guide to Simple Organic Living.

That same afternoon, hundreds of flowerpots holding tiny hemp plants were mailed to members of Congress in boxes labeled, "Fragile, this package contains domestically grown industrial hemp." Even as the US Postal Service impounded the boxes, six American Indian reservations held hemp-planting rituals featuring traditional religious dances. This presented a touchy public relations challenge for the DEA, which had been given advance notice of the events. Nonetheless, the blunderhead agency accommodated the wildest dreams of partisans by sending black helicopters, parachuting DEA agents, and DEA trucks to the reservations to break up the ceremonies and confiscate the hemp seedlings.

Pictures of the Pot-In were all over television that night. In one clip from an Oklahoma reservation, a reporter thrust a microphone at an older man who gave his name as Jack Soaring Eagle of the Cherokee Nation as he was led off in handcuffs. Another clip showed a demonstrator holding a Department of Agriculture poster from World War II that urged the growing of hemp for the war effort. The celebrity-obsessed media naturally highlighted Woody Harrelson's role, but the bulk of the coverage was devoted to the DEA's shocking invasion of American Indian lands, which was too much even for the Wall Street Journal. The next morning, the paper ran a slamming editorial on the front page under the headline "The Freedom to Plant is Primordial, Pre-Constitutional, and Inviolate."

***

The uproar over the Pot-In was still in full Swing when the first two of Ted's Sun God extravaganzas went live on Friday. He'd chosen Phoenix and Seattle as the sites, Phoenix because it had so many sunny days, and Seattle because it was so cloudy and drizzly much of the time. He thought Seattle would serve as an object lesson that solar thermal and electric power could be stored and transmitted anywhere, just as technology had enabled the transmission of energy from the coal mines and the oil fields. He also wanted to challenge the creative energies of the Sea-Tac region's can-do computer visionaries, and contrast them with the inertia surrounding the fearfully radioactive and seeping Hanford Reservation in the rural eastern part of the state.

The festivals were modeled on the old carnivals. They were planned to stretch over two days and built to be taken on the road. A 150-foot golden statue of the Sun God greeted visitors at the entrance to a huge tent with a main arena and smaller sections for various exhibits and demonstrations. The area behind the statue was covered with prayer rugs so that any worshipers who so wished could express their fealty. On one side of the tent was a platform where "the fossil fuelers and nuke boys," as Ted put it, could debate any of his legion of solar specialists. The rules of debate, the choice of moderators, and the process of polling the audience for its verdict were designed for high entertainment value. Another platform on the opposite side of the tent was reserved to give prominent place to local, state, and federal officials so that everyone could see them and convey solar messages of desired action. Not many showed up in Phoenix and Seattle on this first round, but Ted was confident that once the various Redirections were fully underway, especially the Congress Project, it would be hard to keep the politicians away.

Not surprisingly, Ted's formula for maximum exposure in the media was maximum exposure of hundreds of beautiful young women. These Sun Goddesses had to have companions, of course, so he paired form with function. With very little arm-twisting, he enlisted male solar engineers, architects, and physicists to be their consorts, and christened the duos "Beauties and the Brains." The idea was for the Brains to pay homage to the Sun Goddesses by offering them solar artifacts with all kinds of household, office, vehicular, agricultural, and factory uses. Then the Goddesses would demonstrate these uses to the accompaniment of sensual background music and sound-light shows depicting fossil fuels and atomic power as forces of darkness and destruction, and solar energy as the force of light and life. One such demonstration featured a tall, lithe Goddess training an oversized magnifying glass on the wooden logo of one of the big energy companies until the concentrated power of the sun burned it to a crisp. "Who says solar is too diffuse to be practical?" she asked the audience sweetly. Other shows and exhibits provided equally graphic refutation of one canard after another that had been circulating about solar energy for years: that it was too irrevocably costly, that solar photovoltaic took way too much land surface, that it would be decades, if ever, before solar could make a significant contribution to rising energy demands, that wind power (another form of solar) had limited potential.

With all their elements of spectacle, the Sun God festivals were tailor-made for television, and the coverage was massive. Flipping from CNN to MSNBC to some of Barry's stations, Ted couldn't resist a grin of satisfaction. So far, things had gone off without a hitch, and the press response was largely positive, though some commentators sniped at Ted for excessive flashiness and unabashed sexism.

"Yeah, right, like the media would have blanketed a conference of very distinguished solar experts," Ted muttered to himself as he packed his bag for Maui.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:56 pm

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 6

High atop the mountain in Maui, overlooking the serene sun-soaked waters of the Pacific Ocean, the core group gathered once again. They arrived brimming with energies they had never felt before in all their active, productive, profitable lives. Some who got there early relaxed with hors d'oeuvres and wine and waited for their colleagues to join them. When all were assembled in the atrium conference room, surrounded by tall windows giving breathtaking views, Warren convened the meeting.

"Colleagues in justice," he began, "as our first order of business, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce our newest and youngest colleague, the farseeing Bill Joy, formerly of signal repute with Sun Microsystems. He is an independent thinker about the practical and ethical import of present and future technology. You will recall our discussion about the critical need to have someone with his expertise in matters of science and technology, and his knowledge of how corporations are proceeding to put these portentous innovations into play. We welcome you, Bill" -- applause broke out around the table -- "and we reaffirm the confidentiality of our common venture, about which you have been briefed by each of our core members. We invite you to say whatever is on your mind."

"Thank you all for your extraordinary undertaking. On the one hand, it is an unprecedented feat; on the other, its genius is such that I found myself wondering why something like it hadn't happened a long time ago. It should have been so obvious, inasmuch as it takes only a tiny fraction of a percent of very wealthy and open-handed protagonists to get major change underway. Yet there's a culture lock here. The sense of adventure sits all too lightly on the shoulders of those endowed with society's wealth and power.

"I've studied what you've accomplished since your launch, and I applaud your revolutionary thrusts. Like you, I believe that a revolution is only a revolution when it works, not when it's announced or fired up. At present, as you follow through on your initiatives, I see my role as advising you on the technology you're using or could use, along with the technology that may soon be used against you. At Warren's request, my first step will be to set up a secure website for you, to serve as a kind of cyber bulletin board for posting timely information, and to stream video from the various rallies and so forth. Meanwhile, I've got a lot of listening, asking, digesting, and thinking to do before we see if my participation should be broader. After all, you've got a few years on me. Meanwhile, it's good to be here, and good to be one of you."

More applause followed.

"Thank you, Bill. Next, I've asked the very able director of our Secretariat to report on the progress of our various projects and the backup capabilities we've put in place to make them run smartly and smoothly."

At that moment, as if summoned telepathically, the bow-tied Patrick Drummond came in, was introduced to Bill Joy, and proceeded with a comprehensive update on the core group's work thus far. His presentation was videotaped so that parts could be played back if necessary during subsequent meetings.

"When do we eat, Warren?" Paul asked when Patrick had concluded.

"Right now. In the dining room is a light dinner buffet that should be just right given your long travel here and the lateness of the hour. Afterward, we'll have a one-hour silence period around this table, in keeping with our valued custom, and then off to slumber. Tomorrow is what we've all been waiting for -- an intensive first take on the nature of the counterattack, its probable sequence and timing. We're all bursting with thoughts and intuitions that must be analyzed and synthesized so that we can anticipate and stop the looming reaction to two amazing months of Redirectional breakouts. We have to be ready, we have to have the institutions on the ground and the pillar assets in place so they can't be undermined, smeared, or coopted."

"Exactly," said Sol, "but tomorrow is another day. Let's eat already."

Which they proceeded to do, with gusto, all the while talking, shrugging, nodding, affirming, challenging, doubting, querying, and galvanizing one another at such a pace that the reflective hour of silence was a godsend.

When everyone else had retired, Bill Joy took a moonlit walk around the lush grounds. He knew that Warren had reserved the entire hotel and that no other guests were on the premises. The management and staff presumably had no idea what was going on, and the waiters and maids loved the generous gratuities. But he also knew that the hotel was defenseless against a deliberate attempt at surveillance. And why not? A small, expensive hotel catering to wealthy honeymooners and retirees should have such worries? After a thorough inspection, his misgivings were somewhat allayed, since he found nothing in the way of gadgets or bugs. Still, he wondered how long this critical privacy could last. During dinner he'd heard Paul Newman and Bill Cosby talking about the wardrobe precautions they'd taken to avoid being sighted at the airport, as a gossip column had reported after Maui Two. Bill Joy resolved to prepare for the worst during future Mauis.

***

Bright, early, and effusive at breakfast, the core group reconvened in the conference room in good spirits and with heightened perceptions. Sol was reminded of the old saying back in New York City during the labor protests of the thirties: "You can't be tired out if you're fired up."

As always, Warren opened the meeting. "I thought the best procedure this morning would be to go around the table as we did at Maui One and hear what each of us has to say on the question 'Where and when will the counterattack come, and in what form?' Then we'll discuss what maneuvers of ours will be most effective. Who'd like to start us off?"

"Well, I'll go first," Barry said, "because I'm not retired and may have a more current sense of the latest modes and methods likely to be used against us. There will of course be stages in our opponents' response: first, ignorance of what we're doing, other than what they've seen of us through our ads and statements in the mass media and our other public actions; next, initial dismissal and denial; then the third stage, rebuttal and denunciation; and finally the stage of realization, fear, rage, and a search-and-destroy counteroffensive. Remember, they start from the position of having a power lock on all potential challenge points in the political, economic, legal, and media arenas. They're complacent in their sense of control, but the control is real -- just look at what they're doing to organized labor, the publicly owned commonwealth, and the government itself.

"Their complacency will work to our advantage because it gives us more time. Still, they do have an early alert system, in the form of their funded think tanks, whose mission and budgets are based on spreading alarm through exaggeration and sometimes outright fabrication. They are very good at this. Look at their drumbeating before the invasion of Iraq, or their devilish inflation of the regulatory agencies as ogres, when in fact those agencies, if they're not asleep, perform as consulting firms to the very industries they're supposed to regulate. To head off these 'pimp tanks,' as one friend of mine describes them, means feinting and decoying them, because they're always looking for fancied threats to the 'free enterprise system' and to their corporate donors. I'm getting ahead of myself, but I do urge you all to think about feints and decoys as part of our response.

"Now, whom are we talking about in any counterattack? Obviously --"

"Maybe Wal-Mart?" Sol interjected. "Just a wild guess."

Barry smiled. "Right, Wal-Mart, and the other companies and specific industries we've targeted, along with their law firms and public relations firms, their captive politicians, their own credibility organizations, such as some evangelical churches, veterans' groups and service clubs, their incorporated commercial media, their in-house media, and many of their branch dealers and agents and franchisees in every community. Also fortifying them are the ingrained historic and contemporary myths about free-market fundamentalism that George has written about, and that are difficult to counter precisely because they aren't based in reality. The commercialization of patriotism and charity during disasters further depletes the critical faculties of the human mind. In our monitoring capacity, we would do well to lay all these forces out on clear spreadsheets so we can visualize them."

"There's one sure mode of attack that we don't have to visualize figuratively," said Bill Cosby. "They'll go after each of us. They'll try to compromise our integrity and deflect attention to us rather than what we're doing. The media is attracted to the personalization of conflicts like chickens to grain. The Mexicans have the word for it -- personalismo. The corporations will employ private detective firms to dig up dirt. They'll try to show that the things we're accusing the business powers of doing are things we did years ago ourselves. They'll unearth people from the past who will try to slander and libel us. They'll have a hard time succeeding with most of us, but you never really know, do you?"

"No, you don't," George said thoughtfully. "I've lived through this kind of assault for years now. My business enemies have gone to the far reaches of the Earth to look for any technical regulations they can accuse me of violating, any palms they can grease to enmesh me in a frame-up. All of us have been so active for so many years, the bases we've touched and the balls we've hit are so numerous, that any probe will uncover plenty of opportunities to twist, distort, and allege. Our very business successes have meant that there were lots of losers, and some of them carry grudges or out-of-context memories of what we may have said. Unscrupulous investigators can easily generate fake composite photographs and remarks and digitalize them all over the world before we find out what they've done. Bill Joy, take this under advisement and help us ponder the response."

The newest member of the core group nodded. ''I'll do that."

Next around the table was Sol. "One of the standard corporatist lines of attack over the years is what can be called the 'ism' attack -- trotting out foreign, subversive ideologies that they have predisposed the public to recoil against. They did this for years with socialists, anarchists, and communists, and the latest buzzword is 'terrorists.' There are no rebels, resisters, freedom fighters, or agrarian reformers anymore -- they're all terrorists now. Well, our enemies certainly can't use those labels against us, but trust the hidebound Wall Street Journal editorialists to come up with some new ism, and then the commercial media will run with it. I haven't the slightest idea what it will be, but they'll desperately need a label, a stereotype, and we have to be ready to nip it in the bud, using satire and ridicule and whatever else it takes."

"When I consider this whole question of the counterattack," Jeno said, "I ask myself, How are they thinking? They'll say they need better intelligence, human intelligence. To me that means they'll make a major effort to infiltrate everything we build, right down to our inner groups, whether through disguised informants or spies, or by bribing waiters, bellboys, even taxi drivers. And you better believe they'll be using the latest widgets that Bill Joy can enlighten us about. Infiltration done cleverly can sow discord, acrimony, distrust, and disintegration. In our response, we have to avoid the extremes -- paranoia at one end, repression at the other."

Joe spoke up. "Well, you shouldn't be surprised to hear me raise the possibility of frivolous or trumped-up litigation designed to break our concentration, flood us with discovery motions, subpoena our files, and in general tie us up. Having said that, I don't know what their causes of action could be, short of contrived defamation suits or claims that we're messing with their economic relationships. But they'll figure something out, with their white-shoe law firms and endless deductible budgets. And if they don't, they'll file anyhow, trying to survive motions to dismiss in order to bog us down in depositions. As allowed by statutes of limitation, they'll even dig up accusations from past business or employee relationships and file groundless lawsuits to consume our time. Our response to these forays will have to be shots across the bow to convince them that such litigation is a two-edged sword. Still, they may think they can wear us down because of our age and our presumed desire for leisure and time with the grandkids -- they'll profile us for certain, Cosby's right on the money about that."

"Yes," Peter agreed, "and it's not just a matter of our reputations. We all have assets, lines of credit, property-- they'll go after them. They may use subtle, hidden boycotts against businesses or executives allied with or sympathetic to us. I can see it now. They'll go after the customers and shareholders of my prospering insurance company, stop doing business with us, stereotype us and move to dry us up -- a corporate campaign in reverse by the corporatists. They'll depress my stock, our stocks, if they can manage to quarantine them so as to avoid a boomerang bite on their own assets."

"As one who has endured character assassination more than once," Ross put in, "let me tell you that they are going to play dirty -- not all of them, but there is always a rogue element doing these things to give cover to the rest who quietly support and sometimes fund the dirty-tricks crowd. They start conventionally enough, sometimes by charging that we are directly profiting from our efforts or have secret profitable designs. Then they may hint darkly at a covert world conspiracy by sticking us with a name like 'the Bilderbergs,' something that will get the all-night-radio UFO types agitated. They may even try to intimidate our children or grandchildren or other family members. Whatever they do, we have to remain cool but calculating. Paranoia can expose us to ridicule from the pundits and cartoonists. Believe me, I know."

"To shift the focus for a minute," said Bill Gates, "I know the defense fellows at Boeing, and one obvious way to put us on the defensive is to charge that we're sponsoring policies and changes that will undermine our national security. Our opponents will try to paint a picture in which the enemies of the American people abroad are in some way aided and abetted by our activities. They'll borrow Lenin's term 'useful idiots' to describe how we're helping the enemy's psychological war against America, even if unintentionally. Sounds farfetched, but we're laying everything on the table before we discuss our counter-strategy."

"It doesn't sound so farfetched to me," Bernard said. "Remember the red scare and Attorney General Palmer's witch- hunts right after World War I, or the McCarthyite smear of some of the best Foreign Service officers ever as 'comsymps' or 'fellow travelers' who 'lost China'? Let's not think it can't happen again. Forewarned is forearmed."

"And that's not the only way of smearing us, B," Yoko said. "I suspect some of our smarter opponents will try to turn some portions of 'the people' against us. They'll look over our agenda and ask who the losers will be among ordinary folks, and then they'll target those folks vigorously to make us out as enemies of the people. I've seen this kind of thing in the music and entertainment world -- turning the fans into haters. The Wal-Mart unionizing project presents just such an opportunity to portray us as opposing cheap prices for poor shoppers. It's a tactic that predicts phony consequences of our actions and then hurls them against us. The upper classes have used this tactic throughout history, as in the hiring of mercenaries from the lower classes to oppress the very people they came from. Today they can hire people to go to rallies or marches and disrupt them. We know they have big-time money, and given what's at stake, they'll spend it freely. There are plenty of desperate 'scabs' out there," Yoko finished, turning to Max, who was sitting on her right.

"My first thought was that maybe the big boys will try to lure us into compromising situations while hidden cameras record the lascivious scenes. Then I remembered our ages. Who would believe them? We are beyond the reach of Viagra's wildest Loreleis. Dirty old men we can no longer be."

"Speak for yourself, Max," Ted shot back.

Max ignored him and continued. "I think we're going to get a lot of wildcatting. We're pinching lots of toes, and they're everywhere, right down to Main Street. It's hard even to list the categories of where opposition will erupt. But while I'm at it, let me toss another possibility into the cauldron. I think the multinationals will try to enlist the public and the politicians against us by using the 'adverse business climate' ruse and threatening to pull out of the country, or giving that as an excuse for the factories and businesses they're already sending to China and elsewhere. 'Bad business climate' scorecards terrify politicians. Given the abandonment of our country that goes on every day, it's entirely plausible that the corporations will use the business climate and us as a scapegoat. It will take the heat off the president, Congress, and the states for doing nothing to stop the flight from America, because it's all the fault of 'those guys.'"

Leonard was drumming his fingers on the table. "On the other hand, they could just do nothing. Going from analysis to paralysis to psychoanalysis, they could find it profitable to live with us and what we're doing. Never underestimate their adaptability as long as they can still ring their registers and send out their bills. Sure, some will groan like gored oxen, and some will fail, but as long as others see the advantages and profit opportunities in a 'no more business as usual' climate, they'll step over the whiners in a New York minute. However, if I may propose the greatest of all understatements today, it'll be very hard to predict.'"

Still smarting from Max's remark, Ted went macho. "I've heard it all except one option. What about direct physical action, like taking some of us hostage to stop the rest of us or to smoke us out? Be like bounty hunting. Ransom. The press would love it. TV would be ecstatic -- CNN's ratings would skyrocket. But hey, think of what they could do by pulling ads from CNN, which will always be associated with yours truly." He paused, frowning. "Well, anyway, there's my two cents. That leaves you, Warren, our sagacious owl. What do you foresee?"

"Well, you've all covered a lot of ground, so the pickings are pretty slim from my perch. If there's anything we neglected on this first go-round, maybe it's refining Barry's stages of reaction by breaking down categories of reactors who will respond differently from one another in time, intensity, and strategy. I think we should be more attuned to corporate surrogates. Giant businesses do not like to strike directly. That's why even in normal circumstances they have spokespeople, attorneys, academies, spun-off subsidiaries, media intermediaries, and publicly elected allies in Congress who carry water for them, as in some of the savings and loan collapses. Given the perturbations hammering them, they'll be looking to create new surrogates with minimal vulnerabilities and very little to lose, much as we ourselves have used shell corporations in some of our past deals. I also think Yoko's point about our opponents turning some of 'the people' against us is right on. Who knows? The more we succeed in taking away their power, the more desperate they may become, unless the phenomenon Leonard alluded to -- stepping over each other to get to the profits -- kicks in to give us the gift of divide and conquer. Sometimes we can think too hard here, though I know being prepared for all potential counterattacks is crucial to our success and our personal equanimity. But there are times when I feel, a little recklessly, like saying, 'I don't give a hoot! Let the rats scamper as they may!'

"In any case," Warren continued over the cheers of his colleagues, "it's time for lunch -- all native Hawaiian cuisine, so be a little adventuresome."

"I'll have the brisket," Sol said.

***

In the lunchroom, which was designed to facilitate informality, the core group members strolled to the buffet, sat chatting at small circular tables in twos and threes, relaxed in reclining chairs for a bit of solitude, sought each other out for clarification of a point or to discuss a Redirections problem, or simply, perish the thought, engaged in a little small talk. Bill Joy was taking it all in, moving from one cluster to another, getting a sense of the mood, the determination, the level of human energy or anxiety. As had been explained to him when he signed on, there was no Redirection project dealing with the onrush of science and technology because none of the core group knew enough even to delegate reliably and maintain some semblance of control over such a bucking bronco. But these were no fainthearted oldsters, as he'd seen for himself all morning. With him on board, maybe they'd be ready to hear a presentation during Maui Four without being too shaken up by the doomsday scenario that had to be confronted if it was to be avoided.

His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a massive dessert that seemed to contain every fruit that ever grew on the islands and every flavor and shade of sherbet ever concocted. Strong Kona coffee was served as a tasty brake on devouring the delicious dessert too fast.

Back in the conference room, Warren directed his colleagues' attention to the agenda, on which he'd listed Quality Managers and Organizers as the next topic for discussion. He wanted to give them time to digest the morning's speculations on the coming counterattack before they discussed their response, and besides, the nuts and bolts were paramount. As champion managers themselves, they all knew that the proper choice and oversight of management and organizers was their number one challenge. No matter how well conceived and specific their action plans, they would go no further than management's execution.

Warren circulated a report from Seymour Depth, head of Recruitment, showing that progress was better than expected at this point on the calendar. There truly was plenty of talent out there eager to get on board. Recruitment had been going almost around the clock, receiving resumes, sifting, checking, and interviewing applicants, and recently candidates for the Clean Elections Party. There were now nearly nine hundred lecturers, and some of them were proving to be natural leaders in other capacities. Most of those hired, experienced as they were in such areas as rallies, lobbying, and institution building, had to be further trained for duties and expectations new to them. Moreover, none of the managers, organizers, lobbyists, or candidates could be given the "big picture," for fear of prematurely disclosing the entire network, but they were dealt a big enough piece of their own projects to keep them satisfied.

The progress report summarized numbers already recruited and numbers left to recruit, and appended a preliminary evaluation of the key dozen top managers so far. Jeno raved about the executive director of the People's Chamber of Commerce, a thirty-two-year-old phenom named Luke Skyhi, who had a recall capacity of business history that left Jeno breathless. Luke confessed to having read scores of books on the subject in his early teens. He went on to finish business school and law school in four years, and then he systematically took seven year-long positions in different lines of industry and commerce. When Jeno interviewed him, it was love at first sight, and so far, in his few days on the job, he was building a crackerjack staff and firing off press releases that made the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses apoplectic.

George sounded a cautionary note when he came to the line in the report noting that all managers currently on the job were amazed that they did not have to raise money, beg for money, apply for money, or write proposals for money -- a completely unique experience for them. "The same applies in my line of work, and it can cause problems. Money that's easy to come by may not be spent frugally or wisely or even ethically. It does liberate the managers to focus exclusively on their missions, but it removes a discipline that is not to be dismissed as useless. The rub is to find a substitute discipline, short of close auditing from the outside, though that's something we probably ought to institute too. But the real substitute discipline has to come from the quality of the budget the managers are operating under and from their own character. After all, large sums are involved here, and speed is of the essence -- a potentially wasteful combination."

"Point taken, George," Warren said. "And now that we've refreshed ourselves on this central topic, let's turn to the status of our epicenters. Are they growing, consolidating, meshing, moving, replicating?"

What a response! The red thread running through the reports of every one of the core group members was their amazement at how many people they felt they could call upon without hesitation -- the old Rolodex may have been languishing for a while, but once dusted off, it came alive -- coupled with their astonishment at the positive reaction. They were uniformly invigorated. Some remarked on how many outstanding IOUs they had and how often these were graciously acknowledged. They had all had sour or sad conversations with people who were bitter, or who were merely sticks-in-the-mud, or who harbored secret sorrows, or who were deeply depressed because of illness or the loss of a spouse, or who had simply given up on the troubled world they were about to leave, but even this negative feedback energized them, such were their personalities, thank you, Warren.

Always looking ahead to the next step, Warren acknowledged the generally good epicenter reports and asked how everyone was managing what appeared to be an overflow of potential joiners. His colleagues replied that mostly they were not. There was no time. These were people who would be insulted if they were contacted by an underling, yet personal treatment in every case wasn't possible.

Bill Cosby proposed a way out, based on comparable situations where prominent entertainers were trying to raise major money for charitable causes. "You select five or six of your best epicentrists with some prominence in their own fields, and you deputize them to call on your behalf, excusing you for being a mere mortal confined by a twenty-four-hour day. A little humor will melt any initial ice. You bond even more with your dazzling half-dozen comrades, and the job gets done more quickly." The idea was well received.

"Is there such a thing as a too big, too busy epicenter?" Paul asked. "Right now, mine is neither, and it's flowing nicely into the desired channels, but I've imposed certain hurdles on my epicenter entrants, and I wonder if I should be doing that."

"That depends entirely on your temperament and theirs," Max said, "and on the assignments you set them, from easy entry to more ambitious kinds of work. Remember, there are never enough worker bees, and without those noble souls the achievements on the ground do not occur, no matter what excellence reigns at the top. And by worker bees I mean detail people striving to implement, implement, implement -- probably the toughest of jobs, the dearest of skills."

Bernard sat up in his chair. "Exactly, exactly! That's my biggest problem in getting these Egalitarian Clubs underway. Everybody thinks it's a great idea, but far fewer are willing to do the gritty work to transform it into reality in their own communities, for their own children."

The pads in front of the core members were filling up as they jotted down comments and reminders, with not a single doodle to be seen. No frivolity for this bunch, and no gizmos. After all, most of them had grown up using Underwood typewriters and pre-ballpoint pens. They also agreed that manual note-taking was more secure, especially given shaky handwriting and cryptic abbreviations.

"Speaking of gritty work," Warren said, "the time has come to discuss the nature of our strategy to head off, delay, dissipate, diminish, or defeat our adversaries. Over lunch I asked George to provide us with a synthesis of their probable lines of action and a profile of our reaction. The floor is yours, George."

"Well, it's all a little like a chess game. What will my opponent do if I make this move? It's also similar to speculation in the financial markets. Let me begin by summarizing your premonitions: libel and slander, old grudges reasserting themselves, attempts to tar us with isms and ideologies, infiltration, baseless personal litigation, accusations of profiteering, attacks on our assets and companies, efforts to turn some of 'the people' against us, claims that we are undermining national security and worsening the business climate, hostage-taking or kidnapping, and finally the possibility that they'll adjust to our demands, at least some of them, and in effect do nothing.

"Our planning of the Redirections and their strategies thus far has been very well suited to defense. As decided at our first gathering, we have eschewed all matters relating to foreign policy, military policy, and corporate globalization movements, except in the case of Wal-Mart's China price. By focusing strictly on domestic conditions and changes, we disarm our adversaries and strip them of many of their attack options, like raising issues of loyalty, or that old grab bag of twisting patriotism in such a way as to secure the allegiance of veterans' and business organizations. We force them to contend on domestic injustice, domestic needs and fairness -- an arena where their propaganda is not so effective because it clashes with people's daily experience. This also makes it difficult for them to employ their friends in the government's security services to infiltrate our operations. Are they going to use the CIA and the FBI to infiltrate groups devoted to clean elections, good health insurance, a living wage, affordable housing, consumer protection, and energy conversion to make our country more self-reliant? Are these isms and foreign ideologies? By sticking to domestic issues, we can turn the appeal to patriotism and national sovereignty to our own objectives."

"If I can interrupt for a moment," Warren said, "that reminds me of my earlier suggestion that we bring a reflective retired general like Anthony Zinni into our core group. I think we can now agree that this is inadvisable, inasmuch as it would becloud the clarity of our domestic focus when we emerge more publicly as an entity. However, I'm pleased to report that General Zinni and others in his circle are willing to extend their advice informally."

There were murmurs of approval as George resumed. "Another of our defensive assets is our dedication to building institutions and recruiting the best leaders. Rationally charismatic people like Luke Skyhi will be magnets for the mass media and take the spotlight away from us when our opponents eventually discover that there is an 'us.' As these wonderful people assume a high profile, they too will be subjected to libel and slander by the rabid, baying packs on talk radio and cable shows, but as they say, that goes with the territory. And because our recruits have impeccable credentials in their various arenas of social justice, attacks on them may even backfire on the right-wing market fundamentalists. Creating a more viable customer base as poverty recedes, rebuilding public works, applying technology tailored to the people's circumstances, providing voice and access to justice for millions of Americans -- none of this represents much of a cause of action even for frivolous litigation. Nonetheless, we should signal in the proper legal publications that any such suits will be met both with countersuits for abuse of process, as well as investigations of the corporate law firms involved and formal complaints to the grievance committees of bar associations or licensing boards. That will really cool them off, unless these business bozos want to proceed in court pro se.

"As for turning 'the people' against us, our opponents may succeed to some degree through cleverness, money, and selective demographics, but remember once again how well we're preparing the groundwork to thwart such maneuvers. Our well-publicized rallies and unionization drives, the CUBs, the People's Court Society, the collaborative credibility groups we're building, the audiences reached by the lecturers, Barry's media focus on justice, the First-Stage Improvements Project centering on widely perceived economic inequalities, the Beatty campaign in California, the solar festivals, the vibrant small business constituency of the PCC -- all these and their daily expansion will outrun anything but the most blatant fomenting on our opponents' part. Alert we must remain, however; these opponents may be smug, but they still know how to hire smart operators looking for fat retainers.

"The 'business climate' rant will be a problem, but a little way down the pike. We can prepare for it with a massive media campaign showing that stronger democracies and greater justice have always led to growing economies and larger markets. Just look at two countries comparable in natural resources and size, Brazil and the United States. With one fifth of the population of Brazil, California alone has a substantially larger GDP than that South American giant. The American people need a repeated education that it is democracy, justice, and the rule of law that make capitalism produce a better material life for more people, not capitalism in itself. There was plenty of unfettered capitalism in Brazil, but it was concentrated and cruel and unproductive because there was very little democracy, justice, or rule of law in the course of centuries of domination by plantation barons, monarchies, juntas, and oligarchs.

"We have not given much thought to a move against our investments, assets, and associated firms, which is a real peril, in my judgment. I suggest that a cluster of us versed in analogous techniques during our most aggressive years prepare an investment-asset-affinity corporate protection plan, one that will also address the profiteering charge, and see about the possibility of acquiring a unique insurance coverage. Is there any objection if Warren, Peter, Bill Gates, and Max join with me to work on a plan that we'll share with you during Maui Four?"

"Excellent idea," said Sol. "You can call it the It Takes One to Know One Plan." Those whom George had not named smiled, relieved not to be taking on such a weighty responsibility, while the chosen squared their shoulders with a sober sense of duty.

George acknowledged them with a nod and continued. "From a defensive standpoint, that leaves hostage-taking or some direct physical assault. I consider this highly unlikely, but it cannot be discounted. All of us should start with the studied avoidance of excessive rhetoric, slashing personal attacks, or any verbal or physical expression of vindictiveness that can be conveyed over the media. Remember Max's brilliant experiment showing the power of words over deeds in getting people riled up? Our public utterances, and those of everyone associated with us, must be positive in tone, offering optimism, motivation, and concrete solutions to real problems.

"Bill Joy has some security concerns about our meetings here in Maui and is already working on safeguards. Beyond that, take the normal precautions that I'm sure you've been taking since you became public figures. Wealthy people are always alert to the kidnapping threat.

"Above all, take it easy in the saddle -- this is America, after all, and we are well insulated by the nature of our projects, all of which call for overdue reforms, and by their rapid devolution and replicative design. The more the work, the success, and the glory devolve downward, the more the spotlight stays on the ground, where people can see the Redirections in action instead of wallowing in personalismo at the so-called top. The emerging open society that undergirds our efforts will in itself be a strong defense.

"Now, to turn to offense, recall first what Barry said about feints and decoys. Joe and Bill Gates are showing us the way with their Pledge the Truth campaign, which is not only substantively significant but also a decoy absorbing the right-wing fundamentalists and the Bush Bimbaugh types on talk radio. I'm sure we can think of many other ways to feint out the more rabid of our opponents and in the process advance our agenda. For example, let's come up with a new role for Patriotic Polly. Or imagine if a large landowner in Wyoming could be persuaded to rent huge advertising billboards blocking the view of the Grand Tetons along scenic highways heavily traveled by tourists. I'm talking about two miles of closely situated billboards pushing whiskey, cigarettes, junk food, porn videos, and the like. The obvious litigation would pit private property rights against the use of public property -- that is, the public highways -- and throw open the question of whether such use has any legal status. Imagine the publicity. Imagine the roars of the 'wise use' fundamentalists. No end to feints and decoys like this.

"As for the corporate think tanks, we have to make them defend the 'business judgment rule,' that SEC-recognized catch-all allowing top management to shut the shareholders out by claiming that virtually any decision executives care to make is necessary in their business judgment. Mergers, acquisitions, voluntary decisions to go bankrupt and vaporize shareholder value -- all have been justified on grounds of business judgment, the perennial fig leaf of corporate governance hypocrisy. Get lost, shareholders, you only own the company. It's a stark matter of executive hegemony versus true capitalist ownership. Put the think tanks in that cul-de-sac and they'll work on a hundred policy papers to fight this mortal peril to the closed enterprise system. Jeno's valedictory speeches, the PCC, and the attack sub-economy are inherently offensive instruments, that will keep our adversaries scrambling for a response. Remember too that there are many executives who could care less about the business judgment rule and other decoys as long as they maintain their dominance. That's where the united front of business may start to crack, with some companies seeing economic opportunity in our reforms, as will surely be the case at last with solar energy and energy conservation.

"As a final generalization, the more dynamism we put behind showing the contradictions of our political economy and juxtaposing its self-professed ideals with American realities, the better our offense. Hypocrisy is always the Achilles' heels of the charlatans. Holding big business to its highest acknowledged standards is the best offense and the best defense."

"Well reasoned for a speculator, George," Warren laughed. "With that analytic mind of yours, have you ever thought of going into value investing? Never mind, just an inside joke between us. Let me throw open the discussion to anyone who wishes to add to, modify, or multiply what George has laid on the table."

Yoko put down her pen. ''I'd like to hear more about Leonard's observation that the business establishment may adjust to the coming changes, as it did a century ago when it was obliged to start complying with safety regulations, labor laws, higher taxation, the ban on child labor, and the like. After all, as I keep saying, from the global perspective we're all in the same boat. The real victory is to get the opposition to see the writing on the wall and make some very major accommodations. For instance, environmental crises are going to do a lot of damage to businesses, not just to ordinary people. The viral and bacterial dangers we see bubbling up in Africa and East Asia are going to disrupt their operations, their sales, their workforce, and even their own operations at the top. These bugs don't recognize Fortune 500 rankings."

"Yoko, you make our ultimate quest clear," Bernard said, "but unless the business bosses see irresistible force and virtual encirclement, they won't think of complying or adjusting. They have to see on their own that the ball game as they have played it is over. So what you're really asking, as our Redirectional transformation proceeds, is how do we help their better selves or help a different leadership emerge, how do we let them save face, how do we make them live up to their professed standards and jettison their pernicious practices?

"I expect as the months go by that there will be more and more voluntary resignations of CEOs who would rather retire gracefully on their unconscionable pensions than face what's coming at them from all points of the compass, and from their own investor-owners. As for the criminal or grievously greedy among the corporatists, they will fight to the finish. That's where the rule of law and strong law enforcement come in, as well as the purging influence of more corporate democracy. Let's not overgeneralize our opponents. They are a mosaic up and down and sideways, with little in common except their worship of the bottom line."

Ted cleared his throat. "You know, listening to you and Yoko makes me think that we'll have to go global after all before we end our Redirections quest. I'm not talking about the danger of the multinationals abandoning our country and outsourcing themselves, not just their jobs. That's a debatable proposition, if only because of the size and profitability of our markets and the ease with which domestic businesses will move in. I'm talking about Yoko's idea that we're all in the same boat. That seems to imply a planetary imperative from which there's no real escape, doesn't it?"

"On a timeline of decades or centuries, you're certainly right," Bill Joy said, "but for now a year is probably horizon enough for us mortals."

"Well, just a thought," said Ted. "No point in getting ahead of ourselves."

"Especially at our age," said Bill Gates wryly. "But to return to our counteroffensive, from my perspective as a corporate lawyer, I'd say that our legions of billionaires carry a quiet but heavy stick. One determined, driven heavyweight can exert leverage far out of proportion to the influence of the passive wealth on the other side. We have the more motivated among the wealthy, not they, and the right phone call or face-to-face meeting can pull a lot of weight with the top fellows. Also, don't discount the big mutual funds and pension trusts, which on certain subjects can become key allies. That's why it's important to get advance commitments from all our potential supporters on the Redirections we know will be most controversial."

"Here's another note of encouragement," Peter said. "Suppose they huff and puff and roar and rage. So what? We can still continue on our way. It's only when they actually obstruct us that we have to fight back. Let's not assume that what they do will automatically block our path. In my experience, ignoring the opposition knowledgeably is as important as fighting it knowledgeably."

"With that valuable observation, is their anything further on countering the counterattack?" Warren asked. "If not, I suggest we move on to our expected accomplishments for the coming month and deal with any glitches. Is anybody in need of help?"

"Yes!" cried Newman and Cosby simultaneously.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:56 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 6 CONT'D.)

"This idea of massive amounts of dead money and what to do about it has hit a stone wall," Bill said. "We got a thirty- page report from our economics professor -- a Nobel laureate, by the way -- who estimated that there's a staggering eighteen trillion dollars' worth of dead money in the US alone. More important, he formulated a brilliant definition of what dead money is, identified different kinds of dead money, showed why it remains comatose, who benefits from this status, and who rewards it, and outlined the general conditions necessary to turn dead money into various kinds of live money. In a postscript to his report, his Eminence thanked us for introducing him to the distinction between dead and live money, but while buttressing our sense of what an important distinction it is, he couldn't propose a systematic strategy to move forward."

"I've been giving your excellent distinction some thought, since we were all pretty much sitting on dead money until a couple of months ago," Phil said. "Let's break this line of thinking down a bit. First, the reason most wealth is dead money is that people believe that's what gets them the maximum monetary return. Dead money isn't sentimental; it's in the hands of hardheaded investment types with dollar signs on their brains. That mindset limits the options to socially responsible mutual funds that offer equally good or better returns. There are funds, for example, that invest in affordable housing to take advantage of tax breaks. In Chicago, when my TV program originated there, I knew wealthy people who put some of their savings into South Shore Bank, which uses the money to back very successful mortgages in lower- income neighborhoods, at competitive interest rates. There are all kinds of good causes soliciting large investors to put modest sums into their activities through annuities and trusts. Who among us has not been asked to do this by our alma maters? Notre Dame never stops with me.

"But I don't think this is quite what Bill and Paul have in mind. I understand their live money to mean investments that break open the capital faucet for a great invention or innovation -- say, a dimmer switch that saves electricity, or a highly accurate way for a general practitioner to feed a patient's symptoms into a program on the Internet and get a diagnosis from a nephrologist or cardiologist or whatever the relevant specialty. That's a valuable kind of venture capital, and we should be more cognizant of such opportunities, but Paul and Bill seem to be going for more -- shuck the yardstick of direct monetary return and invest in life, invest in justice, invest in peace, invest in preserving oceans and forests, invest in the future, and by all means invest smartly and concretely and daringly. Isn't that just what we're doing now? The question is how to turn the bond market and the moribund mutual funds more in this direction, how to redirect the pension money so often invested with corporations that work against labor, outsource jobs, bash unions, and fuel the arms buildup by investing in the 'military-industrial' complex.

"As Paul and Bill discovered, it's hard to find anyone who has any answers beyond their dreams and the outlets I've briefly summarized. I do have one answer. Next year, let's single out some of our notable Redirectional successes and form a vigorous little group to replicate these kinds of investments in an institutionalized manner that will start a tradition, much as Andrew Carnegie started the modern philanthropic tradition, most prominently with his libraries. Historically, many philanthropists turned their dead money into live money by establishing local hospitals, schools, museums, libraries, parks, arboretums, and other lasting institutions. We can do something similar, but something that goes way beyond philanthropy, by taking a proven reform in one state and diffusing it to all the states that have the same problem. For instance, there's a case out of the California courts to increase custody payments from deadbeat dads that could produce many billions of dollars for spouses and children nationwide. Or what about all the uncollected deposits and insurance monies that escheat to the states, or the money that's awarded by the courts in cases involving a particular abuse but not distributed for lack of recipients or claimants? Under the cy-pres doctrine, that money could be placed in advocacy trust funds to tackle similar abuses in perpetuity --"

"The cypress doctrine?" Sol interrupted. "Trust funds for trees? What's next?"

"I know, I know, I'd never heard of it either, but when I recently called some of my favorite public law charities, they told me all about cy-pres and other ways of putting unclaimed funds into permanent institutions that go after the very injustices that led to the monies being recovered in the first place. Looking back at tapes of my show, I see how many of these injustices were brought to my televised attention in the most poignant of ways, and how few remedies or means of deterrence there were. With the dead money/live money distinction as a catapult, there's great work to be done here."

"Well, you've given us plenty to ponder, Phil," said Bill Cosby.

"That's for sure," Paul agreed. "To get from charity to justice, we've got to keep thinking about ways to tap into the greatest pool of capital the world has ever seen. If even a tiny fraction of one percent of it was diverted into live money, the beneficial consequences could be enormous. Thoreau once said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. So do the mass of investors, in their own uninspired way."

"Nicely put," Warren said. "Okay, gentlemen, I'll have the Secretariat take up these ideas of yours for processing in the usual expeditious manner."

"By the way," Barry said, "Warren Beatty called up the other day asking for suggestions about a theme for his campaign, something along the lines of the New Deal or the Great Society of past campaigns. That got me thinking about what we should call ourselves once we go public. 'Core Group' just doesn't cut it. Ted and I were talking about this at lunch."

"We need an accurate but bland name," Max said, "something that won't lend itself to conspiratorial innuendo -- shades of the Trilateral Commission."

"You mean something like the Fabian Society?"

"Yes, something like that, but clearly very distant from that group's approach."

Bernard sat up in his chair. "Here's what I propose: the Patriotic Meliorist Society."

"The what?" Joe said.

"Huh?" echoed Ted.

"Exactly the desired response," Bernard said. "Meliorists are people who believe in and work toward bettering society. Let our enemies try to distort or caricature that one. Historically, it's a term that was common in old England and in the works of American pragmatists like William James and John Dewey. For some reason, it's slipped out of usage, but you'll find it in every dictionary."

Yoko stifled a giggle. "Really, B, the Patriotic Meliorist Society? The PMS? I don't think so."

There was a moment of embarrassed silence before Bernard laughed. "All right, then, just the Patriotic Meliorists."

"You know," Warren said, "I like it."

"Well, why don't you all mull it over for a while," Bernard suggested. "It does have the virtue of making people ask what it means, and the definition is very straightforward. I think in time it will catch the ear."

"We'll do that, B," Warren said. "Before we go on to our slated goals for the next month, it is my frugal pleasure to report that we have not yet spent a billion dollars. You're all holding to your specific budgets. The pace of spending will increase when we unfurl the Blockbuster Challenge, among other larger expenses. A total of fifteen billion has been received or reliably pledged, with about ten billion in hand. The money has been invested in safe overnight government bonds and triple-A corporate bonds for rapid liquidity. And now, on to March. George?"

"We've got a first wave of fifty million letters in the mail to form ten different CUBs. Projected dues-paying membership for each of them should average a million and a half by the time we've finished soliciting. The mailings are backed by a brace of news features and websites, print, TV, and radio advertisements, plus staggered exposes of the power abuses, industry by industry, that the CUBs are designed to monitor and countervail. Recruitment is busy finding top-flight directors and staff for each CUB, and I've also been fortunate in receiving the expert advice of John Richard and Robert Fellmeth. Each of you should be as blessed in your initiatives. Under their direction, our Service CUB has been established to help the advocacy CUBs with media, fundraising, promotion and sale of reports on consumer abuses, and any miscellaneous brush fires that may break out. The pace is quickening, and by mid-month the exposes will doubtless come under attack from the Wall Street Journal types whose revenues come heavily from just those companies the CUBs are intended to watchdog. The various CUB actions are being designed to mesh well with the other Redirections, and will start flowing shortly. Finally, renovations on the hotel I bought in Washington are complete -- it's now an office building with a record number of bathrooms."

"How we envy you," Sol said.

"Especially at our age," Bill Gates repeated to general amusement, and went on to report on the Access to Justice Project. "Joe's idea of changing the Pledge of Allegiance has become a master stroke to jolt the country into thinking about both the quality and the quantity of justice. From the moment the Pledge the Truth amendment was introduced in the House and Senate, people have been arguing about it in cafes, bars, and barbershops, on street corners and around the water cooler. Everyone has a strong opinion, from Rotarians and Scout leaders to smokers standing outside their offices in the cold, and of course there have been the expected howls of outrage from the expected quarters. On a more orderly level, law schools are scheduling debates on the state of justice in America, and colleges and universities are planning symposia. The controversy has raced into the mass talk media, and Joe and I have become either poster children or devils incarnate. More and more schools, especially in poorer areas, are adopting our proposed change of language and explaining it to the students. Jeno, do you think your vaunted People's Chamber of Commerce will suggest that its members use the revised Pledge at their business luncheons and other functions?"

"Remember devolution?" Jeno retorted. "That'll be up to Luke Skyhi and his associates at the PCC."

"Simmer down, Jeno, I was just kidding, but we do want to find additional venues for the revised Pledge, so if any of you have suggestions, please send them over to Joe and me. Meanwhile, our immediate task is to get more members of Congress to sign on -- we're up to about three dozen -- so that the bill will be taken more seriously. The closer it gets to passage, the hotter and more widespread the debate will be, and the more attorneys general will decide to issue State of Justice reports. That will be good for the other Redirections too. It will help fuel the lunchtime rallies, it's integral to the First-Stage Improvements drive for a fair economy, it will make our credibility groups more alert to injustice, and it will swell the sense of urgency washing over Congress and the state legislatures. Precisely because the Pledge of Allegiance has been drilled into all of us since kindergarten, it's a sure way of reaching people who ordinarily wouldn't get involved."

"Thank you, Bill," Warren said. "Bernard, will you do the honors for both of us on our Electoral Reform Project?"

"Gladly. As we told you all a few days ago, we're in the planning stage of forming a new single-issue political party devoted to campaign reform. To bring you up to date, we've thoroughly investigated Bill Hillsman, and he's the real McCoy. We didn't get the color of his jagers, though. Our background check discovered that he doesn't wear underwear.

"This is an election year. Deadlines for candidates and party formation are rapidly approaching. We've put in an all-points request to Recruitment and Promotions for managers, organizers, candidates, and assistance. We've decided only to challenge the most powerful ten percent of legislators in the Congress, given the pressure of time, and to go after a few easier seats where we have a chance of coming in second or maybe even winning, in order to influence voter expectations for future elections. Moving so fast with a new party would ordinarily be seen as crazy, but we have the funds, the legal bulldozers, and the crisp issue of clean elections -- the name of the party. And when we announce that it's going out of business once the reforms are implemented, that will really grab people. Finally, electoral reform has a good track record in the state initiatives that have embraced it, and it polls exceedingly well.

"We're working on lining up a slew of endorsements by ordinary people expressing their own legitimate interests in reform in their own words. Then it's off to Promotions and intense news coverage. Many of the credibility groups will be supportive, because while they may be full of partisan Republicans or Democrats, they know in their hearts that adopting the clean elections agenda is something both major parties should and can do. The expanding rallies can start incorporating the clean elections message, which has to be cast in terms that show concretely how it can produce a politics that responds to people's daily needs -- your medicines will be cheaper and safer, your air and water will be cleaner and your take-home pay more decent, the corporate criminals ripping you off will be prosecuted, your health will be tended to regardless of your ability to pay, and so on. Otherwise electoral reform is too abstract and too vulnerable to distortion by its enemies."

"Maybe the Clean Elections Party could use some attention from Promotions' theater wing," Warren put in. "After all, look what a splendid job they've done with solar energy and hemp."

Ted was about to second Warren's suggestion when Patrick Drummond glided into the conference room, handed Warren a sheet of paper, and glided out again.

Warren studied the sheet and looked up with a grin. "It's an email from Leonard's project manager, reporting that the first rally to hit the hundred-thousand mark took place in Los Angeles today."

"Fabulous," Barry said. "Our actor friend must really be tearing up the turf in the Golden State."

"This seems like a perfect time to break for an hour of silence, and then dinner," Warren said. "Afterward we should spend a few minutes discussing our interview policies, since the e-mail also mentions a Time magazine cover story titled 'What's Happening in America?' with pictures from six of the rallies in a montage surrounding a photo of Warren Beatty. The magazine won't be available in the distribution chain until late tomorrow afternoon, so we don't know what they've written, but cover stories usually go for five pages or more. Can't wait to see what pieces they've picked up to weave into what kind of speculation. Did Time call any of you?"

"They called Bill and me about the Pledge," Joe said, "but we didn't call back."

"No one else?" Warren looked around the table. "Great. That means they're probably not on the trail yet. So far, so good."

While his colleagues stood and stretched their legs, Warren went to a phone in the corner of the conference room, and a few minutes later the hotel's energetic cook, Ailani, came in with a hearty "Aloha, honored guests!" and a tray of refreshments. They all thanked her, chose one of the colorful umbrellaed drinks, and resumed their seats for the hour of silence. What were they thinking during that hour? Were they beginning to feel the pressure from the torrent of Redirectional activity and the steadily expanding corps of people that had to be kept on track? Were they still hewing to their principle of keeping their projects as simple as possible even as they laid the firm foundations for the assault on the corporate citadel? Warren's Secretariat was doing a magnificent job, but even the greatest of rodeo riders gets thrown sometimes. How soon must the victories start coming to keep the momentum going strong? They all had their private misgivings -- they were only human, after all -- but they told themselves to stay as cool as their drinks. After a few minutes of silence, the beauty and tranquility of their surroundings cleared their heads for a calm consideration of the tasks that lay ahead. By the time they broke for dinner, they were marvelously relaxed, trading ideas and jokes and stories, and simply enjoying the food.

When they reassembled in the conference room, Barry led off with a few media-savvy points about interview requests.

"With the Time story about to break, I want to stress that you're all fair game for interviews. If you turn them down, that becomes the media focus instead of the issues you're pressing. And besides, you're the best advocates of your own causes, as Bill Gates argued at Maui One, and as you showed with your subsequent initiatives. Just remember that in no case should you say anything that might reveal your connection to the core group. Our approach should be to make them report on us in micro, not in macro. With each passing week, media attention will increasingly focus on what our opponents are saying as they awaken to their overdue comeuppance. Watch their reaction to Peter's Senate testimony next week or to the unfolding CUB challenges. Their bellowing will take up far more column inches and airtime than our forays against them. At the same time, the principle of accelerating devolution means that more and more of our managers, organizers, and candidates will be taking center stage. Promotions will be there to help them."

"Thank you, Barry," Warren said. "Now let's take up the Blockbuster Challenge, which we'll publicize with the slogan 'Buy Back Your Congress: The Best Bargain in America.' No matter how great the idea and its consequences for our democracy, it'll be a bust if it's not handled well -- or worse, as the French say, a blunder. So over to you, Bernard."

"Well, first the data. The project staff is still analyzing the gross and net data regarding expenditures in every House and Senate race in the last election. The gross data comes from the FEC, but it's insufficient without the data on how much was spent to raise the money. Separating fundraising expenses from campaign expenses can be daunting, even with the FEC reporting formats, but we need this information because we don't want to be cheated by any legislator who takes us up on our offer, and because it will give us a better understanding of the entire industry of raising and spending campaign money. Once these data are all in and analyzed, we'll come up with an average net for congressional campaigns and mark it up twenty percent to sweeten the offer, but before we can do that, there are a number of questions we need to address. As you know, Joan Claybrook will soon be on board as our Blockbuster manager, and I sent her a list of these questions and asked her to review them. Her response is before you." Leonard gestured to the stapled handouts that had been placed around the table during the dinner break. "Naturally I didn't tell her anything about our core group, so I deleted question nine from my e-mail to her, the one about how to connect the Blockbuster Challenge with the other Redirection projects when it comes to cranking up the heat on members back in their districts and states. Let's take a few minutes to read over what she said."

There was a rustling of paper as everyone picked up Joan's memo.

1. Who should make the offer?

The offer is best made by a committee of perhaps a dozen highly respected John Gardner types, retired people of unquestioned integrity and worldly experience -- a professor emeritus like Jacques Barzun, a former federal judge, university president, foundation president, diplomat, etc. A nonpartisan ex-president would be the cherry on the sundae.

2. Where do we say the money is coming from? What options do we have?

I'm told the money is there, to the tune of $2 billion or more, so yes, everyone will ask where this huge sum is coming from. If you say it's coming from a number of well-intentioned billionaires, you'll be asked who they are, and very rich people are rarely squeaky-clean, no matter how noble their lives. Here's a thought: you could use some of your $2 billion to raise smaller contributions from ordinary people -- say, no more than a hundred dollars -- and set up receiving groups in trust in the name of each incumbent. The details would have to be worked out, but these could be PACs in escrow, so to speak, conditional on the incumbent's accepting the clean elections agenda. That way the offer becomes very real because the money is for the asking once the condition is met. Given the contribution cap, there would have to be many such PACs in each district, but they could be given colorful, meaningful names that would help convey the clean elections message. This is a touchy issue, and many minds should be consulted on its best resolution.

3. How do we convince Congress and the public that we're credible, that we can actually produce the money?

If you answer question 2, then you answer question 3.

4. How do we convince Congress and the public that there are no strings attached other than electoral reforms?

If you answer question 3, then you basically answer question 4, though there are some fairly conventional credibility factors you can add, like shifting the burden of proof to anyone who can show otherwise, or getting members of Congress themselves to vouch for you, or inviting reporters to investigate vigorously, or making it clear that even incumbents with the most odious records can receive the funding if they commit to clean elections.

5. How do we proceed if only 10 or 15 percent of the Congress responds affirmatively?

I think you need to set a minimum percentage. I'd say you need 25 percent of the members, in both the Senate and the House, to make going to all this trouble worthwhile.

6. How can we make sure our offer is lawsuit-proof under the cap limits, as for PACs, and cannot be seen as a bribe either legally or in public perception?

You get the best five attorneys specializing in campaign finance legalities -- including one or two who've worked in the FEC and the Justice Department -- to advise you and write clearance memoranda. This you need to do right off, first thing. I highly recommend Theresa Tieknots of Chicago, an expert in federal election and campaign finance law.

7. Can we move fast enough here, given the tight schedule between now and Election Day in November?

The schedule is very tight, but with plenty of money I estimate you can get in under the wire. And you have to insist that any monies already collected by the incumbents be returned or given to charity if they accept your offer.

8. What do we do about challengers to the incumbents and the additional imbalance we may be inadvertently generating against them?

This is the most nettlesome question if we believe in a level playing field for the candidates, including those from minor parties. I dealt with something roughly similar years ago as director of a project that involved preparing magazine-length profiles of all congressional officeholders running for reelection in 1972 -- never done before in American history, a thousand volunteers, scores of paid writer-researchers, etc. More than a few members of Congress, fearing a critical report, demanded that we do the same reports on their challengers. "Why just us?" they asked. "Unfair!" We argued that we were only profiling legislators, politicians with real power and a real record. Most challengers didn't fit these criteria. Power has its privileges, we said, but it also has its responsibilities. Challengers have no formal power. In your case, the concern is reversed. Most incumbents will not demand that the same offer be made to their challengers -- where there are any. It's the challengers who are going to demand the offer because they have a harder time raising money and for them the clean elections pledge is a no-brainer. In this disparity lies our argument -- we tell the challengers that most incumbents won't take the pledge and will thereby incur your project's active opposition, which will invariably help the opposing candidates. In addition, we tell them that if an incumbent doesn't take the pledge -- which has to involve more than just a verbal acceptance, as my staff will work out soon -- then the project's money will go to the challenger in some pro rata fashion. That's my first take on this question. I'll try to ask around among my colleagues discreetly, and when I come on board, I hope to get the project launchers' thoughts as well.


"Well, what do you think?" Bernard asked when his colleagues had finished reading.

"Not bad for starters," Max said, "but that eighth question is a tough one."

Leonard and Peter, who were Bernard's seconds on the Congress Project, pointed out that their data on expenditures for every race during the last election included the challengers. "So their spending has already been taken into account," Peter said. "We just have to find the right formula for our disbursements. Everyone who credibly adopts the clean elections agenda should receive funds."

"I agree," Warren said. "A project to buy back the Congress can hardly stand to be accused of making challengers beg, kneel, and prostitute themselves because they aren't yet incumbents. Is that the consensus?"

There were nods all around. Bill Cosby added that if candidates had to give back any money they'd already raised, that would be a pretty good indication that their commitment went beyond words. "Their donors will be furious with them," he observed.

"We also have to bear in mind that the Clean Elections Party will be part of the mix and will be running candidates -- a further asymmetry if all are not included in the Blockbuster offer. Ironically, our new party won't be able to accept any of the money ladled out by the Blockbuster campaign, because whatever the pro rata formula is, it won't be nearly enough. The Clean Elections Party is the hammer. The hammer has to be bigger than the nails. The new party has to be funded amply as the battering ram for the Blockbuster pledges."

Bernard frowned. "Isn't that an insurmountable problem? I, for one, would want to avoid the spectacle of the Clean Elections Party candidates refusing to take the clean elections pledge."

"Well, it's a problem, all right," Warren said. "Whether it's insurmountable or not remains to be seen. Both projects will have to stay in the closest contact as they unfold over the coming months. Maybe the solution is to have some billionaire announce that he's personally funding the Clean Elections Party, and that the party is rejecting the Blockbuster offer precisely because it supports the Blockbuster objectives, which can't be realized in practice without a one-time resort to unlimited expenditures. One of us can always take this on if need be, but I think it would be best to find a billionaire outside our core group."

"That shouldn't be too hard," Ted said. "One of the billionaires we already have on board may be willing to step in. They've all been a huge help to us so far, and some are taking the lead in their own right. I'm telling you, releasing the energy built up in retirement has been like splitting the atom, and I want more of it. There are plenty more billionaires than you'll find in the Forbes 400, but a lot of them are completely unknown, like the ones who've quietly inherited their wealth or become instant billionaires after the sale of some dot-com or some other hotshot company, or all the millionaires turned billionaires just from their investments soaring in recent years. I know a guy who founded a nutrition company and watched his stock go from a dollar a share to twenty dollars a share in a year, and another guy who got the same results with his defense company after he invented some detection system for national security. There are billionaires everywhere, in the most unlikely places -- the Ozarks, Catalina Island, a half-deserted farm town in Nebraska, country club prisons. I even know one from the remote Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota." Here Ted flashed Jeno a wicked smile. "The thing is, I can't quite figure out how to net the next crop, so it's time to rope you fellows into this pitch for the rich. Any ideas?" He turned to Warren.

"Some of us are rapidly disqualifying ourselves, wouldn't you say? I've already gone out on various limbs, none more alienating to many wealthy people than my stance on investor control of executive compensation. Why don't you get the names of the billionaires that your billionaires play with -- cards, golf, shuffleboard, yachting, whatever -- and ask them to start recruiting."

"I've already done that, Warren. I've taken it as far as I can."

"Well, how about organizing a billionaires' convention?" Joe suggested. "Call it the Just Billionaires Convention, something like that, something with class. Maybe that will smoke out the ones put off by Billionaires Against Bullshit."

"Here's an idea," Yoko said. "Propose a number of great causes that billionaires can be proud of attaching themselves to. I know a tycoon who's providing cheap wheelchairs to people in developing countries with severe disabilities -- and the tax laws actually allow him to make money from the scheme, would you believe."

"Here's another idea," Phil said. "Research the existing lists of the wealthiest people in the country to see what suppressed passions for justice they may have had years ago that can be reawakened in the much more auspicious climate created by what Ted and the rest of us are in the process of doing. After all, the massive media coverage we've received so far has got to be sinking into some of their heads -- you know, that 'Why not me?' feeling."

"Listen to this," Yoko said. "At a dinner with a potential epicenter billionaire last month, I broached the subject of doing something dramatic to alleviate poverty, something that would be both fast and ongoing. The billionaire thought for a while, imbibed some Grand Marnier, chewed a handful of walnuts, and said, 'My friend, there are at least a million people in this country who wouldn't even notice if their monthly Social Security checks were assigned to a well-organized assistance program for poor families in our blessed land.' Then he laid out an entire plan. With a million donors of checks averaging seventeen hundred dollars a month, you could divide that sum in half and augment the meager incomes of two million families in need by more than ten thousand dollars a year. Two million families on a surer footing means about eight million people all told. The donors could be given the names of the families if they wished, and even meet with the parents and children from time to time. Think of the sensitization to the daily struggles of people who are usually out of sight and out of mind. I'll bet Oprah would be interested. 'I'd be happy to make this my personal endeavor and enlist others similarly endowed,' the billionaire told me. 'There are intangibles here that are quite consequential for the more humane tone of our society, and there is a potential emulation factor for other such endeavors in other arenas.'

"Naturally, I was impressed, though I cautioned him to beware of the enemies of Social Security, who might jump on his idea to promote a means test and chip away at the system's universality. Then I encouraged him to contact Patrick Drummond at the Secretariat for the proper referrals to our burgeoning networks -- without, of course, mentioning the Secretariat or the networks."

"That's a great story, Yoko," Bernard said, "but don't we have to face the fact that there are scores of billionaires who are simply too immersed in luxury to bestir themselves? They have worn the garb of greed for too long. I'm reminded of the words of Khalil Gibran, the mystical Lebanese poet and artist who lived in America early in the last century, and who spoke of 'the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.'''

"Kind of brings it home, doesn't it?" Phil said.

Jeno looked up from jotting the Gibran quotation on his pad. "You know, maybe all they need is a little gradual socialization in the corps of active billionaires or in the midst of an exciting bunch of progressive business people. I think I'll ask Luke Skyhi to form a billionaires' auxiliary of the People's Chamber of Commerce. It's almost comical, sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that in itself ought to draw some of them in, just out of curiosity, and then we'll make the meetings lively and stimulating and fill their minds with prospects of true grandeur. What do you call those places between prison and going free?"

Ted gave Jeno a puzzled look. "You mean halfway houses?"

"Right, that's it. The Billionaires' Auxiliary of the PCC will be a halfway house for the wealthy."

"Ted, what's your assessment of how many billionaires are truly beyond reach?" Peter asked. "By now you must have spoken to more of them than the rest of us put together."

"Well, I get down to brass tacks with them right away -- no beating around the bush with bullshit words of evasion, no howdy-doing -- and I can tell pretty fast how they're going to break down. About one in five jump on board. They get it. They usually have their own peeves, some of them so relatively trivial that I have a hard time keeping my trap shut -- but when don't I? Others are interested in problems that are significant but largely symptomatic of deeper inequalities and distortions of power. A few are dead-on in their analysis.

"Of the remaining eighty percent, about half of them are interested enough to want to meet, seems like they're looking to take on some important challenge so that the future will remember them and their descendants will respect them. Grandparents and great-grandparents don't impress their little ones just by being billionaires. So I meet with them, run some of our initiatives by them to gauge their response, and sign them up if I think they're ready. That's how we got some of the billionaires against Wal-Mart, for example.

"About another twenty percent are clueless -- into selling their mega-mansions for fifteen times what they paid thirty years ago, or worrying about their investment returns, their wayward trophy wives, their gout and their livers, their heirs, what have you. I call these the 'Huh?' folks and cast them aside. The last twenty percent are downright hostile, people with the most closed minds and snuffed-out imaginations you'll ever come across. They are defenders of the ruling class, sometimes offensively so. To them I say, 'To each his own. Hope to see you around before the global high watermarks obstruct our vision.'

"As for the emulation effect Yoko's billionaire mentioned, it's hard to gauge. When the guys who are hesitating start reading about their peers, some of them will see how empty their lives have become and will want to get in on the action. If they're the thick-skinned type, they'll think it's a good way to have some fun and do some good. Others will say to themselves, 'Who wants to wade into that firestorm? I want peace, quiet, and comfort.' Rest assured that we'll be stoking the emulation effect in every way possible. My manager is first-rate in that regard."

"All very interesting, Ted," Peter said. "The comparably few calls I've made left me with the impression that the semi- responsive ones are willing to get together and hear more but aren't in any rush. Last week I talked to a fellow Princetonian whom I'm going to meet at the Yale game this fall. But I do have to say that I got considerably better results and a perverse tickle from one of my calls. There I am, speaking to a guy who's loaded from what Henry George called the 'unearned increment' -- otherwise known as very valuable real estate -- and I'm trying to sell him on certain aspects of our Redirections that he can't quibble over, like energy independence, healthcare, and clean, efficient government, and he's backing and filling about 'cash flow' and being 'heavily leveraged.' I've got his net-worth details on my desk, and they show he's lying through his teeth. He's so liquid he's hired specialists to find outlets for his masses of money.

"So I'm saying, 'Bruce, what about fifty million?' And he keeps thinking he's talking to someone from the Democratic Party or something. I say, 'Bruce, I was born at night but not last night.' He squirms. We've known each other for thirty- five years, so he can't pull the old 'Let's have lunch sometime' on me. I let him squirm. I say, 'Bruce, last year you gave five million just to encourage Jews to marry Jews. What kind of country do you want their children to grow up in? Since then, you've had a bang-up year in commercial real estate, flat out and nonstop.' So he says, 'Peter, how about twenty- five million.' I pause, as if to convey disappointment Then I say, 'Well, okay, for starters. You'll never regret this contribution, Bruce, nor will your descendants. Now, when do you want to have lunch?'"

"Brilliant!" Bill Gates exclaimed. "We should all try Peter's approach. When I call billionaire lawyers, I always have a wealth biography in front of me too. Lawyers my age are preoccupied by their declining annual income as their younger partners deliberately phase them out, so they cry poor even though they made it big over their productive years, and bigger still with their investments. I use every tool from peer emulation to their long-suppressed professional ideals about the proper functioning of the law in a just society. I know a lot about the issues that upset them, which makes for more targeted discussions. I've set a floor of five million dollars, and I've had considerable success, but I've found that many of them are hungry for some kind of recognition beyond plaques or testimonials or building wings named for them. Somewhere in our expanding talent bank, can we find a person to come up with more substantive ways of acknowledging their gifts?"

"Done," Warren said, jotting a note on his pad.

"Here's my favorite bullshit response to my calls. 'Joe, I think what you're doing is so admirable, but I've been giving my charitable dollars to the Kill the Tapeworms and Lice Children's Association. It does such wonderful work.' Or, 'You know, Joe, my lifelong passion has been supporting the Hospital for Orthopedically Damaged Low-Income Persons. It takes up all my spare time and fortune.' To which I silently say, 'Buddy, I've got your financials and the filings for your charity, and what's there is not what you say is there. You're rolling in dough, and your bullshit is just a cover and an excuse.' What I actually say is, 'I'm not asking you for charitable dollars. We all give charitable dollars. I'm asking you for survival dollars for your children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren. I'm asking you to take some of that dead money and turn it into live money that breathes life, freedom, health, and possibilities for all human beings to thrive. Give me a call when you're ready to join the greatest cause of them all, peace and justice on Earth, beginning right here at home.'"

Bill Cosby raised his water glass. "Dead money, live money -- hear, hear, Joe! Thank you."

"Okay, Ted, you've got your answers, and one of them you won't have to implement yourself, if I heard Jeno right," Warren said. "The rest are in your capable southern hands. Now it's time to break for refreshments and an hour of silent reflection, and after that I suggest you go out on the upper balcony, do some aerobics and look at the stars and the moon shining down on Haleakala Crater on the clearest night you've ever seen. Gives you perspective on space, time, mortality."

"Just what we need," Sol said.

***

If nature could ever trump nurture, it had to be in a place like Maui. How could anyone, even Sol, start the day less than optimistic in such a scene from paradise? The nation-shakers filtered into the conference room Sunday morning fully restored by their stargazing, an excellent night's sleep, and a delectable breakfast. The topic for discussion was the Wal- Mart unionizing drive.

"My dear friends," Sol said warmly, "may I ask for your views on the possibility suggested by our delightful colleague Yoko that our enemies -- in this case, Wal-Mart -- will try to turn a portion of 'the people' against us? My SWAT teams have confirmed that Wal-Mart is mobilizing its low-income 'satisfied customers,' and we must counter their populist ploy lest it taint the unionizing effort, and by extension our other Redirectional projects." Despite the gravity of his words, Sol was beaming.

"Well, for sure they're going to concentrate on the five stores under assault," Bill Cosby said, "but they won't be able to muster counter-demonstrations of poor customers without offering lots of goodies and freebies. You know how hard it is to get people out these days. The more Wal-Mart oils their rallies with free food, coupons, toys, et cetera, the less credible their crowds will be, and you can strike at their perceived strength of offering the lowest prices anywhere by organizing your own rallies of consumers who've been ripped off by Wal-Mart, which has had a free ride on this claim so far. But you'll need to know more about Wal-Mart's national effort against you, Sol. Don't you have a mole on their board of directors?"

"What we know is that the board, while publicly putting up a brave united front, is in a state of turmoil. Our billionaires have been working their old friends over. Major economic pressure is being brought to bear. One of the directors, while refusing to turn state's evidence or divulge proprietary information, is keeping us informed of their discussions at what are now weekly meetings of the board. The circle is tightening around Wal-Mart, what with rallies, pickets, SWAT teams, storefronts, fire sales, and we're just getting started. But watch out for the tail of the giant dragon. We can't rule out the possibility that Wal-Mart will start putting two and two together from the press clips and go to groups like the Business Roundtable for assistance."

Warren glanced at his Timex. "We'd better think about wrapping things up, my friends. I'd like us to close with a free- for-all discussion of what's on your mind for the coming months, especially next month. My own view is that each month is going to see an exponential increase in just about everything -- our activity, media, counterattacks, serendipities. You can almost feel the growing rumble in the country. My revolution of the investor class against tyrannical and greedy top management is rising like healthy yeast. The coming month is the month that will give roots to our Redirections of power from the few to the many. Soon Time's cover story will be 'Volcanic Rebellion Inside Big Business,' or 'When Business Rebels Shrug.'''

There ensued a vigorous and rigorous review of all the initiatives, full of lively repartee, and leading to refinements and accelerated schedules, especially for getting the Clean Elections Party and its candidates on the ballot before the approaching deadlines. At noon Ailani served lunch without interrupting the flow of conversation, and by one o'clock the core members were on their way home. Maui Month Three was underway.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:01 pm

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 7

On the first day of March, a damp, cloudy Wednesday, Brovar Dortwist sat in his K Street office reading the Time story. When he finished, he flung the magazine on his desk with a mixture of outrage and apprehension. As a Julius Caesar buff, he was well aware that the Ides of March were rapidly approaching. He scowled at the handsome visage of Warren Beatty, which seemed to wink at him from Time's cover.

Big business was under serious attack, and it wasn't General Smedley Butler of the US Marines coming back from the dead for revenge. It was what Brovar feared most from his knowledge of economic history -- a revolt from within, a business rebellion against big business orchestrated by people who knew all the tricks of the commercial trades, all the vulnerabilities and fragilities, all the means big business employed to crush or coopt its adversaries. He could feel the danger, almost smell it. Most of his brethren discounted the signals coming from all points of the compass and thought the People's Chamber of Commerce was an object of mockery garnished with futility, but Brovar disagreed. That was precisely the mistake the liberals made back when they were dominant in the nations capital.

Brovar was not used to playing defense, to put it mildly. He hated defense down to the core of his being. Although he had some grasp of what he was about to fight, he didn't know whom he was fighting, other than a few wealthy and mostly retired executives. To complicate matters, he didn't entirely disagree with what they were doing, and this nuanced side of him was likely to get him in trouble, not only with his brethren, but with his paymasters and the White House. Still, he believed without immodesty that no one was better suited to lead the counteroffensive than he.

At ten o'clock on the dot, Brovar entered the Wednesday war room and nodded curtly to his pack of lobbyists and politicos. Dispensing with the usual assignments quickly, he said that he had a major presentation to make, and that it would be uncharacteristically tentative and vague, for reasons they would soon understand.

"You've all been reading the same papers and watching the same newscasts I have these last few weeks. Something is happening, something I haven't witnessed in my adult lifetime. The growing rallies in more and more cities, all the small claims litigation against big companies, the new militance of workers, the assertiveness of the renegade businesses that have joined the PCC, the arrogance of the anti-capitalist sustainable economy types, the resistance of social service groups that we used to mobilize so easily, the increase in anti-business reporting on some networks, the outspokenness of retired executives at the National Press Club, the brazenness of dozens of billionaires, their sudden attentiveness to electoral and corporate reforms, the huge publicity for Sol Price's attack on Wal-Mart and Peter Lewis's across-the-board charges against our many clients, the sense that the atmosphere in Congress is changing, the Patriotic Polly ads and the crude attempt to change the Pledge of Allegiance -- well, I'm sure you can add your own examples.

"The problem is that there seems to be no head, no ideology, no overall organization to it all. Yet it definitely seems to be more than the sum of its visible parts, and the visible parts seem to be perched on resources and determination far vaster than we've ever seen before. Maybe I'm making too much of all this. We've become so accustomed to weak or nonexistent opposition in recent years that I may be over-estimating what's simply one of the cyclical populist revivals that mark our country's history. So far, at least, there has been little discernible change in our control levels, though the forces arrayed against us appear to be gathering. I hope you're watching the Beatty gubernatorial campaign in California. He seems to be bringing the Reagan Democrats back into the left-wing fold, though it's a little early to tell. Arnold still has a few muscles to flex. In any case, I'd like to get some reaction from you on what I've been describing."

"My reaction is not to overreact," said a Chamber of Commerce lobbyist. "We have a full plate to get though Congress -- the extension of the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends, the repeal of the death tax once and for all, more business incentives, more opportunity zones that waive regulations and taxes, the drive to put Social Security on a business footing, the elimination of the more onerous federal regulations. Let us not be distracted by a few over-the-hill blowhards. Really, Sol Price, Jeno Paulucci, and Bernard Who? Give me a break!"

"I agree," said a representative of the Defense Industries Association. "Our antennae have picked up no movement against the defense budget or our military policies. We haven't applied our latest infrared technology to the rumblings you described, but none of the rhetoric, except for the Cincinnati rally of veterans, has even touched on our domain, which as you all know is pretty extensive in the economic, military, and budgetary spheres. So lighten up, Brovar. We respect your early-warning record, but maybe you're too early for our own good on this one, with due respect."

Ripples of laughter filled the room.

"Our number one priority ought to be tort reform, guys," a pharmaceuticals lobbyist said. "I think I speak for the drug companies, the medical device manufacturers, the doctors, the hospitals, and many of you in allied fields. The trial lawyers and the consumer, health, and environmental groups are all over us on Capitol Hill. We have to concentrate. At last we have the Republicans in charge of the Congress and the White House, and we have to seize the hour. Brovar, unless you're just giving us a heads-up before we resume our usual business this morning, your early alert may be a costly distraction. Which is it?"

Brovar's jaw clenched imperceptibly. "Remember the relentless growth of the conservative movement following our low point after the lopsided 1964 Goldwater defeat? The liberals kept themselves in sneering denial, calling us tools of business, saying we were not only wrong but stupid and dull. That smugness became their undoing. They kept ignoring the signs or interpreting them as aberrations or inconsequential flukes. They're now our doormat. I learn from history. I am cautious and anticipatory, and I have a sixth sense as to when the tides are turning." Here the pixie in Brovar toyed with saying, "The tides turn on the Ides," but he thought better of it. Very few of them would understand the literary allusion. "However, is it the consensus that enough has been said to put us on guard? Let me see a show of hands."

All but a few of the impatient horde raised their hands. Brovar sighed imperceptibly. "Okay, then it's back to business as usual, but keep your ears and eyes open in the coming days and report back next Wednesday about what you think needs discussion."

Whereupon the Wednesday Club commenced discussing high-level government positions that were open and that they wanted to fill with a prepared list of available corporate executives -- something that was indeed business as usual.

***

As the corporate lobbies were breezily failing to bestir themselves, Peter Lewis was preparing to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee. The scene in the large Senate hearing room was chaotic. More tables had to be brought in to accommodate the press corps. The seats in the audience were filled with early birds hired at $20 an hour by insurance lobbyists who would turn up to replace them at more leisurely morning arrival times. Representatives of consumer groups and interested policyholders, expecting first-come, first-served seating and not a payola racket, were outraged. Jostling and cries of protest attracted the Capitol Police, who instituted a rotation system like the one for the Senate visitors' gallery to accommodate the long lines waiting in the corridors. This upset the lobbyists to no end, but they had no choice.

Peter was the lead witness, with no time limitation. He had told the committee chairman, Senator Martin Merchant, that he had a lengthy case to make. He had also assured the committee that he would answer any questions the members cared to put to him. Senator Merchant was in an unaccustomedly tight reelection race and wanted headlines that would make him look like a champion of the insurance consumer, even though he had a reputation as the lobbyists' "business agent" in the Senate. Knowing this, Peter had informed him that the point of the hearings was to enact reform legislation and that he expected the chairman to demand the attendance, under threat of subpoena, of the CEOs of the top ten insurance companies in the health, life, auto, homeowners, medical malpractice, product liability, and workers' compensation sectors. Senator Merchant got the message and delivered the CEOs, who were now sitting not a little nervously in the front row behind Peter. He commenced his testimony after taking the oath to tell the truth.

"Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Senate Commerce Committee, I am here today to perform a responsibility that has been shirked for decades by executives of the insurance industry, including myself. I ask permission to insert in the record of these hearings the voluminous evidence and the internal reports and memoranda I've gathered to document my testimony."

"So ordered," intoned the chairman.

"Let me come straight to the point. The dirty secret of the insurers and their imperious reinsurers is their need for stable and slowly growing rates of death, injury, and property destruction, in order to scare tens of billions of premium dollars out of consumers, businesses, and nonprofits. Casualties are their inventory, and they like to keep their inventory growing as long as they can keep their premiums rising. Perhaps the dirtiest part of the secret, all the advertising about their concern for health and safety notwithstanding, is that they not only do little to reduce casualties but at times have actively discouraged efforts to save life and limb. In a few cases -- Allstate with air bags, liberty Mutual with rehabilitating injured workers -- the concern goes beyond propaganda and is actually translated into action, but these are lights in an ocean of darkness.

"Before I elaborate on this tragedy of tragedies, a short history of the ugly mutation of the property and casualty insurance industry is necessary. In the early industrial evolution of our country, boiler explosions and the ensuing fires were major perils in factories. They were terrible events. They were frequent. The industrialists were persuaded to take out insurance policies to cover the destruction -- hence the Hartford Boiler Insurance Company, among others. These early insurers derived their profits from premiums minus expenses, so it made obvious sense to demand safer boilers and inspect them regularly. The insurers did not wait upon the factories; they actually spent money on research to improve the boilers and develop more stringent safety specifications -- that is, they took an engineering approach to loss prevention. Ah, that sacred mantra of today's forked tongues -- loss prevention. For most of the nineteenth century, whatever less desirable sales tactics may have been employed, the coming of the insurance man meant the coming of a safety sentinel. You may wonder why our industry doesn't brag about this part of its past, doesn't publish books and encourage movies about some of the more heroic actions the early insurers took to reduce risks. The answer isn't far to seek. Today the transformation of insurers from essentially engineering-driven companies to financially driven companies is almost total, and the industry has suffered a convenient case of amnesia with regard to its own history.

"Let me illustrate current practice with a simple example. If a contemporary insurance executive were offered a choice between a $500 premium with a $250 payout or a $1,000 premium with a $500 payout, which do you think he would take? No question that he'd take the $1,000 premium, because then he'd have $500 to invest instead of a mere $250. Investment income is the honeypot of the insurance industry. They reserve not just for a rainy day but for a permanently expanding investment fund. Their dream is to have such a large reserve that it functions like an endowment and they can pay claims with the investment income on the reserve. And of course, the more they reserve, the more they can deduct from current income, which is why insurance companies have paid so little in federal taxes over the decades.

"A word about the federal tax code as it relates to insurance companies. The insurance section of the IRS code is more complex and inscrutable than any other section, so much so that an IRS commissioner once agreed with the proposition that fewer people understand it than understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity. When tax codes are inscrutable, they are not likely to be enforced, as the same IRS commissioner acknowledged. Where is the IRS going to find experts to explain the code in a court of law? The few who can already work for the industry. Besides, determining noncompliance is an exhausting task that the IRS doesn't begin to have the resources to pursue. Over the years, the industry's formidable phalanx of specialized attorneys, accountants, and actuaries has deterred the IRS from so much as peeping in their direction.

"The relevance of the tax code to the subject of this hearing is clear. By its very impotence, it facilitates all kinds of mechanisms the industry uses to swell investment returns from reserve funds that are greatly in excess of any actuarial necessity. The result is that people are overpaying for diminished protection while the pathetic state insurance 'regulators' fiddle and faddle until they receive job offers to work in the very industry they're overseeing -- that is, if they don't come from the industry in the first place. And state legislators with committee jurisdiction over the industry haven't just been coopted, they've been organized by the insurance lobby to protect the industry's interests actively and even defiantly, in what amounts to a form of corporate statism.

"Moving from the infrastructure of avarice and myopia to the business of sustaining a sufficient level of lethality, I direct your attention to an important case study in my appendixes relating to fires. Fire insurers need fires. Without a sufficient number of fires they can't sell as much insurance or charge as much for it. Per capita deaths by fire in this country are three times greater than in Japan and many Western European countries. Fire prevention is a well-established series of applied technologies and rules, from building codes to fire detectors to the location and equipping of fire stations. If we know that fires can be sharply reduced or at least limited in their damage through these means, why does our country lag so far behind?

"In the 1960s, the people at the US Bureau of Standards in the Maryland suburbs were astonished to notice the dampening stance of the insurance companies toward initiatives underway within the bureau to expand fire prevention research and development. The bureau's staff was disappointed but understood the motivation behind the resistance. Name any area of preventable death, injury, or disease, any economic activity involving risks that have not yet materialized fully or significantly, and you will not see a serious loss prevention presence from the insurance industry.

"Take the last century's death toll from motor vehicle crashes. There were two serious efforts at loss prevention in the postwar period. In the early sixties, a Liberty Mutual engineering vice president named Crandall rebuilt a conventional American four-door sedan with numerous safety features that we now take for granted, such as seat belts, padded dashboards, and stronger door latches. In the seventies, Allstate got a lot of good publicity for pressing the auto companies to install air bags as standard equipment. But such enlightened examples from within their own industry did not persuade the other insurance companies to match the efforts of these two safety-conscious firms. Think of the lives that could have been saved. That noble objective was not enough to make the insurers back their occasional verbal salutes to loss prevention with deeds. Or take motorcycle helmets, proven to reduce fatal head injuries in crashes. State laws requiring helmets -- laws that prevent some two thousand deaths and many injuries a year, often among younger Americans -- are being repealed with no real opposition from the insurers, except for two small industry-funded groups with grossly inadequate budgets.

"Whether it's hazardous household products, faulty truck brakes, phony vehicle bumpers, unsafe railroad bridges, pharmaceuticals with devastating side effects, toxic chemicals in the workplace or in consumer products, dangerous working conditions in factories, farms, and mines, or a host of aviation perils -- like thirty-plus neglectful years of penetrable cockpit doors and latches, from the spate of Cuban hijackings in the late sixties and early seventies to the easy cockpit break-ins by the 9/11 hijackers -- the same pattern repeats itself. Why, just insisting on simple roll-bars for tractors would have saved the lives of tens of thousands of farmers in the twentieth century. But when small, budget- squeezed consumer, environmental, and labor organizations were on the front lines exposing these perils, demanding federal and state action, and insisting on corporate responsibility, the giant insurance companies and their foundations and PR machines and lobbying associations stayed home.

"As if the abandonment of loss prevention weren't bad enough, there are junctures where the industry turns to active and vicious assaults on victims and their rights to legal remedies. Insurers have comfortable periods when claims are stable and premiums ample and investment returns robust, but every ten years or so, when interest rates and stock prices decline appreciably, the insurance companies find their returns falling and dust off the 'crisis con job.' They threaten skyrocketing premiums or withdraw coverage from selective markets, and then they point the businesses and professions they're gouging toward the legislatures. 'That's where the solutions are,' they tell their frightened and frantic customers, 'go there for relief, demand a rollback of tort law and restrictions on the amount of compensation that can be awarded for serious injuries in the courts of law.' Yes, get the money-greased absentee legislators to tie the hands of juries and judges, the only ones who see, hear, and evaluate these cases before an open court of law. With every passing decade, tort law, a historic form of quality control for our industry, has steadily been tipped in favor of big companies accused of harm. Even our ancient right of trial by jury isn't sacred in this financially driven crusade to shred judicial protections by legislative fiat. J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner and federal insurance administrator, has reported on this callous pattern of attack on the innocent injured, when even the investment business has learned to live with cyclical stock downturns since the 1970s. His studies are in my appendixes for the record.

"It is well known how inimical insurance companies are to government regulation of any kind, even though without it they would have flirted with insolvency many a time by overextending themselves. What is not well known, apart from a mandated antitrust exemption, is the industry's lust for government regulation to eliminate, reduce, or subsidize the financial risks nominally underwritten by the insurers. This alliance with government produces a further mockery of their presumed loss prevention function.

"A good example is atomic power. In the fifties, no company would insure a nuclear power plant because there was no actuarial history, and because the little that was known sent chills up the insurers' spines. One radioactive scenario from the industry-friendly Atomic Energy Commission suggested that a meltdown at a nuclear plant would contaminate an area the size of Pennsylvania. So what did the industry agree to? The Price-Anderson Act, which severely limited the liability of utilities owning nuclear plants against claims from the devastated areas, and which is still the law of the land. Now, there are times when an activity or a technology is so risky that it is prudent for insurance companies to deny coverage. Denial of coverage can be an incentive to reduce risks to an acceptable level -- another form of loss prevention. Limiting liability by law does just the opposite, but Price-Anderson is what the industry chose to support.

"Another good example is medical incompetence, a silent epidemic that produces countless injuries and nearly a hundred thousand deaths a year, excluding the two hundred fifty or so people who die each day from hospital-acquired infections, as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control. So how do the medical malpractice insurers behave? They refuse to implement experience-loss ratings that would raise premiums for bad physicians and lower premiums for good ones. They also hike premiums by reclassifying medical specialties -- from three in the 1950s to more than twenty today -- to reduce the insurable pool per specialty per state. You've heard the outraged cries of physicians blaming their off-the-chart annual premiums on trial lawyers, juries, and the tort system. Don't believe it. There are some nutty verdicts, often overturned, but either way it's all a seedy cover to get you and the states to reduce liability and make it harder for plaintiffs to have their day in court than it already is, with ninety percent of medical malpractice victims not even filing claims. I'm reminded of what the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told a convention of doctors: 'Unlike you, my friends, we cannot bury our mistakes.'

"Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I have only sketched in the briefest manner an industry that has turned grotesquely on its own history, its own mission as the nation's safety and health sentinel, and its own vested interest in reducing claims. Its unchallenged power has turned this former incentive into a perverse incentive for inaction, surrender, cowardliness, the cover-up of known safety defects, and an aggressive attack on deterrence and on the laws that protect millions of innocent Americans.

"The insurance business has rarely attracted the best and the brightest of executive talent. It is, after all, a fairly simple business, a business of large numbers -- money in, money making more money, less money out. Why couldn't the government engage in this type of routine transaction without the duplication, the massive overhead and executive salaries -- look at the chiefs of the big HMOs -- and the profitable waste built into such sectors as health insurance? It could. That's for you to decide." At this point, the ten CEOs sitting behind Peter blanched, all the arrogant composure of their exalted corporate status seeming to drain from them. "After all, you make flood insurance possible by guaranteeing it with the full faith and credit of the US government. You make crop insurance possible in the same way. More and more, the insurance lobbies are putting you in the position of reinsurance, making big profits while they lay the ultimate risk on Uncle Sam's shoulders. Best of all possible worlds, no? Uncle Sam, the all-purpose guarantor for more and more of the insurance economy. And that doesn't include the Washington bailouts.

"Another little-noticed aspect of the industry is the inbuilt conflict of interest between its big customers and its small customers. When insurers write policies for large industrial companies in, say, directors' and officers' liability, product liability, or workers' compensation, they knowingly place themselves in potential conflict with individuals they've insured, as in the case of an auto insurance customer injured on the highway because of a tire defect the manufacturer is responsible for. If you, the Congress, were in possession of all the files of the insurance underwriters regarding hazardous conditions, toxic exposures, product defects, reckless professionals, et cetera, almost none of which are being reported to safety and public health authorities, I'm certain that you would be outraged enough to take legislative action.

"In summary, the capitalist incentive that used to drive the insurance companies to reduce their costs by actively assuring safer conditions has been turned on its head. On its head! As long as they can increase their premiums and reduce their liability through legislative action, they will continue to ignore their health and safety responsibilities. Sure, they'll take out some ads to the contrary, their insurance agents will take part in community safety efforts -- say, safer crosswalks for schoolchildren -- but these are pittances relative to what this trillion-dollar industry could do for our economy and for the well-being of millions of people. By returning to their historic role of loss prevention, insurers could incur the gratitude of everyone except the funeral and hospital industries. They could reduce the immense costs of property damage. Merely by working for more protective vehicle bumpers instead of the chrome eyebrows used now, they could save lives and dollars. Three hundred people die every year in rear-end collisions with big trucks. In dense fog and on slippery highways, bumpers can stop cars from being submarined under the backs of trucks. Even though bumpers have been proven effective in the prevention of these cases, trucks are not required by law to have them. Billions of dollars in avoidable repair bills would be saved with seven-mile-an-hour bumpers on all vehicles. The industry knows this but by and large could care less.

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your patience and interest in a situation that affects your constituents every day of their lives. They will be most pleased that you have taken this bold initiative. I look forward to your questioning and that of the committee, and I particularly look forward to your subsequent examination of my colleagues just behind me who have graced us with their presence here today. For the reporters in this hearing room, I recommend that you immerse yourselves in the specifics of the appendixes I've placed in the record, which will keep your investigative talents working overtime. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman."

"And thank you, Mr. Lewis, for making visible that tip of the insurance iceberg and the industry's perverse incentive, as you call it," Senator Merchant said. "My first question relates to you. In your long career building your own insurance company, have you been doing the same things you accuse your competitors of doing?"

"Yes, with a few notable exceptions here and there."

"Then with all due respect, why should we listen to you?"

"Because I have now chosen to do the right thing, which is to blow the whistle that could prevent the untold casualties and costs continually inflicted on the American people. To quote Martin Luther King, 'I am free at last, free at last.'''

"Is this new role you've fashioned for yourself going to be an advantage to your company?" the chairman asked.

"I hope it will be an advantage to all companies in all insurance lines. I hope we'll all be hiring more engineers and health specialists and fewer financial analysts."

"Thank you, Mr. Lewis. I have no further questions at this time. My colleagues will now commence their questioning."

"These advertisements you've been running in the newspapers and on television -- who is paying for them?" asked Senator Prune.

"I'm paying for them, Senator. You see, I'm a very rich man."

"If you had one bit of advice for your ten CEO friends sitting here, what would it be?" asked Senator Catskill.

"Reverse the perverse incentive. If you feel you can't, then ask the government to provide uniform requirements for the entire industry. If you won't, then quit."

"Very succinct, Mr. Lewis," said Senator Foxer. "Do you have proposed legislation to 'reverse the perverse incentive'?"

"Yes indeed. A comprehensive analysis, together with a proposed statute and a section-by-section analysis, is in the appendixes for your consideration. It foresees a new day for America in terms of health, safety, economic and taxpayer efficiencies, and the innovations prompted thereby. This is big, Senator, really big. I would be delighted were you and your colleagues to take the time to absorb the practicality of my proposals and their long-term beneficial consequences, including insurance industry leadership against global warming and other effects of fossil fuel technology that could have calamitous consequences at a period in our nation's future when you and I are pushing up daisies."

Senator Sunup raised his eyebrows. "Global warming? Mr. Lewis, aren't you going rather far afield? Aren't you really proposing an insurance industry that will be a health and safety Nazi vis-a-vis its customers? Isn't this just a new tyranny of a new bottom line?"

"Hardly, Senator. Already some European insurers and reinsurers are taking global warming very seriously and lobbying their governments for energy efficiency and energy conservation policies. A great economy adjusts to save itself as well as others."

"Well, Mr. Lewis," drawled Senator Bitter, "we've got a saying down where I come from in Louisiana, and after listening to you go on and on, I'll say it. This dog don't hunt. Are you going through an end-life crisis?"

"Our world is going through an end-life crisis, Senator. I want to use what time I have left to improve my country, to make it an example for other nations to emulate, to give all the world cause to say, 'God bless America.' Congress can help mightily to make that happen."

As Peter's words rang out in the hearing room, the audience sat mesmerized. The proceedings had reached an emotional pitch seldom seen on Capitol Hill. Some of the CEOs were wiping their brows with their monogrammed handkerchiefs, and not because the room was warm. In the press section, the reporters were licking their chops in expectation of the CEOs' imminent hari-kari performance. Peter's charges were humming on the wire services and over radio and cable TV even before the questioning got underway. The story was clearly going to lead the evening network news, barring some major tragedy.

At the back of the hearing room, the attorneys for the ten CEOs were huddling in great agitation. Fortunately for them, Chairman Merchant announced a ninety-minute lunch break, whereupon they hustled their clients into limousines and drove to a nearby corporate law firm on Pennsylvania Avenue. In a secure twelfth-floor suite, they ordered in sandwiches, soup, and drinks, and then the hoariest of the lawyers, a celebrated adviser to presidents, stood to address the CEOs.

"Gentlemen, this hearing is more than an embarrassment, more than a media riot, he declared in stentorian tones. "It is a grave danger to each of you personally. Without knowing the exact nature of Lewis's accusations, without having digested his hundreds of pages of appendixes that name names, places, and dates, we are able to counsel you only for your own legal protection, not for that of your companies."

"That's certainly an unusual statement by legal counsel, said the CEO of the country's largest health insurer. "I always like to think that the CEO and his company are the same for purposes of policy positions. To divide us from our companies is to open a huge can of worms that might lead to our compensation packages."

"Ordinarily you would be quite correct," said the hoary lead counsel, "but this isn't an ordinary situation. First, Lewis's charges are essentially unrebuttable in the setting of a congressional hearing. You can of course allude to some of the positive steps you've taken, but he has already anticipated and belittled them. Years ago, the auto company chieftains tried that before a Senate hearing in attempting to rebut a young critic who charged that they had done little to make their cars safer. The Senate committee handed them their heads. It was disastrous. Coercive legislation followed very quickly."

"There are times when the only advice is the least worst advice," said one of the younger lawyers.

"There are times when you have to be prepared for the worst by avoiding it," said another.

"The worst, gentlemen, is prosecution for perjury and imprisonment," said a third.

"What did you say?" chorused the ten CEOs.

"I am afraid, gentlemen," the hoary lead counsel intoned, "that this is the time for you to be afraid. You are about to enter an arena in which you are highly vulnerable. The chairman is going to play to the crowd. Our sources tell us that his questions are going to be CEO-specific and company-specific, and that three other senators are prepared to follow up. There are no time limits to this hearing. Once you are up there, there is little we can do to help you. We can confer with you at the witness table, but that irritates the committee and breeds suspicion among the reporters. It makes it seem that we have something to hide. As your attorneys, we have consulted among ourselves and come to the same conclusion as to what we must advise you to do."

"And what is that?" asked the CEO of one of the auto insurance giants.

"You must take the Fifth Amendment."

Cries of outrage filled the room: "What? You can't be serious!" "The Fifth Amendment? Are you crazy?" "We aren't criminals, sir!"

"Gentlemen," said the hoary lead counsel, "If you do not take the Fifth, you are asking for trouble. Permit me to explain. You will be under oath. The chairman doesn't want this to be a one-day hearing, so you may find yourselves testifying for days. The questions that will come at you are designed to make you perjure yourselves. We can show you some sequences if you like, but there is little time and this is our unanimous advice -- the best of a bad range of options. During the uproar after the hearing concludes, your counsel will address the press and explain that the hearing was booby- trapped and that you were not given the nature of the charges so you could prepare yourselves in due time. We'll play you as the victims of a witch-hunt by a chairman desperate to save his political career. In the coming days, we'll advise you about how to reach other members of the committee through lobbying and campaign contributions so as to abort further hearings requiring your presence. For now, you just have to keep a stiff upper lip. We'll provide you cover with the media as you're whisked out of the building to your limos.

"Now, here is exactly how you are to proceed when the hearing resumes this afternoon. You will make no opening statements. My associates are passing out copies of the script we've prepared for you once the questioning begins. Do not try to embellish, or you'll be deemed to have waived your right to take the Fifth. We have prefaced the actual plea with courteous remarks of a general nature, to convey your respect for the committee and your solemn obligation to your shareholders and employees. Please rehearse these words in the few minutes we have left so that you can declare them at the hearing with executive strength and forthrightness, on advice of counsel. This will shift the spotlight to us, and we know how to talk to the press in such situations. Some of us have represented organized crime figures before congressional committees, so we are not without experience. We are of course drawing no parallels here, merely reassuring you of our professional abilities."

It was fortunate that the CEOs had downed their lunch by this time, though to judge by the whiteness of their faces, there was no guarantee it would stay down.

Promptly at 2:00 p.m., Senator Merchant brought the hearing to order again. The CEOs were asked to take their seats at the long witness table, shoulder to shoulder. They were asked to stand. Then, with a dozen photographers clicking away, they all raised their hands and took the oath. You could have cut the suspense and tension in the room with a knife.

"Please be seated and commence with your opening statements, gentlemen," Senator Merchant said, "from left to right if you will."

"I have no opening statement, Mr. Chairman," said the first CEO.

"I have no opening statement, Mr. Chairman," said the second.

"I have no opening statement, Mr. Chairman," said the next.

By this time murmurs were coursing through the audience. Expressions of wonderment adorned the faces of the more seasoned reporters and guests, who knew just how unusual this scene was. As each of the remaining CEOs declined to make an opening statement, Chairman Merchant began to suspect that something was fishy. Business executives always had opening statements crafted to put their best feet forward, establish cordial relations with the committee, and anticipate the overall pattern of questioning.

"Very well, gentlemen," he said. "In that case, we can proceed to the questioning all the more quickly."

It took three or four questions per CEO, but inside fifteen minutes they had all taken the Fifth.

"Very well, gentlemen," the chairman repeated. "You've made your choice. You refuse to respond to charges from one of your industry's most successful executives. You'll have to live with the consequences. This hearing is adjourned!"

The audience was dumbfounded. The press raced to file the stunning story. For once, Peter was all but speechless, telling a clutch of reporters in the hallway, "I have no idea what they're up to. All I have are suspicions, which I can't share with you for just that reason. I guess we'll just have to wait and see."

And what of the chairman? He was basking in the sun of being the white hat, the good guy who launched this wave of criticism of the widely disliked insurance companies. Immediately after adjourning the hearing, he issued a statement to the effect that his staff would continue the investigation, but everyone who knew him understood that his words were pro forma. He'd milked the cow, and he had enough to last him until November, given the legs this controversy was sure to have and all the interviews he would be asked to give.

That evening the late-edition tabloids had a lot to scream about: "Top Whistle-blower's Barrage Provokes Insurance CEOs into Taking the Fifth," "New Merchants of Death, Charges Top Insurance Tycoon," "Insurance Industry Lets People Die for profits." All three network newscasts led with the story. No one who saw the coverage that night would ever forget the spectacle of the ten CEOs standing to take the oath and then taking the Fifth. It was as indelible a visual as when the tobacco executives swore before Congress that they did not believe that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer.

Over the next few days, the specialized insurance press bored deeper. Since most of these publications were essentially house organs, they had no trouble contacting inside sources that would level with them about what was going on. What they were told was that the only way for the industry to keep this story from exploding was to ignore it and take the brickbats. An editorial in the Insurance Gazette argued that turning away from the controversy was a mistake, that the industry was underestimating Peter, just as it had when he was a small auto insurer. Hadn't he already spent big bucks saturating the country with his charges before the hearing? What made them think he would stop now because ten CEOs stonewalled a Senate committee?
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:02 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 7 CONT'D.)

True to the Gazette's prediction, Peter unleashed another torrent of ads filled with juicy tidbits from his appendixes and calls for further investigation. The PCC and the newly launched Insurance CUB ran with the incriminating evidence. The lecturers had fresh material. The aborning Congress Watchdog Groups demanded action from their senators and representatives. Some of the credibility groups saw how they had been betrayed. The lunchtime rallies made Peter's testimony their main theme and struck new nerves in the white-collar crowd. The sustainable sub-economy people took up the matter of cooperative self-insurance entities to break the dependency on the perversely incentivized insurance industry. Promotions took off with the hearings, and Barry decided to devote his Injustice of the Day segment to insurance abuses for the next two weeks, soliciting audience reaction in follow-up call-in shows.

It wasn't long before whistle-blowers began emerging to confirm Peter's charges in abundant detail. Files were leaked, putting a goodly portion of manufacturers and corporations on the defensive. As they tried to cope with outraged victims, trial attorneys, and hospitals, deceived professional societies and regulatory agencies, one sector after another sought to evade responsibility. It wasn't us, said the manufacturers. It wasn't us, said their wholesalers and dealers. It wasn't us, said their insurance agents when greeted with skepticism at Rotary and Kiwanis luncheons. Ministers and rabbis started sprinkling their sermons with citations from Leviticus on the subject of knowing thy neighbor to be endangered and not speaking out. Day after day, the press mined the now fabled appendixes and upped the ante, vying to deliver the most dramatic stories of the impact of the perverse incentive on regular people and their deceased or injured kin. Imagine the plight of hundreds of thousand of insurance agents inundated by millions of calls from customers who sounded like White Sox fans in 1919 pleading with Shoeless Joe Jackson to "say it ain't so."

By the end of the second week after the hearing, product liability suits were being filed right and left, and public demands for product recalls rose sharply. Manufacturers quickly scheduled expensive seminars at large urban hotels to train insurance specialists in quality control, inspections, and the wide array of safety standards and specifications in various areas. Some companies got the message and quietly began hiring more engineers and chemists and biologists. The auto insurers gave the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety an adequate contribution for a change, targeted to its crash- testing of vehicles for operating safety and bumper integrity. Long-recalcitrant insurers joined formally with their corporate compadres to expand the work of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Some state insurance regulators, prodded by their attorneys general, even opened investigations.

Peter watched it all with relish and no little wonder. Global warming might be causing problems here on Earth, but apparently Hell was freezing over.

***

Meanwhile, back at the Redirections Ranch, the Secretariat was hard-pressed to keep up with the breakneck pace of developments and the torrent of media attention. Coverage of the Sun God festivals had peaked while the core group was meeting in Maui, with articles in the business pages, the real estate pages, the science pages, the religion pages, and even analyses by two prominent architectural critics. Ted was especially gratified by the religious furor the Sun God provoked in the televangelical world, with its hundreds of radio and TV outlets, magazines, and newsletters. Fire-and-brimstone. Sunday sermons denounced such idolatry, such heresy, but viewers, listeners, and readers all over the country were getting the solar message one way or another as the media followed up with stories on the practical uses and benefits of solar energy for this generation and those to come. From the responses on Ted's Sunrise website, it was clear that people everywhere were talking about the solar festivals and touting their own solar energy uses, from heating water to powering highway signs and remote naval installations.

The Pot-In had also continued to generate headlines, and within a week of the demonstration and subsequent arrests, fifty-three members of the House and seventeen senators had signed on to Congressman Don Saul's legislation "to free industrial hemp from the Dark Ages of ignorance," as he put it. The lawmakers were angry enough at the manhandling on the reservations to get the facts, and then they got angrier. "It is remarkable what organized street action can produce when it combines facts with passion," said Congressman Saul in a CBS clip replayed during one of the core group's daily closed-circuit updates, prompting Yoko to pronounce, "This is the dawn of the Carbohydrate Revolution."

The Time magazine cover story had turned out to be little more than a summary in typical Timese of what the press had reported in bits and pieces during the previous two months. Nothing new, except for bringing it all together under the Time banner. "The business rebellion against big business is gaining unprecedented momentum and appears not to be haphazard or random. The rebels seem to be aware of each other, though to what extent is not yet known," the story concluded. The magazine flew off the newsstands, and letters to the editor poured in, many of them suggesting injustices that would invite further rebellion, some saying that the business rebels were destroying the free enterprise system, others urging the rebels to go international so as not to undermine the global competitiveness of US companies.

In the wake of the Time piece, Newsweek began preparing its own cover story. Business Week came out with a short article and a long editorial supporting the rebels, citing many of its past stories about corporate malfeasance, "now under challenge from within the business community itself." The Wall Street Journal's editorialist begged to dissent, sniffing at the rebels as "modern-day Trojan horses bringing subversive forces into the market system under false pretenses," and urging the business community to wake up and face the tumultuous reality sweeping America. He did not specify what facing the reality meant.

As for the right-wing corporatists on talk radio, they didn't know what to make of it all, and tried to discount their increasing numbers of antagonistic callers as "first-timers on the radical fringe." Pawn Vanity sharply attacked a caller who charged that he was using the public airwaves to make millions for himself while paying nothing in return. "Possession is ninety percent of the law, and I've got possession," Pawn scoffed. "Maybe not for long, you freeloader," replied the caller before Pawn pulled the plug on him with a disgusted snicker.

Such was the pompous old order, which did not have a clue what was coming over the horizon as Barry, Phil, and Bill Cosby put the finishing touches on their plan to take back the airwaves. The corporate talking heads had no idea that they were about to be labeled Welfare Kings who fed at the trough in Washington, DC, and sponged off the public while shutting out the voices of freethinking people and showcasing their dittoheads.

Barry outlined the overall strategy, which was to use the Redirections projects to educate as many millions of people as possible as quickly as possible. On the last Wednesday in March, the lunchtime rallies would surround major television stations in fourteen cities and then watch the quandary. Would these stations report this extraordinary protest against their theft of the public airwaves, or would they ignore it and become grist for the rest of the media's holier-than-thou ridicule? The largest rally would take place at the headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, to highlight where the authority rested to do something about the heist that had been going on since the 1927 Radio Act and the 1934 Communications Act -- billions and billions of dollars owed to the people via their government but never paid because the laws allowing free use of the spectrum were written under the giant lobbying eye of the nascent radio industry. "What self-respecting business would ever give away its property?" the ralliers would demand -- an argument impossible for any self-respecting capitalist to refute.

Barry and his colleagues agreed that at this point they would restrict their attack to the broadcasters' free use of the public's property and show how the rents owed could fund wholesome entertainment and educational programming. The Audience Network idea and other proposals for the sharing of daily spectrum time were deferred until an aroused public could provide an independent force -- a media CUB -- to counter the powerful National Association of Broadcasters lobby. Meanwhile, they would rely on the rallies, the lecturers, the new Cable CUB, and the other Redirections for a relentless buildup of public anger at being cheated. The PCC would urge Congress to hold hearings and act. Promotions would line up prominent media people and honest brokers like former FCC commissioner Nick Johnson for interviews.

Once the Congress Watchdog Groups got underway, payment for use of the public airwaves would be one of the first issues out of the box for them. They would draft legislation starting with a preamble of findings on the broadcast industry's emphasis on trivia, sports, constant weather forecasts, fluff, chitchat, and eight to nine minutes of advertising in a thirty-minute news program, at the expense of hard reporting, stories presenting different sides of controversial issues, and the news needs of the local community as ascertained from community input. The key to defeating the media powers -- and they almost never lost in the nation's capital -- was to pressure them and the Congress from all sides simultaneously.

The two hundred field organizers carefully recruited to enlist the two thousand core citizens for the Congress Watchdogs in each district were filing daily e-mail diaries with their nerve center in Washington. From their dispatches, it was increasingly apparent that they were finding both their feet and their voice as they moved through town and countryside looking for gathering places where people actually talked to one another -- not as easy a task as it would have been fifty or a hundred years ago. These days people were glued to TV screens in public places like airports and waiting rooms, or were rushing through their sandwiches in fast-food outlets. It was too early for Little League and softball games, and bowling leagues were not very conducive to talk. For the most part, the union halls were shrouded in an air of depression, no longer home to expansive hopes. But bars were still bars, even with their ubiquitous TVs. The Elks, the VFW, the American Legion, the Shriners and Knights of Columbus still believed in person-to-person conversation. And beer. It was mostly men who frequented these places. Better bets for women were Grange meetings, potluck suppers, church functions, garden clubs, book clubs, daycare facilities, and senior centers. There were lunch counters and family-owned restaurants, and people were always chatting in barbershops and beauty salons, though jokes and gossip tended to predominate.

Adjusting to the individuation of American society, the organizers started striking up conversations with people waiting for buses and subways, construction workers on their lunch break, office workers getting some air in urban parks. People walking their dogs in these small green oases turned out to be good prospects, even if the conversation was frequently interrupted by yelps and wayward canines. The dynamic two hundred learned to seize every one-on-one opportunity while continuing to mine the group gatherings.

One chilly March evening in Buffalo, New York, an organizer named Kyle Corey went into Clancy's Cave, ordered a Bud, and sat down at a corner table. As he nursed his beer, he couldn't help overhearing an unusually animated conversation at the adjacent table, where five or six friends just happened to be spouting off on their working-class grievances and all the media coverage they'd seen on "those retired super-rich guys."

"I think some of these billionaires got grudges from years back and mean to get even by getting mean," said a guy in a Bills jacket. "I don't trust 'em as far as I could throw the Prudential Building, but it's great for us working folks while it lasts."

"You can bet it won't last, Stan," said a pale middle-aged woman with a pencil stuck behind her ear. "For twenty years I've been keeping the books for one corporation or another, and I can tell you that whenever anyone on the inside starts a dustup, they always end up cutting a deal."

"Don't jump to conclusions, Jackie. What about the Pledge the Truth drive? It could have been just a flashy issue on that celebrity telethon a while back, but now it's a bill before Congress. And my students have learned more from a month of saying 'with liberty and justice for some' than they'd get from their textbooks in a year. Or how about those big lunchtime rallies? A friend of mine went to a lecture at his Rotary club the other night and met some people who are planning to get one going here."

"So what, Mike?" Jackie said. "It won't come to anything."

Mike pointed at the TV over the bar, where the evening news was showing footage from the day's rallies. "Just look at them, will you? These are people like us. They're talking like us. They're hard-working stiffs who want better wages, health insurance, pension protection, the whole ball of wax. They want a voice that's heard!"

"All I know," a young man in an army jacket said quietly, "is that I got my money back from an insurance company that ripped me off when I was in Iraq, because some law students helped me win in small claims court for free. They told me some billionaire lawyer from Texas was funding them. Okay, maybe it's not such a big deal, but it shows a feeling for the little guy, and that's not a feeling we get from the politicians. They love us when we're heading out to war and forget us when we come back."

The woman sitting next to him put a muscled arm around his shoulder. "Honey, that's the god's truth. But listen, maybe it is a big deal. You know why I think something's going on? I keep the radio on low on my bus routes, and the Bush Bimbaugh types are having kittens. They're going nuts over these rich old guys, calling them senile, traitors to capitalism, threats to their beloved Wal-Mart. I don't know, there are lots of pieces here, but I'm watching the news and reading the paper every day. It's almost exciting."

"Hey, Ernie, how about another round over here," Mike called to the bartender.

"Hell, yes," Stan said, "and it's on me this time. We'll drink to the revolution of the super-rich, as my union boss calls it. May they blow the whole rotten system to hell."

Kyle picked up his beer and went over to the group. "Mind if I join you?" An hour later, Mike O'Malley found himself signing on for the New York State Twenty-seventh District Congress Watchdog Group, and the Iraq vet was giving it serious thought. When Kyle got home that night, he described his visit to Clancy's Cave in his e-mail diary and sent it off to the nerve center, where other organizers read it and reported that they were hearing similar spontaneous conversations more and more, often vehement and studded with four-letter words, including the name of the president.

When these reports were conveyed to the core group at the next day's closed-circuit conference, there was cautious optimism. If ordinary people were talking about the Pledge and the PCS and so on, the Redirections were starting to get through. "The revolt of the masses," said Bernard, recalling his radical father's words, "always starts in the bars and cafes, where people can think freely without the big bosses looking over their shoulders. What we need now is a Tom Paine-type pamphlet to get into millions of hands. What about going to Dick Goodwin on this? He did a great job on the Beatty campaign. He knows how to bring home what the working classes and the dispossessed are going through, with just the right mix of outrage, historical allusions, patriotism, and appeals to enlightened self-interest, all in marvelously inspirational language." Bernard's proposal met with immediate support, and Barry said he would call Dick right away.

Throughout March, Warren devoted the bulk of the closed-circuit updates to the Clean Elections Party and the looming state deadlines. This project would be the sternest test so far of Recruitment and Promotions. Getting the word out for petitioners, organizers, and candidates in the selected districts meant relentless media exposure and website action. As the resumes flowed in, Recruitment had to process, reject, or accept for almost immediate deployment. Attorneys were standing by, ready to move the moment they received word from one state after another.

Electoral Reform put out a special call for someone to serve as titular head and public face of the Clean Elections Party. Recruitment proposed five good prospects, and Leonard interviewed them, deciding for reasons of credibility to choose two individuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum: Phyllis Schlafly, outspoken social conservative and longtime critic of "dirty-money elections," in her phrase, and John Bonifaz, a Harvard-trained lawyer who had written widely that the "wealth primary," as he called it, was unconstitutional. Each agreed to curtail their other commitments and devote half their time to the CEP for the next eight months.

By the end of the third week of March, Congress was beginning to feel the Redirectional heat. According to the Corporate Crime Reporter (CCR), the House and Senate Appropriations Committees were beefing up budgets for enforcing the laws against corporate crime, some by as much as 50 percent, after years of stagnation or actual decline in funding for the various regulatory agencies and the Justice Department. It was a sign, said the CCR, that key politicians had put their fingers to the wind and sensed an approaching gale. Congressional eyebrows were further raised by reports from their home offices that local service clubs -- Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, League of Women Voters, etc. -- were inviting a new breed of organizers and lecturers to their weekly meetings, perhaps at the urging of maverick members, perhaps out of sheer boredom with the usual fare, or perhaps because of the admirable comportment, cogent observations, and common sense of the speakers. Whatever the reason, the reception accorded these visitors was thoughtful and largely positive. The audiences seemed to feel that change was long overdue and that the greed of the big boys was out of control, as no one understood better than the small businessmen and businesswomen who made up much of the membership of these groups. At the close of their presentations, the lecturers took questions, and the first was usually "Who's paying you to do what you're doing?" To which they truthfully replied, "Some billionaires who love their country, by which they mean loving the people of their country. They want nothing more than to give back. That's all I know about them."

Over at First-Stage Improvements, Max, Sol, and Jeno were deliberately keeping things under the media radar, in part to give the wide and deep infrastructure time to become established and operational, and in part because their experts from Analysis couldn't agree on how and when to go forward with each improvement. They were all champions of justice, they all had a record of working to "make human beings more human," in Benjamin Franklin's words, but they were used to puffing on their pipes and pondering for hours in their armchairs. Mark Green, a veteran mobilizer of policy wonks, was brought in to expedite their deliberations, and they soon found themselves on a fast assembly line. Max, Sol, and Jeno were hard taskmasters with a shortened concept of time. For now, though, until the groundwork was firmly in place and the fire they'd lit under their eggheads produced some heat, they agreed that the Wal-Mart campaign would be their project's standard-bearer.

***

On the last Monday in March, Lob Corsage sat in the comfortable dining room of the Cato Institute's fine new building on Massachusetts Avenue, reviewing his notes for the speech he was about to give to a luncheon meeting of Institute fellows and guests. A libertarian-conservative think tank heavily funded by business types, the Cato Institute was so active in its various convocations that it seemed to be a fixture on C-SPAN. Today the dining room was crowded, as Corsage was a well-known analyst who had sponsored many a conference of his own, bringing together liberals of various stripes to ponder the current and the coming. His speech was titled "A Progressive Look at the Progressive Revival."

As the diners were finishing their excellent meals, Corsage rose to acknowledge the spicy but kind introduction by Cato's president, and then he commenced.

"Ladies and gentlemen, my words today flow from my hope for a progressive revival in this great land of ours. I venture to call it a hope, and not an illusion or delusion, because of encouraging signs from many quarters over the last few months. Allow me to enumerate them.

"First, the polls. In part because of the recent rash of corporate scandals, the public is demanding stronger regulation and expressing a lack of confidence in business. More and more, this response is cutting across party lines, reflecting the hits taken by workers, pension funds, and small investors in all geographic regions -- red and blue states alike, if you will.

"Second, there is growing anti-corporate activity on the campuses -- always a bellwether. The students are increasingly critical of the outsourcing of health insurance and the high cost of student loans, textbooks, and housing. Since the protest is proceeding significantly from economic insecurity, it isn't as ideological as it was in the sixties or as it still is in the environmental area.

"Third, there are more bestsellers among populist books criticizing plutocrats, oligarchs, and runaway executives with their outrageous self-determined overcompensation. Sales still don't match those of conservative tomes, but they're climbing. In a similar vein, progressive documentaries are breaking attendance records and reaching larger audiences through DVD sales. Your kind of documentaries hardly exist. We dominate in the marketplace of comedy and satire as well. And just look at the growth of Air America, which is taking on more and more radio stations to compete with the right-wing shows.

"Fourth, organized labor has split into two camps. I interpret this as a sign of determination on the progressive side to put more muscle and money behind organizing workers in low-paying, nonoutsourceable sectors like fast food, healthcare, and maintenance. Wal-Mart is feeling more heat about its low wage policies, its pressure on domestic suppliers to move to China, and its hollowing out of Main Street, USA.

"Fifth, for a long time now, progressives have been able to put people on the streets by the tens of thousands, in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, right here in Washington, on the big issues of civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, arms control, globalization, and war. The lunchtime rallies taking place all over the country even as I speak are only the latest instance.

"In summary, things are getting better for progressives every day. The tides are turning. I'll leave it there so we can move to what for me is always the most enlightening part of the program, your questions. Thank you."

"Mr. Corsage, you have a wide-ranging knowledge of liberal programs and have written extensively about the current liberal agenda," said a woman from the Heritage Foundation. "At the federal level, what three bills, what three regulations, and what three cases do you expect to win over the next two years?"

"I'm afraid that's too detailed a prognostication for me, ma'am. I'm not clairvoyant. All I know is that liberal groups file regulatory petitions and lawsuits and get their friends in Congress to introduce bills all the time. Which ones will prevail, I can't tell you."

"Well then, can you tell us which three pending bills, petitions, and lawsuits you consider most important?" the woman persisted.

"I'm sorry, but I don't want to be specific. If I were, you'd all laugh because you wouldn't think any of them had a snowball's chance in hell. Rest assured, however, that the seeds are there and will someday bear fruit."

"A bitter fruit, no doubt," she sniffed.

A fellow of the American Enterprise Institute raised his hand. "Mr. Corsage, this 'revival' you speak of -- have you seen any tangible changes coming out of Washington with regard to progressive objectives, or do your remarks simply refer to a growing political capacity?"

"I was speaking of the latter. You have to have political capacity, as you put it, to bring about these changes."

"Now that we are speaking primarily about capacity, do you have any firm indicators, like increased union membership, that would make your claims about a coming progressive revival more concrete?" asked a lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers.

"As far as I'm aware, union membership is still declining, but there is a growing emergence of ethical business organizations like the Social Venture Network and the recently established People's Chamber of Commerce. More and more consumer cooperatives and organic farms are selling their produce profitably in urban and suburban markets. A lively group called Progressive Democrats of America is pressing the regular Democratic Party to take more progressive positions on a living wage, universal health insurance, and a crackdown on corporate crime, fraud, abuse, and privilege."

All eyes turned to a man who stood up at the front of the room. "Listening to you, Mr. Corsage, I'm surprised that you haven't mentioned the recent surge of anti-business attacks by certain retired chief executives -- the subject of a Time magazine cover. I trust you are familiar with the wide range of assaults reported in the press. Is all that part of your 'progressive revival'?"

"Mr. Dortwist, I've been reading the same reports you have, and I'm absolutely astonished and delighted by what these gentlemen are doing, but I have no idea where all this activity is coming from, how enduring it's likely to be, or what the big picture may be. That's why I omitted most of these recent agitations from my remarks today. I can tell you that the liberal advocacy groups I'm close to have never been contacted by these people in any way."

Brovar sat down and instantly e-mailed this bit of information to his list, noting that the lack of contact between the business rebels and the usual liberal suspects could not be accidental, and that it suggested a wholly new force with an ambitious and confident mind of its own.

The question period concluded. Waiters served dessert and coffee as conversations sprang up at each of the tables for ten. No one was talking about Lob Corsage's remarks, not even at his own table near the podium. Clearly, the guests were neither interested in nor worried about the prospect of any "progressive revival." The talk was all about their own work, the agendas they were moving through Congress, upcoming publications on deregulation, possibilities for raising more business donations, their own side business ventures, and their junkets to Bermuda, Hawaii, and Baja, all expenses paid by a variety of trade associations. The corporate think tank business was alive and well and convinced that the future could only be more bullish.

Lob Corsage finished his coffee, gathered his notes together, and looked around at his tablemates. The way their conversations veered away from the luncheon topic had not escaped him. He left crest-fallen, wondering whether his candor in front of an adversarial crowd was a mistake. After all, the nation's capital was above all the place where perception was reality.

***

As March drew to a close, the Secretariat kept methodical tabs on the accelerating pace of the Redirections. The CUB groups in particular were moving along with commendable speed, and much of the credit was due to the backup dynamos, Recruitment and Promotions. Recruitment completed the daunting task of culling the 13 million responses to Patriotic Polly for likely prospects. George called Warren and asked to borrow Bill Hillsman, who created a clever advertising campaign that helped produce a rate of return for the CUB mailings in excess of 5 percent -- even better than George had hoped. The renovated hotel was filling up with new and seasoned public advocates for workers, consumers, investors, policyholders, and other key groups that had gone unrepresented because of the absence of grassroots power in Washington, DC.

Thanks largely to Recruitment, the quality of the project personnel at all levels was impressive. In the weeks since Maui Three, Seymour Depth had assembled a staff of eight hundred interviewers -- themselves carefully recruited -- and assigned them to the core members on an as-needed basis after training them intensively in a multi-stage screening system that was a wonder to behold. Not every applicant for the thousands of open project positions was expected to go through the entire sequence. Some were so well known to the core group or by general reputation that their selection was a foregone conclusion. What they had done spoke for itself.

As for the rest, when the resumes and videotapes came in to Recruitment headquarters -- and they came by the ton, from word of mouth, advertisements, websites, and the like, forwarded by project staff to safeguard the core group's collective identity -- the first task was to apply the basic criteria established for all hires, then those tailored to specific jobs. For example, field organizers had to meet different second-level criteria than did attorneys or analysts or promoters. Equipped with these yardsticks, Seymour's staff weeded out the obvious rejectees and then called the references of those who remained -- a tiny minority, fewer than one in twenty. Although applicants obviously listed references from whom they expected strong recommendations, such people could usually be counted on for candor under questioning -- "You wouldn't want her to be employed in a job she doesn't like or isn't suited for, would you?" -- and it was fairly easy to draw them out if they seemed reticent at any point. Recruitment found that the most sterling of the applicants usually had recommendations from top-flight people -- it took one to know one. It was hoped that more and more positions would be filled through referrals from those already working on the various Redirections projects.

The next step was to check out the applicant's background and the veracity of the resume. If that cleared, the interview process commenced. It was a six-hour process, with forty-five minutes for lunch with one or more of the interviewers. The first interview was a one-on-one, followed by a two-on-one, then a three-on-one. Rare were the individuals who could fake it when the interviewers pushed them politely but hard. There were telltale signs. If an applicant was asked, "How do you take criticism?" and answered, "Okay, if it's constructive," there was a good chance that he or she was excessively sensitive to criticism and rough-and-tumble work pressures. The preferred response was something like, "I appreciate criticism because it helps me improve and keeps me on my toes."

Other questions: What do you read regularly? What books have you read in the last year? What do you watch on television? Who has had the greatest influence on your development up to this point? What would you like to be doing ten years from now, twenty years from now? What would you most like to be remembered for? Do you have a temper? (Few said yes, but their answers invited follow-up questions that could be illuminating: You mean you're never moody? You mean nothing gets you angry about what's going on in this world?) Do you ever get discouraged, and what do you do about it? Do you ever experience stress that might affect your work? What are your strengths for this job, and what are your weaknesses? What is most important in doing this job -- integrity, character, personality, experience, or skill?" If the reply was "All five," the applicants were asked to rank them in importance and explain what they understood to be the difference between character and personality. Finally, they were asked what they had done to advance social justice, on issues large or small.

All the interviewers were skilled interpreters of body language -- calmness, anxiety, nervous tics, blushing, eye movements, clammy hands -- but they also understood that many highly proficient people might have any or all of these apparent negatives. It went without saying that applicants with disabilities enjoyed equal protection under the law and were considered strictly on merit. Privacy requirements forbade inquiries about family obligations that might impede the most capable of applicants simply because they were caring for a sick parent or child out of loyalty and love. Often they volunteered such information, and if they were deemed otherwise qualified and the job permitted, they were hired to work from home or allowed to set their own hours. No one had to explain to Seymour Depth that justice required flexibility.

For those who survived the interview process, Recruitment arranged social occasions -- barbecues, picnics, volleyball games, concerts -- where they were likely to let down their hair and reveal more about their attitudes and personalities. The culminating event was an evening of good food and drink followed by a freewheeling discussion and debate among the applicants on the signal issues of the contemporary economy, the purpose being to assess their curiosity, their thirst to learn, their open-mindedness, and their willingness to correct their mistakes without hesitation or defensiveness. At the end of the evening, each applicant was handed a sheet of paper with a sentence at the top that read, ''The maldistribution of wealth, power, and influence in the United States stems from __ having too much power and __ having too little." They were asked to fill in the blanks with their top three choices and write a short essay on their recommendations for a fairer redistribution, as a way of finding out whether or to what extent they were grounded in a political philosophy.

By this stage there had been dropouts, leaving a hard core who had demonstrated their qualifications and commitment. Before making the job offer, the interviewers bluntly put one final question to each applicant: "Did anyone ask you to infiltrate this organization, and if so, what did you say to them?" The theory was that the very directness of the question, while not a foolproof screen, would elicit responses -- hesitancy, facial expressions, body language -- that could be closely evaluated through the intuition and judgment of the interviewers. Thus far, in all the hirings, Recruitment had received no feedback on any infiltration, but Seymour Depth knew that the likelihood would increase with each passing week.

The superb job that Recruitment was doing daily was a testament to the core group's conviction that it all started and ended with the quality of the people on board, something they had learned over and over in their many years of running their own organizations and companies. Nothing was more important during these building days when a fresh new power was being released and taking institutional root all over the country. The days were filled with meticulous preparation and energizing controversy. As more and more inner-city schools adopted the revised Pledge of Allegiance, the communities around each school exploded with debates. The press had a field day covering the story and editorializing about it pro and con -- no advertising money at stake, raw emotion on display day after day, and plenty of graphics illustrating the harsh reality of "with liberty and justice for some." It was an amazing innovation in social provocation -- with more to come, if Bill Gates Sr. and Joe Jamail had anything to say about it.

At the same time, the fiercely energetic Bill Gates was hitting critical mass with his project to run corporations for elective office as "persons." He had located seven companies that met the legal requirements for age, background, residency, and US citizenship. His staff attorneys began preparing for the inevitable attempts by state election officials to block these candidacies. A group of artists who had responded to Yoko's call was brainstorming on memorable names for the corporate candidates and working on a theatrical format for the news conference that would introduce them to the public next month. The personal incorporation movement was also going like gangbusters. Already, six hundred thousand employed and self-employed people had filled out Delaware Incorporation Papers, negotiating their conversion either with the help of free counselor with a simple software program announcing their "business purpose."

Not to be outdone, Joe was overseeing the geometric increase in small claims court litigation against the nation's largest corporations, 250 of them at last count. The suits numbered in the tens of thousands as complainants' grievances poured in and the PCS went into high gear. The formerly obscure small claims courts themselves were astounded, not just by their expanded dockets but by all the media attention and the flood of calls from the big corporate law firms. The fat-cat attorneys were asking questions like "What is your procedure for removing these cases to the county superior courts?" -- much more costly to the plaintiffs -- and "Can motions to dismiss be transmitted by fax, or is a personal appearance required?" All over the country, the local press was making small claims court a regular beat.

The more intricate Joe's spider web became, the more he liked the challenge -- he was a born scrapper. His web was beginning to catch one systematic fraud after another perpetrated by banks, insurance companies, HMOs, car dealers, payday loaners, rent-to-own gougers, mortgage scammers, unscrupulous landlords, and greedy credit card companies, with all their one-sided contracts full of charges, penalties, and deceptions. The companies began to present dismissal motions based on fine-print binding arbitration clauses, and the small claims court judges did not like this maneuver one bit. More and more default judgments were issued against corporate defendants who failed to appear. Big business was learning what justice meant when the fleeced, the injured, the excluded, and the penniless had access to it. Joe even filed half a dozen small claims of his own to get a better feel for the process, and of course to get more press.

The spider kept spinning his strands, and the web kept growing. Sixteen other spiders were busily at work adding to webs of their own. It was time for Maui Four.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:05 pm

CHAPTER 8

Bill Joy arrived at the hotel two days early to scout out the premises with the latest technology and his own sixth sense. There were no overt signs of intrusion, but he wasn't taking any chances. He swept the entire place with the most advanced debugger yet developed, one that could even detect parabolic microphones. He chatted up the management and staff on homespun topics, casually delving into the personal lives of the waiters, housekeepers, and gardeners. Luckily it was a small hotel. He fancied himself an excellent cook and easily struck up conversations with Ailani and the kitchen staff.

At his urging, the core group took additional precautions to get through the Maui airport unrecognized. Newman and Cosby wore the same camouflage that had worked for them last time. Phil wore a fake mustache and a broad-brimmed hat. Ross wore sunglasses and a mohair skullcap. Yoko wore a Stetson, and Ted wore a Celtics sweatshirt. Warren wore his unassuming, folksy persona and disarming smile.

Assembling in the dining room during a glorious evening sunset, the core group exchanged hugs and greetings in jet-lagged delight. Bernard made a toast, presenting them with another pearl of wisdom from his collection of quotations, this one from Reinhold Niebuhr: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." They all clinked glasses and sat down to a working dinner to follow up on the naming of the core group. Conversation flowed easily over the usual delicious Hawaiian fare. Bernard said that on reflection he thought they should drop the "Patriotic" and just call themselves "The Meliorists' Society.' Max felt that the possessive plural had undesirable connotations of ownership. He suggested that "The Society of Meliorists" might be a more mellifluous arrangement of the words. Bill Cosby agreed it sounded smoother that way but was afraid it conveyed more a sense of some secret society than of the betterment of society. In the end, the consensus was to use "Meliorist" in the singular as an adjective: the Meliorist Society. Barry would have Promotions complete a publicity plan in April but hold it in abeyance until the core group decided to go public, or was exposed and made to go public.

After dinner, they repaired to the conference room and commenced a one-hour period of silence. By this time they were all enthusiastic converts to this ingenious idea of sitting elbow to elbow in disciplined contemplation. It was strangely competitive and trusting at the same time. It gave them a sense of mental order and a focused overview of recent activities. No one wandered or doodled. Everyone was absorbed in intense concentration, occasionally jotting down notes and reminders. Now more than ever, they needed intellectual rigor and clarity of vision and purpose. After all, in less than thirteen weeks, they had set the country on fire in the best sense. They had laid the groundwork for a whole array of new populist institutions. Above all, they had set in motion a momentous redirection of their country's inverted priorities and started it on the path to becoming a sane, elevating society. But that was the easy part. Now that the established rule of the few was being challenged on so many fronts, the dynamics would accelerate and grow more hazardous and complicated. At Maui Four they were nearing the transition from seeding the tools and institutions of democratic power to effecting fundamental change across the board in an epic confrontation with the powers that be.

When the hour was up, Warren exhaled deeply and looked around the table at his silent colleagues. "Time for all good Meliorists to hit the hay," he said with a wink.

***

In the morning Warren called the meeting to order promptly at eight. The first item on the agenda was whether the Redirection projects should lock in with existing citizen groups that had been working on many of these same objectives for years.

Joe was quick to oppose the idea. "I say no to allying ourselves with groups that would surely start sticking their noses into our plans, thus jeopardizing our security and the all-important factor of surprise. They'd also want to participate in our decisions, thus compromising our essential independence and speed of action. Most of these groups aren't remotely on the same wavelength or accelerated timetable that we are. And besides, by not hooking up with them, we give them truthful deniability, which will convey to the media that totally new energies are in play here. The media loves new energies, or even the mere perception of them. Remember when the right-wing evangelicals came out to defeat a sitting congressman from the South in a primary contest back in 1980? Man, did the media balloon their power after that. But the biggest argument against any lock-in is that there's not much in the way of assistance or influence that these groups, even without their baggage, can add to our efforts. Actually, they may help us more by being on the outside and jumping on the bandwagon later. I rest my case."

"I think it's an airtight one, Joe," said Ted to nods all around the table. "As usual, the King of Torts carries the day."

"All right, then," Warren said, "let's move on to another subject. I've asked Bill Joy, who has been listening and observing for a month now, to make a few remarks."

"Thank you, Warren. Let me start with a question. Have any of you read an article of mine that was published in Wired magazine in 2000, with the somewhat presumptuous title 'Why the Future Doesn't Need Us'?" Only Ted raised his hand. "I see. Well, I'll get to it in a minute, but first I'd like you to consider the omnibus Redirection you've called First-Stage Improvements. I emphasize 'First-Stage,' which includes economic equality, healthcare, energy, food, housing -- in short, the basics of a decent livelihood and material dignity. No doubt you've contemplated many further improvements, but I understand that to win the people's support and give them a secure base, the First Stage is not only critical but a precondition for any Second Stage.

"Now, to my article. Developing faster than anticipated in most quarters are three technologies that I call GNR -- genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. Through genetic engineering, it is now possible to change the very nature of nature. Nanotechnology, or the technology of matter at the molecular or atomic level, is sure to have unintended consequences that we can't begin to foresee. Robots and computers are able to reprogram and replicate themselves to a degree that suggests they will one day sever their dependence on human control. These technologies threaten the survival of the human species, if not the planet's organisms and ecosystems in their entirety. All I ask of you in these overwhelmingly busy times is to read the article, which should take about an hour, and archive it in your minds. If nothing else, it may heighten your sense of urgency about accomplishing the objectives of the First Stage. It should also give you a sense of the vast scope of the stateless multinational corporations that are the main progenitors of GNR research, development, and application. GNR is bereft of legal and ethical constraints, and there is no countervailing power to restrain it, as was the case with the doomsday weapons of the Soviet Union and the United States in the days of Mutually Assured Destruction. With GNR, the commercial motivation rules -- and God help us. I recede to listen further."

A chill descended on the room, though the sun was shining brightly through the huge windows. "Frightening," Max said finally. ''I'll make your article a priority as soon as I get home."

Warren nodded soberly. "We all will, and we thank you for the wake-up call, Bill. I won't even attempt a smooth transition from doomsday back to our agenda. We'll just go on to the next item. Our epicenter billionaires have been busy thinking up proposals, and of the several dozen that have been forwarded to the Secretariat, three appear to be particularly promising.

"My old friend Jerome Kohlberg suggests that we organize a buyout of General Motors, whose stock is approaching a thirteen-year low, with a valuation a fraction that of young Google. His argument goes like this. GM is a company mired in technological stagnation. Its obsession with quarterly returns leads it into shortsighted production strategies, so that it gets caught with large inventories of gas-guzzling SUVs, for example, at a time of high gasoline prices. Its top executives are mediocre and unable to rationalize the company's multilayered bureaucracy or change its tradition of subordinating engineering and scientific talent to the powertrain and marketing departments. Yet with all that, GM is close to number one in sales in China, the fastest-growing vehicle market in the world, and is still about the largest motor vehicle manufacturer worldwide. As such, it has major potential to lead the global auto industry and turn it in the direction of an Earth-friendly motor vehicle fleet -- clean engines and clean fuel, new safety and energy efficiency standards, materials that are degradable at the end of a vehicle's life cycle. It could also foster the mass transit market aggressively, since it has long had manufacturing and conversion capability in this area.

"Jerome believes that taking GM over and turning it around would be the greatest environmental, geopolitical, economic, and health and safety advance in American history. When I called him about his proposal, he volunteered to head the buyout effort -- after all, his firm pioneered the whole takeover business and still leads the field -- but he added that GM is a big fish with a powerful tail and he would never consider going after it without the full backing of what he senses is our entire group. He's been reading the newspapers and watching television just like everyone else. 'Think of it, Warren,' he said. 'No more begging this company to change. No more futile attempts to regulate it or sue it. It would be ours to direct. What's good for GM would be good for the country!'"

Warren paused and shuffled through some papers until he found the one he wanted. "Jerome's proposal contains a postscript that I'm going to read to you because it dovetails so intriguingly with an earlier idea of Sol's. 'For a relatively achievable sum of capital, either through private equity acquisitions or leveraged buyouts, we could create our own sub-economy of companies in each sector of industry and commerce and then make these growing concerns models of the kind of business practices we want, unleash them as prototypes of innovation, foresight, and responsibility. Good PR and marketing backup would attract the finest business talents in the land, and colorful branding would attract consumers. Again, no more begging, no more trying to regulate, no more shareholders or outside reformers engaging in protracted and pointless litigation. These companies will be ours to direct, in manufacturing, banking, insurance, energy, timber, housing, tourism, food, drugs, healthcare, retail chains, finance, transportation, agribusiness, real estate -- an entire sub-economy! Talk about leverage!'"

"Talk about thinking outside the box!" Ted exclaimed.

"Brilliant but redundant," Sol grumped.

"A note of caution," interjected Barry. "I thought we were confining ourselves to initiatives that we can get up and running on their own in a year's time. Wouldn't you say that the GM proposal is unlikely to reach that stage by the end of 2006?"

"Maybe we'll want to extend the year for important projects like this one," Yoko suggested. "After all, we didn't know what we were getting into when we started, and developments have already exceeded our expectations."

"Let's review the other two proposals before discussing time frames," Warren said. "The next one came separately from four billionaires who all wanted to do something about the price of gasoline, heating oil, and natural gas. Americans are in an uproar over what they believe to be gouging, collusion, and governmental indifference greased by oil industry types around the president and the vice-president. Businesses small and large are wondering what adjustments they'll have to make and what moves they'll have to forgo. There are reports that people might freeze to death this winter because the low-income energy assistance program is so woefully underfunded. Hundreds of billions of dollars are pouring into the coffers of the oil industry. Record hyper-profits are being reported each quarter. To add insolence to injury, the president is pushing to liquidate and privatize Amtrak. The common rallying cry from our four epicentrists is 'Go after the oil companies and the American people will be forever in your debt.'

"The third and last proposal is to put out an old-fashioned four-page newspaper with big headlines and lots of pictures, to be distributed at thousands of busy intersections between four p.m. and six thirty, by paperboys and papergirls shouting, 'Extra, extra, read all about it!' just like in the good old days." Warren glanced around the table. As he had anticipated, this idea struck a chord and brought nostalgic smiles to the faces of his graybeards.

Phil snapped his fingers. "Why not connect 'Read all about it!' with taking on the oil companies' greedy adventurism at the expense of the working people of our country, not to mention the poor and unemployed? The media will go nuts. Maybe the Posterity Project can recruit these street-corner gangs. What do you say, Bernard? For starters, I bet you'll find plenty of interested kids at the Pledge schools, and this could be a great way of stirring up some enthusiasm for your Egalitarian Clubs too. The Congress Watchdogs will also come in handy here, as will the energy CUBs. It's all beginning to fit together, isn't it? The pieces of the democracy puzzle are falling into place. Yes!"

"It looks like there's a consensus on 'Read all about it!' and the oil companies," Warren said. "As for how long it will take to get the General Motors project to a point of self-sustaining momentum, that's open to discussion, but before I get back to Jerome, I think we need our own report from Analysis on objectives, cost, timeline, and consequences."

"Clearly this project will long outlast the year just in its conception and initiation," Max said, "so the prior question is what we can do at this early stage to put a foray into General Motors on a secure financial and managerial foundation that will allow it to mature and achieve results. I agree with Warren that we need an analysis before we can answer this question, and that in itself will take some time. For example, there are two corporate raiders who already have sizable positions in GM and are pressing the company to take steps that they believe will increase share value -- but what steps, and what impact would they have on Jerome's takeover plan? This is one of the host of things we have to know even to make a preliminary judgment."

Warren was about to follow up on Max's remarks when Patrick Drummond glided into the conference room, passed him a note, and glided out again. Warren scanned it and then read it aloud. '''The Secretariat has received word that the Washington Post is assigning its regional reporters to a story on "the average person's response to the growing upheaval against big business." The Post's editors are trying to get a feel for what has changed on the ground for regular people. Do they get a better hearing when they complain about a product or service, or when they contact their members of Congress, or when they have a dispute with their HMOs? If not, or if none of those situations pertain, do they expect to get a better shake in the foreseeable future because of this upheaval, or do they think it's just a high-level struggle between two business philosophies? The Post expects to publish a long front-page story a week from Sunday.'''

"It seems a bit early for a story like that," Leonard observed. "Our ground game is just getting underway, and apart from Joe's small claims extravaganza, our initiatives haven't produced many concrete results for individuals as yet. I wonder what criteria they're using to define 'the average person.' Let's hope for a representative sample of the millions of people who support us, because the story will help shape public perceptions of what we're doing, and may speed the pace of our opponents' response. Not to mention that we can expect lots more such articles at the local and regional level once the Post inaugurates the genre."

"Maybe we should collect this kind of anecdotal information for ourselves and use it on our new democracy networks," Ross suggested. "It would be a rich source for features, news segments, documentaries, and magazine shows. What do you think, Barry?"

"Of course, great idea. It should be an ongoing adjunct to our entire Redirectional drive. And let's not forget the print media."

"We know you won't, Barry," Warren said. ''I'm going to open up the floor to general discussion shortly, but first I want to review the budget situation with you. And remember that full details are always available to you on demand. Assuming a fifteen-billion-dollar budget for the year -- and it looks very likely to be available, since most of it is already in -- we're on track and in good shape to cover the rising curve of expenditures we expect in coming months. In the three months that have passed since Maui One, we've expended two billion dollars, which includes salaries, rents, advertising, some prepaid television and radio time, the costs of setting up the Congress Watchdogs and the like, and the cost of the CUB mailings that are inundating the postal system as we speak, and will continue to inundate it for the next two months. Our in-house auditors are well trained and motivated to keep track not just of how much we spend but of what we're receiving in return. So far that's been relatively easy because the returns are largely quantitative -- the number of people and buildings and other resources that comprise our various projects. Soon the evaluation will become qualitative as well -- results, impact, changes.

"Okay, my friends, your turn. What's on your formidable minds?"

"I wish to inform my sister and brothers," George announced sonorously, "that on April seventeenth -- which happens to be tax day this year, since the fifteenth falls on a weekend -- I shall be delivering a major address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Washington, DC, on the topic of chronic inefficiencies in corporate capitalism as compared with efficiencies in governmental programs. Once and for all, I shall puncture the hubris that has fostered one of the most entrenched myths in the world, and a very dangerous one at that. C-SPAN will certainly cover the event, but I trust that Barry will bring it to tens of millions of people here and abroad through his networks and other media outlets."

"With the greatest journalistic pleasure, George. Just get me a copy of your speech forty-eight hours in advance and we'll wake the world."

"I have an announcement too," said Bill Gates.. "Next week, the first People Are Corporations jamborees will take place in cities all over the nation. The gatherings will be boisterous with a spirit of liberation. Hundreds of people will be freed by incorporation to enjoy the same evasive powers as the big boys, the same lax tax laws, the same ease of escape into bankruptcy, the same privilege to use parents and children -- holding companies and subsidiaries -- to protect and enlarge their profits, bolster their immunities, and avoid accountability. These new corporate people will be demanding corporate welfare, from which there is much to choose. They'll take tax-deductible trips to the Bahamas or other havens where they can rent postbox cubbyholes to reduce their federal income taxes. Since they have eternal life, they can't be subjected to an estate tax, they'll argue. They'll start deducting any expenses incurred while lobbying their elected representatives or suing other corporations. They'll clamor for corporate 'incentives' to remain in the state where they're working, and they'll threaten to move en masse to another state if they don't get them. They'll have standing to sue in cases where standing is denied mere mortals. And that's just the tip of the legal and political double standard that applies to corporations as compared to real people.

"Thanks to Yoko, I've got a team of terrific artists and playwrights collaborating on skits that will dramatize all this at the jamborees. I swear we're going to turn American corporate jurisprudence on its head. If we can't force the corporations to clear out of the category of persons, then we'll turn persons into corporations, with all the special privileges and immunities that in effect make a mockery of the preamble to the Constitution. It's not 'We the People' who call the shots in the United States, it's 'We the Corporations' -- yes, including Microsoft, but don't tell Bill Jr. I said so."

Jeno laughed. "Well, it's not as if all of us haven't been involved in corporations in one way or another, but as we know, there's a right way and a wrong way to run them. Which reminds me to say that the report on corporate welfare I promised during the launch of the PCC has been delayed. Sorry, but it's been more difficult than I expected to collect data on scores of little-known but very costly programs and abatements."

"I'll bet it has," Bill Gates said. "Take all the time you need to make your report exhaustive, Jeno. Meanwhile, there's no shortage of corporate shenanigans for us to examine."

"To come at the subject of corporate shenanigans in a slightly different way," Bernard said, "I've been noticing that more and more people are coming forward as ethical whistle-blowers. I realize that we have a network of pro bono attorneys to represent them if they're fired or sued, but that's defense. Since all our offspring groups are encouraging people to stand tall and speak out, we need some positive reinforcement for those courageous Americans who do. I've long believed that moral courage is rarer than physical courage. For one thing, physical courage is often instantaneous -- not always, of course, witness officer Serpico of the NYPD -- with no time to think of all the pros or cons before the act of bravery occurs. General George Patton once described battlefield courage as 'fear plus five minutes.' With moral courage, you have time to think of the harmful consequences to yourself, your employment, your family, your standing with less courageous peers, the loneliness and ostracism of it all as the headlines, if there are any, ebb. And still people of moral courage step forward with information known to dozens or hundreds of others who stay put and remain silent.

"I propose that we establish a moral courage award for the many deserving persons -- perhaps thousands a year -- who exhibit bravery in situations arising out of our Redirectional efforts. There would be public ceremonies in the appropriate localities, institutionalizing recognition of these fine Americans and putting the corporate world on notice that they're not alone, that they're backed by a powerful network that will protect them and help them find better jobs than they had before. It will be a way of saying very clearly, 'Let the harassers beware.' Moreover, an award for people who bring their conscience to work will produce more whistle-blowers, which will make organizations that abuse power think twice about continuing their abuses or engaging in new ones. What say you all?"

Yoko, who was sitting next to Bernard, put an arm around his shoulder. "Beautifully put, B, a cry for the liberation of conscience in stifling and cruel bureaucracies. What good is freedom of speech if it doesn't follow you to the workplace when terrible crimes are being committed? I hope there'll be a museum someday honoring the pantheon of these glorious people."

"In my view," said Bill Gates, "moral courage is the highest expression of humanity, and not only because of what it exposes and deters but because it's contagious. It spreads to people possessed of less fortitude and helps them do the right thing instead of standing by and watching as the seeds of evil sprout before their very eyes. In an era when performance reviews are the only compass and newly perilous technologies are rising amongst us -- as Bill Joy has just pointed out so chillingly -- we need to shine a spotlight on people who are guided by a moral compass."

"I take it there's unanimity here?" Warren asked to more nods all around. "B, will you and Yoko work on a design for the award and a format for presentation?"

"Gladly," Bernard said.

Yoko was already sketching ideas for a medal on her notepad. "Of course."

"I've been wondering why the bunch of us, well known to our families and colleagues as cantankerous old cusses, almost always agree unanimously," Joe said. "I know you addressed this at our first meeting, Warren, but it's still pretty amazing. Maybe it's because we have a common public philosophy of a just and open society and at this stage in our lives" -- he rose from his seat -- "we mean business! But not for ourselves. We have nothing to lose, they can't do anything to us, posterity is our sunlight, and we don't have time to dicker and posture.

"When people ask me where I get the information that fuels my sense of injustice, I tell them from the business media, starting with the Wall Street Journal. The concentrated economic powers are so entrenched that they've come to believe that regular exposes of business crimes, fraud, and political manipulation go nowhere, produce no consequence or action. They understand that the media moguls deem such reporting important because it attracts readers, raises audience ratings, and increases profits. They know they can endure a day or two of modest criticism and then watch it all blow over. The Food and Drug Administration recently required three companies selling asthma medications to warn patients that these medications themselves can produce severe asthma attacks. Amazing story. Hardly a ripple. That's why the People's Court Society will never run out of causes of action, and why its efforts are crucial in redirecting our society to the proposition that the law will rule, even in the case of small injustices that corrode the quality of daily life, especially among the impoverished."

"At the risk of more unanimity," Max said, "spot on, Joe."

"At the risk of spoiling the unanimity, I'm not sure Joe's right that they can't do anything to us," Bill Joy said. "He's taken a lot of brickbats, but a word of caution here -- be wary."

"Hey, I negotiated with the Teamsters for years," Jeno laughed. "Say, Peter, you've been very quiet today. Is it all those brickbats you've been dodging lately yourself?"

"After a month like the one I've had, I'm just relaxing and listening."

Joe picked up his water glass. "I propose a toast to Peter, whose performance under fire during the month of March displayed true moral courage. The attacks hurled at him by his lifelong peers and the baying pack of reactionary commentators presaged what we'll all soon experience, perhaps even more intensely. May we come through it as he did, with flying colors of character, personality, veracity, and sagacity."

"Hear, hear!" Glasses clinked.

"With such an extended toast, it's a good thing there isn't booze in these tumblers," Paul joked.

"Especially on an empty stomach," Sol said.

***

After lunch, the meeting resumed with another bulletin from the Secretariat. Warren read it out. "'Media critic Harold Mertz has written in his weekend column that four publications -- Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and his own Washington Post -- have assigned full-time reporters to what he called the "business rebels beat." His sources say that these reporters will be backed up by investigative teams and the regional offices of the publications. One editor is quoted as saying, "Never in my thirty years of journalism has our country experienced such a rapid and widespread upheaval within conventional business. Who is behind it? We know the names of some of these provocative actors, but I suspect there's more to the story. We have some good leads, and we aim to rectify the lack of information as fast as possible.'" Warren paused. "Well, here we go, my friends."

"It was only a matter of time," Phil said, "but let's hope the time won't come for another month or so. Once the ball of yam starts to unravel. there may be significant distractions from our work. Our challenge is to stay out of the limelight for as long as possible while our new infrastructures put down roots, and once we're in it, to take control and turn it to our advantage. For what it's worth, that's my media advice."

"I couldn't have put it better myself," Barry said. "Just one caveat. It can't be stressed often enough that we have to remember to speak only about the projects with which we're already identified and say nothing that might tip the press off to Maui. We've got to focus the reporters, not let them refocus us. Most of us are old hands at this in our business careers, but this is a different cup of tea. We can't hide behind trade secrets, proprietary information, and all the other balderdash about competitive advantage we business executives use to dodge questions that have nothing to do with competition."

"We ought to be able to gauge how far the reporters are getting from which of us they call and what questions they ask," said Max. "Let's be sure to trade notes on this during our closed-circuit briefing. In the meantime, full speed ahead with the infrastructure, especially the Congress Watchdogs, the CUBs, the PCC, the rallies, the lecturers, and the Clean Elections Party. The faster and better these instruments of democracy develop, the more likely we are to get some of the First-Stage Improvements through Congress before the November elections. Democratic agitation produces the enabling ambience, but the moving train is in the results."

"It's all about staying fast and furious on the offensive, as I emphasized during Maui One," Warren said. "We have to be very sensitive to any tipping of the scales in the other direction. That's why I think George's coming address to the editors' convention is so important. It's a foursquare attack on the central dogma of corporate capitalism -- the myth of its continuing efficiencies. As such, with the help of the PCC and our own network of executives and billionaires, it will generate a creative and far-reaching debate that puts the multinationals on the defensive and advances our goals. Ideas matter, as they say."

"By the way, Max, what do you think of all the democratic agitation around the Pledge of Allegiance?" Bill Gates asked. "Only an asteroid heading for Earth could do more to shake up all these people who are so outraged by a word change that simply describes reality."

"Yes, I've been fascinated by the action-reaction here. It shows the anger that results when reality goes up against mythology through words alone. Imagine what's going to happen when deeds move into the fray. I've been too busy to do anything more with the Fighting Zulu ads, but you've extended my hobbyhorse very well. Keep pushing things to a conclusion, whether victory or defeat. As the pressure intensifies, we obtain more data."

Joe cleared his throat and burst into off-key song. '''O! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?'"

Everyone stared at him with a mixture of surprise and dismay, except for Bill Gates. "What Joe means," he said, "is that Max doesn't have to worry about obtaining more data. Right after we get home, Joe and I are going to turn up the heat on the already red-hot controversy over the Pledge by starting a drive to make 'America the Beautiful' our National Anthem. It's much more consonant with democratic values, and besides, as Joe just demonstrated, 'The Star-Spangled Banner' is notoriously difficult to sing."

"Wow!" Ted exclaimed. "That's dynamite. Do you think Patriotic Polly could sing 'America the Beautiful' in another round of ads?"

"Better than Joe could," Warren said. "Lest he decide to treat us to more of his vocal stylings, let's take a break. I recommend a brisk walk around the grounds to loosen the limbs and breathe in the ocean breezes. We'll eat at seven and then have two hours of silence to stay with our thoughts about our respective and collective missions. As Isaac Newton said when asked why he towered above his fellow scientists in brilliance, and I paraphrase, 'It's not that I'm so much more brilliant, it's that I can concentrate and think through a problem longer than my peers.'''

***

At supper, circulating around the dining room as was his custom, Bill Joy detected a common thread in the conversations. The Meliorists were sounding each other out as to how they were taking the growing pressure of their work. It was clearly on all their minds. They were probing, however subtly and graciously, to see how their own pressures compared with those besetting the others, how their colleagues were coping, and whether anyone was showing early signs of cracking. What about their families? Was there any strain? Did any of their spouses know about the core group? Not as far as they could tell, they said, and their children and grandchildren continued to be dazzled by the energetic activities of their elders. So far so good. It looked like Warren's team was as stable, steadfast, and farsighted as ever, and above all, marvelously into the details.

After dessert -- a spectacular mirage of sweetness surrounding a reality of fruity nutrition -- they reassembled in the conference room. When the silence period was over, Warren invited impromptu comment on any topic of interest or concern.

Ted started things off. "I want to thank you all for your feedback at our last meeting. Your suggestions helped me round up eighty-eight more billionaires in the categories of on board or tempted. I got two calls from Russian billionaires who wanted in -- you know the kind -- but I told them we were keeping things strictly native for now. Between my gang and your epicenters, we have plenty of committed billionaires who are willing to reach out and socialize their wealthy friends, so Jeno and I decided that a Billionaires' Auxiliary of the People's Chamber of Commerce would be superfluous."

"It's still a great idea, though," Jeno added with a note of regret. "Just for the name alone."

Sol weighed in. "The fire sales at the mom-and-pops near the five Wal-Marts started last week, and customers are flocking to them. The Wal-Martians are beside themselves because their Supercenters are like ghost towns."

"What I can't get over," Ross said, "is the nearly uniform excellence of the managers and directors of all the various projects and initiatives, and especially those otherworldly superstars running Recruitment. Seymour Depth is aptly named."

"And Barry's shop isn't far behind," Peter said. "Their motto should be, 'Great undertakings without promotion are like candles in a sea of darkness.''' His colleagues applauded.

"Max, I want to take issue with you about words versus deeds," Bernard said. "It's been on my mind. Words are not harmless. They can incite, spread hatred, generate riots or stampedes. Remember Justice Holmes -- no one has a right to falsely shout fire in a crowded theater. Words can slander, coarsen public dialogue, frighten the public. I concede that harmful deeds have the first claim on our attention, but we can't ignore our responsibility to condemn harmful words as well. That is our free speech right and obligation."

"Bernard, free speech, of course. All I'm trying to do is give sharp relief to the disproportionate emphasis on the condemning of words over deeds -- the boo factor versus the do factor, you might say -- and to expose the politically correct syndrome that makes those who boo feel satisfied with themselves and keeps us from searching for a deeper understanding of why people say such things. On this point, I defer to brother Phil, who has noted on more than one occasion that the more exposure you give these bigots, the more they're unmasked and deflated. He made a career out of doing that on television."

"Well, part of a career, anyway," Phil said.

"Some unknown cleric slams Phil in a uniquely ignorant manner and gets some media for his snarling," Bernard went on, "and before you know it, Phil sends an invite to his show and the fellow looks like a fool in front of a national audience. It's when we try to shout down the bigots and they return to their den of like-minded conspirators that the real trouble starts. As Justice Brandeis said in another context, 'Sunlight is the best disinfectant.' We must do everything we can to drive home the awareness that saying is not doing. An old Chinese proverb puts it well: 'To know and not to do is not to know.'''

"Words to ponder," Warren said. "Thank you, Mr. Bartlett. Anything else for further discussion?"

"I see from the financials that media buys are a big-ticket item in our expenditures so far. Is this going to slack off?" Leonard asked.

"Yes," Barry said. "We had to pour it on at the outset to show the media and the public that our projects have a credible capacity to reach millions and counter any media buys against us. As we go on, I'm sure our activities will generate more and more free media, almost automatic media, because the press respects power and nervy topics. To keep building the institutions, we'll still need ads and mass mailings, but they'll be more targeted and therefore cheaper. On our networks, on the stations under our corporate umbrella, we're not permitting any media buys from the Redirections projects. The new radio, TV, and cable outlets, via my leveraged buyouts, are being established under independent corporate frameworks so there'll be no conflict of interest."

Sol tried and failed not to yawn.

"Okay, let's call it a day," Warren said. "It's been a long one, and we've got a lot to pack in tomorrow morning before we return to the mainland."

Whereupon, in twos and threes, the Meliorists drifted to their rooms under a moonlit sky, a steady Pacific trade wind ruffling what was left of their hair. Even Bill Joy slept soundly.

***

Morning found the early risers strolling through the hotel's lush gardens, which were alive with colorful bird life. Then it was off to a light breakfast and over to the atrium conference room.

"I suggest a more philosophical bent to our discussion today," Warren began. "By now you must all have a backlog of ruminations on the underpinnings of our enterprise, and I'd like to hear them. Of course, as always, if there are details you want to hash out, by all means do so. God is in the details."

"You always set the right tone, Warren," said Bernard. "In my opinion, we haven't spent enough time grounding our activities in a sound moral philosophy. After all, much of what we're doing represents the age-old struggle between greed and need, between fairness and fraud, between -- all right, I'll come straight out and say it -- between good and evil. We're trying to give truth to equality, liberty, inalienable rights, all the best instincts that animated our Founding Fathers. The moral foundations of our society are not propositions to be intoned but spiritual energies to be released for the betterment of the people. There's so much pain and despair out there. As Yoko said at our first meeting, we can't come across as lecturing, but societies are moved by great beliefs as well as concrete actions -- probably more by beliefs. You can bet that the counterattack, when it comes, will put much more effort into devising specious versions of reality and abstract, emotional assaults than into contending with our movement on the ground. I'm not suggesting any ideology here -- we've had that discussion. What I do stress is a spiritual dimension rooted in the best of the past, the cultural norms of the present, and the bright prospects for the future. Man does not live by facts alone -- perhaps unfortunately, but that is the case."

"Won't Dick Goodwin be addressing that dimension in the Tom Paine pamphlet he's working on?" Yoko asked.

"I expect he will," Bernard said. "His style over the years has been to use the best from our past to provide a moral and ethical basis for today's politics."

"Maybe he can run some training sessions for our lecturers to help them bring more philosophical depth to their presentations," Paul suggested. "And Promotions can use the pamphlet as the basis for a new series of ads. Yoko, what about your artists, musicians, poets?"

"That's where we start from, Paul. I've always believed that there's a huge overlap between the aesthetic, the moral, and the spiritual. Our teams are working up some wonderful expressions, but they won't be gospel singing. They'll be new conveyances of the old -- the bold new. And the strictly secular."

"I guess this is more along the lines of a detail," Sol said, "but what's been bothering me is that not enough work has gone into galvanizing and organizing the pioneers of the sustainable sub-economy. Jeno and I were talking about this last night. Luke Skyhi of the PCC has been calling us to urge a weekend of events staged in major urban arenas to bring visibility to these businesses, perhaps a series of trade shows where a few of us might appear along with CEOs who've proven the profitability of conservation, renewable resources, and so on, people like Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and Ray Anderson of Interface Corporation."

"Many such companies are members of the Social Venture Network, once a very promising and effervescent organization," Jeno said. "Unfortunately, it's become a little moribund lately, and seems devoid of any larger purpose than to exchange information about sustainable and marketable techniques. We can provide these companies with a much larger platform and enthusiastic audiences ready to be roused. Great fit, I think."

"There are already plenty of sustainable business fairs with displays on solar technologies, hydrogen vehicles, and the like," Ross pointed out. "Luke's arena shows will have to be different. To my way of thinking, they'll have to demonstrate by example the bankruptcy of the vested technologies of waste and harm. He'll have to stage a frontal assault, a technical and political confrontation that makes a clear case for the displacement of these technologies of yore, which must also be on display so that their destructiveness isn't merely described but vividly dramatized -- another job for Yoko's artists. The one compelling word that needs to stay in the minds of the attendees and the media is displacement."

"Exactly!" Jeno said. "An excellent refinement. That will be our watchword from coast to coast. Without displacement, the shows will only play to feelings of curiosity and hope. We're all beyond that now."

"Yes," Paul agreed, "way beyond it. You know, I've been thinking about why this group has been able to get so many currents flowing so quickly in the past three months. As an actor, I spend a lot of time reading scripts, and few make my cut. What I'm looking for is a screenwriter with an intricate imagination that comes across in a clear and gripping way. A sage once said, 'The rut in which our mind descends is the prison in which our brain lies stagnant.' Our minds have liberated our brains, and the great sword that has struck our chains is that of a sublime imagination, a moral imagination, an expectant imagination, an experience-driven imagination, a resourceful and resilient imagination, and yes, even a combative imagination."

Bill Cosby applauded. "Keep it up, Paul, and you'll win another Oscar."

"Well, isn't it imagination that pioneers, that innovates, that perseveres?" Paul asked. "Sure, emotions, resources, and knowledge come into play, but imagination is the lubricant. It's been said that the only true aging is the erosion of our ideals. How true. But ideals are inert without imagination. Look what's happening and multiplying in our country with just a small portion of the fifteen billion we've raised. Pardon the sermon, but I think it's vital that we keep the imagination level high in ourselves and among our key project staff. It's not just budgets, programs, agendas, goals, and results. The brewer's yeast is imagination, fermenting in our society and our world to free our brains from our constricted minds."

Joe raised his glass of papaya juice high. "To imagination forevermore."

The Meliorists toasted with gusto.

"It's hard to imagine a better note on which to head home," Warren said. "Please be sure to make yourselves available for the daily closed-circuit briefing, since the news will be coming in thick and fast. By the way, the memo on how to protect your assets, promised last month, is on the side table for you to pick up as you leave."

As the gathering broke up, Bill Joy sauntered over to Warren and asked, "What makes you think your circuit is so closed?" The two men had an intense ten-minute conversation in the corner of the atrium before they too headed for the airport.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:08 pm

CHAPTER 9

Monday afternoon, Bill Gates Sr. and Joe Jamail announced their drive to make "America the Beautiful" the National Anthem of the United States. It would take an act of Congress. Bill Hillsman had created an ad comparing the beauty of the American countryside -- amber waves of grain -- with the martial flag symbolism of "The Star-Spangled Banner," written during the War of 1812 against the British, who were now our allies.

The right-wing media took the bait at comedic speed. "Our Anthem was born in blood and guts," thundered Bush Bimbaugh, "and that is what America stands for. America is not a tourist attraction, not a languid landscape. Our Anthem is masculinity, 'America the Beautiful' is femininity. Which do our enemies and adversaries abroad fear the most, I ask all you feminazis?" Joe and Bill knew that Bimbaugh and his ilk would use up their air time and print space ranting about the Anthem for weeks to come while overlooking the real power shifts taking place right under their noses. A perfect feint and decoy. For Bill Hillsman, it was his chance to prove that the right ad pays for itself many times over when it generates a cascade of free reporting, media commentary, and person-to-person conversation. So vituperative were the denunciations by the nationally syndicated right-wingers that the network television news devoted a minute or two to the ruckus and played part of the Hillsman ad. Joe left a message for Bill Gates saying simply, "I think we got the baying pack's number."

On Tuesday, the valedictory at the National Press Club was delivered to a packed luncheon ballroom by a retired Wal- Mart vice-president who came loaded for bear with copies of internal memos. One proved that the company's top executives were well aware of the hiring and mistreatment of illegal aliens. Another dealt with the more than accidental divergence between the posted prices of the products on Wal-Mart's shelves and the higher prices rung up on the computerized checkout registers, justifying it on the grounds that the customer was given an itemized receipt and could always return the merchandise before leaving the premises. "Pennies by the billions add up," as some irreverent "associates" liked to say. The former VP pointed to a big chart mounted behind him, comparing the pay of top Wal-Mart executives -- about $10,000 an hour, forty hours a week, plus perks and benefits -- with the median worker wage of less than $8.00 an hour, not the $9.58 claimed by management and swallowed uncritically by the media. He explained how Wal-Mart cranked the figure up by averaging in higher-paid supervisory workers and truck drivers, and then he took questions from the press with precision and aplomb. His presentation dominated the wire services and cable news channels all day, and Wal-Mart's stock dropped by 3 percent. So popular were these Press Club events, which were now almost thrice weekly, that tickets were sold out a month in advance. Tomorrow a retired credit card executive would disclose the secrets of overcharging in his former industry.

On Wednesday, Luke Skyhi of the PCC completed his plans for the sustainable economy arena shows in ten cities. The events were designed to close the loop between means and ends by demonstrating exactly how sustainable companies would improve the living standards of ordinary people. Having received the approving nod from Jeno and Sol, Luke decided to move fast, scheduling the ten shows for the Friday-to-Sunday weekend of what would be Maui Five, unbeknownst to him. The Secretariat touched base with the core group, and after much consultation they decided to skip Maui Five, further consolidate the infrastructure, give themselves a breather to allay their slightly suspicious families, and participate in the shows whenever they could. Luke and his best and brightest team gave themselves one month to pull off this historic visual and economic breakthrough. Fortunately there were timely cancellations at two of the biggest arenas, Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The Thursday after Maui Four became known nationwide as the day when four hundred thousand Americans announced their incorporation at Bill Gates Sr.'s jamborees. People from all walks of life flocked to parks and stadiums across the country sporting their corporate charters around their necks, and wearing caps and T-shirts printed with the slogan "People Are Corporations Too." To roars of approval, accompanied by the famous Roman Army drumbeats -- boom! boom! boom-boom-boom-boom! -- speakers extolled one privilege and immunity after another that now accrued to these converts to corporate status. "People are fed up being people," declared leading corporate analyst Robert Weissman, at the Pittsburgh jamboree. "They desire upward mobility and power, the power to evade, escape, disappear, reappear, to be in many places at once, to deduct their entertainment and lobbying expenditures and delight in the loopholes and amenities of the tax code and the corporate bankruptcy laws." Charles Cray, a speaker at the Las Vegas event, particularized the benefits unique to Nevada-chartered versus Delaware-chartered corporations. Delicious buffets half a football field long provided free food under banners that read, "Corporations Are Eaters Too."

For the reporters in attendance, the whole scene was so far outside their normal frame of reference that they ran around with their cameras, mikes, and pens as if lost in a labyrinth. "Is this some kind of gag? April Fool's Day has come and gone, you know," said one of them to a woman in a nurse's uniform at the Birmingham jamboree. "I'll thank you to show some respect when addressing Birmingham Can, Unlimited," replied Jane Harper tartly. "You manufacture cans?" asked the bewildered reporter. "I manufacture can-do's," said Jane. Eventually, toward the end of the daylong jamborees, the press began to absorb the message. If the double standard in American law favored corporations over people, then why not have the people become corporations? This wasn't a giant gag, it was a giant demonstration of seriousness about a fundamental inequity.

On Friday, Bill Gates made it a double whammy with a press conference announcing the candidacies of five corporations for five state governorships. The corporations all met state requirements for elective office. They would be running under new names that signified the principal issue for each campaign, and that had been duly filed with the relevant secretaries of state: the Clean Up the Corrupt Texas Legislature Corporation, the Dethrone Corporate Welfare Kings Corporation, the Outsource CEOs Corporation, the Living Wage Corporation, and the Stamp Out Corporate Crime Corporation. Volunteer petitioners, identified by colorful headbands reading "Corporations Are People Too," were already on the streets collecting qualified signatures and were meeting with an enthusiastic response. The first wave of political advertisements for each corporation candidate would roll out over the weekend. When Bill Gates was finished with the formal announcements, the press corps was treated to a hilarious skit depicting the five corporations on the stump and in debates with perplexed opponents.

Over the weekend, the Meliorists took a well-earned rest from their exertions and relaxed with their families. On Sunday they read with interest the Washington Post story about the average citizen's response to the extraordinary activities of certain older individuals whom the paper called "the Three R's -- respected, resolute, and rich." The story confirmed the reports from Kyle Corey and other field organizers for the Congress Watchdog Groups. Like the conversation in Clancy's Cave, the responses of those interviewed by the Post revealed a mix of skepticism and support, though the balance seemed to be tipping in the direction of support.

On the second Monday in April, Warren Buffett's poll of investors came out. Buffett was always news, but this was big. Among its more significant findings, the poll showed that 88 percent of individual investors and 91 percent of institutional investors believed in investor control over executive compensation packages. A large majority also believed that after passing a reasonable ownership or petition threshold, they should be given printouts of the names of all the shareholders in their companies so that they could propose competitive slates for the boards of directors and mount credible campaigns on their behalf. By a margin of four to one, they supported cumulative voting and their right to approve any merger that totaled more than 5 percent of the larger merging partner by revenues or employees. The full poll was posted on Warren's website, along with links to related articles in the press.

On Tuesday, Barry Diller and Bill Cosby awaited the first television airing of the "Pay Back, Pay Up!" advertisement exposing the broadcast industry's fleecing of the public through its free use of the airwaves. Once again, Bill Hillsman came through with a knockout ad. A full minute long, it showed a representative cross-section of Americans with hundred-dollar bills flying out of their pockets and purses into the coffers of suitably jowled media moguls. "Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?" asked the voiceover. "There is, when it's on all of us. You own the public airwaves. Like any landlord, you should make sure you receive your rent. Contact the FCC and demand that it collect the millions you're owed. Then you'll have the money to put on the kind of programming that will make you proud, engaged, stimulated, and happy to have your children watching television. Call your members of Congress at 202-224- 3121, or write them. They can't resist two hundred million landlords." The narrator was none other than the esteemed former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite.

Channel 7 (ABC) in Washington, DC, was scheduled to run the ad first, before it went national. At the last minute, the station pulled it on instructions from the higher-ups. No surprise. Promotions had anticipated censorship and was ready. It sent the ad out to the electronic and print media with a sharply worded statement pointing to a historic pattern among broadcasters of suppressing news about their privileged and subsidized status. From congressional hearings to critical conferences and reports, these FCC-licensed companies had long been deciding what was not in their commercial interest to tell the people, using the people's own property.

The print media and Barry's networks went to town on the Channel 7 blackout. Some broadcasting conglomerates that also owned newspapers and magazines did not report the story, but the New York Times and the Washington Post front- paged it and ran editorials strongly taking Channel 7 to task. They also printed the entire text of the ad, which was replayed all over the Internet and discussed endlessly in Blogland. The debate was on. Demands that Congress and the FCC act came from all quarters as liberals and conservatives joined hands on this simple matter of fairness. What a buildup for the huge rallies planned for the end of the month!

As the second week of April went on, these latest provocations of the Meleorists gathered force. The whole idea of the corporation candidates struck a chord among more and more people, especially those with a mischievous streak. The press was fascinated and started profiling the directors and officers of the five corporations, who had all educated themselves on the issues described by their corporate names and were highly articulate. Business reporters fell over each other covering this maverick phenomenon, which they recognized as something fresh and a little zany, but backed by money and influence. Almost breathlessly they ignited a public debate over corporations as "persons" and what that meant if the consequences were pursued. Could corporations be imprisoned if convicted of a felony? If so, how? By blockading the headquarters and padlocking the door? What about capital punishment? How would the state carry out the corporate death penalty? By pulling the corporation's charter? Forcing it into bankruptcy, firing all the directors and officers? John Stewart of The Daily Show had a field day with the material.

There arose such a clamor from Oregon, stimulated in part by Greg Kafoury and Mark MacDougal, two hyperactive trial lawyers, that Bill Gates located a sixth corporation willing to run for that state's governorship as the Draft Corporations Yes Corporation. Veterans comprised the board of directors, and peace advocates were the officers. Meanwhile, citizen groups began circulating petitions demanding that corporations pay their income taxes at the higher federal rate that applied to individuals -- after all, corporations were people too. Right-wingers insisted in screeds to the nonplussed letters editor of the Wall Street Journal that corporations, as "persons," should have the right to vote, as should their independent corporate subsidiaries and holding companies, as long as they were eighteen years old.

Warren's investor poll also continued to attract attention in the business and political press. Opinion was divided, with slightly more than half of the commentators endorsing the changes in corporate governance favored by most of the polled investors. The rest said that such changes would hamper management, make executives less venturesome, and prove unworkable in practice. Another rollicking debate was underway, in the course of which there were additional disclosures, such as company ruses to hide higher executive pay by covering the tax obligation on the already lavish compensation packages. A pro-investor advertising campaign designed by the indefatigable Bill Hillsman fueled the controversy further. His theme was that corporate executives were destroying capitalism, whose principles included control by owners and excluded government bailouts that would nullify or circumvent the discipline of the free market. "The ads make a fair point and are historically accurate," the Wall Street Journal was forced to admit, but went on to discount Warren's poll as stemming from "the dubious motivations of a disgruntled aging executive." Right, Bill Hillsman thought to himself. Warren Buffett, the second-richest man in America, and getting richer by the year. Extremely disgruntled.

***

On the first day of the congressional spring recess, seventy-year-old Billy Beauchamp, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, headed home to southwest Oklahoma in a corporate jet owned by the Viscous Petroleum Corporation. A thirty-eight-year House veteran, he had had no opponent for the last thirty of them, except for the occasional accountant or attorney looking for free publicity on a campaign budget of $20,000 or less. Politically, life was so easy for Congressman Beauchamp that he had grown more and more portly and courtly over the years, and more and more powerful. All House bills had to go through his Rules Committee before getting to the floor, and he was one tough gatekeeper, quick to block any legislation he didn't like, or to attach rules barring amendments and restricting the time for debate. Part of his power stemmed from the fact that there was nothing he needed, neither legislation nor favors. Campaign funds and PAC money for his loyalists came to him in boatloads from corporate interests as a matter of course, and he had no burning causes of his own, other than to maintain the power of business. He regularly entertained lobbyists who came to his office bearing their road maps for congressional action -- or inaction -- and served a special brandy when the oilmen and gasmen dropped in.

But on the flight home, Billy Beauchamp was not reminiscing about his triumphant legislative career. He had other things on his mind. His long-slumbering rural district was bursting with political agitation, and he wanted to get a reading from some of his old friends, the farmers and ranchers and small businessmen who were the backbone of his past reelection coronations. There was no better place to do that than Fran and Freddy's Feed, a family-owned restaurant in Lawton, the Comanche County seat. Despite his worries, the congressman was looking forward to the house specialty, chicken-fried steak with cheese grits.

That evening, seated in a big booth with his friends after much hearty backslapping, Billy asked them what they thought was going on lately. To a man, they expressed their loyalty to him, and to a man they conveyed warnings about what was looming on the horizon.

"This year is different, Billy," said Ernest Jones, a Lawton banker. "It's as if everything's turned on its head. None of us have seen anything like it. Folks here are putting together the pieces of what's been troubling them for a long time."

"I've been getting that feeling for a while now," Billy said as a gum-chewing waitress shuffled over to take their orders -- house specials all around. "Look at her," he went on as the waitress ambled back to the kitchen. "Everyone in this restaurant used to treat me with deference and respect, but now what I see in their eyes is that I'm history. And what the hell is that weirdo button they're all wearing? Is this some kooky anti-establishment mood like in the sixties, or is it a real movement?"

"Might could be," said farmer Gil Groundwork. "I got me one of them buttons myself. Came with the lightbulb I sent for when that Yoko Ono letter came around. It's the Seventh-Generation Eye."

"Say what? You going hippie on me?" Billy looked at Gil in disbelief.

Gil pointed at a busboy clearing a nearby table. "See that T-shirt? What does it say?"

Billy squinted at the busboy as the waitress arrived with five large platters. '''Sooners Rather Than Later.' Very funny. I take it they're losing their patience."

"I reckon they've just about kicked it into the ditch," Gil said. "This kid is probably making five-fifty an hour before deductions. He can't pay his way with that, and lots of people are telling him he doesn't have to if he just takes up with all these marchers and organizers."

"And the old-timers are talking to the kids, showing them their calluses and their poverty after a lifetime of working their asses off for rich guys." Hal Horsefeathers looked down at his work-roughened hands. "We're telling them not to let the same thing happen to them."

"Hey, let's call a spade a spade," said John Henry. "It's all about greed and power, Billy, greed and power that won't let up. For greed and power, nothing is ever enough. It's time for the populist posse to ride again. Myself, I'm sick of my own repossession shop -- too many people in debt, can't pay their monthly charges, the interest and penalties pile up, and my guys move in. It's a nice living, but it stinks. Wasn't going to do anything different, but then along come these rich old guys, and by God, they make sense."

Congressman Billy Beauchamp frowned and looked down at his plate for consolation, cutting himself a big bite of chicken-fried steak. It wasn't as good as it used to be.

***

April 17 was not only tax day. It was also a very taxing day for big business. In Washington, DC, George Soros was about to give his seismic speech on the inefficiencies of corporate -- he emphasized corporate -- capitalism. In New York, the mother of all Wall Street rallies, whether labor, civil rights, environmental, or antiwar, was surrounding the New York Stock Exchange. It was an unprecedented gathering, a rally of nearly two hundred thousand investor-owners -- Leonard had delivered on his promise to Warren -- demanding that their ownership guarantee control. The first speaker was a law professor who had served on the SEC. "Ownership means control. It's been said that trying to organize the sixty million individual investors in this country is like herding cats, but don't you believe it," he declared, and went on to lay out a step-by-step action plan.

Other speakers detailed the corporate crimes responsible for the loss of trillions of pension and trust dollars supposedly held by Wall Street brokers, investment bankers, and bank trust departments. African American investors spoke of the backbreaking toil of the slaves who built so much of the Financial District, including the wall that gave Wall Street its name; they called slavery and its aftermath "centuries of affirmative action for white males." Authors of books about "corporate lying, cheating, and stealing," as one prosecutor phrased it, raised bullhorns to the crowded windows of the surrounding office buildings and bellowed appeals for more whistle-blowers. The ralliers roared their anger and shouted in unison, "Down with the tyranny of self-enriching bosses!" Working off sets of photo cards passed out by Leonard's organizers, they called out the names of the Fortune 100 companies and their CEOs one by one in earsplitting decibels. Representatives of some of the multibillion-dollar institutional investors spoke out in support, as did managers of university endowments. The big mutual funds were reserving judgment -- and small wonder, since they had ownership-without-control problems and investor-gouging traditions of their own.

Toward the end of the rally, a retired CEO of a brokerage firm took the podium to announce that the head of the New York Stock Exchange had been invited to speak and had turned the invitation down flat. A deafening chorus of boos arose from the crowd, which surged forward toward the steps of the Stock Exchange. Startled police panicked and began pushing the demonstrators back with billy clubs or dragging them off to paddy wagons. The scuffles and arrests, the handcuffing of some unresisting demonstrators trained in passive civil disobedience, the spectacle of police force trained on a gathering of small investors-- all made great visuals for the print photographers and television cameras. Once again the Meliorists had conceived an event that bridged the conservative-liberal divide.

***

Every April, the American Society of Newspaper Editors descended on Washington, DC, for its annual convention. Over the years the convention had been a command performance for the prominent political, business, and academic personages chosen as speakers. In most cases, the speeches were soporific, routine, predictable anthems of self- promotion, but every now and then an electrifying presentation came along, like the now largely forgotten Cross of Iron speech delivered by newly inaugurated president Dwight D. Eisenhower in April 1953. In powerful language, Eisenhower delineated the folly of the US-Soviet arms race and the inhumane opportunity costs borne by the civilian populations of both nations, especially the children.

Today, anticipation was running high in the giant ballroom of the Washington Hilton. The advance buzz was that George Soros's speech was going to be one for the capitalist ages, a sort of "Move over, Adam Smith -- what you forewarned in 1776 in your Wealth of Nations has come to seamy maturity beyond your wildest nightmares." George had laid down two stipulations when he accepted the invitation. One was that the speech be carried live, at least on C-SPAN, and that there be full media access. The other was that he speak before lunch, not after. Something of a gourmet, he had seen many a stomach full of food and drink dull the brain and wilt the attention span. Mild hunger had the opposite effect, producing almost undivided attention.

At high noon, the society's president, James R. Rant III, introduced the speaker briskly. "The highly successful financial speculator and philanthropist George Soros needs no introduction. Therefore, I give you George Soros." More than polite applause greeted George as he took the podium, and then utter quiet fell over the room.

For a few seconds, he looked out over the audience. Meeting heightened expectations always made him nervous. He preferred to exceed lowered expectations. Earlier, he had waved away the teleprompter, saying that he was going to extemporize from his notes. That way he could give an impression of informality without sacrificing the precision of his remarks. He could not afford to wander. The last thing he wanted to read in the press reports was, "In a rambling speech today, George Soros said that ..."

In spite of himself, he began stiffly. "O editors of large, medium, and small newspapers, lend me your open minds. For I will not pander to you with sonorous platitudes. Nay, I will respect you by asking you to join me in a journey toward reality. The free mind engages realities; the indentured mind is enslaved by myths. Concentrated power sustains its hegemony with myths that pacify its subjects. Systems of intolerable control fueled by limitless greed have to justify their domination. Myths serve that purpose.

"Today, the dominant institution in our country is the global corporation. Never have corporations been larger, with revenues comparable to or exceeding the gross domestic product of entire nations, with a grip on government that is scarcely challenged, with technologies of unprecedented reach, with workers who are theirs to hire or jettison at will, with a limitless mobility and capacity to evade the jurisdiction of our laws while continuing to profit from their presence in this land of ours.

"The global corporation's principal claim to legitimacy is its efficiency and productivity. The cold hearts and monetized minds of these corporate behemoths rationalize their autocratic decisions on grounds of superior efficiencies and increased productivities. They will admit of only one master they cannot challenge -- the market. The market made me do it, the market is all-wise. They espouse this market fundamentalism shamelessly when in fact they spend their days trying to insure that they are the market. They labor to make government and its laws dutiful servants who keep them ensconced as the market powers. With their immense capital they can turn the governments of smaller nations into debtor putty, and when matters become shaky they can download their risks to national and international governmental institutions.

"The global corporation completes its occupation of our minds -- and many sharp, learned minds are no exception -- by controlling the definitions of efficiency and productivity. Under these definitions, slavery can be and has been justified on the grounds that well-treated slaves enhance the efficiency of any given enterprise. But the time came in our nation's history when it was no longer the market that controlled the outcome. A war was fought and laws were passed to make slavery a grave crime, notwithstanding the fact that it reduced labor costs. How often must we return to the verity that those who define our terms and our yardsticks of economic progress control our dialogue, our very thought processes? That is why so many of us are unable to see that these yardsticks, determined entirely within the corporate sphere, are short-term, shortsighted, and only further reinforced by the stock market, quarterly returns, and executive stock options, barring external intrusions such as effective regulation, litigation, or a civil war. When corporations so overwhelmingly control the premises of the discussion that they are part of the daily catechism in our schools, is it surprising that we all bow to their conclusions?

George paused to take a sip of water. He was hitting his stride. "With your indulgence, let me take you down the abstraction ladder. Let me pose some organizing questions that are based on some of your own finest reporting, your finest hours in journalism, which I choose to take very seriously.

"Is it efficient and productive to dump toxic pollutants into the air, water, soil, food, and property used by millions of innocent women, children, and men? By the corporate definition -- reducing costs by using the environment as a free private sewer -- the answer is yes. By any reasonable societal definition of efficiency and productivity -- where costs have to include the damage to health, safety, and property values -- the answer must be no.

"Is it efficient to produce energy-guzzling consumer products such as motor vehicles and household appliances so that the electric and gas utilities and the oil and coal companies can sell more of their products? For Exxon Mobil, Peabody Coal, El Paso Natural Gas, and General Motors, the corporate efficiency answer is yes. For the population as a whole, for the country as a whole, for consumers as a whole, the inbuilt waste of stagnant technologies requires that the answer be no.

"In the context of the growing peril of global warming, is it efficient to keep expanding the use of fossil fuels, to oppose renewable fuels, and to resist enforceable standards for greater energy efficiency? Within the frame of planet Earth and its peoples and its economy over time, the answer is a resounding no.

"Is it efficient for the corporations to protect their entrenched wasteful technologies by actively opposing alternative technologies that are better for the human race in the long run? No. It's a case of a powerful inefficiency, so to speak, repressing a powerless efficiency. But the corporation answers yes in all its destructive myopia and continues mortgaging the future while the general public pays the bills.

"Is it efficient for the timber companies to twist the arm of the Forest Service so that they can clear-cut more of the people's land while using totally subsidized roads and paying Uncle Sam absurdly low prices for the logs? And to do it at the expense of protecting the national forests from serious damage and expanding their recreational use for generations to come? For the timber companies, it's efficient to take every last tree standing in our national forests, which supply less than five percent of the country's total timber harvest. For posterity -- may we resurrect that word so oft employed by our forebears -- it is distinctly inefficient. One only has to look at the denuded upper Midwest and other regions where forests disappeared in the nineteenth century to anticipate the wasteful long-term economic consequences. There was once a thriving lumber business in the upper Midwest; there is none today.

"How efficient was it, in the thirties and forties, for General Motors to conspire with a tire company and an oil company to buy up trolley systems -- their remaining competitors -- in twenty-eight metropolitan areas, including the world's largest electrified mass transit network in the Los Angeles area, and then proceed to tear up the tracks and lobby government for more highways? Clearly, neither the Justice Department, which moved the indictment against the three companies for criminal violation of the antitrust laws, nor the federal district court, which convicted them, thought it was efficient for the country, but the damage was done. The economic inefficiency of the failure to create a more balanced surface transportation system can be seen today in the daily bumper-to-bumper traffic at commuter hours -- more fuel wasted, more time wasted, more air pollution in our lungs, and more accidents on our roads. The work done by innovative transit engineers and at such universities as Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, gives us a glimmer of the modern, flexible mass transit systems that could have graced those once valuable rights of way.

"Is it efficient for the defense industry to lobby for larger and larger military budgets and unneeded weapons systems when those wasteful and inefficiently contracted tax dollars could be spent on the people's needs instead? Standing before this convention in 1953, President Eisenhower itemized the number of schools and hospitals and public transit systems that could be funded if the United States and the Soviet Union would only lift 'the cross of iron' from their citizenry's shoulders. And yet the industry's top executives have the nerve to complain about all the uneducated workers coming their way. I suppose it's too much to hope that the 'military industrial complex,' as Eisenhower called it in his farewell address in January 1961, would ever miss a chance to raise the military budget even higher than the one half of the entire federal operating budget it represents today. To the Lockheed-Martins, enough is never enough. To be on the receiving end of tax dollars from Uncle Sam is an efficient result for these companies' bottom lines and executive compensation packages. It is not an efficient result for a country that should have been reaping an annual peace dividend since 1991, following the internal collapse of our major military adversary.

"Is it efficient that the healthcare industry rakes in an annual two-hundred-billion-dollar bonanza through gross billing fraud for services rendered -- or not rendered -- as documented by the Government Accountability office of the Congress? Is it efficient for the patients? The taxpayers?

"Is it efficient that the corporate health insurance industry uses about twenty-five percent of every premium dollar for administrative, executive, and bureaucratic expenses when the government's health insurance program, Medicare, only uses three percent on such expenses before paying out? Aren't company efficiencies supposed to advance consumer efficiencies rather than enter into a zero-sum relationship with them? Yet the latter is exactly what the wheelchair manufacturing monopoly and the virtual GE lightbulb monopoly and the automakers with their fragile vehicles did to their customers for many years before consumer advocacy groups and competitive forces finally came to the rescue.

"The Great Lakes once had a thriving commercial fishing industry. No more. Apparently the lakeshore chemical and petrochemical industry found it efficient to dump mercury and other poisons into these wondrous natural creations.

"Of late the outcry from corporations demanding that government activities be turned over to them through the outsourcing of procurement programs has become thunderously loud. The grotesque increase in taxpayer costs from this commercialization of so many military and civilian services has been camouflaged by the corporate ideology that companies are more efficient than government. Tell that to the Pentagon's civil service procurement officers, who, like Admiral Hyman Rickover before them, can point to one case study after another detailing the massive cost overruns they have had to endure and absorb. Tell it to the auditors of the Hurricane Katrina contracts. Tell it to the Seabees and the Salvation Army, who know a thing or two about efficiency.

"Very few people, even in the Pentagon, know that deep inside that department, at the Walter Reed army research complex, the government maintains its own 'drug company.' For nearly four decades it has been discovering and testing crucial drugs at less than five percent of the development costs that the big pharmaceutical companies claim to justify the exorbitant prices patients pay for drugs. The astonishing expediency of the corporations emerges here as well. The pharmaceutical industry has managed to shape federal policy in such a way that the medicines researched and developed by the government are given free to one or another of the big drug companies under what are essentially monopoly marketing agreements. That is to say, no royalties to the government from profits, and no price controls to keep the companies from gouging their patients, many of whom are the taxpayers whose dollars funded the research to begin with. To add to the windfall, the pharmaceutical firms are always hiring away the government's medical officers and other scientists, with their taxpayer-funded years of experience. These companies obviously think the whole arrangement is a model of efficiency. They're wrong.

"There is no end to the elaborations of the myth of corporate efficiencies, which in fact arise from the imposition of inefficiencies on consumers, workers, and taxpayers. I was just reading a new book by the eminent John Bogle, one of the pioneers of the mutual fund industry, and the founder of the low-fee Vanguard series of funds. His sad and angry conclusion was that the aggregate take in fees charged to the average mutual fund investor over time amounts to one third of investment gains. That, I suppose, is an efficient figure from the viewpoint of the mutual funds' management. I doubt that investors would agree if they were aware of the vigorish.

"You may note that I have scarcely touched upon what economists call the diseconomies of the business corporation. Consider if you will the well-documented human damage from the overprescribing or misprescribing of drugs peddled to the public through massive television advertising and other industry promotions. The adverse effects of these drugs claim more than one hundred thousand American lives a year and produce far larger numbers of serious problems such as gastrointestinal bleeding. When you factor in the warnings of leading medical scientists that the reckless promotion and prescribing of antibiotics overloads patients and generates resistant strains of bacteria, the casualty toll just keeps rising.

"Or what about the epidemic of corporate crime that your publications have been reporting day after day? Trillions of dollars have been drained or looted from workers, pensioners, and 401(k) holders in the past half dozen years. That is some externality! As are the sixty-five thousand people who die every year from air pollution, according to the EPA, or the fifty-eight thousand workplace-related deaths from disease and trauma every year, according to OSHA, or the nearly one hundred thousand people who die annually as a result of medical negligence or incompetence in hospitals, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

"These diseconomies and many more reported in the press led Ralph Estes, a prominent professor of social cost accounting, now emeritus, to conclude that corporations have done more harm than good. 'What?' you say. 'Has George Soros gone off the deep end?' Open minds, please. Consider that many of these external costs are reflected in suffering and destruction that escapes marketplace feedback -- for example, the loss of a loved one without recompense where recompense is due, or the depletion of natural resources through land erosion, deforestation, mountaintop destruction, and so on -- or are shifted to future generations. Moreover, and importantly, the very costs transform themselves into many forms of economic demand that fuel business, profits, and jobs.

"Let's take a mundane example -- the ridiculously flimsy bumpers on your motor vehicles, which essentially protect nothing but themselves, and that very poorly. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates annual repair costs model by model. A five-mile-per-hour collision can run you anywhere from five hundred to four thousand dollars, or even more, either directly or in higher insurance premiums. And the other side of cost is sales. The collision repair industry, starting with the original equipment manufacturers and ending with the body shops, takes in billions of dollars a year from the business of fixing preventable damage. It's not as if the auto company engineers don't know how to build simple bumpers that protect other parts of the car in low-level collisions, certainly up to ten miles an hour.

"But, you say, the US economy is the wealthiest and mightiest in the world, despite its huge consumer, corporate, and governmental debt burdens. You're right, as long as we don't ask tough questions about the quality of life it produces. And for whom? And at what expense to posterity? To the global environment? To vulnerable people overseas? At what expense to consumers, workers, and taxpayers, to public services and hollowed-out communities and depleted natural resources? At what expense to distributive justice for the working people of America, to their living standard, their time, their tranquility?

"Let's turn our open minds back to the early 1900s, a period of widespread poverty, insufficient affordable housing, low wages, hungry children. Well, our mighty, wealthy economy roared through the century, stimulated by several wars, and here we are the beginning of the twenty-first century, with an economy twenty to twenty-five times more 'productive' per worker, inflation-adjusted, than in the horse-and-buggy days. So what do the newspapers tell us, sometimes in the most graphic and heart-rending of terms? That we live in a period of widespread poverty, insufficient affordable housing, low wages, and hungry children, that tens of millions of American families are deeply in debt, that disparities of income and wealth in our nation are huge and steadily growing.

"'So why hasn't the capitalist economy collapsed?' you may wonder. Setting aside the fact that it did, during the Great Depression, the answer is simple. Because it is not a capitalist economy, with companies both large and small having an unfettered freedom to fail. Rather, it is a predominantly corporate capitalist economy, with Washington, DC, serving a backstop function of bailing out, guaranteeing, subsidizing, and overcontracting to big business. As the astute restaurateur Nathra Nader once said, 'Capitalism will always survive because socialism will always be there to save it.' Corporate capitalism is in charge, but it is inundating us with manufactured wants and whims instead of delivering the necessities and allowing public budgets to reflect the priorities of a sane and just society.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the task that lies before us is abundantly clear. We must redefine efficiency and productivity as if what matters most is the well-being of our people and their descendants. As if corporations adjust to be our servants, not our masters. Toward this end, we must stop letting the big corporations and their apologists think for us and start thinking for ourselves. We need open minds for an open society. We have nothing to lose but our myths. We have everything to gain by thinking anew about how to create real prosperity for all our citizens, how to protect the environment they live in, and how to insure the peaceful sustainability of our planet.

"Thank you for inviting me to address you this afternoon. May you pursue these inquiries further here at your convention and on returning to your work of opening more minds."

At first, a stunned silence greeted the conclusion of George's speech -- five seconds, ten seconds, fifteen. Then a single clap was heard, then two, three, four, a dozen, building to a crescendo of applause from a roomful of standing editors, though the ovation didn't quite drown out some loud booing. Maybe a dozen mossbacks, George thought as he took in the reaction. When the audience quieted, a panel of editors chosen for the occasion asked a few unusually thoughtful questions arising from George's points. It was clear that the editors had listened to his remarks and discarded their prepared questions about the IMP, globalization, and the like.

The reporters in the room rushed to file their stories. The Washington Post led with "Global financier George Soros told the American Society of Newspaper Editors today that large corporations are engines of inefficiency and that they get away with it because they hide it in their profit-and-loss statements." The New York Times headline read, "Financier- Philanthropist Says Large Corporations Weave a Web of Myths." The Wall Street Journal ran with "George Soros Attacks Corporate Efficiency Myth, Asks for Open Minds."

"Not bad," George said, reading the clippings back in his office with his project manager. "We went after the central dogma, and maybe others will follow. How was the television?"

"Thirty-five seconds -- a clip of one or two of your pithier lines," replied the manager. "It's not a one-day story. There'll be commentary and editorials, calls and e-mails, and plenty of outrage from the expected quarters to keep it going."

"We'll see," George said. "It certainly was the best possible audience. Before a Chamber of Commerce crowd, the speech would have gone in one ear and out the other, and they'd have jeered me out of the hall. Which is fine, because it wasn't designed for the closed-minded business community, but for market-brainwashed citizens and students around the country. Once the myth starts to collapse, the multinationals will know what it's like when an entombed mummy hits air."

***

By the third week of April, Sols campaign against Wal-Mart was putting tremendous pressure on the company. Sales were down in the two hundred stores subjected to regular and very effective picketing, but not nearly as steeply as in the five stores beset by dozens of small businesses that were undercutting Wal-Mart's prices on its forty leading sellers. These fire sales struck at the heart of the slogan seen on Wal-Mart trucks as they traveled the nation's highways 24/7: "Always the Lowest Price. Always." At the same five stores, the Sol-SWATs were completing their work on the union organizing drive. Company attorneys, Wal-SWATs, and representatives of the National Labor Relations Board were all on location tensely performing their respective roles. As if all that weren't bad enough, Wal-Mart was losing lawsuits unrelated to Sol's crew and all the media attention they were garnering. Denial of lunch breaks caused one judge to rule in favor of thousands of Wal-Mart workers in the West. Women charging discrimination in both pay and promotions won their case. Week after week, Wal-Mart was getting an overdose of bad news.

In response, the company organized demonstrations of satisfied low-income shoppers and loyal workers, but so many Wal-Mart freebies were handed out that the press discounted the turnouts. Meanwhile, the Sol-SWATs organized counter-demonstrations of exploited workers, small family businesses that had been pillars of their communities until Wal-Mart crushed them, and shoppers who felt ripped off by the company's sales practices. Speakers made sure to cover all the bases. Again and again, they compared the hourly Wal-Mart worker wage with the $10,000 an hour or more paid to top executives, and stressed the company's mandatory better treatment of its Western European workers. Again and again, they explained how local property taxpayers were subsidizing Wal-Mart's privileged presence in their communities, and how federal taxes were subsidizing Wal-Mart's low-wage business model. The speeches were sprinkled with contrived leaks about what was coming Wal-Mart's way on an even larger scale. Sol's partial mole on the board of directors told him that it was this credible threat of a sustained and expanded campaign that most frightened the board and the CEO.

Wal-Mart's standing on Wall Street continued to suffer. Controversy and uncertainty were never good for a company's stock. The number of "market underperforms" recommended by the stock analysts was on the rise, and there were no "buys," only "holds" and even a few "sells." One analyst for a major investment banking firm issued a report warning that Wal-Mart's very business model was in jeopardy. He noted that of the model's two underpinnings -- a spectacularly hard- bitten supply chain ending with just-in-time inventory, and low wages and benefits -- it was the latter that was particularly in jeopardy. Wal-Mart's stock continued to slide, not precipitously, but at that gradual pace that drives brokerage firms crazy. As one broker put it, "The China price is one thing, but this is more like Chinese water torture."

***

The last weekend in April -- what would have been near Maui Five -- saw the opening of Luke Skyhi's ten-city arena extravaganzas showcasing the sustainable economy in a way that dispelled the Goody Two-Shoes aura of so many environmental rallies. The displays, which included some props and visuals borrowed from the Sun God festivals, were emotionally and intellectually stunning. There were no corporate-sponsored greenwashing exhibits like the ones that had usurped the annual Earth Day celebration. Just the opposite. The destructive corporate economy was the focus. The sustainable economy, with its here-at-home jobs, was the solution. The contrast between the two -- the portrayal of life under the sustainable economy as compared with the rat race, the disrupted families, the declining living standard of the majority of Americans under the Fortune 500 economy -- was stark and dramatic, just the kind of vivid contrast that works to raise expectations and motivate people to act, to shift their buying habits, to refuse to take no for an answer.

No one was more amazed at the impact on the attendees and the media than the established groups and cooperatives that had been working for a sustainable economy for years, crying tediously in the wilderness, for the most part objects of curiosity or derision to all but their tiny cadre of adherents and practitioners. "All steak, no sizzle," wrote one columnist years ago. Laboring in the vineyards largely in vain, they nonetheless represented the future survival path for the planet. For decades their idealism sustained them in the face of their disappointment in a corporate-saturated public that kept looking the other omnicidal way. But these arena shows were something different. They represented idealism backed by power and driven by a strategy of wholesale displacement of the destructive corporate economy. Even the rhythms of the music exuded power. So did the art, the speeches, the technologies. So did the presence of so many politicians and spotters for the big corporations, who showed up uninvited but were more than welcome to attend. Luke Skyhi wanted the political and corporate scions to feel the power, see the power, taste the power, and be in shock and awe of the power. The large arena shows were not only designed to be powerful in themselves; the PCC made sure they signaled that the drive for a sustainable economy was about to move into other arenas, into the legislatures, courts, executive branches, and executive suites of the soon-to-be powers that were. No more Mr. Nice Guy!

Luke Skyhi was beginning to put the pieces of the Redirections network together all by himself. Emboldened by his sense that there were mighty forces at his back, he told the media, in his keynote address, just how the rubber was going to hit the road. His words conveyed a mood of conviction and determination. "No more excuses! The train has left the station, and the track is branching out in all directions, so stay tuned," he said as a quartet of jazz vocalists broke into the theme song Yoko had composed for the glorious weekend, "If It Takes Forever, I Will Wait for You, but the Polar Bears Won't."

***

Out in California, Warren Beatty's campaign took full advantage of the weekend's arena events in Los Angeles and San Francisco-Oakland, just as it had been taking full advantage of the Sun God festivals and the increasingly vociferous and media-savvy lunchtime rallies in those cities, as well as San Jose and San Diego.

In recent weeks, the campaign had almost been sidetracked by charges of womanizing against both candidates. A salivating press and blogosphere pounced on a flurry of accusations and visuals from jilted husbands and tearful women relaying their stories often poignant, whether true or not -- over and over until the public felt like it was watching an X- rated soap opera. Salaciousness fatigue set in. It turned out that Mutually Assured Promiscuity was as effective a deterrent in the California gubernatorial campaign as Mutually Assured Destruction is claimed to have been during the Cold War. After a fortnight of TV, radio, and tabloid frenzy, the sex-capades of the two Lotharios became a sideshow, and Warren knew how to keep them a sideshow. He was a different man now, a faithful husband to his adored wife, Annette, and a proud father of their four children. He suavely advised all current rakes in the state to try married life. The reporters ate it up, and the cockhound dustup died down to barroom chuckles and website jokes.

More important political business took center stage. The problems of the state were immense, and perceived as such by most Californians. In ever greater numbers, they felt that their governor had blown the opportunity presented by his initial sky-high poll numbers when he characterized picketing nurses as "special interests" and said he was "kicking their butt." Thus commenced his Waterloo. He had alienated not only the nurses, but teachers, police, and firefighters, with both his style and his policies of protecting the wealthy at their expense. Moreover, with the restoration of the tax on the super-rich over the governor's veto, Warren had staked his claim to the debt and deficit issues that had given the former celluloid action hero some policy credibility.

Barry Diller continued to be Warren's political lifeguard. Quietly he synergized the pertinent initiatives of the Meliorists with his friend's campaign to keep it varied, exciting, fresh, and substantive. It wasn't so much that the agenda was particularly new -- it covered pensions, tax reform, water purity and availability, long overdue public works projects to employ the unemployed, a living wage, universal quality healthcare, modernization of public transport to contain sprawl, safe and clean streets, revamped schools that taught civic skills and literacy from the earliest grades, a crackdown on corporate crime and abuse of power, etc. -- it was the decisive, unambiguous manner in which Warren argued for it, drawing on all his actor's skills. He made reform seem unstoppable. His campaign left Arnold frittering and the Democratic Party dumbfounded -- that is, reviewing his agenda, they found out how dumb they'd been in past election cycles.

Other would-be progressive politicians and candidates all over the country began to take heed. The cliche that as California goes, so goes the nation, seemed less a cliche with every passing week. Nobody took greater heed than the members of Congress -- heed mixed with more than a few flutters of fear.

Warren's caravan of the super-rich had grown to four buses that traveled all over California, from the northern mountains to the southern deserts and beaches, from the inner cities and sprawling suburbs to the valleys where migrant farmworkers toiled. The election was his to lose, but he refused to play it safe. He crisscrossed the state tirelessly, his days of chronic indecision long behind him. A transplanted Californian from Virginia, he was on a journey of public self- discovery as much as a quest for the public interest, and Californians were responding in droves.

***

In Omaha, Warren and the Secretariat spent the Maui Five weekend on a comprehensive ingathering of all the assets and strategies for the coming invasion of the Congress by the people. According to the profiles the Congress Project was compiling, about 15 percent of the members of Congress were as close to first-rate as the voters were likely to get under the present corrupt political-electoral system. The advancement of the First-Stage Improvements would begin with them as the various Redirectional projects sought the most suitable sponsors for the different parts of the overall legislative agenda. But the growing populist fervor would ignore no one on Capitol Hill, not the newly arrived nor the veteran Bulls who commanded the committees. Every member would see just how decisive the stakes were for their ambitions, their parties, and of course their reelection prospects. So entrenched and complacent were the incumbents -- the lifers -- in their one-party districts or states that they would be completely off guard when the tornado hit the Capitol Dome. They would be flabbergasted, not so much by the legislation, but by the blitzkrieg of people power all around them -- especially the people back home who they thought were loyal or simply ignorant or apathetic. The Meliorist legislation that would soon be introduced represented a politically relentless surprise attack on injustices well known to both the solons and the public. The politics of the almighty dollar and the almighty corporation had kept such legislation off the dockets and out of congressional sight for most of America's modern political history.

Which was about to be history, Warren thought to himself as he reviewed the weekend's hard work with weary satisfaction.
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