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.


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



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



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


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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During the month of May, gas prices continued their upward spiral. Politicians were feeling the heat from the voters back home, but not enough to overcome their fear of and feeding by the oil and gas industry, with its omnipresent, accommodating lobbyists. Although winter was more than six months away, it would take time to get the oil companies to disgorge some of the ill-gotten gains from their profiteering -- say, through a windfall tax or a $10 billion charitable contribution to help the poor pay their fuel and heating bills, for starters. Whatever pressure might be brought to bear on the oil giants -- and Analysis was preparing a devastating report on their collusion in the form of joint ventures with the overseas cartels and strange, well-timed domestic refinery shortages -- the focus had to be on arousing the public to pressure Congress and the oil-marinated White House.

Enter "Read all about it!" and Phil's idea at Maui Four of using it against the oil companies. Through his work on the Egalitarian Clubs, Bernard had located two dynamic people in their late twenties, one working with minority children to put out a community newspaper in South Central Los Angeles, and the other helping youngsters in East New York to create their own radio programs. Ray Ramirez and Nicole Joyner were more than enthusiastic when Bernard approached them about the Daily Bugle, as the new paper would be called. They passed their Recruitment interviews with flying colors and started in right away.

Ray and Nicole were tailor-made for the job of finding a battalion of young people to distribute the Bugle during the afternoon rush hour at a thousand intersections in scores of cities -- Connecticut Avenue and K Street in Washington, corners around Times Square and Union Square in New York, the Boston Commons, Chicago's Loop, Fountain Square in Cincinnati, and so on. It would be a nice paying task for youngsters in need, and would also draw out promising young leaders who were gregarious and assertive -- traits they had to have to reach out to millions of passersby. The Bugle would be a four-page tabloid with big headlines and arresting pictures. Bernard called Barry and lined up a team of four journalists from Promotions to write the crackling copy. Yoko set him up with a graphic artist who would design the paper so that even the typeface and layout expressed indignation. With their staff in place, Ray and Nicole set a target date of one month to get the project up and running.

Meanwhile, the consolidation and deployment of the Clean Elections Party was proceeding at a furious pace. All kinds of deadlines were looming, and the finest talent was recruited to move this eagle forward fast and flawlessly. What continued to amaze Warren and his organizers was the sheer electoral and managerial talent that came out of the woodwork. It seemed that over the years the country had accumulated a stockpile of frustrated candidates, fundraisers, strategists, logistical specialists, street-level neighborhood organizers, and get-out-the vote geniuses, all waiting with fading hope for a new burst of political freedom. At once professional and refreshingly driven by ideals, they were just the sort of people the CEP needed as field organizers and for the all-important teams of administrators, compliance officers, and volunteer coordinators.

Bill Hillsman agreed to take on the promotional work for the party, from posters, lawn signs, bumper stickers, and conversation-generating buttons to TV and radio spots that would take full advantage of the sharply divergent political views of the CEP's two spokespeople, Phyllis Schlafly and John Bonifaz, to make the case for clean elections. He also planned to produce a series of demographically targeted DVDs that would be distributed by the hundreds of thousands to challenge and inspire voters and enlist their support for the clean elections agenda. That agenda was in the process of being refined by Warren's Electoral Reform project staff, along with a concise fact sheet showing specifically how clean elections would translate into a positive political climate and an improved standard of living -- decent wages, affordable housing, universal Medicare, experienced-based education, and all the rest.

The drive to meet the deadlines was going well, in part because of the talent and resources applied to the endeavor, in part because of Recruitment's usual brilliance -- in this case, in finding good candidates -- and in part because of conventional political thinking on the part of the two major parties. The Democrats and Republicans were in possession of polls telling them that "electoral reform," "campaign finance reform," and the like bored the public and wouldn't change any votes on Election Day. They therefore made no effort to use obstructionist state laws or phony litigation to deny the Clean Elections Party ballot access or force it to miss deadlines. This major party inertia augured well for the project of cutting the Gordian knot that tied elections to the yoke of big money. And it didn't hurt that the new party had the backing to focus on Congress, where there was no atavistic Electoral College standing in the way.

The speed with which developments were coalescing was a tribute to the way Warren and his project manager had structured the CEP. It was not organized from the top down but as a broad tract of parallel pathways, each with district- specific goals. That enabled the state parties to make sure the operational tasks were completed competently and in time to beat the calendar, which was no mean feat. Warren also wanted the CEP campaigns to mesh with the reform initiatives that would be coming from the Blockbuster Challenge and the Congress Watchdogs, but that was a dicey area because strict election laws prohibited any coordination between political parties and nonprofit citizen action groups. He just had to hope that all those bright, energetic CEP staffers would pick up the ball on their own.

The day after the filing deadlines, forty-seven House incumbents and ten Senate incumbents found themselves in the teeth of a robust wind from the Clean Elections Party and its flotilla of candidates with all sails unfurled. These incumbents, who included the congressional leadership and key committee and subcommittee chairs, were soon to realize what a competitive election was all about. For the first time, they would be facing sterling candidates who were not dialing for the same corporate dollars or taking their cues from the same stale crowd of political consultants. They were about to be caught in the act of selling the voters down the river once again, and the Capitol was reverberating with the tremors. The incumbents suspected that the Clean Elections Party would be very successful at raising funds from "the little people" and raising Cain to bring media attention to its "new day" polities, and they were right. Leonard was full of ideas about how to get small contributions from large numbers of people -- they were not trade secrets -- but to succeed, the party needed integrity, authenticity, and the communications ability to reach these people. Fortunately, all the activities of the Redirections projects would work to the advantage of the CEP as long as there was no organizational coordination between them. Theresa Tieknots and her staff of top-flight attorneys were standing by to advise and monitor full compliance with FEC regulations.

Among the incumbents who awoke to the new day was Congressman Billy Beauchamp, who was shocked to discover that he had an opponent from the Clean Elections Party, a forty-seven-year-old dirt farmer by the name of Willy Champ. An ex-marine, tall, muscular, and outspoken, Willy had received some television coverage two years earlier for his spectacular rescue of a two-year-old girl who had been abandoned by a terrified teenage babysitter fleeing a raging fire. The footage of Willy emerging from the collapsing house carrying the little child with his jacket on fire was played again and again on the local news. Unforgettable!

But Willy Champ was more than a brave man. He was deeply steeped in the progressive history of Texas and Oklahoma, birthplaces of the great populist movement that swept much of the country between 1887 and 1912. Not far from his farm was Elk City, where Dr. Michael Shadid started the first prepaid cooperative hospital in the nation in 1928 and launched the prepaid medical care movement that led to Kaiser Permanente and the famous Puget Sound Health Care Cooperative. As Willy sat in the local library reading books, articles, and newspaper clippings about the farmers' revolt against the giant railroads and banks that were squeezing them, he could hardly believe the Oklahoma of today. It was dominated by big business from one end to the other, and its politicians were mostly on the take and on the double for their corporate overlords.

The Clean Elections Party organizer for Oklahoma's Fourth District had spent days going to one town after another in search of a candidate to run against Billy Beauchamp. The trail led to Willy, not surprisingly, for he was a talker, a joiner, and a helper to hundreds of people. During the talking, joining, and helping, he loved to expand on his favorite topic of returning the political process to the people it was designed to serve. After several conversations with his wife, Felicity, while their three teenage children were asleep in their rooms, Willy decided to take Billy Beauchamp on.

His first act as a candidate was to issue a public invitation to Congressman Beauchamp to join him in the auditorium on the campus of Southwestern Oklahoma Community College for an informal discussion about politics in America and the need for change. His tone was polite and low-key but did not conceal a note of authentic urgency. "Impudent whippersnapper," Billy Beauchamp expostulated to his chief of staff. "I'll be damned if I'm going to dignify his candidacy by appearing on the same stage with him. Turn him down. Now!" He hoped his bluster concealed the nervous agitation he was feeling as he contemplated the upcoming campaign and recalled the unsettling conversation at Fran and Freddy's Feed.


Over at Regulation magazine, published under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute, the editors were noticing a disturbing trend. Petitions submitted to the whole array of governmental regulatory agencies by "interested parties," as the statutes called them, were sharply on the rise, even in hitherto dormant areas involving corporate subsidy and contracting programs at the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Commerce. There was no apparent pattern among the petitions. Some came from academics, others from environmental and consumer groups, some from businesses, others from parents who had lost a child to an unsafe medication or household product or toxic chemical. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Labor had received a raft of petitions from labor unions, the SEC and the bank regulatory agencies from investors and depositors.

The editor in chief of Regulation, Tom Topfield, called a special breakfast meeting of the editorial board to discuss the matter. As they sliced into their cantaloupe, crunched their cereal, and scraped through their scrambled eggs, they agreed that they had never seen so many petitions come into the agencies and departments in such a short time and over such a staggering range of issues -- nothing remotely comparable. The one trait the petitions had in common was legal competence. The editors surmised that some top-notch regulatory and contract attorneys must be vetting them for legal and factual accuracy. Sleepy-time "regulatory Washington" -- an oxymoron for years -- was about to get a big wake-up call, they foresaw with a sense of foreboding, but also a perverse elation because of the heightened importance their business contributors would accord the AEI's labors. Raising his tall skinny latte, Tom Topfield exclaimed, "Gentlemen, hold on to your hats!"

The Regulation deregulators were not exaggerating. A huge backlog of petitions that had built up in a climate hostile to regulation was now moving front and center. It was as if a dam holding back thwarted reformers had burst and was flooding the valley of business crime, fraud, abuse, and freeloading. Little did the editors know that even as they were breakfasting, some of these petitions were being redrafted as bills that would shortly be submitted to Congress for action, and would form part of the explanation for why the Clean Elections Party was on the ballot.

To beat its competitor deregulatory think tanks and be first at the trough for prestige and corporate contributions, the AEI put its swarm of analysts into high gear to process the Federal Register and the public dockets at all the agencies. It took them just over a week to produce an exhaustive document with specific recommendations and alerts to a vast network of trade associations, law firms, accounting firms, and dealer and agency associations at the state and local level nationwide.

The document broke the petitions down by type. One cluster of them simply sought to update existing health and safety regulations for motor vehicles, railroads, aviation, drugs, food, and hospitals. These were the hardest to oppose, since the necessity of the regulations had been institutionalized and their obsolescence was beyond argument. They were so much out of date by years or decades that companies were able to boast in their advertising that their products "exceed federal standards."

A second cluster had never before touched the desks of the regulators and policymakers. These petitions "of first impression," as the lawyers say, called for the regulation of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology, including the labeling of supermarket foodstuffs made with genetically modified crops. Bill Joy's astute advice had not been lost on the Meliorists.

Another group of petitions dealt with fraud in Medicare and other federal health payment programs, claiming that billions of dollars a year could be saved through tighter reporting, auditing, and enforcement standards. The agencies regulating credit card companies and bank transactions were asked to declare certain fine-print clauses invalid per se in standard sign-on-the-dotted-line contracts -- for example, binding arbitration provisions that stripped consumers or employees of their right to go to court, or provisions stipulating that the vendors could unilaterally manage the contract in any way at any time. A group of home economics teamers presented the Federal Trade Commission with a petition sure to shake the advertising world to its foundations. All claims asserted in ads would have to be substantiated in electronic files accessible to both consumers and the FTC. The teamers included vivid details about bogus advertising claims for cars, cosmetics, drugs, food, and assorted other products from light bulbs to tires.

A coalition of taxpayer associations from around the nation petitioned the office of Management and Budget to require all agencies and departments to provide a cost-benefit analysis for existing corporate subsidy programs, including cash payments, loan guarantees, bailouts, and government giveaways of research and development or natural resources like hard rock metals -- gold, silver, molybdenum, etc. The petitioners called upon the OMB to prepare taxpayer impact statements on the steady flow of government assets and resources to corporations, and to publish these statements in the Federal Register each year for comment. They indicated that legislation might be necessary if the OMB chose not to act on the petition.

Investor groups, organized in part through Warren's work, asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to rule that any publicly held corporation receiving federal subsidies, as carefully defined in the lengthy petition, must issue bylaws giving shareholders approval over the compensation packages of top executives, again precisely defined. The roars of rage from Wall Street would be heard all the way to Houston.

Comparable decibels were likely to issue from the gigantic government contracting industry, with its tens of thousands of vendors partaking annually in over $500 billion in government business and grants. A petition filed before the OMB by several radio and television stations, no less, sought to require that the full texts of all government contracts and grants of more than $100,000, whether to companies, partnerships, or individual recipients, be posted online for full public review and improved competitive bidding, though there was an allowance for redactions in cases involving national security, legitimate trade secrets, and individual privacy rights. A whole universe of government-business-university relationships would suddenly become visible to anyone interested in them. Timber, coal, oil, gas, and other leaseholds, overseas business promotional grants, agreements with the ubiquitous consulting firms that performed all kinds of governmental functions, including writing speeches for cabinet secretaries, would see the light of day as a matter of routine.

The think-tankers paused to remark on the sheer audacity of what they were surveying. In their wildest exaggerations of the regulatory mind-set of their adversaries, they could never have conceived of the phenomenon they were now analyzing for their various clients. The breadth, depth, speed, quality, and radiating cascades of these petitions took their breath away. What central brain was orchestrating all this, they wondered, and to what end? And why had the safety nuts and the home ec teachers and the investors and all the rest of them filed their petitions so stealthily in the past few weeks rather than publicizing them immediately?

With their document completed and duly dispatched, the AEI strategists continued to ponder these questions. Recalling Harold Mertz's column last month on the four major publications that were assigning full-time reporters to the rich guys' rebellion, they decided to have Tom Topfield get together with the reporters individually to share information. It was high time to get to the bottom of this surging upheaval.

Over four consecutive days, Topfield met with each reporter for a dutch lunch in a private dining room at the Jefferson Hotel. These were meetings of convenience, with the two parties serving as informal sources for one another. There were things that one side could do but not the other. The veteran reporter for the New York Times, Basil Brubaker, hinted at sources indicating that the rich guys communicated regularly over a secure closed-circuit TV system. Alas, the Times was prohibited by its ethical standards from retaining a firm that might attempt to crack the system. With equal subtlety, Topfield told Brubaker about the wave of petitions and bewailed his probable lack of access to the petitioners, who would no doubt refuse to answer his questions about what they were doing and who put them up to it, because they saw the AEI as too close to business. Happily, such a taint did not apply to an enterprising newspaperman, he observed as Brubaker jotted a note on his pad. And so it went, back and forth, with no real breakthroughs on either side. Brubaker returned to the office and wrote a short piece on the AEI's exhaustive analysis of the petitions and its intense interest in the business rebels. His article prodded the other corporate think tanks to take a closer look at who was behind these recent "assaults on the free enterprise system," as they characterized the burgeoning challenge.

Topfield's lunches with the other three investigative reporters were of small consequence. None of them had any solid leads except what the Meliorists were already going public with day after day, which served as an effective cover because of the scope and pace of the projects. Not only that, but there was no money trail because of the way the Meliorists had set up the funding. What the press saw was what it got -- a unique form of camouflage.


In the higher echelons of the business world, frustration was building. The Meliorists were dominating the news daily. A CEO would hold a press conference to announce a merger that would be "a perfect fit," or to tout a new product; or to express support for a tax cut or a proposed trade treaty, and all the reporters wanted to talk about was "the retired rich guys' revolt." Enough already! A group of eleven powerful CEOs put a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal inviting applications for a strong leader who would mobilize the business community to blunt, block, and finally defeat "this nefarious attack on the business of America." The ad stipulated the necessary qualifications -- knowledge, experience, a proven track record, stamina, a clean background -- and offered a salary of $10 million a year plus a ladder of bonuses pegged to successes. "Urgent! Time Sensitive!" read the headline. The ad stated at the bottom that applications had to be received within five days.

So stringent were the qualifications for this pressure-cooker position, whose occupant would have to report to these undoubtedly imperious CEOs, that many self-starters decided to take a pass. Only fourteen serious resumes came in. The CEOs met in the penthouse boardroom of the Leviathan Corporation to select the winner.

Their choice was unanimous: Lancelot Lobo, forty-eight years old, of Anglo-Saxon descent, graduate of Yale Law School and Harvard Business School, winner of his class prize for the best thesis in philosophy, and widely known as a beyond-the-pale corporate raider in the mold of Carl Icahn. In the background briefing materials was a story about Lobo's father that caught the eye of Jasper Cumbersome III, Leviathan's CEO. Vinegar Joe Stillwell of the Burma-China front during World War II was Lobo pere's hero. He wanted his son to grow up, join the army, and rise to the top tough as nails. He named Lancelot after the legendary Camelot knight and expected him to achieve great exploits with the strength and stealth of a timber wolf -- a lobo. One problem. Lancelot had other ideas. He wanted to be a tough hombre, all right, but he wanted to do it by taking stock positions in corporations and forcing them to restructure, spin off divisions, whatever was necessary to raise the price of their stock. One advantage to hiring Lobo was that the nation's leading pain in the ass of corporate management would be otherwise occupied. Some of the CEOs in the room had been stung, bullied, or foiled by his hardball tactics, his lawsuits, and his posturing in the press. All had to recognize that Lobo in charge of the counterattack and backed by ample resources was the ideal weapon of mass destruction. They almost began to feel sorry for the retired billionaires.

A call to Lobo to tell him of his selection and invite him to a meeting the following week elicited a loud response on speakerphone. "A week? Are you kidding? I'll be right over. I'm only twenty minutes away by limo." How could the CEOs say no to such haughty enthusiasm? They waited.

Jasper Cumbersome's secretary buzzed the boardroom. "Mr. Lobo is here to see you," she said. "Show him in," Cumbersome replied. The door opened and Lobo appeared. The CEOs gasped. In his muscular arms he held a young pit bull whose lunging was barely restrained.

Cumbersome recovered himself. "Kindly leave your friend leashed in the outer vestibule, Mr. Lobo. This is serious business."

Lobo grinned. "First impressions are everything." He pivoted, parked the pit bull as requested, and returned to take a seat at the large conference table. Without waiting for an introduction, he brashly asked his first and most important question. "Okay, you're the bosses, so exactly what is it that you do not want me to do in the process of destroying this growing cancer in our midst? I don't need you to tell me what to do. That's why you hired me. What do you not want me to do, I repeat?"

"We do not want you to seduce these rich old guys with young maidens, because no one would believe you," said Hubert Bump sarcastically. "What the hell kind of question is that to lead off with? Are you trying to convey that there's nothing you don't know? This is a far tougher job than shaking down a corporation, Lobo."

"It is clear to me, at least, Mr. Lobo, that you must be joking," said Samuel Slick, who was known as the group's diplomat. "Do you mind if we get down to business? There are many details and directions to go over, as I'm sure you'll agree."

"Just a moment," interrupted Wardman Wise, whose reputation was true to his surname. "Mr. Lobo, I trust you understand that you cannot turn the tide against this spreading force, whatever it is, with intimidation. These retired executives are not unknown quantities. They are very experienced, very well-connected, and very strong-willed, witness their entrepreneurial success against the odds. They've all been through the rough-and-tumble of business. If you do not understand this critical point, you will be less than useless to us; you will be making a bad situation worse by playing right into their hands. We admire your relentless energy, but I'm going to recommend that you return to your office, cool off, and come back next week, same time, with a coherent proposal for fulfilling the mission we selected you for today. Otherwise we will regretfully have to unselect you."

The other CEOs exchanged approving looks. It was just the right suggestion, made in just the right tone, they felt.

With a slightly chastened "As you wish," Lobo loped out the door, picked up his pit bull, and disappeared into the elevator.

Back in the boardroom, a heated discussion broke out among the CEOs. "Do we really want such a loose cannon?" asked Sal Belligerante rhetorically. "It's not like these rich oldsters are a gang of terrorists, you know." Most of the others added similar observations. The pit bull caper had truly turned them off.

Again, Wardman Wise brought them together. "We are here not because we're old friends but because we sense something powerful coming on fast, something we do not relish. In that respect we are ahead of our peers. Nor do we believe that the established trade associations, think tanks, corporate advocacy groups, and corporate law firms are up to this new and altogether unprecedented confrontation. All these groups have their routines. They can be expected to put out some criticism in print and television ads, file some opposition regulatory responses, and urge their friends in Congress to stay the course, but that will be the extent of it. The only exception that comes to mind is Brovar Dortwist, whom we've all heard so much about from our lobbyists. It was his thinking, you will recall, that led us to look for someone bold and imaginative, someone who breaks the paradigms.

"Many in the corporate world secretly admire Lancelot Lobo's brass, strategic and tactical creativity, and sheer energy in going after what he believes to be undervalued companies run by stale management. He has brought about many a merger, many a breakup, and many, many a resignation in executive suites. He has made hundreds of millions of dollars, so he is not angling for our paltry ten-million-dollar compensation package. He apparently believes, as we do, that the forces gathering against us must be exposed and stopped. Just why, I don't know, and that does make me a little suspicious. After all, Warren Buffett's drive for investor control isn't all that alien to Lobo's life work, though I doubt he's lost any sleep over the powerlessness of small investors. So let's see what he comes up with next week. Meanwhile, I'll make sure that a more thorough investigation of his motivations is conducted promptly.

"Lest we panic, let's remember that the courts are still largely our courts. Our president and his executive branch are definitely ours. And so far Congress is just fidgety, though a close continuing scrutiny, member by member, is warranted. All things considered, we're in tight at the top, regardless of the stirrings of the masses. As for the Clean Elections Party, it has chosen the dullest, most abstruse issue imaginable. It will go nowhere, other than to excite some left-wing magazines and a few reform-minded professors and good-government types."

"Words to the wise, gentlemen, from the Wise." Hubert Bump chuckled at his clever wordplay. "It is now the eighteenth of May. Soon Congress will break for the Memorial Day weekend. People will be preoccupied with school graduations and vacation preparations. We can afford to err on the side of caution in selecting a fighting first responder who will not boomerang on us. And by the way, why don't we try to set up some informal meetings with the retired old guys, one on one." He paused and chuckled again. "For the sake of convenience, let's call them the SROs, for Super-Rich Oldsters," he said, thinking of seedy Single Room Occupancy hotels. No one stopped to consider that the acronym also stood for Standing Room Only.

"Good suggestion, Hubert," said Wardman Wise. "We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by talking to the SROs personally in a relaxed setting."

The eleven CEOs vowed to do just that in the coming fortnight.


Throughout May, the Meliorists kept each other informed through their daily closed-circuit conferences and the information streaming on the secure website. Toward the end of the month, in preparation for Maui Six, Patrick Drummond posted a memo on the website summarizing the more salient developments as follows.

> The PCC has started establishing state chapters. Luke Skyhi is consulting with Dee Hock about structuring the organization chaordically so that the chapters adhere to core values and message, and at the same time have maximum freedom to operate creatively and adapt to local conditions. Luke is also soliciting ideas on how to sharpen the fighting spirit of the PCC's natural allies in the sustainable arena for the mission of displacing the ecocidal multinational economy. He complains that they behave "like people in the cooperative movement -- nice, but without the edge that makes the difference."

> Bill C. and Paul request that the dead money/live money discussion resume at Maui Six. They are grappling with the transformation of assets on such a large scale, but believe they are making some progress. Analysis is assisting.

> Bernard's Egalitarian Clubs have hit the final exams/summer vacation hiatus. There are several clubs underway, and many promising prospects for the fall. He's been working on the Daily Bugle project with Ray Ramirez and Nicole Joyner, who have now enlisted almost three hundred youngsters to distribute the paper. He reports that the kids are giving him some great ideas about what the clubs should do and how to increase their appeal.

> Ted has hired two experienced writers to put out an instant book titled Billionaires on Bullshit. He thinks it will be a raging success, taking off on the recent bestseller On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt, emeritus professor of philosophy at Princeton. Ted also reports that one of his billionaires wants to endow a foundation foundation -- that is, one that will encourage the super-wealthy to start family foundations along systematic justice lines and will show them exactly how to do it. Ted says he was impressed by this billionaire's sophistication in recognizing the need to sow seeds for basic shifts of power to the citizenry. He referred the gentleman to Bernard, and the two immediately fell into impassioned conversation about injustice. They're now working out the nuts and bolts of getting the new foundation off the ground.

> Yoko has completed and sent to her publisher a beautifully rendered art book dealing with "questions your children and grandchildren are likely to ask you." She has tentatively titled it No Pox on Posterity, but wonders if a shorter, catchier title is needed. She invites suggestions.

> Bill G. and Joe report that their project's monograph, "The State of Justice in America: Supply and Demand," published in early May, has prompted the attorneys general of New York and California to announce that they will issue their own State of Justice reports by Labor Day. Bill and Joe think that other state AGs are bound to follow suit, because of all the publicity about the monograph, and because the essay contests on the most and least just states are attracting so much attention to longstanding inequities and problems.

> Leonard is sending each of you a copy of Economic Apartheid in America, just updated and out in paperback. He asks you to read it closely in preparation for Maui Six. He particularly directs your attention to page 67, where the authors describe the power shift since the 1970s: "On the Rise have been big campaign contributors, corporate lobbyists, corporations, big asset owners, CEOs, and Wall Street. In Decline have been their opposites -- popular political movements, voters, labor unions, wage earners, employees and Main Street." Leonard points out that this is an oversimplification of the sixties and prior decades. Power was concentrated then too, but at least there were battles pitting the people against the corporate bosses. Washington awoke once in a while to recognize why it was there. On some important policies, the Democrats and Republicans actually fought each other. Big Business was well entrenched in the Washington scene, but at crucial junctures it was on the defensive or simply busy holding on to its power. In the mid-seventies the dam broke, and a dazzling corporate offensive on all fronts began to lay the foundations of the present almighty corporate state. The book is a clear-eyed, graphic "primer on economic inequality and insecurity," as the subtitle has it. Leonard thinks it will be invaluable in formulating the action plan for the First-Stage Improvements. He has also cut a deal with the publisher to buy millions of copies at a little above cost and distribute them at the lunchtime rallies.

> Peter reports that the number of members of Congress who have placed their voting records on their websites or credibly committed to do so ASAP has now reached 187. Critical mass has been achieved. How much longer will the other members be able to resist such an obvious service to voters without paying a political price? For those who do resist, the Congress Watchdogs will make sure they regret it through the Getting to Know You exposes. The 187 legislators all put out press releases that were favorably received back home by both their constituents and the media. One editorial said of the online records, "Now it's up to the voters to use them."

> Warren reports that a team of analysts from Electoral Reform and the Congress Project are putting the finishing touches on a compendium of materials about the careers and affiliations of all the members of Congress. The compendium establishes four categories of senators and representatives: the already convinced, the persuadables, the chronic corporatists, and the rigid ideologues. For each category, it lays out a calibrated series of steps to win them over or to neutralize their opposition by shining the spotlight on them in various forums -- in their respective committees, floor debates, and through the media at all applicable levels, back home in their congressional offices, at their citizen meetings during recesses, among their campaign finance patrons and circles of friends, and through feedback from the voters themselves. According to Warren, who has seen the penultimate draft, the analysts have drawn on the finest work of practitioners and scholars of Congress, and have condensed the insights, the history, the customs and sensibilities of that institution into a menu of action for legislating the First-Stage Improvements. "It's as if they were designing an outlet for an electrical plug and achieved a perfect fit," he says. The document will be sent to you shortly. He asks that you digest it before Maui Six so you can add your observations at the meeting.

> As General Motors stock continues to fall, feelers about Jerome Kohlberg's takeover proposal are tapping into greater interest. It's no longer pie in the sky, though the company's large unfunded liabilities remain the obvious sticking point.

> Progress continues on the Credibility Project, but it is inherently amorphous. Goodwill efforts tend to be just that, Ross says, but they pay dividends in the most unexpected ways. He predicts that the benefits will emerge when conflicts sharpen. The project also meshes well with the continuing expansion and maturation of the epicenters around the core members.

> Bill Joy requests to be told immediately of any security breaches or any surveillance of the Redirection projects and of course the core members. He is preparing for all contingencies, including attempts to penetrate the closed-circuit briefings and the website. He urges the core members to continue their high media visibility on their various public initiatives. The more publicity there is now, the bigger the news if any snooping is discovered later.

> Wal-Mart's poll of consumers is out, showing high favorables to carefully choreographed questions. Questions that would have produced unfavorables were not used. Publicity was national but light -- six- inch-squib level.

> Plans for the mass media branding of the Meliorists, due in late April, require more time and have been rescheduled for mid-June. Suggested release date: the Fourth of July. It will be hard to keep the Meliorists as a group under wraps beyond then, nor is it tactically advisable to do so, says Barry. Warren suggests that the Seventh-Generation Eye be adopted as the Meliorist symbol.

> Last week George delivered another major address, this time before the annual convention of the American Conservative Union. His theme was that when big business exercises great political power in a society, it seriously distorts and diminishes the efficiency of the market writ large. Too often big firms use their political power to insulate themselves from marketplace discipline, to the detriment of the public good, their politically weaker competitors, and basic conservative doctrines. He said that political power can be an irresistible narcotic for corporatists masquerading as conservatives, but not for genuine conservatives. He peppered his speech with telling illustrations, from bailouts to the stifling of innovation by political forces indentured to stagnant big business. He got a five-minute standing ovation. Those in attendance fully understood his distinction between corporatists and conservatives. Their frustration with Wall Street and with the Republican Party, which steadily expands big government whenever it is in power, was evident in their response to George's trenchant remarks.

> The lead team that will be acquiring firms in multiple lines of industry and commerce for the Sub- economy Redirection has been certified by Recruitment and is on the job, Jeno reports. Their budget will reflect a detailed acquisition plan for using leveraged buyouts, drawing on credit instead of cash, and making cash purchases as a last resort. The plan will be completed and on the agenda for review at Maui Six. Barry has designated five of his top people at Promotions to focus exclusively on insuring maximum public and trade understanding of these comprehensive moves. The sub-economy that is emerging out of Luke Skyhi's sustainability shows and other Redirectional initiatives, bolstered by the acquisition of a regular sub-economy, will make for wondrous dynamics and transitions, Jeno predicts, not to mention convulsions of the business status quo. The acquisitions team is talented, experienced, and motivated. They make no effort to hide their excitement.
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Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:12 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 10 CONT'D.)

After reviewing Patrick's memo, the Meliorists began devoting the daily closed-circuit updates to the agenda for Maui Six. Their conversations revealed a rising impatience for action on the First-Stage Improvements. By now the infrastructure for a just, fair, and functional democracy was largely in place. The people were aroused as never before -- some 40 million of them, by one Redirection or another, according to the estimates of Leonard's manager at the Mass Demonstrations Project. The CUBs and Congress Watchdogs were ramping up furiously. The organizers and lecturers were making thousands of contacts in the communities and neighborhoods, enlisting active support and creating vital reservoirs of passive support that worked to neutralize potential opposition among the credibility groups. Barry's network acquisitions were in place and soon began to join with his existing media outlets in highlighting the genuinely newsworthy. Ted's Billionaires Against Bullshit were becoming a juggernaut as they increasingly felt the power of their underutilized human and material capital. Warren Beatty's California tidal wave was washing over Arnold and rippling across the nation. Sol's assault on Wal-Mart was lifting the spirits of thousands of despondent people trying to support their families on a pittance. The PCC had sent the hitherto unchallenged trade associations backpedaling into an almost incoherent defensive posture. The steadily spreading lunchtime rallies were waking up urban business districts and politically sleepy suburbs. The theatrics of events like Bill Gates's corporation jamborees, Luke Skyhi's arena shows, the Sun God festivals, and the Pot-In had given the Redirections an aesthetic, satirical, and humorous dimension that tempered the aura of indignation often surrounding the other initiatives. The courageous valedictories, George's addresses, and Peter's congressional testimony got the chattering classes thinking, and not always along conformist lines. Sure, there were glitches -- a few interviewees got their incompetence past Recruitment and had to be fired, a few deadlines were missed -- but overall, every category of Redirectional effort was going strong.

In addition, the replication and emulation effects so often discussed at Maui were taking hold with a vengeance. The sparks generated by Patriotic Polly, Yoko's bulbs, and Bill and Joe's unorthodox probes of the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem had reached millions who were usually detached from public debate. Weeks of eye-popping events around the country, portrayed on television and reported on the radio, in magazines, newspapers, and blogs, were raising the morale of people of all ages and backgrounds. The signs were everywhere -- in impassioned letters to the editor, in the higher quality of call-ins on talk radio, in greater turnouts for local municipal meetings and hearings, in the huge numbers of students seeking summer internships with citizen action groups and local, state, and federal regulatory agencies. Capitol Hill was flooded with resumes from accomplished high school and college students with impressive know-how, instead of the usual on-the-make budding politicians with know-who. The CUBs, the Congress Watchdogs, and even the labor unions were receiving piles of resumes from young Americans wanting in on the action. The new sustainable economy models were quickening the imaginations of millions of young people and prompting them to look beyond the tried and tired avenues of conventional business careers. They were thinking solar, organic farming, appropriate technology, new forms of equitable financing, carbohydrate efficiencies, an end to staggering economic disparities -- entirely new ways of meeting human needs, motivated by something other than bottomless greed. More and more citizens could find the often awful voting records of their members of Congress online. The Clean Elections Party was forging a hammer within the electoral system. The Blockbuster Challenge was nearing its unveiling and was sure to attract overflow media attention with its sensible shocker, "Buy Back Your Congress."

All these pincer movements were closing in on the 535 members of Congress, who were about to experience the vivifying of the innate sense of fairness possessed by a majority of the people. Once the First-Stage Improvements legislation was drafted, the Meliorists would move with surprise and alacrity. They were not going to wait for some miraculous change in government personnel. They had realized long ago that with the right mobilization of strong converging pressures, all that was necessary was for elected officials to know how to read and want to keep their jobs.

There was great enthusiasm for the Fourth of July as a rollout date. Paul proposed that they refer to it in their public statements as "Independence Day for the Sovereignty of the People." Barring an unforeseen leak, the Meliorists would go public immediately after the celebration of the Fourth, giving the whole Redirectional phenomenon the personal drama, the unprecedented drama, of the elder super-rich revolting against the reigning super-rich on behalf of the people of these United States.

The Fourth of July had other advantages. Congress would be in session all month, so the multiple First-Stage bills could be introduced right after the Fourth and begin working their way through the House and Senate, all the while generating intense discussion and debate. Meanwhile, parallel legislative drives would be launched in selected state legislatures both as an insurance policy and to put additional pressure on Capitol Hill and the White House. In August, Congress would recess, and the members would be back home where the folks could get at them. When they returned in September, it would be off to the races to enact the legislation before Election Day in November. The idea was to make incumbents campaign for reelection by legislating, not with slogans or by spending big money on vapid television testimonials to their greatness. Their words would be separated from and held up to their deeds, as Max pointed out.

Sol reported that his eggheads had gotten their act together and were almost finished drafting the various First-Stage bills. They had drawn on the best work of public interest lawyers and law professors in past efforts at reform. Mark Green was staying on top of them and making sure that the quality of the legislation was first-rate; nothing would submarine the hopes of sponsors like sloppily or ambiguously drafted bills that left loopholes opponents could use to delay or block their implementation even after they were enacted. Jeno stressed that the First-Stage Improvements had to be presented in such a way that the people viewed them as long-overdue, commonsense measures that were achievable and would displace existing wasteful and disruptive policies. It was supremely important that tens of millions of Americans felt relief was on the way in recognition of their years of unrequited hard work, their squandered taxes, and their frustrated hopes for their children. It would be Promotions' job to make sure that the bills were justified to the public in clear language rooted in the vernacular, not in Senatese or bureaucratese. The Congress Project was drawing up a list of potential sponsors in the House and Senate for review at Maui Six. Every attempt would be made to introduce the bills with no overlapping of committee jurisdictions that would delay action. If there were several willing sponsors for a given bill, the most senior would be chosen; the rest could cosponsor. The Congress Project was also busy choosing, weighing, and sorting influence groups for specific bills. Capitol Hill was about relationships, not just money and power. Lobbyists connected differently with different members of Congress, who all had long memories. Outside constituency groups would play a role as well. The First-Stage legislation would give them an opportunity to flower once again, independent of the Meliorists but working in the same direction. There was no dearth of willing and experienced talent here -- after all, it had been a long drought for such groups.

Bernard had been in touch with ex-congressman Cecil Zeftel and ex-senator James Zabouresk, who had ten more former members of Congress, all with sterling, even historic records of progressive contributions to their country, waiting in the wings to lend their support. The Trojan Horse project of infiltrating congressional staff with new hires committed to reform had hit a wall because of extremely low turnover in such positions, so Bernard told Zeftel and Zabouresk about the forthcoming First-Stage legislation, in suitably guarded terms, and asked if they could try to augment their group in readiness for it. Within a week they had lined up a dozen of their ablest former senior staffers, who were delighted by the prospect of resurrecting some of their favorite unfinished business. They were especially keen on a living wage, universal healthcare, an end to raids on the taxpayers, and a crackdown on outlaw corporations (the antitrust subcommittees used to have large staffs).

As May drew to a close, the Meliorists focused all their energies on making the most of this brief window in history before the November elections. They had to weave all the strands of the Redirections into a complex but not overly elaborate tapestry. They had to focus a laser on Congress, shine the light of justice for all over the entire country, and issue a clarion call that rang right through all the entrenched obstacles to success. To that end, the Secretariat had assigned its best talent the task of preparing a comprehensive sequential strategy paper for discussion at Maui Six. The passion at previous Mauis was about horizon, vision, groundwork. Maui Six was the operational plan for D-Day -- Democracy Day. America's long slide into the jaws of corporate domination was about to be arrested and reversed.


The week was up. Lancelot Lobo returned to the penthouse boardroom with his proposal. Silent skepticism greeted him as he prepared to give his presentation. Wardman Wise's inquiries into Lobo's motivations had turned up something of interest. It seemed that Lobo despised Jeno Paulucci, who years ago had beat him in a merger conflict, and disliked the amiable Warren Buffet, who had snatched two choice acquisition targets out from under him and merged them into his own conglomerate. Lobo hated to lose, especially to people who were so much older than he was. He carried grudges. Not the noblest of motivations for this mission, the CEOs agreed, but it laid to rest any suspicion that Lobo was a Trojan horse or a superficial convert. What troubled them was the possibility that he had taken the job just to grind his personal axes.

"Mr. Lobo, you may proceed," said CEO Cumbersome. "Take as long as you like in outlining your strategy against the Super-Rich Oldsters, as we have christened them, and then we will have an exchange of thoughts."

Lobo inwardly rolled his eyes. "Much obliged, gentlemen. New endeavors are necessarily entered into with the assets and baggage of previous experience. In the past, I have always begun by clearly delineating the territory of the battlefield. It is relatively easy for a corporate raider to locate the battlefield. In the case of the SROs, there is no battlefield on which to engage, or rather, there are so many battlefields that it's impossible to engage on all of them. Eventually, the SROs will give us a core battlefield, because they seem to want results, not just to stir up trouble. I see all their provocations as means to their end of effecting change by getting to those who hold the real power in our society. Which is a long way of saying that we do not know enough. They haven't shown enough of their hand for us to direct our counterattack effectively.

"I don't believe for a minute that they're just a bunch of lone wolves -- if you'll indulge me in the metaphor -- who started acting up randomly in January. There are too many clues to the contrary, starting with the 'Stay tuned' mantra. So let's assume that they're acting in concert. So what? Normally we want to know whether our opponents are formally organized, because if they are, we can trace who's funding the enterprise. Well, when we're dealing with billionaires on top of billionaires, we know where the money's coming from, don't we? 1 mean, one of them is the second-richest man in the world. Instead of getting hung up on whether they're acting in what we might ironically call a corporate manner, let's simply state what we know about what we don't know.

"We don't know their stamina. We don't know how much money they've spent or are willing to spend. We don't know whether collectively they're the source of the recent surge of regulatory petitions, or of the Clean Elections Party, or of the Warren Beatty phenomenon. We know only what they've chosen to have us know -- Sol Price's move on Wal-Mart, Joe Jamail's small claims court litigation, Bill Gates Sr.'s incorporation stunts, and on and on. Consequently, what we are left with is a series of investigative probes to flush our enemies out, to find out where the battlefield will be and what cracks they have in their armor.

"The first priority is to penetrate their communication systems and their face-to-face meetings. Given everything they've put in motion, it's a safe assumption that both the systems and the meetings have been operating in overdrive. The second front is to infiltrate their full-time staff and volunteers. We need ears and eyes inside the Beast on a daily basis. I've been told that their interviewers are very good, alert and appropriately suspicious, but like all of us, they're not perfect. And the wider the net they cast, the more vulnerable they are to infiltration.

"Apart from gathering information, what else should our infiltrators do? Should they throw a monkey wrench into the works, sowing discord, sabotaging plans, using all the tricks our own snoops employ routinely? I can see to it that they do. Our people are experienced in corporate infiltration campaigns that don't quite cross the line of the law, in keeping with our avowed policy. Alternatively, we can use the information we glean to mount a public corporate campaign against them. The choice is up to you, but I don't recommend the monkey wrench, because once we unleash the monkeys, there's no guarantee we can control them. Far better to have a big donnybrook right out in the open, an approach that has the added advantage of not responding to the SROs in ways that confirm what they've been saying about big business.

"On a third front, we should muster our troops to engage in skirmishes that will tie them up and draw them into wars of attrition. And who knows how to do this better than corporate lobbyists and lawyers? They are geniuses at the craft. They can stretch the calendar like it was Plastic Man, and let's remember that the SROs aren't spring chickens. Sure, we'll be up against pockets as deep as ours. We won't be able to break them financially, as we do with injured or sick claimants or small businesses or lone investors, but that's not the point. When I was in law school, one of my professors told a story about Bruce Bromley, a top partner at Cravath, Swaine and Moore, who once bragged to an assemblage at Stanford Law School, 'I was born, I think, to be a protractor.... I could take the simplest antitrust case and protract the defense almost to infinity. One case lasted fourteen years.... Despite fifty thousand pages of testimony, there really wasn't any dispute about the facts.' That's what can be done in the judicial arena alone. Similar trespasses on eternity can be extended to the legislative and executive branches as well.

"Fourth, we should attack their legitimacy, their motives, and their credibility. So far they've had it pretty easy. The blasts from Bush Bimbaugh and our think tanks, the miscellaneous cries of outrage and ridicule just don't pass muster. They're anemic, amnesiac, humdrum, and expected, all noise, no effect. Our ripostes have to come from fresh sources. They have to provoke mass fears, insecurities, passions, and anxieties that can be brought to bear on the SROs. The talent for this job is around and can be retained readily. However, in reviewing our material on the SROs, I noticed one glaring omission. None of them have attacked the military-industrial complex or the intelligence agencies or our country's foreign and military policies. I don't believe that's inadvertent. It's a shrewd choice enabling them to sidestep accusations of being unpatriotic, not supporting our soldiers, and imperiling our national security. They obviously don't want these distractions. They are strictly domestic in focus, which makes our job that much harder -- fewer labeling opportunities, so to speak, once the battle is joined.

"Fifth, it goes without saying that all of our corporate assets across the entire spectrum of power, from Madison Avenue to Wall Street to our university friends to the 'corporate government,' as the SROs say, must be mobilized and plunged into action. Because of the unconventional nature of our opponents, we cannot rely on a business-as-usual exercise of corporate muscle. We have to be nimble, imaginative, and willing to revise tactics and strategies in the face of a changing situation, unlike our Michigan friends in the auto industry.

"Finally, perhaps the greatest unknown of all -- yourselves and your comparably concerned peers. What are you willing to do, to say, and to risk? You can't just outsource this endeavor and write the checks for it. The SROs have put themselves on the line, and while I realize they're mostly retired, most people of their vintage would not want such tumult in their golden years. They are risking something more than their liquid assets and, for all I know, their investments.

"Before you respond, two points. First, none of this can be accomplished in a week. I estimate that it will take more like four or five weeks. Second, I want you to reduce the annual compensation of ten million dollars plus bonuses you've offered to one dollar. Our opponents are people of conviction, however wrongheaded. They have to be countered by conviction. The credibility that will accrue to whomever you choose to lead this undertaking is an essential component of winning the battle for public opinion. The principle holds even more for someone like me, since my national image is one of maximum self-enrichment, one that paints me as in it only for the money and not for any purpose of making companies more efficient and giving shareholders more value and more rights. Well, not on this watch, should you decide to select me."

CEO Bradford Knowles looked around the conference table at his colleagues. "Mr. Lobo, I think I speak for all of us when I say that your proposal has exceeded my expectations. We asked you to describe your strategy, and you certainly did. Quite impressive, sober, and fundable. Your instincts are finely honed, as evidenced throughout your presentation, and especially in your extraordinary offer to work for a year as a volunteer. That certainly frames our response more personally. Thank you."

"Consider yourself selected, Mr. Lobo," said Wardman Wise. "Our group will commence discussion among ourselves and with our friends in high places with all dispatch. We will provide a budget suitable for the implementation of your plan and will be in regular contact with you as you work out the details. We understand that this is a complex initiative, but we hope you can actualize it in four weeks, five at the outside. Send us your requirements for your executive staff and whatever other resources and facilities you need right away. Keep us informed as often as you believe necessary. And remember, at this stage you are preparing a plan. There are to be no operations whatsoever until we open that gate explicitly in the latter part of June, assuming your work goes smoothly.

"As for the 'greatest unknown of all,' the nature and scope of our own commitment, we'll be hard at work in our private meetings to make sure that it becomes known, to us and to you. I'm sure we'll have a plethora of questions for you in the coming days, but for now we are adjourned. Your clarity and sense of purpose are admirable, Mr. Lobo. Get to work."

Immediately after Lobo took his leave, the self-chosen task force of concerned CEOs moved to schedule one-on-one meetings with the most publicly visible of the Meliorists. They framed their invitations forthrightly and had their secretaries make the calls. The first one was to Joe Jamail's office: "Good morning, this is Janet Kelly at Monolith Steel. Our CEO, Bradford Knowles, has read about Mr. Jamail's small claims project and would be most pleased to be able to have a few moments with him at his convenience, inasmuch as they both reside in Houston." Out of curiosity, Joe agreed to a meeting. "Sure, why not?" he said to his staff, "but no way in hell is Bradford Knowles going to give a dime to anything that smacks of justice for the little guy." Knowles, both courtly and cruel to the workers who sweated over his blast furnaces, had repeatedly seen his factories cited by OSHA as dangerous workplaces.

Four days later at the Petroleum Club for lunch, the conversation between the two began with inane pleasantries and extravagant flattery from Knowles. Joe cut him off with a blunt question. "So why did you want to get together, Brad? I'm not suing you. Not yet, anyway."

"Well, Joe, I've been reading the papers and watching the news like many of us business executives these past few months, and I just wanted to get your take on things. What are you and the other retired billionaires up to, revving the populace up the way you are?"

Joe was expecting this little maneuver and didn't bite. "Are you referring to the People's Court Society and my efforts with Bill Gates Sr. to change the Pledge of Allegiance and replace the National Anthem?"

"Yes, and a lot more," Knowles said, listing half a dozen of the core group's initiatives. "There seems to be a pattern coming from a central organization, no?"

"These fellows have organized their own enterprises their whole successful business lives. They don't need organizing by anyone. You know what self-starters are like, Brad."

Knowles laid on a thick drawl. "I guess so, Joe, but I'm not very sophisticated. I grew up in Okalona, Mississippi, and psychologically I'm still there. Educate me. Is there an intelligent design here?"

"Absolutely," Joe said. "The rich guys are trying to do what the Almighty told them to do -- you know, the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. It's not much more sophisticated than that. Your hometown preacher would understand."

"But where are they going with all this reformist zealotry? I mean, do they have a plan to fundamentally change this glorious system of ours, or do they just want to tweak it and make it work a little better?"

Joe saw his chance to turn the tables on Knowles. "To me, making it better means changing it. Don't you think it needs to be changed, since the majority of the people are losing ground?" he asked affably, and proceeded to conduct a masterful lunchtime cross-examination on the failures of the power brokers and big corporations to deliver an economy and government that genuinely served the people. Fortunately for Knowles, a former business competitor dining at a nearby table came over and inadvertently rescued him from Joe's cordial offensive. Knowles excused himself and went off to the bar for drinks with his newfound mend.

The CEOs' one-on-one meetings with the other Meliorists were variations on the theme played out by Joe and Knowles. The Meliorists got to know their leading CEO adversaries far better than they could have by reading memos from the informants they'd cultivated ever since the Wall Street Journal ad came out. For their part, the CEOs went away feeling that crazy as the SROs were, their eruptions were individual in nature, and that there was no collaboration beyond their taking encouragement from each other's exploits.

Without doubt the most humorous meeting was between Wardman Wise and Leonard Riggio regarding the lunchtime rallies. Leonard toyed with the overly serious CEO. "Hey, just some old-fashioned American protest festivities with a nutritious lunch, Wardman. It's important to let fellows like you know that the working people are still around and can find one another face to face, away from the ocean of screens and machines you've got them glued to every day. That is, assuming they have a job at all, or one that's not on its way to China or India."

Wise kept probing and Leonard kept joshing. He asked his luncheon companion innocently how anyone could have any trouble with what the lunchtime crowds wanted. Then he pounced. "How much do you make an hour, Wardman?"

Wise choked on a bite of watercress. "Well, it's not figured by the hour."

"But you can divide, can't you? You've made an average of, what is it, sixteen million dollars a year over the past five years? That works out to about nine thousand dollars an hour, not counting benefits and perks. What's the average hourly wage in your home healthcare chain?"

Realizing that he had more to lose than to gain. Wardman Wise clumsily changed the subject to some ongoing governmental boondoggle in post-Katrina New Orleans. The principal upshot of the luncheon meetings was that the Secretariat worked up exhaustive profiles of the eleven CEOs. their past business dealings, their present positions, and their views on public policies and economic philosophy. Just in case.


It took Ray Ramirez and Nicole Joyner less than a month to get the Daily Bugle off the ground. True, they had a superlative infrastructure at their beck and call, but the planning, the organizing, the selection of cities and suburbs were all their own. With three hundred newsgirls and newsboys on board, they were confident of hitting the thousand mark over the next couple of weeks as one youngster found another.

The first three hundred hit the streets at 4:00 p.m. on the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend. Their smart uniforms and the stylish design of the Bugle caught the eyes of passersby who normally avoided anyone handing out anything. Even more effective were the cries of "Read all about it!" There was a clarity to them, an irresistible nostalgia, a melody of urgency and authenticity in a communications world of virtual reality screens. The three-hour audio training sessions for the kids really paid off.

Wherever possible. the headlines on the Bugle's debut issue focused on the oil and gas industry, as in Dallas: "Extra, extra! Read all about it! Eron Oil pays no property taxes, but you do. Read all about it!" The Cincinnati edition ran with a hot local topic: "Toxic dirt used for landscaping at 4,200 homes. Campaign contributions to look-the-other way officials in City Hall involved. Read all about it!" In Birmingham it was. "Three local schools to be built on toxic brownfields. Children in danger, physicians declare. Prosecution of companies involved in cover-up urged. Read all about it!"

Some of the headlines were national in scope: "Fifty-three large corporations to unload worker pensions on Feds. Millions of workers affected. Local impact devastating. Read all about it!" Or, "White House blocks CDC physicians from warning 250,000 workers exposed daily to dangerous chemicals in hundreds of factories, foundries, and mines. Local industries named. Read all about it!" Or, "Half of all US corporations paid no income tax this year. Read all about it!"

Once the project reached its full complement, it would build on the lunchtime rallies in growing numbers of cities and towns -- again the synergy, always the synergy. Already the criers were drawing media attention to themselves, being interviewed by mobile television units and radio reporters. Websites were streaming them to large audiences. They were more articulate than most adults and had studied the issues they were shouting about, so they came across to the press as a new generation of reformers, not as kids parroting headlines for pay.

The criers' project did have an unintended consequence. It was one thing for top executives to read memos and news stories about the doings of the upstart billionaires. It was quite another for them to look out the window of the executive suite and watch young people below excoriating the corporate world to throngs of pedestrians, some of whom might even be their own employees, their own personal staff. Day by day, more and more of them began to feel a visceral sense of urgency about mobilizing a counterreaction. The tastefully furnished metropolitan clubs where they met for lunch began to simmer with a mix of alarm and anger. Their e-mail chatter flew thick and fast as the newly aroused executives sought each other out and put their heads together.


In the congressional dining rooms, secluded nook bars, and gymnasiums, the legislators kept asking each other, "What the hell is going on?" A few were delighted by recent developments, more were alarmed, but even more believed that whatever it was, it would blow over. These were mostly incumbents who had been in Congress for twelve years or more and had a jaundiced view of the public's attention span. Besides, any move to upset their comfortable apple cart would butt up squarely against the obscure and labyrinthine rules they had installed to turn Congress into a procedural obstacle course. The congressional power brokers had learned that substantive opposition to, say, a living wage made for bad press and ugly imagery, especially when they annually raised their own salaries, pensions, and perks, so they fell back on procedural straitjackets that bottled up such legislation for the duration. As one senior senator complacently said to a worried young colleague as they swam together in the Senate pool, "Have you ever heard of a revolution against procedures?" The young senator, finishing a lap, replied. "Yeah, the one you guys started. You pulled off a revolution against open procedures inside the Congress, and nobody reported it. Too dull and complex. So I guess in a sense you're right." He would shortly have occasion to remember this conversation.

On the last day of May, a Dartford warbler, known to be a denizen of the European side of the Atlantic, was sighted in a New Jersey marsh by an avid bird watcher. Astonished and exhilarated, she put the word out. Within hours, droves of bird watchers were heading to the marsh from all points of the compass to catch a glimpse of a species never before seen in America. The bird, a young male, must have sensed the onrush, because it flew off due south. The birdwatchers' network swung into action, reporting sightings of the little transatlantic explorer in South Jersey, then Delaware, then Maryland, until finally hundreds saw it alight on the Capitol Dome of the United States Congress! The hundreds became thousands, and the thousands became tens of thousands, their numbers swelled by a media frenzy. Even the usually sedate European press was enthralled.

The Capitol Police took a dim view of the hordes of onlookers equipped with binoculars, gloves, cameras, and notebooks. Senators, representatives, and staffers looked out their windows in astonishment. Washington was used to big crowds demonstrating on controversial issues, but a bird? Some of the legislators came out and started shaking hands. The warbler appeared to like the Dome, with its pilasters and crannies. There was rainwater. Someone gave it bird food on the sly. It settled in.

Standing outside the Capitol, the bird watchers suddenly realized that they were in the immediate proximity of politicians who could do something about grievances they had harbored for years. Soon clusters of them were organizing themselves around common complaints, such as developers draining wetlands and getting fat off tax breaks to boot. They decided to go inside to visit their elected representatives, who had been assiduously sending out form letters touting their great labors on behalf of their constituents. Happily for the bird watchers, it was Wednesday, usually the day of lowest absenteeism in the Congress.

The absorptive capacity of the congressional corridors was limited, barely adequate for the daily influx of lobbyists in tailored suits and Gucci loafers. The denim-clad bird watchers caused a pedestrian traffic jam as more and more of them poured into the Senate and House office buildings, into the cafeterias and restrooms, adding to their lists of complaints as friends and relatives called them on their cell phones: "While you're there, ask Senator Frisk about that business- sponsored bill to sell off public lands," or "Tell Congressman Carefree that making it harder for workers to get fair compensation for workplace injuries is going to cost him the election," or "Dammit, Maud, make sure Senator Crabgrass understands that he has to support the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food."

The bird watchers just kept coming and coming. The House and Senate campaign committees of both parties were advised to treat them with courtesy. "There are about fifteen million of them in the country," said one consultant, "and they're a hardy lot, getting up at dawn to slog through chilly estuaries, swamps, bogs, and marshes. They can cause trouble. Polls show that they turn out to vote in high numbers. Don't offend them."

As long as the bird stayed, the bird watchers stayed. Consternation spread through the congressional leadership. They wanted to give the warbler the pigeon-spray treatment, but a move like that could be a disastrous tipping point in the November elections. On Friday afternoon they called an emergency meeting on the single topic of how to get the bird out of town so the bird watchers would get out of town. For reasons of national security, the meeting was held in the Senate Intelligence Committee room. Leaks had to be avoided at all costs!

The party leaders entered the room grim-faced, and not because they were missing their golf games. This was grim business. The entire apparatus of Congress was on overload -- the Capitol Police, the kitchen and janitorial staff, the secretaries and receptionists, and especially the security screeners. Worse, the bird watchers were threatening to disrupt the smooth and mutually beneficial business arrangements between lawmakers and lobbyists. And what if a female warbler showed up and decided it liked life on the Dome too? The burgeoning crowds would bring the government to a halt.

Senator Thurston Thinkalot, a stalwart on the Intelligence Committee, led off with a suggestion. "Let's get the naval sonar warfare people over here on the double to drive the bird away with a high frequency whine. No one, not the press or the birders, would be the wiser."

"I like it," said Senator Crabgrass.

"But what if they damage the bird's neurological system or kill it?" asked Senate Majority Leader Tillman Frisk.

"That would be catastrophic," said Congressman Beauchamp. "For one thing, we'd have the animal rights people all over us. Just remember what happened to a certain California governor who tangled with the medfly. And that was a pest damaging to farmers, not a cute little ball of feathers heroically crossing an ocean to the delight of millions of adults and children watching the daily television coverage."

"Not to mention the websites and blogs devoted to round-the-clock accounts of the bird's every move," added Senator Paul Pessimismo.

There were a few moments of silence as the legislators stroked their chins and furrowed their brows, desperately seeking a solution. Suddenly, a security-cleared staffer rushed into the room to announce that the bird had flown away -- "right into the wild blue yonder!" he yelled triumphantly. There was an outburst of hoorays around the table and throughout the Capitol in the offices of the nation's legislators. Outside, like a veering herd of cattle, the bird watchers took off after the warbler, calling ahead with their cell phones to alert the network and the spotter planes that were hovering ten miles away, sweeping the sky with microcameras.

Breaking out the champagne in the committee room, Billy Beauchamp raised his glass in a toast. "God bless bird watchers. They don't stay put long enough to become Congress watchers!"

"Hear, hear!" chorused his colleagues bipartisanly. "Hear, hear!"
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As the Dartford warbler was winging its way home -- it had had enough of Capitol Hill -- the Meliorists were winging their way to Maui. They had taken appropriate precautions, wearing their disguises as necessary, but they were feeling a little jumpy as they gathered in the familiar atrium conference room. All of them had been getting more and more calls from the press asking about links between them. All were having their offices and telecommunications systems swept regularly for bugs. Warren asked Bill Joy to open the meeting with a security update.

"Well, so far so good, according to my latest scans," Bill said. "There have been some attempts to hack into the secure website, but as far as I can tell, it's just a matter of the usual random hackers, maybe teenagers like the ones who broke into some of the Pentagon's sites three years ago. That will undoubtedly change now that the covey of CEOs who placed that WSJ ad have found a leader for their counterattack squad -- none other than Lancelot Lobo."

A ripple of surprise swept around the table. "Well, well, well," Jeno said gleefully. "So Lobo has crossed the aisle and chosen fame over fortune. Well, I licked him once, and I relish a return engagement."

"As for the hotel," Bill Joy went on, "it's clean, but once you go public, all bets are off. The probability of penetration will soar. All I can promise you is regular surveillance with the latest technology."

"Thank you, Bill. We know we're in good hands," Warren said. "Now let's turn to the major subject of our gathering, Invasion Congress. Patrick Drummond of our now properly fabled Secretariat has prepared an overall strategy, which I've asked him to present to us before we have supper. Patrick, the floor is yours."

"Thank you, Warren." Patrick rose and passed a document around the table. "What you see before you is a synopsis of the work of the finest minds in the field, men and women who have spent their careers striving to understand the interactions between Congress in all its parts and the people in all their parts and of course the corporations. I'm just the messenger and editor. For our guidance over the months to come, I've distilled a number of general operating principles for the drive to pass the First-Stage legislation, otherwise known as the Agenda, and I ask you to take the next few minutes to read them."

As one, the Meliorists directed their attention to the strategy paper.

1. The members of Congress must be made to feel a heightened level of public expectation about prompt improvements in our country -- something similar to FDR's Hundred Days, only it won't be the president announcing this Agenda.

2. This heightened public expectation must then be transformed into high personal expectations of each representative and senator. The attitude bearing down on them from all quarters should be something like "of course we know you'll do the right thing for the people, for our country." No threats of retaliation, electoral defeat, or other combative tactics. The carrot sings along the silent pendency of the stick -- the carrot in this case being not power or money but simply the deep approbation of their constituents. In the sixties, senior senators who were knee-jerk apologists for business suddenly turned into civil rights advocates and consumer champions. Why? Because the climate back home had changed.

3. The legislative Agenda should not come to Congress from a central source -- the eggs-in-one-basket mistake. The bills must come separately from separate sources. The core group's backup support is just that -- backup.

4. Public indignation should be directed at the greedy and callous in the corporate power structure, not at members of Congress, at least until further notice. This approach serves to divide the members from the corporatists and undermine the bonding between them. It may not be the approach adopted by angry constituents who have grievances far deeper than ours, but we can help set the tone. Insistence short of indignation leaves indignation at the ready, just over the horizon, just enough that they feel it gathering.

5. Except for the Blockbuster offer, the core group should eschew all campaign fundraising. If it becomes necessary to replace funds cut off by angry commercialists, your extensive epicenters can be urged to make up the difference. You do not want to be viewed as the "heavies" here. It is advised that the Blockbuster offer come directly from the National Trust for Posterity and its luminous board of trustees.

6. The more the flow of persuasions directed at the legislators comes from back home, the better the prospects for victory. The media will be looking for a central source of the initiatives. We have to be very aware of this penchant in the press.

7. The bills of the Agenda need to be ranked in terms of ease of passage, with an eye toward building momentum with each success, and also in terms of constituencies inside and outside Congress.

8. Although the Agenda has been framed to be easily understandable, it still needs symbols, slogans, even artistic and musical elaborations. We need concise emblems that will evoke our whole enterprise. For example, we can do an advertising blitz centered on a sentence like "This is the year when Americans will lift their country up to new heights of liberty and justice for all." Through constant repetition in the media and by word of mouth, the sentence is reduced to "This is the year," and everyone instantly knows what it means. What we're after here is team spirit on a grand scale. To the plutocrats: "Invest in the people -- it's the patriotic thing to do." A powerful message, and all the more so when it comes from mega-millionaires and billionaires.

9. The opposition must be distracted and fractured with decoys and feints. Bill G. and Joe are showing the way here with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. We need many more such distractions, specifically conceived to deflect the energies of the lobbyists and special interests from the legislative Agenda on Capitol Hill. One suggestion is that the core group dramatize and personalize the issues by challenging the self-selected corporate team -- the CEOs you've met with -- to a series of television debates. People love contests and conflicts. Among the highest-rated TV programs are court shows, game shows, and sports shows. Flush the CEOs out in a battle royal, a political Super Bowl. They won't want to accept the challenge, but perhaps Lancelot Lobo will make sure that they do. There's a reason people remember David and Goliath, Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, all the heroes and villains of literature: dramatis personae.

10. Surprise and alacrity are key in catching the congressional opposition off guard and moving the Agenda through. Historians of Congress observe that breakthrough legislation -- good or bad -- more often than not happens quickly, before a strike-back capability can get underway. This is not a hard and fast role -- it took Senator George Norris, the main protagonist, more than a decade of intense campaigning to pass the law creating the Tennessee Valley Authority -- but in general, the faster the better, especially when there is a vocal constituency demanding action on a glaring injustice. The quality of the drafting will help greatly to speed things along. Each bill will be close to letter-perfect when it is introduced.

11. Real-life stories, heartrending or hopeful, are essential to give life to the Agenda. Stories generate empathy, human interest, authenticity, and identification among people in similar circumstances. Promotions will need to set up a new team to be in charge of this. Barry's networks fit in beautifully here and will play a large role.

12. We must marshal all our skills of anticipation to prepare for setbacks and crises. They are bound to occur, particularly if the opposition takes the low road. Think of agitators infiltrating our rallies to sow disruption, or even violence and mayhem. The oligarchy may try a strategy of deniability by using rogue elements to do the dirty work.

When everyone had finished reading, Patrick said, "Well, that's it in a nutshell. A challenge, but doable, I hope you'll agree. I would just add that we should be alert to any changes that come along without legislation or regulation. For instance, the Coca-Cola board of directors is giving shareholders approval rights over severance packages that exceed 2.9 times the previous year's compensation. A very small step by a very large company, but it's got Wall Street quaking with fear that it will start a trend. Credit goes to your tireless efforts, Warren."

"Thank you, Patrick, but the credit goes to you for yet another superlative contribution. Let's break now to digest what we've read while we digest our supper. Then we'll reconvene at nine for an hour of silence. In the morning we'll have a freewheeling discussion driven by our shared sense of urgency about the magnitude of what we must accomplish in the five short months before the elections. We could all use a good night's sleep before we go at it."


And did they ever go at it. The morning discussion began with a review of the Congress Project's compendium. "I've seen plenty of strategy sheets on members of Congress in my time, but this far surpasses any of them," Bernard said. "The first two categories of legislators it identifies, the already convinced and the persuadables, will form the hard core, who are ready, willing, and able to carry the Agenda banner inside Congress. As we can see from the compendium's breakdown, these core legislators are a motley bunch, which is just what we want. They come from both parties, have diverse geographical, ethnic, religious, and occupational backgrounds, and sit on a variety of congressional committees, including the Appropriations Committees and the all-important Rules Committees. It would be nice if they also turn out to have higher-than-average energy levels, a sense of history, an impatience for change, and a reserve of courage for the coming battles. We shall see.

"For all its excellence, there is one exceptionally important category that doesn't receive enough attention in the compendium, in my view. I refer to the legislators' congressional peer groups. Warren, can I ask that your project manager give us a matrix for each member showing circles of influence -- say, a dozen of the member's closest colleagues, and the colleagues they respect or fear the most politically whether they're close to them or not? When the chips are down and outside pressure is bearing in on Congress from all sides, the peer groups will be the last stand of the corporatists. And believe me, they know everything there is to know about these groups' personal relationships."

"I have the project manager standing by for our feedback," Warren said. "I'll get him on it right away."

Paul gestured around the conference table. "If I say so myself, we've got a pretty good circle of influence right here. Should we try to meet personally with key legislators? If so, when and where? We'd probably make a big splash if we showed up at their offices back in their districts instead of in Washington. Can we get a heads-up on which members would be most receptive to meeting with us, aside from our own senators and representatives?"

"My take is that we should be selective and respond to the advice of our spotters on Capitol Hill so that our meetings will have the maximum effect at the most crucial juncture," Ross said. "We don't want to fritter away our personal capital too early. We should use it as the final push on any wavering lawmakers."

"Right," Phil agreed. "That's our maximum leverage time, when we know the most about why they're wavering."

Joe held up his copy of the compendium. "This can never see the light of day, you know, not beyond our trusted circle. If it falls into the hands of the press or the opposition, it will be seen as manipulative and cause a backlash among the legislators. The Secretariat and each one of us must exercise the utmost caution here, and the same with Patrick's strategy document."

"Point taken," said Peter to nods all around. "I'd like to go back to the core legislators for a minute. A lot of them will select themselves for the tasks of the Agenda once they sense the support and power behind them and see the feasibility of passage. Inch by inch in the past few months they've been bestirring themselves, reaching out to kindred souls inside and outside Congress, moving from a defensive mentality to an offensive readiness.

"The members of Congress are a bundle of emotions and calculations, sniffing the air, fingers to the wind, wondering about the new forces stirring in the country and moving in on Capitol Hill for a showdown. From this cauldron of imponderables will rise leaders, some of them unexpected, to drive the Agenda home. These leaders are critical, especially in a short campaign, and there can never be too many of them. They're the ones who will drive the schedule, refine the tactics, soothe the irritable, prod the procrastinators, and above all convey a felt sense in Congress of the inevitability of victory, a bandwagon effect. Members of Congress are like the voters in one respect -- they want to go with the winners."

"Yes," Bernard said, "and many of them also have an unfulfilled appetite to achieve something in this corporate Congress, which is widely perceived as having done very little for the people for a very long time. This, along with the Congress Watchdogs, the Zabouresk-Zeftel group of retired lawmakers and staffers, and perhaps some personal attention from us with the media in tow, will help to forge the inner congressional corps, while all the other Redirectional forces, including the PCC and the Clean Elections Party, will serve as the outside drivers of the Agenda. Then wave after wave of populist power, driven by a knowledge of all the abuses, by pain, anguish, and outrage, and by a sense of destiny for future generations, will roll over Congress, the White House, and the corporate lobbying establishment. Congress isn't used to wave after wave of populist power. In the past, most reformers have thrown everything they've got into their congressional battles all at once, and when attrition starts with the counterattack, there are no reserves left. Then offense turns into defense, and retreat turns into rout. Fortunately, the depth of our resources and the number and quality of our people permit us serial momentum."

"Well, okay, but it's not just that," Ted said fervidly. "Look at Genghis Khan and his mounted warriors. The military precision of his tactics overwhelmed and routed much larger armies as the Mongols conquered and united more of the world in forty years than the Roman Army did in four hundred, and with remarkable exchanges of trade and technology. Naturally I bring up this military analogy only because of its vibrant imagery for our campaign to pass the Agenda." Yoko sighed. "Naturally, but you'll forgive me if I don't pursue it. What concerns me is that 'Agenda' sounds so dry and impersonal. Surely we can do better. I move that we call it 'Agenda for the Common Good' when it goes public."

There was a moment of startled silence. It was such an obvious point Warren looked around the table. "Make it so, Patrick," he said, "and thank you, Yoko."

"You're welcome," she said, and went on to deliver her detailed plan for graphics, posters, billboards, theater, music, all the artistic expressions that would help people connect viscerally with the Agenda for the Common Good and see it as rooted in the best of America's past.

Bill Cosby volunteered a heresy. "But spare us the hip-hop MTV-generation hokum. We have to treat the young seriously, and therefore respectfully, which means no pandering. They're an important constituency. If we can get even a small percentage of them involved in, say, becoming lecturers on their campuses, think how much discussion and debate would be aroused in the high schools, colleges, and universities. From such ferments rise great social movements. Turn off the TV, the computer, the CDs and DVDs -- and I'm not just talking about the kids. Get together face to face, put your arms around each other's shoulders, fill the sidewalks, the cafes, the parks, the veterans' and union halls, the senior citizen centers. Refurbish the commons! We've got to galvanize the credibility groups around specific legislation. We've got to use all the dynamics that have been building since January to the utmost for the final drive behind the Agenda."

"You know, that reminds me of how the students at Yale came out in support of the custodial workers a few years back," Paul said. "There was a ton of coverage on it in the Connecticut papers, and I followed the whole thing closely. Remember that movie Death Takes a Holiday? Imagine what would happen in our country if the lower third of the workforce took a holiday. Start with the super-rich in Greenwich, Belmont, Beverly Hills, Scarsdale, or any affluent suburb in the USA. There would be no one to care for the aging wealthy -- their relatives would have to perform all those unpleasant healthcare duties like emptying bedpans, instead of sipping their martinis in the drawing room while pondering what bequests they were likely to receive from the afflicted. Who would serve the food, ring up sales in the malls and shopping centers and convenience stores, provide daycare for our little ones, sweat to harvest our crops, work for pitiful wages in nonunion factories? And of course, who would do the cleaning and picking up after us? I'm talking about the people whose eyes we avoid when we get off planes or walk past their carts in hotel corridors, the people we tiptoe around while they're mopping our public bathrooms, the people we ignore while they're clearing our tables or washing our dishes or mowing our lawns or hosing down our cars or wiping our butts in hospitals -- who would do their work?" Normally the essence of cool, Paul was turning red as he spoke. "I'll tell you who! The same people, only once we pass the Agenda, they'll be paid twice as much, with full benefits, so they can have a decent life for themselves and their families."

Listening in silence, Bill Gates remembered his own speech at Maui One about the importance of the core group shedding their anonymity and standing up publicly to convey the felt emotions behind their initiatives. Well, they had done that, successfully projecting an image of loners on a justice kick, idiosyncratic do-gooders on an adventure. All that would change on the fifth of July, when the Meliorists stepped forth together as a linked force.


Most of the afternoon session was taken up with the catapult on the Fourth of July and the critical uses of the hot month of August, when Congress closed down and its members were off junketing or politicking or on vacation. "The entrenched powers won't know what hit them, and even if some do, there will be so many decoys and distractions that they won't be able to react in time," Barry said. "The distraction campaign will have a second-and third-strike capability because of investigations now underway, courtesy of one of my epicenter billionaires. He's got graft hunters on the trail of suspected wrongdoers at high levels, including two White House special assistants to the president."

The Meliorists pored over a memorandum from their informants titled "The Lingering Atmosphere of Overconfident Greed and Power in the Corporate Trade Associations and Law Firms." Just what they suspected and desired. The big boys still thought their center would hold. The conversation moved to the specifics of the strategy of diversion, decoy, and distraction. As so often happened in their conversations, one voice emerged. This time it was Joe's.

"In the final analysis, our corporate adversaries are all about themselves, not about the monies and assets they're entrusted with managing. You have to hit them where they live -- what I call their petty gut -- and that goes for their buddies and defenders in Congress too. That's the most immediately felt and decisive way to distract them. So we get one of those core legislators we were talking about this morning to introduce a bill setting the salaries of members of Congress at the level of average household income, which amounts to a pay cut of about sixty-five percent. The bill will also strip them of their health insurance and their pensions until all Americans have those same benefits. Or Warren gets together with Peter Drucker on a national drive to restrict the compensation of CEOs and top executives to no more than twenty-five times the entry-level wage in their companies, to require full disclosure of the often intricate compensation deals, and to give shareholders full voting authority as owners. Or the PCC mounts a movement to cut off all corporate welfare so that companies have to rely entirely on consumer revenue from their products and services -- no more taxpayer subsidies and bailouts.

"Two more ideas, not to the petty gut, just to the gut. First, resurrect the federal chartering proposal of Republican presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Back then the slogan was 'National charters for national corporations.' It was a big debate in the Gilded Age -- the first Gilded Age, that is. But the company bosses liked the state charters, especially Delaware's, and the states liked the revenues they raked in from the perks they offered the corporations. It was a big deal for little Delaware -- at the time, about a third of its state income came from these chartering fees as businesses all over the country flocked to this corporate Reno. The courts were patsies. It was a cushy arrangement for the corporations throughout the twentieth century. Let's put a stop to it. Today's slogan should be 'Federal charters for global corporations.' Let's rewrite the charters for a just compact between these artificial corporate giants and real people. Let's have real regulators, real courts, a real level playing field.

"Secondly, stop the Washington regulatory merry-go-round by establishing a consumer and taxpayer watchdog within the government. In the seventies, a bill creating a Consumer Protection Agency almost made it through Congress several times, but it was blocked by the biggest combined lobbying effort ever. Why? Under the legislation, all the CPA was empowered to do was take the regulatory agencies to court if they were failing to enforce the law or otherwise evading their regulatory duties. Well, the very thought of this agency with its tiny budget of fifteen million dollars going after the FCC, the FDA, the FAA, the FTC, and the whole alphabet soup drove the business lobbyists to many secret meetings in their lair at the Madison Hotel. Just about every industry and line of commerce was represented. They finally got Congress to scuttle the CPA for good in 1979, but its specter is such that whenever any progressive member of Congress even thinks of reintroducing it, staffers send up alarums of political disaster and campaign bankruptcy. Well, that just tells us how terrified the corporate boys are of the CPA coming back. They've won by intimidating Congress, but hell, they'll be bear meat for us.

"So there are some decoys for you -- a one-two punch to the petty gut and the corporate gut. They're all understandable to the public, they'll poll well, and many will come with built-in human interest stories about life-destroying neglect, basic principles of fairness, and so on. Also, if we back them knowledgeably in public, the press we get will help create an aura of legislative likelihood."

"Great ideas, Joe, just great," Barry said, "but for now I think we should float them visibly and leave it at that. We don't want them distracting us. We've already got enough on our plates with the Fourth. Speaking of which, Promotions is having thirty million copies of the Declaration of Independence printed. On one side will be a facsimile of the original document, on the other a typeset reprint for ease of reading. In the middle of June we'll send them out in shipping tubes to the mailing list the Secretariat has compiled from all the Redirections. Bill Hillsman is preparing an ad campaign that will bring Patriotic Polly back to announce the mailing and urge citizens to substitute in their minds, each time the Declaration refers to King George III, the name of the current George or of a multinational corporation."

"Wonderful," Warren said. "It'll be great to see Polly back in action. And on Joe's decoy concerning obscene executive compensation packages and investor control, I'm happy to report that it's already in the works. What could be more fun than hoisting these overpaid critters by their own ideological petards? Hey, big shot CEO, you believe in capitalism? Then surrender to the authority of your company's owners, who will henceforth decide what you, their hired hands at the rarefied top, will be paid. No more of this monumental hypocrisy that lets you have your cake and eat it too. An investor control petition is on its way to the Securities and Exchange Commission even as we speak. The Investor CUB is all over this with me, and they are really beginning to flex their newfound muscles. Joining with them are John Bogle, the preeminent reformer of mutual funds, and two former SEC chairmen who were prominent Wall Street businessmen before going to Washington. These three have thousands of followers who have bought their books or listened to their lectures on investor rights and remedies, and I'll try to get Peter Drucker on board too, Joe. I anticipate that within two months, the momentum for investor control will reach the point of self-replication and move forward on its own steam, as we envision many of our projects will do. But let's get back to the Agenda now. Anything else?"

"Yes," Barry said over a round of applause for Warren. "Promotions is preparing a list of poll questions on the issues covered in the Agenda legislation. This is essential so the media will have numbers to plug into their stories. We'll send you the list early next week. If you have any suggestions about additional topics or the wording of the questions, relay them to my project manager. The polls will be done in about six weeks, and Promotions will time their release. The pollsters have been chosen for their sterling reputations and will make the polling methodology available to any inquiring reporter or legislator."

Ross spoke up. "I think we should canvass the blocked legislative proposals of the citizen groups for modest amendments or riders to be added to bills that will go through anyway, either in the ordinary course of business or because of our efforts. That would certainly build goodwill and morale among these long-besieged groups, without our having to enter into a close alliance with them and deal with their baggage. Include the simple, fair measures allowing workers to use the labor laws to protect themselves and we may arouse organized labor's demoralized rank and file. One of our goals should be to swell the turnout for Labor Day parades. Even in a union town like Detroit, the Labor Day parade is down to a couple of thousand people. Taking that number up by a factor of ten would catch the attention of legislators, both pro and con, who are sensitive to momentum. Let's set that as a minimum goal and have Mass Demonstrations work on stepping up the intensity and theatrics of the parades. Labor Day will be crucial to our kickoff when Congress returns from the August recess."

"Yes," Warren agreed, "after the Fourth, Labor Day will be the next milestone as we head toward a final congressional showdown, but allow me a few more words about June and July. We'll all have to move our own projects and initiatives along as rapidly as possible in June, because after the Fourth our time and energy will be focused on the Agenda. Joe and Bill's Pledge of Allegiance and 'America the Beautiful' feints are going to be the subject of congressional hearings in June. That should keep the radio and TV talking heads sputtering for the rest of the summer. Don Saul's bill legalizing industrial hemp, in addition to its various virtues in terms of the national interest, has become another distraction for the yahoos of the right. More and more lawmakers and agricultural establishment types are lining up behind it, and even some national security people are supportive because of industrial hemp's potential to reduce the importation of oil.

"Bill Cosby and Paul are still working on how to institutionalize the transformation of dead money into live money, but it's already clear that dead money is coming to life all over the place. Our epicenter billionaires are using their wealth to fund preteen civic training classes during the summer break; to lay the groundwork for new regional colleges whose principal major will be civic skills and analysis; to establish local awards for civic valor as Bernard suggested at Maui Four; to form a taxpayers' investigative organization that will expose wasteful federal and state budgets and their arcane systems of deferrals; to set up thousands of micro radio stations so that citizens can literally use their voices to build better neighborhoods and communities right there; to start a drive against teenage silliness and masochism and show the kids how commercialism is controlling their minds and their lives; and to launch a national veterans' movement to reclaim patriotism from its present misuse as a tool of censorship and conformity in the service of the oligarchs and the military-industrial complex.

"What is most amazing about this veritable blizzard of activity involving tens of millions of Americans is the way it has brought out their manifold talents and their best natures, which we all knew was the factor that would make or break our year's work. And the blizzard goes on. For instance, the next phase of the 'Pay the Rent!' drive against the broadcasters is scheduled for next weekend. Bill and Barry, will you give us a few words on this?

"Happy to," Bill Cosby said. "We've planned demonstrations in front of the major television stations in the fifty largest media markets. The signs, banners, and props will meet every criteria for graphic TV footage. We expect a minimum of five hundred well-briefed and motivated demonstrators who will move from one station to another during the six o'clock news hour so that the stations will have an opportunity to report live on what's happening right outside their windows. Most of them won't, which will prove to the community that they're willing to censor anything that affects their longtime freeloading on the public. Leading the demonstrations will be some well-known members of the community, though you can imagine how many others declined when they were approached to confront big media in their hometown. The ones who accepted were those who've been shut out for so long that they have nothing to lose -- labor leaders, neighborhood activists, community reformers. It's almost certain that the local newspapers will find all this newsworthy -- that is, unless they're owned by the companies that own the stations. In either case, we'll collect valuable data on which stations did or did not cover the events and why. There's also going to be a big demonstration in Washington, but I'll let Barry tell you about that."

"Well, barring rain, we'll have five thousand people demanding their rent in front of the National Association of Broadcasters headquarters off Connecticut Avenue. There isn't much room to assemble, but by the same token the surrounding streets will be packed for the photographers and cameras. All requisite demonstration permits in DC and around the country have been obtained."

"Thanks to both of you for the update," Warren said. "Also scheduled for next week is the long-awaited Report on Corporate Welfare. Jeno, a few words please."

"Well, it is a sizable tome. The title is 'Corporate Welfare Kings: Rolling the Taxpayers in the Service of Greed.' Nothing like it has ever been assembled before, which is why it's late, though I'm amazed the compilers didn't take many more months to finish. It has something for every ideology, viewpoint, and gripe, and the writing pinpoints each of these nerve endings in a very adroit manner. It includes a ranking of the Top One Hundred Welfare Kings based on a sound methodology and some very well done internal government agency memoranda that we obtained, on who gets the subsidies. For the press, the report will have long legs because it names thousands of companies in thousands of communities, including some of my own companies -- sometimes I simply had to do what my competitors were doing. Country club talk next week will get a lot less routine, I'll bet. The takers and the givers are going to know who they are in no uncertain terms, and the givers are not going to like it one bit. The report concludes with sensible recommendations about what needs to be done so that the people can find out about these giveaways, challenge them, and end them, or at least channel them toward broader public interest objectives. Of course Promotions has been well-briefed for action. I think the Clean Elections Party candidates should run with this issue too, because dirty money in campaigns is what greases the skids in Washington for all these massive detours of taxpayer money and corporate tax dodges."

"Thanks, Jeno. Does anyone have anything to add? What about you, Sol? You've been unusually quiet."

"Does a starving man have the strength to speak?"

"Apparently so," Warren rejoined. "All right, time for dinner, then our silence period -- you know the drill -- but let's depart from our meeting format in the morning. We've all got a lot of personal catching up to do since Maui Four, and I also think we need some time for informal discussion. Anything we've overlooked is more likely to come up that way."

By noon the next day, Maui Six was history, and the Meliorists returned to the mainland, but not before Warren reminded them to collect on their IOUs from the billionaires they'd cultivated. "We won't have much time to dun them after the Fourth," he cautioned.


The Sunday of Maui Six found Lobo -- that was what he liked to be called, just Lobo -- racking his brains in the solitude of his office high above Manhattan. Lobo liked to rack his brains. It gave him an adrenaline rush, fueled his imagination, and drove him to push the envelope further than any of his competitors. That was why he was the preeminent corporate raider.

His new job gave him plenty to rack his brains over. He'd read thousands of clippings, seen hundreds of video clips on the SROs' individual causes and confrontations. He'd consulted with the American Enterprise Institute and the other conservative think tanks. He'd met with trade association executives who should have been alarmed by the unprecedented eruptions all over the country. He'd devoured books and Harvard Business School case studies on how corporations and industries had counterattacked their adversaries in the past. He'd studied the way commercial interests had beat down reformist third parties. He'd debriefed his CEO bosses about their meetings with the SROs. He'd even tried to contact Dick Goodwin for a friendly tete-a-tete, but he was told this venerable man in the know and speechwriter to presidents was in London completing a stage play. It was all a quest through Preposterous Land -- but wasn't everything about the SROs preposterous until you looked around and saw that more and more, every hour of every day, they were rousing the country from its subservient slumber?

After all his exertions, Lobo came up empty. He had no real leads, no feet in the door, nothing. He'd been a chain smoker and stopped, replacing his cigarillos with raw carrots. Since accepting the CEOs' assignment, he'd devoured so many carrots that his skin was turning orange. Had he taken on more than he could deliver? If he failed, that would be big news, and his reputation as a world-beater would collapse. For years reporters had wanted nothing more than to see his arrogant pride pricked. They would be waiting and watching ravenously. Naturally he kept all these twinges of self- doubt to himself -- Lobo never confided, never! -- and consoled himself with the thought that he was still in the conceptual stage and had been instructed not to commence operations until the CEOs gave him the go-ahead.

Lobo's unwonted introspection didn't prevent him from moving quickly to prepare his capabilities for surveillance, infiltration, attrition, and the all-important assault on motives and integrity to sow fear of the SROs among the people and manufacture a mass sense of insecurity about the future. For these tasks, he called on the smartest dirty-tricks PR firm in Washington and hired hard-bitten experts in penetration tactics -- boy, did those guys look hungry! The more delicate job of marshaling the corporate world's "deadwood muck-a-mucks," as he called them, he would do himself, working intuitively on his assessment of which of them could be roused through his calculated provocations.

Of all the people Lobo had spoken to, only one really impressed: Brovar Dortwist. He had fire in his belly, a high sense of alarm, mental acuity, street smarts, and phenomenal Washington contacts. Lobo picked up the phone.

"Hello, Brovar, Lobo here. You remember our recent conversation?"

"Yes, of course, how are you?"

"Fine enough to invite you for dinner tomorrow evening at my office to talk about the SROs." Lobo explained the acronym, and the two men shared a laugh at CEO Bump's expense.

"Okay, I'll be there," Brovar said.

"Excelente. Adios."

The next evening, the dapper Dortwist arrived five minutes early and was admitted by a butler who seated him at a beautifully set table. A few minutes later, Lobo strode in and greeted him with an abrazo. Then he broke out a bottle of Dalmore 62 that he'd purchased in London last year for $22,000, and they proceeded to down three straight shots each in preparation for a bare-fisted strategy session.

Lobo looked his guest in the eye. "Brovar, in all my years of going after corporations, I never dreamed a fraction of what the SROs have been doing to them since early this year. It's an ingenious, deep, broad, diverse, clever, tough, motivating, empowering awakening of the masses. Social scientists might call it a breakthrough movement. And it appears that it's just getting started and there's a lot more on the way. The SROs are recruiting what the Marxists call 'a revolutionary cadre' from all ages and backgrounds. I must say, speaking as my old self, pre-conversion, it's almost inspirational when you think of the huge problems the country is experiencing. What do you say?"

The butler served the salad course. Brovar took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. "I too find some of what they're doing not unacceptable. They're telling capitalists to act like capitalists and stop freeloading on huge deficits in Washington. But overall they're threatening the whole power system that assures stability and continuity, and that I cannot abide. Forces will be unleashed that they will not be able to control, even if they want to. When the people get a taste of power, they develop a thirst for more and more. The result is invariably tumult, chaos, anarchy, and collapse. We are the two people in the country who want to and can set forces in motion to counter this looming threat."

"I couldn't agree more. After all, I've made a pretty good living feeding off the overreaching greed of that 'whole power system,' as you called it. Let me bounce some thoughts off you. The usual corporate response to a serious challenge is to wear down the citizen groups or reformist politicians by confronting them at every point of potential victory. Remember when the environmental groups went to federal court to block the construction of the Alaska Pipeline and won their case? That big oil consortium simply went to Congress and passed legislation that reversed the court decision and then some. The enviros, while capable in court, had no second-strike capability in Congress, where money talks. All company strategists operate this way. If they lose in court, they go to the legislature, and if they lose in the legislature, they tie up the regulatory agency implementing the bill. If they finally lose at the regulatory level. they go back to court or to the Congress to overrule the rule. And all along the way they use the business media at full throttle to advance their mission. Meanwhile, the briefly aroused public loses interest and subsides.

"Question to you, Brovar. Is that how we confront the SROs, by pushing back at every point or intersection where they're pushing forward -- lobbying, litigation, media, Astroturfing, front groups, chambers of commerce, PACs, dealers and agents back in the communities, the whole ball of wax? You know what the complacent trade association world in Washington thinks. They declare that nothing has actually changed. Except for a few victories in small claims court, it's all been publicity, petitions, mobilization, and some new organizations that don't have anything concrete to show for themselves. There have been no new laws or regulations, they say, no official decisions, no company surrenders, nothing that's diminished the power of the corporate world in the slightest, blah blah blah."

The butler came in with the main course, Wagyu strip steaks with black truffle vinaigrette. Brovar waited for him to serve the food and clear the salad plates before he replied. "I'm not sure we have time to do all you've suggested before the SRO initiatives morph into real political, economic, and spiritual power on Capitol Hill and on Election Day, but what other choice do we have? None that's legal, as far as I can see."

"So," Lobo replied, "what you're saying is that we pursue a conventional all-fronts confrontation strategy, because we certainly don't want to do anything illegal. But just hypothetically, suppose the strategy fails and our clients are on the brink. Shouldn't we consider all our options under the rubric of skirting legality? There's not much risk if we're caught. We'll make sure our people are willing to take the modest punishment provided for by the modest sanctions of corporate criminal law, or else we'll have fall guys take the rap. I'm not talking about anything raw, just things like money flows, defamation, the usual dirty tricks. When time is short and billions of dollars are at stake, when power, position, status, and whole companies are at stake -- well, what is it the Boy Scouts advise? 'Be prepared.' Just hypothetically, of course, Brovar."

"Just hypothetically, Lobo, an old Chinese proverb says, 'He who plays with fire is likely to be burned.' Tidal waves are heading to Washington. Nothing like this has ever happened in any country -- the super-organized revolt of the older super-rich against the entrenched super-rich! It's the stuff of Hollywood, for heaven's sake. Automatic mass media. We usually crush our opposition because they have trouble getting any media. Now the media itself is being told to pay the rent, and the print press is having a field day reporting it. As for the members of Congress, they're quietly having nervous breakdowns from all the populist pressure building on them from back home. They can feel what's corning in an election year when their most senior legislators are being challenged by candidates from a well-funded Clean Elections Party. Sure, Lobo, unleash the conventional sallies against the SROs, but don't bet too heavily on our success in the time frame we're talking about. It's only five months to Election Day. Our side may have dawdled too long."

"You're provocative in the best sense, Brovar. So where does that leave us?"

"Well, that depends. How much money are your CEOs willing to spend once they give you the go-ahead? And do they have it in hand, or are they talking vague pledges?"

"I'm waiting on them for the answer. They've given me my office and staff budget, but they won't be ready to tell me how much they're raising and committing personally until late June. Usually in a fight between populism and oligarchy, oligarchy has to spend ten times more to have a chance to prevail. I mean, look at those solar festivals that people are flocking to every weekend now. They have credibility. We can't exactly match them with coal-burning festivals, can we? On the other hand, our side already has a multibillion-dollar infrastructure in place -- organizations, communications, media, transportation, captive legislators, a corporate White House, all kinds of networks around the country, an aura of invincibility. But does that infrastructure have the heart and the stomach for the fast-approaching battle? As of now I doubt it seriously. The big boys are too fat, dumb, and happy, too smug, too used to an unbroken string of victories. They may have to lose a few times before they'll wake up. I know none of this is news to you, Brovar."

"My rough guess is that just this year you're going to need five billion dollars. If the conventional counteroffensive doesn't work, you may be forced to fall back on those hypothetical tactics that we never discussed. If push comes to shove, you'll have nothing to rely on when the barbarians are storming the gates but fear, smear, and the Khyber Pass."

"The Khyber Pass?"

"Exactly. It's the mountain pass through which waves of invaders rode into the Indus Valley to conquer the Indian subcontinent. If they weren't stopped there, then India lay before them, essentially defenseless. A nice metaphor for our intensifying predicament. Let's assume the SROs mobilize so much popular force that they have the votes in Congress to pass a whole backlog of legislation that the liberals and progressives, so called, have been salivating for these last twenty- five years. Your last stand is the procedural power of the committee chairs and our seasoned friends in the leadership to block the legislation at every turn. They are the Khyber Pass where we can choke off the invaders, at least for this year. All bets are off after the election."

"Well, your sources must be telling you the same thing mine are -- that the SROs' legislative allies on the Hill are indeed preparing to introduce a wide brace of legislation, the whole liberal agenda on health insurance, a living wage, labor rights, investor rights, tax equity, pension preservation, consumer protection, energy and the environment -- the usual list. Our corporate clients have been discrediting, delaying, and blocking these measures for years. Those guys have the propaganda and the television dramatizations down pat. It's the new rising power behind these bills that changes the entire equation for us."

"Lobo, you have to tread very carefully here. Start the usual campaigns to discredit the bills as economically unworkable, too costly, too radical, too likely to undermine the precious free market and our global competitiveness. Trot them all out, brush them off, give them a new gleam, a fresh focus. But you may have to use smear tactics to save the ship when and if the time comes. If you deploy them too early, when you don't yet know whether the conventional campaigns are going to fail, they may backfire on you. The press will see them as acts of desperation by corporatists on the brink of defeat. Our friends in Congress will disassociate themselves from such tactics. I repeat, you have to be ready, you have to get those ducks in order on the QT, but you only want to use them at the eleventh hour, when you have everything to lose if you don't. It's a tightrope act of the first order."

"Excellent advice. Are you with me, Brovar?"

"Of course, Lobo."

"Dessert and brandy, Brovar?"

"Of course, Lobo."
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Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:22 pm



The report on Corporate Welfare Kings hit the streets on the first Monday of June, literally. That day's Bugle was devoted entirely to the report, and the "Read all about it!" kids peeled off one copy after another, sometimes right in front of a Welfare King's headquarters building. The mainstream newspapers picked up on a remarkable finding: although individual companies that received government largesse might still pay net federal taxes, corporate welfare handouts as a whole cancelled out corporate tax liability as a whole and then some. In short, as a practical matter, corporate America was tax-exempt. The tabloids in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and other cities went all the way with page-one headlines like "Business Behemoths on Welfare Escape Taxes," or "Big-Shot Welfare Kings Exposed" in huge type over unflattering blowups of scowling CEOs. One cartoon showed the corporations as pigs feeding at the public trough, with the caption "Only the little People Pay Taxes," a reference to New York real estate baroness Leona Helmsley's outburst after she was caught cheating on her taxes. Even the Style pages got into the act. One enterprising columnist, Rally Zwinn of the Washington Post, did some follow-up and found that many of the Top Hundred Welfare Kings named in the report had cancelled all their social engagements and golf outings until further notice. Quite a scoop for Rally, who'd gone a while since her last one.

More important was the follow-up commentary and the steady spread of the subject into ordinary conversation. There were also signs that academia was becoming more interested in corporate welfare research. A USA Today survey of economics majors in their junior year revealed that some 15 percent of them were planning to write their senior thesis on some aspect of corporate welfare. Clean Elections candidates held news conferences about the report and showcased local people vainly trying to get public funds for clinics or school repairs. Nothing like the crisp, vivid politics of juxtaposition to get the citizenry aroused. "That ain't right," said a cabbie to Phil Donahue about a case in which City Hall, acting on behalf of a large company, used its power of eminent domain to condemn dozens of homes and small businesses, as well as two churches, and then gave the land to the company for free. The list went on and on. Drug companies ripping patients off at the pharmacy while getting all kinds of free research and development from the government. Gambling casinos, billionaire owners of sports teams, the tobacco industry, agribusiness, banks. insurance companies, and even foreign companies, all on the dole in one clever way after another.

The Clean Elections Party had a field day connecting corporate giveaways with campaign contributions targeted to senators and representatives on the pertinent committees, or to otherwise well-positioned legislators responsive to cash register politics. Completely on the defensive, the lawmakers fell back on lame excuses about jobs and meeting the global competition -- until the CEP produced a list of European and Asian companies on the US welfare rolls. With American workers being laid off in droves from their manufacturing jobs. with household income stagnant or falling, with consumers shackled by enormous debt, with pensions being raided or drained or dumped on Uncle Sam, the usual sheen and shine of the incumbent politicians, the supreme complacency they drew from their unchallenged reign in their one-party districts or states, started to crumble.

Of all the sticky issues beginning to stick on the Capitol Dome, none was more adhesive than the "Pay the Rent!" eruption. For politicians, the TV and radio stations in their home regions were untouchable. Look at them critically or challenge them to "pay the rent" and they could turn you to stone. They were the latter-day Gorgons of congressional folklore. So when the demonstrations in the fifty largest broadcast markets went live, Congress collectively braced itself.

A full two-thirds of the stations ignored the protests. Through quick coordination with the National Association of Broadcasters, their similarly besieged trade association, they issued curt press releases that were all very similar: "Channel 3 does not consider matters relating to this station, pursued by a special interest, to be of interest to our viewing audience. It would be self-indulgent to burden viewers with internal administrative matters having nothing to do with the gathering of the day's news. Clearly, these demonstrations were orchestrated to force us into covering them, an unconscionable assault on the freedom of the press. Our station creates jobs, pays taxes, and serves our community, and no outside intimidation will ever keep us from performing our responsibilities day after day to the best of our ability."

The print media begged to differ about the stations' self-serving definition of newsworthiness. The story made the front pages all over the country, and a chorus of editorialists called for congressional action. Luckily the protests had occurred on a weekend, so the solons had time to sort out the marbles in their mouths. Come Monday morning, however, they had to respond to the newspapers in their communities. There was no way out, no way to dodge the simple question "Should the people's airwaves be rented at market rates by the broadcaster tenants who are profiting hand over fist and can't threaten to go to China? Yes or no?"

Temporizing became the order of the day. The usually languid Monday floor session was suddenly filled to the gills with legislative business requiring the lawmakers' constant attendance. "We'll get back to you," they said. Or, "We haven't seen an actual legislative proposal and cannot comment until we do." Or, "Well, it would depend on the amount of rent, wouldn't it?"

But not all 535 members wanted to duck for cover. More than fifty of them said that of course the people should get a return on their property and that the money could be used to fund better programs. Some two dozen true mossbacks were vocal in their opposition. "Hell, no! We oppose all tax increases," thundered Senator Thinkalot defiantly. Tax increases? It was a transparent semantic sleight, but the broadcasters and the Republican National Committee and the usual suspects bought into it. "No more taxes, no more taxes!" was the rant from the raucous realms. The late-night comics loved it, gleefully shredding this bad joke with satirical comparisons. Would the yahoos like to tell the private owners of buildings that house government agencies to stop charging the government rent?

Nothing worked for the congressional minions of Big Media. They didn't pass the laugh test. There were deficits to reduce. The people's commonwealth extended to public lands rich in timber and minerals, lands that should be leased or sold at market value instead of being given away free or at bargain-basement prices. The controversy began to expand to include these and other giveaway resources owned by the people but in the hands of the corporations. "Things are getting out of hand," grumbled the mossbacks. "It's just wonderful," exhaled the progressives.

It was a tribute to the skill of the "Pay the rent!" campaign, and the degree to which it scared the trousers off the broadcast moguls, that the Redirections news began to crowd out some of the sensational, violent, celebrity-and-sex- ridden material that passed for news on network and cable television. "If it bleeds, it leads" was becoming "If it seethes, it leads" in more and more newsrooms. Charges that TV was a round-the-clock wasteland of tawdry trivia and saturation advertising sent producers into overdrive generating more serious content and what they called "public service programming." Even silly, sadistic, screaming afternoon shows like Jerry Springer's began to find room to showcase heroic civic action groups in communities around the nation, going so far as to put their e-mail addresses on the screen for interested viewers.

In mid-June, Congress opened hearings on two of the Meliorists' most volcanic decoys: the bills to change the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance and replace "The Star-Spangled Banner" with "America the Beautiful."

People started lining up before 5:00 a.m. to get into the House and Senate hearing rooms. By 7:00 a.m. the lines, three deep, stretched from the doorways of the Rayburn office Building and the Hart Senate office Building far down the sidewalks outside. The people appeared to come from all walks of life and to have little in common except a fierce and determined look. Bleary-eyed reporters were already interviewing them. James Drew of the Washington Post leaned over to Rick Dawn of the Associated Press and said. "I'll bet they're the evangelicals and the old veterans, with a few Daughters of the American Revolution sprinkled in. Rick Dawn agreed, scarcely suppressing a yawn. Ten minutes later, most of the crowd began humming "America the Beautiful." What gives? Drew wondered as he took down one pro- change comment after another.

What gave was that one of Cecil Zeftel's retired staffers, Walter Waitland, had tipped Bernard off about how to stack the hearing rooms and change the whole atmosphere for the committee members as well as the press. When he was working on the Hill, he used to rail against corporate lobbyists who took up all the seats by hiring college students to stand in for them beginning at 6:00 a.m. Three hours or so later, the lobbyists would saunter in and take their places. Meanwhile, unsuspecting citizens would arrive and find themselves shut out. Waitland never forgot his outrage over committee chairs allowing the corporations to take over the seats this way, just as they had tried to do when Peter Lewis testified about the insurance industry. Now the tables were turned. The difference was that nobody here had been paid. They were all volunteers from the PCC and the CUBs and the lunchtime rallies, or simply from the ranks of the millions whose lives had been touched by one or more of the Redirections and who jumped at the chance to come.

At 9:00 a.m. Chairman Michael Meany of the House Committee on Administration brought his gavel down hard. A burly Republican from Pecos County, Texas, he couldn't have been a worse choice from the pro-change viewpoint. He was known to have a hot temper and to brook no disruption of his hearing room. The Republican leadership wanted to downplay the importance of the two bills, so they had assigned them to Meany's committee.

The chairman opened with a brief statement. "Today we convene to hear testimony on HR 215 and HR 300, relating respectively to changing the National Anthem to 'America the Beautiful' and changing the Pledge of Allegiance to read 'with liberty and justice for some.' I oppose both bills, but I will chair a fair and open hearing and will not try to keep them from being voted out of committee should my position only command a minority. I oppose HR 215 because I believe a national anthem should convey strength before spirit, which is not what 'America the Beautiful' conveys. Besides, there's nothing very beautiful about West Texas flatlands other than their people. I oppose HR 300 because a pledge of allegiance should embrace the ideal over the real. People everywhere know there is liberty and justice only for a few. They need to be inspired by the ideal -- liberty and justice for all.

"Now I call on the ranking member of the other party for an opening statement before we go to the witnesses. Representative Randy Realismo from the great state of Iowa, which has plenty of amber waves of grain."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I favor these two bills for reasons exactly the opposite of yours. I believe America's spirit is the source of all its strength, its can-do attitude, its pioneering ways, and its military effectiveness. I favor the Pledge the Truth bill because our youngsters should not be fed illusions; they should be toughened by reality so they can seek to change it for the better. And for adults, the present ending, 'with liberty and justice for all,' amounts to knowingly mouthing a lie. Our allegiance should be based on truth, not lies."

"Thank you for matching my brevity," said the chairman. "Now we go to the first panel, composed of four witnesses supporting this legislation. You each have three minutes, and your complete statements will be placed in the printed hearing record. You may begin, Mr. Vision."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the House Committee on Administration. My name is Vincent Vision, and I am a professor of anthropology at Indiana University. Rituals in any society are a composite of myth and motivation. The Anthem and the Pledge are no exception. They are sung and uttered millions of times daily in our land, and they leave a deep imprint. Their routine repetition plants them in the subconscious, where they are never subjected to scrutiny or criticism. They are meant to be revered to a point where they lose much of their conscious meaning. The fervor for the Pledge of Allegiance, it is commonly understood, comes mainly from the right of our political spectrum, yet the struggle for liberty and justice for all has come mainly from the left, which finds the Pledge to be an instrument of conformity and obedience to the ruling classes. And as an historic aside, may I point out that the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist? The irony persists unabated. As for 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' it is much easier to control people with a sacred symbol like the flag than with a reality like the landscape of our country. An anthem replete with descriptions of America's natural splendors will encourage us to preserve those splendors. When it comes to symbol versus reality, we should take the latter every time if we are to view ourselves as thinking, inquiring people. Besides, raising children to sing about 'bombs bursting in air' cannot compare with lyrics about our country's skies and mountains and plains. Give them their childhood. They'll have time enough to worry about bombs later in life, unless peace bursts out all over. Thank you."

"And thank you, Professor. The next witness is Dr. Cynthia Chord, who has a PhD in music and sings professionally at the Toledo Opera House."

"Mr. Chairman and committee members, I would like to simply sing both 'The Star-Spangled Banner' and 'America the Beautiful,' in that order." Whereupon Dr. Chord thrilled the hearing room with her renditions and sat down to loud applause.

The gavel slammed down three times for silence. It was clear to the astonished chairman that most of the applause was for "America the Beautiful." He hastened onward. "The next witness is Frederick Ferrett, dean of the Yale Law School and a leading historian of jurisprudence. Proceed, Dean Ferret."

"Mr. Chairman and committee members, I shall restrict my oral testimony to the results of a lie detector test given to six professors from six different law schools. All of them specialize in the study of justice, its primordial relation to liberty, and the distribution of both in our country. They were asked to say the Pledge of Allegiance while wired to a lie detector. All six flunked the test. Thank you."

"Dean Ferret, do you have a more detailed treatment of these tests and their methodology in the testimony you submitted for the record?"

"Yes, I do, Mr. Chairman."

"Very well. The next witness is the aptly named Peter Poll, president of a major polling organization in St. Louis."

"Thank you, Chairman Meany and distinguished legislators. We polled a representative sample of three thousand two hundred Americans on three questions. When asked, Do you want to see the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance changed in any way? eighty percent said no, fifteen percent said yes, and the rest had no opinion. To the question, Which would you choose for our National Anthem, 'The Star-Spangled Banner' or 'America the Beautiful'? the response was about fifty-fifty. When asked, Which do you prefer at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance, the present 'with liberty and justice for all: or 'with liberty and justice for some'? sixty-four percent liked 'for some,' thirty percent wanted the Pledge to remain the same, and the rest were undecided. Our analysis is that, as many previous polls have shown, the American people know that established power and wealth control the many for the benefit of the few in this country, because they feel the effects or read about the effects or see the effects every day. Therefore, we were not surprised by the large majority favoring the change in the Pledge to conform to reality. Thank you, Mr. Chairman."

Chairman Meany was looking a little red in the face. "I have no questions. Are there questions from the members of the committee?"

"Yes, I have a question for Dean Ferrett," said Congressman Pierre Prober. "Dean, were you saying that when the six professors came to the last few words of the Pledge of Allegiance, they felt they were lying?"

"Yes, Congressman, that is exactly what I was saying, and exactly what registered on the lie detector."

"My question is directed to Professor Vision," said Congresswoman Elaine Suspicio. "Is it not true, Professor, that national anthems under dictatorships are almost always militaristic and boast of victories and triumphs in warfare?"

"That is generally quite correct. And when democratic countries are taken over by dictators and the anthem is changed, it goes the route you have described, yes."

Congressman Dick Direct glowered at the panel. "My question is to any of you who choose to respond. Why in the name of all that's holy are you wasting your time and ours with this left-wing tripe? Look at the huge press turnout, the sixteen television cameras, the mass of radio microphones in front of your table. Is this what we should be concentrating on while the world is exploding with terrorists and their extremist supporters?"

"With respect, Congressman Direct," said Professor Vision, "in the past year your Administration Committee has had sessions and hearings on the following topics: use of House credit cards by members and staff; whether the House cafeteria should serve more vegetarian meals and organic food; whether the visitors' center, under construction with massive cost overruns, should be managed by a new general contractor and a new auditing firm; whether the House Barber Shop and Beauty Salon should increase its prices; and so on. All this, Congressman, while the world is exploding with violence of all kinds and imploding from neglect. The National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance are not trivial matters, and public opinion is deeply divided on the two bills before you, as this hearing will surely demonstrate."

"Amen, amen," warbled Cynthia Chord.

"I second Professor Vision," Peter Poll chimed in. "As a specialist in measuring public opinion, I have found again and again that traditions and symbols like the Pledge and the National Anthem are very important to people's sense of solidarity, their sense of collective identity, and their need to allay their anxieties by clinging to something that endures from the past into the present and sanctifies the future."

Chairman Meany was about to dismiss the panel and move on when a committee clerk scuttled across the dais and whispered in his ear, "The hearing is going out live on C-SPAN, public radio, and CNN. Thousands of e-mails and phone calls are pouring into the committee, your congressional office, and your district office in Pecos County. We haven't had time to determine whether the reaction is breaking pro or con. All we know is that the congressional switchboard is overwhelmed with callers. Obviously this is touching nerves. I thought you'd want to know." The chairman nodded thoughtfully and turned back to face the audience. "If there are no further questions, I thank the panel for coming here this morning to present their views. Now we will hear some opposing views. Mr. Ultimata, where are the other three witnesses on your panel?"

"Mr. Chairman, my three colleagues have agreed to cede their time to me. Unless you object, I am authorized to speak on their behalf, and I trust my cumulative time is now twelve minutes."

"A little unconventional, but why not? Please proceed."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am Ulysses Ultimata, former CEO of Gigante Corporation, with operations in fifty-two countries. Gigante is the world's leading manufacturer of pile drivers. I represent the Coalition of True Patriots, formed recently after provocations that were orchestrated by two very rich men and have ended up as H.R. 215 and H.R. 300. The coalition is composed of nearly one hundred stalwart Americans of achievement who have in common their unalterable opposition to these two subversive bills. We agree with your opening statement, Mr. Chairman, but we wish to go beyond it. Let me be blunt. These bills are treasonous. Their intent is to destroy venerable American traditions in the name of anemic pacifism and radical egalitarianism."

Loud murmurs of disapproval rose from the audience. Ulysses Ultimata was not deterred.

"American soldiers died singing 'The Star Spangled Banner.' This Anthem is our blood, guts, and pride. Our Pledge of Allegiance has come from the mouth of every soldier, sailor, and airman who has worn the uniform of the US Armed Forces since the Spanish-American War. It is their sacred oath. Here and now we take our stand for these great traditions. We will fight in the hearing rooms, in the halls of Congress, in the town halls of America, on the village greens -- and if necessary in the streets -- to protect and defend our Anthem and our Pledge from dilution, contamination, and manipulation by the wimps who are behind all this."

Now the audience was shouting, booing, calling for rebuttal. 'We weren't wimps at Guadalcanal and Anzio," a veteran yelled. "We weren't wimps on D-Day. What did you do in the war, Ultimata?" A short olive-skinned man with a crew cut jumped up from his seat. "He called us traitors! I've worked hard for America, and I have two sons in the Marines. How dare he?"

Chairman Meany, who had been pleased by the civil tone of the hearing thus far, was banging his gavel furiously. "Sit down, sir! I will call the sergeant at arms to escort you or anyone else from this hearing room if you do not settle down. Please continue, Mr. Ultimata."

"Let me be more specific about the consequences if these bills pass into law. Our multinational companies will be the laughingstock of the world, as will our country. What nation would ever degrade itself by conceding in its Pledge of Allegiance that there is liberty and justice only for some? We call ourselves the greatest democracy on Earth every day. How could we continue to do that in our worldwide information programs? And while I concede that 'America the Beautiful' might bring in more foreign tourists to see our fields and forests, let's face it, other countries do not respect America for its beauty, for its laws, for its economy, for its freedoms. They respect us because of our military power, because we win wars as long as we can get the wimps and the bleeding hearts out of our way." Ultimata was fairly shouting now, in part for emphasis and in part to be heard over the rising crescendo of outrage from the audience.

"The poor people fight your wars, big shot!" roared a deep-throated guy in a "Union, Yes!" sweatshirt. TV cameramen were elbowing each other for the best shots -- this was going to make some juicy television. The members of the committee were clearly agitated, envisioning a maelstrom of angry messages from their constituents. Already their assistants were passing them notes saying that their office phones were ringing off the hook. The callers wanted to know where their lawmakers stood. One member got a note from his wife complaining that their home phone wouldn't let up.

'Order, order! I will not have a witness before my committee shouted down. I will clear the hearing room before it comes to that. Finish your testimony, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As I was saying, if you look weak, you're asking for trouble. Pacifists look weak, talk weak, are weak. America got to where it is by slamming its way to the West Coast and the Rio Grande, by calling out the cavalry, by rejecting gun control. If we hadn't taken charge in 1775, Bostonians would still be slurping their tea out of Chippendale cups. Our country would still be a narrow strip of land up and down the Atlantic coast. I end with a warning. Debate these bills all you want, but there are those of us who will never allow our sacred traditions to be sullied. God bless America, and cursed be the meek, because they will forfeit the Earth."

Some of the pastors in the audience found the twisted biblical reference sacrilegious and made their protest clear by silently but strenuously wagging their fingers at Ulysses Ultimata. Leaving the witness chair, he responded with a laugh and a curled lip. Boos and hisses erupted in spontaneous condemnation.

In the back of the room, Bill Gates Sr. turned to Joe Jamail and said, "If a congressional hearing is this unruly, just imagine what's going on in the rest of the country. And the focus is just where we want it to be, on the Congress. Operation Distraction just hit pay dirt, Joe."

Chairman Meany, gaveling down the uproar, adjourned the hearing until further notice and ordered the sergeant at arms to clear the room, which was presently populated by people singing "America the Beautiful" or bellowing "With liberty and justice for some!" Moderate pandemonium ensued as the crowd departed, reporters and photographers at their heels, still puzzled by the overwhelming audience support for the bills.

Predictably, the evening news was dominated by the hearings and the public reaction in Everywhere, USA. Barry even had to suspend his provocative and increasingly popular Injustice of the Day segment to make time for full coverage. The waves after waves unleashed by the Meliorists were provoking just about everyone to drop the small talk and express their opinions on the way to work, in car pools, at shopping malls, in waiting rooms, around the water cooler, you name it. More and more youngsters were getting into the act as their schools debated whether to pick up the Pledge revision. The more thoughtful teachers used the occasion to delve deeper into the arguments pro and con and learned that they could teach American history in a way that genuinely caught the attention of their overwired students.

So successful were the Pledge and the Anthem, both as decoys and in advancing the national discussion of substantive issues, that it wasn't long before Joe and Bill began planning a new drive, this time to replace the bald eagle with the white dove. Joe drafted a memo to Promotions describing the eagle as a glorified vulture, a flesh-rending predator that would even feed on carrion, its powerful beak and talons exuding violence, aggression, and imperial designs. Should this be the symbol of the United States of America, already regarded by much of the world as an imperial predator? The dove, on the other hand, was the universal symbol of peace, representing the highest aspirations of humankind. To wage peace was to renounce waging war. To wage peace was to give justice a chance to spread its wings. Some of the bird watchers probably wouldn't be too happy about the Doves, Not Vultures campaign, but it was another feint sure to send Bush Bimbaugh and company up the wall. Joe and Bill would keep it in reserve for stage two of the Agenda drive, after the August recess.

With an eye to the future need for decoys and distractions, Promotions was also working up an action plan for Yoko's idea that the quickest way to stop pollution was to pass a law requiring polluters to inject a nontoxic red dye into their emissions. Once support for the Agenda builds in Congress, it wouldn't be difficult to find sponsors to introduce the legislation with fanfare and a video simulation that would drive the polluters into a costly and time-consuming counter offensive frenzy. When the proposal was sent to the Secretariat, Barry received an uncharacteristically scathing memo from Patrick Drummond. "This is exuberance run amok, a heaven-sent instrument that the plutocrats and corporatists will use to organize the people and distract them. Nobody wants to go around with red stains on their person, their home, their car, and just about everything else. The bill will be stopped in its tracks on Capitol Hill, but meanwhile it will be seized upon to tarnish and discredit anybody and everybody associated with it. Enthusiasm untempered by common sense can lead to disaster. Recommend internal review to determine how this one got past you and how to tighten up quality control immediately. Will bill you later for saving your ass." Barry was startled by the language but had to agree with the message, though he wasn't looking forward to breaking the news to Yoko.


June was crunch month for Wal-Mart. The giant company was being squeezed from all sides. One editorial cartoonist depicted it as Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians with ropes labeled "Union." Except for the mom-and-pop fire sales, the models and tactics Sol had deployed against the first five stores and the additional two hundred were spreading spontaneously throughout the Wal-Mart world. The Wal-SWATs were working triple shifts without making a dent. The company hired four more top executives in crisis management, and it was a drop in the bucket. Ted's billionaires had turned their assignment into a hobby and were arousing institutional investors, whose calls of protest rose as their shares declined. They were demanding one-on-one meetings with officers and members of the board. They were threatening shareholder lawsuits. They were demanding a stronger say in company policies and compensation packages.

The Wal-Mart brand was turning into a popular epithet. "To Wal-Mart" meant to chisel workers or to union-bust or to freeload on the taxpayers or to squeeze people beyond endurance or to send US jobs on a fast boat to China. The company's trademark name, valued at an estimated $12 billion dollars under "good will" in its assets column, was moving into the debits column, though the accounting profession had yet to quantify the loss on the other side of the ledger. Sales were suffering. Morale was plummeting. Recruitment of young middle managers and MBAs was becoming much more difficult. The steady decline of Wal-Mart shares was most worrisome to Bentonville -- why, their stock options were in jeopardy! The board of directors felt increasingly under harassment in their own communities as they were pestered for interviews, chided, or shunned, even by some of their business peers.

Everything Wal-Mart put into play by way of improving its image and countering Sol's assault on the citadel either fizzled or backfired. Its public condemnation of the unionization drive just drew more attention to the rebels. The toughest argument to rebut was the now widely publicized treatment of Wal-Mart employees in Western Europe, where the company was legally obliged to provide benefits beyond the dreams of its US workers and to recognize real unions. There was no rebuttal, really, other than to intimate higher prices for shoppers, which only provoked critics to raise the executive pay issue again. Even the announcement that Wal-Mart was opening stores in inner-city areas didn't wash. It was interpreted as an admission of guilt or a move to exploit low-wage labor.

In mid-June, the top officers in Bentonville arranged an emergency conference call with the board of directors. All the participants were well aware of the relentless news reports and the rapidly deteriorating situation.

"Ladies and gentlemen," CEO Clott began, "at our February meeting, some of you asked for more data, and what we've painstakingly assembled since then has led us to call this emergency session of the board. We're losing ground by the day. Our adversaries are multiplying like rabbits, and carrots are of no use with this species. There is no wearing them out or wearing them down. Their frontal assault is taking up so much time in our managerial ranks, down to the Superstores, that we can't attend to our business. Decisions are being postponed. Just yesterday we lost out on purchasing the third- largest retail chain in Argentina -- as you know, this is how we establish a strong market position in other countries. One of our US competitors picked it up simply because we didn't get around to making a bid.

"The costs of maintaining our traditional business model are rising faster than the benefits. What we see on the horizon is not just more stormy weather but unintended consequences -- those who have been cowed by our supremacy are suddenly becoming emboldened. There are moves against us that even Sol Price doesn't even know about, such are the forces he has unleashed. After careful reflection, we therefore propose to act on Gerald Taft's earlier suggestion that one of us have a face-to-face meeting with him to find out more about what he wants and how much he has behind him. We believe that our fellow board member Sam Sale, a high school friend of Sol's back in New York City, is the best qualified among us for this highly sensitive and confidential task. Of course Price will have to assure us of complete secrecy, or there's no point. But if he does give his word -- and he's nothing if not a man of his word, which is why Sam Walton liked him -- is it the sense of the board that such a meeting be arranged?"

A wave of fatigued ayes floated into the CEO's office.

"Any objections?"

"Nay," replied three tight-lipped, clenched-jawed directors. "Sam may have liked Sol Price then, but now he would be calling out the Marines," one of them growled.

CEO Clott ignored the remark. "The ayes have it. Can you come down to Bentonville tomorrow for an intensive briefing, Sam?"

"I'll clear my schedule right away."

Sam Sale arrived in Bentonville at noon the next day, by limo from the airport. The retired CEO of the largest sporting goods chain in the country, he was in his eighties now, but his physical and mental fitness was remarkable. He'd been two years behind Sol in high school, but they became friends because of their ardent support of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Leighton Clott met Sam at the headquarters entrance and personally escorted him to a small secured conference room where lunch was waiting. He handed Sam a sheaf of succinct briefing papers and asked him to spend the afternoon reviewing them so that his meeting with Sol would be more likely to achieve results on the spot, without further back-and-forth.

After lunch, Sam settled in with the briefing papers and learned just about all there was to know about Sol -- his background, his health, his family, his business activities, his hobbies -- except for one missing detail. He buzzed CEO Clott. ''When is Sol most upbeat and fresh during any given week?" the Dodger fan wanted to know. Clott put him on hold and came back with the answer in a matter of minutes. The CEO wasn't kidding the board when he'd told them earlier that the company had full intelligence.

"Sol is at his most receptive in the early evening, especially on Sunday evening, when he's looking forward to his weekly brisket dinner."

"Then that's when I'll ask to meet with him, at his home, where his guard will be down and he won't be afraid of bugs. Thanks, Leighton." Sam hung up and took the elevator down to the lavish company fitness center and spa. As was his habit, he went for a swim and got a vigorous rubdown. Then he repaired to his hotel, ordered in a working dinner, and retired early to start the next day ready for a call to Sol.

Sunday afternoon found Sam Sale being chauffeured up to Sol's home in a hilly and very upscale San Diego suburb with a beautiful view of the Pacific. His driver was a recent Filipino immigrant fluent in Tagalog but very sparse in English. He'd been deliberately chosen so that he wouldn't have a clue as to whom he was taking where.

Sol greeted his old friend at the door with grace and warmth. "Sam, it's been decades! You know, I used to consider expanding my discount stores into sporting goods, but I always thought better of it because of my respect for your tenacious competitiveness."

"Needless to say, Sol, I've watched you go from success to success for years with no little envy. Oh, I've done all right for myself, but a man always tries to outrich the richest of his high school friends." Sam clapped Sol on the back with a laugh.

Sol was laughing too. He returned the clap, just a bit harder. "Well, I've never had that feeling, you know, because I've always been the richest. You're my Avis, Sam. But come in, come in. Come sit with me in my study. Can I pour you a drink?"

"Sure, I'll have a spicy tomato juice, if you've got it, no ice, lemon on the side."

"I'll stay with my dry martini," Sol said as he went to a drinks cart in the corner of the study and returned with the juice. "Here you are, Sam. Now, why did Wal-Mart send you here?"

Prepared for Sol's bluntness, Sam responded in kind. "Quite simply, to see if we could cut a deal. If we do, I know you're a man of your word. This meeting has to go no further on your side. You're your own boss. On my side, I have to report to the CEO only. We know, of course, that you want unionization. You haven't said much about what else you want, if anything, regarding other criticisms of Wal-Mart that both preceded you and were escalated by your campaign. And there are many layers involved in discussing unionization. So my question is this. What exactly are your conditions for settling this growing conflict, which entails such resources and energy on both sides?"

"Are you trying to test my stamina and my resources, Sam? If you are, you can forget about any negotiations. You must know that kind of tactic only makes me dig my heels in. We discuss the merits or nothing!"

"Fine, then let's start by asking what you mean by unionization."

"Here's what I don't mean. I don't mean unionization meat department by meat department. I don't mean unionization Superstore by Superstore or warehouse by warehouse, or only blue-collar or only white-collar. I mean company-wide unionization -- one prime labor-management contract covering wages, benefits, work rules, grievance procedures, and civil rights and liberties in the workplace, as negotiated by your workers and your management under the fair labor practice rules of the NLRB. Obviously, prior to the negotiations, management must observe strict noninterference in the freedom to organize for collective bargaining and company-wide union certification. And that means an immediate union cardcheck, to reduce the prospect of subtle interference."

"That's a pretty hard line, Sol."

"No, it's not a hard line, because Wal-Mart is a contagious disease driving down wages and benefits throughout the economy. Remember the supermarket chains in Los Angeles that broke their union contracts in anticipation of Wal-Mart's entry into that large market? What about the China price pressure on your suppliers, who also supply other retailers? Do I need to give you more examples of the vast downward sweep of your colossus?"

"All right, you've put your unionization cards on the table. What about other aspects of Wal-Mart's operations? What do you want in those areas?"

"Nothing, Sam, not a thing. But I do have one additional demand outside that box. My colleagues and I have taken a substantial stock position in Wal-Mart. We're going to make three nominations to the board of directors, and we want you to accept them, of course after the customary due diligence as to ethical probity and competence."

"I can't decide whether I'm more relieved or surprised. Three directors? And that's your only condition apart from your union stipulations?"

Sol nodded and sipped his martini.

"Well, that only leaves one question. Are your demands nonnegotiable?"

"It's the wrong question at the wrong time, Sam. Take this back to your CEO and tell him two things. One, that I'm a hard-bitten son of a bitch, and two, that I'm having the time of my life. More spicy tomato juice?"

"Well, why not? It'll give us time to remember when baseball players were baseball players, when pitchers pitched nine innings, when catchers caught doubleheaders, when they didn't come any tougher than Pistol Pete Reiser, until he cracked his unprotected skull on the center field wall."

"And made the play anyway," Sol said with a smile, rising to refresh Sam's drink.

"Those were the days, my friend. If only we could go back to the time when we were dreamers, the time when we thought we could do anything because we hadn't done anything yet. Hell, make it a double shot of Jim Beam, Sol."

Back in Bentonville on Tuesday morning, Sam went straight to Leighton Clott's office.

"Come in, Sam, sit down. I can't wait to hear what happened with that crusty old bastard."

"Believe me, they don't make them that crusty anymore," Sam said, and went on to relate his conversation with Sol in detail. "When I asked if his two demands were nonnegotiable, he told me to tell you that he's a hard-bitten son of a bitch and that he's never had more fun in his life. I have to say that his concern for Wal-Mart employees and other workers in similar situations seemed genuine. He's a man with nothing to lose, and he knows it. There you have it."

Clott stroked his chin. "Hmm. Sam, did Sol mention any timetable or deadline for recognizing the union and entering into collective bargaining?"

"He said he wanted the cardcheck immediately, which would be a massive job, though I gather he could easily hire the necessary crews. But he said nothing about how soon he expects a union-management contract. He's dealt his cards as if he could care less how we play our hand.

"So you're telling me that if we don't accept his demands, his tightening vise, his SWAT swarms, his collateral allies initiating anti-Wal-Mart moves in their own right, his stirring up the regulatory agencies and fomenting community rebellions against us" -- the CEO's voice was rising steadily -- "you're telling me that all these will continue to intensify, continue to demonstrate our defenselessness, continue to drive down our share price and our sales, continue to drive us to distraction so we can't conduct our daily business?"

"I couldn't have put it more succinctly myself," Sam said. "You must have given our tribulations much thought."

"Indeed I have, and I've come to some conclusions that I'll share with the board shortly. Sol is a shrewd man, and it's time to make some hard decisions."

"I don't envy you, Leighton. Just remember that corporations have a secret weapon. They don't lose face, because everyone expects them to behave expediently in keeping with their capitalist ideology. They don't fall on their swords out of principle."

"Sam, your wisdom is penetrating if not clairvoyant. Thank you for performing your mission so well."

When Sam had departed, CEO Clott moved to his favorite deep leather chair and resumed his chin stroking, something he always did before a major decision that only he could make because the buck stopped with him. Weighing the Sol attack variables against the Wal-Mart counterattack variables, he mulled and mulled and mulled. Every time he searched for an exit strategy, he hit a wall. Slowly he came to accept what he had to do. For him the evidence had reached a critical mass that was daily becoming more critical. But what about his board of directors, especially the hardliners and traditionalists? Would they brush off the incontrovertible trends in sales, profits, share price, regulatory activity, and so forth? Could he persuade them that this was one mother of a crisis that was not going to blow over?

Sinking deeper into his chair, he stopped stroking his chin and brought his thumbs and fingertips together into a triangle of authority, a gesture that meant he was gaining confidence in his forthcoming decision and his ability to sell it to the board. First Wal-Mart would have to take an even bigger battering, but time would take care of that. Clott buzzed his secretary and told her to postpone the next board meeting until after the Fourth of July weekend. With a weary sigh, he flicked on his plasma TV just in time to see footage of hundreds of kids at busy intersections belting out, "Extra, extra! Read all about it! Wal-Mart CEO makes more than ten grand an hour while workers make under nine bucks." Shaking his head in disgust, he flipped to a rerun of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

If June was crunch month for Wal-Mart, it was breakout month for the Clean Elections Party. The candidates had met or were about to meet the various state deadlines, and they were in high gear, capitalizing on the raised expectations of the voting public and drawing the kind of crowds that only the many grassroots and media mobilizations of the Meliorists in previous months could have stimulated, albeit indirectly. The press was more than intrigued by the head-on challenge to the forty-seven most powerful members of the House and the ten most influential senators up for reelection. Talk about a David and Goliath scenario all over the country. But this one had a single intense focus -- getting dirty money out of politics and replacing it with public money and electoral reform. The result would liberate our society, the candidates argued, and turn it toward a just pursuit of happiness. Some things in a democracy should never be for sale, and elections were among them. That really hit home with people. Not for Sale buttons started popping up everywhere. Not for Sale speeches were delivered before packed audiences. Not for Sale T-shirts, posters, puppets, and playing cards were in great demand. At every opportunity, the CEP candidates described in eloquent detail what happened to the folks back home when politicians were for sale. People began to expand on the theme. Our children are not for sale. Our environment is not for sale. Our religion is not for sale. Our schools and universities are not for sale. The discussion broadened into a systematic critique of corporate domination over a society in which everything was for sale, including our genes, our privacy, our foreign policy, our public land and airwaves.

Back in Congress, the legislators were inundated with demands that they declare themselves Not for Sale. The sheer variety and distribution of the calls for reform left their heads spinning. There were so many bandwagons that they couldn't figure out which ones to jump on. There were so many pressures coming from so many new sources that they couldn't keep track. More and more people in more and more cities were attending the lectures and lunchtime rallies and leaving with a glint in their eyes. The Congress Watchdogs were demanding accountability sessions in every state and congressional district during the August recess. The tell-all valedictories at the National Press Club were reverberating back home and turning the heat up on local companies; a speech last week involving occupational diseases among foundry workers made waves wherever there were foundries. And the counter-pressures from the big business boys were at full throttle too.

It was all too much, but it would have to be digested and made sense of, because the lawmakers knew that their positions on pending legislation would be under intense scrutiny during their upcoming campaigns. Not to mention the new bills they were expecting from the progressive hard core that had suddenly come alive. They could feel the foundations of incumbency shaking, beyond their powers of control or even discernment, given the pace of events.

Most alarming was their growing uncertainty about the objectives of the swelling stream of business lobbyists coming up to the Hill. A new breed was knocking on their doors, shorn of the customary garb of greed. They came from the ranks of the newly formed People's Chamber of Commerce, and their legislative priorities were almost invariably the opposite of what the usual K Street cohort and the trade associations urged. The lawmakers were caught in the crossfire, with campaign money and potential scandals on one side, and conscience and no campaign money on the other. Ordinarily they would have sided with the power and money without a second thought, but the PCC people got a lot of media attention and seemed to have connections with some of the upstart agitators back home.

A possibly momentous phenomenon was in the offing. The senior Bulls who controlled the committees were getting demoralized while the younger progressives were soaring in morale and purpose. One veteran senator was heard to say to another, "It's no fun anymore. I'm thinking of retiring. Why do I need these daily tornados?" What made the progressives' current agenda different from previous false starts was that they had big-time backing from an infrastructure they had never expected to materialize. They had a full-court press from the Meliorists -- at this point, as far as they knew, just a bunch of savvy billionaires each shepherding his own chunk of justice through Congress. Even so, they felt they were being drawn together for more than passing a bill here and there, as if by some unseen hand. The stirrings all around the country, together with the regular calls and visits they were receiving from prominent retired legislators and staffers -- people whose reputations preceded them -- were disciplining them to a new intensity of endeavor. Rumor had it that something big was going to break on the Fourth of July, and they wanted to be ready.

Thousands of business lobbyists and their corporate attorneys had heard the same rumors and were filled with apprehension. They couldn't keep up with what was already happening week after week, much less contemplate something larger on the horizon. In their nightmares they recalled the prophetic warnings of Brovar Dortwist, but in their waking hours they were still telling themselves that nothing had actually changed in the power game they had dominated for so long. They had only to turn to their favorite radio, TV, and newspaper commentators to hear a reassuring blast at this eccentric business rebellion against established business, the very pillar of our economic prosperity. They took refuge in inertia, a force very difficult to reverse, even in the face of the turning tides. It would take an extraordinary mind to break through it, and for all his gifts, that wasn't Brovar Dortwist. He was too right too soon.


The rumors, of course, were true. The Meliorists' preparations for the Fourth of July blastoff were proceeding apace and then some. The Mass Demonstrations project was getting parade permits for two thousand small and midsize towns whose parades had been discontinued because the towns were consolidated with larger towns or because too many residents and band members were away on vacation. Leonard's organizers tracked down the people who used to put on the parades, and they were delighted to have support in resurrecting this grand tradition. They immediately began dusting off their fifes and drums.

A chief problem concerned the vitally important graphics for the Meliorist branding. They had to encapsulate the Agenda's deep and broad reach, all its arguments and evidence, in a way that was crisp, upbeat, and indelible -- no mean feat. Yoko asked the Secretariat to reserve an entire closed-circuit briefing for her unveiling of the Meliorist insignia, which she displayed on a large posterboard propped on an easel. It was a wreath of greens, signifying springtime and rebirth, with a backdrop of yellow symbolizing the sun. In an arc over the top, in elegant lettering, was "The Golden Rule," and at the bottom, "Equal Justice Under Law." In the center was an abstract red, white, and blue image suggesting the Stars and Stripes unfurled in a bracing wind.

Paul whistled. "Wow. I love the way the design and colors tap into so many different associations and emotions. My only suggestion is that you incorporate 'The Meliorists' into the flaglike image in the center so there's no doubt about who and what is being branded."

"For purposes of comparison, can you show us some alternative designs?" Joe asked.

"No, because they were all so awful that I tossed them."

"For my money, I don't think we could ask for anything better than this one," Warren said, "but what about the Seventh-Generation Eye? It's already got high recognition. Shouldn't we capitalize on that?"

"Shall we quickly test both images in focus groups?" Yoko suggested.
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