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 9:16 pm


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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PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 12 CONT'D.)

Warren nodded. "I think that's the way to go. I suspect there will be groups and occasions for which one or the other image is more appropriate. Send them both over to Promotions, Yoko, but for security purposes, don't add 'The Meliorists' to the insignia yet. When we get the focus group results, we'll have the Secretariat cost out buttons, posters, banners, bumper stickers, and T-shirts in batches of five million and see how quickly they can be manufactured. I'm sure we'll need at least that many of each for the Fourth and our debut the day after."

"Which reminds me that Dick Goodwin's Paine pamphlet is finished," Bernard said. "As expected, it's a smashing weapon of mass education -- beautifully done, respectful of its readers, rooted in historical high points, and foreshadowing a purposeful and fundamental redirection of our country. It needs a cover design ASAP so we can roll the presses."

Yoko nodded. "Send it over and I'll have something for you in a couple of days."

"If that's all on the art front, Leonard has an update from Joan Claybrook on the Blockbuster Challenge," Warren said.

"Yes, and it's an encouraging one. Joan thinks she's solved the problem of how to give incumbents large sums of money without violating the five-thousand-dollar limit on PAC contributions to each candidate. Working with the two-billion- dollar budget we allocated to wean Congress from the special interests, she recommends that the money be spent to raise an equivalent or larger amount in small contributions from millions of voters. In other words, campaign money for each incumbent who accepts the buyback will come from mass mailings, Internet outreach, fundraising dinners, and so on. Under FEC rules, these small contributions can't be solicited directly for the candidates by name, but the donors will understand what's expected of them.

"Joan argues that this roundabout approach has many benefits. It will bring millions more ordinary citizens on board for the Agenda. It will strengthen our network of contacts in each community by bringing out local fundraising talent, activists, artists, supportive columnists, and editorial writers, all the natural leaders and 'influentials,' as the pollsters say. It will turn the billions of the few into millions from the many, with an enormous ripple effect."

"What if the incumbent refuses the buyback offer?" Peter asked.

"Then," replied Leonard, "all these fundraising efforts go to the incumbent's challengers. A no buys a boomerang. Granted, it's difficult to see how all this will work in practice since everything in this project is de novo and there's very little time for pilot projects. But we must have pilot projects in order to get the bugs ironed out. Joan is setting them up to be done in full in July in about six districts, and in a couple of states on a smaller scale. She's in constant consultation with counsel steeped in the FEC regulations and is confident that both the larger and the subsidiary questions will be resolved in our favor. By the way, she told me that working on this project has been exhausting, exhilarating, and the highlight of her career. She predicts historic reverberations."

"Let's hope her prediction is on the way to becoming a reality," Warren said.

"Let's hope lunch is on the way to becoming a reality," said Sol.


On Friday, June 16, at exactly twelve noon, Lobo got the call he'd been expecting from CEO Jasper Cumbersome. The conversation was brief.

"Lobo, we are ready to receive you on Monday, June twenty-sixth, at nine a.m. sharp. Bring with you all your intellect and all your savvy. Leave the pit bull in his doghouse. By the twenty-first we expect a detailed memorandum on everything you have learned thus far. What are the strengths and vulnerabilities of the SROs as a group, individually, and operationally? What potential allies have you considered? Where is 'the core battlefield,' as you put it? What is your estimate of cost, month by month? We also want a general idea of the momentum your plans will generate, a review of the quality of the talent you're assembling, and whatever else you deem important for us to digest before our meeting. Any reactions or questions?"

"Reactions? I like your energy and sense of immediacy. Questions? How much money are you coughing up? I can tell you right now that you're going to need mucho dinero -- no, make that muy mucho dinero. This is going to be a galactic battle. The tsunami that's heading your way is going to sweep the high ground right out from under you. And the low ground, for that matter."

"Come now, Lobo. The situation is undoubtedly serious, but don't get carried away with yourself.

"The 'situation,' as you call it, is beyond serious, Jasper. Fortunately, it is not beyond my powers to master."

"That's the spirit, Lobo. Very well, we'll read you on the twenty-first and see you on the twenty-sixth. Good day."

Lobo's parting words to the CEO belied his feelings. He was about to enter the phase of the mission where success depended not just on himself but on his operatives. No more lone wolf. He called the little pit bull, who jumped into his lap and started licking his lips madly. Lobo licked back. This ritual, known only to himself and the canine, calmed him down during moments of high tension, though the same could not be said of the canine.

The lone wolf did have one last task to complete on his own, the June 21 memorandum. Thinking and reading and refining his findings and educated guesses late into the night, night after night, he finally honed his memo, or dispatch, as he preferred to call it, into a precis of some seven hundred words. He started with his most important discovery. "The core battlefield will be the Congress," he wrote, "which is a relief. It is terra cognita, happy hunting grounds for you CEOs and your thousands of lobbyists. To date, a place well in hand." His fingers hovered over his laptop for a moment, then began flying over the keyboard.

But there are troublesome stirrings in Congress. The progressives, usually placid except for their rhetoric, have become unusually active, urging more and more of their colleagues to support a raft of bills that will apparently be introduced shortly. They are also, with some diplomatic finesse, starting to request that hearings be held on these bills, hearings chaired by their adversaries in the Republican Party. Some liberal Republicans, from New England mostly, are being courted to make the first representations to the chairs. I'm told the exchanges are very civil. For the first time in years, the chairs are feeling the heat from back home, and they want to be seen as 'fair and understanding.' Our sources see this as an early sign of weakness. But remember, Congress hasn't heard from our side -- yet.

Every one of the SROs has vulnerabilities, but how consequential and useful are they? We all have past troubles, professional and personal, we've all made dubious statements and associated with dubious people. The question is what our media specialists can do with the SROs' liabilities. I'll tell you one thing they can do. They can outsmart themselves and generate sympathy for our opponents, who have the money and media capability to fight back. Barring some really hot stuff, the SROs can turn the tables and do to you what we're doing to them. Therefore, we should put this approach on the back burner.

As for their operational vulnerabilities, they seem to be meticulous about compliance with the law. Their attorneys are experienced and well regarded. That we know. We will know much more when our people start reporting from inside their operations. Call them spies, call them infiltrators, call them what you will, but they are vital to our endeavor. I call them patriots. I've assigned a special team of them to find the club, lodge, or hotel where the SROs must be meeting, and to apply for any open staff position, however lowly. These are elderly people, and they are not always going to meet electronically if they can avoid it.

Most of the personnel I need are now on board. For obvious reasons, I'm going to leave you in the dark about the specifics. Suffice it to say that they are all characterized by loyalty, a proven commitment to business values, experience, good judgment, a critical ability to reassess and revise, and zero tendency to procrastinate. They are mostly in their thirties and forties, physically and mentally fit, and daring without being reckless. My own executive corps consists of a dozen people of the highest caliber.

Who are our allies? Big business in its entirety, along with its dealers, agents, and franchisees. The question is how much we can expect of them beyond lip service. They're a fairly independent crowd at the trade association and CEO level. Imagine whipping such august groups as the Business Roundtable, the Greenbrier Club, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the self-styled US Chamber of Commerce into the fast lane. They have always marched to their own drumbeat, and they won't want to change drummers. They'll want to go their own conventional way of fighting back and lobbying. And while that's not worthless, it's also sufficiently unfocused to increase the risk of mixups, screw-ups, and dust-ups. There simply is no time for pratfalls. You'll have to marshal your collective prestige and address this problem directly with your peers. There's nothing worse for momentum than bumps in the road and sinkholes.

As for costs, it will be mostly media, organizers, handout money to community groups, and campaign contributions. Our allies already have their infrastructures in place, of course, and that will save money. Still, I think we're talking about a ballpark figure of $5 billion over the next five months. Precisely what resources you're putting behind this operation needs careful discussion on 6/26.

Finally, momentum means recovering the offensive. Repeat: the offensive. When you're behind, you don't catch up by playing defense. Period. End.

Lobo hit Save and e-mailed the memo to the CEOs, along with a not too burdensome attachment of cogent articles and historical materials for them to read before the meeting. He added a postscript telling them that it was of utmost importance that they also read John Gardner's On Leadership "from cover to cover." Then he sat back in his desk chair and sighed. Writing the dispatch had fatigued him. He was glad it was over with and didn't much care what the CEOs thought as long as they came through with the money. He preferred to rely on his forceful persona, his oral presentations, and his quick wits to carry the day. That day was the twenty-sixth of June. Then came the showdown, the contact sport that would release new creative energies fortified by inside information. A man could only hypothesize so much. Lobo couldn't wait to get into the sweaty public ring with biceps bulging.


For all the people power that was building both as a direct result of the Meliorists and from the indirect stimulation of organized energies, the real proof of the pudding would be getting the Agenda through Congress. Throughout June, the Redirectional projects responsible for various parts of the legislation -- the PCC, the CUBs, the Congress Watchdogs, the Zabouresk-Zeftel group, which had taken to calling itself Double Z -- were working with their congressional allies in an intensive collaboration that went on below the media's radar. These shapers, movers, and shakers did not want publicity. They just wanted to work at their highest level of professionalism so as to meet their critical deadlines. Everything had to be ready by the Fourth of July. The bills had to be introduced in the right sequence, with impregnable backup material for the rebuttal battles that lay ahead. And everything had to mesh smoothly -- the publicity, the political muscle to support the legislators who were up front on the bills, the back-home pressure on all members (especially the committee chairs and the leadership) the discrediting of the business lobbies as chronic negativists, the responses to their think-tank cronies, the mass media ripostes to the inevitable corporate campaign of fear and threat, and the splitting of the opposition. The lights never went out in the offices and dens of these Agenda champions.

In the midst of all this meticulous preparation, the sub-economy was materializing rapidly along the complementary lines laid down by Jeno, who envisioned it as a Trojan horse within the established economy, and by Jerome Kohlberg, who emphasized its role in promoting sustainable economic practices and applied ethics. Jeno's acquisition specialists had gone down the Department of Commerce list of business categories and purchased hundreds of retail businesses around the country -- medical practices, beauty salons, lawn-care companies, pharmacies, oil dealerships, auto dealerships, real estate firms, machine shops, grocery stores, clothing stores, restaurants, bars, pest exterminators, tax preparers, accountants and financial planners, plumbers, electricians, carpenters -- along with a small foundry, a handful of other small manufacturing facilities, a few wholesale firms, and a dozen or so midsize agribusinesses, mines, banks, and insurance companies. The owners of these businesses were now streaming a steady flow of internal information about their industries and trades to the Sustainable Sub-economy headquarters, which was run by some of the smartest ex-merger-and-acquisition whizzes around, some of the best ex-managers, ex-efficiency experts, ex-marketeers, ex-recruiters, ex-PR chiefs, and ex-brilliant-but-disgruntled corporate advocates of a green economy. All these exes were thrilled to be free at last to bring their consciences and brains to work every day.

Always looking ahead, Jeno wanted to know whether the Trojan horses had heard of any lobbyists or trade association executives or CEOs who were canceling their customary August vacations -- a good gauge of rising anxiety and consternation over the recent wave of attacks on them. If the business establishment were the Navy, Jeno thought, this would surely be an all-leaves-canceled, all-hands-on-deck situation. According to the feedback from the sub-economy, all vacations were on. Complacency persisted among the top brass. They were either clueless as to what was coming in September or too attached to their luxuries. The Congress was on vacation in August and so were they. That had always been the routine in past years, and it would be the routine this year.

Jeno promptly notified the Secretariat of this neat bit of intelligence, just the tip of the iceberg of inside information that would flow from the sub-economy. Not only that, but early sales figures across the range of sub-economy businesses showed no decline since purchase, and in some cases even a rise as the fresh images of these energetically managed companies took hold.

The CUBs were on the march too. An unchallenged backlog of overcharges, ripoffs, cover-ups, and commercial shenanigans awaited them on every corner. It was like fishing off the banks of Newfoundland in 1800. George's purchase and conversion of the hotel had been a stroke of motivating genius. The building surged with excitement and productivity, as a dozen or more federal regulatory agencies were finding out. The CUBs coordinated their activities, cross-fertilizing ideas, tactics, and strategies. The tone, tempo, and quality of the whole project were due in no small part to John Richard and Robert Fellmeth, who maintained close contact with the project manager and the CUB directors.

A spate of CUB reports justifying regulatory action or investigation made news around the country. People were paying ever-higher prices for gasoline, home heating oil, utilities, insurance, and banking transactions. Hospital bills were indecipherable and out of sight. One mom brought her eight-year-old daughter to a California hospital for a cut finger, and by the time the separate bills were totaled up, the tab was $2,100. Agencies accustomed to auctioning off or giving away the communications and broadcast spectrums found petitioners and public interest groups arrayed against the grasping companies. Demands for the reinstatement of cable regulation met with widespread community and customer approval.

The Cable CUB went to town pillorying the dreary cable channels saturated with infomercials, with hucksters peddling tacky jewelry and miracle diets and reruns of low-grade dramas and sitcoms, the cheap way out for steadily rising monthly charges. There was even a channel for chimpanzees dressed up as humans, but none for all the good things citizens were fighting for in one community after another. Using incisive visuals, satire, and withering criticism, the Cable CUB called for a student channel, a labor channel, a consumer channel, and a round-the-clock citizen action channel, for starters. "Yeah," people began saying, "that all makes sense. We don't have to be pandered to day after day. Why didn't we think of this ourselves? We just took what they gave us."

The Investor CUB was plowing new ground with gusto. Branding high-level CEOs "anti-capitalists" who set their own pay, rubberstamped by their handpicked board of directors, the CUB was all over the Securities and Exchange Commission to require large companies to put top executive pay to a proxy vote. With a membership of 400,000, and growing by the week, the Investor CUB was a new power player in Washington and on Wall Street, where it had another bustling office. Its advisory committee included former SEC commissioners and chief accountants, former stock exchange executives, prominent mutual fund founders turned reformers, an ex-governor, two ex-CEOs, several retired state regulatory officials, and most recently, Robert Monks. Some of these distinguished people had not previously distinguished themselves by putting steel behind their long-held conviction that something should be done about the farce the corporate chieftains unblushingly called "people's capitalism." Now they were turning their guilt complexes into action.

As the Investor CUB vigorously pursued a comprehensive corporate reform program in Congress or the SEC, as appropriate, stockholder approval of executive pay became the most urgent and distracting matter on the minds of CEOs and top executives. Stock-optioned to their gills, these big fish were having nightmares about the conflict inherent in opposing measures that were very bad for them but very good for the shareholders with whom they had a fiduciary relationship. The flight began. As the weeks produced more headlines, more CEOs cashed out their stock options, stashed their fat retirement packages under their arms, and headed for the door. "I'm Outta Here!" was the New York Post's front-page headline over a photo of corpulent CEO Dirk Desmond of Amalgamated Healthcare plunging through his office door. The photographer caught just the appropriate expression on his face, a mixture of fright and greed with a touch of leer.

In Omaha, scanning the major papers as he did every day, Warren came to Dirk Desmond and smiled. He grabbed a pair of scissors, cut the photograph out, stuck it in a frame, and hung it on the wall in his den, deciding that it would not contribute to the pictorial decorum of his business office. No sooner had he finished admiring his mischief than the phone rang.

"Warren, you won't believe who just called me!" Ted exclaimed without preamble. "It was one of my Billionaires Against Bullshit, not a particularly active one -- too busy working on his third billion -- until he started following the Health CUB's exposes of phony overbilling. For years he's been doing a slow boil about the coded bills he gets, can't understand them or double-check them or even get through to someone on the phone for an explanation. Now he wants to put twenty-five million behind a group that will do nothing but collect, expose, and prosecute computerized billing fraud, whether against Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies, unions, or individuals. And if they do a good job, he says, there's another fifty million for an endowment. He expects that success will bring in more fee-generating cases under the False Claims Act, so that the group can expand its staff. He wants to call it Battle Bogus Bills, with a triple-B insignia. So how's that for another example of our serendipitous impact, Warren?"

"Perfect, Ted, just perfect. Have him call Promotions right away. We want an announcement sooner rather than later, because this is a blockbuster issue that everyone's angry and frustrated about."

Warren replaced the receiver and looked over at the wall. "It would appear that you resigned just in the nick of time, Dirk," he said, reflecting that once the rage for justice was widely seeded, once the capability to advance justice in one area of society after another was demonstrated, more and more people of means would come forward to expand the mission. That had been the Meliorists' premise all along. Goodwill, strategic smarts, and precise organization were preconditions, to be sure, but with these at the ready, it came down to money. Even the noblest impulses needed the engine of money to have a practical impact in today's dollar-driven culture. The dollar was the dynamo. Take that away from the Meliorist arsenal, all other variables in place, and they would still be a utopian discussion club perched high above the island of Maui.

Of all the CUBs, the one composed of 550,000 taxpayers and counting probably had the broadest ideological support. Who wanted to see their taxes wasted? Who didn't believe they were wasted? The network news programs had been hammering this point futilely but persistently for years in running segments like "It's Your Money." Expose after expose, and the corporate cheaters and bureaucratic bunglers just laughed at them, because nothing happened. Because the only ones who could make something happen were the people footing the bill, and they weren't organized. Until the Taxpayer CUB. Talented auditors, accountants, economists, organizers, and investigators flocked to the new group, some from inside government, corporations, and accounting firms, others who had retired early in disgust over what they had observed or were compelled to do. The Taxpayer CUB occupied an entire floor of the hotel.

Heading the group was Robert MacIntyre, a widely respected tax reformer who had crunched numbers for the media for more than three decades. He hadn't burned out, but he knew that accurate information and crisp disclosure were not enough to effect change. If anything, the tax code was now more unfair, more inscrutable, and more wasteful than when he started in the seventies. When the Taxpayer CUB came along, MacIntyre came alive. He arrived at his new job loaded with data about how the big companies and the wealthy get away with underpaying their taxes. He surveyed his members with a set of questions designed to get them thinking fundamentally about what kind of tax code they wanted. Would they favor a 0.5 percent tax on all stock, bond, and derivatives transactions if their income tax rate could be cut by 50 percent? Would they favor restoring the corporate income tax to its level in the prosperous sixties if the revenues would eliminate the current federal deficit each year? Would they favor a tax on pollution, gambling, and addictive products that would pay for a tax reduction of a third or more on incomes below $100,000? Would they prohibit government contracts, subsidies, and giveaways to any corporation domiciled in a foreign tax haven to avoid federal taxes? These questions and others like them gave the membership a framework for taking an informed position on how taxes should be distributed in a complex society so as to suppress certain less desirable activities while freeing positive activities from current tax burdens. For example, a tax on pollution would foster the use of cleaner fuel, solar energy, and fewer toxic chemicals and pesticides. Higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol would discourage consumption and benefit users' health, as had already been shown in the case of existing tobacco taxes and rates of cigarette smoking among youth.

Macintyre also zeroed in on the IRS budget, which allocated far too little to the corporate and partnership auditing sections, costing the Treasury Department tens of billions of dollars annually in uncollected tax revenues. Similarly, the IRS skimped on fair enforcement designs to recapture some $300 billion annually in unreported individual income. Imagine the prudent use of such monies for critical public works, or to repair schools and clinics, clean up the environment, protect people's health and pocketbooks, and establish educational trust funds for every young American. Imagine the concomitant creation of well-paying, useful jobs that could not be exported.

Macintyre had a broad practical vision, but he knew broad public education was needed to overcome deep vested interests in the current tax laws. What better place to start than House and Senate hearings on a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code? It took a few calls from the Meliorist powerhouse to the reluctant chairs and ranking members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, along with some timely help from the Double Z, before Congress finally agreed to hold hearings in July. The Taxpayer CUB was now deep in preparation, marshaling issues and witnesses never entertained on Capitol Hill before.

The Consumer CUB found its field of dreams in the slumbering federal regulatory agencies, which had forsaken their enforcement role to become patsies for the businesses and industries under their jurisdiction. In the seventies and eighties a hysterical propaganda barrage from the corporatists about the horrors of deregulation had rendered these agencies toothless. Lost in this farrago of deception were the men, women, and children left defenseless against dangerous products, toxic workplace chemicals, pollution, contaminated food, unprosecuted corporate fraud, and pension looting. Lost were the workers trapped in frozen-minimum-wage jobs and sub-minimum-wage sweatshops. Lost were the patients who died or suffered grievous harm in the absence of effective medical malpractice regulation. Lost were the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of this vast federal indifference. Who wept for these Americans?

The wave of formal petitions that had so alarmed the editors of Regulation magazine was now a torrent thanks to the Consumer CUB. Promotions set up a special team to publicize its work beyond the regular media attention it was receiving. The goal was to establish this CUB as a group that genuinely cared for the people, stood with them, and would not leave them defenseless at their hour of need. It was Promotions at its best, tapping into the emotional memory and intelligence of the populace. Everyone knew from their own experience of life that there were forces on their side and forces most definitely not. Skillfully, Promotions used human interest stories tailored to a variety of media to associate "They're on your side" and "They care for you" with the Consumer CUB in the public mind. Broadcasting and webcasting this message was a high priority for the months leading up to Election Day.

All told, the full-time staff of the CUBs now exceeded one thousand, almost doubling the entire full-time corps of citizen advocates in Washington. And probably, George thought to himself as he reviewed the figures, more than quadrupling energy levels, hours worked, and results achieved.


On Wednesday, June 21, Washington, DC, was host to its largest lunchtime rally yet, fifteen thousand strong, with a parade permit to march down Constitution Avenue all the way to the barricades before the Congress. Carried live by C- SPAN, the rally began in front of the new Department of Labor building, with a range of speakers including representatives of organized labor and unorganized labor, ordinary workers, clergy, social workers, academics, and four members of Congress. Among the no-shows, who had been invited a month ago, were the secretary of labor and five assistant secretaries, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce, the chairs of the House and Senate Labor Committees, and the president of the United States. The speakers invited them again, to another rally two weeks hence, when fifty thousand were expected to attend.

Today's event was the rally of the overworked and underpaid. Its pivotal demand was for legislation taking the minimum wage to $10 an hour gross. According to estimates by First-Stage Improvements, that would put about $350 billion a year more in the pockets of workers and give the consumer demand side of the economy a big boost. The posters held up by the crowd told the story: "Work to Live, Not to Borrow!" "American Wages, American Dignity!" "Try Living Without a Living Wage!" "No Living Wage, No More Congressional Pay Grabs!" "Workers Fight Your Wars, You Reap the Profits!" ''Workers' Needs vs. Corporate Profiteers!"

When the march was over, some of the ralliers went to visit their members of Congress. As Leonard's organizers well knew, most protest rallies in Washington took place on weekends, for obvious reasons of maximizing turnout. But on weekends the politicos left town and could easily shrug off the protests. Weekday rallies might be smaller, but they often had a greater impact because Congress and the press were at work.

A delegation from the Tennessee Congress Watchdogs, mostly textile workers, had wrangled a meeting with their senior senator, Majority Leader Tillman Frisk, who was making noises about running for president. He was an MD, and a millionaire many times over from his family business, which owned a chain of hospitals. When the workers were ushered into his office, he rose from his desk and greeted them warmly, asking them where they hailed from and managing a homey sentence or two about Johnson City, Nashville, Oak Ridge, Knoxville, Memphis, and so on. Pleasantries completed, the head of the delegation, Alvin York, got down to business.

"Senator, why haven't you introduced a living wage bill? I understand you always support an annual pay hike for yourself and the rest of Congress, but the minimum wage of five-fifteen an hour has only been raised once in the last eighteen years. According to the Department of Labor, it has less purchasing power than the minimum wage in 1949."

The senator was nodding deeply. "I understand, and I sympathize with your concerns."

"Then why are you opposed to a living wage, say, a ten-dollar minimum wage, which only adjusts for inflation since 1968?"

"Well, I'm no economist, but my top economic advisers and many other economists say that raising the minimum wage to anywhere near that level will cost jobs. The poor and the teenagers will suffer."

"By that logic, why not reduce the minimum wage to create more jobs? Do you see where you're going here -- the road to serfdom, meeting the Chinese competition? Senator, will you or will you not support a living wage? Your position will sway the entire Congress. Your support will uplift tens of millions of hardworking people who can't meet their family's needs. Health bills are shooting up, gas prices too, home heating oil, food, rent --"

The senator held up his hand. "You make some good points. Let me rethink the issue."

"You've had years to rethink it," said Bettie Page, a copyeditor at the Nashville Tennessean. "Are you trying to get us out of here without answering one simple question? Will you support any raise in the minimum wage?"

"I can't answer that question until I balance the job loss figures against the benefits of increased pay. What good is a living wage if you don't have any job at all, my dear?"

"We're going around in circles here, Senator," said Casey Jones. "How much do you make an hour? How much will you get in pension payments?"

Senator Frisk ahemmed. "Well, I've never figured it down to the hour. Good heavens, I must work eighty hours a week around here."

"Well, let me figure it out for you," Casey said. "Counting your perks, benefits, and allowances, you make over a thousand dollars a day, five days a week."

"My good friend, I'm not in this for the money. Do you know what I used to make for an open-heart surgery?"

"Our taxes give all of you up here a very good salary, life insurance, full health insurance, excellent retirement security, and on and on," said Flora Hamilton. "What makes you think you have the moral authority to govern when you deny forty-seven million full-time American workers a subsistence living wage? Haven't companies raised their prices big-time over the past two decades, Senator? Hasn't management's compensation gone up over the past two decades? I'm really getting tired of your evasions."

Senator Frisk sensed that the meeting was getting out of hand. "My dear, I'm not being evasive. This is a very difficult issue. We've had many small businesses tell us that raising the minimum wage will shut them down, and many larger ones claim that it will make them go abroad. I have a responsibility to address their concerns as well."

Alvin jumped back in. "Senator Frisk. you represent people, not corporations, unless I'm mistaken. People are hurting. Their children are hurting. America is being Wal-Marted to death. Your first responsibility is to the people. You're making some of the same arguments used against the abolition of child labor, but the Congress went ahead and abolished child labor, and the children went to school instead, and the factories had to hire their parents. Did our nation collapse?"

"Senator Frisk, remember Henry Ford I?" asked Archie Campbell, a firebrand from Chattanooga. "In January 1914, he announced to the world that he was going to double his workers' wages from $2.50 to $5.00 a day. When his fellow auto executives angrily demanded why he was destabilizing wages in the industry, he replied that he wanted workers to be able to afford his cars. Wages up, consumer demand up -- that was the American way until the eighties, when the reverse race to the bottom began. Lately I've been reading a lot about the history of wages in our country, and your response just doesn't wash."

A loud buzz pierced the room. Senator Frisk looked gratefully at his intercom and pushed the button. "You're wanted on the floor, Senator," his secretary announced. "Thank you, Dixie," he said, standing and smiling at the delegation. "Well, you heard the boss. It's been a delight to get your views, which I am sure are sincerely and deeply held. Don't forget to sign the guest book on your way out so we all can stay in touch."

Alvin stood too. "Senator Frisk, they say you're going to run for president. We've been trying to get an answer from you about a living wage for tens of millions of voters whose support you'll need. We've come all the way from our home state, your home state. We are entitled to a direct answer. Fifteen thousand people just rallied here in Washington to demand a ten-dollar minimum wage. We ask you again, do you support a living wage in this country? If not $10.00 an hour, would you back any raise at all, or do you support the current freeze at $5.15? Tell us now, one way or the other."

Senator Frisk walked briskly toward his office door. "My apologies, friends, but I have to rush to the Senate floor for a vote. Good day. God bless."

"Well, we'll still be here when you come back, Senator," Alvin said.

Archie got to his feet and gestured around the office. "And we're not leaving until we get an answer. There's plenty of rug room and sofas for a good night's sleep," he said with a friendly smile.

Senator Frisk blanched and stormed out of the office. Carefully closing the door, he turned to his secretary and said, "Call the sergeant at arms and have them escorted from the premises. Call me on the floor when they're gone."

Seven minutes later, four Capitol Hill police officers arrived at the senator's office and asked the workers to leave.

"Officers, we haven't finished our meeting with the senator," Alvin said. "We'll wait for him to get back from the floor."

'"I'm afraid you'll all have to leave, at the senator's request," said the captain.

"Probably best if we do," Bettie said, walking to the door. No one followed her. Outside, in the hallway, she slipped into a restroom and called Congress Watchdog headquarters on her cell phone so they could alert the media that a confrontation was brewing in Senator Frisk's office. "It looks like things are heading for a sit-in," she said. "We'll wait as long as we can before we drop to the floor so the press will have time to get up here."

"Hang on," said the assistant who'd answered the phone. "I'll put you through to the project manager."

"What?" the manager said after Bettie explained the situation. "Are you crazy? If you get arrested, they'll book you at the police station and ask you all kinds of questions that we may not want you to answer. Not yet, anyhow. Look, all of you are workers, but we know and you know that you have skills and experience that go beyond your jobs. You've all participated in citizen action and taken civil disobedience training. You've all been vocal in your communities on a wide variety of matters. That's why you were drawn to the Watchdog groups. That's why you were chosen to go up to Capitol Hill. A sit-in at Frisk's office would throw us on the defensive, and that violates our cardinal rule: Never volunteer yourself into a defensive position."

"Well, what do you want us to do?"

"Above all, stay calm. Say that you're waiting for the senator to return so that he can decide. Just keep repeating, 'Let the senator decide.'"

"He already has, and we already said we're not leaving."

"'We' who? Who said that?"

"Archie. He mentioned the comfortable couches and all the rug space."

"Only Alvin has the authority to make such a drastic decision. Did he try to override Archie?"

"He didn't have a chance, because Senator Frisk left. He seemed a little upset."

"Do you remember the code phrase for backing off from a confrontation, Bettie?"


"Well, get back there and use it before all hell breaks loose!"

Bettie rushed down the hallway to the senator's office to find the workers remonstrating with the increasingly impatient officers. The police had already decided that the workers would have to be dragged out, but they were waiting for reinforcements to be on the safe side.

"Why can't we all be civil with one another?" Bettie shouted over the hubbub.

Everyone froze, the police startled by her return, the workers catching the code that meant they should leave peacefully just before they were arrested and make the most out of the press coverage that was on the way.

"Aw, hell, she's right," Alvin said in his best down-home drawl. "Us Volunteer Staters tend to get ourselves a little too worked up sometimes. Say, any of y'all from Tennessee?" Whereupon the police and the workers fell into friendly small talk -- one of the officers had attended Middle Tennessee State, and another was born in Nashville -- which served both sides, since the police were waiting for reinforcements and the workers were waiting for the press.

As it happened, the reinforcements and the press arrived at the same time. The senator's secretary asked the press to stay in the hallway and ushered the police into the office, where the two sides faced off.

Alvin broke the tense silence. "We aim to wait for the senator to return. It's the natural thing for constituents to want to do. We'd like to bring our discussion of the living wage to closure. I mean, what do you expect us to say to the reporters outside if we don't see him again?"

"Senator Frisk will be on the floor for several hours for a lengthy debate on an appropriations bill," the captain said. "You'll have to leave now."

"You're sure that's what Senator Frisk wants? Okay, we're going. Nice to meet you, Captain, you're a gentleman."

Out in the hall, the workers were besieged by reporters. Alvin gave a mini press conference facing six cameras: "Senator Frisk, majority leader of the Senate and a prospective presidential candidate, refused to answer the simple question vitally important to forty-seven million full-time American workers: Will you support legislation for a living wage and lead it through the Senate?" The other workers got their say in with their own variations and some great sound bites, and then strode down the hallway together, with cameramen trailing them for the usual cutaways. As the elevator doors closed, Alvin, Archie, and Bettie raised their fists.

Watching the news that evening at home in Waco, Bernard turned to his wife, Audre, and said, "The pitchfork people have breached the gates of the cowardarians. The Rubicon has been crossed."


June 26 arrived. When Lobo was ushered into the Leviathan penthouse boardroom, the first thing he noticed was that the number of CEOs had more than doubled, to nearly thirty. What massive industrial, commercial, and financial power was represented around this burnished mahogany conference table! Lobo was impressed but didn't show it. He had to assume a commanding presence at the outset.

CEO Cumbersome made the necessary introductions crisply. "You may commence, Lobo," he then intoned. "The floor is yours."

Lobo stood at the end of the table facing them all. "Gentlemen, if there is one reality I have grasped in my work since our last meeting, it is this. Nothing that I convey to you as to how, when, and where to mobilize will be as important as the intensity and depth of your individual and collective determination. Why? Because that is how the SROs have brought us to this pass of erupting crisis. Permit me to ask how many of you have read John Gardner's On Leadership, a hundred and ninety-nine pages of paperback dynamite."

Three of the original eleven business tycoons raised their hands. One who did not, William Worldweight, CEO of the largest machine tool and robotics manufacturer in the world, grumbled, "Lobo, we are already leaders by definition. You're treating us like students."

"Sir, this book presents a treatment of leadership far beyond what it takes to rise to the top in a large corporation, although there is some overlap. It's a historical overview of the leadership traits pervasive throughout the ages and cultures. Just scan the table of contents and you'll see what I mean. You'll never view yourself in the same way again. If you dive into what Gardner has to say, you'll come up far more ready to defeat this current assault on the American business way of life."

Newcomer Norman Noondark lifted his heavy lids and asked, "Why didn't you provide us with an executive summary Lobo? We're busy people."

"Mr. Noondark, the entire book is a summary, and a very concise one, of twenty-five years of thinking, reading, and writing about the subject of leadership. Surely Gardner is worth a few hours of your time. I won't belabor the subject, other than to repeat that for the task at hand, the bottom line is all of you."

"I found Gardner's book to be philosophically and operationally motivating," said Wardman Wise, trying to get the meeting back on track. "I'm sure my colleagues will turn to it as soon as possible. Please continue."

"Thank you. You have before you my dispatch of June twenty-first. Before we discuss it, a caveat: in everything we undertake, there must be no false starts, no worthless detours, no dead-ends, no matter how plausible they may appear. There is no time for such diversions. Now, the core battlefield, as I said, is the Congress. Our friends on the Hill tell us there is furious activity up there. The raft of bills we expect soon are of the kind we are accustomed to opposing. But first things first. We must launch a national media attack on the SROs by tapping into people's fear of instability, of the unknown, of losing whatever little they now have economically. We raise the specter of soaring taxes, corporate flight, spreading unemployment and impoverishment, and then we say something along the lines of 'But the SROs don't care, do they? They're old, they're super-rich, they don't have to worry about the future.' We'll use Sol Price's attack on Wal-Mart to drive this theme home with dramatizations featuring everyday folks -- remember Harry and Louise and what they did to healthcare reform? The fear campaign must embrace the business community as well. If stock markets falter, if economic indicators become shaky, if business and consumer confidence begins to decline, so much the better in the short run. In the seventies, the popular Labor prime minister of Australia was literally fired by the Queen of England's representative -- a reserve power never used before -- because the business bloc saturated the country with scare stories about economic instability. A few well-timed announcements from foreign companies that they were pulling back investments Down Under, and the rest was history. The same tactic has worked in many less developed countries, but its success in Australia shows how feasible it is here. Already we've seen stories about European and Japanese CEOs wondering what's happening to the business climate in the world's largest economy. A rebellion of the super-rich against big business is beyond their comprehension. Some commentators in the foreign press have suggested that their governments shift away from the dollar and look at other countries' bonds instead of pouring so much into US Treasuries. Just imagine what would happen if the Japanese and Chinese started selling their Treasuries. It's been giving Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce nightmares. Instability? Uncertainty? Unpredictability? These are poison darts into the heart of their dominance. It's our job to make them see that we can catch the darts in midair and throw them back."

CEO Justin Jeremiad frowned. "You are aware, of course, Mr. Lobo, of the detailed alert sent out by our friends at the American Enterprise Institute regarding the sudden surge of regulatory petitions. If we are to launch any public relations drive, I should think it would be on the subject of overregulation stifling innovation and breeding more paperwork, more big government. That's what the SROs want -- the iron yoke of Big Government on our back."

"Exactly, Mr. Jeremiad, exactly the way to go. Yes, I'm very well aware of the AEI alert, and it's wonderful grist for our fear mill. At this point, we needn't go into detail about the content of the first-stage media buys to delegitimize those obsolete businessmen. Suffice it to say that my teams are ready and raring to go. My dispatch outlines the parallel paths that must be pursued on a strict timetable. My structure of action allows for adaptation and expansion as we detect and foil SRO initiatives. And as my people move into their groups at various levels, we'll be finding out more and more earlier and earlier. But the central question remains, gentlemen. What resources, material and human, are you yourselves prepared to commit?"

CEO Cumbersome looked around the table. "We have collectively committed to giving and raising two billion dollars for the immediate revving up of the engines -- an unprecedented sum from us, unencumbered by corporate governance and SEC rules. Obviously, this is not a blank check. We will assign three of our best staff to work with you on a daily basis to assure the efficient flow of money to your operation and then out of your operation into the fields of action. More money will flow when the attacks by the SROs present a clear and present danger to specific industries. Then we will be able to tap into corporate funds, but to what extent I can't say. Remember, the trade associations will be issuing a barrage of frantic alerts and dunning their member companies, as is their wont.

"Now, as for our personal involvement, that's a tricky proposition. You are looking for a dramatic mano-a-mano confrontation on the media front lines. You want us to pair off against men like Joe Jamail and Warren Buffet and Bernard Rapoport and Peter Lewis and George Soros. Fine, but any one of us who goes up against them will have to clear some hurdles. First, he will have to be a publicly visible executive, or at least well known to the business press. Second, his debate skills must be up to his opponent's. Third, he will have to take an indefinite leave of absence. Fourth, he will need a gut sense of the mortal danger to the unfettered marketplace and our economic way of life. Tell me, Lobo, how many CEOs will make it to the finish line?"

"You tell me, Jasper."

"From the top rank, I can think of three, possibly four. We've had some volunteers from start-up companies, Silicon Valley types, youngish, angry, brash, supremely self-confident. We're not sure they're sufficiently well known or sufficiently seasoned, and we worry about the image factor -- young brutes beating up on distinguished old retirees who are already folk heroes. You know the media, Lobo."

"Well, it's a problem only you can solve, I'm afraid. Perhaps more calls, interviews, and personal contacts will bring some leaders forward. Try to raise their sights. Give them a sense of their historical significance if they enlist in ... We need a brand name here -- in what?"

"Yes," said CEO Edward Edifice, "our cause needs a memorable name that goes beyond the usual Chamber of Commerce cliches about free enterprise, beyond the usual tired slogans like 'Defense of the American Worker' or 'Defense of the American Way of Life.' How about 'Enlist in the Defense of the Greatest Economy in the History of the World'? That's general enough, and at the same time hits lots of specific buttons for lots of people."

"I like it, I like it very much," said CEO Roland Revelie.

Lobo did his best to assume an appreciative look. If this was their idea of a motivational catchphrase, things were worse than he thought. "I like it too, but on a matter of such import, perhaps we should retain a good PR firm to give us a few more options?"

"Let's do that," CEO Martin Mazurowski said gruffly, "and let's get back to brass tacks. A mentor of mine, at the time CEO of Coca-Cola, once told me that big business appears invincible but is in reality very fragile and can easily shatter under certain pressures. We have to be very careful here. How are we going to feint destabilizing the economy and then accuse the SROs of doing just that? You suggest we bring down the stock market a bit, as if we could control whether it goes out of control in a panic. I find some of the tactics you've proposed highly dangerous in execution, Lobo, and possibly illegal. I was trained as an engineer, and a basic principle of engineering is to keep it simple. Let's have some plain talk. Let's declare straight out why we don't think this is good for the country, folks, and don't you agree? Two billion dollars can do a lot or do us in. Let's be sure we don't have more money than brains."

"I agree only to the extent that we're mostly flying blind right now," Lobo said. "The prizefighters are circling each other and haven't yet clinched. But our opponent has been in training for months now, whereas we're surrounded by all these powerful trade associations, business groups, dealer organizations, big banks, big insurance companies, big HMOs, big this and big that, and for this big battle, they're flabby, out of shape, complacent, unready, not thinking outside the proverbial box, and not even aware of how off balance they are. By contrast, those of us in this room feel the danger keenly. We know a great deal about the SROs and will know more every day. We have a vastly greater sense of personal commitment and urgency, and we must turn everything we have into a crowbar to pry the sleeping giants into action.

"Look," Lobo went on, his voice rising, "it's true that we can't be reckless and precipitous, but it's finito if we're too cautious. America is the land of the bold and the brave. That's what has marked the breakthroughs and victories in our pioneering country and its expanding free market economy. Our nation has the great eagle as its symbol, not the pigeon or the robin. The great eagle kills its prey and eats it. It takes no prisoners. Haven't we all sung 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'? Don't we need a 'terrible swift sword'? When we first met, I began by asking you what you don't want me to do. It's time for an answer. I have to know how far I can go to win, to defeat these superannuated troublemakers who should be playing checkers or shuffling on the golf course."

CEO Cumbersome responded without hesitation. "Take it to the outer edges of the legal limits, but stay within those limits. Stay in close consultation with your legal counsel. Anything further?"

"I think more talk at this point will only confuse us," said Wardman Wise. "In Lobo, we have an offensive weapon with sonar and heat-seeking capabilities, and soon we'll discover where and when and how to zero in on the forces of disruption. Lobo, we must have good internal communications. You'll need to create a closed-circuit system so that we can safely contact each other and you. You'll keep us regularly informed about what you're doing, and we'll do the same as we work on lining our peers up to contribute their money, influence, and time. And I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm ready for some dinner now. The hotel dining room is superb."

"Hear, hear!" swept around the table. Lobo was hungry too, but how could they be thinking about their stomachs at a time like this, especially after his impassioned peroration?

Just as Cumbersome was about to adjourn the meeting, Sal Belligerante spoke up. "A passage in John Gardner's book is appropriate here, in case we're ever tempted to exchange the mantle of leadership for the shroud of despair. I quote: 'Leaders cannot hope to have that kind of impact unless they themselves have a high level of morale. There is a famous story about a general on George C. Marshall's staff who reported to Marshall that some of the officers had morale problems. Marshall said, "Officers don't have morale problems. Officers cure morale problems in others. No one is looking after my morale." It is a sound principle. Low morale is unbecoming to a leader.'" Belligerante looked up and smiled as he finished reading.

Lobo smiled back. Perhaps there was hope after all.
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On the Friday preceding the Fourth of July, the Meliorists gathered at Warren's home in Omaha instead of going to Maui. There was too much to do before the Great Launch to waste time on extended air travel. The Fourth fell on a Tuesday this year, which meant that many people would be taking long weekends. Perfect. The corporatists would be luxuriating at their watering holes and vacation spas while the Meliorists massed their forces at the gates of Congress. It was Samarkand and Bukhara before the Mongol horsemen swept down from the steppes.

When everyone was settled comfortably in Warren's living room, he opened with a welcome and a brief rundown of plans for the public unveiling of the Meliorist Society on July 5th. "We are in good shape, my friends, he said. "The ballroom of the National Press Club has been reserved. Appropriate security and crowd control measures are in place. Each of you has your own role to play and your own statement to make before what will undoubtedly be a phalanx of reporters. Phil will be our emcee because of his experience in tight interview situations and because of his disarming style and quick humor. He'll put the audience at ease, and he's less likely than most of us to be seen as a threat by the powers that be."

"Right, we don't want to unduly alarm the business bosses," Barry mocked. "We just want to duly jolt the jagers off them."

Bill Joy reported that he had a mole in Lobo's rapidly expanding war suites. "He's their all-purpose gofer, the guy who deliverers lunch, snacks, mail, packages, whatever -- a humble job, but a perfect interface with everything that goes on there. Last week he overheard Lobo's media people discussing a national media buy slamming the SROs for sabotaging the country. He says they were looking over mockups of a TV ad and chuckling. I suppose he could be a double agent, but I doubt it. He knows who I am and was eager to talk to me because of our shared interest in futuristic science. I think he regards me as a kind of mentor, and I'm almost certain he has no idea that I'm connected to any of you. That makes him all the more valuable to us, since there's no more perfect mole than a mole who doesn't know he's a mole. For reasons you'll understand, I'm not at liberty to tell you exactly how I found him, but it's obvious that I can't appear with you at the National Press Club, even in the audience, since I might be recognized. As of this moment, consider me undercover," he finished with a smile.

"Well, if that isn't the icing on the cake," Warren said.

"Move to applaud," Paul said.

Once the clapping died down, the next order of business was to review the DVD prepared by Promotions for the branding of the Meliorists. Bill Cosby slid the disc into the machine and asked his colleagues not to comment until they'd seen the entire thirty-five minute presentation. When it was over, everyone was temporarily speechless. It was so sophisticated, so steeped in idealism and at the same time rooted in practicality. It profiled each of the Meliorists individually, highlighting their achievements against the odds of life, their own experiences of intolerance and injustice, their business successes, and their military service where applicable. It presented them as exemplars of a patriotism of care, of promise, of love. It drew on the best of the past and showed how community spirit and civic action could make this best of the past blossom into a glorious future. It showered the viewer with solutions readily available in a country as wealthy as the United States, concrete ways to redress the systemic inequities that made life so materially and spiritually impoverished for so many millions of Americans. With Yoko's wreath symbol prominent throughout, it portrayed the Meliorists as the great rescuers, selfless leaders without guile, willing to take the heat for people they would never meet, and more than capable of besting the big boys on their own turf. It ended with a collage of clips of the Meliorists' activities since January -- Patriotic Polly, Yoko's light bulbs and the Seventh-Generation Eye, the Pledge the Truth drive, Peter's testimony on the insurance industry, George's speeches, the People's Court Society, the People's Chamber of Commerce, the CUBs, the Sun God festivals, the corporation jamborees, the Beatty campaign, and on and on -- all meant to show that change was already happening, that it wasn't pie in the sky, that the train had left the station but would stop for all Americans who wanted to turn their country toward real liberty and justice for all and the real pursuit of happiness.

Bill Gates was the first to break the silence. "All along, our hardest decision has been how to step out and speak out, how to put ourselves personally on the line without losing control of the Agenda and inadvertently making ourselves into distractions for a media obsessed with personalities and peccadillos. Since we're about to cross that bridge at our press conference, I can't imagine a better backup than this magnificent DVD. Kudos to you, Barry, and to your whole team."

"Thanks, Bill, labor of love," Barry said. "The plan is to distribute it to everyone at the press conference and go national with it at the same time. By evening, it will be all over the place -- TV, radio, Internet, you name it."

"Terrific, Barry," Warren said, adding his thanks. "Now for the two big questions. Who says what at the news conference regarding the Agenda? And how much do we say about our core group and what we've already accomplished?"

"Hell, let's let it all hang out," Ted said. "What our opponents gain in knowledge of our collaboration will be more than offset by the people's excitement over having a team of billionaires batting for them. The drama becomes part of the mobilizing message. Sure, it may frighten the other side into firing up the counteroffensive, but the building pressure on Congress to enact the Agenda is going to scare the daylights out of them anyway, so what's the difference? We've got --"

"Hold on," Ross interrupted. "Just wait a minute. Let Maui out? Tell the world how much we've raised and are prepared to spend?"

Ted hesitated. "Well, I guess not. There's no tactical reason to expose those facts. I meant everything about our collaboration that will further our mission."

"Seems to me," Joe said, "that we ought to open with a brief statement about our collective identity and then go right to our personal statements. We start by describing what propelled us to do what we're doing -- our children, our country, our respect for our fellow human beings, our self-respect, the Golden Rule, it's just that simple, folks. We suggest that the real question is why thousands of very wealthy people aren't doing the same thing. Then we talk about what we've already done, and that's it. Keep it factual, keep it personal, keep it down to earth."

"I agree," Warren said. "The more substance we give them to fill their column inches and TV segments, the less likely they are to speculate and the less off base the columnists and commentators are likely to be, though the market fundamentalists will still bray their catechism."

George was nodding. "Warren is quite right, from my dolorous experience with these experientially starved ideologues. We should stress that the giant corporations and their apologists -- i.e., said ideologues masquerading as conservative capitalists -- are supplanting authentic capitalism with state-sponsored corporate capitalism. That will put them into an amusing bind and get them going on theory, practice, and contradictions while we're on the ground changing the direction of Congress. It's a good fit with our distraction strategy, at least for the short term, but it will be a critical short term for us."

"George's point about 'capitalism' is right on target," Max said. "We are entering a period where the word/deed perversity will be manifest in all its bizarre cultural inversion. If I've learned anything from my experiments, it's that we must always, always take this bull by the horns. I view this as an essential part of our educational mission to prevail with a new set of deeds over the old set of controlling words. Just watch the opposition's ads, watch how they revert instinctively to word over deed. They'll try to ignore or obfuscate the destructive deeds afflicting our people and country by throwing everything they have into winning the war of words."

"Well put, Max," Barry said. "And I would add that body language also counts as 'words' for purposes of our press conference. We've all got to be alert to how we come across to the media. Except for C-SPAN and radio stations that carry us live, we're going to be giving them so much that they'll have to pick and choose. If there are any stumbles, any displays of anger, a lip curled at the Chamber of Commerce, a laugh at the expense of some high-profile CEO, that's what will make the evening news or page one. We don't want that first impression. We want to project a cool, determined demeanor, a calm conviction that what we're doing is the simple and right thing to do. If there are any digs, they should be at our peers, along the lines 'Just because we're billionaires, that doesn't mean we have to be greedy, insensitive, lazy, uncaring, and golfing in our retirement.' Say we reject that stereotype and we reject it decisively in the name of the human spirit. If any of you want to say that you're inspired by a religious calling, by all means do. Try to head off the obvious question, which is essentially, 'What makes you tick?' Maybe we should list the likely questions right now? Suggestions?"

"So it's true that you're one big conspiracy. How often do you meet and where?" Yoko offered.

"Do you really expect to beat the big business lobbies?" This from Peter.

From Phil, "Are you on some revenge trip for old wounds you suffered in your past battles with certain companies?"

From George, "Do any of you have short positions in the various companies you're going to be regulating, lambasting, or exposing? Are you going to release your personal financial statements?"

From Bill Gates, "Given government deficits and the precarious position of the dollar, are you worried that the changes you're pressing for may tip the stock and credit markets and lead to a recession or worse?"

From Sol, "How are you going to pay for all of your changes and regulations? Are you out to soak the rich?"

From Leonard, "Who have you been in touch with on Capitol Hill and in the upper ranks of academia, business, labor, and religious institutions? How much are you planning to spend to get this Agenda through Congress and the White House?"

"Time out, time out," said Bill Cosby. "Obviously, we need to put a time limit on the press conference. There are seventeen of us. Two minutes each plus a few minutes to sit down and get up and you're at maybe forty minutes. Say forty-five for slippage, right, Ted? So what about another forty-five for questions, and then Phil cuts it off. Fair enough, don't you think?"

"I'll buy that," Phil said. "If we take questions for forty-five minutes, no one in the media can accuse us of running for cover. But our answers will have to be relatively brief, or else the prima donnas of the networks and the major newspapers and weeklies won't have their day in the sun. They'll have to content themselves with our press packet -- and the rest, as they say, is commentary. By the way, another question that's likely to be asked is whether we intend to testify at the congressional hearings."

"You know, I'm fascinated by this Lobo fellow and his aggressive personality," Yoko interjected. "Why not out him at the press conference? That will steer the reporters away from us to the secret CEO cabal."

"It's not exactly a secret," Peter said. "After all, they did take out a full-page ad in the Journal."

"Yes, but the press doesn't know the identities of the CEOs or of the man they chose to lead the attack against us," Bernard pointed out. "Or if they do, they haven't reported it."

"I like Yoko's idea," Jeno said. "It will certainly juice up the drama Ted spoke of earlier. It may even throw Lobo off his rhythm a bit."

"Yes," Warren agreed. "In my experience with Lobo, the more pressure he's under, the weaker his judgment and the greater the chance of his taking a risky gamble. As I keep saying, we must always be on the offensive, never on the defensive, and outing Lobo and his CEO cohort is nothing if not offensive. It will send them reeling because it will come as a complete surprise."

"On the other hand," Jeno said, "if we blow their cover, it may speed up their timetable and increase their support from the business community. It may work to our disadvantage."

"True," Warren said, "but they're going to get plenty of accelerated motivation and support when they watch the media coverage on the fifth and see the full breadth of our Agenda. And the reporters will be demanding answers not just of Lobo, a control freak extraordinaire, but of those sheltered CEOs. That will diminish the impact of their early advertising campaign, because people will know where to look when some patriotic-sounding 'Save America' front group comes along."

"But what would outing them do to our mole?" Sol asked.

"Probably not much," Bill Joy said. "He's too far below the radar. And besides, they won't suspect him because he doesn't suspect himself. Even if they make everyone take a lie detector test, he ought to pass because he doesn't think he gave any secrets away to anyone."

"I think it's a go," Jeno said.

'Well, if there's no objection, will you do the honors, Yoko?" Warren asked.

"With pleasure."

"Now, do we need to go through the questions you predicted a few minutes ago? I can tell you what I'm planning to say. If they ask how much we're going to spend, I'll tell them the truth: 'Whatever it takes -- and you know we have whatever it takes.' If you wish to release your financial statements, that's up to you, but I won't be releasing mine. Remember that we're private citizens, not public officials, and this isn't a grand jury proceeding. By maintaining our privacy we set an example for all citizens who suddenly become fair game because they gain some prominence. If I'm asked about our meetings, I'll say that we're in touch regularly and get together in person whenever we can, but I won't mention Maui. No need for them to know, as Ross says. As for congressional hearings, I'll testify if I'm asked, and I may even ask to be asked. Whatever they throw at us, I suggest as a general rule that we recall the master of the shrug and smile, that escape artist Ronald Reagan -- and he made them like it. That's my two cents' worth."

Bernard tossed two pennies on the coffee table. "Here's mine. I think we're all old enough, rich enough, smart enough, and honest enough to handle anything they throw at us. Besides, it will all be over in the blink of an eye. We just have to try not to let them spend too much time on us and too little on the Agenda for the Common Good."

"Which is what we must spend the rest of our own time on this weekend," Warren said, "but I can tell Sol's ready for his dinner."

While the views in Omaha weren't quite as spectacular as the vistas at Maui, the deficit was filled by Warren's warm hospitality. During the fruit cocktail around a candlelit oak table, there was a palpable sense of relief that the months of furtive deliberation were at an end and the frontal confrontation was at hand. Regardless of the outcome, the Meliorists and the country would never be the same again. All the spectacular activity of the last six months would now be connected -- heaven forbid! -- to a single organized source. No more idiosyncratic billionaires. They were a team, a conspiracy, a brigade assaulting the citadels of power, privilege, and presumption head on, no holds barred. That was how the press would read it, no matter how often the Meliorists referred them to the infrastructure they had built since January -- the PCS, the PCC, the CUBs, the Congress Watchdogs, and all the rest -- but still they would continue to hand off the reins of the new democratic society they were striving to achieve. As Max put it, "We're the shoehorn, they're the shoes. We're the bloodstream, they're the heartbeat. We're the head-knockers, they're the brains." This cascade of metaphors put the diners in a jovial mood, and for once their talk was entirely small-family matters, aches and pains, recent graduations of grandchildren, dreams of going fishing, or even golfing.

In the morning, refreshed and relaxed, the Meliorists descended to Warren's basement conference room for Patrick Drummond's report on the status of the Agenda legislation, which the First-Stage Improvements eggheads had honed into what had to be called perfection in the sloppy congressional world. They had broken the Agenda down into seven comprehensive bills dealing with a living wage, health insurance, tax reform, sustainable energy, more equitable distribution of wealth, electoral reform, and the seeding of deeper forms of democracy. The intense and nuanced exchange among the Meliorists following Patrick's presentation matched the scholarship and practical experience that had gone into both the drafting of the legislation and the accompanying section-by-section explanations and substantiations. Their discussion continued unabated all day Saturday and into Sunday morning as they decided which of them would take primary responsibility for which bills.

Just before noon, a tired but happy Warren declared their work finished. "My friends," he said, "we have done all we humanly can to ensure the passage of the Agenda. Before you head home, I hope you'll join me for sandwiches and a fruit salad as close to Ailani's as my chef could make it."

In the dining room, there was a contented buzz around the oak table as the Meliorists ate and chatted. Suddenly Bill Cosby clapped his hand to his forehead. "'Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars,''' he said loudly.

Everyone stared at him, forks in midair.

"Proverbs 9:1. It's as though it was written especially for us. Don't you see? Those bills we've been parsing down to the last comma -- they're the Seven Pillars of the Agenda for the Common Good."

There was a sharp collective intake of breath. "That's beautiful, Bill, just beautiful," Warren said. "I guess we weren't quite finished after all."

As the Meliorists were dispersing Sunday afternoon, a brief notice from the Secretariat went out on the AP wire.

Several elderly individuals of means who have been publicly espousing measures to better our society since the beginning of the year will hold a joint news conference in the ballroom of the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, July 5, 2006, at 10:30 a.m. Accredited news reporters and columnists are advised to arrive early to find seats in their demarcated section. Twenty seats are reserved for freelance reporters. Representatives of civic groups are encouraged to attend. Members of Congress and White House officials should call for reservations.

That evening the announcement led all the network news shows, the anchors vying with one another to pull down clips of Jeno and the PCC, George before the editors' convention, Joe throwing down the small claims gauntlet, Warren tearing into runaway executive pay, Peter's devastating testimony before Congress ...

It was the perfect free media buildup to zero hour.


If they could have seen their about-to-be-outed opponents that weekend, the Meliorists would have been happier still. True to form, the CEOs were vacationing all over, from the isles of the Caribbean to the Canadian Rockies, from the Hamptons to Jackson Hole. That was what they always did to celebrate the Fourth of July. Sure, they had some concerns this year, but what could they do over a long weekend? Besides, that was why they'd hired Lobo.

Lobo did not disappoint. To some grumbling from his associates, he cancelled all leaves. He delighted in doing this. It pumped his adrenaline. Lobo was a workaholic and had no time for a social life. Under other circumstances, he might have gone the way of a male Mother Teresa instead of becoming his own version of Gordon Gekko.

Lobo's core teams were in Battlestar Galactica mode. They were readying a spate of media attack ads to be unleashed the moment the sponsors of the anticipated SRO legislation dropped it into the congressional hopper. Some of the ads were targeted at the members of Congress allied with the SROs, others reflected the theme that the SROs were destabilizing the economy and the Republic. Even without the precise details of the bills, Lobo knew enough to pull the traditional strings of fear and political bigotry. There were plenty of historical precedents to learn from. Lobo's favorite was the 1934 California gubernatorial race between Upton Sinclair, the great progressive reformer and author of The Jungle, and Frank Merriam, the Republican incumbent. Running as a Democrat, Sinclair started the campaign as the easy favorite in depression-torn California. After a nonstop personal and red-baiting assault orchestrated by the public relations firm of Whitaker and Baxter, fearful Californians gave the Republicans a narrow majority. The election was a turning point in American politics, as the Whitaker techniques were copied in whole or in part in many subsequent elections around the country. To beat an Upton Sinclair in a state wracked by poverty, a state where wealthy growers cruelly exploited hundreds of thousands of farmworkers through all the abuses depicted so powerfully by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, emboldened the ruling oligarchies throughout the United States.

Lobo chose his media carefully. He had good intelligence on Barry Diller, what stations he owned, what stations he effectively controlled, and he avoided those. One series of ads for the afternoon TV talk shows was designed to appeal to women and turn their everyday anxieties into "garrulously driven fears," as he put it. He went to the evening cable shows for "the redneck males," and to the cable business shows for "the stock market crowd." And of course there was always all-right-wing-all-the-time talk radio. Lobo put in a call to Bush Bimbaugh to give him a heads-up.

"Hey, Bush, got a minute? I'm going to blow your socks off with a scoop that will make your blood boil."

"Make it fast, Lobo. I'm right in the middle of working on a show that will annihilate those stupidos pushing for a change in our National Anthem."

"Bush, you've got bigger fish to fry. Try this out. The rich old guys you've been denouncing in your surgical on-air manner are about to show their hand in Congress. They've lined up your favorite libs, and body-snatched some conservs too, behind a Commie-pinko, bleeding-heart, blame-America, destroy-capitalism agenda that's about to roll out. And they're not ignoring you, Bush. They're ready to proclaim you the Corporate Welfare King of Kings."

"What? Are they nuts? I earn my money the hard-assed way every day, pounding feminazis, queers, peaceniks, consumer fascists, and all those enviros squawking hot air about the planet melting down. What are you talking about, Lobo?"

"Get ready for it, Bush. You're going to be crowned Corporate Welfare King because your boss corporation and all the radio stations that carry you use the public airwaves free and pass part of the windfall on to you. Get the picture? You must've heard about all those 'Pay the rent' demos."

"Preposterous! Possession is ninety percent of the law, Lobo, that's basic conservative doctrine. That's how we took away the Injuns' land and built this country. The treaties were just an afterthought cover story. No one in my hordes of dittoheads is going to believe any corporate welfare bullshit about me. In fact, they'll call in and yell, 'Go, man, get all you can get from the feds!'"

"Don't say I didn't warn you, Bush. I'm going to take a big media buy on your show, so if you have any ideas about how to sharpen our attack on the old guys, let me know. We still haven't come up with the right catchphrase. Oh, and one last bit of advice. If I were you, I'd be looking over my shoulder. You've never experienced anything like what's coming. You've had it pretty easy so far in your choice of enemies."

Bimbaugh bridled but held his temper. He could smell the ad dollars. "Thanks, Lobo, sorry if I was short with you before. I hear you, friend, and I'm on full alert. Ten-shun! Stay in touch and watch me soar!"

Shutting his cell phone, Lobo shook his head. "Once they're on top, these big shots never think they can fall," he muttered to himself. "Well, I did what I had to do with the King of Shout Radio."

Lobo turned back to reviewing his three-pronged strike strategy -- fear, smear, and the Khyber Pass. Fear was well in hand with the first wave of attack ads. The smear campaign was in the works, with inbuilt safeguards to assure the CEOs complete deniability, but it would have to wait until the other side fully revealed its intentions and the conventional counterattack played out. The Khyber Pass was a last resort, but the troops had to be up to strength, and Lobo was already assembling a crack team of veteran lobbyists. As he made clear every time he interviewed one of them for the patriotic opportunity of joining him, his main requirement was that they be able to move on Lobo time at Lobo speed with no learning curve, which immediately eliminated most of these five-day-a-week corporate warriors, who'd had a soft time of it flacking for big business in cushy jobs. He told those who passed muster that they'd have to take a four-month leave of absence but would be well paid and would not be bored. They would be in the eye of the biggest political hurricane in the country, dealing with challenges that would draw on all their experience and talent. "You'll be facing the most cunning, determined, ingenious, well-financed, and organized foe of your lives," he said, adding with arched eyebrow, "And you'll be working for the most cunning, determined, ingenious, well-financed, and relentless taskmaster of your lives." Whereupon more dropped out, until fifteen men and five women finally grabbed the "cast-iron ring," as one of them put it, and signed on to start immediately.

As Lobo saw the upcoming strife, his side already occupied the Khyber Pass. The immense burden of dislodging the defenders of the corporate society was on the backs of the SROs, who had a vertical climb over jagged rocks, some of which could easily start rolling down on them. But occupying a position of logistical superiority and coming out on top were two different matters, as waves of invaders had proved more than once. Just remember the Mongols who thundered through the Pass hugely outnumbered and conquered much of India.

Lobo's main problem was that most of the troops on his side were also in his way. More than a hundred trade associations, and many more corporate law firms and public relations firms and lobbying entities, would want to start riding hard once the bills moved onto the floor of House and Senate and into the media spotlight, but they would be brandishing the old weapons, rusty from disuse because a prostrate Congress had given them nothing much to oppose. Their whole professional culture was geared toward buttonholing congressional committees for favors, privileges, deregulation, subsidies, and government contracts. Few forces were arrayed against their incessant demands. Most of their work consisted of making sure the demands were clothed in complexity and symbolism -- like the tax code with its Swiss cheese loopholes -- and providing tender loving care for the lawmakers, with a stick waiting in the wings as needed. With a judicious mix of perks and pressure, they maneuvered legislation through the labyrinthine maze of committees and subcommittees to the floor of the Senate and House and then through the Joint Conference Committees. There were always little differences here and there to be ironed out, always lawmakers with outstretched hands who would concede for the price of an earmark project in their districts or states. It was all very time-consuming, but these silver-tongued corporate demanders had ample time to give.

Lobo had three objectives. First and most difficult, he had to change their orientation from pushing their own interests to stopping a wave of bills that addressed heart-rending conditions in the country, represented voices of conscience begging for reform, and beat the drum for a fair society affording its citizens material sustenance and a life of dignity. Second, he had to make sure that these inconstant allies were a net plus to the forces that he would unleash, that they didn't interfere with, embarrass, or obstruct the far smarter and more energetic drive of the CEOs. Third, they would have to share the information they had collected over the years on every member and legislative staffer on Capitol Hill.

Sitting in his corner office hour after hour, his staff working on overdrive around him, Lobo wondered from time to time why he was doing all this. It wasn't his convictions that led him to change his colors and join his former opponents. It wasn't that he wanted revenge on Jeno Paulucci and Warren Buffett -- he did, but that wasn't enough. Finally he told himself that he wanted to be the biggest rainmaker of them all by taking control of Capitol Hill for the biggest showdown of his generation, then relax and bask in the eternal gratitude of the giant businesses that had hated him all these years. Still, beneath the hard exterior that was Lobo, there were yearnings that could not be explained even by this anticipated titanic victory. Softer yearnings.


Elsewhere in Washington, a different kind of unusually intense activity was afoot. On Capitol Hill more than a few offices were on the job day and night. The Capitol Police could not remember so many members of Congress and their staffers working on a long weekend, much less so late at night. There was a feeling of productive exhilaration in the air, absent the vacationing legislators and the legions of lobbyists, reporters, and tourists. Precision and resolve marked the collaboration between the congressional progressives, the Double Z, and the volunteer scholars and lawyers gathered for one final review of the Agenda legislation and the sponsors who would guide it through Congress. These lead legislators, chosen after taking into account a veritable library of political and personal intelligence and strength of character -- no wobbly knees invited -- were masters of the arcane parliamentary procedures of the House and Senate, and were ready, willing, and able to clear the congressional decks at every stage. Close coordination with the Congress Watchdogs was also a high priority for the congressional Agenda allies, since the Watchdogs in each district were the conduit for the local segment of the Meliorist epicenters, which were all in a state of advanced readiness and focus regarding public funding of public campaigns.

The much-touted Blockbuster Challenge, hatched in Maui and developed by Joan Claybrook, was slated for an extravagant unveiling right after the Fourth of July, but after much back-and-forth between Joan, Theresa Tieknots, the Secretariat, and some of the Meliorists, it was decided to suspend the effort, primarily because of FEC regulations restricting individual contributions to a candidate to $4,200 and PAC contributions to $5,000. A party's national and state committees could receive additional donations, but those were limited too, and could not be part of a member-by-member quid pro quo. Under the provision for "independent expenditures," there was no limit to how much an individual or a PAC or a single-issue group could spend, but then there could be no contact whatsoever between these individuals or groups and the candidates and parties. There just was no wiggle room, other than to use the $2 billion Blockbuster budget for cold mailings that urged small donations within the legal limits but could not solicit these donations on behalf of a particular candidate. Even if the mailing lists were composed of declared sympathizers with the Redirections projects, the logistical problems would be formidable, and there wasn't time to get an advisory opinion from the FEC on the various unique options conceived by the lawyers. The Meliorists learned the hard way that not every honest and lean political idea was legally permissible.

The fallback position for the coming weeks was to raise individual contributions for the "good guys" up to the legal limit, and use separate independent expenditures to oppose the "bad guys." Joan would remain in charge and allocate money based on the incumbents' and challengers' records, behavior, and capabilities. The Meliorists pledged a sizable budget to be disbursed candidate by candidate as needed, with an iron wall separating independent expenditures from direct donations. Joan's legal advisers would issue guidelines for setting up the relevant entities so that they were in complete compliance with FEC regulations. Naturally she was disappointed, as were her patrons, over having to abandon the aptly named Blockbuster Challenge, but it was clear that much more planning would be required to execute such a path-blazing overthrow of the established ways of dirty politics. Moreover, the Clean Elections Party and its candidates needed direct contributions, and for those purposes traditional political fundraising infused with reformist energy would do the job.

Meanwhile, in those pre-Fourth of July days, the Secretariat was wrestling with a troubling problem. They had names and contact information for millions of volunteers and supporters of the various Redirections, but they were trying to assess intensity and stamina. Large turnouts for rallies and lectures and festivals were important in both reality and perception, but when the Agenda battle began in earnest, the Secretariat had to have some sense of how many people would dig in their heels, weather storm after storm, and fight back with even greater fervor, determination, and ingenuity.

Their deliberations produced what Patrick Drummond's chief of staff, a retired master sergeant, called "the lesson plan." The idea was to have the seasoned field organizers of all the Redirections assemble as many of their supporters and volunteers as possible for a thirty-minute presentation generally outlining the coming drive in Congress, its historic urgency, the expected vicious counterattack, and the rough timetable for four months of maximum effort culminating on Election Day. After an hour of discussion, the field organizers would circulate among the attendees at an informal reception and ask each of them how much time they were willing to commit to a range of activities, from stuffing envelopes to attending rallies to doing the nuts-and-bolts work of the Redirection in question. The organizers would mark the responses down, as thoroughly as possible including data on age, gender, occupation, background, and recent civic action, and then tabulate the results in three columns: passive sympathizers, modest volunteers, and self-energized enthusiasts.

This gauging of intensity was critical. The corporatist opposition could energize its base with clear monetary incentives and appeals to economic self-interest. The civic world had to rely on less material and less immediate gratifications, such as those to be found in Dick Goodwin's eagerly anticipated pamphlet, which the Secretariat sent to the field organizers in quantity along with their instructions. It was beautifully designed, down to the feel of the paper; with the Seventh- Generation Eye under the title: "You, Your Children, and America's Future." Goodwin started from the universal instinct of humankind to protect and nurture its progeny and worked outward to connect that instinct with the building of a just society where no one went without the basic necessities of life, a national community embracing all its members in the pursuit of happiness -- in short, an America true to the best of its past and worthy of its ideals. The pamphlet provided eloquent inspiration and warmly insisted on perspiration. "We have the means," Goodwin wrote, "and we have democratic and sustainable solutions within our grasp. All we need is the will to turn the visionary ideas of our Founders into everyday realities for our children." Bernard was overjoyed by the pamphlet. He had grown up on the classics of the genre, starting with Paine, and had immense faith in the power of the written word to provoke action.


The Fourth of July arrived with a bang that had nothing to do with fireworks. All over the country and at the main event in Washington, DC, the Redirections were out in full force. The week before, Patriotic Polly had returned to the airwaves proclaiming "Independence Day for the Sovereignty of the People" and telling the public to watch for a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence in the mail. The lecturers, the Congress Watchdogs, the CUB and PCC chapters, the lunchtime ralliers, the Daily Bugle youngsters, and assorted groups from the rest of the Redirections had contingents marching in all the official parades of the larger cities. The "people's parades" organized with Meliorist help in two thousand smaller cities and towns drew wildly enthusiastic crowds.

Large or small, this year's parades were like none in living memory. Everywhere in the crowds, people were sporting Seventh-Generation buttons and T-shirts, holding up their copies of the Declaration, and thrusting Dick Goodwin's pamphlet on their friends and neighbors. These were parades for a new America. Alongside the usual military and martial displays were huge banners emblazoned with phrases from the Gettysburg Address and the nation's founding documents: "Toward a New Birth of freedom," "Toward a More Perfect Union," "With Liberty and Justice for All." Other banners and floats addressed what those words meant in concrete terms: "Freedom from Poverty," "Fair Taxation," "Workers' Unions of, By, and For Workers," "Health and Health Insurance for All," "Safety in the Workplace, Marketplace, and Environment," "Freedom Is Participation in Power," "Education to Think, Not Memorize," "Modernize Crumbling Public Services," "Fund the Arts," "Shareholders Are the Owners, Not CEOs," "Corporations Are Our Servants, Not Our Masters," "Save Our Children from Mammon," "Take Over Congress, Take Over Washington," "Clean Elections, No More Dirty Money," "Citizen Action Is Patriotic Action," "Dissent Is the Mother of Assent." The parades represented a substantial investment for the Meliorists, but the returns more than justified it. They had arranged to have the floats mass-produced to save money for the individual parades and send a message to the entire country that the marchers were part of a unified movement for change. That alone assured national media coverage, and the parades themselves assured local coverage. The parade organizers and the spokespeople for the various floats and contingents had been well briefed for the press and were prepared to drive their own passionate arguments home with local illustrations.

An unexpected dividend was the army of people who spontaneously recruited themselves for this great cause of a more just society. They turned out by the thousands. They'd have to have been living on Mars not to know of the ferment of the past six months, but they'd been observers, not participants. Now the parades had come to them where they lived, worked, and raised their children. That was what brought them out to rub shoulders with their fellow citizens and some of the elected officials who had been invited to take seats of honor on the floats. Normally parades were dream events for politicians -- they were far less likely to be booed than in more contained forums, and they could leave without interrupting the proceedings -- but not this time. When the parade organizers drew up the invitation lists, they had a great time matching the pols with the float slogans and waiting to see who would accept.

One impression all the politicians took away that day was that the parades were not just local events but part of a vibrant new movement. A shiver of apprehension traveled up more than one officeholder's spine. They couldn't just wave and smile their way through this Fourth of July revelation. These parades, with their constant background drummers, put meat on the banners, gave substance to the traditional American symbols. Bands played "America the Beautiful" over and over again, along with "This Land Is Your Land." Patriotic Polly toys were hot sellers. People on the bandstand spoke from their hearts about what was on their minds. Onlookers used their cell phones to send digital images of the parades to friends and relatives around the country. Promotions was on the scene in all two thousand smaller communities to videotape the entire parade festivities for future replay on local cable access channels and elsewhere. Their teams collected sample comments from the crowds and transmitted them to National Parade Headquarters in Kansas City.

"I just never knew there were so many people in my town who feel the same way I do about big business controlling our lives and our country. I signed some petitions and made some new acquaintances."

"I didn't stay very long. Fourth of July Parades shouldn't be political. They should be all about fun and loyalty to America. But the free food was yummy."

"This is one parade that will stay with me. I'm going to one of the marchers' homes next week for an action meeting."

"I'm a World War II veteran. Finally I've seen a Fourth of July Parade that talks real patriotism -- caring about one another. I belong to the VFW, and I'm going to find out why they weren't there."

"Our American Legion post in Lubbock organized its own parade to protest the so-called people's parade. A bunch of marchers from Veterans for Peace split off and came over to talk to us, and pretty soon some Legionnaires were shaking hands with them. Not me. A tough world needs tough guys."

"It was a blast watching the politicians caught between the military style of the old parades and the spirit of people power in this one. A lot of them were squirming because they knew that if they let themselves get swept up in the moment, their financiers would make them pay for it later. Serves them right for wanting to have things both ways."

Over the following week, the analysts at headquarters studied the parade footage, tabulated the comments, and reviewed the media coverage and commentary. Among the most insightful observations were those of syndicated columnist A. J. Eon. "Many reports seem to have missed the wider significance of these new-style Fourth of July parades. They represent a well-organized effort to reclaim the nation's public symbols from the commercial, conservative, and martial groups that have dominated such public traditions as the Fourth, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. In the past, too many liberal-leaning people have looked down on the celebration of these 'holidays' as vacuous and jingoistic. It appears that their condescension has been transformed into a drive to take control of our traditions and infuse them with an agenda that puts the people's plight and the people's needs up front on the bandstand. There can be no more portentous struggle than one over the nation's most hallowed symbols and traditions. To the victor goes the enormous power of legitimacy and communication. This past Fourth was a display of drum-major sophistication that will be hard to reverse, for if there is anything more powerful than symbols, try symbols with substance, symbols that communicate our highest hopes for the future of America -- the ultimate symbol."

Eon's words flew across the airwaves, the blogosphere, and the media machine of Promotions. To his astonishment, he was flooded with interview requests. Many of his fellow columnists took envious note of his sudden prominence and turned their attention to this unique populist resurgence and the forces behind it.

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Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:34 pm

PART 2 OF 4 (CH. 13 CONT'D.)

On the morning of July 5th, there were monumental traffic jams all around the National Press Club by 7:30 a.m. In front of the building. dozens of camera crews were unloading their gear. People who worked at the Press Club found the entrance blocked by Japanese reporters finishing their dispatches on Japanese time and readying themselves for the big event. By 9:00 a.m. the ballroom was full. The Secretariat quickly rented two spillover rooms with closed-circuit TVs. and by 10:00 a.m. they were full too.

The news conference was to be televised live, not only by C-SPAN, CNN, and PBS, but by the three major networks, which were breaking all precedent for this group of private citizens without portfolio. Bill Joy had hired cameramen to videotape the whole session in case of future attempts at distortion, along with a photographer to take pictures of everyone in attendance. He suspected that the audience would include corporate lobbyists and the usual grim gumshoe types who just couldn't learn how to dress. Luke Skyhi and some associates from the PCC were there to take notes so they could go to the media fast with the progressive business reaction.

At 10:15 a.m., the Meliorists walked briskly to the dais at the front of the ballroom. The cameras went wild in a frenzy of metallic clicking that sent images of the core group, publicly together for the first time, all over the country and the world. In the back row, Lobo sat erect and alert, scanning the SROs one by one -- until his eyes alighted upon Yoko. It was as if a silent lightning bolt had struck. Her eyes, her facial features, the way she held her dainty hands, the angle of her chin, her beautifully styled hair, her confident posture -- he was a man consumed. His long-repressed libido erupted into a series of escalating fantasies, culminating in the recognition that she was quite a bit older than he was. She also despised everything he stood for, but didn't James Carville, arch liberal Democrat, share a matrimonial bed with Mary Matalin, arch conservative Republican? Wild thoughts careened through his brain and sent his pulse rate soaring. He tried to compose himself, for the news conference was about to start, but his superego was wrestling mightily with his id in the classic Freudian tussle.

Phil stepped up to the lectern, which looked like it might topple over from the weight of the twenty or so microphones attached precariously to the front edge.

"Good morning, folks, thanks for coming. I'm Phil Donahue, and we" -- he paused as his arm swept the group sitting behind him on the platform -- "are the Meliorist Society. Since January, we've been working together for the betterment of our country, which is what our name means, no more, no less. We hear that the corporatists who oppose the changes we've initiated refer to us as the SROs, for Super-Rich Oldsters. Apparently they forgot that the initials also stand for something else, which I leave to your quick wits. We've got an acronym for ourselves too. It stands for Prodigiously Rich Oldsters, so feel free to call us the PROs. Each of us will make a brief statement, and then we'll take questions for forty-five minutes. There will be no one-on-ones afterward, but we'll make ourselves available in due time. My colleague Warren Buffett will begin."

"Thanks, Phil. I've spent my whole adult life investing my own and other people's money with some success. I had intended to leave my estate in its entirety to a charitable family foundation, but I've changed my mind. Our country is sinking deeper and deeper into troubles that are sapping its collective spirit and blinding it to the solutions that are ready at hand. From my observations of the rarefied world of business leaders, I've concluded that the vast majority are not leaders except for themselves. A society rots like a fish -- from the head down. I want no part of that lucrative narcissism, that abdication from the realities that are blighting our country and the world. I am here to do my part, my duty, in persuading some of my very wealthy peers to live by the words of Alfred North Whitehead: 'A great society is a society in which its men of business think greatly of their functions.' The Agenda for the Common Good that you will find in your press packets is only a down payment on a great and caring society."

Warren sat down, and the rest of the Meliorists rose to make their statements one by one.

"I am George Soros. I was born in Hungary, but I came here as an immigrant in the aftermath of World War II. The United States is my country by choice, my home. My personal experience of both fascism and communism has attuned me to the urgent need to reinvigorate and expand democratic institutions constantly, for the concentration of power also goes on constantly, left to its own many devices. The concentrated power of the few over the many is the antithesis of democracy. It breeds injustice and chronic suffering. In recent months I have joined with my colleagues to help launch many new democratic institutions with millions of dues-paying members. These are growing every day, helping to shift power from the blinkered few to the informed many, helping to build democracy. They have reached critical mass and are close to self-sufficiency. If they remain steadfast in purpose and diligence, their impact in creating a fair and equitable economy will be formidable and will portend well for the future of our country."

"I'm Ted Turner. You all know me. The world is going to hell in a handbasket. We've got to do something about energy and the environment. We've got to enlist the services of the Sun God. Those festivals are just the beginning. We're going to make the twenty-first century the Sun Century, and not a century too soon. The big fossil energy companies have had us looking under the ground for our hydrocarbon BTUs. We're going to look up toward the sun and toward a carbohydrate economy. No more obstructionism from the fossil and uranium companies. Either they convert to solar or they'll be fossils themselves. From now on Congress stops being their feed trough and patsy. When we stop to think about conditions in our country, the good ones were most likely brought to us by the organized demands of the people throughout our history. Time for an encore. This is the twenty-first century, when democracy becomes an adult."

"You may remember me, I'm Ross Perot. I'm here today for many of the same reasons I ran for president in 1992. I love my country, but my country is not in the hands of people who love her or her children and grandchildren. Piling debt on our descendants is what the power boys love to do. Mortgaging our country's future to the hilt is what they love to do. Well, they're not going to get away with it anymore. From now on, they'll be paying their fair share of taxes individually, and so will their corporations. They'll be getting off the corporate welfare gravy train. They'll be standing on their own feet and taking the verdict of the marketplace. They say they're capitalists? Okay, they're gonna act like capitalists. No more Uncle Sam to bail them out while small businesses go under. The Business Week poll was right -- most Americans believe big business has too much control over their lives and their government. The Business Week editorial in the same issue was also right -- corporations should get out of politics."

"I am Bernard Rapoport, from Waco, Texas. Too much is wrong in our country. There's too much greed, and too much power attached to the greed. Too much poverty, illiteracy, hunger, and homelessness. Too much despair and too pervasive a sense of powerlessness. Too many good people doing nothing about all this and making too many excuses for themselves. Too much graft and too much waste. Too much lying and too much sighing. Too much speculation and too much sprawl. I've spent a lifetime in the business of insuring risks, but all the things I've mentioned are things no one can insure, even though they are huge risks for our society. So we're going to get control of these risks -- we, millions of aroused Americans -- in the streets, in the voting booth, in the hearing rooms and courtrooms and boardrooms. The people are already on the march, and they are unstoppable. This news conference is only an anti-climax to the work that has been done already, and a prelude to the work to come."

"My name is Max Palevsky, and I am proud to be a Meliorist. As one of the pioneers of the computer business, I used to believe that this new technology would work to the vast betterment of our society. That hasn't happened. Why? Because promising technologies that are under the sway of concentrated economic powers and their political agenda never come close to fulfilling their promise. Until we break the grip of big money on our public elections at all levels of government, fundamental democratic values and critical economic priorities will not be translated into political policy and implementation. It was Thomas Jefferson who described representative government as a counter to 'the excesses of the monied interests.' His hope must become our reality. The electoral reform platform of the Agenda for the Common Good will clear the way with its call for public money for public elections, full ballot access for voters and candidates of all parties, and open competitive contests to produce the best results on Election Day, with all the votes counted, including those for binding None of the Above. No more one-party districts, and no more two-party elected dictatorship. We're ready to take on the merchants of politics once and for all."

"I'm Joe Jamail, and I sue big corporations hard. I want everyone who's wrongfully harmed or defrauded to have full access to our courts of law so as to secure justice and deter the greedy miscreants by proving them culpable before judge and jury. The courts are the last resort of American democracy when the other two branches fail us. For too many years, regular folks have had the courthouse doors slammed in their faces by legislative fiat greased with corporate money. Faith that justice can be achieved is crucial to our social solidarity. For us Meliorists, open access to the courts, without political interference, is bedrock constitutionalism. The same goes for the exercise of defendants' rights in criminal trials. We are a nation of checks and balances. The checks have been out of balance for too long. That will change."

"I'm Paul Newman, and I'm here to say that the people believe our country is on the wrong track. They want to see America move in a direction that spells a better life for themselves and their children, and this is not a partisan sentiment. Check out the veterans' groups, the NASCAR crowds, the senior centers, the voluntary associations and clubs down at the community level, and you'll see how disdain for those who rule us is growing. For a long time the people have wanted change, but they've felt trapped, powerless, helpless to make it happen. Now those feelings are giving way to a sense of empowerment and hope. You've all reported on this rising tide over the last six months. The Congress is starting to feel the heat and the light from the aroused citizenry, and that's just the beginning. Congress itself will be redirected. Votes will start to nullify money instead of the other way around. The Corporate Congress will become the People's Congress. Once Americans taste popular sovereignty and its benefits, they'll want it on the menu daily. They'll tell their senators and representatives, 'Stand with the people or stand down.'"

"I'm Bill Cosby. Look, folks, you know something has to be done when there's no correlation between hard work and having the necessities of life. The bottom half of America is working harder all the time and falling farther and farther behind. The rich are getting richer beyond their wildest dreams. Those of us here on this stage represent the older rich, and we are doing our best to multiply our numbers and help more billionaires find a purposeful life. As far as I know, our coming battle with the entrenched super-rich on behalf of the people is unique in recorded history, and as a sometime actor, I find it a prospect filled with drama and suspense. How, where, and when are the corporate supremacists going to respond? Stay tuned."

"My name is Peter Lewis. This ballroom is already historic for all the valedictory speeches that have been delivered here in recent weeks. There will be many more, synchronized with the introduction of the seven bills comprising the Agenda for the Common Good. Imagine the high-level whistle-blowers who'll come forth once Congress starts debating universal quality-controlled health insurance. They'll be lined up from pillar to post. You know of my views regarding my industry's abdication of its responsibility for loss prevention. Today's insurers operate on the principle that making money from waste, inefficiency, and damage is part and parcel of doing business. As Meliorists, we intend to redefine what productivity, efficiency, and superior management really mean in this twenty-first century. Our yardstick will be the well-being of the people, and you know the axiom -- whoever controls the yardstick controls the agenda. So to big business I say, we're taking the yardstick out of your hands, and with it your control over public expectations, not to mention your wholesale stifling of invention and innovation."

"My name is Sol Price, and I'm a consultant to Wal-Mart." Ripples of laughter coursed through the ballroom, which had been preternaturally quiet till now. "I came of age in the 1930s, a time of economic depression, but also a time of forceful response from FDR's Washington, a time of deliberate, thoughtful striving to jump-start the economy, diminish the armies of the unemployed through useful public works projects, and bring Americans together in a common cause. Today we have immensely more wealth, more ways to communicate and mobilize, more of everything except heart, will, and leadership. At my age I don't want to leave my country in decline, dominated by greed and gluttony, in a downward spiral of lower wages and a lower standard of living for the majority. I don't want to leave our children and grandchildren a country where 'only the little people pay taxes' while millionaires become billionaires and billionaires become trillionaires, a country where millions can't pay their fuel bills while oil chieftains running sure-bet companies subsidized by the taxpayers make more than a hundred thousand dollars a day. That's why I've joined hands with some of my peers in age and wealth to give back to our beloved land, not a little charity masquerading as justice, but the real thing -- systematic justice safeguarded by a permanently organized populace."

"Phil Donahue again. Our culture is in decay. Our media is a relentless merchandising machine. It has insinuated itself into the minds of our children, turning them into feverish Pavlovian bundles of conditioned craving, and undermining parental authority. Corporate commercialism, in alliance with the forces of repression around the world, is ruthlessly trampling down budding civic efforts to alleviate agonizing destitution and redress staggering inequality. Four hundred of the world's richest hold wealth equivalent to the assets of the bottom three billion humans sharing that same world. What in hell are we, the super-rich, doing with our days in our later years, wallowing in a leisurely drudgery when we could be changing the world? Ours is not a messianic mission. It is a dutiful, deliberate quest to achieve today what should have been achieved years ago in a society with pretensions to 'liberty and justice for all.' We intend to make good on 'for all.'''

"I am Yoko Ono. Our society is dying of spiritual starvation. Everywhere the human spirit labors under the yoke of materialism, the dull and the bland usurp aesthetics, the myopia of instant gratification keeps us from looking toward the horizon for our posterity. A society that genuinely cares for its offspring and future generations is a society that cares for its adults today. That wreath" -- she gestured gracefully to the Meliorists' banner -- "symbolizes an embrace, a caring and reaching out and ministering to our collective anguish and our collective needs. We on this platform strive to become worthy ancestors for our descendants, for if we do not, they will surely curse us."

Lobo sat transfixed as Yoko left the lectern. He was losing control of his bodily fluids. Blood rushed to his head and extremities, his stomach gurgled, sweat poured from his armpits and dampened his palms. It was all he could do to keep from trembling.

"I am William Gates Sr., and I heartily second Yoko's emphasis on posterity. That is our proper measure. Wisdom, judgment, and knowledge -- in that order -- must be our bequests. Only real people -- not artificial persons, not corporations, those mere legal fictions -- can leave behind such a legacy. Real people must be supreme over corporations in our constitution, in our laws, and in our regulations. There can be no equal justice under law, no equal access to the law, under the present empire of corporate supremacy. Global corporations bestride the planet, commandeering governments and writing their own laws and rules of adjudication. They are becoming the government de facto, they are corporatizing governmental functions de jure, and through their amassed control of capital, technology, and labor, they are creating a new serfdom. Artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, communications technology -- all are in their grip. Distributive justice is deteriorating from an already low base. In past years, some of the super-rich have organized to preserve the estate tax. Now some of us are engaged in a broader revolt against the enveloping matrix of plutocratic privilege and power. Rest assured that if the corporatists refuse to bend before the oncoming pressure, they will break."

"I'm Jeno Paulucci, and I'm a veteran of many clashes with business competitors and predators. Like my fellow Meliorists, I know how the business barons think, how they react, and how artfully cunning they can be. I know how practical, expedient, and opportunistic they are, I know when they are likely to cut the check and make a deal. I also know how they swing from fury to fragility, how they save their own skins or line their own pockets at the expense of the very companies they run. To them I say, take heed of the rapid growth of the People's Chamber of Commerce, take heed of the hundreds of thousands of smaller and midsize businesses for whom you do not speak through your sprawling trade associations in Washington, DC. The coercive harmony of the business world is no more. 'Stand up and speak out' is replacing 'Sit down and keep quiet.' More and more flowers are blooming. There is more than one way, one path, one ideology to animate economies and sub-economies. Note that word, sub-economies. Note it well, for the sub-economies will turn the stubborn and stagnant status quo upside down."

"They call me Leonard Riggio. Half of democracy is just showing up. Today, people all over the country are showing up at marches, rallies, hearing rooms, courts, city council meetings, and the fountainhead -- their neighbors' living rooms. The lunchtime rallies are growing and spreading all the time. Leaders and orators are emerging from their midst. These rallies are showcasing new directions, nurturing determination and stamina, producing mass resolve for a basic shift of power in our society. As a child growing up in New York City, I could never stand bullies. The downtown skyscrapers are full of bullies of a different kind, bullies in three-piece suits, and they're at work all the time. What's different these days is that when they look out their windows, they see the ranks of those who will send them home sniveling in the very near future. And it's worth noting the rendezvous points for some of the ralliers: fraternal organizations like the Elks, Kiwanis, and Knights of Columbus, women's clubs, senior centers, farm associations, union halls and churches, even the VFW and the American Legion. Sure, not all of them or even most of them, but who would have thought that thousands of members of such groups are joining the ralliers? The rebellion is swelling -- just what Thomas Jefferson called for in our country from time to time."

"I'm Barry Diller, and you're wondering what I'm doing on this side of the bench. Hey, media moguls are people too. Broadcasters can be broad-minded citizens too. I've chosen to use whatever influence and knowledge I have in the cause of my county and its aborted promise. The big media outlets are straitjacketed by their clients' advertising dollars. They ignore the voices of conscience and the cries of affliction among our people. I want to see the public airwaves reverberate with these voices and cries. The people own the airwaves that we in the industry use so freely and so lucratively. The people must reclaim their property in the public interest and use it to air suppressed or unpopular views, calls for change, demands for responsible government and accountable corporations. The first test will come in Congress, that stained and monetized arena, when the Agenda for the Common Good is introduced. We ask viewers and listeners to join with us in support by e-mailing us at or logging onto our website, The power of good people pulling together for the good life can overcome all opposition, no matter how wealthy, greedy, and powerful. Organized power can only prevail over unorganized people. Join together, throw off that subservience, speak your minds, and power shifts in your favor. Take it from someone who knows a little about corporate power and who has been corporate power until recently."

"Well, that's it folks," Phil said, returning to the podium. "I want to second Barry's invitation to the viewers at home to extend their talents and time to the Agenda for the Common Good. The forthcoming action in Congress demands action back where you live and work -- in your cities, towns, villages, farms, and neighborhoods. What you do there will feed the thunder rolling over your senators and representatives. The Agenda consists of seven bills -- we call them the Seven Pillars of the Common Good -- so simply select the one best suited to your interests and talents and put whatever time you can afford behind it. Be part of this rising citizen movement to shape the future for the benefit of all Americans now and to come. The website is packed with information and ways to participate at all levels, and it will guide you to others in your community working along the same paths. We need you, folks, and thanks. Now we'll take questions for forty-five minutes. Out of consideration for your fellow members of the fourth estate, please be brief, and please identify yourself and indicate which of us your question is addressed to."

Hands shot up by the dozens. Phil called on Basil Brubaker of the New York Times.

"My question is for Mr. Buffett. What if any legal entities are you all working through, how much money have you spent, and how much have you budgeted?"

"We are working through a number of nonprofit corporations, 501(c)(3)s and 501(c)(4)s, and several PACs. Each of us is also spending our own money, directly as individuals, on various improvement projects that have been reported in the press over the past half year. As for amounts, what the law requires to be reported is on the public record. What the law does not require will remain confidential, for reasons obvious to those of us in the business community -- you don't show your hand in a struggle where resources signal levels of capability and persistence."

Yoko popped up beside Warren at the podium. "You wouldn't expect Mr. Lobo and his clients to reveal their war chest, would you?"

"Lancelot Lobo, the corporate raider?" said Brubaker. "What's he got to do with it?"

"Surely you saw the full-page ad that an anonymous group of CEOs took out in the Wall Street Journal some weeks ago?" Yoko replied. "Well, Lobo is the spearhead they hired to lead the charge against the Agenda."

In the back of the room, a reporter recognized Lobo -- his picture was often in the papers -- and shouted, "Hey, he's right here!" For a few seconds Lobo was oblivious, utterly enthralled that Yoko knew his name and what he was doing, and those few seconds cost him his exit. In no time he was surrounded by reporters bombarding him with the basics of their profession: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

Phil rapped the lectern with his pen. "Can we please have order? Mr. Lobo, will you kindly go outside to answer their questions so we can finish up here?"

Lobo did not oblige. He did go outside, but he didn't stop to answer questions. Pursued by a dozen scribes, he no- commented his way to the elevator and down thirteen flights to the front door of the National Press Club, and thence into a fortuitously waiting taxicab that sped him away. Half of him was outraged by his outing, the other half was still in libido land. Fortunately, the taxi driver was talking on his cell phone in Urdu and did not try to converse with him. Unfortunately, the photographers got what they wanted, and their pictures would speak a thousand words in the next day's newspapers.

Back in the ballroom, the press conference resumed.

"James Drew, Washington Post. My question is directed to Leonard Riggio. Sir, there is an old saying that 'when you're everywhere, you're nowhere.' There are so many proposals in this Agenda and so many causes you've been espousing individually in the past six months that it seems to me you're spreading yourselves too thin and have no focus. Are you going to winnow your proposals down when Congress returns from its Fourth of July break?"

"We are working to build a deliberative democracy with a broad embrace. The more issues we take on, within limits, the more people will organize and swell their own leadership ranks. Down at the street and neighborhood level, they'll select the causes currently most pressing to them and take advantage of the winds of democratic possibility sweeping across our country. People are motivated by what Saul Alinsky, the legendary Chicago organizer, called 'perceived injustices.' And if you study the Agenda more closely, you'll see that it is in fact a very careful and detailed winnowing down of urgent and long-unaddressed needs and reforms into seven precisely drafted bills. Taken together, they represent a great advance in two respects: the substantive improvement of the material conditions of life in our country, and the expansion and safeguarding of our democratic institutions."

"Mark Melville of CBS. Mr. Diller, are your television and radio networks going to support the Clean Elections Party and its candidates, and if so, just how do you intend to do that without violating FCC and FEC rules?"

"Simple, Mr. Melville. We'll report all the news on all the candidates who have something to say or have done something of note. We'll do features and interviews and sponsor open debates for all ballot-qualified candidates of all parties, large and small. The Clean Elections Party is running exclusively on the single most important issue of electoral reform -- money in politics. It has pledged to disband once it secures public financing of public elections in law and in fact. It has over fifty candidates on the ballot, among them challengers to the most senior incumbents in the House and ten of the most powerful senators. Finally, what I do to support candidates as a private citizen is between me and the Federal Elections Commission, as it is for everybody."

"Laurie Newsome, ABC, question for anyone. I've been covering Capitol Hill for years, and I can tell you that Congress and its committees have a whole arsenal of tactics for delaying, hamstringing, and hogtying legislation. What makes you think you can steer your Agenda quickly through the congressional maze of arcane rules and procedures?"

"I'll take the question," Bernard said. "First of all, our deep awareness of the workings of Congress as you describe them underlies all our efforts in this regard. You will see that our relative inexperience on Capitol Hill, though some of us have lobbied it often, does not translate into naivete about what it's going to take. I might add that the members of Congress have no experience whatsoever with what's coming at them from the folks back home. What's more, among our allies in this fight is a group of seasoned former legislators and staffers who know the rules inside and out. Some of them helped write the rules. They know the escape hatches, the dodges, the moods that can sweep Congress into action. Corporations push their special bills through Congress all the time. We'll just be doing it on a grander and more public stage."

"Rita Dawn, Associated Press. Ted, what can you tell us about your Billionaires Against Bullshit? Will you release their names? What they are working on? How much they are donating?"

"Well, you know some of them already. Jerome Kohlberg on campaign finance reform, the ones who are after Wal-Mart, the ones interviewed in Billionaires on Bullshit. I'll ask those who haven't gone public yet whether they're open to interviews. There's a lot of autonomy among these billionaires, as you might expect."

"Alberto Adelante, Univision. Speaking of Wal-Mart, are you trying to destroy it, Mr. Price?"

"As I've said on previous occasions, what we're trying to do is give workers an opportunity to form a union, if they so choose, without intimidation and Wal-Mart SWAT teams descending on them. The overall objective is to turn Wal-Mart into a pull-up giant instead of a pull-down behemoth outsourcing its suppliers to China, hollowing out communities, offloading its responsibilities to its workers onto the American taxpayer, and driving its competitors to break their labor agreements and downgrade wages and benefits. Otherwise the vast Wal-Mart sub-economy will keep metastasizing and depress the standard of living for millions of American workers. This is not the way our economy grew in the past."

"Charlene Jepson of the Liberator, question for Bill Cosby. How do you feel in this sea of white men?"

"Andy, the Meliorists are all about justice. Justice is color-blind. We speak of the people, not blacks or Latinos or Asians or Anglos. Segregating our attention to injustice peels off those not in the circle of concern. Look at the white working- class males who've been turned off by identity politics and whose alienated votes have helped make corporatist right-wing government possible."

"Archibald Aldrich, National Review. You are aware, I presume, of the recent torrent of petitions to the federal regulatory agencies, seeking to regulate to death just about everything that moves in the business community. You come from business. Are you responsible for these petitions, directly or indirectly, and how do you justify them without calling yourselves socialists or worse? And what do you call yourselves, other than Meliorists. Are you a collective, a collaborative, a cooperative, a joint partnership, an association, what?"

"They're a conspiracy," yelled Fred Froth of Fox News, "and they've finally admitted it!"

"A bunch of billionaire codgers getting together over their Postum to improve the country?" Sol said. "You want to call that a conspiracy, be our guest."

"I'll take Mr. Aldrich's question," Max said over a wave of laughter. "The names of the authors of those public petitions are on the petitions. They hail from consumer organizations that want your car to be safer and your food healthier, from environmental groups that want your air and water to be cleaner, from taxpayer associations that want your public property to be rented and not given away to private companies, from a whole array of groups that want your procurement dollar to be efficient and free from graft, your aircraft to be equipped with the latest safety features, your highways to have fewer potholes, your medicines to be thoroughly tested, your hospitals to be more competent and less infectious, your antimonopoly and corporate crime laws to be enforced, and -- of particular interest to those in your economic class, Mr. Aldrich -- your investments to be free of fraud, deception, and conflicts of interests. Without endorsing every iota of the petitions, the Meliorists supported these groups in going before the agencies and demanding a hearing at long last, after being shut out for decades by both parties in power. Meliorists are for betterment, remember. As for your second question, no, we are not incorporated or in a partnership. We are a voluntary association of individuals coordinating, collaborating, and cooperating with one another in what we believe to be the national interest."

"Stan Rustin of the Dallas Morning News. Who are your allies in the Senate and House? Surely you know their names."

"They're the ones who are sponsoring and signing on to the various bills about to be introduced," Bernard said, "so you'll know when we know."

"Tom Tempestiano, Newsweek, three-part question for all of you. Are you willing to testify before congressional committees, are you willing to debate your opposite corporate numbers, and are you predicting victory for your Agenda before Election Day?"

"Yes and yes to your first two questions," Warren said. "As for the third, we are not predicting victory for the Agenda, but we believe the people of this country will be victorious before Election Day. We believe their organized mobilization will affect the congressional elections and will make the Clean Elections Party a force to reckon with if the clean elections plank of the Agenda doesn't pass this time around."

"Danielle Demure of Spectrum News. I'm a reporter for your syndicate of stations in Washington, DC, Mr. Diller, and I fear that in the coming days my colleagues will view me as compromised because of your open involvement with the Meliorists. They'll say I'm not objective, and there will be rumors of your heavy hand. I'll deny any pressure to slant or hold back, since there's been none, but I need to know the nature of your Chinese Wall. And I have a follow-up."

"Ms. Demure, my policy is that reporters should be diligent and inquiring and call things as they see them. My partisanship will be channeled into paid television and radio ads at market rates, on stations where I have no equity interest and my company has no ownership share. My philosophy of news is to report on all subjects of importance, not just on the doings of the political and economic establishment. It's news if voters are viewing or listening to more voices and choices. It's news if new information is coming forth, regardless of how powerful or lowly the messenger. That is standard ideal journalism. Both the overdogs and underdogs in our society deserve coverage."

"My follow-up is on your drive to get the electronic media to pay rent for the use of the public airwaves. I know that Channel 7 and other stations rejected your ads. What's the latest?"

"Well, as you know, our ads urged rental payments to the Federal Communications Commission. We suggested recycling these payments back into cable access stations and other media access programs for improved content on behalf of the audience. The current plan is to have the stations within our own networks announce that in lieu of paying the FCC rent for their licenses, they'll pay into a nonprofit fund to do what I've just described. Through our publicized example, we expect Congress and the FCC to come around and end this eighty-year-old giveaway of public property. We hope the communities we serve will be so pleased with our financial donation to their own participation in their own programming that they'll spread the word around the country and to Washington, DC."

"Paul Profitikoff of the website Business Hourly. Mr. Paulucci, how do you think big business is going to react to your Agenda? Please give us a detailed response."

"Well, some of my colleagues will probably want to respond to your astute question too, but for my part, here's what you can expect. The entire corporate community will gear up and do its thing, steering more campaign money to its indentured servants on the Hill, whipping up its dealers and agents and franchisees, beefing up its full-time lobbying staff; plastering TV screens with lurid ads predicting the destruction of the free enterprise system -- to the detriment, of course, of working families everywhere. They'll have their allies on key committees try to stymie or stall the legislation through procedural maneuvering. Nothing surprising here. They'll try every destructive tactic at their disposal to keep our country from moving forward."

"If they're really stupid, they'll try to smear us," Bill Cosby said. "Not directly, of course, but through surrogates. Just look what happened to John McCain during the Republican primary in South Carolina in 2000. We have investigators of our own, and we're prepared to respond."

"Did you see Mr. Lobo a few minutes ago?" Yoko chimed in. "The CEOs who hired him did so because they don't believe the traditional business response to perceived threats is enough. I respectfully urge all of you to find out more about Lobo's operation and his backers. Perhaps they can be persuaded to have a news conference such as this one."

"Lady Lake of the Arkansas Baptist News. There's a big dose of the holier-than-thou in what you all say, yet none of you seem to be religiously inspired in any way. Can it be reported that you believe yourselves to be in possession of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? And aren't you more than a bit arrogant if you are your own highest authority?"

"I'm delighted to answer your question, Ms. Lake," George said. "We believe in the open society, where minds are persuaded through reason and fact, through genuine concern and earned trust. One of my university professors, Karl Popper, convinced me long ago that we must always revisit and revise what we think and do, because we can never know all the complexities of human behavior and the forces of nature. That means that all voices must have the right of expression and access to the means of expression, especially when communications technology uses the public's property. All of us have obviously been around, and have accumulated a fund of experience from which we've developed a sense of the fundamentals of the good society, the good life. We've decided to engage our beliefs in a fight for these goals, a clean fight, honestly undertaken. We haven't discussed among ourselves what our religious or antireligious beliefs may or may not be, but we all believe very much in the wisdom of the Golden Rule, as you see from our insignia. And we don't mean that they who have the gold rule. It's just the opposite: those who must rule will likely have very little gold, for they are the people."

"Michele Mirables of USA Today. I've repeatedly heard you refer to 'the people' as the force that will turn the situation around in our country. What exactly do you mean by 'the people'?"

"For six months the media has been covering what we mean by 'the people,''' Max said. "We mean 'the people' who have stepped forward on so many fronts in so many ways, we mean the millions who've indicated by their actions a readiness to exert themselves individually and in an organized civic manner, to recruit others to the cause, and to accept the assistance we've offered. Like a venture capital firm jump-starting small innovative companies, we and an ever-enlarging base of the super-rich have fostered these efforts and will continue to do so. We are coining a saying, Ms. Mirables: 'It takes organized money to take on organized money.'''

"That doesn't sound very American."

"Oh, but it is, Ms. Mirables, it is. Read your Tocqueville. 'Americans when confronted with a need quickly form an association to treat it,' he wrote some hundred and seventy years ago. We're just upping the ante and quickening the pace. Some commentators have described what we're doing as the revolt of the older super-rich against the entrenched super-rich. A little oversimplified, of course, but essentially accurate for a culture with a boxing match mentality. Sparks will surely fly, and you in the media will decidedly be yawning less."

"David Roader, Washington Post syndicated columnist. I'd like to inquire where you're heading with your high-voltage movement. With apologies, none of you are spring chickens. There must be limits even to your energy. My guess is that you've spent and are spending billions of your own dollars, and as impressive as that is, your opponents can far outspend you in all categories. Would any of you like to comment?"

"Mr. Roader," said William Gates Sr., "there is a consensus among us that is best summed up by that grand citizen of a united Europe, Jean Monnet, who knew without people, nothing is possible and without institutions, nothing is lasting. That is precisely what the Meliorists are about. That is why some of you may be surprised by the strong popular support for the Agenda for the Common Good. We're not talking about a flurry of e-mails or phone calls to Congress. You, sir, are about to see a civic outpouring such as you have never seen in all your years of distinguished reporting. I was informed a few seconds ago that even as we conduct this live news conference, five hundred thousand Americans have already emailed us or visited our website to express their eagerness to participate on the ground. That alone will not provide the necessary cutting edge, but with the requisite resources, many of these motivated citizens will become community leaders in neighborhood after neighborhood. Many of them will join the new democratic institutions that have been established in recent months, like the Congress Watchdogs, the People's Chamber of Commerce, and the consumer, taxpayer, and labor CUBs. They will find themselves sustained, advised, and defended by a well-appointed infrastructure of resolve, experience, and stamina. We have observed that these institutions and the people involved at all stages are multiplying themselves without any central direction. The one cohesive element here is the determination to forge a better country, an exemplary economy, a caring society -- all the goals of the Agenda. People are beginning to believe in themselves and their vaunted sovereignty in our republic. Remember, the preamble to our Constitution starts with 'We the People.' Those whom FDR once scorned as 'economic royalists' are about to be dethroned. We expect that small numbers of these latter-day royalists will abdicate voluntarily and join us in becoming responsible elders for our posterity."

"Tamika Slater of the Nation. Let's be candid. Big business is like a giant accordion: it can expand its war chest to meet the occasion. It has so much in reserve, so many ultimatums it can issue to make opponents in Congress and elsewhere cave. The business response Bill Cosby and Jeno Paulucci predicted doesn't begin to take the measure of their means. What makes you so confident?"

"I'll tell you what," Joe said. "Many of my colleagues are too modest to say so, but they've been spectacular successes in the world of big business. They know how it operates, what moves it, how it bluffs, and when it's likely to buckle under pressure and make mistakes. They have the feel, like people say I have the feel of the courtroom. They know many of these CEOs and bosses personally, some from when they were in middle management years ago. They've played golf with them, gone to their children's weddings, and negotiated deals with them. So I have to disagree with my colleague Leonard Riggio. Whatever you may predict about the pending battle in Congress, you can't accuse the corporations, their trade associations, and Mr. Lancelot Lobo of being bullies. This time around, they're up against guys their own size. We know the business lobbies are in charge of the economy. We know they can destabilize the economy, start making noise about shipping more plants and offices abroad because of 'overregulation' and the rest of their bullhorns of alarm. But they're not going to get away with it. Our Agenda is in tune with the needs and aspirations of the people, and the people are the ones who vote. And Patriotic Polly will have a thing or two to say about the Agenda too."
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Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:35 pm

PART 3 OF 4 (CH. 13 CONT'D.)

Scattered applause floated through the ballroom.

"Reginald Sesko of Business Week. Are you implying that the business lobbies would actually stoop to deliberately damaging the economy they're profiting from? Isn't that a little conspiratorial, Mr. Jamail?"

"Not at all, in the sense you mean the word, and their strategy will not be so crude. But of course they're going to conspire in the original dictionary meaning -- they're going to work together intensively -- and of course they won't be doing it in the mall. When Congress starts to light up for the Agenda, when the lawsuits, regulatory petitions, and rallies are placed in the context of what's happening here in Washington, the stock markets may go down a little, and then the corporate flacks and pundits will start talking about 'the deteriorating business climate.' Comparisons will be drawn with the more favorable and often tropical climate in other countries that beckon US companies to flee their native land and bring their jobs and capital with them. 'Business confidence is battered,' we'll be told. Well, it's a gigantic bluff. As long as this is the most lucrative market in the world. as long as foreign companies are still beating down the door to get into the US marketplace, we'll be able to call that bluff in front of the American people. You see, we've got the resources."

Warren consulted his Timex. The forty-five minutes were up. Some of the reporters had already left to file their stories. The cameramen were packing up since there would be no one-on-ones afterward. He stepped to the lectern.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the time allotted for questions is exhausted. You'll have further opportunities to question any or all of us should you wish to take them. Please note that we're each handling our own media requests. I'm sure that I speak for all of us in thanking you for attending. Be sure to sign the clipboard if you didn't on the way in. You all have copies of the Agenda and further information in your press kits. And once more, to the live audience, please get in touch with us so we can get in touch with you and join together to lift our society to the highest levels of human possibility. Again, the website is and the e-mail address is And now, good day from the Meliorist Society."

With Warren in the lead, the seventeen stalwarts strode out of the ballroom as briskly as they had entered, heaved a collective sigh of relief, and repaired to a popular new restaurant at V and Fourteenth Street NW, an area that was developing quickly. They had reserved a large private room for an afternoon of repast, relaxation, and reflection before going their separate ways. Earlier Bill Joy had made sure the room was secure.
Once the door closed, they broke into animated conversation about how well the news conference had gone overall and about the extraordinary Internet response that had registered right on the spot. Recruitment, they agreed, would be deliriously happy. "And beyond overworked. We ought to let them hire a couple dozen more people," Ted said. "Of course," came the unanimous response. With the tension diminishing, food had never tasted better, even though the menu was a little too heavy on the vegetables to suit Sol. The diners took their time with each course and filled the intervals between with their hopes for the critical month of July, when the Agenda and the hearings would tell their stories.


Meanwhile, somewhere in Maryland, Lobo was hitting bottom. After hurling himself headfirst into the cab, hurting his elbow in the process, he'd ask the taxi driver to head due north up Connecticut Avenue. At the District line, he told Urduman to keep going, straight to New York City. When he demurred, Lobo whipped out twelve crisp one-hundred- dollar bills and spread them out like a Japanese fan across the front seat. Urduman took one glance to his right, swooped the C-notes into his jacket pocket, and drove on. The cab's air conditioner was struggling on this warm summer day, and Lobo was sweating profusely, but not because of the heat. Pushing away thoughts of the fallout from the press conference, he took out his laptop and googled Yoko. There she was in all her pallid beauty, there were all the laudatory and envious and scurrilous articles written about her, there were her shoulder-shrugging dismissals and concise epigrams. He could barely contain himself.

But he had to. Though he knew he should be googling all the news stories about himself that must be flying around the country and the world, he couldn't bring himself to do it. He had to clear his head, assume the worst in print and photos, and prepare his recovery with his staff, his CEO superiors, and the media, which was no doubt mocking him at this very moment. Lobo had been down before, if not so personally. But his inner core of steel didn't distinguish between different kinds of down. He just had to connect his steel with his mind, his brain, his cunning, his resourcefulness, his imagination, his gift of jab. He had four hours in the cab, his cell phone off, his whereabouts unknown. He had to fight back his Yoko fantasies and concentrate, concentrate, concentrate.

His preliminary assessment of his predicament was that he had clearly been ambushed. Just as clearly, there was a leak or a mole or a bug in his suite of offices. Not likely the latter, because he debugged daily, but whatever the source -- which had to be found -- the damage was done. He and his clients had been put on the defensive, revealed publicly before they had chosen to reveal themselves. The CEOs were probably stunned. They would expect a call from him explaining what had happened. Worse, explaining himself. CEOs, at least publicly, were all about dignity. They had learned from their predecessors that lying, cheating, and stealing proceeded more smoothly on an appearance of dignity, a well-dressed style of prudent solidity and gravity. They expected these qualities not just in their corporate attorneys but in all their retainers. At all costs, preserve your public bearing and dignity, no matter what your mistresses might titter about privately or your wives might be thinking about your double personality.

Lobo decided to tackle the problem head-on and turn a swine's ear into a silk purse. He would go to his CEOs and admit that this was an ambush he hadn't foreseen. He would accept the temporary embarrassment and take the fall, but he would take the hard fall and use it to bounce back more formidably than ever. That was the way he was built. "You have a fighting mad Lobo now," he would tell the CEOs, they of the pursed lips and folded arms, "and you know what a wolf aroused to fury can do to its enemies." Besides, with the gloves off and the spotlight on, he could marshal his forces without inhibition and roll out his attack ads earlier than planned. His growing band of bulldogs could leap into the fray because the war had been declared before the entire nation.

But Lobo wasn't sure his legendary tongue could carry the day. He knew he had to give his CEOs some insightful substance about the news conference and his evaluation of the Meliorists. He also knew that his usual keen powers of observation and analysis had been blunted by the heavenly Yoko, who had recognized him, anointed his name with her pretty lips, and obliterated his storied self-control. He reopened his laptop and began to read the transcript of the news conference, already online, to refresh his memory and fill in the gaps created by his lustful fantasies. He began to apply his fabled powers of concentration, absorbing and memorizing whole sequences, analyzing, synthesizing, and digesting them for the make-or-break meeting with the CEOs, who would no doubt summon him tomorrow morning on the double.

Passing Newark on the Jersey Turnpike, Urduman asked for directions. "Just follow the signs for the Holland Tunnel and I'll tell you what to do from there. I'm on the corner of fifty-third and Madison." When they arrived, Lobo tossed another hundred to the smiling driver, shook his hand, wrote down his license plate number, company name, and cab number, and went into the building in a hat and sunglasses. It was 5:45 p.m. He used a private door to enter his expansive suite, which now covered an entire floor. His secretary had left for the day. Still sweating and fantasizing, Lobo peeled off his clothes, took an ice-cold shower, toweled down, and prepared to do battle. It was going to be a long night. There was an emergency message on his desk phone and another on his computer: "CEO Jasper Cumbersome summons you to an executive session at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, no ifs, ands, or buts." Leaning back in his leather chair, he thought, "Well, I guess I'm lucky they didn't fire me on the spot. It's their curiosity that saved me. Besides, I know too much." He felt his confidence and composure swelling.

The night wore on and Lobo wore well. He was at the height of his powers and combativeness. He would turn adversity into an aggressive asset. He would show the Meliorists that you could humiliate Lobo once but you'd pay for it in multiples. He prepared his presentation for the next morning step-by-step. His plan of attack would soar far above his casual but respectful explanation of what happened at the news conference. At 3:20 a.m. he went home to catch a few hours' sleep, just enough to give him the edge he wanted. At 8:56 a.m., he checked in with Cumbersome's secretary.

In the penthouse boardroom, the CEOs were not in a good mood. They were shaken by the Meliorists' cool determination and extensive groundwork, and appalled by the front-page photographs of Lobo that had people lining up at the newsstands. Spread out on the conference table before them were shots of Lobo looking like a deer in the headlights when Yoko first mentioned his name, Lobo in his flight out the ballroom door, Lobo streaking toward the elevator, Lobo in the elevator surrounded by the press, looking like a snarling canine half-crazed with fright, and finally a posterior view of Lobo diving into the cab. The CEOs couldn't help laughing, furious though they were. It was bad enough that Lobo had suffered deep public humiliation, but what concerned them most was whether it would rub off on them. Thank God none of their names had been mentioned.

Enter Lobo, looking confident, with a calculated touch of contrition. "Good morning. What happened yesterday was caused by a mole somewhere in my office or a careless leak to a third party inimical to our interests. I deeply regret it and have already taken steps to insure that nothing like it will happen again. Its intent was to derail us. It will not," he said firmly, and proceeded to deliver his plan of attack before any of the bosses could break in. "A huge multimedia buy that will completely drown out the so-called Agenda for the Common Good is on for next week. Obviously, should there be another September-eleventh-type sabotage, it would melt the Meliorists down indefinitely, but God forbid. So our campaign to unmask these pseudo-capitalists starts by declaring a fact: Bernard Rapoport's late father was an immigrant from the Soviet Union and a confessed Communist who made no apologies. This first wave of ads will leave the impression that more shockers are on the way for the Meliorists at the personal level. In tandem with this campaign is another wave of ads that uncannily anticipate exactly what the Meliorists told the press we would do-- an endorsement, as I see it, of how effective our message will be. The themes here are that the Meliorists are ruinous to our nation's business climate and our economy's ability to meet the global competition, that they're destabilizing the workforce, that they're bent on costly overregulation that stifles innovation and productivity -- and all this because they're palpably in the grips of a late-life psychiatric crisis."

Lobo paused and swept the CEOs with his steely gaze as he walked to the boardroom's TV and slid a DVD into the player. The ads rolled forth, exquisitely produced and highly emotive, with a small line of type at the bottom identifying their sponsor as a group called For the USA.

For a long moment no one spoke. Lobo was beginning to wonder whether he'd misjudged the quality of the ads when Sal Belligerante said, "They're knockouts. Actually made my all-American blood boil. They catch your attention and keep it. No one will be hitting the remote during these commercial breaks."

"That's just a sampling," Lobo said. "We've got more ads covering every possible variation on the theme of SRO sabotage, tailored to our target states and congressional districts, and we've got them in print, radio, and Internet versions too."

"All well and good as far as it goes," said Justin Jeremiad, "but if your strategy is to slam them personally and at the same time meet their Agenda head on, it's not going to be enough, given what we saw on C-SPAN yesterday. You need a third wave. What is it? With all the money you're spending, you better know by now. We have a lot less time to lose than we thought."

"The third wave? What is it?" Lobo asked, ever more confident that he was off the griddle and turning the tide. "The answer is you and you and you," he said, pointing his finger at the CEOs in turn.

"Just what do you mean by that?" asked CEO Celeste Thackery, in attendance for the first time.

"The third wave is for each of you to take responsibility for threatening to shut down a major US plant or operation and transfer it abroad if these regulations and bills go into effect. You can do it directly or via your extended network of CEO friends. It can't be a bluff, although you can, of course, announce plans already formulated months ago in private to take the plant abroad. That's probably the easiest way to go for the immediate future. Be sure that whatever countries are named aren't all in one region -- for example, China, China, China would create too many problems. It's hard to go after Bernard Rapoport's Communist father while announcing that you're going to lay off workers here and ship whole factories to a giant Communist dictatorship."

Wardman Wise was nodding in approval. "Yes, Lobo, I think what you seek can be arranged on an expeditious schedule. Plants are going overseas every day, to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, and our friends at the Department of Commerce will give us their daily listings, which they used to make public but now do not, for obvious political reasons."

"Excellent, Mr. Wise. To continue. Now that their cat is out of the bag and we've seen their Agenda, we can push the steak-and-potatoes lobbying drive by the Washington corporate establishment. We've already touched base with eighty- two trade associations, fifteen public relations firms, twenty-seven boutique lobbying groups with a heavy presence of former members of Congress and former top congressional staffers, and twenty-six of the most powerful corporate law firms. We put some noses a little out of joint on first contact -- 'Who the hell are you, newcomer?' -- but we quickly mollified them by mentioning our principals and our superior information about the SROs. In Washington power circles, inside information is mother's milk, the currency they trade in, and they realized that by comparison with your humble retainer's knowledge, they were in the dark.

"In two days we're meeting with the directors of three hundred and eighty-two corporate political action committees (PACs) at a private and suitably secured hotel ten miles outside Washington. These PACs are personally well-connected with members of Congress who can be expected to be on our side. Because several dozen of these incumbents are being challenged by the Clean Elections Party, the PAC men will be unusually attentive. I welcome your observations and advice on this meeting, but first a word about yesterday's news conference. I'm sure you all have your own impressions, and I'd like to hear them. For my part, having sat in that room and felt the atmosphere, I can only repeat that these are not dilettantes arrayed against us. We're up against seventeen tough hombres who are supremely confident as a team and individually."

"You forgot the lady, Mr. Lobo'" interjected Celeste Thackery.

"Yes ... yes, of course, the lady ... Yo ... Ms. Ono." Lobo bit back the dreamy smile his lips were trying to form. "As I was saying, the so-called Meliorists did not seem rehearsed. There was nothing slick or scripted in their presentations and answers, and that made the reporters less aggressive than I thought they'd be, even though we know many of them are liberals, unlike their CEOs. The press didn't dwell on the public mobilizations of the last six months -- didn't even ask about the lunchtime rallies, for God's sake -- but it's clear that the SROs are behind all this activism, which is increasingly taking on a life of its own, though most of the money still comes from them and their billionaire friends. Throughout the press conference, there was a disarming quality to the SROs' demeanor and an authentic ring to their words, and I emphasize this point because, as you know, they expressed an eagerness to debate you or any CEO of your choice. The media won't ignore that challenge and will soon be asking who's going to step forward from your ranks, so you've got to make it a priority to find seventeen CEOs who are capable of taking them on in public."

There was an awkward silence around the conference table, until Ichiro Matsuda finally said, "Mr. Lobo, we are active, full-time, busy executives. They are retired and have nothing but time on their hands for their hobbyhorses. Let's have our own retired CEOs debate them."

"I don't think that will go over very well with the press," Lobo said. "And given the wave of valedictories from their retired CEOs, our retired CEOs are going to be less inclined than ever to get into this hornet's nest. Besides, they won't be up to snuff on current controversies and accusations.

"But to return to the press conference, you may have noticed that numerous persons in the audience were not reporters. Nothing unusual about that, except maybe the three gentlemen from reputable private detective firms who were there on our nickel to get a feel for their subjects of interest. There is obviously more to learn about the SROs and their force fields, much more indeed. I'll call the PIs tomorrow with further instructions, the details of which would only bore you. I've also got some sartorial and behavioral advice for them. It's amazing how even the most seasoned private dicks haven't figured out that they have to dress casually, loosen up, and smile once in a while. They're worse than ever now that their profession is so automated."

"Automated, Mr. Lobo?" asked CEO Lester Manchester III.

"Just a way of saying they use more gadgets these days to ply their trade. Now, to continue, I didn't detect any body language indicating envy, disagreement, or dismay in the rest of the SRO lineup when one of them was speaking. Given their legendary egos, I can only presume that their leader, probably Warren Buffett, carefully selected them so that they wouldn't work at cross-purposes and would each have their own unique missions along with the common cause. As for their clutch of legislation, as I've said before, it consists primarily of proposals the corporate world has defeated in the past, so there's no wheel to be invented here. However, what we don't know is what furies may be released in the form of riders and other bills if the revolt of the SROs and their masses gets out of hand. If you know what I mean."

"What do you mean, Lobo?" said Wardman Wise a little impatiently.

"I mean that the revolt may catch on to such a degree that both we and they lose control over it as it moves for a peaceful but for us decidedly uncomfortable rearrangement of the power grid -- and I'm not talking about electricity. I mean that the revolt may become a genuine popular revolution."

CEO Wise shuddered visibly. "I see," he said.

Lobo tried to resist the feeling that he now had the CEOs in the palm of his hand, but he didn't try hard. "In a few days we should know which of the bills will be introduced when. I'll brief you in detail then, but we can't wait. My first two waves and your third wave have to roll out now if we are to take the offensive and not be caught napping."

"The way you were yesterday," said CEO K. Everett Dickerson pointedly. "Quite candidly, Lobo, I still can't get over the collapse of your composure. You were hired in part because you're so quick on your feet. I myself have seen you in far more dire circumstances, when your corporate raids hung by a thread in a courtroom or when a reporter blindsided you at a news conference -- and wham! You always fired back with high-velocity effectiveness. Did something or someone distract you?"
Lobo froze, coughed three times to gain three seconds, took a drink of water to gain two seconds, excused himself to gain two more, and then manfully decided to tell the partial truth and nothing but the partial truth.

"Mr. Dickerson, I can only say that I was concentrating so hard on weaving together everything I was seeing and hearing that I was caught completely off guard. I certainly did not expect to be named. We all have a bad day now and then. It won't happen again, I assure you. You'll get more than your dollar's worth."

This last twist generated a few chuckles among the CEOs, along with a good deal of quiet admiration for the agility of Lobo's answer. Jasper Cumbersome looked around the table at his colleagues and summed up the sense of the meeting.

"Well, Lobo, you've reassured us once again, but you must realize that your margin of error is narrowing. Let's conclude and reconvene in a few days to hear your update. You have your work cut out for you, judging by the media's treatment of the Meliorists. Pretty respectful overall, and some editorials were actually laudatory. Your flight made them look better than they would have, unfortunately."

Lobo could not let this remark pass. He had to leave the meeting on his terms. "Unfortunately and temporarily, Jasper. The psychological makeup of Americans is such that they often favor people who stumble, who show some human frailty. Consider the election campaigns of our recent presidents, who actually surged with the voters when the media hound dogs were trumpeting a weakness, a deficiency, a faux pas. Shrewdness can often turn a setback into a gain. And before we leave here today, I want to add one more observation from the news conference. I didn't notice even a whiff of reluctance in any of the SROs, no voluntary or involuntary indication that they were being led faster than they wanted to go or pushed along by peer pressure. Can you all say the same? Do you all without exception feel the same dynamic harmony and symmetry of energy? It does make a difference when the rubber hits the road, you know."

"Lobo," declared Samuel Slick, "this is as smooth an operation as any collection of prominent, successful, rich CEOs can be. Not even a conspiracy of price-fixers fearful of discovery would operate with such perfectly meshing gears. Fear makes for a powerful glue."

"Well, on that reassuringly sticky note, I bid you a brief farewell and plunge back into my twenty-hour days," Lobo said, and turned to stride out of the boardroom, confident that he had commanded the high ground.

After the door closed, the CEOs shook their heads in amazement at Lobo's suave performance. "Could any of us have pulled the rabbit out of the hat like that in a similarly intimidating environment?" asked Roland Revelie unnecessarily as the meeting broke up.

Lobo got back to his office at 12:25 p.m. and went in by the side door to skim the newspapers laid out on his desk and review some television news tapes. At 1:00 p.m. he went on the office intercom to summon his chief aide de camp and field captains to a meeting in the conference room in an hour. Then he conducted a rigorous review of all the operational mandates and sub-mandates, with their precision timetables and repeated checks before launch.

At 2:00 p.m. sharp, Lobo stood before his dozen captains at the end of a long, narrow mahogany table. A student of history, he had studied photographs of dictators with their subordinates and noticed that the conference table was always long, narrow, and rectangular, with the dictator dominating at the head. No round tables for him. His was a premeditated table.

"O captains, my captains!" he began, knowing that most of them wouldn't catch the reference. Still, it pleased him to invoke Lincoln at this grave hour. "The war is at hand, and we shall strike the first blow. You all have your missions, and I trust you have studied them down to the last detail. Remember, they must fit together as tightly as the stones of the ancient Egyptian pyramids."

"Boss," said Brad Bashem, a seasoned gut-fighter in the political trenches of the past four decades, and an admirer of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Bashem was in charge of Wave One. It was his job to choreograph the business about Bernard Rapoport's father. "Boss, that Commie ad is just too soft. It needs some scarier footage -- Soviet tanks rolling into Budapest, the Rosenbergs, Stalin blockading Berlin --"

"Stalin who?" asked one of the younger captains.

"Oh, Christ," growled Bashem.

With any doubts about the Lincoln reference dispelled, Lobo proceeded to explain to the young man as patiently as possible who Joseph Stalin was and what his regime had done after Lenin's death, and then he explained who Vladimir Lenin was. "All right, enough history lessons," he said. "What do the rest of you think about the ad?"

"I think Brad's right," said Captain Brig Bigelow, who was responsible for Wave Two, the series of print and television ads straight from the old business playbook, with their dire warnings about the catastrophic consequences of passing legislation designed to improve people's lives: THE SKY IS FALLING, AND IT WILL LAND ON THE WORKERS AND THEIR FAMILIES!

Lobo frowned. "Well, maybe you're right. I'll call the Beef Busters and ask them to work something up fast," he said, referring to a Madison Avenue ad agency renowned for thirty-second and one-minute masterpieces that had crushed advocates of even the most appealing and necessary substantive reforms. One of their more recent victories was over bereaved mothers seeking safer crib designs. The Beef Busters left the fluff fights to their lesser colleagues on the Avenue. In the office, they routinely used language like "masticate them," "show the fangs," "send the bleeding hearts to solitary," and "drain the blood from their veins." The office walls were covered with bloodcurdling stills from just about every vampire movie ever made. The war room where they devised their frightful mind-lasers was called Transylvania. The name of their numero uno was Horatio Hadestar, and the firm's business card featured its motto in ghoulish calligraphy: "We push the envelope."

"Are you sure about that, sir?" asked Lobo's aide de camp, Lawrence Nightingale, in a tone of prudent alarm. "Don't the attributes that make the Beef Busters so compelling to us also increase the risk of their going too far? Of course we'll have final review, but we're on an extremely tight schedule, and we may not have time to send them back to the drawing board. And those are very forceful personalities over there."

"Here too," Lobo snapped, "but I applaud your sensitivity to our time constraints, Larry. There can be no slippage. We're not at the nanosecond point yet, but we're getting closer. Equally important is the targeting of our gamma rays, what marketers call positioning but I prefer to call beaming." Lobo paused and gripped the edge of the table. The moment he'd uttered the word "positioning," Yoko flashed into his brain. With a heroic effort, he shoved her back out, but not before some odd facial twitching that did not go unnoticed. Recovering, he proceeded to bark commands regarding the placement strategy for the ads, which he had formulated after much careful mining of data. He assigned one captain the task of tracking the ads in the chosen congressional districts and states so that the immediate fallout could be gauged and the campaign adjusted as necessary. He ordered another to follow the news closely and see what free publicity was provoked by the ads themselves so that such opportunities could be maximized over the coming weeks. The remaining eight captains he divided between Bashem and Bigelow for the urgent work of contacting the media and making the actual buys.

"Exactly how long do we have, boss?" Bashem asked. "When do we declare war? Have you finalized the date yet?"

Lobo gave his captains an ironic smile. "Fourteen July." Bastille Day, another reference that would go right past them. "Next Friday. One week and one day from today."

Groans followed -- that meant another weekend in the office -- but soon yielded to whistles and cheers. Lobo's troops were ready to see some action.


The Meliorists were not idle on that key weekend before the launch of the Agenda. Boisterous rallies filled one city square after another all over the country. Mass Demonstrations made note of one of the better banners, held high by a Congress Watchdog contingent in the Pittsburgh march: "What's the Big Deal About the Agenda's Fair Deals? We Earned Them!"

These were no ordinary marches and rallies. They were professional to the last detail. Experience was adding up. The press could see the cool determination on the faces of the speakers, organizers, and participants. Buckets were passed through the packed crowds for contributions, giving the people a stake in the whole funding effort. Dick Goodwin's pamphlet was passed out by the thousands to eager hands -- the demonstrators were people who read. Some reporters tried random interviews in hopes of showing that these masses were of the great unwashed variety and were being used by the SROs, but their hopes were dashed by the sophistication and plain eloquence of the interviewees. Clearly, months of work had paid off for the Meliorists, who among them managed surprise appearances at twenty-two of the rallies, to the delight of the crowds. The erudite Bernard got a huge ovation at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas, of all places, when he hollered over the public address system, "You know why there are so many Texas rednecks? Because they're red-hot mad about injustice, and they're not going to take it anymore. When they pledge allegiance to the flag and say those last words, 'with liberty and justice for all,' they're going for it big-time -- Texas big-time, and you know it doesn't get any bigger here in the USA." The crowd went wild with laughter and applause, "rednecks" and progressives alike.

The rallies and marches weren't the end of it. By the thousands the participants walked to the local offices of their representatives and senators and formed human chains around the buildings, even the larger federal buildings. No one was inside on a weekend, of course. The purpose of the encirclement was to take photographs, email them to the legislators, and leave huge blowups at the entrances next to big signs that read, "The First of Many Bear Hugs. We'll be back. Love, The People." Other ralliers headed to any number of storefronts that the Redirections projects and their offshoots had rented in low-income neighborhoods. These storefronts were rapidly coming to be viewed as backbones of the community, places staffed with knowledgeable advisers who could tell people where to get help, how to qualify for public services, how to find work or get refunds. Many of the local residents came out to join the marchers in going from tenement to tenement to enlist support for the Agenda.

All the Sunday news shows featured segments on the rallies, their commentators remarking on both the level of organization and the destinations of the marchers right after the rallies broke up. These were no ephemeral events that left behind nothing but bottles and cans, cigarette butts, and paper cups. They left some of that behind too, of course, but the debris was quickly collected, sorted for recycling, and taken away.


On Monday, July 10th, the first pillar of the Agenda for the Common Good was introduced in Congress: the $10.00 minimum wage, with exhaustive backup documentation on the human needs that would be addressed by it and the beneficial consequences that would flow from it.

Tuesday witnessed the introduction of comprehensive health insurance coverage for all citizens, taking off from Medicare but with many refinements in the areas of quality control, cost control, and organized patient participation in the oversight of this nationwide public payment program for the private delivery of healthcare. There would be no more corporate HMOs and many more health cooperatives, no more tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of undiagnosed injuries and illnesses every year. The backup documentation showed that the entire overhaul, preserving choice of doctors and hospitals, was less expensive than the present $6,500 per capita expenditure on healthcare. The statistics were all clearly explained, and the press ate them up, especially the estimated $200 billion annual savings from eliminating computerized billing fraud and abuse because there was only a single payer.

Wednesday was the day for comprehensive tax reform. This bill blew away all other topics on the cable and network news shows. It called for a 0.5 percent sales tax on all stock, bond, and derivatives transactions, higher taxes on pollution, gambling, manufactures of addictive products, and commercial entertainment, restoring tax rates for capital gains, lower taxes on the necessities of life, and a corporate tax neutralizing corporate welfare disbursements. Most dramatically, it abolished the federal tax on incomes below $100,000 per year, reduced or eliminated the blizzard of federal fees for public parks and museums and other public services, and projected a significant surplus. That evening the Meliorists consented to dozens of TV and radio interviews, chatting easily but with authority about the tax bill and the Agenda as a whole, studding their remarks with down-to-earth examples, and generally making viewers and listeners feel like their friendly neighborhood billionaire grandparent had dropped in for a visit.

Lobo watched it all with mounting concern, pushing his captains mercilessly day and night. His kiss fests with the young pit bull became more frequent. He swapped the carrot sticks for celery sticks because the orange tinge to his skin was heading toward pumpkin. He was munching on a celery stick when Horatio Hadestar arrived at noon on Wednesday with a DVD of the Rapoport ad that made Lobo blanch. Over footage of goose-stepping Red Army soldiers, mass starvation in the countryside in the wake of forced collectivization, and heavy iron doors clanging on emaciated prisoners, a stern voice intoned, "Communist dictator Joseph Stalin was one of the biggest mass murderers in history. So-called Meliorist Bernard Rapoport was sired by a Communist who was proud of it, both before he left the Soviet Union and after he immigrated to the United States. The deadly legacy of Communism runs through the Meliorists' so-called Agenda for the Common Good, their Red Plan for America. Guilt by association? Hardly. Bernard Rapoport rarely misses an opportunity to quote Papa. Tell your members of Congress to send the Meliorist Agenda back to Russia, where it came from. Call them at 202-224-3121 or log onto their websites and e-mail them today!"

"Hadestar, you've pushed the envelope right over the cliff," Lobo said when the ominous background music died down.

"Do you want to win or not, Lobo? The public is so saturated with advertising that you've got to hit 'em right between the eyes and sock 'em in the solar plexus. Deep down in your marauding soul you love it, Lobo. Admit it."

"I'm seeing beyond that, Hadestar. way beyond. I'm seeing your ad come back and kick us in the cojones -- not that you'd have much to worry about. I'll call you tomorrow."

As an indignant Horatio Hadestar stormed out of the office without a word, Lobo was already deep in reflection. Should he even bother sending the ad to Cumbersome and company? His reflections turned to reverie. He was back in Little League, pitching in the state championship game, his team ahead five to four in the final inning on his opponents' home field. He had just walked three straight batters, and the bases were loaded, with two outs and a three-two count. The coach gave his catcher the fastball sign, but Lobo threw the lanky batter a slider and struck him out to win the game. A slider in a situation like that was unheard of. Despite the win, the coach was furious, because he knew Lobo's insubordinate impetuousness would come back to haunt him on and off the ballfield.

The coach was right. Snapping himself back to reality, Lobo copied the DVD onto his computer and transmitted the ad to Cumbersome. Two hours later the CEO consensus came back: "So long as all the facts are exactly true, there is no reason to withhold it."

Lobo summoned Bashem and thrust the DVD at him. "Get this to all the media outlets on the A-list right away and report back first thing tomorrow," he commanded, already knowing what Bashem would tell him. There would be no static from the major networks and their particularly finicky morning talk shows, for the simple reason that the Meliorists wanted the broadcast industry to pay rent for the public airwaves. Presto, out went the standards-and-practices malarkey, in came pure self-interest. Open sesame! The Commie ad would be a go.

On Thursday morning. as Captain Bashem was delivering the report Lobo expected, the Solar-Carbohydrate Energy Efficiency Conversion Bill was introduced in Congress, with a dozen senators and a dozen representatives -- a mix of Democrats and Republicans -- as sponsors. They jointly declared America's energy needs a national emergency and urged passage of the bill as a blueprint for the future.

Ted Turner was the proud author of the bill's preamble, titled "The Ecology of Justice." With none of the joshing and sparring that usually marked his style, he portrayed America's dependence on fossil and nuclear fuel as a grave threat to national security, and the resultant pollution as a silent and expanding form of violence against the health and well-being of the citizenry. He described specific measures like closed-loop systems of pollution control, precycling, and recycling, in close coordination with relevant reforms of the tax system; he charted the course for an expeditious displacement of fossil and nuclear fuel through several innovative strategies to be laid out in the bill itself; and he persuasively connected it all with a soaring vision of the goals that could be achieved by enactment: clean air and water, a diminishment of environmentally caused disease, an expansion of affordable housing, and even an end to hunger.

The bill's first section dealt with new efficiencies for fossil fuel that would increase BTU productivity greatly over the next dozen years -- more output from less energy -- and reduce pollution as a result of the more efficient conversions. Backing up this feasible projection were written statements from the well-known experts Art Rosenfeld, Amory Lovins, and Paul Hawken. Section Two laid out an accelerated national solar energy mission -- passive solar architecture and active solar thermal, photovoltaic, biomass, wind, and some tidal. Section Three was devoted to fiscal conversions. It stripped the fossil and nuclear companies of all the tax breaks, subsidies, and rapid depredations that kept the playing field so uneven, and allocated these benefits to startup renewables at more modest levels. Federal procurement of products and buildings was to be guided by the massive solar conversion called for in Section Two, as was federal research and development. Reductions in government contracting waste would fund a program offering financial assistance to consumers who wanted to go green with their purchases and their homes. The final section dealt with citizen empowerment, asserting an affirmative government responsibility to facilitate the formation of advocacy, oversight, and cooperative associations dealing with energy matters. The idea was to aggregate the power of consumers -- economic and political -- at the consumption end of the energy production stream.

One new feature of the legislation's background documentation -- perhaps attributable in part to the Sun God festivals and sustainable economy shows -- was supportive testimony from a few representatives of coal, gas, oil, and nuclear power companies speaking the same language: "If the sun is profitable, we'll go sun. It's safer, it's cleaner, it's abundant, it's everywhere, no one can deplete it, expropriate it, or tax it, and it'll be around for another four billion years. Just make it profitable and we'll never look back." The documentation also included a predictable condemnation of the bill from the US Chamber of Commerce and a rousing endorsement from the PCC.

In his office in Manhattan, Lobo was receiving reports on the reaction to the energy legislation from his people on the Hill -- they were alarmed because there were more Republican defections to this bill than any of the others -- but he scarcely gave them a glance. He'd had a tip about a big announcement coming any minute from Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, and he was glued to C-SPAN. Sure enough, shortly before 11:00 a.m., CEO Leighton Clott strode to a phalanx of microphones in front of the headquarters building, flanked by his board of directors.

"Ladies and gentlemen, a brief statement. Throughout its history, Wal-Mart has succeeded because it has responded to reality. The past weeks have presented us with a new reality -- a drive of unprecedented organization, spearheaded from without, to make us abandon the business model that has worked so well for Wal-Mart customers and Wal-Mart shareholders for nearly half a century. Our new business model will require us to adjust prices to respond to higher wages and benefits. Henceforth Wal-Mart will offer no opposition, philosophical or operational, to unionization. If Wal-Mart associates want to establish themselves through union structures, store by store or nationwide, the board of directors and management will accept the collective bargaining choice and work through those frameworks for the benefit of our associates and our company. One last personal word, to Sol Price. Congratulations, Sol. You began your career as the pioneer of the modern discount chain, and you end it as the pioneer of the price hike movement. Thank you, and good day."

Lobo grabbed a handful of celery sticks. Oh, brother, talk about watching Goliath come crashing down. The Wal-Mart capitulation was really going to gum up the works. The story was huge, with way more than a day's worth of legs. It was a defeat by proxy of Lobo's CEOs. It was demoralizing. It would be seen as a people's victory, since the weeks and weeks of news coverage had focused not on Sol Price and his billionaires but on the workers, picketers, and small businesses -- the people, dammit! What would Lobo say to the CEOs? They'd want to know why he didn't see this coming, what he was going to do about the week's launch. What was he going to do? Should he delay the Commie ad or pull it altogether? Should he push back the rollout date for Wave Two?

Lobo sat at his desk wolfing celery sticks. He invited no counsel from his associates. He had to think this through alone. He went into the private suite adjoining his office, shut the door, and whistled for the pit bull. Then, feeling a little more relaxed, he turned off the lights, lay down on the couch, and allowed his 100 billion neurons, give or take, to whir.

Ten minutes of whirring later, he decided to let the Commie ad run the next evening as scheduled. For one thing, it would show weakness on the part of the CEOs to concede another setback and display hesitation in the midst of the first week's pitched battle. Besides, regardless of its reception, the ad would distract the Meliorists and the public, and cast the CEO front group as the aggressive, daring protagonist. It was time for action, not reaction. He would have no surprises for the CEOs. He would stay the course with his three waves. The Meliorists were the talk of the country, the talk of the talk shows, the talk of the news and the late-night comedy shows. There was no public patience for a detailed rebuttal of the Agenda legislation. The Meliorists had generated such a pervasive public mood in their favor that the need to reverse it with a negative campaign was greater than ever.

Lobo summoned his captains to his office over the intercom and gave them the final go-ahead for Operation Rapoport. He told them to anticipate every conceivable backlash to the Commie ad so they would have an instant response capability, with no loss of initiative for Wave Two next week. Then he called Hadestar and ordered an immediate modification of the ad. It had to end with a question, not a condemnation. Instead of a blunderbuss approach that might just blunder, it had to plant corrosive seeds of doubt.

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Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:35 pm

PART 4 OF 4 (CH. 13 CONT'D.)

The Wal-Mart news hit like a rocket. "Capitulation!" the late-edition headlines screamed. "Wal-Mart to Be Unionized!" "Stock Analysts Fear Inflation!" "PROs Bring Wal-Mart to Its Knees'" Reporters flooded Sol with requests for interviews. He decided to accommodate them with a brief press conference at a rented hotel ballroom in San Diego at 6:00 p.m. By 5:30 p.m., the place was packed to the rafters -- SRO, Sol noticed with a wry smile as he strolled in half an hour later and sat down at the front table. He had no statement other than, "I'll take your questions now."

"What led mighty Wal-Mart to capitulate so suddenly, given its longstanding take-no-prisoners reputation?" shouted Roger Diamond of the LA Times.

"Not so suddenly. Two factors. Management was beginning to lose some control to outsiders, and sales were down in a couple hundred stores. They saw these two trends continuing to intensify and decided like the smart company they are to cut their losses." Fran Jordan of CNN managed to get herself recognized amidst the clamor. "You say loss of control to outsiders. Were you the chief outsider, Mr. Price, and who are the rest?"

"A number of my fellow Meliorists and others known to you in a general sense -- some Wal-Mart workers, some ex-Wal- Mart workers, some competing small businesses, many peaceful picketers, and all mom-and-pop stores on the deserted Main Streets all over America. Oh, and several vocal billionaires who got their calls returned," Sol added, calling on a San Diego Union reporter he'd known for years.

"Wal-Mart says in effect that they're going to have to raise prices and you're to blame, Sol. Do you agree?"

"Would they have to raise prices if they lowered the price they pay in salaries, bonuses, stock options, and perks for their top executives and upper management? Wal-Mart has realized enormous savings from constant advances in labor productivity, through automation and the like. Would they have to raise prices if they passed those savings on to consumers? Just give me a look at their books and I'm sure I can help them find plenty of other ways to avoid raising their prices. In the meantime, their workers will have more money to spend on goods and services. Isn't that the way Costco operates? Isn't that good for the economy? Wasn't that always the way in our economy before Wal-Mart? Of course. And now just one more question, as I'm pressed for time this evening."

Abe Simon of the San Francisco Chronicle elbowed his way out of the pack. "Mr. Price, you took on the biggest corporation in the world and beat it. Are you proud of what you did? And what's your encore?"

"I think a better word is 'pleased.' I'm immensely pleased that billions of dollars a year will be going to underpaid, overworked Wal-Mart employees and their families. As for encores, you all saw the Meliorist news conference on the fifth, I'm sure. The victory over Wal-Mart will energize millions of low-paid workers to roll up their sleeves and rally behind our Agenda for the Common Good, now pending before Congress. It may also energize the CEOs amassed against us behind their chosen warrior, Mr. Lobo. That remains to be seen. Thank you for corning on such short notice."

Sol wasn't trying to dodge the media when he said he was pressed for time. He was not about to rest on his laurels regarding Wal-Mart. He foresaw a rush of existing unions moving in on the Wal-Mart scene to organize this large population of downtrodden workers one store at a time or one supply depot at a time. Sol had his sights set on one national Wal-Mart union, independent of other unions and setting high standards for union democracy and membership participation.

He went straight home from the press conference and got on the phone with his field organizers and SWAT teams. He told them to stay in place on the ground, keep working with the support constituencies of existing and former Wal-Mart employees, and let the small businesses in the five communities sell off their inventory. His plan was to use his great prestige with the Wal-Mart workers to call a national organizing convention in Chicago in early August. His teams were to find two representatives from each Wal-Mart Superstore and associated installations to send to Chicago. Sol continued to work the phones for the next two hours, until he had lined up all the necessary legal, negotiating, and logistical personnel, including three respected veteran labor negotiators who agreed to chair the proceedings. At the closed-circuit briefings that night -- the Secretariat had added an end-of-day wrap-up because of the pace of events -- the Meliorists agreed to pay travel and hotel expenses for the nearly ten thousand Wal-Mart workers to the convention.

In his heyday as king of the major discount chains, Sol had chosen his management staff with care, interviewing them personally and peppering them with questions and hypotheticals before taking them on board. He was a master at delegating responsibility, so much so that his family jokingly accused him of abdication. But it had worked then, and it would work now, in this final chapter of the Wal-Mart revolution.


Friday was drop-in-the-hopper day for the Equity in the Distribution of Wealth bill, which was far more nuanced than its title suggested. The preamble narrated the grim facts about the widening gap in returns on capital as compared with labor. It took crisp note of the winner-take-all nature of the contemporary economy, which rewarded the concentration of power, not merit or hard work or even, in most instances, innovation. It outlined four causes of the concentration of power in corporations and in the wealthiest classes: first, the maldistribution of the tax burden through loopholes and the diversion of taxpayer dollars into corporate welfare giveaways that swelled the coffers of big companies whose stock was held largely by upper-income investors; second, the maldistribution of law enforcement, not just in underenforcement against corporate crime and fraud, but also in negotiating paltry cash settlements of the few corporate prosecutions that were undertaken, without any admission of wrongdoing or any sanction against the corporations; third, the government corporate contracting complex, in which companies were allowed to keep patent rights to taxpayer-funded innovations and receive the unearned increment of government contracts -- from surges in the value of land or licenses, for example -- for other commercial and proprietary uses; and finally, the stupendous imbalance of political power, which was effectively in the hands of the giant corporations and gave them incalculable policy leverage on issues affecting their vested interests, such as the minimum wage and universal health insurance.

Following the bill's preamble were four sections paralleling these four causes with corrective legislation. What the Republican cosponsors liked about the legislation as a whole was that it would reduce the size of government, respect the use of tax dollars, crack down on corporate outlaws, and protect the public's property from being given away or sold for a fraction of its marketplace worth. They also liked the provision giving small business and regular people the same access to government as the big boys. They did not particularly care for Section Four, which provided for full public financing of federal elections, but they tolerated it because it was probably unconstitutional under the existing doctrine of "money is speech," and besides, they could probably lop it off during the give-and-take over the legislation should it move toward enactment. What they did not yet know but would shortly find out was that the progressives had put the public financing provision in several other bills in a form that would pass constitutional muster. Section Four was clever negotiating bait to give up in return for broader support from legislators. The bill's chief sponsor was not named Terrence Tradeoff for nothing.

Friday afternoon, as the corporate media was readying an all-out assault on the bill as "the mother of all class warfare legislation," the Meliorists blanketed the airwaves with the first of the series of ads they had prepared in anticipation of a Chicken Little scare campaign from their opponents. Lobo couldn't believe his eyes. He'd been scooped. He taped the Meliorist ads and watched them again and again, grudgingly admitting to himself that they were masterful -- ingenious, penetrating, and insightful. Thank God he hadn't decided to pull the Commie ad, which would air in just a few hours on the local evening news nationwide. Once again his native combativeness would prevail. Lobo didn't need Max Palevsky to tell him what words-over-deeds travesty was about to unfold. He knew in his bones which story was going to lead the nightly television network news, and it wasn't going to be a bill proposing the most radical redistribution of wealth in the nation's history. It wasn't even going to be the Wal-Mart debacle. No, the slider was going in again, and the game was his.


In Waco, Texas, Bernard was at home with his wife watching the CBS Evening News when lo and behold, onto the screen came a picture of Papa wearing his trademark 1930s fedora, then a contemporary head shot of Bernard, and then a sequence of historical footage narrated in a menacing baritone with even more menacing background music. Then Bernard's picture filled the screen again, and the voice asked, "Would you entrust your future, your children's future, to this man?"

Bernard sat stunned on the couch as anchorman Rob Shiffer, having played free of charge most of the ad that had run commercially an hour ago, proceeded to provide the context -- Bernard's appearance on Oprah back in January to promote his Egalitarian Clubs, the more recent activities of the Meliorists, the introduction of the Agenda -- and then brought on the usual pro and con pundits. "It's about time to call a spade a spade. Billionaires in their dotage can afford to be communists as long as they get theirs before the vast wasteland comes to America," said Ima Wright of the Joseph McCarthy Memorial Institute. Hugh R. Knott of the Nelson Proxmire Center shook his finger at her. "When shady groups like the one behind this ad don't have the facts, they resort to smears. Bernard Rapoport is the capitalists' capitalist. He just wants to reduce the greed. He loved his father, who left this earth sixty-six years ago and was a peaceful man who abhorred violence."

"Yes!" exclaimed Bernard, jumping up and spilling a cup of tea on the rug.

"Yes!" echoed Audre.

The phone started to ring -- the house phone, the cell phone, the private phone. Bernard picked up the private phone. It was a conference call from Luke Skyhi and Evan Evervescent, Barry's right-hand man at Promotions.

"You've seen the ad, Bernard?" Luke asked. "Unbelievable."

"Yes, I've seen it. Factually it's all accurate, except that Papa left Russia before the Soviet Union came into existence. If he was still around, he'd be having a ball answering these creeps. He had a lot of practice in the twenties and thirties when the Commie scare was growing."

"It's obviously too early to assess how damaging or distracting the ad will be in terms of the Agenda," Evan said, "but evening and late-night cable and radio are dominated by the right, so you can be sure they're going to run the string out on this. And you know they preach to the converted, so the call-ins will be even more vicious. Two questions: Do you want to respond to interview requests tonight and tomorrow? And should we put together a quick counter-ad? We just spoke to Hillsman a minute ago, and he's licking his chops."

"Well, you fellows are a lot younger and far more proficient in public relations than I am, but my instinct is just to make fun of . . . Who took credit for the ad anyway? That type at the bottom was too small for an old man to read."

Luke laughed. "Too small for anyone. It's some bullshit front group called For the USA, but we know from Bill Joy that Lance Lobo is behind it."

"Perfect," Bernard said. "Sure I'll do interviews, and I'll slam the ad for what it is: Wolfshit. How's that? Smother them with ridicule, laugh them out of the ballpark. Hell, even 'rednecks' aren't afraid of communists anymore -- if they can find any. The scare word today is 'terrorists.' I don't think you should spend a dime on Hillsman. It'll blow over because I'll blow it through the roof. I've always wished more Americans could know about Papa, since he loved our country so much, even with all the warts he complained about daily. This is my chance, thanks to Wolfshit. Go ahead and set me up with the media. Let's do telephone interviews on radio for tonight and concentrate on television for tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'll send you a short statement for the morning papers so Lobo's handiwork doesn't get all the ink."

"Bernard, you are one cool dude," Luke said. "Okay, Evan and I will line up the interviews, and I'll put out a paragraph from the PCC mentioning, among other points, that you're a capitalist who makes a big deal of saying that capitalism doesn't have enough capitalists and that greedy giant business isn't good for any economy, any democracy, any society."

"Go to, Luke, put out whatever you want. All to the good. But this one is basically mine. Can you get Lobo to debate me?"

"Evan, what do you think?" Luke asked.

"I'll put out a challenge in your name right away, Bernard, and you can challenge him directly when you're on the air. I'm sure he won't welcome another outing. These guys thrive in the shadows, in the dark recesses of their executive suites."

"Oh, I'll challenge him all right. How's this? 'I hereby challenge Lancelot Lobo, the creator of this hilariously dirty ad campaign, to a debate. If he accepts, I'll unmask him as a corporate wolf in sheep's clothing. If he declines, I'll treat him to dinner: braised mutton with a side of fried timberwolf tongue.' Or will that get me in trouble with the animal rights folks?"

An image of a supercilious waiter setting a steaming plate in front of Lobo arose simultaneously in the three callers' minds, and they plunged into an involuntary laughing jag that lasted a good two minutes. Finally, Bernard managed to choke out, "This is better than exercise, boys. I feel so refreshed. I can actually feel my blood circulating."

"According to the latest medical findings, hard laughter is equivalent to vigorous exercise like running and swimming," said Luke, drawing on his immense knowledge of factoids, and going off into another aerobic peal.

"Get a grip, Luke,' Evan said, but he was laughing too. He pulled himself together. "How long do you want to go this evening, Bernard? I want you to do the big stations for sure, but I don't want to ignore some of the smaller ones. We'll keep them all short."

"Hell, I could go all night, but let's say three hours with ten one-minute breaks interspersed through each hour so I can rest my voice and drink some water. Start in thirty minutes. I'll have a few words up to you by then. Hasta la vista."

Bernard hung up and went to his study, laughing all the way. He poured himself a glass of wine, sat down at his computer, and began typing.

The claws of Lancelot Lobo ripped through national television screens a short while ago. Greased by fat-cat money, Lobo's jaws came down hard on truth and decency. Leave my beloved, long-departed father out of this fight for America's future, Lobo. Papa was a humble peddler who went door to door to support Mama and us three children. Yes, he was a communist, if a communist is someone who believes that working people and the downtrodden deserve the necessities of life, but he also thought that anything beyond that basic level of economic security was fair game for initiative and competition. He abhorred dictatorships and violence. He left Russia before it became the Soviet Union and turned communist theory into brutal totalitarianism. Call him a biblical Jewish communist, because all his life he believed in the equality of mankind, equal justice, and an equal chance for everyone. Lobo, emerge from your den. I'm your full moon, and I challenge you to bay at me in a televised debate on the conditions so many Americans have to suffer and endure because of corporate domination of a puppet government. Debate me or go down in history as a corporate wolf in coward's clothing.

Bernard sat back and reviewed his statement. Satisfied, he emailed it to Luke and Evan, with a copy to his son Ronald, a professor of political science in Virginia. Then he took another sip of wine to fortify himself and spent the next three hours talking to three dozen interviewers, from Hawaii to Maine, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, who all wanted to find out whether he had any Commie DNA. He did the big right-wing shows, calmly answering questions from a lot of snarling callers and a few sympathetic ones, among them some of the "rednecks" from the Dallas rally. He lost no opportunity to regale his listeners with stories about Papa, his faith in hard work, his favorite proverbs and nuggets of wisdom, his real family values, his compassion for the down-and-out, his skepticism about party politicians, his belief in the creative spirit of rebels, whether political rebels or ordinary people who know that a lot of what they're supposed to believe just ain't so, and above all, his passion for justice. Whenever Bernard felt himself flagging, he thought about how much Papa loved a good argument and how proud he would have been of his son.

By the end of the night, even some of the most savage talk show hosts in the country had nothing but praise for Bernard. After all, he was a super-successful capitalist and philanthropist, a man who made his fortune by wit and work and knew the language of the people because he came from them. After a warm glass of milk with honey, Bernard crawled into bed and fell contentedly asleep beside Audre, ready for the next day's media hoedown.

In the morning, he rose at the crack of dawn to be ready for a live TV special hosted from New York by Tatie Youric, queen of the weekday a.m. airwaves, soon-to-be network news anchor. Sitting comfortably in his study with the CBS cameras trained on him, Bernard spoke eloquently about Papa while Tatie nodded and waited for an opening to ask one of her hard-hitting questions. When Bernard paused to clear his throat, she said, "Your father sounds like a lovely man, Mr. Rapoport, but can you tell us about your own economic philosophy? Does it go beyond making billions by selling insurance?"

Bernard gave her a warm smile. "That's a good question, Tatie, and I'll answer it the way Papa would have, with a story. About a year ago I was having lunch with a top executive of Bank of America, and I was giving him an earful about the badness of bigness in business -- nice phrase, with all that alliteration and sibilance, don't you think, Tatie? Feel free to use it. Anyway, he wasn't buying it, of course, so I said to him, 'Dexter' -- let's call him Dexter, Tatie -- I said to him, 'Dexter, if your bank gets into serious trouble, the federal government will bail you out with taxpayer money. You're so huge that you're on the Federal Reserve's too-big-to-fail list.' Now, Tatie, if instead of one giant dominant bank, there were twelve smaller banks and one of them was going down, the taxpayers wouldn't be required to save it because the other banks would pick up the business. And it isn't just about the taxpayers. If you want to put your money in a bank, or if a business does, it's natural to prefer the extra safety of Bank of America, which is backstopped by the US treasury. The very size of an institution like that gives it an unfair competitive advantage over smaller banks, which have to sink or swim with nothing but FDIC insurance behind them. Does that philosophy sound 'Commie' to you, Tatie? The Bank of America is redder than Papa ever was, with Uncle Sam as its silent partner."

"Well," Tatie said briskly, "you make a point, Mr. Rapoport, but I'm afraid our time is up. Thank you. After the break, we'll be back with Sly Psikick, who has just broken the world record for eating the most sardines in fifteen minutes."

By midday on Sunday, after Bernard had made the rounds of all the press shows, there was nothing left of Lobo's seedy salvo except egg on his face. The CEOs had summoned him to a command performance first thing in the morning, and the media was besieging his office with calls about responding to Bernard's debate challenge. "Ignore them," he told Lawrence Nightingale. "It will only add fuel to the fire. It should be obvious even to a first-year PR major at Podunk U that I am not the issue."


Lobo was very much the issue around the conference table in the penthouse boardroom as the CEOs waited for him to arrive on Monday morning. When he did, they greeted him with a stony silence.

"Sit down, Lobo," CEO Cumbersome said curtly. "It appears that you started too late and are reaping the bitter fruits of the SROs' advance preparation and media savvy. The collapse of the Commie ad is most distressing. Our opponents beat us to the punch, perhaps in possession of some of your internal tactical memos. And the collapse of Wal-Mart, while in no way attributable to you, has added immeasurably to their momentum and to the morale of the masses. There are grounds for dismay around this table. What do you have to say for yourself?"

Lobo rose and squared his shoulders. If there was ever a time for inner steel, this was it. "May I remind you, Jasper, that you signed off on the ad. Clever as Rapoport's response was, the seeds of doubt have been sown, and will flourish with the rollout of Wave Two later today. Our congressional allies are about to meet with the president to synchronize our opposition to the SRO avalanche of legislation and regulatory petitions. I've whipped the laggard trade and professional groups into a semblance of shape behind us. But the bottom line, as I've said time and again, is all of you. You're the only ones who can galvanize your immensely powerful but complacent corporate brethren. I've just recently crossed the aisle. They don't know me well, and they don't trust me. I'm your facilitator, your adviser, your agitator, and your cover for derring-do, but you're the armored division, the heavy lifters in Washington, the know-how. You're going to have to go all out with your power and prestige, and in the final analysis you're going to have to put yourselves on the front lines mano-a-mano with the Meliorists.

"It takes two hands to clap. Your hand is invisible, and while that may be fine in the world of Adam Smith, it's phantom suicide for your declared mandate to me. Even if you raise five times the two billion you've pledged, you won't be able to buy your way out of the SRO vortex. For the first time in your lucrative lives, your money will not be enough. If Bernard Rapoport hadn't gone out head and heart first, our Commie ad wouldn't have been shredded in twenty-four hours. Do I make myself clear?" Lobo asked with a withering look, then sat down and folded his arms across his chest.

An uncomfortably long silence ensued. The CEOs fidgeted. They had expected contrition from Lobo, not aggression. Their expressions reflected embarrassment, indignation, discomfort, resentment, and wariness, with an occasional flash of grudging recognition. Finally Hubert Bump, who hadn't said a word all month, rose slowly from his chair.

"My fellow CEOs, Lobo speaks the truth, disagreeable as he may be. In the face of an external threat like communism, we all know what it takes to get the masses and the politicians behind us, but this is a seismic revolt from within, a revolt from the very top by business peers who have seized our controlling ideology and turned it against us. We're done for if we think we can prevail merely by beefing up the old war chest and redoubling the old battle plans. To effect the counterrevolution, we must revolutionize ourselves. We must go where no business leaders have gone before, do what no business leaders have done before, and above all think like no business leaders have thought before. The debacle of the past weekend that has catapulted Bernard Rapoport to fame and made him a national hero illustrates perfectly the old way of thinking. We set out to red-bait a billionaire who made it the hard way, by his bootstraps, more Horatio Alger than Horatio himself. Who were we kidding? Soon the second wave will be underway -- scare 'em out of their wits. It may slow the speeding train a little -- to our financial disadvantage, incidentally, and not only in the stock markets -- but what if it doesn't stop the train? Then we're left with the desperation stand at the Khyber Pass, and even if we win on the Hill, we're assured of losing, both on Election Day and in terms of the SRO Agenda next year. And then where are we? Where is Lobo? What's left of our dominion, our reputation among our peers and countrymen? With or without our consent, our identities will be made public shortly. First impressions are critical. Do we hide and confirm the public's worst suspicions about how we use our formidable powers, or do we step forth with strength of purpose, real concern for the issues, and a healthy dose of humility?

"All my life people have made fun of my name, and I can't blame them. Who would name a child Hubert Bump? But the teasing hurt, almost destroyed me -- you know how cruel kids can be -- so when I was twelve, I told my parents that I wanted to change my name. It was then that they showed me their greatness. Mom and Dad sat me on the couch between them, put their arms around me, dried my tears, and told me about my ancestors on my mother's Hubert side and my father's Bump side, a long line of people who fought for our country, founded great enterprises, created jobs, became explorers and inventors. Did my valorous forebears allow their names to hinder them? What would they say from the heavens if they could see me now? 'Hubert,' my dad told me that day on the couch, 'always remember what Great-grandfather Silas Bump used to say. "The great ones turn adversity into success." Adversity into success, Hubert. Being teased about your name doesn't even come close to adversity. You're not sick, you're not bleeding, you're not dim, you're not poor, cold, hungry, and homeless. You're Hubert Bump, and you will rise to unprecedented heights on the shoulders of all the Huberts and Bumps before you."

"Those words changed my life. As you know, I kept my name and went on to some success in the scientific, academic, and business worlds. What my parents did for me we must now do for ourselves. Facing demoralization and disaster, we must turn ourselves around and ask this question: What is the purpose of big business if it is not to deliver an economy that provides sufficient livelihoods, a safe environment, and yes, even 'liberty and justice for all'? You may say that these objectives are not our responsibility, that our only responsibility is to run productive businesses and make a profit for our investors. That is a myth of a bygone age. Let us not deceive ourselves. We run this country. We own this government. We control capital, labor, technology, we shape expectations, and we can pick up our marbles and go overseas if any force defies us here. That is, until now. We must live in the present, not in our nearly omnipotent past. And living in the present, seeing what's coming over the ramparts right now, can we not think more grandly of our functions?

"Since January I have been closely studying and analyzing the activities and groundbreaking challenges of the SROs, the resources they have committed both in money and personal capital. If the rest of you have to hit your heads against this advancing wall in the next few weeks to learn the lesson I've learned, go right ahead. You're certainly on track to do just that. But I repeat: first impressions are lasting impressions, and first losses tend to multiply themselves. Consider these words well at this juncture when our saturation scare campaign is about to flow into millions of living rooms."

There was another long silence. CEO Roland Revelie broke it. "Hubert, thank you for your deeply felt and eloquently conveyed expressions. I'm sure all of us can read between your lines. I have always respected your intellect and your ability to connect theory with practice, but there are times when profound insight breeds pessimism and pessimism breeds unintended folly. As I listened to you, I couldn't help wondering why you didn't make this presentation at one of our earlier meetings. You speak flatteringly of our power, but whose power is it? Even conceding a new direction, we are merely a self-selected ad hoc group of concerned executives."

"If I catch the drift of the exchange between our two distinguished colleagues," said Wardman Wise, "the current situation presents us with a constructive hiatus to observe and deliberate, as long as the spotlight for the second wave and the media reaction to it shines on the Washington lobbies, PR firms, and law firms. That will give us a respite during which to make a considered evaluation from the sidelines. I don't think the Washington lobbies will mind in the least taking credit for the second wave. What say you, Lobo?"

After the pummeling he'd taken in recent weeks, Lobo was ready for a hiatus. "I believe that can be arranged, and I think it's warranted, because it gives us two bites of the apple if we're really going to consider revising our strategy along the revolutionary lines suggested by Mr. Bump. I believe that's the subtext to what I heard just now, but you may not want to get into it with me presently. That is at your discretion, and I am at your service."

"Thank you, Lobo," CEO Cumbersome said. ''We are all absorbing the subtext right now, but I don't think any of us wants to open that door at this time. Do I reflect the sense of the meeting?"

Most of the CEOs were too perplexed and alarmed by the unexpected turn of the discussion to do anything but murmur their concurrence.

"Very well, we are adjourned," Cumbersome said.

"By the way, Lobo was right about On Leadership. Read it," Norman Noondark added as Lobo was making his exit.

Back at his office, Lobo heaved a sigh of relief. He knew it was a gamble to come on so strong with the CEOs, but it had paid off and won him an unlikely ally in the person of Hubert Bump. Now all he had to do was steer the Washington lobbyists as per his instructions. He'd already worked with them extensively to get them on board, but to finish the job he'd need a Washington insider. He called Brovar Dortwist.

"I've just come from headquarters, Brovar, and I need you to head up our Washington office to strengthen and accelerate the Washington lobbies' opposition to the SROs. You won't believe the budget and staff you'll have."

"What took you so long, Lobo? The money may be in New York City, but the political power is here in DC. Why don't you come down pronto so we can discuss design and implementation?"

"Fine, how about Wednesday?" Lobo said.

"How about tomorrow?" said Brovar.


Meanwhile, as if Lobo and Wal-Mart and the subtext weren't enough to contend with, the CEOs learned upon returning to their offices that the greatest proposed shift of power since the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was heading toward public hearings in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in the form of the last two bills of the Meliorist Agenda.

The first of them, the Electoral Reform Bill, was essentially the longstanding menu of reforms advocated by citizen groups for years but never passed. The bill called for public financing of campaigns, uniform and less restrictive ballot access rules, publicly sponsored debates, broadcast licensing adjustments to give all ballot-qualified candidates free airtime for six weeks before Election Day, elimination of the Electoral College, binding none-of-the-above for each ballot line, and a voting age of sixteen. Standing-to-sue rights for all citizens seeking to enforce the bill's provisions on a fast track because of election deadlines were also mandated.

The second bill, grandly called the Expansion of Dynamic Democracy Act, lived up to its name with its detailed provisions for an across-the-board shift of power from the few to the many. It interpreted the Constitution as authorizing an affirmative governmental duty to cultivate the political and civic energies of the people. The constitutional theory came from a little book crisply titled "Here, the People Rule," by distinguished Harvard law professor Richard Parker, and the preamble to the legislation, written by Dick Goodwin, would have made Thomas Jefferson proud. It explained clearly the functional relationship between democracy and what people want out of life. It detailed all the various levels of democracy from national elections right down to community spirit and individual aspiration. It distinguished between rights and duties, freedom and power, civic motivation and personal indulgence. It argued for the claims that true democracies have to make on the time and talents of their citizens if government is to work for their well-being. Finally, it spoke of civic personality -- that crucial trait that moves the aware mind to determined action.

The preamble was followed by the text of the actual legislation, which ran to several pages in the Congressional Record.

SECTION ONE: Every citizen of the United States, of any age, shall have legal standing to pursue claims in courts of federal jurisdiction without limit or exemption, whether private or public in nature, whether filed against the government or private persons.

SECTION TWO: Corporations, partnerships, and legal associations of any kind shall not be deemed "persons" for purposes of applying or interpreting the US Constitution. "Person" is hereby defined by law as "human being."

SECTION. THREE: The government of the United States, through its departments, agencies, and federally delegated authorities and incorporations such as the US Postal Service, shall facilitate affirmatively, and with all deliberate speed, opportunities for the citizenry to organize themselves vis-a-vis the mandates, activities, and pursuits of such departments, agencies, and delegated authorities. These civic associations shall be independent of government and open to all, with reasonable annual dues not to exceed $50. Their boards of directors shall be duly elected in accordance with bylaws promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission within six months of the enactment of this legislation. The Congress shall revisit this mandate each year through public hearings and reports in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

SECTION FOUR: All public corporations and their associated entities with revenues exceeding $1 billion a year shall provide well-promoted checkoffs so that their shareholders, customers, and workers can form voluntary associations to represent their collective interests in all public arenas where policy, grievances, and suggestions are considered. "Public arenas" are defined as the courts, the legislatures, the executive branch agencies, and all forums for mediation, voluntary arbitration, and the settling of disputes, be they governmental or corporate.

SECTION FIVE: Intermediary institutions shall be established to facilitate the organization of workers vis-a-vis their pension fund managers, and of viewers and listeners vis-a-vis their television and radio stations. There shall be similar facilitation of organized popular access to and participation in the control of commonwealth assets owned by the people, including the natural resources on public lands and the government's intellectual property.

SECTION SIX: The federal government shall require the public elementary and secondary schools receiving federal funds to introduce civic curriculums that engage students in the public life of their communities and their nation, and shall provide funding for such curriculums. The objective of this section is to graduate students with a broad array of civic skills and knowledge to match the demands and opportunities of a deliberative democratic society in the 21st century.

Unlike the reaction to previous Agenda bills, the media response to the electoral reform and democracy legislation was "Dullsville." Replacing the two-party elected dictatorship, abolishing the farce of an Electoral College that allowed a presidential candidate to lose the popular vote and win the election, giving the vote to young people who could legally work and drive a car, empowering the people to take control of every aspect of their government and their public life -- nope, just not sexy enough. But Promotions had anticipated the media's big ho-hum, and when viewers all over the country turned on their TVs on Monday evening, there was Patriotic Polly. Over a running caption with capsule highlights of the two bills and lists of federal phone numbers, the famous parrot squawked, "Build democracy! It's only your life!" Polls commissioned by the Meliorists a few days later found that "Dullsville" had a higher public awareness level than all the other bills except for health insurance and a living wage.


Tuesday morning, the president of the United States left the Oval office unobtrusively and went over to the old Indian Treaty Room, where so many promises had been made to Native American tribes and subsequently broken. Sitting around the large table were his key allies in the House and Senate, the core congressional enforcers of the corporate government, so trusted by the plutocracy that there was no need for any direct corporate presence.

Everyone rose as the president entered the room "Sit yourselves down, boys," he said with an impatient wave. "Listen, the White House switchboard is flooded. All the operators are hearing is Agenda, Agenda, Agenda -- support the Agenda, pass the Agenda. The country's going bananas. Are you getting the same heat on the Hill?"

''We are, Mr. President," said Senator Frisk. "Same thing with the congressional switchboard, same with our office phones and e-mail traffic. People are even flooding us with letters because they can't get through electronically. Quaint. But remember, we're still in control. Sure, we're conceding hearings to our pro-Agenda colleagues all this month, but they and we know the parliamentary rules. The issue is whether we want to win by impasse or by counterattack. The difference is highly consequential for the near and foreseeable future, as I think you'll agree."

"What makes you think we have the luxury of that choice, Senator?" asked Congressman Bullion. "Sure, in your body you have the filibuster and other forms of delay foreign to our procedures in the House, but read your history. Populist revolts have swept over Washington with far less organization, money, and high-powered backing than what's looming over us presently. The country has been on fire for some months now, and the flames are leaping higher and higher. You saw the response to the events of the Fourth and the Meliorists' news conference and the Rapoport ad. You saw the Wal-Mart announcement. You saw --"

"Enough, Bullion," snapped Senator Tweedy. "Why prejudge the fire this time either way? Why not develop ways to test it? No point running scared. Our CEO friends have just unleashed their media counterattack, and those ads are doozies. There's plenty of money and corporate clout behind them, both directly and from the whole K Street crowd here. The corporate fellows have had it pretty easy for so long that they may be surprised at their own power when they're up against the wall."

"Well put, Senator," said Congressman Beauchamp. "Let's see how the hearings play out but remain on full alert and stay close to the lobbies, without whom -- let's be frank -- we wouldn't be here right now. We owe it to them to give them a chance with their own counterattack before we say anything about an impasse strategy."

"Billy's right," said the president, "and time is on our side. There aren't too many legislative days left in the session, and the upcoming elections are starting to absorb everyone. And who knows, a hurricane here, a flood there, and before you can say 'adjourned,' the year is up."

"And what then, Mr. President?" asked Senator Thinkalot. "It could get worse next year, much worse, because the public will be angry over an impasse and there may be quite a different Congress."

"Well, you know my motto for political success: Take one year at a time. Foresight is great, but without myopia, you can't get across a busy street."

All joined in hearty laughter, the members from Texas slapping their thighs as if they'd come straight from Central Casting.

"I reckon you're right, Mr. President," said Congressman Bullion, "but if you ask me, we still can't go wrong with the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared."

"I guess that pretty much sums it up, Bullion," the president said. "Let's adjourn to the dining room."
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The battle of July was well and truly joined both in Washington and throughout the country. Congressional hearings on the Agenda legislation were underway in the House and Senate, with witnesses ranging from academic experts to think- tank apologists to business lobbyists. Each hearing gave prime time to testimony from affected Americans. The progressives demanded and received an end to the predawn practice of lobbyists hiring stand-ins to save seats for them. Seating was now reserved for ordinary citizens, families of those testifying, and of course the media, which packed the tables along the sides of the room. The denizens of the Hill were always exceptionally quickened by what they perceived to be "new energy" from the hustings. It had happened when the evangelicals mobilized in 1980, and it was happening now with the SROs and the immensely layered activity of the folks back home in support of the Agenda. The solons had never seen so many varied eruptions among their constituents, not to mention the phone calls from very rich people singing the songs of the SROs. Members of Congress were used to dealing with one-issue groups, and their usual responses weren't adaptable to wave upon wave of informed and motivated human energy. No pundits or professors or anyone else, including the pompous pollsters, had come close to predicting what was now transpiring, not even the acclaimed Zogby outfit, which went where other polling companies feared to tread.

At the same time, the salvos and the pressure from the business side were going through the Capitol Dome. In the normal course of congressional legislation, controversy was more or less confined to the specific interest groups with the most at stake, but this Agenda tumult had all the corporate lobbies fully staffed and media-budgeted, and all the PACs writing checks to legislators right and left. No Washington summer doldrums this year. The taxi and limousine business had never been so good. The trendy restaurants and bars were brimming with customers. Hotels were overbooked. Flights to National Airport and Dulles were full day after day. The media hired new hands and forked out overtime as they battled one another for scoops, leaks, and gossip. The lights in the K Street buildings and congressional offices stayed on late into the night.

Out in Omaha, the Secretariat was putting the finishing touches on a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the Meliorists, under the brilliant tutelage of GIS pioneer Jack Mangermond. Software layer after software layer provided minute-to-minute visual locations on the rallies, marches, lectures, CUB events, and Congressional Watchdog activities. The system was a kind of master matrix created from ingenious data patterns that allowed the Meliorists and their project managers to absorb at a glance what was happening when and where. For example, there were maps of each state and congressional district showing the number of legislators for, against, or neutral on each bill of the Agenda. Another map broke down PAC contributions to members of Congress by geographical region. An enormously useful tool and time-saver, GIS was a hit with Promotions, Analysis, Recruitment, Mass Demonstrations, and all the rest of the Meliorists' far-flung projects, which each turned it to their own distinct purposes. The managers fed the system additional information to be geographically modeled, and got GIS patterns on their adversaries wherever the data permitted. All in all, they were light-years ahead of the corporatists in spotting trends, causes and effects, weak spots, gaps and imbalances that required corrective action.

At the end of the first week of Agenda hearings, Warren suggested that the Meliorists pay courtesy visits to selected members of Congress, one on one, without publicity if possible. His colleagues seconded the idea and began dropping in at the House and Senate in the evening to confer individually with two or three members. These visits gave the Meliorists an opportunity for personal contact and direct appraisal that they couldn't get through intermediaries or from the public record. The arrangement suited the legislators too. They didn't want the distractions or burdens that an impulsive press might generate, and they were flattered by the attention, especially from Paul, Phil, Bill Cosby, Warren, Yoko, and the other more famous Meliorists. The visits served to strengthen backbones on the Hill and were generally so successful that the Meliorists decided to meet with the legislators back home in more leisurely settings during the August recess. Meanwhile, Zabouresk and Zeftel, the Double Z team, was all over Capitol Hill, assessing, assessing, assessing, breaking the legislators down into categories of yes, no, and leaning one way or the other, feeding back in micro-detail which members needed what kind of carrot or stick, what kinds of people were calling on them, what kind of press needed to be nudged.

Donald Ross and his Congress Watchdogs were in overdrive too. Always looking over the next hill and anticipating what would be needed at crunch time, Ross was zeroing in on the reelection campaigns of the entrenched incumbents most likely to block the Agenda legislation. In the coming months, these Bulls were sure to hunker down in their home districts and states and cater to their voter base to firm it up. They would expect to lose the liberals and the left, but they couldn't afford to lose their traditional constituency, which included the Reagan Democrats, white working-class males who had made the difference in one presidential and senatorial race after another. Knowing that one defecting voter had more impact on an incumbent than four who voted against the incumbent, Ross developed a sophisticated software program to screen out those voters most likely to defect. Then the local Watchdog groups would go to work on them person to person, at living room meetings and potluck suppers, in beer halls and bowling alleys, during softball games and Saturday morning hikes. The goal was to develop a corps of voters who could go to their particular Bull and say, "We've been your supporters for years, but it's time for a change. Make it happen and you'll be our hero." Careful advance work would be required for instance, making sure the press got wind of a potentially disastrous margin of defections and conducted the appropriate interviews -- but the most important predicate was already in place: new energy. Nothing startled and spooked an entrenched politician more than new sources of civic energy or old civic energy turning a newcomer.

The congressional hearings continued throughout the month, with all the attendant publicity and lobbying. There were some lively TV and radio debates, and even midnight vigils in honor or in criticism of specific members of the Senate or the House. Millions of people started to give this historic confrontation the attention usually reserved for major sporting events. Millions of others were contributing in their own ways to this movement for an unprecedented shift of power behind the needs of the American people. Mass attention bred more mass attention. As ever more members of Congress registered their support for the various Agenda bills, the Watchdogs organized large rallies to praise them so loudly and publicly that it would be political suicide for them to change their minds.

By the beginning of the third week of July, the corporate scare campaign was reaching just about everyone who turned on the television or radio. With the Agenda legislation under close public scrutiny day after day, Lobo's Wave Two became more targeted, with a barrage of thirty- and sixty-second spots attacking specific proposals in the various bills. The bond market began to get the jitters, and the stock market went into a very gradual but noticeable slide. The business press, which was not all on the same page, reported first the possible impact on "business confidence," then the likely impact on "the business climate," then actual announcements by CEOs that their companies were rethinking their investments in the United States.

Well before the emotional meeting with Lobo that led to Bump's excursus, the CEOs had been busy lining up companies that would announce, whether it was true or not, that they were moving plants or facilities overseas because of the "instability" allegedly caused by the revolt of the SROs. It was an old ploy. based on the theory that fear repeated over and over again creates its own facts and breeds its own rationalizations. Not to be outdone, Bill Hillsman floated over the airwaves short messages featuring similar scare-mongering claims that had been made by the business barons of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries about the abolition of slavery and child labor, the doubling of Ford workers' pay to $5 a day, the creation of Medicare and Social Security, and the issuance of auto safety regulations. The coarseness of the business alarms before each of these steps forward for America stunned television and radio audiences. Hillsman dramatized just how fraudulent, mean, and wrong the claims were at the time, and all the more so when viewed from the vantage point of the present. Each ad ended with a rhetorical question and answer: "Have you been watching similar scare tactics on your television set lately? Let's repeat history and toss the lies away."

Out on the hustings, the candidates of the Clean Elections Party were starting to turn the screws on the incumbent Bulls, who were having trouble adjusting to another kind of "instability" -- the possibility of their defeat at the polls. For years they had walked effortlessly to reelection in their one-party districts and states, the other major party having long ago decided that it was a waste of money to field a candidate against a certain landslide. Running unopposed had become run-of-the-mill for the Bulls. Now the CEP was moving into the vacuum and becoming the number two party in these districts gerrymandered to the advantage of either the Republicans or the Democrats.

Well-funded, well-advised, and well-organized. the hyper-motivated CEP candidates found receptive audiences everywhere for their message about the abuses and lost opportunities stemming from public elections funded privately, by greed, as compared with the virtues of public elections funded publicly, by principle. Although the party strictly observed an organizational separation from the Meliorists. there was a policy-by-policy, solution-by-solution parallelism between its campaigning and the Redirections projects, a mutually reinforcing relationship that worked to the benefit of both sides. The CEP website was getting more and more hits, which produced more and more donations. Its candidates were moving up in the polls and getting more press, which brought them to the attention of more voters, which further upped the polls. Soon they were sufficiently visible in neighborhood after neighborhood to issue credible debate challenges to the incumbents.

The candidates were by far the CEP's most valuable asset. They were congenial, knowledgeable, caring, and creative. They were people like Willy Champ. They were people like Rachel Simmons, a fifty-two-year-old accountant for a large food distribution charity in Orlando, Florida. She was unusually gregarious for a bean counter and had run successfully for three terms on the local board of education. She wanted to aim higher but recoiled at the shredding of conscience and candor required by campaign fundraising. She kept up to date on the political scene, paid her annual dues to a half dozen reform organizations, and waited for an opportunity that she doubted would ever come. One day she got a call from a CEP organizer asking her to come to a small exploratory meeting, but only if she was truly interested in becoming a candidate. One thing led to another, and soon she found herself running against Congressman Charles Carefree, an incumbent Bull who had held his seat since 1968. Years of frustration erupted into waves of energy as Rachel vowed to meet every adult in the district.

The Bulls were at first slow to react to the CEP challenge, but during July some of them started running ads on local television extolling their irreplaceable pork-laden incumbency -- a highway here, a public building there, a clinic here, a dam repair there. They began going home on weekends to slap backs and pick up babies for the photographers. To their chagrin, people would come up to them and say things like, "Hi, Earl, haven't seen you around here in ages." The Bulls were alarmed by such remarks, a sign of sinister trends in the making, and resented the time they had to spend on unaccustomed travel. It was hot and sweaty out there on the campaign trail, and they still had to deliver for their patrons back in Washington. They began to wonder if they were up to the double duty. If one duty had to go, the path of least resistance told them to stay in Washington, where they had their comfortable homes, all the privileges of office, and social circles happy to defer to them. Meanwhile, the CEP candidates, hungry and full of zeal, kept coming and coming up the long, steep hill.

As a matter of mutual defense, the Bulls formed an alliance across party lines. They called it the Maginot Club, and they met in one of the many secluded, unmarked offices deep in the Capitol building, a nicely appointed room where the chairs were comfortable and drinks from the well-stocked bar were readily at hand. There, every other day at 7:00 p.m., they assembled to assess the situation vis-a-vis the Meliorists and recalibrate themselves for the next day. One of their first acts was to call their favorite lobbyist, Brovar Dortwist, who had quickly assumed leadership of all the Washington lobbies whether the lobbies liked it or not.

"Brovar," said Senator Thinkalot, "we're on a short time leash, so we have to get right down to business. We're pretty well up on what the lobbies are doing and how they're doing it, but what we need is a daily gauge of the effect they're having on our colleagues, on the media, and on the people back home. Are they getting the Rotary Club and Kiwanis types? Are they waking Main Street up to the SRO peril, and if so, in what specific ways beyond the usual rumbles? Let's face it, Brovar. For all their sound and fury, for all their daily talking points, the lobbies are basically lazy, egotistical bureaucracies. They've had it too easy for too many years -- just like us, I suppose."

"Couldn't have given myself better marching orders, Senator. We're right on course, and we're going seven days a week. I've got a big Rolodex full of influential people all over the country, not just inside the Beltway, and it's getting the exercise of its inanimate life, you can rest assured. But on your end, Senator, you need to line up some witnesses besides the usual think-tank and trade group types. I'm sure you've seen the CEOs' scare ads about the 'business climate' and companies pulling up stakes, and that's fine as far as it goes, but you need some real workers up there testifying about losing their jobs, you need some ordinary Americans who'll have to pay more taxes or higher prices or whatever because of the Agenda. It shouldn't be too hard to find them and get them up to snuff and up on the Hill for the hearings."

"Just what I was thinking, Brovar," said Congressman Carefree. "The SROs have witnesses like that telling their sob stories every day, and it's working. We need their counterparts. Get a hold of the Falwell folks and have them canvass their huge Sunday morning flocks."

"I'll do that, Congressman," Brovar said, and for another thirty minutes he and the Bulls exchanged information and talked about how best to fortify the Maginot line against the populist Leviathan.

When he got off the phone, Brovar felt elated and increasingly in charge. He loved a good fight, especially one he'd been warning about before anyone else in his camp. He recalled how the trade association flacks scoffed at him at that meeting back in March and carried the day with their "We're still completely in charge, no losses in sight" mantra. Now, with the capitulation of Wal-Mart, they were changing their tune. They were feeling the tremors, and they were far more receptive to Brovar, even humble.

Like the Meliorists, Brovar was always thinking ahead. He was known to have prepared and distributed a thirty-year plan to shrink government to the point that it could be "flushed down the toilet." Consistency wasn't his strong suit -- he favored a large, powerful military, for example, which couldn't exactly be funded by passing the hat -- but he fancied himself a seer. Whenever he had to take his mind "further down the pike," as he put it, he would go for an evening stroll by the Tidal Basin with his Doberman, Get 'em, no matter what the season. Tonight was one of those times.

As he walked along with Get 'em alert at his side, sniffing the air for muggers or possibly squirrels, Brovar posed himself a question out loud. "What if the Bulls were facing certain defeat in November unless they relented and dropped their blockade of the Agenda?"

"Ruff," said Get 'em.

Brovar gave him a pat on the head. "Rough is right, boy, but you know what I'd do?"

Get 'em cocked his head and pricked up his ears.

"I'd ask my business pals to offer them lucrative jobs in their forced retirement, with plenty of free time for family and recreation. That way they could block and go down as martyrs for free enterprise."

Brovar doubted it would come to such a drastic crossroads, but he had to start preparing for it now, for two reasons. First, the offers had to be made well in advance so that no one could say they were quid pro quos -- deniability, with the calendar dates to prove it. Second, Lobo had floated some on-the-edge battlefield ideas during their New York meeting, and Brovar didn't want to be implicated in any such extremism. A jobs program for the Bulls would protect him and keep Lobo from going over the legal line when Capitol Hill went white-hot in the final days, or so Brovar hoped.

There was one more contemplation that occupied him that evening along the Tidal Basin. Not all of the Meliorists' bills were objectionable to him. In particular, the elimination of corporate welfare appealed to a deep feeling he had always harbored about the hypocrisy of big business spouting free enterprise and pocketing tax dollars on the dole. While it was usually easier to hold a diverse coalition together by opposing everything slam-bang, these were not usual times, so why not win one for the Brovar? He was more consistent than most about his economic ideology in a town full of forked- tongued corporatists who wanted to milk big government for the goodies instead of cutting it down to size. In the give- and-take over the various bills, conceding a significant plank in the Agenda might help to defeat many of the others.

Get 'em was straining at his leash. "Okay, boy, let's go home. Halima has a delicious Arabic dinner waiting for us. She knows how much you like raw kibbee with pine nuts."


While Brovar was strategizing about the nation's future with Get 'em, Phil Donahue was at Promotions headquarters doing his daily scan of the GIS maps and marveling at the multiplying energy levels portrayed so vividly. Behind the dots and patterns were human beings. More and more of them were getting on radio and TV and having their say in the newspapers and weekly magazines. Some were even being profiled in the style pages.

One of those dots was Arlene Jones, the Pennsylvania truck-stop waitress who'd been following the activities of the billionaire rebels ever since she saw Phil on the news back in January. Like millions of Americans, she'd been captivated by Patriotic Polly and intrigued by some of the other early initiatives of the core group, but at first she thought it was all just a gag, a kind of ongoing senior reality show. Into April and May, she realized these billionaires meant it. They weren't fooling around. Week by week, she noticed the usually profane small talk at the Treezewood turning into conversations about where the country was heading and the ruckus those "superrich old guys" were creating. Never had she expected the truckers to talk about anything serious, other than their own personal or business woes.

Arlene began discussing the old guys and their ideas with her customers, friends, and neighbors. She collected clippings and reports. She logged onto some of the Redirectional websites. She soon found out who her congressman and two senators were, and began writing them letters. She went to a couple of rallies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on weekends. Her address book filled up, and at age forty-four, unmarried, she found her formerly humdrum life transformed.

In mid-June, Mason Fluery, reputed to be one of the best of the crop of lecturers drawing crowds around the country, came to a town near Arlene's home. She went to hear him with some likeminded friends. His energy was infectious, his words full of practicality. He argued that the people had the power against big business, but only if they organized and moved. Moved! Economic justice in this country was long overdue and was no more than what was owed to the people for all their hard work. After the lecture, Mason invited the audience to a get-together at a local restaurant. He knew it would be a smaller crowd -- parents had to get home to their children -- but that would help create a more intimate bond with the movement he was speaking for day after day. Mason urged them to join a CUB or a Congress Watchdog Group, if they hadn't already. "The whole country is waking up," he said. "Be part of its history."

On the drive home, Arlene's old Chevy was filled with excitement and energy as she and her friends discussed the lecture and the points Mason had made. "Hey," she said suddenly, "I've got an idea for a slogan." Less than a month later, that slogan was rippling on parade banners across the nation: "What's the Big Deal About the Agenda's Fair Deals? We Earned Them!"

Among the GIS dots on the other side of the country were Arnie Johnson and Alfonso Garcia, the McMansion day workers who'd watched Warren Beatty's bus caravan of billionaires with such skepticism back in February. As the weeks passed, they saw that Beatty was serious about taking on the Governator, and that a bunch of other super-rich guys were serious about taking on the whole system. Soon Arnie and Alf were talking more politics than sports, with their greatest scorn reserved for black and Hispanic politicians spouting off about the poor, and especially the black and Hispanic members of Congress.

"Look at those cats," Arnie said to Alf one afternoon in April. "They got it made. They raise their own pay, give themselves great benefits. Health insurance, life insurance, pensions -- you name it, they got it. Safe districts, no worries about anything except getting away with fooling the folks in the hood. Same with your people, sucking up to the big boys, letting some business bucks to the charities shut them up. Man, after all the struggle over the years to get the vote, what do we have to show but a bunch of silk-talking, kowtowing Uncle Toms and no Tacos?"

"You said it, amigo. Those pendejos got it so made they do nothing about conditions in their own barrios, nothing about all the slumlords, loan sharks, crappy storefronts, cruddy food, dirty streets, violent crime -- ah, where do you start and where do you end? But now, with the super-rich hombres, there is esperanza. There's a big huelga on the way for justicia por el pueblo. Si se puede! Those viejos are driving los ricos loco. It's getting so I can't wait for the news every night. Hey, want the rest of my second burrito? Do I have to ask? They don't call you Arnie the Appetite for nothing."

By May, Arnie and Alf were veterans of the lunchtime rallies, leading the chants and yelling out their reactions to the speakers. It made them feel part of something powerful and exciting, and they didn't mind the free lunch either. With all the uncertainty of working from job to job, you forgot that you had a voice, you counted, you could be part of a movement for justice. These mansion jobs weren't unionized, and the construction boss could toss you aside if he didn't like the color of your shoes. So you learned the right tone of voice and the right demeanor -- just short of "Yes, massa" -- you learned to swallow any complaint or injury, you learned to keep your mouth shut about shoddy materials and sloppy workmanship.

What Arnie and Alf heard at the rallies stayed with them. They hadn't known that the multimillionaires who contracted for these mega-mansions paid a smaller percentage in taxes on their stock and dividend income than the two friends paid on their construction wages. As one impassioned speaker had said, "You sweat and pay more. They sit and pay less. All they do is make money from money, and that doesn't help working folks. It doesn't help the sick and the poor. It doesn't help anyone but those who don't need any help." Over the weeks, Alf and Arnie widened their circle of friends. They joined up when the Congress Watchdog organizers came around. They went to a training meeting with lecturer Carlos Cruz, learned how to sharpen their arguments, and picked up literature in English and Spanish. They talked up the Agenda in their neighborhoods and asked for meetings with their members of Congress and the State Assembly. They sought out blue-collar stiffs who'd voted for politicians who turned around and voted with the corporate boys once they were in Washington or Sacramento. If reason and facts didn't work, Alf and Arnie weren't above resorting to shame. "You've been rolled, guys," they'd say. "Are you just going to stand there and take it?" It turned out that a lot of them weren't.

Mason Fluery and Carlos Cruz and the other lecturers were responsible for connecting a lot of those dots on the GIS map. There were now 1,400 full-time lecturers, backed by an organizing staff of 650. The Meliorists weren't about to make the same mistake Clinton had back in 1993-94, when fewer than fifty people were going around the country trying to organize voters behind his misbegotten health insurance legislation. With the organizers scheduling the lecturers at one venue after another, and with the lecturers becoming media-famous in their own right, each of them spoke to an average of a thousand people a day, all kinds of people, across the whole American spectrum, at high school and college auditoriums, at Elks, Knights of Columbus, Grange, and union halls, at VFW and American Legion posts, at every conceivable gathering place. Daily, more than a million people were listening to the lecturers talk about how to lift up America, participating in discussions afterward, and going home with armfuls of handouts and DVDs. The lecturers and organizers learned as they went along, getting better and better, exchanging experiences and tips, like checking the local Ramada or Holiday Inn for conventions or business luncheons where they could say a few words. With the DVDs, the extent and quality of what Promotions called the "reach" was indeterminate, but there were encouraging anecdotal reports of people watching them and signing up with the CEP or the Congress Watchdogs or the CUBs.

For all its sweep and sophistication, GIS didn't begin to capture just how taken the country was with the Meliorists and their directions for their country. Scarcely a community was untouched by some form of activism, and it wasn't just about the Agenda for the Common Good. Long-suppressed civic energies burst forth like crocuses in springtime. Groups surfaced to demand the regulation of tanning salons to prevent skin cancer, and of beauty salons to protect workers from chemicals and particulates. The stalled movement to reform the corporate student loan racket, with its government guarantees and high interest rates, erupted on campuses and inside Congress. Progressive legislators found renewed vigor as they went after the authoritarian rules and procedures that gave the majority party a virtual stranglehold on congressional legislation. The dormant advocates of recreational sports came alive to challenge the dominance of commercialized sports, demanding that the newspapers call their sports pages the Spectator Sports section unless they started covering participatory amateur sports in their communities and nationwide. Whether it was the hospital infection epidemic, Channel One and commercialism in the schools, crumbling subway systems, decaying housing projects, municipalities using eminent domain to take over private homes for the use of corporations, or the endless robotic menus that cost customers hours on the phone with airlines, utilities, banks, and so many other big companies, citizens were up in arms! From petty peeves to the big issues of economic and political justice, the people were arising!

A few days after the last of the Seven Pillars was introduced in Congress, with all the paid and free media coverage pro and con still in full swing, the Meliorists commissioned polls on each of the bills and found to their delight that approval ratings ranged from 72 percent to 85 percent. Soon thereafter, the big polling companies registered about the same range of approval, except on the healthcare bill, which hit almost 90 percent. Lobo and the CEOs brought up the rear with polls whose questions were so obviously slanted that when the results came in at about 47 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval, the media declared them a victory for the Meliorists. Once again, the CEOs were on the defensive.

Even so, the Washington lobbies found themselves gravitating to the superior organizational efforts of Lobo/Dortwist, if only to escape complete despair. On a fraction of a fraction of their budgets, Luke Skyhi was showing them what it was like when the opposition batters came from the Major Leagues. No more pounding on pitiful protestors, semi-starved consumer and environmental groups, or demoralized unions operating on default. The US Cavalry had come to town.

The faceless lobbyists were especially infuriated by one of Luke's more inspired strokes: a rogue's gallery of mug shots of the Capitol's hundred most ruthless corporate pitchmen and greasers, captioned with lists of their sins. Luke printed the photos up on high-quality poster paper and distributed them by the tens of thousands. Half the members of Congress hung them in their reception rooms, declaring the miscreants persona non grata. Hand-wringing indignation ensued among the pitchmen and greasers. During lunch one day at the lavishly carpeted and chandeliered Metropolitan Club, a senior corporate lawyer said to the head of the National Coal Industry Association, a longtime friend, "Dammit, Buford, this is the last goddamn straw. The nerve of that guy, putting 'Wanted' over our pictures like we were common criminals." Buford sighed and downed a double shot of Jack Daniel's. "And I thought this was going to be a nice, quiet summer, at least as long as there were no hurricanes or terrorist attacks," he said. "Wake up, Buford," said the lawyer. "We've got a different kind of hurricane and a different kind of terrorist attack, and frankly, I'd prefer the real thing."


All through July, interview requests and invitations to speak poured into the offices of the PROs, as the press was routinely calling the Meliorists now. Time, Newsweek, People, Business Week, Fortune, Vanity Fair, O, and a host of other national magazines wanted them for cover stories. They became household names, folk heroes, if they weren't already. Then there were the Billionaires Against Bullshit. Reporters fell all over them and their social circles. Before they finished their interviews or got off the air, the Meliorists and their allies always tried to focus attention on the Congress and the Agenda.

Meanwhile, the right-wing media was tying itself into knots. Even Bush Bimbaugh, the hitherto undisputed king of talk radio, couldn't seem to make his hysterical rants stick anymore. His dittoheads just weren't calling in like they used to, jamming the switchboard and drowning out the voices of the treasonous libs. He was so down he started taking uppers again. The Bimbaugh star was being eclipsed, and he knew it. The more he attacked, the more strident and repetitive he became. Finally he decided that there was only one thing to do: beard the lion in his den. Courage wasn't his strong suit -- he was big on soliloquies and screened callers -- but he knew an approaching freight train when he saw one. Well, okay, so he'd give one of the SROs thirty minutes. The only one he could barely stomach was Ted Turner. Bush popped another pill, placed the call, and extended the invitation. Ted accepted with ill-concealed relish.

On the appointed day, Ted showed up a few minutes early at Bush's elaborate studio. Bush greeted him cordially, although Ted couldn't help noticing his sweaty handshake. They went into the sound booth and began.

"Good day, red-blooded Americans, you're listening to the Truth, and if you abide by it you will be enlightened to the shining heavens. My special guest is Ted Turner, of cable TV, Atlanta Braves, and latifundia notoriety -- hey, look it up, unilinguals. Welcome, Ted, to a Bimbaugh first -- a one-on-one with one of you billionaire subverters of America."

"Well, Bush, that's a nice, impartial, lying piece of cowshit. You know, I've always wanted to be on your show so I could ask you how it feels to be a corporate welfare king, you bulbous freeloader, you! Folks, he's using your property -- the public airwaves -- free of charge to make his twenty million bucks a year."

Bush went ballistic. Reflexively he pushed the Silent button on his aggressive guest so he couldn't be interrupted as he delivered his stinging rebuttal.

"Why, you slimy cur, you wife-swapper, you ... you ... you sucker for the feminazis, the commies, the queers, and the left-wing wackos! How do you feel having your brain so far up your anal cavity?"

Ted grabbed his mike to reply, discovered it was dead, and did what came naturally. He jumped up, grabbed Bush's wheeled chair, spun him into the far corner, and took over his mike, which was very much alive.

"Hey, dittoheads. Bush Bimbaugh is getting rich off you by shilling for the big business tycoons and peddling all kinds of bigotry. Have you ever heard him take on a big company? Have you ever heard him go after big oil, big drug, big auto, big insurance, big bank? Of course not. They own him because they sponsor him. He's a coward, can't take any criticism, though he sure dishes it out. But what do you expect from a draft dodger who thinks it's great to send other people's sons and daughters to fabricated wars? What do you expect from a sponger who insists that five-fifteen an hour is plenty as a minimum wage while he's pulling down a hundred grand a day, or thirty-three thousand three hundred and thirty-three bucks an hour, for slinging his manure? Want more? Just log onto"

By now, Bush had recovered and was about to assault Ted from behind when he spotted a producer frantically holding up a sign behind the glass partition: "Don't, he'll sue you! Tort!" Bush froze, seething with rage, and swiped his finger across his throat to signal the producer, who pulled the plug just as Ted was saying, "Take it from a recovered redneck -- " The telephone lines were lit up like Times Square on New Year's Eve.

"Get the hell out of here, Turner," Bush shouted. "By the time I'm done with you in the next forty minutes, they'll think you escaped from the nuthouse. I am going to pulverize you. You're no redneck, you're just plain red."

"Don't worry, jocko, I wouldn't want to pollute my lungs in here any further. But ask your legally inspired producer over there about the Sullivan case. Ask him about intentional and false defamation of a public figure. You might want to look before you leap into a courtroom for an eight-figure verdict. So long, chowderhead."

As Bush well knew without any help from his producer, New York Times v. Sullivan set an extremely high standard for defamation suits, making it difficult for public figures to prevail unless they could prove malice and intent. It was a landmark in Supreme Court decisions supporting freedom of the press, and had greatly eased the flow of sharp and critical free speech in the decades since it was handed down. Normally it was a mainstay of Bush's show, but today it tamed his tongue, because he was full of malice and intent.

Returning to the air after a very long commercial break, he recovered his composure and reverted to form: ignore the previous dustup and go back on the offensive against some easy target. "Listen up, people. Our National Anthem is under attack again, this time from a bunch of Hispanos out in LA. Get this, they want to sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in their so-called native language. Well, El Rushbo's got some news for them. No way, Jose!"


On Capitol Hill, the hearings ground on day after day, with an army of stenographers taking down every word for the public record. That was fine with the Bulls -- so long as the hearings were underway, the hard decisions could be deferred. Every afternoon, in a suite near the Rayburn office Building, the Double Z met with the congressional progressives to advise on the testimony and how to keep the media focused on it. Now and then, they'd ask the valedictory speakers to stay over a day after their Press Club tell-alls and testify at the relevant hearings.

For the time being, the progressives were keeping a low profile. Staying out of the media limelight helped them in their negotiations with the Bulls and gave them the leverage of going to the press as a last resort if the Bulls didn't cooperate. But their names did not escape Brovar Dortwist, who began compiling information on these "ringleaders," as he called them, and arranging for companies in their districts or states to announce that they were taking their plants or white-collar operations abroad, with a scarcely veiled reference to the inhospitable views of the incumbent progressive. The Meliorist response teams did their best to put out a statement the next day exposing the move abroad as something that had been planned long ago and would have happened anyway, but sometimes it was hard to get accurate information promptly enough. The Dortwist tactic was having some effect, meshing as it did with the CEO's daily saturation scare campaign on TV and radio.

Wherever it was determined that public opinion was starting to trend against the progressive incumbent, the lecturers were rerouted to provide the bigger picture and respond to local fears. "Corporate flight is part of business as usual for the big companies," they told their audiences at community meetings and press conferences. "They've been going abroad for years, and the government gives them incentives to do it. Representatives of the Department of Commerce attend business conferences to expound on all the ways Washington encourages companies to expand their foreign investments, including outsourcing and moving US facilities overseas, often to dictatorships all too willing to supply them with serf workers. Meanwhile, these same companies are collecting federal and state contracts and subsidies and tax breaks right and left. They're having it both ways -- serf labor abroad and freebies at home -- and we need legislation to stop them. Their flight isn't just an abandonment of your districts and states, it's a flight from loyalty and allegiance to the country where they were born and prospered. Tell that to the corporate patriots!"

Max Palevsky came up with another wrinkle. He asked Analysis to tally the announcements of flight abroad in the progressives' districts and those in the Bulls' backyards. The results were dramatic: 80 percent to 20 percent. Analysis also concluded from previous trends that companies in the Bulls' districts were holding back announcements they would otherwise have made over the past few weeks. Promotions went public with the data in a big way and kept the Meliorists on the offensive, notwithstanding the energetic efforts of Dortwist and Lobo, who were now realizing just how deep and powerful the Meliorists' strike-back capabilities were.

The Washington lobbies weren't used to contending with such a formidable opposition phalanx. They were used to fielding a media blast, pumping money into campaign coffers, expanding their lobbying intensity on the Hill and back in the districts, and uncorking the champagne. For at least three decades, Congress had reliably yielded to the demands of one business sector after another, including the oil, drug, chemical, auto, real estate, mining, banking, insurance, agribusiness, genetic engineering, defense, fast-food, and brokerage industries. Now there was not only resistance, but resistance with muscle behind it. The lobbyists' local dealers and agents were feeding back their impressions, almost unanimously reporting that folks were aroused and determined and angry, as if they'd had quite enough of all the greed, all the propaganda, and all the lies. "No more 'crush the local reformers and be done with it,'" as one insurance agent put it. "These reformers can call on outside agitators who are very, very adept and motivated. I don't even trust my own employees anymore. They're always whispering on their cell phones and disappearing on their lunch hour." A distressed realtor e-mailed his trade association pleading for guidance. "It's just a whole new scene, not one we have any experience in handling. What do we do? Help!" In every region of the country, in every arena, new civic energies were putting the Meliorists ahead of the curve and drawing their adversaries into unknown territory.

Toward the end of July, the National Association of Health Maintenance Organizations -- health insurers that amassed large numbers of customers mostly by merging themselves into ever fewer giant companies -- decided to take the bull by the horns and do something about the Agenda's universal healthcare bill. They invited representatives of some allied trade organizations, including the fast-food and big-box discount chains, to their swank new offices for a no-holds-barred strategy session. The discussion began with the tried and true buzzwords "socialized medicine," which had worked so well ever since President Harry Truman first proposed a national healthcare system back in 1945. Then the participants moved boldly on to the tried and true charges about big government rationing healthcare and tying doctors and hospitals up in interminable red tape.

"Well, it's worked before," said the CEO of Monument Insurance, one of the biggest HMOs, "but let's not forget that this is the most popular bill on the Agenda, with approval ratings pushing ninety percent. We've got to match them and go them one better. I say we bring back Harry and Louise, who performed so brilliantly on television to deep-six Clinton's plan in 1993. Our surveys back then showed that Harry and Louise had a ninety-percent recognition factor by the time we vanquished the reds. Why not a return engagement? I'm sure our intrepid couple haven't aged a bit."

"I'll tell you why," said his media adviser. "Because guess who the SROs will trot out to go up against H and L."

"Hillary Clinton?" asked the CEO of McBurger's. "Just kidding. Go ahead, who? An ex-surgeon general? A famous physician?"

"No, a famous parrot."

Groans filled the room.

"Calm down, gentlemen," said the director of the Everyware discount stores. "Nobody's invincible, not even Patriotic Polly. If we put Harry and Louise in a series of different ads with different attack themes, the bird will never be able to keep up. She'll be squawking some tired one-note refrain that will make her an object of mockery. She can't possibly learn enough new words and phrases fast enough to respond to the devastating specifics of our ads." He paused. "Can she? Smithers," he barked at his young assistant, who was sitting behind him taking notes, "get me the top avian consulting firm in the country to advise on the mental capacity of a parrot."

"Perhaps an ornithologist, sir?" Smithers ventured timidly.

"Whatever it takes, Smithers, just do it!" The director turned back to his colleagues. "We'll wait for the report to be on the safe side, but I've got a powerful hunch that Patriotic Polly has finally met her match in Harry and Louise."

"I've got a powerful hunch you're right," said the Monument CEO. "Okay, we'll get the text of the SROs' budget-busting legislation over to the ad agency right away so they can start breaking it down into sound bites. Assuming confirmation that Polly's a birdbrain, Harry and Louise will hit the airwaves in a couple of days."

The meeting adjourned on a note of enthusiastic self-congratulation. It didn't matter to these barons of the business world that the Meliorists' bill provided for public payment but competitive private delivery of health services under careful quality and cost controls. It didn't matter to the HMO chiefs that unlike the health plans they offered, the bill mandated free choice of doctors and hospitals and equal access to health services for all. It didn't matter that the bill would dramatically reduce red tape, the collection bureaucracy, the one-secretary/one-doctor paperwork ratio, the huge administrative expenses accounting for more than 25 percent of all healthcare expenditures, and the enormous computerized billing fraud of the current system. It didn't matter that the resultant savings would be enough to cover all Americans with less per capita spending than was exacted by the soaring prices and waste of the status quo. All that mattered was propaganda, the charming evasions and prevarications of a fictional celebrity couple named Harry and Louise.


As the HMO bigwigs and their friends were repairing to their favorite watering holes, the Agenda division of Promotions was poring over the daily transcripts of the public hearings on the Seven Pillars. "Too voluminous, too overwhelming," declared Pauline Precis, the division's top editor. "We must find the compelling, persuasive, vibrant details, the nuggets that will become national currency, part of daily parlance, part of the daily understanding of the damage done to basic principles of fairness and justice. Get to work, people."

They did. Three hours later, Pauline's staff presented her with a potent sampling of the testimony.

> A single mother in Appalachia: "I'm working to live and support my children, but my boss made sure I couldn't make a living from my work."

> A hotel maid from Queens: "My son got lead poisoning from the paint in our apartment. I couldn't afford the treatment. He died. When I buried him in a pauper's grave, the gravedigger looked up at me and said, 'Sorry for your loss, ma'am. Stinks that this is a pay-or-die country.'''

> A community organizer in Boston: "Every day I walk through crumbling neighborhoods and breathe dirty air. In the distance I can see the skyscrapers of the rich, who work in comfort and go home to well-kept neighborhoods. I've studied the tax code, and I know that work is taxed way more than capital. In the good old USA, we tax food, furniture, and clothing instead of stocks, bonds, and options. That's crazy. Let's tax what we don't need, not what we need."

> An Oglala chief from the Great Sioux Nation: "The power of the Sun created the Earth. After many generations, let the Sun do the work for the Earth before the Earth returns to dust."

> A labor organizer in Peoria: "When the few rule the many, when their greed overruns our need, they seed rebellious deeds. So it has been forever, and so it will forever be."

> A political economist at Harvard: "The new slavery of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations requires a new abolitionist movement -- no less moral, no less legal, no less constitutional, no less fundamental than the old abolitionist movement against the enslavement of African Americans. The new slavery is not just one of daily life indentured to the power and whims of giant global corporations; it is an enslavement of our genes, of our commodified children, of our environment, of our intelligence, of our inalienable right to a decent livelihood under a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The reigning dogmas of authoritarian corporatism must be overthrown before it's too late, before our nation and mankind as a whole become one immense Brave New World."

> An auto worker from Detroit: "I lost my arm and my job in a plant accident. I'm a mom, but my kids were all grown and out of the house. I had plenty of time on my hand, so I decided to start a group home for street kids. I want to improve my country. I want all Americans to improve our country. That's our God-given right, but we can't exercise it because our country isn't a true democracy. It's a country where the rich dictate power to truth. We are the unseen, the shadow people who do their work or have to pick up after their devastations. We are expendable. This must stop. This must stop everywhere."

"That's more like it, people." Pauline said. "Now get me the visuals, get me the witnesses at the table in a packed hearing room, get me their back stories -- where they came from, what they've been up against in their daily lives. This is a media gold mine for news, features, ads, DVDs, whatever we want to make of it. Get me reaction shots from the committee, get me interviews with the witnesses' families, get me --"

A tinny rendition of the William Tell Overture interrupted her. She unholstered her cell phone and snapped it open. "Um- mm, I see.... Yes, Barry, of course, I'll be right there." Snap, reholster. "Gotta run, people, back in ten, get on it."

Arriving in Barry's office, Pauline flung herself into a chair. "So the rumors are true. The HMOs are dusting Harry and Louise off for a national media duet against universal healthcare."

"Yup," Barry said. "I just got confirmation from the Secretariat. They're moving fast, and we've got to be ready to come back at them. Any ideas?"

"Patriotic Polly, of course. She can say something simple but powerful, like 'Your health -- not for sale to the HMOs!'"

"I like it," Barry said. "I'll call Clifton Chirp right away and get him on the job. But we need something less generic too, something that addresses the specifics of the Agenda bill and the mud they're going to sling at it. Bill Hillsman would be perfect, but he's already up to his eyeballs with the energy legislation and the Dynamic Democracy Act."

Barry and Pauline sat thinking for a minute, then grinned at each other across Barry's desk. "Blister!" they said simultaneously.

Blister Blurr was a counter-advertising specialist who had come on board with Promotions just after the Fourth. He'd been waiting for an opportunity to show his stuff, and was delighted to get the call from Pauline. Working at breakneck speed, he pulled up all the 1993 Harry and Louise skits for close scrutiny and then fashioned his antidote, heavy on satire. His first script had a couple named Lou and Harriet chatting in their kitchen about Harry and Louise.

"They sure must've got themselves tuckered out back in '93, popping up all over the TV day after day the way they did," Lou said. "And here they are, thirteen years later, doing it again. Don't they get tired of spouting the same old falsehoods?"

"No," Harriet said, "because they're actors. In real life, they've got full health insurance, and their parents are on Medicare. Gracious, what people won't say on television just for money. Are you an actor, Lou?"

"Honey, we've been married for going on twenty years. You know I'm not an actor. You know I work at Wal-Mart, just like you."

"Yes, and we both have second jobs, but we don't have health insurance. We just can't afford it with two teenagers in the house."

"Say, Harriet, do Harry and Louise have any kids? Let's invite those actors over and ask them. Let's sit them down right here at this table and see what they have to say to two real Americans."
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Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:46 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 14 CONT'D.)

Blister reviewed the sixty-second script and pounded out another one on the cries of "Red tape!" and "Socialized medicine!" that were sure to come from Harry and Louise. Then he sat back and admired his handiwork. The ads would prompt viewers to skepticism or outright laughter when the HMO thespian duo came on the screen. There would be a backlash against the fakery, and the press would want to interview the actors about their own health coverage. Reporters might even start hounding their poor parents. Lou and Harriet would get the water-cooler chatter going and deal a body blow to a multimillion-dollar brand name that was still remembered by a substantial portion of the adult population. There was just one problem. Blister called Pauline.

"I need you to find me a couple of down-to-earth working folks for my ads," he said.

"No problem," said Pauline. "There are scores of them up here testifying on the Hill."

"They have to be married, uninsured, and preferably Wal-Mart employees with two kids."

"Well ... well, okay, there must be hundreds of couples like that, maybe thousands."

"And they have to be named Lou and Harriet."

"What?" said Pauline, and then the light dawned. "Oh, Blister, that's brilliant! Okay, it won't be easy, but I'll see what I can do."

Blister went home to grab a bite and walk his basset hound -- everyone worth knowing in Washington had a dog -- and returned to the office a few hours later. He was working on a third ad, a thirty-second spot featuring Lou and Harriet with Patriotic Polly, when the phone rang.

"Long story short," said Pauline. "I called Barry, Barry called Sol. Sol called his lead SWAT team in Bentonville, they called their people at the two hundred stores, and Mrs. Harriet Robinson is on her way up here from Atlanta with her husband, Henry. Everyone calls him Hank, but his middle name is Louis."

"Close enough!" Blister said. "Thanks a million."

Now the only remaining question was whether to wait until Harry and Louise debuted again or to run Lou and Harriet preemptively. Blister consulted Barry, Phil, and Bill Cosby, and they all agreed that it was best to wait until the first Harry and Louise ad hit and immediately slap the Lou and Harriet nullification on the air with the same media buy. Going out first with Lou and Harriet might force the HMOs to cancel Harry and Louise, and then the ads wouldn't make much sense. Far better to confront the HMOs with the choice of persisting with a fatally weakened Harry and Louise or suffering the humiliation of withdrawing them.

The resurrected duo premiered on a Thursday, their brows furrowed with concern over the horrors of the Agenda's healthcare bill. Hot on their heels came Lou and Harriet, calmly skewering the fabrications of their HMO counterparts, with an assist from the hugely popular Patriotic Polly. By Monday, Harry and Louise had been yanked off the air to a chorus of mocking catcalls from the late-night comedians and millions of Americans who would not be fooled and cheated a second time.


As Harry and Louise were retiring their act in disgrace, three unlikely middle-aged men of ramrod bearing were registering as guests at the mountaintop hotel in Maui. A day later, an athletic-looking woman in her thirties joined them. They did their best to fit the customary guest profile, chatting casually with the other guests and the hotel staff about how exhausted they were from their jobs as drug company "detail" salespeople constantly on the road, going from one physician's office to the next. They spoke loudly of shucking their cell phones and Blackberries and telling the front desk to hold all calls. They were here to relax their brains out as far away as possible from work. They just wanted sun, mountain breezes, walks through the lush Hawaiian landscape, and rest. During the day, they napped ostentatiously on chaises by the pool or in armchairs in the common rooms. Late at night, on the pretext of being restless, they strolled through the grounds and bugged the place silly with parabolic microphones and miniature cameras.

Lobo's detectives had hit pay dirt. They'd followed a trail with many detours that finally led them to the Maui hotel where the SRO movement was spawned. The first clue came when Ted and Peter were overheard at one of the Sun God festivals talking about a forthcoming trip to Maui. Then Sol and Jeno, in Washington for a CUB event, mentioned Maui during a phone conversation at their hotel near the National Press Club. It happened that the DEA was tapping all the hotel phones for a drug sting, and that the tapper was an old friend of Lobo's. Over an informal lunch at a restaurant near the White House, the tapper told Lobo what his eavesdropping had inadvertently swept up. From there it was relatively easy. Paul Newman and Bill Cosby had been sighted at the Maui Airport in February and mentioned in a Hollywood Reporter gossip column that came up on a Google search. After a couple of weeks of sleuthing, the detectives closed in on the hotel.

It was a high-stakes game Lobo was playing, but it was a measure of his determination to salvage all he could for his side. He had weighed the odds, realized how far behind the CEOs were, and knew by now that total victory was out of the question. It was a matter of how much they were going to lose. In his war room he had his own GIS electronic wall, cruder than the Meliorists' system, but sophisticated enough to show all the alarming activities taking place across the country day by day. Every time he looked at it, he prayed that the CEOs were looking at it too. He was not at all sanguine that they had what it took in terms of direct involvement, passion, and willingness to back the effort with sufficient funds. The day he'd dressed them down, exhorting them to step up to the plate personally in this World Series of power struggles, he was floored by Hubert Bump's stunning gauntlet, so much so that he remembered every word: "We're done for if we think we can prevail merely by beefing up the old war chest and redoubling the old battle plans. To effect the counterrevolution, we must revolutionize ourselves. We must go where no business leaders have gone before, do what no business leaders have done before, and above all think like no business leaders have thought before."

There was thus far no indication that the CEOs were going to take Bump's challenge to heart. True, everyone had agreed at the last meeting to let the Washington lobbies do their thing at least for the month of July, but in August the Bulls and their backbenchers were going to be facing the most organized and inescapable accountability recess in congressional history. Lobo and Dortwist were busy scheduling their own local business accountability events and counter- demonstrations extolling deregulation and free enterprise, and pointing ominously to closing factories and withdrawn investments, but Lobo knew it was an uphill battle. And the Harry and Louise debacle had confirmed his worst fears, revealing the pettiness, the shallowness of the tactical thinking of the fully insured lobbyists. That was what was giving Lobo nightmares about never getting ahead of the curve, just stumbling from one giant pothole to another and falling further and further behind as the minutes ticked away into hours into the preciously few days left for any recovery.


Over at AFL-CIO headquarters, on the other side of Lafayette Park across from the White House, the mood was very different as the labor chiefs of the member unions assembled in sublime elation, the kind of joy that follows receipt of a wondrous and unexpected gift. Tommy Tawny, head of the AFL-CIO, gaveled the meeting to order and summarized the sunny scene. Labor's long-stalled and quite modest legislative menu was suddenly the cat's meow. Sympathizers of the past had become out-and-out supporters of the present. Loudmouth opponents of the past were behaving like mice these days. Notably, the Bulls went out of their way to be polite when labor sent witnesses up to testify on the Meliorists' Agenda.

"The Hill is in a revolutionary state of tumult," Tommy declared. "Throwaway the conventional wisdom, to use Ken Galbraith's phrase. It's a whole new ball game. We at the AFL-CIO are even planning to picket our notorious next-door neighbor, the Chamber of Commerce. No matter how often they crushed us in Congress, we've never done that before, and it'll be good for our members to hoof it a bit." He paused and walked over to the long side of the conference room, where labor's GIS map was blinking. "Look at all our locals. They're no longer rusting and creaking. They've come alive! They're flexing their muscles as part of the aroused masses, all those people out in the streets and at the rallies and picketing Wal-Mart. Their leaders are even organizing discussion circles with the rank and file about the Agenda for the Common Good and its historical background. Man, it's lucky the old-timers insisted on building or buying their own union halls. It was a sign of permanence, they always said."

"Do the PROs want to meet with us?" asked Sparky Lightman, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"No," Tommy said, "they want to keep their distance from all the liberal Washington lobbies. So do we, for that matter. The more each lobby pursues members of Congress on its own, the less likely it is that our opponents can tar us with some damaging stereotype, and the more flexibility we have. Lobbies can do things individually and do them faster than they could as a coalition."

"Besides, we have to focus on labor law reform, and no coalition is going to do that for us," added Ned Navastar of the Longshoremen. "We have to clear the deck so that workers can form unions without having to jump through a hundred hoops thrown at them by union-busting law firms or consultants. And we have to quadruple our AFL-CIO lobbyists too, Tommy. When the Hill door was closed, you didn't need too many people up there. Now that the door's wide open, there's a lot more ground to cover."

"You're reading my mind, Ned," Tommy said. "Yes, this has to be done. Is there any objection?"

Ann Moro of the California Nurses Association spoke up. "There sure is. It's way too vague. We need to know exactly how many lobbyists we can deploy on the Hill immediately. We've got to seize this rare moment in history. There's no time for recruitment and training, so let's have a show of hands around the table. I'll start. The CNA is small, but we'll volunteer fourteen of our lobbyists, beginning right now with myself and my deputy for the remainder of the congressional term. Who's next?"

"You're a pistol, Ann," Tommy said. "Fair enough. I'll reassign a hundred of our headquarters staff to the Hill, including me and my vice-president. Let's see what the rest of you can field."

Within thirty minutes, the union chiefs had pledged a total of 865 lobbyists to work full-time on the Hill. Ann clapped her hands. "Well, that's not quite twice as many as the drug industry sics on Congress -- just one industry -- but it's a start. Now, how are we going to make this coming Labor Day like no other Labor Day before it?"

"You tell us, Ann," yelled Larry Strong of the United Auto Workers.

"All right, I will. As the newest member of the AFL-CIO, may I say how appallingly pathetic Labor Day has become over the decades? To most Americans, it's nothing but one giant sale. As leaders of your unions, why are you hiding your light under a barrel? Tommy, why aren't you on Meet the Press? Larry, why aren't you on Face the Nation? And what about the Labor Day parades? They used to be demonstrations of worker power, but now attendance is so low that the marchers look like stragglers. Well, here's what I suggest we all do, and what we're definitely going to do in California. We're going to do whatever it takes to bring out the rank and file, tear them away from their backyard grills for a few hours. Our union leaders are going to make appointments with our senators and representatives and notify them in advance that our membership will be encircling their local offices in a silent vigil, waiting to see if the leaders emerge from their meetings with these lawmakers with a clear declaration of support for the Agenda -- not just the labor part, but the entire Agenda for the Common Good. If the lawmakers say yes to the Agenda, cheers will go up and they'll be asked to say a few words to the packed crowd of workers and their families. If they say no -- well, there are going to be a lot of people talking to a lot more people in a very personal way about how the representative or senator took them away from their barbecue festivities in vain. The visuals will be perfect for the evening news, and the vigils will present a fine opportunity to collect the names of the really committed for further pressure on Congress in September and October. You'll all get to know more of your members too. So many of them see you as all rank and no file."

"Boy, Ann," said Buster Boyd of the Boilermakers, "you sure know how to present a great idea and then sour it at the end by sticking it to us. I came up from the ranks, spent many a year in nearly unbearable heat in the plant. Were you ever a nurse, Ann?"

"Touche, Buster. I take your point, so let's get back to planning a super Labor Day that will make our opponents sweat."

"I think we all agree that Ann's idea is a winner," said Tommy, "but how do we implement it? We're not used to showing labor's muscle on Labor Day, at least not in recent years. Ann, will you head a task force to plan for maximum turnout and report back by the end of July so that we'll have five weeks or so to actually get it down?"

Ann nodded.

"I assume all you presidents around the table will cooperate," Tommy went on, "and some of you may want to join the task force. You've all read the Agenda, and there's nothing objectionable to us in any of its sections. Okay, next on our own agenda is the sticky matter of union jurisdictional conflicts, so let's get to it before we break for lunch."

Ann could barely conceal a smile of pity, but it was quickly extinguished by an idea that popped into her head. She would get in touch with the managers of the "Read all about it!" newspaper kids. She was determined to include all workers, not just union workers, in the Labor Day parades and Agenda vigils, and the kids could blare out announcements of both in cities all over the country in the days leading up to Labor Day. Perfect, she thought. And with Warren Beatty handily winning his primary, California labor ought to be more upbeat by the day. Ann could hardly wait to get to work.


As July headed toward August, the public hearings in both houses of Congress continued to build an extraordinarily detailed record of contemporary, historical, and forward-thinking testimony and accompanying documentation. The quality of the questioning was impressive both from the progressives and the Bulls -- an example of how solid public procedures elevated content and behavior.

Over at Analysis the staff was working two shifts processing the daily transcripts and summarizing their contents for distribution to all relevant destination points throughout the expanding network, including websites and blogs where they were devoured and covered with commentary and debate. Since the hearings featured pro and con testimony at each session -- the Bulls had insisted on this to get their rebuttals and their side of the story in the press every day -- the subsequent public discussion was nourished in the same way. All over the country and on the Internet, a thousand town meetings bloomed.

Analysis then broke the transcripts down for selected audiences interested in this topic or that. Labor material went to the unions; consumer and investor material to those groups; material on health, the environment, and democracy to lists of credibility groups and specialized action organizations. All dispatches were set in a crisp typeface and beautifully designed. The Analysis breakdowns also yielded a trove of material for the Daily Bugle youngsters: "Lawmakers asked to get tough on crime in the suites! Read all about it!" "Topple corporate welfare kings, demands ex-CEO welfare king! Read all about it!" "Clash over corporate greed on Capitol Hill! Read all about it!"

Analysis was full of former academics and citizen researchers used to grinding out material and wondering if anyone was reading or listening, so they were astounded at the interest in what they were disseminating from their current shop. "The difference is obvious,' said super-wonk Mark Green during a coffee break. "Remember all those polls showing heavy majorities in favor of much of the Agenda long before there was an Agenda? Well. the soil was fertile, but there was no rain, just year after year of drought. Now the glorious spring rains have come, and the seeds have burst forth, first the sprouts, then the flowers, and then the pollination. The Earth is green again, sustaining all kinds of vibrant and constantly reproducing life. The dust storms are no more, and all because of drops of rain, millions of consistent drops of rain. Long-repressed hopes have grown into change, into compassionate, creative realities rooted in the moist, firm, life-giving soil."


Back in their respective headquarters in New York City and Washington, DC, Lobo and Brovar were pondering escalation options against the Meliorists. On their short list -- their very short list -- were two items: destabilizing the economy, and offering lucrative positions to any Bull who wanted to go out batting a home run for the status quo. They would have to be very careful. The first option was intrinsically risky and was bound to incur more charges from the SROs that business was behaving unpatriotically. The second could be seen by prosecutors as a bribe. It would be best not to have to resort to either tactic, but there was nothing else in the Lobo/Dortwist bag of tricks, as even Brovar had to admit. The media scare buys were in full swing, and the Washington lobbies were going all out within their limitations, but the results weren't encouraging. The pressure at the community level was already getting to more than a few dealers and agencies long accustomed to having their way with a malleable public. Now they were noticing that the more aggressive, overt anti-Meliorists among them actually lost business. People just weren't going to bestow their buying dollars on vendors who fought against the common good, and they told them so.

Brovar called his potential partner in crime. "Can't we find out more about the SROs' forthcoming moves, Lobo?" he asked. "That might be of some help. By the way, have you found your mole yet?"

"I've given all my people lie detector tests, and they all passed. I've had my captains interview all of them, and nothing came up, except one guy blurted out that he was having an extramarital affair. As for finding out more about the SROs' plans, I've got some things in the works, and I'll keep you posted. For now, though, we're slipping further and further behind, and our base in Congress is showing fissures everywhere. It's like we're facing some giant crusher machine that expands its grip in a thousand new ways every day. You've got to hand it to the old guys. If they've lost a little bounce in their step, they're still way ahead of us."

"Much as I don't want to, I have to agree. But in a situation like this, Lobo, it's the better part of valor to stay calm and keep thinking. In any battle there are always two general ways to win. Either you defeat the enemy, or the enemy defeats itself. We haven't tried the latter approach yet. How can we provoke the SROs to defeat themselves, since they seem incapable of doing it all by their lonesome?"

"Beats me. Got any ideas?"

"Not yet, not yet, but there's always a way. The problem with the SROs is that the usual dirty tricks just don't work. Say we show that they cheated on their wives years ago, defrauded someone years ago, abandoned their children years ago, watched porn flicks years ago -- it's all 'years ago.' People want fresh prey. The public says 'So what?' to exposures that might bring down someone in their forties or fifties. Even assuming we can connect the proposals in the Agenda to the SROs' stock portfolios or other investments, people will say they're so rich they couldn't possibly be in it for the money. And the media will say what the SROs always say -- that they're capitalists, of course, only they're doing on behalf of the people what the current capitalist bosses are doing against the people. Face it, Lobo, these guys are knights in shining armor, invulnerable to conventional smears. Besides, since people are now mobilizing on their own, it's almost too late for any discrediting of the SROs to matter. Except maybe for the money flow."

"And except for the Bulls. As you know better than anyone, Brovar, the SROs have to win in Congress by veto-proof margins, or else our lame-duck president can turn back the tide with the stroke of seven pens. It's time to move to the third wave -- the last stand at the Khyber Pass -- but we can't convey our sense of grim reality to anyone, including the CEOs, who must be challenged anew to come out swinging one on one with the SROs."

Lobo needn't have bothered to contemplate this series of square-offs. He needn't have worried about the ticklish matter of going back to the CEOs and telling them even more forcefully that they had to take the SROs on personally. Once again the Meliorists were ahead of the curve and sprang their challenge the next day. Mercifully, their news release did not mention the CEOs by name or refer to them as a cabal. With the Seventh-Generation Eye at the top of the release, the message was brief and direct: "The Meliorists hereby invite any CEO of any corporation with annual sales of $25 billion or more to debate us individually on national television, before an impartial moderator, under rules of engagement acceptable to both parties. Our purpose in making this offer is to elevate our deliberative democracy to new heights of discourse and civility at a time of intense congressional attention to the Agenda for the Common Good. All inquiries from CEOs will be treated confidentially until they agree to a public debate. We do not wish to inhibit inquiries by premature publicity."

That afternoon the New York Post gave the release a front-page, full-page banner headline: "TITANIC SHOWDOWN: PROS VS. CEOS." The accompanying article on the jump page reported that the paper had called dozens of CEOs to elicit their reaction, with no success. Two days later, after more deafening silence from the CEOs, the Post's full-page headline read, "CEOS: MUM'S THE WORD. CHICKENS??"


Unbeknownst to Lobo, there was another option on Brovar's short list, the one he had begun to formulate during his walk with Get 'em. He summarily convened the Washington lobbies and their think-tank apologists for a meeting of a kind they could never have imagined in their wealthy complacency only a few months ago. He had tried to warn them, only to be met by their dismissive scoffing. Now, as at his Wednesday morning gatherings of the greed and power brigades, he sat at the end of the long conference table and took charge, opening the meeting without preliminaries.

"I'm not going to belabor all the ways that things are not going well for us, to put it mildly. We are on a downhill course to defeat. Sure, you'll all have your jobs, and your organizations may even grow in staff and budget. Isn't it the nature of corporate power that it's always able to take care of its core defenders? That's why left-wing dictators can't do anything but shut it down. If they don't, the corporatists keep coming back again and again, like bamboo trees.

"Here in America, the power situation is far more complex when it involves an intense disturbance of business as usual. The SROs aren't pushing to shut us down -- that would be an easy fight for us to win. Instead, they're holding us to our own bullshit standards and principles, which we've used for so long to control the population to suit our purposes. No, the SROs aren't trying to shut us down -- though the HMOs may not be negotiating long-term leases -- they're just telling us to share a little more of our wealth with the workers, to stop mistreating consumers and blocking investor control and ignoring known solutions, to start meeting some of the long-neglected needs of millions of our fellow Americans. And they've set in motion such a fundamental shift of power to those millions of Americans that there's no going back to the status quo ante. Cleverly, and as you might expect from their past successes in the business world, they are persuading many more members of Congress than we would like, and more and more of the press, that their Redirections are more economically efficient and productive than the current system of corporate dominance. All in all, a neat package, isn't it?"

Low grumbling rumbled around the massive conference table.

"So I ask you," Brovar went on, "why not recognize their Agenda and go along with it in such a way that we can sow the seeds of gradual repeal and the future restoration of our control? That's what the docs did when they dropped their longstanding opposition to Medicare in 1965. It's turned out pretty well for them, no?"

There was a loud creaking and scraping of chairs as all the attendees sat bolt upright and leaned forward on the table.

"What in the world are you suggesting, Brovar?" shouted Edgar Exerson, head of the Hospital Chains of America. "Did I hear you right? Did you all hear him right? Are you leading us down the road of surrender? Is this the Wal-Mart capitulation on steroids? Explain yourself!"

"Don't get so steamed, Edgar, it clouds your analytic mind. Remember the old saying 'Refusing to bend, they broke'? You know what's going on around the country. And if you don't, just look out your office window. Haven't all of you seen the demonstrators and pickets and newspaper kids in front of your shiny office buildings? The steadily expanding breadth and depth of this movement -- rural, urban, and suburban -- has no precedent in American history. The great populist revolt of the 1880s and on was born and stayed mostly in the countryside. The teeming cities just teemed. This movement is not going to run out of money, talent, and media -- again, it has no precedent in American history. You, Lanky Lightshaft, you and your broadcast industry powerhouses, tell 'em, Lanky, do you think you can do the usual, put out the word and black out the coverage on your stations? You couldn't even black out coverage of the SROs' demand that your industry finally start paying rent for your broadcast licenses. Would you care to rebut me, Lanky?"

Lightshaft clenched his jaw and shook his head.

"Would anyone care to rebut me? No takers?" Brovar stared slowly down the table at each one of them. "All right, to continue, July is coming to an end soon. The hearings will be over, though by no means the fallout. Then there's the month-long August recess, when all hell is going to break loose on our Hill buddies back home. Okay, all you tough guys, you fight-to-the-finish guys, how many of you have canceled your usual August vacations?" Again Brovar eye-balled each of them, down one side of the table and up the other. Finally, a hand went up.

"And who are you, madam?" Brovar asked.

"The name is Fiona Future, executive director of the National Association of Renewable Energy Industries. I canceled my four-week cruise in the Greek islands."

"There you have it. One person out of the forty-seven of us here, and not exactly in the most vulnerable of industries, is staying in the summer heat of Washington, DC, because of the crisis situation. In addition to me, of course. So I can only surmise that the rest of you don't like what I've been saying. Okay, let's hear from you dissenters. Tell us what we should do, what we can do, what we must do. Take the gloves off. Earn your pay."

Arnold Adverse cleared his throat in the tortured silence. "Speaking for the pharmaceutical industry, I would launch a campaign of delay to give us time to regroup for next year's session. If congressional history teaches us anything, it's to avoid panic legislation. Major bills require careful deliberation and should not be rushed through Congress. Pell-mell lawmaking can have many unintended consequences, many side effects that we, the American people, will rue. In a period of big deficits and a shaky dollar, let us not rock the boat just because some old billionaires took it into their heads to throw their weight around."

"Fine speech, Arnold, but I've got news for you. The SROs have anticipated you. For weeks, through their lecturers and the media, they've been trumpeting how long overdue the changes proposed in the Agenda are, how many times in the past half century similar proposals have been considered and rejected because of corporate lobbying. Haven't you seen their latest national TV ads, which make this point in brilliant, memorable, personal fashion, by showcasing ordinary Americans whose lives will be dramatically improved by this or that Agenda provision? They've also got a series of ads giving examples of corporations ramming through gross special interest legislation via paragraphs stashed away in bills running to hundreds and hundreds of pages, with no public hearings, no public notice, no declared sponsor, no nothing -- sneaky little paragraphs with big results, like big tax breaks, scuttling safety budgets, and so forth. What's the matter with you, Arnold? Are you under the influence of one of your clients' medications? Not only will it not work, it'll backfire. Next proposal?"

"Here's one for you, Dortwist," barked Jim Mobilaski of the Defense Industries Association. "We take all the things we're doing now, which individually aren't enough, increase the intensity, and deploy them all at the same critical time. I call it the Blitzkrieg Strategy. We expand our media buys, step up the announcements of plant shutdowns and capital flight, triple our operations on Capitol Hill, stir up opposition to the progressives in their home districts through our own demonstrations and marches, and top it all off with a press conference at which we declare in grave tones that we are compelled as sellers of goods and services in America to make known our fear of a total economic collapse should the Agenda pass into law. We call a general strike -- one full twenty-four-hour day when we will shut down all operations, except for emergency services. No gasoline, food, medication, clothing, transportation, banking, insurance, repairs -- no nothing for a solid day. The first general strike by vendors in our history ought to get their attention."

George Watson of the Bankers Association paled visibly. "Even if you manage to pull all that off, how can you guarantee that it won't ignite more anger against us? There comes a point when more is less, and we may have reached that point. Already, our moves to rattle the economy have scared our side more than the Meliorists and their supporters. Stock markets continue to slide, companies that planned to go overseas in phases are now uprooting their entire operations because they believe they've got cover. What makes us think more of the same won't produce an even sharper blowback?"

"I agree," said Warly Wynnit, president of the Association of Gaming Companies. "Why not a Hail Mary with our first- string team, the Bulls? Let's stick to the Khyber Pass and make the most of it. As long as the Bulls control the congressional red and green lights, nothing can pass to the floor without their approval, right?"

"Wrong," Brovar said. "There is such a thing as a discharge petition, which a majority of members of the House can sign to get bills to the floor. The progressives may just have enough votes to carry it off, and it's such a humiliation to the leadership that some of the Bulls, especially given the pressure back home, may quit on us. It's not likely, but it's possible, and at the worst possible time.

"As for Jim's Blitzkrieg Strategy -- a term with most unfortunate associations -- it ranges from the redundant to the preposterous. A general strike of vendors is a kamikaze dive with no enemy ships below. We're talking super blowback here. Remember when Gingrich caused the temporary shutdown of the US government? That marked the decline of Gingrich -- he turned lots of people off, including some of his supporters. Americans view such tactics as blackmail, dirty pool. Gingrich was smart, though. He quit and changed his name to Get-rich, which is more than we'll be able to do after the so-called blitzkrieg turns around and flattens us. Anyone else?"

"Why the hell don't we bite the bullet and take the SROs up on their challenge?" asked Paul Pain, president of the Nanotechnology Industries Association. "Why don't we put our most articulate CEOs in the ring with them, one on one, to unmask these aging egomaniacs once and for all as senile saboteurs whose Agenda will wreck our great economy?"

Brovar folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair. "It's been three days since the challenge, Paul. Have any of our valiant CEOs stepped forward? Is there an intrepid soul among them? Can anyone here name a CEO who's likely to put on the gloves? It's hard to understand, really, when you consider the patsies they'd be up against: the Wal- Mart slayer Sol Price, the firebrand Jeno Paulucci, the street fighter Leonard Riggio, the cunning trial lawyer Joe Jamail, the beloved Bill Cosby, the awesome Warren Buffett, or maybe Bernard Rapoport, aching for a second victory, or the demure Ted Turner, or what about the tongue-tied Phil Donahue or that introvert George Soros? Hey, come on, let's stop kidding ourselves. They're beating us. All we can do is go through the aggressive motions and hope for a miracle. Think about what I said at the outset. I haven't made up my mind yet, and I don't know about the CEOs, but just think about how bad a smaller, compromised SRO victory would really be compared to the wholesale popular revolt that might follow if we manage to drag things out into next year. Meanwhile, I'll keep in touch if there are any new developments, and I trust you'll do the same. By the way, before we break up, have any of you reconsidered canceling your vacations? No? No one? All right, then, see you in September."

Also unbeknownst to Lobo, Jasper Cumbersome summoned the CEOs to the penthouse boardroom for a quo vadis meeting in response to a stinging editorial in the previous day's Wall Street Journal. Titled "Whither the Withering CEOs? the editorial recounted the weakening position of big business vis-a-vis the Meliorists and slammed the "inactivity, inattention, and insipidness" of the CEOs. "And this was supposed to be the supercharged vanguard army for free enterprise capitalism?" the writer asked mockingly. "About the only elbow grease we've seen from them has been their flat-out opposition to their investors voting on the fat pay packages they give themselves. Bring back the tough John D. Rockefeller and the wily J. P. Morgan." The newspaper did not know that the CEOs' temporary withdrawal was a deliberate strategy on their part, designed to give them greater "flexibility," and that much was being done by Lobo's sizable operation without their being up front. But a month had passed, a month filled with congressional hearings and rising public tumult and demands. It was time for an evaluation.

CEO Cumbersome brought the meeting to order and reported that the money was flowing in nicely. The war chest was now up to $3 billion after some large contributions from a few hedge fund billionaires. "But I'm afraid we've got more money than strategy," he lamented, throwing the meeting open for suggestions.

"As a lifelong sailor," said William Worldweight, "I know what a good trim tab can do to the ship's direction. Our power has always been our trim tab. So long as we kept piling it up, we never had to think about what to do if we ever started losing it from within. We were ready for the Communist threat because we could fire up the hot rhetoric and call out the Marines, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force. I don't think the 101st Airborne will be of much use to us now against their own families and friends. Sure, we still have the power to bring down the economy and blame the SROs, but it will be on our own heads, and our heads will roll. We'd be betting the house, and we'd lose."

"If I may interject on that point," said Wardman Wise, "Lobo has sent us an intercept of what appears to be an authentic communication between some of the SROs, and that's exactly what they want us to do. They want us to be in fight-to- the-finish mode. They directly challenged us to those public debates to polarize us further. They don't want us to be flexible and position ourselves so we can cut the deck on Capitol Hill. They smell total victory for their Agenda. But please continue, William."

"I don't have much more to say, except to ask my friends around the table to give their interpretation of what seems to be the most popular poster in the daily demonstrations and marches. I'm sure you've all seen it many times on television and in the newspapers: 'What's the Big Deal? We Earned It.' I am eager to hear your views."

Samuel Slick slapped the table impatiently. "Just listen to yourself, William. Where have you been? Our wealthy classes have had a great run, longer than could ever have been imagined. As we grasped for more, we got more. As we acquired more power, the people contented themselves with less power. It's astonishing in the light of history, really. Arthur Schlesinger postulated that reform movements arise every thirty years or so in the United States, but after the tumult of the 1960s, the 1990s came and went with barely a whimper. I'd have thought that the multitudes had more fight in them. More recently, I'd have thought that the Internet would give them the tools to connect, to find each other, to organize. Instead they've been playing computer games, gossiping, and exhibiting themselves and their pathetic lives on their websites, blogs, and Facebook. Marx would have had to revise his definition of the opiate of the people from religion to the Internet.

"But those days are gone now. It's taken more like forty years, but the masses are on the move. What does that poster mean, William? Obviously, it's about the Meliorists' Agenda. And how can I say that the people carrying the poster are inaccurate or greedy or misled? They work their fingers to the bone, holding down one, two, three jobs, and still their bills pile up and they go without. They work for us while we make ten or twenty thousand dollars an hour. I know I'm supposed to be a hardliner here, especially coming from the oil industry, but hell, I grew up with people who could carry that sign. I was born into a poor family. I saw my aunt die at forty-six because she didn't have the money for surgery. My dad came home once with his hand crushed from a power press accident in the shop. My mother made a few bucks as a seamstress while raising five children in what you'd have to call a glorified shack. Some of you have similar stories of hardship and deprivation. Some of you tell me you teach Sunday school. What the hell for, given what we all do during the week? What a farce we play, Lucifer. Do we believe in the Bible? Do we believe in the Golden Rule? Sure, who doesn't until Monday morning, when the gold rules. How much money do we need to provide for seven generations of progeny? I'll bet when you were in your twenties, if someone asked you how much you expected to make by the time you were sixty, your answer wouldn't even be a hundredth of what you're making now. Adjusted for inflation.

"Maybe we should start saying what we think instead of thinking about what we should say. The Meliorists represent the mildest rebellion we're ever going to see. What do you think is likely to come later, not only for us but for our children and grandchildren? You know how Americans are. They take it and take it and take it, and then they explode and tear it all down if their rulers cling rigidly to greed as their sole creed. The Meliorists? Just think about the soft meaning of the name they've chosen for themselves. Is it ever going to get better for us than that? Workers, after decades of loyal labor, are losing their jobs to China as corporations blend criminal communism with criminal capitalism. Their sons are sent overseas to fight, kill and die for crooked politicians and their corporate paymasters. Pensions are disappearing. Those lucky enough to have jobs watch their benefits and pay shrinking while we accumulate more pay, more bonuses, more stock options, more golden parachutes. Millions of American children go to sleep hungry, with diseases of hunger. The masses aren't going to stay dumb forever just because they're the masses. Every empire in the world has fallen apart or decayed because the people who ran the show believed it could never happen there. Have we got some drug that immunizes us from this historical fact?"

Slick paused and looked directly across the table at Hubert Bump. "Maybe you think I've disqualified myself from this august group of CEOs. If you think I should quit, just tell me and I'll go quietly, keeping your confidences. But first I want to hear what's really on your minds and in your hearts now that Hubert and I have broken the ice of self-censorship and double-talk. I guess I'm too old for that endless bullshit." He sighed, took a long drink of water, and waited.

The silence in the boardroom was total. It went on for one minute, two minutes, three. Many faces around the table were red. A few were ashen.

Finally Cumbersome spoke. "Well, who's next on the block? If we're ever going to let it all hang out, now is the time and place, I suppose."

"Can we have a little consideration of context and consequence at this point, if Mr. Slick doesn't mind?" said Justin Jeremiad facetiously. "Does anybody know whether any of the Washington lobbies are indulging in this kind of introspection? And suppose we were to commence negotiations with the SROs and their forces on Capitol Hill. How would our Washington allies react? And what would Lobo do now that we've unleashed him? It's getting complicated."

"Our information," said Wardman Wise, "is that the lobbies are proceeding as expected with the straight-arm approach to their opponents. We can't be seen as saboteurs or weaklings by our peers, not to mention our growing number of donors who think that we too are proceeding resolutely and effectively with our own straight-arm, not to overuse the football metaphor. It looks to me like we may have gotten ourselves into a box we can't get out of, not even to get into a different box. Some important thoughts have been expressed by our two colleagues, unwelcome as those thoughts may be. Perhaps, that's why the unadulterated pursuit of profit is so enjoyable -- it spells unity, solidarity, with no broader concerns intruding. It's almost martial in its discipline. Greed has few doubts at its extreme. I don't believe any of us is anywhere near that extreme, but we know there are those in the world of commerce who do fit that description."

"Without impeaching anything that's been said, aren't we getting a bit airy?" asked Edward Edifice. "I mean, we do have an elaborate Agenda to cope with. Why don't we meet in a couple of days and go through the Agenda item by item to see what we'd like to modify, within the reality that after August we're likely to get our asses hosed. I don't see Lobo as having any special August strategy. This is going to be the hottest peacetime summer in American history, and I'm not talking Fahrenheit. There's just no escaping the Meliorists and their throngs of supporters. Everywhere I go, everywhere I look and listen and read, they're there. The people are a-coming, and not just in a song. The level of organization, the speed of response, the discipline, preparation, and depth, the quality of their bench, their seemingly inexhaustible resources -- their presence extends so far and wide that they've obliterated the Red State/Blue State boundaries. You can even feel it on the golf links, in the clubs, in our children's private academies, at the symphony and the theater during intermission.

"I know what some of you are thinking, even now. Sure, we're still in charge, nothing has happened yet, our temples aren't crumbling. It reminds me of the optimistic man who fell out of a skyscraper. As he passed the fifty-fourth floor, a secretary looked out the window. 'How are you doing?' she asked. 'So far so good,' he replied."

"I endorse Ed's excellent suggestion," said Roland Revelie. "May I urge the chair to schedule another meeting after we've all conducted a section-by-section analysis of the so-called Seven Pillars of the Agenda? I think it will take about ten days, which will put us into the August recess, when the Congress is out of town."

"Is that the sense of the meeting?" asked Cumbersome. "All in favor say aye.... Fine, the ayes have it, but you'll have to let me know how to reach you, since we'll all be out of town too, taking our well-earned vacations. Before we leave, does anybody here want to take up the SROs' debate challenge? I know I don't. I can't see anything but downside to that trap."

"But if Lobo can come up with someone who can really put on a show of strength," said Ichiro Matsuda, "then why not? We may learn something from new minds who see things in a more combative way than we do."

"Fair enough," said Cumbersome. "We'll ask him. Meanwhile, until further notice, we're adjourned."


A few days before Maui Eight, Bill Joy arrived at the mountaintop hotel to conduct his usual sweep of the premises, with more than the usual reasons to suspect an intrusion, because of some tidbits he'd picked up from his unsuspecting and still undetected mole. Amazing how the powerful could turn a blind eye to the so-called lowly who served them.

That evening, Bill was sitting out on the deck sipping pineapple juice when the effusive Ailani brought him his freshly cooked dinner of mahimahi with papaya salsa. "I think we've just had some guests who may interest you," she said. "They asked lots of questions and seemed to be working hard to act like vacationers. Anyhow, I was cleaning the atrium one morning when I saw one of them dart away, but not before he dropped something. I picked it up, but I couldn't figure out what it was." She fished around in her apron pocket. "Here it is. Maybe you'd like to have it?"

"I would, Ailani, thanks. And how are your children?"

"They're fine, just fine, full of energy. In fact, I can't wait for the summer to end so they can get back to school," she laughed, continuing on her rounds.

Bill studied what Ailani had given him. It was the lens of a tiny camera. He finished his dinner, went to his room, and unpacked his detection equipment. Several hours later, he had located twenty-eight microphones and seven micro- cameras in the hotel and on the grounds, but he didn't disturb any of them. At breakfast the next morning, he spent a long time chewing his food and reflecting. Then he rose slowly from the table, retrieved his rental car, and drove six miles to a bluff designated by the Maui Tourist office as a scenic overlook. He stepped out of the car, walked fifty yards or so, just in case whoever bugged the hotel had got to him too, and turned toward the ocean to put in a call to Omaha.

"Hi, Warren, Bill Joy here. Well, it's finally happened. The place is wired to the rafters with all the latest in cameras and mikes. The way I see it, I can either do a full sweep and hope I get them all, or I can leave them there so we can give our spies a weekend of disinformation. That could be fun, but it'll take a Newman-caliber performance from of all of us. Besides, we'd have to find some other secure place to meet and plan our scenes. What do you think?"

"Well, I need a little time to switch gears here, since I've been absorbed in our CEO distraction legislation on executive compensation and investor control. It's really sapping the CEOs' attention, especially because they can't go public with it. Instead, they have to make dozens of lengthy 'educational' calls to their brethren to get them contacting their members of Congress. This major tilt in their lobbying is costing them on the Agenda legislation because they're spending their political capital on their own greed and perks. I'm feeding the story to some major media friends so that the publicity will erode their position further. Call me back in half an hour, will you, and I'll refocus on Maui. In the meantime enjoy the vistas."

Thirty minutes later, Bill called back.

"This is a tough one," Warren said. "I'm going back and forth. On the one hand, the easy way out is not to go to the hotel at all and rent another place instead, maybe on another island. Whoever did this would only know one thing -- that we're on to them, assuming their bugging hasn't spread to our other networks. But you've been checking those, right?"

"All clear, as far as I can tell, which is plenty."

"The harder path is to go there and do as you suggest -- lead them down the road of false leads. But what might those be? We won't know until we meet somewhere else to thrash them out. And do we want to take the risk when we're winning? What risk? Well, suppose we all put on an Academy Award performance with a great disinformation script. Still, given what modern technology can do, they could splice the pictures in such a way as to show me on your lap in an amorous pose, Bill. You really can't win when you give them the raw digital material in a private location where there are no reporters or third-party observers, as there are at a congressional hearing or a news conference. And they could use their audio and visual recordings to clothe our meeting in an aura of conspiracy at odds with our championing of an open society. In other words, they can create their own disinformation if we let them.

"But we do have to meet. We have important matters to discuss. We can't postpone for another month, because in August we'll be gearing up for the home stretch on the Agenda drive, starting with Labor Day. So how about this? We go to Hawaii, but to a different hotel on a neighboring island. We'll have to find a small one with no guests because of a cancellation, or else just buy the place out and let the owners cancel on whatever guests are there, with more than adequate compensation. Over at our old hotel -- damn, I hate to be driven out of there -- we'll play a practical joke on our bugging pals. We'll find some raucous rock band, or a gathering of antique car buffs or realtors or salespeople, or --wait a minute, I've got it! Alpha Sig!"

"Pardon me?" Bill said.

"Alpha Sigma Phi. It's the fraternity I joined when I was at Penn. It happens that the graduating seniors are getting together in Philly this weekend to talk about what they can do on behalf of the Agenda for the rest of the summer, and to have a last fling before they start work. I know because they invited me to come speak to them. I had to decline because I'd be in Maui, but now they're going to be in Maui, because I'm going to give them an all-expense-paid trip to our hotel. I'll tell them it's just something I want to do for them as a fraternal gesture, to make up for my absence. They're good kids, but with everything on the house, I'm sure we can count on them for some good old-fashioned wild behavior that will give our buggers an eyeful and an earful. It will all have to be done lickety-split, of course, but it's manageable when the money is there. What say you?"

"I say they don't call you the Oracle of Omaha just for your wealth, Warren. But let me make sure I've got it right. I go back to the hotel and say we unexpectedly have to cancel for the weekend but we're still paying the full tab and sending a replacement party. You contact your boys and fly them out here for their free stay in paradise, with one stipulation. I think you should tell them that a crew from an ad agency will be filming on the premises all weekend for a series of spots showcasing the hotel, if they don't mind. That way they'll have indirectly waived any right of privacy they may later claim was violated by the hotel or anyone else. I'm sure it won't come to that, but it's still a wise precaution. Then we search the other islands for an exclusive hotel or club to host our meeting under the usual anonymous cover. Can we get all that done in time to notify the rest of the core group of the new location?"

"Patrick and I will begin making the arrangements right away. Since you're already there, stay put, and as soon as we find a new hotel, you can hop over and spread around whatever gratuities are necessary to empty the place out. Once you've done that, our trap will be fully laid. In the immortal motto of Alpha Sigma Phi, 'The cause is hidden, the results well known.'"

"Alpha Sig forever!" Bill said.
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On the last Friday of July, the Meliorists began arriving at the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, Kauai. Patrick Drummond had persuaded the owners of a small hotel under renovation to reopen a week early to accommodate some elderly people who had always wanted to see Waimea Canyon, a natural wonder that was smaller than the Grand Canyon but no less spectacular. The hotel's principal claim to fame was that it was perched on a knoll high above the canyon. Certainly it wasn't known for its cuisine or its roughhewn rooms. "It reminds me of my old summer camp in New Hampshire back in the thirties, except it's got running water and toilets," Max said. Bill Joy had swept the place the day before just in case. Now he smiled to himself as he thought about the frat party that was getting underway over in Maui.

The Meliorists had been in constant contact all through July, so there was no need for an update. They were all looking ahead to what Bill Cosby called the "August Ascension" and the "September Showdown."

"Welcome one and all to this place of the primitive gorge and stunning scenery," Warren said that afternoon when they were all gathered. "Let's get some housekeeping items over with first. You are fundraising Einsteins. More than I could ever have imagined, you've broken through the parsimony of the plutocrats. You've created the buddy system of all buddy systems for raising money. You've pitted them in a race against each other, a kind of modern mega-potlatch competition. Which is a long way of saying our receipts have hit fourteen billion dollars, with pledges -- get this -- of eight billion more by Labor Day. Apparently the amount of money being made from money is going off the charts. America is Hedge Fund Heaven, and you've struck celestial gold. To all of you, congratulations, but frugality and efficiency still rule this golden roost, I assure you.

"As for expenditures, we are up to six and a quarter billion in paid expenses and two hundred fifty-five million in incurred expenses. Some of these payouts were in advance -- such as those for the CUBs, to keep them in robust revolving funds for their mass mailings, or to get discounts for our media buys through August -- but just look what we've done with a sum less than two months' profit for ExxonMobil. Political scientists will not only study this performance for years to come, but they'll revise their judgment about what it takes to make social change. Mind you, I'm not counting my chickens just yet. The scene looks pretty good, but our watchword remains 'Take absolutely nothing for granted.'

"I have a request from Promotions about reaching the many people whose awareness of what we're doing is still largely confined to TV sound bites and doesn't go much beyond 'Oh, those rich old guys are giving the big boys fits.' Promotions wants to produce millions of DVDs focused on the Agenda topics and geared to various constituencies, along with a composite DVD to give people the whole story. They plan to get celebrity endorsements to help our networks move the DVDs into millions of living rooms, clubs, and eateries. They point out that further motivation, contemplation, and discussion will follow, so that it will be easier for all our outreach programs and budding organizations to bring more and more people into the movement. It's hard to argue with their logic, and their fifty-million-dollar budget seems more than reasonable. Do I hear any objections?"

"Do we object to the sun coming up or to the rains coming down on parched earth?" Yoko asked.

Warren smiled. "I suppose it's unanimous, then. Patrick Drummond of our Secretariat will now present several items for our attention."

"Thanks, Warren. I'll begin by noting an interesting aspect to our opposition. There is no fascistic element arising because the business community believes that the CEOs and the Washington lobbies have the situation about as well in hand as can be. They are impressed by the mass media buys, by the past invincibility of their side, and by the continued dominance of the Bulls in Congress, with their corporate president in the White House. Thus, we do not have to deal with the rogue element that would have made it more difficult to combat or control the CROs' counteroffensive. Our avoidance of foreign and military affairs has also helped to preempt these extremists. But more hecklers are showing up at some of our events.

"We've succeeded in distracting many CEOs through the proposal in Congress to give investor-owners authority over executive compensation. They're all over it, like bees to flowers, and it's diluting their overall effort. They know it, too, so they're not ballyhooing their work on their pay, but the Wall Street Journal certainly picked up on it. On another front, our counter-ads seem to have shown up their scare campaign as a case of crying wolf. The satiric touch has made them look even more foolish than their predecessors over the past hundred years who did the same thing with Social Security, Medicare, tobacco, labor laws, and so on. The most effective ad was the one about dire business warnings against abolishing child labor.

"We're now coming down to the vote-counting stage on the Hill. We need enough votes to override White House vetoes -- two-thirds or more. We know we have a third of the Congress, because they've already declared themselves. About fifteen percent have expressed solid opposition, though for some it may be an act to help them keep raising money. The rest of the members are playing things close to the vest, reading the tea leaves, waiting for shoes to drop, and barring the lobbying locusts from their offices. Their refrain is 'Let's keep an open mind and let all sides have their say. This is a time to listen to all concerned.' Convenient, isn't it?

"Our sources are conveying a puzzling situation with regard to the CEOs. They just seem to be raising money and letting Lobo, and now Brovar Dortwist, do the work. Lobo can't seem to get them directly involved. They're hunkering down for some reason. They've turned down media interviews, held no news conferences, ignored your debate challenge, and generally put themselves on hold while the Washington lobbies go through their humdrum motions, goaded by Lobo and Dortwist. Question: Is it time for you to seek them out for individual meetings the way they sought you out earlier? We don't seem to have any other way of getting more information about this puzzle."

"I don't see why not," George said. "What can we lose? We'll get more out of them this time around because they're up against the wall."

"I agree," said Sol.

"Same here," said Jeno.

"Of course," said Yoko.

"Sure," said Bill Gates, "but we need to pair ourselves off carefully to maximize the value of these get-togethers."

"And we need to do it in a way that doesn't start counterproductive rumors that we're cutting some kind of deal," added Joe. "The CEOs will insist that the meetings be private, so let's have evidence for the files ahead of time about the purpose of these meetings, in case of leaks."

"One of our chief purposes," said Paul, "should be to see if there's any budding statesmanship among them that we can nourish. We shouldn't assume we're dealing with one-hundred-percent intransigence. After all, the pressure bearing in on them may be having some meditative impact. They're so used to winning that this must seem like a trauma to them, and we should probe for any such psychological vulnerabilities. They may be entering a phase of face-saving and what they view as flexibility."

"Right," Ted said. "And we'll be busy as all get-out in August, but we still have to take all these meetings before the end of the month."

There were nods of strenuous agreement around the table.

"Okay," Patrick said, "I'll pass out the CEOs' names and addresses and you can check off your preferences, but remember that you probably won't find them at home. The oligarchs just will not sacrifice their August vacations even to save themselves from the Agenda. They'll be heading for Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, the Hamptons, the Maine coast, Nantucket, Bohemian Grove, the Canadian Rockies, the French Riviera, Switzerland, and the other haunts of the rich and famous."

Ted grinned. "Well, we'll just have to make the best of it."

"You know, we're becoming action heroes whether we like it or not," Warren said, "so are we on the same page when I suggest that we spend much of the month energizing and inspiring the various mobilizations and events? Ten or twelve appearances each where we're most needed shouldn't be too exhausting. Short notice is probably best so our opponents don't have time to shift their resources to our venues. I think the crowds will really appreciate our grasp of the details of the Agenda legislation and how it will improve their lives."

Joe jumped in. "And that's exactly what people individually have got to feel. The cleaning woman should be figuring out what kind of life she can now afford at ten dollars an hour with health insurance. Workers should begin to dream of how their family situation will improve once they have a union bargaining for them to protect their workplace, their safety, and their health. Workers, down at the basic level of daily life, deserve having a say."

"I have a general question for Patrick," said Bill Gates. "As the Secretariat marshals the daily input from all our networks and from Analysis, Promotions, Mass Demonstrations, and Recruitment, have you been able to identify any soft spots?"

"Well, as of now, there's always a potential soft spot regarding the level of intensity among the millions of people standing for our Agenda. You all know about my chief of staff's 'lesson plan,' and our organizers have been using it with mixed results. When all is said and done, intensity is hard to measure, and our people haven't really been tested yet as they will be at crunch time. It's easy to roar approval, much harder to be speedily resilient when many things have to be done without delay and done well to get the Agenda through Congress. At the same time, it's worth mentioning that we are neither fully knowledgeable about nor in control of what will be happening on our side, and that's a measure of our success. People aren't waiting on us, although our resources continue to be crucial.

"As for other soft spots, the big one, or at least the big unknown, is Congress. The sooner we get more members committed publicly, the more difficult it will be for the CEOs when the arm-twisting really begins in earnest after Labor Day. Our side is flooding the members with messages and requests for meetings. The press is on the Agenda story locally and nationally every day. But until we get better signals from the Double Z about each of the Bulls, we can't tailor our next moves as precisely as we'd like.'

"Still, said Peter, "there's good reason to believe that the mood in Congress is shifting powerfully to our side, so I think we should be looking ahead to what collateral amendments and legislation we can get through in the wake of the Agenda bills. I'm especially interested in finding out what we might be able to repeal of all the bad legislation that was passed when the business lobbies were in the ascendant for so long. Can you send us a memo on repeal possibilities?"

"We certainly can," Patrick said, "and we'll survey the conventional citizen organizations in Washington to see what they may have in mind. But we have to make sure that any repeals don't get caught up in the congressional tradeoff game on the Agenda. We need to move them through quietly in the midst of the chaotic final days."

"What I want to know," said Yoko, "is how all of you are feeling. How are your spirits, your energy? Are you getting enough rest? How are your families and friends holding up?'

Phil snorted. "What are you, our shrink, Yoko? Though I guess you've got a point. If anyone of us has any serious problems, it's only fair to the rest of us to tell us now. We can't have any unexpected dropouts due to shattered nerves, medical problems, or marital splits. Any one in any of those categories?" He paused and looked around the table. "No one? Okay, does that satisfy you, Yoko?"

"Testiness is often a sign of nervous exhaustion," Yoko replied tartly. "I rest my case for rest."

"This appears to be an excellent time to break for a relaxing dinner," Warren said diplomatically. "Afterward, we'll have an hour of silence and then retire to follow Yoko's wise advice."

Whereupon the Meliorists repaired to a plain but delicious meal in the rustic dining room, took in the sunset over the canyon, and returned to the conference room for the hour of silence. When Warren had first introduced this elbow-to- elbow solitude --"time for myself among ourselves," as he put it once -- many of the core group found it weirdly countercultural. No longer. Now they marveled at how productive and concentrating and stimulating these hours of silence were -- even Ted, for whom they were at first challenging and then transformative. "Silence disciplines," he often said, to the mild surprise of his colleagues.

In the morning, Paul opened the discussion. "We've been developing wonderful distractions for the right-wing media, for the CEOs, and for certain members of Congress, but let's talk about our lame-duck president. He's distracted himself with his endless costly military quagmires in Asia. His polls have dropped to a new low, but he seems determined to persist in his rock-headed stubbornness. We know that he'll want to veto most of the Agenda, but can he? Even if we don't have two-thirds or more of the Congress to override his veto, his party still wants to get reelected. His vetoes will hang Republican incumbents out to dry, exposing them to an even greater risk of defeat than they're already facing. He may not care personally because he's in his final term, but does he want to go down in infamy and take his party with him? Even if we have the votes to override his vetoes, they still taint the Republicans as standing in defiance of the large majority of the American people in their pursuit of a caring and competent government.

"The president's wars and military budgets are draining the country's resources and generating massive annual deficits. Ordinarily he could claim that there's no money for our Agenda. Unfortunately for him, the Seven Pillars either cost the government very little, or pay for themselves by cutting waste, or can be funded by the tax reform bill, which shifts the tax burden from ordinary people and raises revenues by closing loopholes and shelters. I think we need to keep his overseas distractions and his limited options as an unpopular president on the front burner as we move the legislation through Congress. We have to be prepared for how fast the president's role will come up the moment Congress finishes its job. Which is another way of saying we have to win the Congress and the White House as if they were one. We win the White House through the way we win in the Congress."

"But in this complicated chess game," said Phil, "the president, to the extent that he's not too distracted by his foreign adventures, will try to reverse the sequence. He'll try to win as president by winning in Congress. That means we have to find ways to soften him up and keep him on the defensive as well. Warren, I think the Secretariat should transmit our discussion, everyone willing, to Analysis, Promotions, the Congress Project, and Electoral Reform, to make sure their forward strategy absorbs this White House dimension sooner rather than later."

"Unless there's any objection," Warren said, "so done. Leonard, did you have something to add?"

"We've spoken often of a layered capacity for prevailing in Congress and against the CEOs through second- and third-strike capabilities that reformers rarely possess. It's this relentless reserve power that takes the opposition by surprise and breaks their will. As I see it, given our growing preparations at the community level, and given the CEOs' and the lobbies' late start and their continuing complacency, we should be going for knockout blows, faits accompli, rather than squeaker victories diluted by compromise. The Congress Watchdogs, with their two thousand core people in each congressional district, need to be alert to every opportunity for keeping the pressure on. For example, they should be working on the legislators' staffers, not just on the legislators, finding the budding dynamos among the congressional aides and policy analysts. Or they should be thinking ahead to a late wave of organized relatives, children, and friends of any vacillating members of Congress. These people usually bring up the rear, for obvious reasons, but when they do step forward, as we saw often during the Vietnam War years, their impact on the legislators can be decisive.

"Yesterday Patrick mentioned the intensity of our supporters as one of the unknowns, but as I see it, when you have the structures in place that we have right now, building intensity is a ready process of feasibilities. With the Congress Watchdogs, it's a matter of continually assessing the emotional and intellectual preparedness of the core two thousand, and of having our organizers go all out to step it up during August. Sure, the two thousand are on board, and they've accomplished a lot and learned a lot beyond what they brought to the project, but I'm speaking of taking them to another level in preparation for the grueling months of September and October."

"I find it encouraging," Yoko said, "that the Seventh-Generation Eye and the Meliorist wreath are seen everywhere these days, on millions of T-shirts, buttons, hats, even lawn signs for the CEP candidates. Promotions has discouraged tattoos, but all kinds of promoters and copycats are getting into this lucrative act, and no way can we control them. Still, there's no substitute for real dissemination, so that's fine by me. We want people giving these items out personally, or even selling them, with all the face-to-face conversation that entails. Art in the service of humanity, conveying the pathways to a decent society -- with a little commerce thrown in."

"By the by," Sol said, "your new design for the Eye with the Seven Pillars is great, Yoko. It's being posted prominently in the stores and offices of the sub-economy, and many of these businesses are reporting increased patronage as a result. That's terrific. Every day it gets better and better, which is what momentum and replication are all about."

"Are the lawmakers being sent invitations to the Sun God festivals and other events in their states?" Ross asked. "Can you give us an update on the invitational tactic, Patrick?"

"Gladly. There are so many personal invitations going out to each member of Congress for the August recess -- parades, rallies, meetings, fairs, festivals, reunions, debates, accountability sessions, teach-ins, church suppers, service club anniversaries, and so forth -- that if the members accept just ten percent of them, we'll be very pleased. But the fact is that they'll have to say no to a lot of them, just because of the sheer volume, and since that will upset the groups they turn down, they're likely to send assistants in their place, and then the assistants will report back the energy and substance they'll have witnessed firsthand. At every event, the legislators or their assistants will be asked to speak about one or more of the Pillars, which gives us another squirm factor for the members who haven't yet declared themselves on the Agenda. For all suitable venues, the media will be invited as well. Personally, I must say that at first I was skeptical about this tactic. Now I see it as smart and nearly costless since all the events will be going on anyhow."

Warren arched an eyebrow. "All of you may take that as an exceedingly rare compliment from the estimable Patrick Drummond, who is now passing out a suggested schedule of appearances for each of you at major events in August, as we discussed yesterday. Our field staff will handle all the logistics. I hope that in addition to speaking to these large audiences, you'll find time either before or after to meet briefly with some of the lecturers and organizers and members of the Congress Watchdogs for some personal time and mutual encouragement.

"And now I suggest we break for lunch and spend the afternoon strategizing about our meetings with the CEOs. Patrick will supply us with a list of them so we can make our choices and avoid duplication. I think it best if we all make our own arrangements directly with our selected CEOs -- once we track them down at their resorts and vacation homes. After the meetings, we'll feed the relevant intelligence back to the Secretariat. Let's reconvene in the dining room at seven for dinner, and then an hour of productive silence before we retire to be fresh for tomorrow's half-day wrap-up and the long trip back to the mainland. A word of advice. Beautiful as our surroundings are, don't go walking around the premises. The terrain is too rugged and in some places treacherous, even for young people."

That night, as the Meliorists went to their modest rooms, the ever cautious Bill Joy walked the rugged and treacherous terrain with his trusty Husky flashlight and his state-of-the-art detection equipment. Although he would never say so to Warren, it wasn't all that rugged. Finding nothing, he earned the special peace of mind that made for a good long slumber.

Seven a.m. found Leonard in the breakfast room sipping a large glass of fresh pineapple juice while reading fact sheets about the members of Congress whose districts and states he was scheduled to visit. These printouts on the members and their circles, originally prepared for the Congress Watchdogs, were remarkably distilled and focused. For example, they listed the top ten most influential friends and associates of each lawmaker back home -- business people, attorneys, educators, local politicians, judges, and even personal physicians and accountants -- along with rankings of these people's support for the Agenda insofar as it could be determined. These influence circles would be crucial in swaying the members one way or the other.

Soon the other Meliorists sauntered into the breakfast room to partake of a dazzling variety of fruits and grains and egg dishes laid out by the proud waiters and the even prouder hotel manager. They spent a relaxed hour selecting, ingesting, and going back for more, chewing slowly and thoughtfully, as if observing some Buddhist ritual prior to meditation.

At 8:30 a.m., Warren called them into the conference room to put a question on the table. "At an earlier Maui meeting, we discussed at length the probable reactions of the corporations and lobbies once the struggle began. They've pretty much met our expectations so far -- but I stress so far. At this point, from now until Congress adjourns in late October, what do you think might go wrong for us operationally? What's left for us to anticipate and forestall?"

"Well," said Bernard, "the other side of our blitz on Congress is a reverse blitz of inaction. The CEOs will pull out all the stops to get the Bulls to delay until the end of the session. That's their master play-blocking any action at all through manipulation of the rules and procedures by the key committee chairs. I know we're concentrating on this eventuality and pouring our troops into the states and districts where the Bulls preside, and I know that if they can't be persuaded, they can be overridden by discharge petitions. But what's to prevent them from buying time by deceptively assuring the progressives that the bills will be reported out once a fellow Bull's committee exercises its jurisdictional right to look them over, and so on ad infinitum? From my years of observing Congress, its genius is procrastination, stretching matters out to the point of no return. Some of the Bulls may even have been offered cushy jobs so they don't care if they lose in November. The stakes are so high for the corporatists that golden parachutes are chicken feed."

"So what that means," said Jeno, "is that we have to get commitments from as many Bulls as possible in August. That is the great challenge. Among us, we've met with most of them on Capitol Hill over the past few weeks, but meeting with them back in their districts and states is different. They may open up more on their home turf so that we can appeal to their better natures. There are no more than twenty-four real delay Bulls, and we should be able to get this done, since our speaking events have been deliberately situated in their jurisdictions. I'm a great believer in eyeball-to-eyeball. I've always done it in my businesses, I've done it with tough labor bosses and stubborn suppliers and regulators, and there's no substitute. After face-to-face meetings, the Bulls just won't be able to demonize us as our opponents are trying to get them to do."

"It doesn't hurt that the Double Z is all over this matter of the delay syndrome," Warren added. "They've already reported some breakthroughs and are coordinating with our activities back home. We expect most of the Bulls to fall in line if only because they fear being humiliated when the discharge petitions get going after Labor Day."

"I hope you're right." said Bill Gates, "but let's remember that the ranking members of the committees and subcommittees have leverage either way they go. We expect that they'll largely be with us, especially after their August experience with the people, but if they're not, there's an option we haven't yet discussed. Among the masses of information flowing from our operations in the field. I've begun to notice a pattern that comes as a very pleasant surprise, and one that should shake the CEOs, Brovar, and the Bulls to their shoe tops. Self-styled conservatives and libertarians are joining our efforts to limit corporate welfare, renegotiate global trade agreements, cut government waste, make corporate freeloaders pay marketplace rents for the use of public assets, step up law and order for corporate crime, protect investors, strengthen civil liberties and the right to privacy in the marketplace, and reform ballot access for third parties. It's possible that our adversaries may discern this pattern in the polls, but not unless they think of looking for it. We have it through direct reports from the field, names of people and organizations who have actively collaborated with our projects. Up to now they've come to us, drawn by the media coverage, but from now on we should reach out to them and tighten the alliance through all our forces on the ground, though without formalizing it. When the final crunch comes in Congress, this alliance will be the coup de grace. No one in Congress can stand up to such combined pressure -- it's the Bulls' ultimate nightmare. I can only imagine the expression on the faces of Lobo and Dortwist should it be necessary to unleash what we might call the right-left nuclear option. So, to the Secretariat, please pay special attention to this emerging unity during August."

"By all means," Warren said. "Patrick will ask Analysis to isolate the relevant data and feed it into the GIS. It will indeed give us a formidable weapon in the fall." He looked at his watch. "We have a little time left. Does anyone have anything to add?"

For the next hour, until they boarded their business jets for Honolulu Airport, the Meliorists discussed what could go wrong, the early signs of something going wrong, the ways they might have to respond personally, and the need to stay loose and light. "And to rest," Yoko added.


Meanwhile, across a few hundred leagues of ocean, the boisterous fraternity party was coming to an end as the participants dispersed for home. Sunday evening, the snooping quartet reappeared at the hotel as if to have a nice dinner, which they did, but of course they were really there to collect all their surveillance toys. Once they were back in their Mercedes, their leader, Sergei, called Lobo and excitedly told him that they had the entire meeting of the Meliorists in their hands, audio and video. Lobo ordered them not to dare listen or look, but to head for the Maui airport and ship the tapes immediately to his office in New York.

The package arrived early on Monday afternoon. Triumphantly Lobo received it and summoned his captains to the conference room for a viewing. He popped the first videotape into the player and sat back to enjoy the show.

Onto the screen of the big plasma TV came a group of clean-cut but obviously tipsy young men in Hawaiian shirts and leis. "Man, can you believe this is all on the house, guys? It's almost too good to be true," one of them shouted, throwing his arm around the young man next to him. '''Now everyone knows Alpha Sigma Phi," he sang, "'that they are the best just cannot be denied," whereupon the others joined in for a bibulous rendition of the fraternity song.

At first Lobo couldn't believe his eyes. There must be some mistake. Packages got mixed up. No, that was the hotel. Had the SROs discovered Sergei's handiwork and fabricated the hoax of hoaxes? Damn, but it was a good thing he hadn't called Jasper Cumbersome about what he believed was on its way from Maui. That would have been the end, the living end. Suddenly he was possessed by a consuming need for a quick tryst with his young pit bull, but not in front of his trusted associates, whose facial expressions betrayed deep concern, disbelief, and suppressed smiles that finally gave way to uncontrollable laughter as it dawned on them what had happened.

Soon Lobo joined them. They called for cases of cold beer, which were brought in one after the other by the unsuspecting mole. Uncontrollable laughter veered into slapping the table and leaning back in their chairs, some of them falling over in outbursts of mirth. Fueled by alcohol, they proceeded to watch all the tapes for the next three hours, drinking steadily and reacting with hilarity to the antics of America's future leaders. Ordered to stand by the entire time to fetch snacks and whatever else the revelers demanded, the mole, keen observer though he was, was utterly bewildered, but dutifully did as he was told.

The zenith of the evening was a conference call from Lobo to Sergei and his associates, who by then were celebrating in a Honolulu bistro. The fifteen-minute exchange between New York City and Hawaii burned up the wires and left the foursome floored, not to mention unemployed. When it was over and all his captains had gone home, Lobo's pit bull got a workout. Lobo slept on the floor that night, in his clothes, dead drunk, with his shirt half open. Even Lobo had his limits.


On the first day of the August recess, Congressman Billy Beauchamp once again boarded the Viscous Petroleum corporate jet and flew home to southwest Oklahoma. All through July, Willy Champ had regularly extended his polite invitation that Billy join him for a discussion of the issues, and by now Billy was in no mood to say no. For weeks his local and Washington offices had been overwhelmed by the escalating activities of the Meliorists' supporters. Rallies, marches, parades, lectures, meetings of Congress Watchdogs and local CUBs and chapters of the PCC -- they were all over the Fourth Congressional District. Astonished and alarmed, Billy knew he had to step up to the plate in front of the citizenry he had served so faithfully -- tracking down pension and Social Security and veterans' checks and so forth -- for so many years.

He agreed to debate Willy Champ on Friday, August 22nd. That would give him a few weeks to make his usual rounds of the county courthouses, rodeos, and luncheon gatherings at the service clubs, the Legion, and the VFW. There were no union halls. There were no unions to speak of, despite labor's resurgence in other parts of the country. Billy's website neatly listed his entire schedule of appearances and addresses. He knew the Agenda people were ready and planning to be out in force with questions and proposals the likes of which he did not care to imagine.

Billy called up his old friends in hopes that they could help him get his bearings. They met for breakfast at Fran and Freddy's Feed, where pro-Meliorist buttons and T-shirts were more disturbingly in evidence than before, among the customers as well as the staff. Billy looked at the menu, saw that the breakfast specials were listed under the heading "Fair Deals," and lost his appetite.

"Okay, boys," he said, "let's not beat around the bush. How do you like my chances in the fall? Give it to me straight."

"Billy, you know we're all with you," said Hal Horsefeathers. "We're a longtime mutual admiration society. You've always been there for me and the other ranchers when we needed your intervention. But the district has changed dramatically in the past few months. For your own sake and for your upcoming tour, you need to get a handle on all the new developments."

"He's right, Billy," said Ernest Jones. "Even my employees at the bank are getting themselves stirred up. The way I see it, you have two choices: you can be briefed about the agitations, or you can experience them for yourself. There are events happening almost every day. Why not come with us to one of them and be an eyewitness, without us or your advisers filtering things for you? You can wear a disguise so no one recognizes you. What do you say?"

"I say it's a good thing I'm only seventy. Just listening to you fellows might send someone older into early retirement. Okay, I'm going to feel like a fool, but I'll take the disguise option. I like to see things for myself and assess them firsthand. When do we go?"

"Well," said John Henry, "the Clean Elections Party is holding these staggered 'Brain Fests' -- that's what they call 'em -- in halls and auditoriums around the district. There are introductory Brain Fests and advanced ones. Admission's free but by invitation. The CEP organizers have scoured the district to find the best combination of people from different occupations and ethnic backgrounds, young and old, a mix of politically seasoned Sooners and folks who don't have a clue about mobilizing themselves or influencing Congress. When the people arrive, they're greeted cordially by name and escorted to their seats. There's good food and drink available, and some great country music. Thursday there's an introductory meeting here in Lawton, and then an all-day advanced gathering in Oklahoma City on Saturday."

"Okay, I'm game, but how do we get invitations?"

"We haven't been twiddling our thumbs all these weeks. Billy," said Gil Groundwork. "We've already got invitations for ourselves, and we'll just say you're our guest, George Whitman, retired farmer. In case anyone sees through your disguise and raises a ruckus, we'll make a joke out of it -- you were just trying to avoid distracting the audience and the speakers, didn't want to grandstand and crash the party, y'all understand."

Two days later, a minivan carrying Billy and his band of four pulled into the parking lot behind the five-hundred-seat Lawton High School auditorium. As he'd expected. Billy felt ridiculous in overalls, beard, and straw hat, but Gil assured him the getup was very convincing.

The place was throbbing with activity. People seemed upbeat, curious, and expectant. Every seat was taken, and the standing room was filled to the limit set by the town's fire marshal. The stage was attractively decorated, with Old Glory on one side and the Oklahoma state flag on the other. Doug Dauntless, a Will Rogers impersonator, opened the proceedings by asking the audience to sing "America the Beautiful; and then delivered a stingingly funny down-home critique of the powerful and greedy interests that thrived on making America the Ugly. Will Rogers would have been proud of the way Dauntless pushed many in his audience to the limit and then brought them back to shaking their heads in agreement. He was giving the assemblage a tough-love mental workout, drawing on the wrongs he knew they had endured for so long in one way or another. He had words for the younger Oklahomans and for the older people and for just about everyone in between. He ended with some of Will Rogers' choice descriptions of Congress. The applause and the approving shouts were so loud that he knew he'd reached his audience, even the novices among them.

Billy leaned over and whispered to Hal. "I know quite a few of these folks. What are they doing here? They've been my supporters for years. What on earth is old Alma Gannon doing in a Patriotic Polly T-shirt?"

"What's that Dylan song from the sixties?" Hal whispered back. "'The Times, They Are A-Changin'?' It's just taken forty years, that's all. And the food's better now."

Before the next presentation came the first of a series of one-minute intervals designed to give members of the audience a chance to say a few words. A burly man in farmer overalls just like Billy's jumped up on the stage. He looked to be in his mid-forties, and had a broad red neck and a mess for a haircut. "You know what I think we're about here, pardners? It's time to apply the Golden Rule, Do unto others what ye want to be done unto you so we can get rid of the bosses and their big companies and their Rule of Gold, which is, Do us in and make sure we can't do back unto them." The speech took thirty seconds -- farmers tend to be sparing with their words -- and the crowd loved it, corny though it was. The man returned to his seat beaming.

Then onto the stage bounded Frosty Cloy, the lone populist publisher in the state of Oklahoma. For decades, his twice- monthly newspaper had been living up to its motto, ''To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," borrowed from the inimitable Mr. Dooley, a.k.a. Finley Peter Dunne. Frosty occasionally displayed some contrary political prejudices that made him a little unpredictable, but he was a dynamic public speaker.

"Hello, neighbors, I think you all know me. I've been around so long one of my friends says I'm like barnyard manure -- it just keeps coming day after day."

Groans rose from the audience, along with a few guffaws.

"You think that's a bad joke?" Frosty boomed. "Well, here's another one for you. We have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

His listeners sat up in their chairs, startled.

"Who's the joke on?" he roared.

Back came a scattered chorus of voices: "It's on us."

"And that ain't funny, is it?" Frosty rejoined.

"No," muttered the crowd.

"Now, who's the joker?" Frosty asked.

Amidst a melange of answers, the red-necked farmer shouted out, "The big companies!" Many nodded in agreement. Then, as the audience quieted down, Alma Gannon stood up and said, "We're the jokers, for letting them control us."

"Aha!" said Frosty. "Now we're getting somewhere. The lady is correct. Why? Because if we only exercise it, the people have the power." Whereupon the lights dimmed and Patti Smith appeared on a big overhead screen with her band, singing her famous song "The People Have the Power." Many in the audience joined in. When the song ended and the lights came back up, the crowd was buzzing.

"Do you remember your state's history?" Frosty went on. "About a hundred and twenty years ago, the dirt farmers of Oklahoma were getting their heads pushed in the dirt by the interest-gouging banks and the price-gouging railroads. Then, with help from the surging farmers of East Texas, they started lifting their heads up, higher and higher. They started acting like the people have the power. It wasn't long before they took over the statehouse and the legislature as the vanguard of an American populism that was bent on putting the people before the robber baron corporations. The government and the politicians started listening to them and accomplished some good things, but after World War I the companies began reasserting their control. Over the past four decades they've turned our state into a corporate plantation with almost no opposition. The people do not have the power in Oklahoma. You do not have the power to achieve a living wage and insurance coverage for your families, to raise your children in a clean environment, to get full service or value for your tax dollars, to make the tax-dodging corporations pay their fair share so your load is lighter. Big business is always blocking Oklahomans from improving Oklahoma in all kinds of practical ways. Big companies are our masters, which is not what Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted for our country.

"So here's my question: There's a time for work and a time for play, a time for family and a time for community, a time to joke and a time to be serious. This is a time to be serious in concert with our community of neighbors, friends, relatives, and coworkers. How many of you are prepared to do that? How many of you want the power?"

Hands shot up all over the auditorium.

"And how many of you will put in the time to organize your power, to make things right in America and shape the future for your children so they can realize those last words of the Pledge of Allegiance, 'with liberty and justice for all'?"

By this time people were standing and raising both hands.

"All right! But now I'm going into risky territory. I'm going to make you indignant, uncomfortable, and embarrassed with a series of simple questions that you can answer silently to yourselves. But first, how many of you know the name of your congressman?"

Almost three-quarters of the audience raised their hands.

"Very good," said Frosty. "That's way above the average for the country, but then your congressman, the one and only Billy Beauchamp, has been in office for thirty-eight years doing the bidding of the business lobbies. Yet every two years people like you send him back to Washington with large majorities. He's flattered, fooled, and flummoxed too many people in this district, partly because he's had no opponent to expose him, or only a nominal opponent who might as well have waved the white flag from the get-go. That is not a democratic election. Democratic elections must give you a choice between at least two significant candidates, and better yet, lots of other candidates from smaller parties with big ideas, just like back in the farmer-populist days. Our state is a one-party state now, a Republican kingdom backed to the hilt by a giant media baron. While they're robbing us down to our skivvies, we're arguing about the fine points of Sooner football. And while they've got us tied up in their cash register politics from Oklahoma City to Washington, DC, we're paying the price and wondering about our bills, our financial security, our schools, and just plain getting through the day. Honest candidates -- independents and folks from third parties -- can't get on the ballot without a bathtub of money, and even then they have to cross their fingers and hope that their political opponents in charge of the state election machinery don't disqualify their petition signatures. Did you know that Oklahoma, on a per capita basis, is the state that makes it toughest for challengers to get on the ballot to give you a real choice and give the entrenched politicians a real run for their dirty money?

"Okay, let's play make-believe for a few minutes. Suppose you think of Billy Beauchamp and your two senators, Alvin Crabgrass and Fred Flagrant, as neighbors of yours whose salaries and benefits are paid for by your tax dollars, and who happen to have the power to spend twenty-two percent of your income every year, to raise your taxes so that the big boys pay less, to send your children off to reckless wars, and to funnel much of your tax money to the greedy few who fund their campaigns. How much time on average would you spend each month keeping an eye on these neighbors and trying to control them?"

Frosty paused and looked out over the sea of faces for a full minute. Billy Beauchamp shifted uneasily on his overall-clad derriere. Finally a few people raised their hands. Frosty called on them one after the other.

"Whatever it takes?"

"Maybe twenty hours a month. Depends on whether it can make a difference up there."

"How much time for what, with who? I need to know more."

"None. I don't even have time for my kids, with two jobs and a house to run."

"Me, I'd spend a hundred hours a month with all the other neighbors I could sign up to get the job done now so I could relax more in the future."

"Do it for us, Frosty. We trust you, and we'll raise the money."

"Isn't that what the Clean Elections Party is promising to do for us? Clean things up in Washington?"

''I'd have some tough meetings with these so-called neighbors at a backyard cookout where I'd grill them along with the burgers. Nothing like sizing them up directly. But the thing is, they're not our neighbors. They're too far away, and not just geographically."

"Whoa!" barked Frosty. "Most of you are just making excuses for yourselves. They're different excuses, but they boil down to the same thing: it's too difficult to find the time, or if you have the time, you've got too many preconditions. Instead, your bottom line should be to make it happen period, just as you would if these Washington pols were sticking it to you as your next-door neighbors. Let's back up a bit. How many of you are spending a hundred hours a year -- less than two hours a week -- on watchdogging your members of Congress? And I'm not talking about asking them for favors or pork."

Out of more than five hundred people, two hands went up.

"How about fifty hours a year?"

No hands went up.

"Ten hours a year?"

Four hands went up.

"Well, how about no hours a year? Come on, come clean."

The vast majority raised their hands.

"My friends, you've just given yourselves the most important civics lesson of them all. Without you, how can the people be sovereign, how can they rule, how can they make government represent them instead of turn against them to serve the money boys while they pay for it twice, first for the government and then for what it does to them at the behest of big business? You are the people. The people are you. All over the country, folks have given up on themselves as founts of power. They don't think they count. They really believe they can't fight city hall or Washington or Exxon or Bank of America or DuPont. So what it comes down to is that you yourselves have done the job for the privileged, powerful few who control us. You've made it very easy for them. We're patsies, all of us. Okay, not quite all of us. We all know a few people who don't take it without a fight, and these people have done a lot for us over the decades, but there are nowhere near enough of them.

"Remember that movie Network? How bad do things have to get to make us madder than hell so we won't take it anymore? Our country is going downhill for everyone except those on top. I'm not going to go through the whole slide show of injustice. You can click through it just from your own daily experience, your daily pain, frustration, and anxiety. And what do you think is in store for your children? They're never going to know what a fixed pension is, what a small farm or ranch is, what an inexpensive public university education is, what privacy from the snoopers and hucksters is, what a jury trial for personal injuries is, what clean water is, what a clean election really means, what a good-paying job with full benefits and the right to strike is.

"Those of you who voted for Billy Beauchamp in the last election, raise your hands." Frosty surveyed the audience. "Looks like slightly over half of you did. And how many of you voted against him? ... Okay, less than a fourth. How many didn't vote at all? ... Looks like another fourth or so. All right, now I'm going to show you how important it is to do your congressional homework. Will the Lawton High volunteer seniors please pass out the cards?"

Two dozen seniors in "Sooners Rather Than Later" T-shirts quickly circulated through the crowd with printed cards listing fourteen questions to be answered yes or no.

1. Should all Americans have full Medicare coverage?

2. Should Social Security remain a public institution, or should it be partially or entirely privatized?

3. Should more resources be allocated to federal law enforcement against corporate crime, fraud, and abuse, and should penalties for the guilty be stiffened?

4. Are corporations paying their fair share of taxes, or should they receive more tax breaks than they have now?

5. Should public elections be funded publicly by a larger voluntary checkoff on the 1040 tax return, or should we retain the present system relying on private donations?

6. Should tax dollars go to subsidizing big companies through bailouts, handouts, and giveaways that tilt the playing field against companies that don't ask for or receive them?

7. Should the minimum wage be set at $10.00 per hour, which represents the same purchasing power the minimum wage had in 1968, adjusted for inflation?

8. Should Congress oppose White House budgets that come in year after year with large deficits, now totaling $9 trillion, with interest that will have to be paid by your children and grandchildren?

9. Should shareholders who legally own their companies have the power to approve or disapprove the salaries and bonuses of top executives?

10. Should the broadcast media have to pay rent to the Federal Communications Commission for use of the public airwaves that belong to all Americans?

11. The last time fuel efficiency standards were issued by the US Department of Transportation was thirty years ago; should updated standards go into effect to raise fuel efficiency by at least one mile per gallon per year?

12. Should Congress revise agribusiness support programs so that smaller farmers receive the bulk of the benefits instead of the factory farms receiving the lion's share?

13. Should Congress establish a nonregulatory federal consumer protection agency to oversee the health, safety, and economic interests of consumers, on a budget that amounts to 1 percent of the money the Department of Commerce currently spends to promote business interests?

14. Should taxpayers have the right to sue the government when they see waste and corruption affecting its programs, or should they be barred from the courtroom entirely without a chance to make their case, as they are now?

While the audience was checking off their answers, the high school band was providing the visceral rhythm of the Roman Army drumbeat in the background. Billy knew what was coming and was inclined to head for the exit, but his pride and his fear of being recognized, or accosted by a sharp reporter asking why he was leaving, kept him frozen in his seat.
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