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

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

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:33 pm

PART 1 OF 4

CHAPTER 13

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.

***
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

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 info@RedirectAmerica.org or logging onto our website, RedirectAmerica.org. 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 RedirectAmerica.org 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."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

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 RedirectAmerica.org and the e-mail address is info@RedirectAmerica.org. 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.

***
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

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."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:45 pm

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 14

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 RedirectAmerica.org."

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."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

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.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:55 pm

PART 1 OF 3

CHAPTER 15

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.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:56 pm

PART 2 OF 3 (CH. 15 CONT'D.)

When Frosty saw that the audience had finished with the cards, he gave the volunteers a signal to lower the screen again. The fourteen questions began scrolling down, with Billy Beauchamp's votes or his expressed positions noted alongside each of them. The scroll kept repeating against the low backdrop of the drumbeats as people compared their answers with Billy's record. Seconds turned into minutes, and the sound of agitated whispering grew throughout the auditorium. This was a Billy Beauchamp his constituents never knew. It wasn't so much anger they were expressing as a feeling that they'd been taken, just as Frosty had said -- flattered, fooled, and flummoxed. Some recalled receiving a letter of congratulations from Billy when they graduated from high school or turned twenty-one or celebrated a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Such a nice, considerate man, they'd thought. Some simply refused to come to the natural conclusion, for to do so would be to admit how gullible they'd been, and that was too hard a pill to swallow.

Frosty called the session to order. The whispering stopped, and all eyes turned to him. "Now, don't be too hard on yourselves. What you've just discovered is being discovered in congressional districts all over the country where the Clean Elections Party is fielding candidates. So tell me, how many of you disagree with Billy Beauchamp on at least eleven of the fourteen issues?"

Almost 90 percent of the hands went up.

"How about all fourteen issues?"

About four out of five hands went up.

"If you'd known during the past several congressional elections what you know now, how many of you would have voted against Billy, either by voting for another candidate or staying home?"

Again, close to 90 percent of the hands went up, which meant that most of those who'd voted for Billy were now wishing they hadn't.

"Okay, how many of you will still stick with Billy even though you disagree with him on eleven or more of the fourteen issues?"

A dozen hands rose weakly into the air, but in back an arm shot adamantly straight up. It belonged to a muscular man in a tight T-shirt, perhaps in his early thirties.

"Friend, can you stand up and give your reasons?" Frosty said.

"Sure can," boomed the man. "Billy Beauchamp brings the bacon to his district -- repaved roads, drought relief, programs to assist small business, a new courthouse, a hospital, and a federal prison. I know because I worked as a bricklayer on two of those projects. See this tattoo on my arm? It's the BBB brand, stands for Beauchamp Brings the Bacon. The best I can expect from politicians is them doing what's good for me and my family. I got good-paying jobs with benefits because of him. That's why I'm sticking with Billy in November, even though I disagree with him on other things, because those other things aren't that personal to my livelihood."

For the first time, a smile came over Billy's face. Hal gave him a friendly jab with his elbow and grinned at him. It wasn't just what the young man had said that gratified Billy and his little entourage. It was the million-dollar slogan he'd just given the campaign -- in ranch country, no less -- the triple-B brand. Beauchamp Brings the Bacon. Manna from heaven! What a combination -- Billy's huge war chest and a great slogan!

"Folks," Frosty said, "our neighbor has done us a favor, taking our discussion to another level. If we can assume that most people wouldn't vote for a legislator who votes against their many legitimate interests and in favor of the lobbies that fund his campaign, what about the factor of bringing home the bacon, the pork? How should you weigh pork-barrel projects in your calculations? For starters, apart from the fact that you're paying for the pork, it's clear that you're also paying a big, big personal price in many directions and far into the future. Just look at those fourteen issues -- and many more could have been added -- that are driving our country downward, and most Americans along with it. Second, if the people ran their government, many of the projects our neighbor mentioned would be built anyhow, and probably more efficiently -- a hospital, a courthouse, and so on. Maybe the prison would have gone elsewhere in any rational decision by Congress or the Department of Justice but, keeping the honest use of your tax dollars and your well-being in mind first and foremost, who needs a job from a prison? Likely there would be far fewer prisoners if we reformed our drug policy. I say let the prison go elsewhere, and let it have a special wing for crooked politicians."

A roar of approval erupted.

"And the problem isn't just Washington, DC. I've spent forty years covering the rot and ruin coming out of the state legislature and the governor's office. Let me run by you just a few examples of the corruption that's brought so much suffering and so many plain raw deals to so many Oklahomans, and not only the poor ones." Frosty pointed to the screen, which was now showing one headline of outrage after another from his award-winning newspaper: coverups of toxic drinking water, brutal treatment of institutionalized children, corporate ripoffs of school districts and local taxpayers, and on and on. After a while, it was enough to make some people gasp and hold their hands to their astonished open mouths.

"I bet you didn't read much about these displays of greed and raw power in the other Oklahoma papers. Our media baron, Flaylord, who controls what much of the Oklahoma press tells you -- or refuses to tell you -- is too busy looking out for his advertisers and his investments. But enough of him. So far we've been talking facts, opinions, issues. Now it's time for the agony of innocent human beings to be seen firsthand."

Frosty gestured to the front row, and onto the stage came twelve Oklahomans who one by one told their stories of abuse at the hands of the powers that be. The authenticity of their accounts had been thoroughly checked beforehand by Clean Elections Party researchers.

Up first was Helen Bradford. who in late middle age was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and lost her $19,000-a-year job along with her co-payment health insurance. Her cancer was advanced, but her physician told her she might have a chance with the drug Taxol. She asked how much would it cost. He said $14,000 for six treatments. She poked around to find out how the drug company could charge so much and learned that Taxol was discovered and tested by the National Cancer Institute with $31 million of taxpayer money. It was then given gratis, with a monopoly marketing agreement, to Bristol-Myers Squibb, which was free to charge whatever it wanted. As it certainly did. Helen couldn't go on Medicaid because she owned a six-room house and a six-year-old car. She had no relatives or friends to give her the money. "I just hope I live long enough to vote against Billy Beauchamp," she said.

Next was Gary Gomez. who suffered from a maddening body rash and respiratory ailments coming off a job involving prolonged application of pesticides and herbicides to dozens of acres of farmland, with no protective gear. When he applied for Workers' Compensation, the company that owned the sprawling agribusiness challenged his case, saying there was no evidence of causation between the chemicals and his disease. The case was now on appeal. He had no health insurance. He couldn't work. He had a wife, three children, and no income.

Mariah Grayson. a single mother from a poor neighborhood in Oklahoma City, bought some major household appliances on an installment loan, fell behind on the payments, and then found out that the fine print allowed the retailer to take her house as collateral. She held a foreclosure notice in her trembling hand. "How can this happen in America?" she wailed. "Where can I go for help?"

Sarah and Frank Harris told of an eminent domain order issued by their city government for their house and a dozen neighboring houses. The city's redevelopment agency intended to seize the homes, compensating the owners very modestly, and turn the land over to a shopping mall for expansion. "It's awful hard to get an attorney, even if you can pay, which we can't," Sarah said. "The mall guys have all the high-powered lawyers, and they've sure greased the city council. What happens to private property rights when the government can take your home and give it to a greedy corporation? I wrote to Billy Beauchamp, and a staffer replied that the congressman couldn't do anything to help us save our neighborhood because it's a local matter. I thought he had a lot of influence around here to help little people like us."

Following the Harrises was Jenny Tutt, who described the "overwhelming sense of disaster" she felt when local authorities told her that the entire housing development where she lived had been using drinking water with very high levels of lead for the past ten years. The problem stemmed from a combination of underinvestrnent in a new municipal water facility and the city's negligence in testing the water in the antiquated pipes. "My children, my three little children -- they're four, six, and eight -- have been drinking this poisoned water since they were born, and so was I when I was pregnant with them. It's harmed their bodies and their brains. My family will never recover from this. The politicians are quick to pay for more and more overpriced ships, bombs, and bombers, but they aren't interested in building modern purification plants for the American people, like me, who trusted them to do the right thing. Trusted them." She wept.

And so it went, one sad story after another, from the heart. The audience sat in silence, deeply affected. A few people were shedding tears along with Jenny because the stories seemed so hopeless, the words trailing off into futility, the speakers trapped, with no way out.

Then a tall, weatherbeaten man strode to the microphone. "My name is Jack Soaring Eagle, and I'm part Cherokee. Until last year I was earning fourteen dollars and twenty-six cents an hour as a foreman in a factory that made simple kitchen appliances. One day, the owners' representative called us together and told us the plant was closing down in four weeks and moving to China. We could stay on another month with double pay if we agreed to train our Chinese replacements, who would be flown over here for that purpose. The guy said the owners were sorry but they couldn't pass up sixty cents an hour. 1 had no choice, needed the money for my family. It was one of the worst feelings of my life. I started at that factory right after my stint in the army, and I worked for them for eighteen years. Plenty of the assembly line employees -- one were in unions -- had worked there their whole lives, given the place their all, and what did they get for their loyalty? Unemployment. There were no other jobs in our small rural town, and we had no other skills. We don't matter, have no say either with the owners or with the politicians who keep voting to export our jobs under these crazy trade agreements full of broken promises to the workers. Who's protecting us? The politicians want to make desecration of the flag a crime. Hell, they're desecrating our flag without touching it day after day. Well, it's time to do something about it. It's time to get a strong grip on our government and take control of our lives, for the sake of our families and our descendants for seven generations to come."

Frosty returned to the mike. "Amen to that," he said. "Look, folks, we're going to pass the hat a little later to see what we can do for our neighbors whose stories you've just heard, but that's not a real solution. We need fundamental, systemic change that offers long-term solutions to the heartbreaking problems they've described. Anyone care to come up here and give us a minute's worth of ideas?"

A woman in a flowered housedress made her way to the stage. "My name is Clarissa Clements, and here's what I want to say to Billy Beauchamp, wherever he is. You are not representing us. Your place of employment should be called the US House of Big Business Representatives. You've been deceiving us all these years, patting us on the head like we're children waiting for a little candy. Well, with meetings like these all over, you better believe your political days are numbered. It doesn't matter how much money you spend on TV or how many sugary slogans you come up with. So why not call it a day and just plain quit?"

All over the auditorium, people jumped to their feet. Some shook their fists. Others started a chant: "Quit, quit! Quit, Billy, quit!" The cadence happened to match the Roman Army drumbeat exactly, which was not lost on the band's drummers, who quickly joined in. "Quit, quit! Quit, Billy, quit!" Boom, boom! Boom-boom-boom-boom! As for the subject of the chant, so many of the people around Billy and his friends were standing that Gil and Hal jumped up too, to avoid being conspicuous. Billy couldn't bring himself to move. He'd broken out in a cold sweat, a sensation he hadn't felt since the newspapers reported twenty years ago that the Justice Department had caught him in a sting operation. Turned out not to be true, but it had given him the scare of his life. Until now. Still, he was determined to stay till the end so he could hear his opponent, Willy Champ, who was the evening's featured attraction.

Frosty called for quiet. "Thank you, Clarissa Clements. You just gave us a great idea. Why don't ten more of you take a minute each to tell us what you want to say to Billy Beauchamp? To speed things up, just line up at the microphone down there in the aisle and go at it."

A file of more than ten quickly formed. Not all of them tore into Billy. Three men praised him for helping them personally: he'd written a recommendation letter to West Point for one of them, had another moved to a better VA hospital, and steered a small business loan to the third. The others criticized his positions in principle or spoke of stands he'd taken that affected them adversely. One bespectacled young man commended Frosty for picking up on an idea from someone in the audience and changing the format a little: "Nice bit of open source thinking, pal. My thanks from a self- described geek."

Frosty took the compliment with a broad smile and announced that it was time for "a deee-licious, nuuu-tritious break. Help yourselves, folks. There are tables of food and drink out in the lobby, it's all free, and the volunteers will be around with the hat and to collect the containers and bottles for recycling. When you finish, we'll bring on Willy Champ, the next congressman from the Fourth District if people like you want him and real change bad enough!"

At the improvised but well-stocked snack counters, Billy and company filled their plates and went outside to eat, something his four pals did with gusto despite all the horseshit they'd been swallowing in the auditorium. Much as they agreed with a lot of what had been said, they didn't take kindly to the attacks on their old friend. John Henry took a big bite of his turkey sandwich, chewed thoughtfully, and poked Gil. "Look at our Billy boy, pretending to be munching nonchalantly while he moseys through the crowd listening to the small talk."

On the campaign trail, Billy was always a good listener. He said he wanted the feedback, but it also saved him from having to make commitments pro or con. But this time there wasn't any small talk, no discussions about sports or the weather, no gossiping. Clusters of people were talking about dirty politics and clean politics, about him and Willy, about what they'd heard and said during the preceding hour and a half, about what they expected of themselves and the Clean Elections Party. Amazing, Billy thought. Knowing that quite a few such meetings of all sizes had been held in his district, and that and many more were going to be held, he decided for the first time in twenty-five years to commission a poll. He wondered how the CEP could afford such sumptuous feasts for its guests. Hal had told him that the CEP had money to spare because it didn't plan to spend anything on television advertising. That was some small comfort, at least, since Billy believed that no one could win elections nowadays without TV ads, especially a new party.

The assemblage of satisfied diners returned to their seats for the climax of the evening's program. Twelve more Oklahomans -- five men, five women, and two children -- had been asked ahead of time to introduce Willy Champ with one sentence each. They all came on stage, and an older woman began.

"I like Willy Champ because he's worked his farm for years and won't forget where he came from when he goes to Washington, DC."

"I've always voted for Billy Beauchamp," said a middle-aged National Guard reservist, "but I'm switching to Willy Champ because he's an ex-Marine who has been to war and now fights for peace and an end to war."

"Willy Champ is my choice," said a young mother cradling her baby, "because he's courageous to the core, risking his life and suffering burns to save that little girl while everyone else just stood there paralyzed or terrified."

"Willy Champ is the man," said another young woman, "because he selflessly goes out of his way to help all kinds of people in distress, out of a sense of moral duty to humanity."

A girl in pigtails stepped up and stood on tiptoes to reach the mike. "I love Willy Champ because he reads lots of history books and thinks I should too."

"Willy Champ wants us to have the power," said an old man with a cane, "he wants regular people all over America to have the power so that he and new lawmakers like himself can make the necessary changes for our lives and for our children and grandchildren."

"Willy Champ can win because he's a good, no-nonsense Oklahoma farmer," said a man in a feed-store cap, "and he has the full backing of the Clean Elections Party and its hardworking, honest organizers."

A middle-aged couple approached the mike holding hands. "Willy Champ has a strong marriage and three studious, well- behaved children who respect their parents and are leaders among their friends," the wife said, "which tells you a lot about their mother and father."

"Right," said her husband, "and Willy subscribed to the agenda of the Clean Elections Party and the Agenda for the Common Good long before he ever heard of either one."

Vigorous applause greeted this declaration as a boy in a baseball uniform stepped forward.

"Willy Champ is my hero because I heard him say, 'If everything we do is for the good of the children, it will be good for the adults too, and for our country and the world around us.'"

A woman in a beautifully tailored suit took her turn. "We need a candidate who can bring people together for basic fairness from the force of his arguments, his knowledge, his commanding presence, and his strong voice -- and that's Willy Champ."

"I've had my eyes and my mind opened," said a man in a Kiwanis T-shirt, "and I'm switching my vote from the Republicans to Willy Champ, who's for the people because he's from the people and believes that in the people resides the active power of the Republic, which means me and you and you and you!"

Then all twelve turned toward the side of the stage with their hands outstretched and said in unison, "Ladies and gentlemen, doers and shakers, mobilizers and voters, here is our future champion public servant who we're going to send to Washington, DC -- WILLY CHAMP!"

To a prolonged standing ovation and a brisk drumroll from the band, the lanky, dignified, smiling Willy Champ walked on stage. He embraced each of his introducers and, linking arms with the two in the middle, faced the audience and applauded them. He had no prepared speech, holding that if you know and believe what you're going to say, you don't have to read it, but that didn't mean he was winging it. He knew what had to be said without trespassing on eternity.

"A hearty good evening to all of you friends and neighbors in attendance at this refreshing and serious gathering. After what has preceded me tonight -- Doug Dauntless, Frosty, your own participation both out there where you're sitting and up here -- there's less for me to say, so you'll have a shorter stay.

"As you know, I'm running on the Clean Elections Party ballot line to replace Billy Beauchamp as your congressional representative for the Fourth District. The CEP has surmounted the high hurdles our state imposes on third parties, and has gathered three times the required signatures on the ballot access petitions. There's no Democratic Party candidate opposing Congressman Beauchamp this time around, so we're the main challengers.

"The political potentates in this country are experts in sugarcoating and flattery, coverups and class warfare conducted from the top against the majority of the people. That's why the Seven Pillars of the Agenda for the Common Good -- publicized for weeks now and given to you in handouts as you entered this auditorium -- seem so long overdue, so reasonable, so clearly earned by working people and those who are desperately looking for work but can't find it. And yet it's fitting that the Agenda is subtitled 'First-Stage Improvements for America,' because there's still much work to be done to make a great democratic society apply known solutions to everyday problems and future needs. Who's going to do this work, I ask you?"

"We are," yelled the audience. "WE ARE!"

"Are you sure? Are you sure you're not going to drift away after this exciting, promising meeting and leave it up to me and my associates? Because if you drift away today, we'll be sure to drift away afterwards. You are our collective mother. More than a hundred years ago, Oklahoma farmers and ranchers helped give birth to probably the most sweeping populist movement in American history. Their leaders were anonymous like them. They did not select themselves. They were pressed forward by the passion and drive of their neighbors, passion and drive for a decent livelihood from the land and from their labors, with no banks and railroads and politicians squeezing them and driving them and their families to the brink of poverty. They refused to be broken. They had nothing to work with except their heads, their hearts, and their hands. No motor vehicles, no telephones, sometimes no passable roads, and no electricity. Today we have instant communication, plenty of technology that connects us to each other. But the best connector is each of us ourselves. When we don't believe in ourselves, we weaken our cooperative effort for a new age, a new country, a new community. When you believe in yourself and become a stronger and stronger public citizen, you strengthen our prospects for victory.

"To seek justice and peace and a better life for all, we need to keep acquiring knowledge, which in turn informs judgment, which in turn produces wisdom. To the question 'What is justice?' I have a simple reply. Did you see those anguished people relating their personal stories of injustice here tonight? When you're on the receiving end of injustice, you have a pretty good idea of what justice is. If you're making ten thousand dollars an hour as a big-shot CEO, you're not likely to be sensitive to workers in your own company trying to support their families on eight dollars an hour. But the closer you get to where the pain and strain are, the more you're likely to know what justice looks like.

"As for peace -- well, I've experienced the horrors of war as a soldier. Forget about the glory. It's all about bloodshed, death, dismemberment, torture, rape, destruction, and the grisly aftermath. There is nothing glorious about war. It is a failure on the part of the people who were in a position to head it off before the violence began. Politics should be about waging peace and avoiding war so that people can live to realize their dreams. With periodic wars and the despicable manipulations of high-profile warmongers who profit from armed conflict either commercially or politically, people never get a chance to build the good life and keep refining what the good life means for themselves, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

"Here at home, I know Oklahoma and the Fourth District very well. I know its farms and villages and towns, its grasslands and hills. I know its history and the outside pressures that face it. I count hundreds of its families as my good friends. I've worked and done business with many of its small businesses and some large ones too. I've volunteered for many boards, councils, clubs, and community projects. What I've observed all too often in all too many areas is that we're slipping backward or just barely hanging on to survive. There's a numbing poverty of spirit among us, as well as a poverty of income. Our tax dollars have been so mismanaged or wasted, if not stolen outright, that few believe in the noble cooperative effort called self-government anymore. There's also a poverty of leadership, which is a major reason why we're here.

"Let me tell you how I'm running my campaign. First of all, I'm running with the people, their local concerns, their needs and rights. That means I don't want spectators. I want participants, collaborators, and leaders to campaign with me. The more people I have on board, the more ideas and activities will flower in all directions to advance our common cause. Remember the young man who thanked Frosty earlier for his 'open source thinking' when he took an idea from Clarissa Clements that led to a dozen or so people speaking their piece to Billy Beauchamp? I want more open source thinking in this campaign. Not all ideas click, of course, but nobody is smarter than everybody.

"As for campaign funds, I'm raising money in small contributions from many citizens. That's the way the Clean Elections Party works, and they really know their business. No PAC money, no money spent on outside consultants or television advertising. Word of mouth, the good old grapevine, is still the fastest, most credible form of communication. There are a little more than five hundred and fifty thousand people in the Fourth District. There are maybe three hundred and fifty thousand eligible voters, half of whom don't vote. This campaign is winnable because we've got the future we desire in our hands and we've got a fast-growing corps of motivated campaigners who are spreading the word with the example of their deeds. We'll be outspent but not outhoofed. We'll be outsloganized but not outthought. We'll be outdelegated because we won't delegate to proxies and advertising firms. We'll do it ourselves, person to person, farm to farm and ranch to ranch, neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community. We'll start getting out the vote now, in August, not a week before Election Day. We know how to get out the vote, and the voters know how to get Billy Beauchamp out of office."

Another roar of approval went up from the crowd.

"Permit me a few words about Congressman Beauchamp. He's been in Washington for a long, long time -- thirty-eight years. Have things gotten better for workers and small farmers? Are we shrinking the national deficit that our descendants will have to pay for? Is there respect in Washington for our tax dollars, sensitivity to the health and safety and educational needs of our children, concern for our water, air, soil, and parklands? Has this powerful lawmaker stood with us on any of these matters? To ask these questions is to answer them.

"Billy Beauchamp is said to be a proud man. Evidently he's not proud enough to put his voting record on his congressional website so all of us can check it whenever we want to and checkmate it whenever we need to.

"Billy Beauchamp has plenty of money to spend, but money doesn't vote. It only buys votes if we let ourselves be fooled. Voters vote, and they can nullify money if they act on knowledge informed by their own abiding values. If you get yourselves up to speed on the issues, then you will not -- I repeat, will not -- vote for legislators who repeatedly vote against the interests of your family, your community, your country, and what's best for this world of ours.

"Billy Beauchamp has rarely been challenged in his career, but he won't be overconfident in this race. There's been too much political agitation in our district these past weeks for him not to have noticed, too many meetings and rallies and workshops, too much canvassing and organizing. It may well be that his people are here tonight taking in the scene and dining on our good food. So in his own way, he'll be ready for us" -- here Willy's voice rose uncharacteristically -- "only his way isn't our way of electing our representatives, because we're here, we're there, we're everywhere, and we're not staying home anymore!"

Whoops, whistles, and boisterous applause filled the auditorium.

"Now for the moment of truth. The objective is clear, and the vision lies before us and our children. If we are truly serious, we will now commit Time, Talent, and Tenacity to our campaign. That's the fuel without which the campaign is just an armchair conversation. Please make the triple-T commitment. There are pledge cards at three tables in the back staffed by our volunteers. Each table represents different time commitment spread over the ten weeks until Election Day: fifty hours, a hundred hours, or two hundred hours. Take your choice, make your solemn pledge, and pick up your mission manual, which has the name of one of our full-time precinct dynamos who will be working with you street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, to produce a huge turnout for the Champ campaign. Pick up a batch of Agendas for the Common Good on your way out, and go home and use your living rooms for action meetings with your friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Find public halls in your community if you need more space. Call these events Jamborees for Joy and Justice or whatever, but if it's important, it's gotta be interesting too. Go with any idea that motivates, maybe a contest for the biggest time commitment -- hour-raisers instead of fundraisers. The manual is just a starter. If you put your heads together, you'll come up with more ideas than can fit between covers. Remember, this is a political movement of thinkers.

"Now, I know the usual way of ending a political speech is not with a to-do list. A political speech is supposed to be a fiery stemwinder that demonizes the bad guys and the terrible conditions they're responsible for perpetrating. Then the orator moves to flattery, and the massed partisans eat it up, yelping and hooting and stomping their feet. They may even be inspired to cough up some money in response to the candidate's urgent requests. When it's over, they all go home while the candidate and his or her entourage head for a rented TV studio to cut the next sixty-second campaign ad, which conveys nothing of authentic substance except authentic deception."

A wave of knowing laughter swept through the crowd.

"But this isn't politics as usual. We're different, because we're hungrier, angrier, livelier, funnier, gutsier, and brainier, and that will make all the difference on Election Day. Know that I draw my strength from your aspirations for the good life and your determination to make them a reality, and thank you all for coming here tonight to defend yourselves and your families."

The audience rose as one, clapping thunderously, but with an almost palpable sense of thoughtfulness and communion. The man with the triple-B tattoo turned to the friend he'd come with. "I guess Willy really is one of us," he said. "Maybe the best of us," came the reply.

As the crowd broke up, Ernest Jones leaned across Hal and whispered to Billy, "Now let's see how many head for the exit and how many sign up for the hours." In a few minutes, the banker got his answer as long lines formed at the three tables. Some people had gone to the restroom and were already coming back to pledge their time.

"Are you sure these folks aren't trained cadres?" Billy asked. "They sure don't behave like all those constituents who show up at my district meetings clamoring for earmarks."

"Naw, Billy," John Henry said, "I reckon they're just ordinary people who've been exposed to all the fuss you've witnessed from Capitol Hill and have got themselves up in arms about it. like Willy said, they're here, they're there, they're everywhere."

"You kinda gotta hand it to Willy," Gil said. "He knows who he is, all right. You've sure got your work cut out for you, Congressman."

Billy grimaced and let the comment pass. "If that was an introductory session," he said, "I'd hate to see an advanced one." He removed his straw hat and mopped his brow.

"Yeah, but you're gonna," said Gil.

***

Two days later, four thousand people from all over the state gathered at the Parmalee Convention Hall in Oklahoma City for an advanced training session that was a marvel of political sophistication. Almost all of those in attendance had participated in introductory sessions back in their districts, and most had already started on their missions, talking up the Clean Elections candidates and the Agenda, holding meetings and hour-raisers and justice jamborees.

Out in the lobby and in the back of the hall, people were talking excitedly and picking up free materials from the numerous tables -- DVDs, leaflets, Dick Goodwin's pamphlet, buttons, banners, bumper stickers, T-shirts -- while they waited for the program to start. One pile of T-shirts was stenciled with a drawing of a lithe young man and woman rope- climbing up a sheer perpendicular cliff, with the woman saying to her partner, "This is okay for beginners, but when are we going to get a real challenge?"

This time Patti Smith and her band appeared in person to kick things off with "The People Have the Power," and nearly everyone joined in. Then the master of ceremonies, Darrell Dispatch, took the mike. He'd been a Meliorist recruiter earlier in the year, but since he displayed a gregarious talent with crowds, he was asked to become a roving emcee for CEP events.

"Ladies and gentlemen and infiltrators, may I have your attention?" he began.

Farmer Billy Beauchamp and his friends exchanged glances and shifted in their chairs.

"During the introductory sessions you've attended, there was plenty of inspiration. Now you're advancing to the state of perspiration. That means the workshops in the breakout rooms off the sides of this fine hall and in the mezzanine. There are fifteen of them -- you all received a list at the door -- and they'll each last about half an hour. Participate in as many as you can, and sign up to receive DVDs or online videos of the ones you couldn't attend.

"But first, as you know, the Clean Elections Party is fielding candidates against Senators Alvin Crabgrass and Fred Flagrant, along with several other House incumbents. Since Oklahoma is such an entrenched one-party state, its legislators in Washington have chalked up a great deal of seniority, but today you'll have the pleasure of hearing from each of the candidates now speeding toward those hoary seats in Congress. They'll be introduced by their campaign managers, so here we go. Please welcome Grace Grenadier to introduce Senator-to-be Alicia Runrun Randolph."

"Thank you, Darrell. Friends, Senator Crabgrass is ripe for mowing."

The crowd groaned good-naturedly.

"He sits in the Senate like a Sphinx, does little more than say 'yes, sir' to his party leaders and their financiers. He looks like a senator -- erect, white-maned, deep-voiced, and sartorially encased in expensive suits. Over the years he has anesthetized a majority of the voters in our state with his three-part formula for reelection, in his very words, 'God, Gays, and Guns.' Those disrespectful, demeaning days are over. It gives me enormous pleasure to introduce Alicia Runrun Randolph, who is already redecorating the sure-to-be-ex-Senator Crabgrass's office suite with handmade furniture and folk art, Oklahoma style."

Bursting with energy, Alicia Runrun Randolph waited for the ovation to subside and then belted out her message. "We know why we're here -- to establish clean politics for people who have been bearing all the burdens of dirty politics while the good-ol-boy network gets richer and more oppressive. We're here to show ourselves and the world a revolutionary way of winning elections of, by, and for the people, even though the people are outfunded and outresourced in every traditional manner by the powers that be. People power, as you will make sure, is not just a terrific song by Patti Smith. Except for quantity, and except for the populist campaigns, elections today run in the same primitive ruts they did a century ago. Field the candidate who is obedient, fund the candidate who will take orders, and elect the candidate on slogans and imagery, with the votes of hereditary Republicans or Democrats who choose from choiceless ballot lines. Add one century-long trend: there are so many candidates running unopposed, and so many one-party-dominated districts and states, that more and more elections are foregone conclusions, mockeries of what a free, honest, competitive democratic process should be like. What's more, here in Oklahoma, the two-party cabal has made it almost impossible for independent or third-party candidates to get on the ballot, and has made it illegal, I kid you not, to count -- yes, even to count -- your write-in votes.

"From the gas lantern and the horse and buggy to the present day of jet planes, computers, and cell phones, our campaign practices have remained inert, insipid, and inane. Go to your workshops and participate in inventing the future, a future where clean elections chase out rigged elections. Get ready for a giant leap toward liberty and justice for all."

The audience loved the freshness of the message and its delivery, so different from the customary bull and blarney they heard on the Oklahoma political hustings. The clapping was prolonged, as it was for the other managers and candidates, who presented equally fresh approaches in equally rousing language.

"Okay, people," Doug Dispatch said, "an army marches on its stomach. At the tables in the lobby, a terrific lunch awaits you. Fortify yourselves and come back at two for the workshop workout of your lives."

As the participants tucked into their food, standing in animated groups outside the hall, reporters mingled with them and plied them with questions. Billy Beauchamp, who was once again floating through the crowd to listen to the conversations and take in the mood, saw a feature writer for the Oklahoma Constitution accost a woman wearing one of the rock-climbing T-shirts. "Why aren't these workshops confidential?" he asked. "Aren't you afraid your opponents will use your political trade secrets against you if you give them away? I mean, businesses don't divulge their marketing plans in advance, do they?" The woman, who was a physical therapist from Ada, wagged her fork at him. "Just let them try," she said. "You think they can use our techniques to sell their latest outrageous tax shelter or tax haven for the wealthy? Our techniques are tied to the just stands we take. They can't be adapted to the greed of the secrecy-obsessed rulers and bosses."

Billy got an overdose of focus that afternoon. Almost everyone was talking about which workshop they had opted for and why, or about what meetings they were organizing or planning to attend in the coming week. To Billy's ears, their conversations had the air of competitive sports -- it was them against him, and they were going to win, and win big. A sudden feeling of weariness overtook him even as he downed his excellent lunch. He just wasn't used to a contest. He'd been thinking of retiring before long anyway, but he'd never run away from a fight.

The familiar Roman Army drumbeat announced that it was workshop time, and the breakout rooms started to fill. There were workshops on raising issues and raising money, on avoiding burnout, on learning from Abraham Lincoln's classic little manual on getting out the vote, on changing minds, on motivating people to show up, on getting them to identify themselves with victory, on campaign techniques, on flushing out the various layers of the opposition, and on applying open source techniques to maximize the talent pool way beyond the staff.

The Open Source Workshop was among the most popular. Directing it was Drill Daylor, a principal proponent of this fast-spreading business phenomenon, and the author of a bestseller on using and rewarding open source competitors who want to go up against the cream of the crop and learn from them anywhere in the world. Drill was a nonpartisan enthusiast for breaking down bureaucratic, commercial, and ego barriers to get the job done with the best and the brightest. He'd written extensively about the business world in this respect, but he'd always wanted to see if open source could succeed in the civic and political arenas. As his presentation went on, he found himself struggling to make the case to his audience of activists, until a mechanic in the room taught Drill the lesson he was trying to teach them.

"Mr. Daylor, if I get what you're saying, would you mind if I jump in and save your ass?"

"Go for it," replied a relieved, slightly perspiring Drill.

"Okay, let's say the problem is how to get people off their asses and motivate them to join the Clean Elections movement right away. You put out the call on the Internet that you're offering three cash grand prizes for the three best motivational suggestions, but the condition for all submissions is that the submitter has to get off his or her ass first. To qualify for the prizes, the submitters have to actually attend -- guess what -- a gathering of Alicia Runrun Randolph supporters or a Willy Champ rally or some other CEP event. How's that for working off what you were trying to teach us?"

"Not bad," Drill said, "not bad at all. Unfortunately, our time is almost up. If any of you are interested in follow-up, meet me this evening at six at the information table, and we'll develop the contest idea and post it online for immediate testing, together with a schedule of the coming month's CEP events."

The Fundraising Workshop was considerably more tumultuous, because the leader, Larry Lucre, was deliberately provocative. "Okay, people," he began, "there is nothing harder, more uncomfortable, and more tiring than asking people for money for political campaigns, right?"

Just about everybody nodded.

''Wrong!" he shouted. "Wrong! There is nothing more rewarding, fun, and easy than asking people for money. Let's start with all of you. How many of you earn more than twenty-five thousand dollars a year and spend at least a thousand dollars a year on coffee, soft drinks, candy, alcohol, tobacco, and so on? How many of you leave lights on wastefully and don't review your savings accounts to make sure you're getting the highest interest available?"

Three out of four people raised their hands.

"Fine, since you're in an advanced training workshop for the most motivated supporters of the Clean Elections Party, my volunteers will now ask each of you for a two-hundred-dollar donation to the party -- cash or check or credit card -- or else you can sign a pledge for that sum collectible within the next forty-eight hours. It's an investment in your future! You also have to fill out a simple form to satisfy the Federal Elections Commission's reporting requirement. Volunteers, please proceed."

"Isn't this kind of coercive?" asked one of the participants.

"Only if you're blistered by moonbeams," Larry replied.

"What's wrong with spending a little money on ourselves?" asked another. "Are you trying to lay a guilt trip on us?"

"If you need a guilt trip, I don't see anything wrong with laying one on you, but you don't have to feel guilty, you just have to reflect on your priorities. Look, people, the super-rich and the corporatists are buying Congress and the White House for about two billion dollars every four years, give or take, and less than that for midterm elections. Obscure dot- com startups have gone for more than that. Imagine the bargain! In a presidential year, two billion bucks buys the most powerful, well-funded institutions in the entire world. Who gets the shaft? The more than two hundred and twenty million American adults who are able to vote -- and of course their children. Now, suppose these Americans contributed an average of only five dollars a year to buy back the US government. That's more than a billion dollars every year, and close to four and a half billion every four years. No sweat. Twenty dollars every four years -- a sum that would barely buy dinner for one, with tax and tip, in a family restaurant. Best investment based on returns in human history. The sweat is all in the organizational appeal to collect the money efficiently.

"Now, you don't have to deal with such large numbers and so much territory. Oklahoma is a small state, and it's been getting educated fast over the past half year. The CEP has thousands of volunteers already, and their numbers are growing by the day. This allows for lots of personal one-on-one conversations, or one on two or three or four or five. And you can bring those conversations down to money easily, with a script that might go something like this.

"'Howdy, Jim or Jane, we've been first cousins forever, and they can't take that away from us, but they sure can take away our democracy, our rights, our elections, our livelihood, our pensions, our peace, our safety and health. That's why I've become active in the Clean Elections Party, as an investment in my family's future and in improving things for working people as soon as possible. I've donated two hundred dollars to the cause of getting rid of dirty money in elections and sending good people to Congress. You're better off than I am, but I'll go easy on you and just ask you to match my contribution. And it would be great to see more of you, have you put in some fun time with me and some of our friends when the campaigns really go into high gear after Labor Day.'

"You're all smart people, and you can add, subtract, and embellish as you please. Share memories, joke, get serious, whatever, but do it in your own words, tailored to your relationship with the person you're talking to -- kin, friend, coworker, neighbor, bowling buddy, bridge partner, what have you. You've got it all over those distant, impersonal mass mailings, e-mailings, and telephone solicitations, because you've got a longstanding relationship with your prospects, you've demonstrated the moral authority of example, you're credible and don't raise suspicions, and you see them frequently for feedback, approbation, or reminders. Who can beat those advantages? The fancy word we use for your personal circle of family, friends, and acquaintances is 'epicenter.' Work your epicenters as far out as you can. Most of us have epicenters of about a hundred people with whom we talk or interact at varying levels of intensity.

"It's all about pulling together, people. Farm folks used to do it at barn raisings after a fire or to give a new family a start. Americans have always done it in time of war and emergency -- floods, tornados, fires, earthquakes. We have to do it again now, because we've got the Seven Pillars of the Agenda for the Common Good to raise, along with the legislators who will pass it. What I've given you this afternoon is just the bare-bones approach. Imagine what you could accomplish by giving a potluck supper or brunch at your home or organizing a race or a bicycle marathon. Give your people a competitive sense and a goal you've imposed on yourself to focus their interest. And if you're still feeling squeamish, still letting yourself off the hook with that 'I just hate to ask anyone for money' excuse, get over it. No one is going to bite you. Consider your squeamishness something to grow out of, an indulgence to be vaporized for the sake of what's at stake for Oklahoma and the nation. Rise above it and will it away."

Over on the other side of the hall, at the Changing Minds Workshop, most of the participants were already active in the Congress Watchdogs or local CUBs and had been trying to change minds for the past several weeks, so the topic particularly grabbed them. The leader was a former psychiatrist who had rejected the excessive psychoanalyzing of human behavior and the dead-end, reality-starved theories of his profession. His name was Buff Brainey.

"Greetings, men and women. We only have half an hour, so let's get down to it. Changing minds is very difficult. You know because you've tried it. People put labels on themselves that freeze their minds -- Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, a Beauchamp voter or a Crabgrass voter. Frozen minds freeze out contrary facts and arguments. Frozen minds breed immovable egos that merge with their labels.

"How do you change a frozen mind? Through a form of jujitsu -- use what's there to change what's there. Start with a question. 'Why do you support Crabgrass?' The customary answers are usually very abstract, except maybe on the abortion issue. People mouth what's been drilled into them by the propaganda apparatus: strong defense, lower taxes, less government -- the Republicans' first-string trilogy. Never mind the contradictions between them. Slogans do not flow from critical minds. They are simply extruded. But consider the following simple dialogue.

"'Do you support Senator Crabgrass because you agree with him?' 'Yep!' 'On what?' 'Strong defense. Lower taxes. Less government.' 'Well, what if I could show you that he voted again and again for a wasteful defense budget, and for weapons systems that are strategically obsolete in the post-Soviet era, because the big defense corporations are funding his campaign and want the multibillion-dollar contracts you pay for? And what if I could show you that his votes on taxes gave most of the breaks to the already rich and to the big companies, not to tens of millions of working Americans, and that his other votes helped pass red-ink government spending that increased the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars because of waste and the revenue declines from these big tax cuts for the rich? I'm talking about huge deficits that your children will have to pay for -- Crabgrass's children's tax. And what if I could show you that Crabgrass votes for bills that lead to Washington snooping on you and leave your government unable to enforce the laws against business ripoffs by the banks, insurance companies, oil companies, credit card companies, and many other enterprises? What if I could show you that you're defenseless and unable to have your full day in court thanks to the Crabgrasses in Congress? To top it off, what if I could show you that on a dozen matters of importance to you, his votes were exactly opposite to where you stand? Would Senator Crabgrass still have your vote?' 'Hell no, assuming what you say is true.'
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:56 pm

PART 3 OF 3 (CH. 15 CONT'D.)

"Naturally, you'll want to use your own language to frame the argument, but you get the point. You turn Crabgrass's record against the beliefs and the awakened, informed, unfrozen minds of his voters so that they start thinking, 'Hey, Crabgrass opposes my positions over and over again.'

"One last point. The more significant issues you put before the people whose minds you're trying to change, the less likely it is that they'll give Crabgrass a pass. More important, the less likely it is that Crabgrass will be able to hoodwink his constituents, and the more power these constituents will have over Crabgrass. You see, keeping the number of issues small works to the advantage of incumbents, because they go for the poll-tested hot-button issues that satisfy their one- or two-issue supporters. Okay, any questions?"

"I'm a hairdresser," said a young woman, "and I chat with lots of people in my line of work. I find that they either absolutely support a given politician or they have nothing to do with politics. Has the approach you outlined actually been shown to work?"

"Yes, that's the obvious next question, isn't it?" Buff said. "Our research shows that it's worked in the past in some local races here and there, but the Clean Elections Party is the first movement to start using the approach in a big way. It's too early to know. People may tell you that the information you've given them, pitting their interests against the record of their favorite politician, will change their minds, but then there are two additional steps before we can determine whether it works. The first step is convincing them that what you've told them is more than a 'what if,' that it's accurate and verifiable. The second, of course, is whether they actually switch their votes to the source of their enlightenment -- in this case, the Clean Elections Party."

"Maybe the best way to put it isn't that we're changing people's minds," said an older man in a Home Depot vest. "It's really about people changing their own minds once they find out the truth."

"Exactly," said Buff.

Up in the mezzanine, the Get Out the Vote Workshop was standing room only. The preceptor -- a term he preferred to "leader" -- was Dan Deliverman, an army veteran and a veteran community organizer for poor people's rights. He was new to GOTV, however, beyond knowing only too well that poor people have the lowest voting turnout of all income classes.

Dan opened with a summary of Lincoln's manual on getting out the vote, written for the elections of 1840. Honest Abe was practical. He recommended dividing the voters in each precinct into three categories: those who are with you from the get-go, those who are susceptible to persuasion, and those who are against you from the get-go. Then he guided his readers meticulously through the step-by-step process -- or more accurately, the doorstep-by-doorstep process -- of meeting with every voter except the opposition hardliners. There was nothing derivative or remote about Lincoln's advice, in part because there was no technology of remoteness, no telephones, television, or e-mail, nothing but the US mails, which were not used for political campaigns at the time. In those days, getting out the vote had to be personal and conversational, and advertising meant posters and handbills.

"In the 1840s and 1850s," Dan said, "people knew their neighbors and their communities and had to communicate directly. Today, if we're smart, we'll follow their example. Starting right after Labor Day, we'll attend and participate in the meetings of all the various community organizations in our districts so that when doorstep time comes, we'll be on a first-name basis with our neighbors and be able to draw on shared remembrances and experiences from past gatherings. The idea is to create a chain of core voters who will each be responsible for getting twelve other voters to go to the polls as a group and then maybe go out for lunch or supper or a drink. If you think of these core voters as 'twelvers' and start doing the math, you'll see that the effect is exponential."

And so went the workshops, throughout the afternoon into the evening, each in its own way taking the participants one or two or three steps beyond the amateurish, stagnant state of political campaigning in which the country was stuck. When the last workshop had concluded, everyone returned to the auditorium for a spirited sendoff from Darrell Dispatch, some people stopping by the lobby to pick up a drink or a snack.

"Stalwarts of Oklahoma, shapers of the future," Darrell said in ringing tones, "do not leave this building thinking in any way that you are determined but lonely pioneers. Mobilizations and training operations similar to and sometimes well beyond what's occurring in our state are taking place all over our country. We are in the stage of natural transition from all the wonderful agitations and heightened expectations that the Meliorists have inspired since early this year. Will those of you who have been regularly messaging your activist counterparts around the country please raise your hands?"

Billy Beauchamp swiveled in his seat to check the reaction as a sea of hands went up. He sighed and faced forward again, not a little dejected.

"See what I mean?" Darrell said. "Take great heart from our growing network, and surpass your friends in other states by learning from them. Nothing like some competitive spirit to spur us on to greater heights. For those of you who have fought the good fight for years, this time you are not alone, decidedly not alone.

"The materials from all the workshops, whether you attended them or not, can be picked up on your way out. Digest them and make them part of your hearts, minds, and souls. Since the first of June, when our slate of candidates was announced, we've held dozens of local meetings, fourteen district-level assemblies, and one other statewide gathering besides this one. There will be many more such events, at all levels. Check our website, www.oklahomadynamos.org, and let your friends know what they've been missing. Tell them they need to come join us to defend themselves, their families, and their country. And until next time, fare thee well."

A huge culminating roar reverberated through the convention hall as Billy Beauchamp and his friends rose and walked briskly to their minivan without saying a word. Once they were on the road, John Henry broke the silence. "Two years ago, you were elected with eighty-one percent of the vote, Billy, and your approval level was about there too. Your coming poll will tell you what toll the past three months of CEP perpetual motion have taken, but if you ask me, I wouldn't wait for the poll. Assume it's down and contact the RNC for advice and assistance. I know it'll be the first time for you, but this is the first time you've had any real opposition. And check out what the business trade groups are ready to do to help you like you've helped them so much over the years. I'm not talking about campaign donations -- you're already up to your ears in those -- I'm talking about getting people to help you on the ground and kick some butt for you with the local business community."

Billy sighed again. "Guess I don't much feel like talking right now, too much to take in and chew on, but I owe you all for bringing me to these two events, troubling as they were. Being briefed could never have conveyed what I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears. Thanks, gents. Will you all come over tomorrow for brunch so we can take a dig at all this from scratch?"

"Sure, Billy," Gil said, "sure we will."

Sunday morning, at his rambling Victorian-style home, Billy greeted his friends. "Come on in, fellows. The family and grandkids are all at church, and then they're going to a church picnic, so we've got the place to ourselves. The girls have laid out a breakfast buffet in the den, so let's go on in there and dig in."

When everyone was settled with heaping plates of sausage and eggs and biscuits and gravy, Billy said, "Listen, boys, when I got home from the Parmalee rodeo last night, I found confidential briefings from Brovar Dortwist and Lance Lobo waiting for me. Holy hell is all I can say after reading about the latest doings of the Meliorists and the Clean Elections Party. You know, our side of the political tract is used to short-term surges by progressives on some dustup or another, but the spark-and-sputter crowd has never had much staying power. This time, what Dortwist calls 'the quantitative difference of scale and resources' and 'the qualitative nature of their business backing' render history meaningless. There's just a staggering number of activities and events going on everywhere -- did you know there was a Sun God festival yesterday in Woodstock, right on the same grounds where all those hippies did their thing in the sixties? -- and new groups keep popping up to petition regulatory agencies, lobby legislators, file lawsuits, and on and on. I know firsthand from all the flow into my Rules Committee, which gives me a panoramic view of what's looming over the horizon because it isn't specialized like the other House committees.

"But what I didn't realize until the last few days is how far down into the communities the Meliorists and the CEP have penetrated. And just about everything they do gets on the mass media -- not to mention the blogs and websites and DVDs and whatever else -- to the point where they're squeezing out the police blotter and the weather on the local TV news. The business community, which pays the freight for the mass media, is obviously off its game here. They're not making sure they get something for their advertising dollars besides sales, if you know what I mean."

Listening to Billy, Gil was struck by how alive, how sharp, how on top of the situation the old warhorse seemed. Too bad he hadn't listened to Gil and the others months ago when they told him the same thing. Must sound more believable when it came from Washington.

"So what are your plans?" asked Hal, sinking his teeth into a gravy-sopped biscuit.

"Well, in a nutshell, I can keep doing what I've always done and try to straight-arm Willy Champ, or else I can try to blur his message by coming out for some of the reforms he's pushing. That might raise charges of expediency because it smacks of an election-year conversion, but on the other hand, it might flatter voters into thinking they'd changed the mind of an old man with no further ambitions for higher office. Who knows? Not much to do until we get that poll data except eat up and relax and watch the Cowboys exhibition game."

***

It took Jasper Cumbersome's secretary nearly the whole ten days the CEOs had allotted for their study of the Agenda to set up a conference call among them at their various resorts, spas, mansions, and villas, on islands, oceanfronts, and mountaintops all over the world.

"Well," Cumbersome began, "we knew August was going to be a hot one for us, but not this hot. Every major national news magazine has a cover story on one or more of the Meliorists. People has Yoko Ono on the cover. Business Week has pictures of all of them in the shape of a flame. Time's cover line is 'Old Age Pushes New Age.' The TV and radio coverage has been so intense that they hardly have time for the five-day forecast. I don't think the Meliorists have much control anymore over what they've unleashed, except for the Agenda legislation. Wardman, will you do the honors and walk us through each of these bills?"

"Certainly, Jasper. I'll read out each proposal and assume that all of you are willing to accede to it, or at least negotiate on it, unless you speak up to the contrary. First is universal health insurance -- public payment for private healthcare services."

"I absolutely oppose it," said Edgar Exerson of Hospital Chains of America, who had begun attending the meetings of Lobo's CEOs after the Harry and Louise debacle. "It will inevitably lead to price controls and restrictions that will put us out of business as insurers."

"Anyone else in opposition?" Wardman Wise asked.

There was silence over the phone lines. The other CEOs were relieved at being relieved of the spiraling expense of this worker benefit. Though employers would still be assessed something under the Agenda bill, Medicare for everyone would shift the burden away from them and onto the government, thereby making US companies more competitive with foreign businesses whose governments provided healthcare.

"Okay, so far, so good," Wise said. "That was the easy one, with apologies to brother Exerson. Next is electoral reform, which includes public funding of federal campaigns for ballot-qualified candidates through a well-promoted checkoff of up to three hundred dollars on 1040 tax returns, limited free access to radio and television time for these candidates, the prohibition of corporate-sponsored PACs, federal election standards to replace restrictive state voter registration and ballot-access laws, plus instant runoff voting and binding none-of-the-above on all ballot lines."

"This is a radical change from business as usual, and if we don't fight it, we'll regret it," said K. Everett Dickerson, head of the nation's largest media conglomerate, but once again there was silence from the rest of the CEOs, who were tired of being endlessly shaken down for political contributions and often berated for donating to candidates of both parties. It was a perennial irritation, and they would be glad to be rid of it, even at the expense of buying what they wanted from the government, as long as every one else was also prohibited from such payola. Dickerson accused them of putting their personal unease ahead of their business responsibilities to "purchase access," as he delicately put it, but no one came around to his view.

"All right," Wise said, "let's move on to labor law reforms making it easier to organize unions, lifting the minimum wage to ten dollars an hour, and strengthening the occupational safety and health laws."

More silence over the phone lines.

"No objections?" Wise asked. "None? I must say I'm surprised at how agreeable we all seem to be today, but I guess we're just following my late mother's advice. 'Wardy,' she used to tell me, 'you'd better take your cod liver oil now.'''

"Look," said Hubert Bump, "I know we're supposed to react to the Agenda as if we were under ultimate duress on Capitol Hill -- which isn't all that hypothetical by my reading -- but I wouldn't have much trouble with labor reform in any case. My industry is mostly unionized, and we pay well above ten dollars an hour. Our sense of productivity and our institutional compassion already make for high job safety. So what's the big deal -- to borrow a phrase?"

"The big deal," said Sal Belligerante, "is that there are many employers who are not in your circle, Hubert. They're afraid unions will put them out of business. On the other hand, unions are not known to commit suicide, and the growing ability of companies to outsource provides a strong incentive for union restraint in bargaining. In the white-collar area, the employees themselves don't like the idea of unionization and are sensitive to employer downsizing and outsourcing. So that basically leaves the retail chains -- fast food, Wal-Mart, and so on. And of course ideology."

The remainder of the Agenda for the Common Good did not fare anywhere near as well. The CEOs came down decisively against the sections on consumer empowerment (the CUBs, etc.), investor control (especially over executive pay), taxation, access to the courts, corporate governance, and issues of corporate "personhood."

"Well, we've all spoken," Wise said, "and we know where we stand on the Agenda, but where does that leave us in these dog days of August?"

"I think it leaves us in a state of suspended reaction," said Bradford Knowles. "We have to wait for the adversary's specific moves and for the evaluations of our congressional friends before we know how to respond. Presumably, the trade lobbies will keep charging along and risk breaking their straight arms, and the Lobo/Dortwist battalion has yet to come up with whatever miracles might arise from their groundwork. By the way, did we ever find any challengers to debate the SROs?"

"Lobo got back to me on that," Jasper Cumbersome said. "He told me the only volunteers were some no-names and clenched-jawed business professors who would embarrass us. He offered to debate them himself, in his frustration, but I replied with a sympathetic no. By the way, I see the SROs are returning our compliment by asking for one-on-one meetings with us." Indistinct muttering was heard. "Well, I assume we all know how to get more out of them than they get out of us. Now go back to your golf games and martinis, gentlemen. We are adjourned until our next meeting with Lobo right before the Labor Day weekend."

***

At the beginning of the second week of the "vacation" month of August, the Meliorists sallied forth on their grueling schedule of appearances and meetings with the CEOs and the Bulls. Warren had been asked to speak at a major rally in Oklahoma City, so he'd put in a call to Billy Beauchamp requesting a meeting afterward in Billy's district office. He knew that the Rules Committee might be the opposition's last stand, and he also believed that neutralizing Beauchamp was the strongest message that could be sent to the other Bulls, short of the prospect of defeat in November.

Billy received word of Warren's request while lunching at a VFW hall. He was flattered that the world's second-richest man wanted to come to southwestern Oklahoma to see him, but the politician in him quickly shifted from warm self- congratulation to cunning calculation. Buffett was coming to feel him out about the Agenda, but what else? Would he be offering anything by way of a legislative deal, or maybe something more personal like a post-retirement position? There was only one way to find out. Billy told his campaign manager to call Buffett's office and arrange the meeting.

At the appointed time, Warren arrived at Billy's modest suite in the Lawton post office building. They exchanged pleasantries and chatted about mutual acquaintances. Warren thanked Billy for supporting the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act nestled into a larger energy bill that was quite controversial. The repeal of this legendary and highly effective Depression-era law made it easier for Warren to expand his growing electric company empire by acquisition and merger, and Billy didn't like the consumer groups that vigorously opposed the repeal, so they hit common ground.

"May I take you to lunch, Congressman?" Warren asked. He'd always believed that breaking bread together enhanced the possibilities of breaking through, and a little wine wouldn't hurt either.

"That's very kind of you, sir. I know a nice little cafe that's quiet and private at this time of day."

When they were seated, Warren ordered a cherry Coke for himself and a bottle of Chardonnay for Billy and started right in. "Mr. Chairman, let's talk about the Agenda for the Common Good and the awakening of the American people. I won't repeat our justifications for these reforms and redistributions of power, because you've heard them many times, from many mouths and pens. I wanted this meeting so I could talk to you as a peer -- we're about the same age -- from my experience as a businessman and a patient observer of history and societal convulsions. The ties that bind us as a society are fraying badly. Traditions that work are being tossed aside as so much flotsam and jetsam by a rampant commercialism, by the notion that everything is for sale. But you and I know that if everything is for sale we can't retain our basic values, which by definition can never be for sale. As one who has bought and sold all kinds of products, securities, and companies, I'm not exactly coming from the priesthood, but I do know the importance of drawing that bright line.

"One of our basic values is justice. Granted, justice is in the eye of the beholder, but millions of beholders are starting to see it the same way. The raw injustice that afflicts Americans is reported and exhibited everywhere, all the time -- and while the GDP keeps growing, no less. The evidence is irrefutable. Just start with the poverty and pain and insecurity of working families in the millions. When everything is for sale -- say, in a commercial healthcare industry that tells people to pay or die -- that means life-preserving justice is for sale. And not everyone can afford it. If members of Congress have been astounded at the reaction to and the spread of our activities since early this year, so have we, but it's obvious we've struck a deep chord of decency in the American people. Optimism and a new public spirit have been liberated because more and more Americans believe critical changes can be made, and soon. Elders like us now have to guide those changes along beneficial paths. Long-suppressed expectations have been awakened. You may have heard of the waitress at a truck stop in Pennsylvania who thought up the slogan 'What's the Big Deal? We Earned It!' That about sums it up. Lots of back pay there. Lots, and I'm not just talking about money."

As he spoke, Warren was watching Billy's face carefully. He was something of an expert in the discernment of voluntary and involuntary responses, having negotiated so many acquisitions and recruited so many executives and met with so many boards of directors. He noticed that Billy's eyes welled up slightly twice, once when he said that basic values couldn't be for sale, and once when he used the phrase "elders like us."

"I see two possible scenarios when Congress returns," he went on. "One, that what the lawmakers experienced back home in August brings out their better natures, as contrasted with their politically calculating natures, and they sit down to make American history, which will resound far beyond our borders as an authentic example to the world of a functioning democracy taking itself to new levels of human dignity. In a darker scenario, the senior incumbents and chairs dig in their heels and hunker down with the business lobbies to block a Meliorist-sparked movement that has now taken on a life of its own. If that darker scenario prevails before November, none of us knows what will follow, but you can bet that the people who emerge to lead the ongoing struggle will not be calling themselves Meliorists. That's the lesson history teaches us when the powers that be don't relent and respond to popular demands for a fairer deal."

While Warren was speaking, Billy Beauchamp was listening and wondering. What in the world was motivating this man who had it all -- riches, friends in high places, the respect of the business community, the adoration of his tens of thousands of shareholders who came from miles around to attend his annual meeting? Why was he subjecting himself to conflict, stress, and slanderous attacks? Why was he spending August traveling around the country making speeches and talking to the likes of Billy Beauchamp? Certainly there was nothing in it for him financially. If anything, he was putting some of his business undertakings at risk by alienating partners who didn't want these kinds of fights and distractions from their boss. Could it be something as simple as trying to be a good Christian and a good human being?

Warren was finishing up and putting his cards on the table. He didn't believe in loose ends. "Mr. Chairman, I'm here to ask with the utmost respect that you move the Agenda to the floor rather than bury the bills in the Rules Committee as the business lobbies are expecting you to do. Beyond that, I dare to hope that you'll become a leader for the Agenda and write this chapter of the American story in your image. Our history shows again and again that every social justice movement that caught hold has expanded our economy, our freedom, and our legacy to our descendants. That's what the Homestead Act under President Lincoln did, what the abolition of slavery did, what women's suffrage did, what the elevation of worker dignity did, what the breakup of the giant monopolies did. When everybody wins, everybody wins."

Warren stopped and took a sip of his cherry Coke while Billy took a gulp of wine and blew his nose. The waiter came to the table for their orders. "Have you decided, gentlemen?" he asked. They gave him their selections and their menus. Warren waited.

"Well, sir," Billy said finally, "you surely know how to bring out at least one incumbent's better nature, as you put it. I'm at that stage in my life where I do think about how history will view my years in the House. Call it my Rubicon, my crossing over from a time for deals to a time for ideals. I'm being very frank with you, and I expect what's said to stay between us."

"Absolutely," Warren assured him.

"Many years ago," Billy continued, "my grandfather took us grandkids on vacation at Big Sur in California. The surf was majestic, and the surfers were spectacular. 'See those waves, children?' Grandpa said. 'When you encounter giant waves like that in your grown-up lives, don't fight them, because you'll just plain lose. Instead, ride them.' Well, from what I know is going on around the country and from what I've experienced in my own district in the past week, I'd say the Big Sur surf has arrived at Everytown, USA, and I'm about ready to decide to ride it. I won't make a public announcement, but I'll do it through my public actions as chair of the Rules Committee."

"You mean you don't intend to signal the other chairs in advance so as to influence them, or at least not to anger them by catching them off guard?" asked a pleasantly startled Warren.

Billy stiffened. "I'll do it my way," he replied tersely.

"Of course," Warren said, saved from an uncomfortable moment by the arrival of the salad. "Well, don't these tomatoes look great! Waiter, may I have another cherry Coke?"

Back in Omaha, Warren quickly sent a message to the other Meliorists, saying that if they hadn't yet met with the Bulls, he recommended three approaches that had worked well with Billy Beauchamp: the appeal to their better natures, the point that advances in justice lift everyone's prospects and expand economic activity, and the subtle warning that what would follow if the Agenda failed to pass would not be described as Meliorist. At the Bulls' age, he added, they might wish to undertake their own Redirection of how history would judge them. He again emphasized how critical these meetings were to turn the Bulls around or at least persuade them to let the legislation go to the floor.

Meanwhile, the Meliorists were also arranging their meetings with the CEOs. Jeno had selected Sal Belligerante because of their shared Italian roots and his love of a good fight. Sal was a synergy genius, holding together firms in the entertainment, financial, real estate, and shipping industries, plus a blue-chip mutual fund operating globally. In the sixties and seventies, his massive conglomerate had somehow avoided the fate of its counterparts, which were forced to sell off their corporate subsidiaries. Jeno had received a briefing paper filling him in on all of Sal's business dealings and indicating that he was one of the group's hardliners.

They met in Florida at a penthouse Sal owned, with a gorgeous view of Biscayne Bay. Sal greeted his guest in a white silk three-piece suit and invited him to take a seat in the lavishly furnished living room.

Jeno settled into a white leather armchair. "Sal, good to see you again. It's been a while since we shared a table at the annual Italian-American dinner in Washington. How you doing, paisan?"

"Well, you're probably doing a lot better than I am, Jeno. You guys are turning our world upside down."

"Or right side up," Jeno said with a smile. "Sal, I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse, one that may initially seem so outlandish as to cast doubt on the sanity of the paisan who proposed it."

"What's with all this 'paisan' stuff? Are you playing the ethnic card with me?"

"Of course! After all, we have a common heritage, even though your forebears sailed from Sicily while mine came from Naples. Ask most Americans what they associate with Sicilian Americans and they'll say --"

"The Mafia," Sal broke in bitterly.

"Right, and it's very unfair, but there's a dash of truth in their impressions. Young Italian Americans today need role models for endeavors other than crime, sports, and Hollywood. They need Italian stallions who exceed the notable achievements of our compatriots in those three areas of American society. The vast majority of them have never heard of Garibaldi, Mazzini, and Croce, much less Marcus Cicero of Rome."

"Cicero is my hero," Sal said. "I took Latin for three years in high school, and he was that language's finest orator and scholar. I can't tell you how much of him I read into the wee hours. Anyway, I'm still waiting for the connection."

"In all your reading of Cicero, Sal, did you ever come across his definition of freedom?"

"No, can't say I have."

"Well, here it is -- the best definition I've ever heard. 'Freedom,' he said, 'is participation in power.' How much freedom do you think ninety-nine percent of the American people have in the good old USA by that venerable definition?"

"Hell, if they're in the military, they've got plenty of freedom, what with all those weapons systems on land, sea, and air."

"Sal, I'm serious."

"Are you? Okay, I get where you're going. You want me to be a twenty-first-century Garibaldi running around spouting Cicero to liberate the country my father and mother came to -- land of the free, home of the brave -- in order to escape Benito Mussolini. Get the irony, you thick-headed Napolitano?"

"But look what it took to get our parents here, Sal -- a Fascist dictator for yours, poverty and strife and suppressed dreams for mine. It shouldn't have to come to that. That's part of what the Meliorists are about -- jolting the established business community into a risk assessment of its own self-interest. We've got greed spreading like a cancer through our society, so many families losing ground. We've got a visible global warming meltdown way up north and way down south, and these fossil-fuel fossilheads are turning up the acetylene torch. And those are just two of hundreds of examples. Look, you're rich and smart and successful, and I think you're sincere, but the business jungle out there has hardened a shell over your best instincts. At seventy-three, what have you got to look forward to? A gold watch? I've been successful in business too, as have many of my Meliorist colleagues. The difference is that we started asking some fundamental questions about what kind of elders we want to be, what kind of trustees for the vulnerable generations that will follow our descent into the mists of history. What are you and your fellow CEOs safeguarding that can compare with the gravity, the majesty of that question?
Especially in a country that has the wealth and capability to pull off what no other nation in history could do."

"And how, might I inquire, was all that wealth created?"

"Through a combination of great natural resources, freedom of capital formation, federal laws restraining the excessive concentration of power, a brain drain of the rest of the world, and the assumption by the taxpayers of the costs of public infrastructures, public education, Social Security, R and D, and enforceability of contracts. But in the past twenty-five years, too much corporate power over government policies has thrown our political economy out of balance and reduced government to a short-term handout operation for big business. In a word, I describe the corporate state."

"Like Mussolini in his Stato Corporativo?"

"Not bad, Sal, not bad. Keep surprising me."

"Stop patronizing me. You're lucky you and I never met head-on when you were competing big-time, because you'd have lost."

At that moment, Jeno sensed that he was starting to break through Sal's shell. "Too bad we never had the pleasure. You wouldn't have had to wait until now to see how straightforward I am. Here's that offer you can't refuse, Sal. On behalf of the Meliorists, I invite you to become a full member of our core group and undertake a sublime, truly historic commitment to advance the Agenda for the Common Good through Congress by the end of the year. We'll of course have to interview you first, for reasons you'll understand. While you're thinking about it, can you point me to the bathroom?"

Sal looked directly at Jeno, scowled, and without a word jerked his head toward a hallway off the living room. Jeno rose and found the bathroom, where he spent five minutes leafing through a yachting magazine to give Sal some time to digest what he must have seen as either a stunning act of statesmanship or a cunning trap.

"What kind of game are you playing, Jeno?" Sal said when his guest returned. "You know that what you've offered me is a 'heads you win, tails I lose' proposition. If I say yes, then one Sal Belligerante instantly forfeits his role among the CEOs. If I say no, then you can leak it to the media -- you're all so moderate and open that you offered a chief adversary equal membership inside your strategic sanctuary, with full access to your everyday maneuvers, and he refused. Jeno, you truly should have been a son of Sicily. So let the record state, 'He said nothing, smoothed his tie, and requested that his visitor depart.' Ciao, paisan."

"As you wish, but before you graciously agreed to meet with me, I read everything I could get my hands on about you, and I still believe in you, Sal, in spite of yourself."

Back in his limo on the way to Miami, where he was scheduled to speak at a sub-economy shindig the next day, Jeno leaned back in his seat and smiled reflectively. He hadn't expected to get a clear yes or no, not because Sal was so tactically smart -- though in fact he'd turned out to be -- but because Jeno believed he was genuinely floored and flattered by the invitation. Nor had Jeno expected the abrupt termination of the meeting, but even so, his Neopolitan intuition told him that the mental yeast had been planted and Sal's better nature would rise in the coming days.

***

August 22nd arrived, and with it the highly anticipated public discussion between Billy Beauchamp and Willy Champ at Southwestern Oklahoma Community College. Before a large audience, with no moderator, the two men opened with several sharp but civil exchanges. Their tone was deliberate and responsible. Neither man overtalked or interrupted. Each seemed to know when the other had finished making his points, and listened attentively before replying.

Billy Beauchamp stressed his knowledge of public affairs, his wisdom as an elder, his public works projects in the Fourth District over the decades, and his experience in Washington, which meant seniority and control of the gateway House Rules Committee. There was no bombast in his voice or demeanor; he didn't patronize the younger man. For his part, Willy Champ spoke of his travels to every corner of the district and vividly described all the injustices he had encountered, citing them not as isolated examples, after the practice of Ronald Reagan, but as representative of the plight of many. Without slamming his opponent directly, he decried the chronic corruption in Congress and the great Washington stall that had left a country of tremendous resources and talents paralyzed. He gave illustration after illustration of the practical solutions that were available if politicians represented real people instead of greedy corporations and their vastly overpaid bosses. Thanks to all the publicity about the activities of the CEP and the Congress Watchdogs, his examples were fresh in the minds of his audience, and people were nodding in agreement as Willy told them what he hoped to accomplish with their votes and their participation. The implicit message was clear. For all his experience, Congressman Beauchamp had produced few real benefits for the people and a lot of policies that stood in their way. It was time for a progressive change, time for new energy and new blood.

During the question period, the audience responded magnificently. Their questions weren't the expected and easily evaded ones based on headlines and sound bites. They were fundamental and informed inquiries that demanded concrete answers. How would the candidates handle the corporate donors and lobbyists? How, specifically, would they address the various problems of the district? The audience wasn't interested in abstractions and empty reassurances. They were conducting a genuine dialogue with the candidates, testing each man's character and personality.

One of the first questions, from a middle-aged man in a cowboy shirt, had to do with health insurance. "Medicare is working pretty well, though there could be more prosecutions of vendor fraud," he said. "Both of you have supported Medicare for the older folks, but why not full Medicare for all Americans, no matter what their age, as proposed in the Agenda's healthcare bill? Medicare's administrative expenses are a fraction of the expenses of the HMOs, and unlike those giant companies, Medicare gives folks free choice of physicians and hospitals. What's your specific position here?"

"I'm all for the Agenda bill," Willy Champ declared without hesitation. "It spells out a universal healthcare plan in a form structured for quality and cost controls, and with provision for constant feedback and organized patient-consumer watchdogs."

"I support healthcare coverage for everyone too," said Billy Beauchamp, "but Oklahomans don't want more big government, more bureaucracy, more politics between you and your doctor. I believe competition in healthcare is better, and I have a six-point plan that will cover just about everyone by 2014." As he finished his answer, Billy saw many in the crowd rolling their eyes, as if to say, "Here he goes again," but he couldn't help himself. He'd been so programmed for so many years that he couldn't make the adjustments he knew he needed to make after attending those two boisterous CEP training sessions.

Near the end of the evening, a distinguished-looking woman rose and asked, "will both of you gentlemen agree now to no less than half a dozen such discussions around the district after Labor Day?"

Billy looked at Willy. Willy looked at Billy and then at the audience. "Fine with me," he said. In the front row, Gil, Hal, Ernest, and John Henry swallowed hard.

"Fine with me too," Billy finally said.

The next day, the top headline in the Lawton newspaper was "It's the Triple-B vs. Triple-T Road Show -- Six of Them!"

***

All through August, the Meliorist pressure cooker built up steam by the day in every precinct and congressional district in the country. One commentator on Meet the Press called the unprecedented activism "a raging prairie fire incinerating the conventional political wisdom in Washington, DC. The people are hungry for fairness and justice. They can feel a new day coming because they're making it happen, with some crucial help from the PROs."

Some state attorneys general chose what would normally have been the slow news month of August to release their State of Justice reports, which were real eye-openers, with their groundbreaking efforts to jettison myths and actually measure the prevalence of justice or the lack thereof. Then there was Jerome Kohlberg, that tireless offshoot of the Maui core group. He and his crew were organizing meetings in every community with a population of more than ten thousand on the theme of money in politics. "Come see how dirty money makes so many of you so miserable," ran the invitation, "and start feeling less miserable on the spot when you become part of getting the dirty money out of politics. Supper on the house." Jerome was spending some of his fortune fast, but not as fast as he was making it.

At Radio City Music Hall in New York, a show featuring both the corporations that were running as candidates (reduced to write-ins by adverse court decisions) and the people who had declared themselves corporations was playing to packed houses night after night. The highlight was an animated short produced by one of Yoko's art teams that rang all the comic changes on these dual themes. In Virginia, Max made a big splash after a senator cruising to reelection with a record of voting for big business roughly 100 percent of the time used a pejorative ethnic term about an Asian American staffer of his opponent's. Never mind the senator's deeds, his votes against lifesaving worker, consumer, and environmental programs -- what got him in trouble was a word. He'd never apologized for leaving Americans defenseless against corporate depredations, but he was apologizing all over the state for this verbal campaign crisis, and Max called him out on it in a withering series of ads.

It was against this disheartening backdrop that the CEOs convened for their meeting with Lobo on the Friday before Labor Day, grumbling about having to cut their vacations short. They were in no mood to listen. They were in a mood to cross-examine, as Lobo knew when he entered the penthouse boardroom with sweaty palms.

"Lobo, you've been working double overtime," CEO Cumbersome began, "and we are all eager to know how the five- point plan you outlined months ago is working out. Not to restrict you to these forays, mind you, since your dynamic intellect has probably come up with many more ways to stop the SROs in their autumn tracks. Proceed, please."

"Gentlemen, a giant hurricane is best understood by entering its eye, the calm within the vast turbulence surrounding it. Let's enter the eye of the SRO hurricane for clarity of purpose and action. All the forces on our side are in retreat. As with any army in stages of retreat, the general keeps looking for more defendable positions as his troops grow weaker from their losses. Outwardly, we're all blazing away and keeping our spirits high. Inwardly, the reality is retreat. But retreat does not mean defeat. It means fighting on terrain that gives us an advantage. And unlike a retreating army, we're not losing strength. Just the opposite. The resources -- human, technological, and monetary -- are growing every day as the business community absorbs the urgency of the moment."

"Excuse me," interrupted Norman Noondark, "but I've never heard such a load of double-talk in my life. Enough with the meteorological and military metaphors. Just tell us about your five-point strategy and give us your analysis of how you've done."

Lobo took a deep breath. "Very well, gentlemen. The first and second fronts were to penetrate the enemy's communication systems and then their face-to-face meetings and their staff. We've got informants here and there, but by and large we haven't had much success thus far. Their electronic defenses and their recruitment systems are extremely tight." Lobo conveniently omitted any mention of the Maui surveillance tapes. "However, the SROs themselves have provided us and the nation with most of the information we thought we'd need infiltration to obtain. They're working together, they have an endless amount of money to spend -- far more than we do -- and they're at least indirectly responsible for the surge in regulatory petitions and probably for Beatty's gubernatorial campaign. They're keeping a scrupulous distance from the Clean Elections Party, on the insistent advice of their counsel, Theresa Tieknots, but otherwise they wear so much on their sleeves that we don't see much point in infiltrating them anymore, even if we could."

"I'd have to agree," said Sal Belligerante, recalling his meeting with Jeno.

"To continue, the third front was to tie them up, obstruct them, and draw them into a war of attrition, and that's still our best option. Trouble is, at this point it relies on the Bulls in Congress, and our tracking polls on their standing in their districts and states are not encouraging. Many have dropped from approval levels in the high seventies and low eighties down to the fifties or high forties -- and this before voters start concentrating on the fall elections and before the CEP candidates really bear down on the Bulls by name, record, and attitude. We're finding that longtime one-party-district incumbents can be quite vulnerable. I've just received the results of a poll by Billy Beauchamp, our friendly House Rules Committee chairman, whose approval ratings have dropped from the low eighties to just under fifty percent. Now, that is very worrisome.

"As for the fourth front, attacking the SROs' legitimacy, their motives, and their credibility, I have these words for you: Bernard Rapoport, Harry and Louise. True, we've had some success with our scare ads about America's global competitiveness and the business climate, but by and large we've hit a stone wall here. Which brings us to the fifth front. All the corporate and trade lobbies, the corporate law firms, the public relations firms -- all the combined muscle of corporate America, except for the PCC navel-gazers and their academic and think-tank cohorts -- are now geared up to the nines for the titanic battle ahead. They've aroused their constituencies, and they're keeping in close touch with one another, or at least that's what they tell Brovar Dortwist. I have to confess, however, that a lot of this has been on paper, because just about all their executive directors and staff have taken this month off."

"Has our opponents' side done likewise?" asked Sam Slick.

"Just the opposite. They're in overdrive, probably working harder in August than they did in July. The curve is arching upward on all indicators of their activities, so far as we can determine."

"Maybe I'm just a grumpy old man, Lobo," said Justin Jeremiad, "but it seems to me that much of what has or has not happened would have happened or not even if you and your operation weren't around. Am I right?"

"With respect, Mr. Jeremiad, if I may continue, I think I can address your concerns. Our resources on all fronts are increasing -- our capability, that is -- but toward what tactics, what strategies? We don't have time to experiment. Ironically, history must be our guide, even as the SROs are writing new history. In my judgment, after canvassing all ideas and probing all weaknesses in our opposition, I've come to the conclusion that barring some bolt from the blue, our best hope lies in the private investment sector and the delay-and-block strategy in Congress. We've discussed both before, but now it's a matter of intensification and escalation.

"By the private investment strategy, I mean an organized investment strike by the industrial and commercial corporations and the banking community. Coming off our saturation fear campaign, this move is credible, however unpleasant. All pending factory construction is put on hold. Companies significantly step up their announcements that they're moving their facilities overseas, blaming the disastrous investment climate created by fear of the Agenda's passage. Credit begins to tighten up even before Congress makes its decision, and that will get the millions of small businesses activated. None of this should be couched in threatening or personal language -- it's just sound business decision-making by free market companies. The stock market won't like it, except for the short sellers, but we shouldn't have to keep it up for more than a few months to succeed.

"As for the Khyber Pass strategy in Congress, we've been counting all along on the powerful committee chairs, but for the first time in many a year, they're beginning to run scared. They'll respond to their reelection fear in one of two ways. Either they'll turn into born-again populists to fend off their CEP challengers, or they'll get their dander up and become more intransigent than ever. Which way they go will depend in part on their opponents. If the CEP and the SROs resort to personal attacks or dirty campaign tactics, that helps us; if they're diplomatic and civil and focus on what they call the Bulls' 'better natures,' that does not help us. On our shoulders lies the responsibility to support the Bulls generously and treat them with kid gloves both in terms of their committee responsibilities and in their campaigns back home. It has also been suggested to them delicately, by sources distant from us, that a wonderful career and an easy life await them if they stand firm against the Agenda and lose their elections.

"If you'll recall, gentlemen, I made a sixth point in my initial presentation to you, about what I called the great unknown -- all of you. As I've said time and again, your personal involvement is crucial. I'm now going to make a recommendation that may not sit well with you. Your opponents are a whirl of activity, though most of them have fifteen years or more on you. As you know, they've been speaking at rallies and meeting with the Bulls and with some of you over these past few weeks. It's imperative that you respond in kind, that you become directly and openly engaged with them and against their Agenda. There's an entire floor of suites available at a good hotel in Washington, not far from Congress, that could house you securely, privately, and very comfortably if you take up residence there for the remainder of this congressional session. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to do so. You have to be on location, on tap for the media, for members of Congress, for White House appointments, and for each other, in person. Brovar Dortwist agrees. There's no substitute for being where the action is unfolding."

"Let me stop you right there, Lobo," said William Worldweight. "As we have told you time and again, we don't have the temperament for daily verbal slugfests. We have our noses to the grindstone running businesses that keep us up at night worrying. The SROs are retired, with no daily business responsibilities. How many of you around this table agree?"

Somewhat sheepishly, all the CEOs followed Worldweight down the path of least resistance and raised their hands -- all except for Wardman Wise, Hubert Bump, Sam Slick, and Sal Belligerante.

Lobo curbed a sneer. "In my experience, money and personality will beat money without personality in most public struggles, but I guess we'll just have to hope that Congress is the exception. Still, I beseech you to ponder my urgent recommendation and reconsider it in a few days. Meanwhile, do I have your full support to do what has to be done on the private investment side and on the Bulls' side -- the upper and lower jaws that will crush our opposition?"

Belligerante opened his mouth to speak, but Cumbersome cut him off. "You do," he said.

"Look, Lobo," said Wardman Wise, "I think we recognize the need to get closer to the senior members of Congress and some of the younger sparkplugs as well, and we'll do that, but not in the high-profile way you'd like. As I've noted before, it's up to you to find CEOs or company presidents who have what it takes to go one on one with the SROs."

"As I've noted before," Lobo said acidly, "I've been trying to find such people, with no success. There just isn't anyone out there who comes close to having the power, the connections, the knowledge, and the judgment all of you have. That said, I'll keep trying."

Ichiro Matsuda sighed. "Let's face it, Lobo, what you see around this table is dejection and a very low expectation that you can turn things around, no matter what the size of your budget. The forecast is that Labor Day this year is going to be very different from past Labor Days in turnout, energy, and agenda. I'm told that major labor leaders are going to be on all four Sunday morning network interview shows, and that's certainly a first. I assume you'll have spotters at all the big parades?"

"Yes," Lobo said, ignoring Matsuda's pessimistic assessment of his efforts. "The SROs are determined to make Labor Day a big momentum builder for the Agenda drive. By the way, it would be helpful if those of you who've met with them would pull together your impressions and get them over to me right away."

"And with that," said Cumbersome, "I believe we are adjourned."

Only too glad to take his leave of the pusillanimous CEOs, Lobo returned to his office, grabbed a fistful of celery sticks, and put in a call to Brovar.

"I've never been so low in my adult life," he said, chewing fiercely. "Sometimes I feel like everything we do gets turned into smoke and mirrors by the SROs' brilliantly designed, timed, and executed battle plan. We're hitting a brick wall. Our efforts just aren't resonating." "I'm afraid I'm feeling the same way these days. We've got thousands on the job, but no imagination, no passion. Everyone's on automatic pilot, spending money, grinding out promos, ads, placements, fact sheets, more ads. We can't seem to find a handle. It's tough fighting people who just a few years ago were at the top of the same kinds of businesses we're supposed to be representing. And have they ever got the public's eyes, ears, hearts, minds, and feet."

"While we've got a bunch of lazy assholes."

Brovar heard a loud crunch at the other end of the line.

"Let the jury disregard that remark," Lobo said. "But imagine, they're in the fight of their lives and they voted down my advice to relocate to Washington for a couple of months."

Lobo described his meeting with the CEOs, and Brovar promised to use his Rolodex to help locate a CEO B-team that could take on the SROs. "Meanwhile, tell all your people to spend a long, relaxed Labor Day weekend and think creative thoughts for dynamic action. That's what I'm doing with my team. We can't let the SROs get us down, Lobo. We've got to clear our heads for the confrontation of our lives."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 10:01 pm

PART 1 OF 3

CHAPTER 16

Labor Day USA was one for the books. Record crowds came out in city after city, but it wasn't just the turnout that made the day so memorable, it was the quality and substance of what was conveyed across the land.

In St. Louis, Missouri, a quarter of a million people lined the streets to watch the floats, the pageantry, the fife and drum corps, the flags and banners. Beyond the superficial sights and sounds -- sidewalk vendors selling snacks and balloons, activists handing out buttons and bumper stickers -- the deeper message was clear. In the union contingents, the labor rank and file marched proudly, surrounding their leaders, not following them. Along the parade route, other union members in the work clothes of their various trades held up giant murals of men and women working in the steel, auto, coal, textile, and construction industries. These full-color, historically precise murals had been loaned to the specially constituted Missouri Mulers for Labor Justice by the Wall of America, a nonprofit collaborative that was portraying the entire history of American labor in what would eventually be combined into one massive painting, 120 feet long and four stories high, to be housed in a nineteenth-century Connecticut textile factory that was being converted into a permanent museum. The visual power of the renderings awed the densely packed crowd and drew attention to big placards mounted behind them, featuring each of the Seven Pillars of the Agenda for the Common Good, with a website address for those wanting further information. News photographers and television cameramen bounded back and forth recording the extraordinary display while the spectators used their cell phones to transmit these images of beauty and truth to friends and relatives across the country and around the world.

The members of Congress from Missouri and southern Illinois had been invited to be present on the parade platform. Like all the politicians and "dignitaries" who'd been asked to attend the Labor Day parades around the country, they were given to understand that they were there to look, listen, and absorb -- with one exception. If they'd already endorsed the Agenda or were now willing to do so, they'd have two minutes to speak about their support and the reasons for it. Under no circumstances were they to march in the parades. They could only be there on the platform, either coming out for the Agenda or standing out like silent sore thumbs. This was a new Labor Day, a Labor Day of, by, and for the people, and the workers wanted action, not cheap posturing. If the politicians weren't going to march for the Agenda in Congress, why should they be invited to strut their hypocrisy on the avenues of St. Louis or any other city? As for the politicians, the opportunity to make a statement before such huge crowds was either a public relations dream or a nightmare, depending on where they stood on the Agenda.

The climax of the Labor Day parades across America was the reiteration of support for the Agenda from already committed legislators, along with new declarations of support from the hitherto uncommitted. It would have been a brave soul from Capitol Hill who showed up, sat down, and remained silent. Naturally, no one in that camp was stupid enough to appear, but the names of the absentees were read aloud over the public address system. In Missouri and Illinois, the number of committed legislators rose from 20 percent to 45 percent, and in other states the percentages varied widely. The results were a little disappointing to the parade organizers, but they realized that some lawmakers probably thought they were being hustled into an intimidating situation and didn't want to be show horses. Others may not have been willing to commit to the whole Agenda because they had reservations about some of the bills or wanted to fine-tune others.

Nonetheless, the wide coverage of the parades and the labor leaders' clear-eyed responses to questioning on the Sunday morning talk shows were an impressive tribute to the organizers, and especially to the indefatigable Ann Mora of the California Nurses Association. With half a dozen nurse colleagues, she had journeyed to each of the fifty states, using shame, guilt, and pride to blast the unions out of their defeatist mind-set, as she'd done earlier at the AFL-CIO. All over the country, the unions contributed millions of dollars, much of the money raised at potluck suppers as urged by Ann, to make Labor Day a raging success, with a long arm reaching to Washington, DC. More than 10 million Americans marched in the parades, not all of them in the big cities by any means, and millions more men, women, and children crowded the sidewalks and eagerly took the posters, bumper stickers, Seventh-Generation Eye buttons, and DVDs handed out by the junior parade marshals drawn from the "Read all about it!" brigades. Other young women and men circulated with clipboards for anyone wishing to sign up and join the movement or receive timely information about what they could do in the fall. The marchers had already registered their names and addresses with Parade Central and had been well briefed, showing in their demeanor and interactions with reporters and neighbors that they knew exactly why they were marching. Ann herself spoke at the New York City parade, 1 million strong.

The Labor Day events this year went far beyond the parades and platforms. There were concerts featuring the great classic protest songs from the historic struggle for unionization, going back to the days when it was defined as a struggle against "wage slavery" and the plutocracy's definition of labor as a "commodity." Many young people learned of these songs and the dramatic efforts they described for the first time in their lives, since in the past half century "organized labor" had been all but moribund and anything but organized.

In general, one of the delights of this Labor Day for its vigorous, visionary organizers was the youth turnout. Young people in their teens and twenties packed movie theaters to see a wide selection of the best films on labor battles with management, such as Norma Rae, and came away discussing what they had seen. Productions of plays like Odets' Waiting for Lefty also enlivened the weekend's festivities. There were special events for preteens where workers demonstrated skills that had long preceded the mesmerizing Internet. Sailors in the merchant marine showed them how to tie all kinds of knots. Carpenters showed them how to fashion simple tables and chairs, while metalworkers dazzled them with welding displays and glassblowers entranced them with their ancient art. Surgeons held them in fascination with a mockup of a broken hip and how they went about repairing it. Cooks and chefs concocted appetizers, main courses, and desserts that were enthusiastically sampled. The world of work came alive in all its dailiness and necessity as the youngsters watched wide-eyed. They saw how seeds were planted and how crops were harvested to make the packaged food they took for granted in the grocery store. They saw how paper was made and turned into magazines, newspapers, and books. They were shocked by movies showing the sweatshop working conditions in China and Indonesia and Vietnam where their iPods and cell phones and shoes were manufactured, and the poverty of the workers and children who hand-made the baseballs and soccer balls they played with. On television news, the world of work was largely reduced to statistics about unemployment or layoffs, but these young people got a bracing dose of reality that they wouldn't soon forget.

All in all, it was a Labor Day that shook America. Commentators marveled not only at the turnouts but at the variety and vitality of the speakers and the power of their arguments for a new economic order where the people would be supreme over the corporations and sovereign over their government. It was a day when working-class dignity took a stand and left the country feeling that this stand would not be denied in the coming weeks and months.

***

High above Manhattan, in a private dining room on the 103rd floor of the Bank of the Globe building, fifteen Goliaths, as they were known in the slang of the business world, gathered for an emergency dinner meeting on Labor Day evening. These powers behind the throne of international business operated at a rarefied level far above that of Lobo's CEOs. They were new to the agitations of the Meliorists because of their global preoccupations and a knowledge base about what was going on in the world that relied on unexamined assumptions rather than empirical observation. Now they were trying to appear in casual self-control as they watched a bank of live screens showing the culminating Labor Day events around the country, but they were visibly rattled. Long ago, the Goliaths had written the United States off as a large but steady-state economy. What you saw was what you were going to get. The big money was to be made in the Third World and in parts of the former Soviet Union. The Bank of the Globe was already reporting that 70 percent of its profits came from outside the United States even though it was the second-largest bank in the country. Why? Wild profit margins overseas. Fractional costs. Little countervailing power either in government or civil society, if the latter existed at all.

The Goliaths talked while they dined.

"When you boil the whole day down." said Hugh Mongous. "it seems to me that the message is 'Workers of America, unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!' Sound familiar, my brethren?"

"Are you joking, Hugh?" said Stan Selitoff. "It seems to me that they just want a piece of what we owe them. If you think a Marxist-type revolution is what they're pushing, revolution must be going down deep into the minor leagues. They're not trying to replace us or seize the reins we hold."

"Unless they're taking it in stages. Do they have a theorist?" asked Manny Tentacles.

"Not as far as our staff can tell," said George Gargantua. "Unless you think these Meliorists are doubling as theorists or economic philosophers. The problem I see is the spillover effect into the Third World. I'm not worried about Canada or Western Europe. They'll just look at what's happening as the US playing catch-up with them after years of neglecting labor, health insurance, electoral reform, and so on."

"No theorist, no beliefs. No beliefs, not to worry," Manny remarked.

"That gives me an idea! Damn, this avocado salad is good!" said Sy Clopean. "Why not launch a global ad campaign that paints the Common Good Agenda as just what George called it -- a modest catch-up, no big deal after thirty years of no gains for those who will benefit if these bills get through Congress. We can also inform the countries of South America, Asia, and Africa that the Agenda will increase US labor costs and put their economies in an even more competitive position."

"Hold on!" expostulated Cole Ossal. "As an American, you're talking economic treason. And you're running an American company to boot!"

"Who says I'm running an American company?" Sy retorted. "When it comes to big multinationals like the ones we all run, there is no nationality. Callus global straddlers or anational corporations."

"I like Sy's idea," Stan said. "It will pretty much take care of our concerns and responsibilities. The Washington trade groups have been asking us for big bucks to fight the Meliorists, and we keep telling them that it's their fight, not ours. Now we have an initiative to back us up here, a very credible argument that we should all take care of our own business priorities first."

"You mean, essentially, domestic takes care of domestic and international takes care of international, right?" asked Hugh.

"Exactly," Stan said, "though I don't suppose it will hurt to throw our domestic brethren a bone by getting some big foreign companies to announce that they're suspending planned investment projects in the US indefinitely, until they get a better read of the business climate after this congressional term. Do we have a consensus, gentlemen, for our new global economic order?" He laughed as his colleagues around the dinner table nodded their vigorous assent, some with their mouths full.

"Then I guess that does it," Hugh said. "We've had a distasteful day watching the masses, so let's continue with our dinner. I think we've earned a little epicurean relief."

***

The Tuesday after Labor Day marked the return of the 535 denizens of Congress and their thousands of staffers from an August recess that was either bruising or energizing, depending on their views. An army of freshly tanned and rested lobbyists was waiting for them with their checklists and political cash registers, but the lobbyists knew the ring of the cash registers was beginning to sound a little tinny. Congressional Quarterly reported that 54 percent of the House and 55 percent of the Senate were already committed to the Agenda for the Common Good in writing and that the Bulls' approval ratings were continuing to decline.

Attendance at the pro-Agenda public events of August had reached magnitudes that could only be accommodated by the largest indoor arenas in the country -- the Target Center in Minneapolis, the Boston Garden, Madison Square Garden in New York. Each time one of the Meliorists made a surprise appearance, the audience went wild, as if Shakira or the Rolling Stones were performing. Clearly, the Meliorists had become the justice equivalent of rock stars.

When Yoko stepped onto the stage at the Oakland Coliseum, there was a near riot of acclaim. Had any of the CEOs been scanning the crowd in front, they would have spotted the enthralled, catatonic face of Lancelot Lobo, who had come out on an afternoon flight from JFK and returned on the redeye to be back at the office bright and early so as to avoid arousing suspicion. The obsession lived on.

The Meliorists' increasingly confident and savvy allies in Congress had worked with the Bulls to complete the extensive hearings on the various parts of the Agenda by the end of July. During August, sufficient staff had remained on the job to complete the committee reports with majority and minority views. That meant the committees could now schedule the first meetings to mark up the legislation and vote on sending it to the House or Senate floor. The Double Z resumed their tireless daily trek to congressional offices so that they could provide steady feedback to Promotions, Analysis, and the Meliorists themselves.

Just as Congress was settling back into its routine, Lobo blanketed the airwaves with the opening salvo of his investment strike strategy. It was Lobo at his ferocious best. The ads were verbal velvet gloves conveying iron-fist determination. Using data from the Commerce Department, and an advertising firm with a far subtler touch than Horatio Hadestar's, he analyzed proposed or tentative investments geographically and then saturated the local media with suspension announcements from one company after another in region after region. Naturally, local television, radio, and newspapers gave the announcements top billing. In a reversal of his previous strategy, Lobo made sure that as many of the companies as possible were situated in localities represented by the Bulls, on the theory that the Bulls would be so furious at the Meliorists that they'd dig their heels in on the Agenda.

For example, Zintel Corporation suspended negotiations for locating a billion-dollar computer chip factory on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, in the district represented by Sid Swanson, longtime chairman of the House Labor Committee. The suspension of a large hotel, condo, and retail store development near Atlanta would surely get the attention of Senator Duncan Dredge, chairman of the Finance Committee, which handled all matters involving tax legislation, public investment, and business subsidies. Senator Dredge, up for reelection, had already touted his role in bringing these jobs to Georgia in his campaign literature. Back in August, the seventy-six-year-old senator had met with William Gates Sr. and told friends he was charmed, but he probably wasn't charmed any longer.

In addition to the suspension announcements, Lobo launched some national media displaying silver-haired, avuncular spokesmen -- actually paid actors -- delivering a somber message about dislocating our great economy through risky social engineering promoted by disgruntled has-beens from the business world. Three labor unions broke ranks and supported the campaign of fear, with actors playing workers who declared in one-minute spots that they didn't want anyone experimenting with their livelihoods either. The tag line was the demand that Congress "stop the Meliorist Mania."

A day or two after Lobo's first ads broke, the syndicated cable and radio hosts picked up on them and began devoting the entirety of their allotted time to another round of guests and talk denouncing "the bleeding heart Common Goodism that would wreck our free enterprise system," in the hyperbolic words of Bush Bimbaugh. Not to be outdone, Pawn Vanity trumpeted in hysterical tones the probable job losses in every locality struck by a suspension announcement. He called for congressional investigations. Immediately! The Wall Street Journal put out a special edition with maps of the localities and profiles of the communities and profuse statistics on how the suspended investments would have alleviated unemployment and other local problems.

Lobo's last-gasp smear campaign was fully underway, flooding the airwaves and the right-wing blogs with ruthlessly false and lurid accusations against the Meliorists by name and against anyone associated with them, including their congressional allies and the "subversive" new CUB and Congress Watchdog organizations. The lecturers were compared to the Wobblies -- members of the Industrial Workers of the World, so many of whom were maliciously prosecuted as Communists after World War I. It was a mass media convulsion, a final desperate lunge of the deluders, distracters, deriders, defamers, and would-be destroyers of the social justice movement.

A puzzled, uncertain stock market steepened its slide by the day. The baying pack kept up its jeremiads against the Meliorists and darkly wondered whether "these ex-business tycoons" were making big money by selling short. Bush Bimbaugh and imitators evinced a sudden touching concern for the trillions of dollars in worker pensions invested in stocks and how the retirement of "millions of hardworking patriotic Americans" was in jeopardy.

It was a full week before Promotions started a comparable media counterattack, though it put out short rebuttal press releases right away. Barry's top lieutenant, Evan Evervescent, came up with a sharp idea. The Double Z had been working closely with the progressive members and staff on each of the pertinent committees, helping them to write their sections of the committee reports on two levels: the quantitative data and evidence supporting passage of the bills, and the human abuse, fraud, and devastation resulting from the conditions the bills were designed to reform. Citing House and Senate committee reports had an authoritative ring in the public mind, so Evan saw a chance for a double whammy here: he could rebut the yahoos with "official and verified heartrending material" and at the same time focus the public on the congressional process regarding passage of the Agenda.

Evan called on Bill Hillsman, who produced a series of ads that were funny, acidic, and so creatively specific that they made news themselves and got another play in the media that way -- his trademark. People everywhere were talking about them because they zeroed in on the injustices of their daily lives -- indecipherable overbillings, medical or hospital malpractice, depressed wages that forced them to work second and third jobs, price gouging by the oil companies, waste of their taxpayer dollars, unaffordable housing and healthcare, loss of their pensions, layoffs due to corporate flight, long waits on buses and trains to get to work, daycare that was too expensive if it was available at all, while the rich had daycare and chauffeurs for their dogs! What a stinking way to have to live! In particular, the ads directed at Bush Bimbaugh became instant website classics and the rage of college campuses. Up against the Minnesota maverick, Lobo and his propaganda were laughed out of town. It didn't help when two whistle-blowers revealed that their own companies had faked investment plans in order to suspend them.

The attack and counterattack between the CEOs and the PROs lasted for two weeks and cost both sides a bundle, but when the dust settled, the center had held. Horatio was still at the bridge, and the polls were still trending steadily in favor of the Agenda. All Lobo had accomplished was to exhaust his arsenal of fear-mongering.

Lobo knew that he and his team were just about cornered. The options were quickly being reduced to one -- the Khyber Pass. The CEOs had once again rejected his recommendation that they take up residence near Congress for September and October, so he reluctantly set about finding some worthy, aggressive surrogate CEOs or entrepreneurs, as his bosses had directed. He and his captains interviewed dozens of preselected candidates and winnowed them down to seven who accepted: Dexter D. Delete, scion of the nation's largest private detective firm, well versed in winning through silent intimidation by dossier; Sally Savvy, CEO of a trendy lingerie company whose customers included Hollywood's most glamorous female stars; Elvis Inskull, founder and jovial CEO of a chain of lucrative psychiatric hospitals; Adam Agricoloff, the self-styled third-generation Asparagus King, who owned half a million acres in California's Imperial Valley and employed thousands of migrant workers; Steve Shredd, principal designer and manufacturer of cluster munitions and late-release napalm bombs; Gilbert Grande, CEO of the venerable Arthur D. Small consulting firm, whose clients included more than seven hundred New York Stock Exchange companies; and Delbert D. Decisioner, chief executive of Conflict Resolution, Inc., a chain of arbitration centers specializing in business-to-business disputes.

Though their business specialties differed, they had many traits in common. They were right-wing, presentable, energetic, gregarious, and congenial. They wore their ideology proudly and articulately, and were able to convey a convincing apprehension about the threat posed by the Agenda. They all liked Lobo and were prepared to work closely with the strong-willed Brovar Dortwist. Lobo cleared them with the CEOs and installed them on the second floor of the hotel, which he'd already reserved in hopes that the CEOs would change their minds. He nicknamed them the Solvents -- the force that would dissolve the opposition. In mid-September they began attending intensive briefings by Dortwist's specialists on all matters and locales relevant to their assignment They were grilled in mock interviews, press conferences, and meetings with friendly and hostile legislators. Theirs was a tough challenge -- to be the human and authoritative face of the business community, spontaneously volunteering for duty, in contrast to the trade group execs who were viewed on Capitol Hill by friend and foe alike as yesterday's soup.

When Luke Skyhi heard of the arrival of these new kids on the block, he turned to his chief of staff and said, "This is good news. Lobo has planted the seeds of dissension between the CEOs in New York City and the hard-charging new dynamos down in DC. They're bound to disagree, and that will take up valuable time, blur their focus, and breed internecine disputes that will reduce their flexibility on the Hill. A Hydra is born, but it only has two heads, and they'll be paralyzing each other instead of striking out at us. Be careful what you wish for, big boys." He laughed into his omnipresent mug of root beer. "This is Lobo's biggest mistake, just watch."

***

Committee markup time for contested legislation on Capitol Hill is normally a work in regress. Formerly these markups were conducted in private among the legislators and their staffs only, but after the sunshine reforms of the seventies, the markups became public, like the hearings that preceded them. Not surprisingly, the real markup work retreated to the back rooms, where tradeoffs, deals, and legislative language were bargained over and decided. Lobbyists swarmed over these supposedly secret markup sessions, rushed to the lawmakers' offices afterwards, huddled in the congressional cafeterias, and ingratiated themselves with reporters by giving them "inside tips." Or such, at least, was the prevailing style of influence peddling before the Age of the Meliorists.

This September things were decidedly different. The corporate battlements were crumbling, and the lobbyists were scrambling to see how much they could salvage instead of how much they could get. They were also adding to their ranks as fast as they could. The drug industry, which already had the largest lobbying corps, with some 450 full-timers, was adding another hundred extracted from the state capitals. The already bursting Washington hotels were turning away guests. Suites in new condo buildings were being taken sight unseen. The demand for apartments spilled across the Potomac River into the busy Virginia suburbs. Every day there were industry-specific meetings, trans-industry meetings, meetings of manufacturing trade groups, financial trade groups, organizations of utilities, raw materials producers, food processors, real estate investment companies, communications and broadcasting companies. Lights burned even later into the night than in August, even at the AFL-CIO headquarters' where ordinarily anyone standing near the entrance around 5:00 p.m. would have been in mortal danger from the employee exit stampede.

For decades the corporate supremacists had been in charge almost to the point of boredom. They'd plundered tax dollars and pillaged the government. They'd brazenly tried to take over Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They'd demanded and won outsourcing of the most established governmental functions, such as some of those involving military services, national security recruitment, data management, and space exploration. Their domination was so complete that earlier in the year a satiric street-theater troupe had conducted tours of the US government without visiting a single government building. Instead they drove the tourists past the Chamber of Commerce building, the American Forest and Paper Association headquarters, the modernistic home of the National Association of Broadcasters, the inverted architectural specimen housing the National Association of Realtors, and the American Bankers Association edifice. But those days were over. The corporatists were now in a state of near panic.

In a state of total panic were the Bulls, who knew with greater and greater certainty that they were facing the prospect of unemployment come January. The various committees and subcommittees had reserved the usual dozens of amendments, tax loopholes, and appropriations riders that had been carefully nourished by campaign money and junkets from the merchants of greed. "Get rid of them!" the Bulls bellowed to their chiefs of staff. "We don't need these lightning rods to complicate our situation."

Meanwhile, the Meliorists' congressional allies, still trying to remain under the media radar, were methodically working the Agenda bills through markup. Before the August recess, they had succeeded in persuading the Bulls to produce majority committee reports on the legislation in neutral, analytic terms. That wasn't hard to do, given the storm the Bulls knew they were facing on their return home that month. Neutrality helped them avoid controversy. Neutrality made them appear above the fray, statesmen conveying considered assessments for the deliberation of their colleagues. In their dealings with the minority, they had reached a state of unexpressed awe, realizing that these Meliorist allies were the hands and hearts of the American people. Still, it was all upside down to them. The majority in Congress represented a shrinking minority of citizens, while the minority in Congress was speaking and acting for the majority in the country.

That said, the Bulls were no fools. Given their tenure, they had steadying reserves to draw on, and none of them more than Raymond E. Tweedy III, the prestigious chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. Justice Tweedy, as he was known to one and all, surveyed the realm and decided it was his duty to call for a weekend retreat of all the Republican Bulls in Congress. He quickly secured the assent of his counterpart in the House, Chairman Sebastian Sorrentino of New Hampshire.

By Friday noon, three dozen Bulls had arrived at the palatial Bunkers Hotel in Virginia's fox country, a favorite gathering place for congressional leaders over the years. It was secluded, confidential by strict management decree, and oh so inviting in decor, luxury, and cuisine. But this weekend's running of the Bulls was all business. No golf. No tennis. No entertainment. Nothing but serious talk about what to do in the face of the tidal wave of popular power and the relentless internal and external pressure for complete floor votes on the Agenda before the session ended.

Justice Tweedy opened the meeting. "Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps for the first time in our long careers of public service, we don't know what to do. We are facing a barrage of what can only be called ultimatums. To be sure, they are not delivered bluntly or coarsely. They are delivered by inference, by expectation, by a gentle suggestion to look out the window and see what's coming in a daily drumbeat from all points.

"The Meliorist Agenda has been distilled into the most professional legislative presentation in my memory, together with meticulous section-by-section analysis and constitutional backup. As a longtime baleful eye on sloppy, ambiguous language in bill after bill, I quietly admire their competence. You surely noticed that the preparation of the minority during your committee hearings in June and July was most thorough and most impressively backed up by their staff, by the finest if not largest law firms, by the so-called progressive think tanks, and by the thoughtful, learned cream of the nation's law, business, and graduate schools. That is the first of their concentric circles of support.

"The next and wider circle is comprised of the institutions and grassroots organizations established by the Meliorists, with paid membership rising into the millions. The third concentric circle embraces the currents unleashed by the Clean Elections Party and its candidates. The fourth is the daily mass media and Internet attention to every thrust, every move, every advance, every everything. If we put our collective finger to the wind, can any of us doubt that this is the most powerful and encompassing gale we have yet encountered? It's like a category five hurricane, like Katrina -- you can be told it's coming, you can watch it coming on television from afar, but you have no idea what it's really like until it hits.

"For what it's worth, here's my political assessment. The Meliorists have a majority of the Congress already, but not a veto-proof majority. Unless our corporate friends engineer an unlikely rollback, that means the spotlight moves to the White House. The next month will tell if the president will have the votes to sustain his vetoes, but it's not that simple. If the momentum continues from week to week back in the districts, what's at stake is not whether we can defeat a veto override in one or both houses but whether we're willing to pay the price of a landslide that throws our party out of power, throws some of us out of Congress, and bids fair to take over the White House in two years. That is the unpleasant macro scenario. There are, however, many micro scenarios that may present opportunities more within our jurisdictional and procedural control. At this point, I seek your views at any level."

Benjamin C. Bullion, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, adjusted his spectacles on his nose. "The Seven Pillars are conceived in a way that for the most part nullifies my major institutional objection. As far as I can tell, they do not cost the Treasury. Am I right, Paul?" he asked, deferring to the chair of the Joint Budget Committee.

"Right you are, Ben," said Senator Paul Pessimismo. "We're almost done with costing out all the bills, and our findings support your seat-of-the-pants assessment. The provisions having to do with what the other side calls 'shifts of power' don't draw on the Treasury at all, nor does the living wage. The CUBs and Congress Watchdogs are funded by member dues and Meliorist cash. The electoral reforms are either taxless or rely on voluntary contributions on the 1040 forms and on free television and radio time. Payments from companies for the use of public assets actually contribute to the Treasury. The main drain -- and it's a big one -- would be universal health insurance, but the opposition will counter by saying that public opinion decided in favor of Medicare for everyone long ago. They'll say that a single payer means huge savings from greater efficiencies and an end to widespread billing fraud. Federal, state, and local government already pays half of the two-trillion-dollar annual bill anyway, and big business would love to have an anticompetitive financial burden lifted from its shoulders. Finally, new taxes imposed on financial transactions in the options markets will bring a torrent of revenue into Treasury, even with the abolition of federal income tax on people earning less than a hundred thousand dollars a year. I wouldn't say this publicly, but the whole package is brilliantly choreographed for defense as well as offense."

"I wonder whether we should find this news so grim," Bullion remarked.

"Perhaps Ben has a point," said Harry Horizon, chair of the House Transportation Committee. "Our friends on the outside have a generous expectation of our ability to delay all the way and close the Agenda down before the election. Everybody else is expecting the same thing, including the media. All this makes me uncomfortable. They expect us to sit on top of a volcano that's ready to erupt. No way. Power is perceived to be unchallengeable until it's challenged. Not that our power is going to cave in like papier-mache, but we around this table know its limits better than anyone. It does, after all, come down to the votes we have in our committees, and bottling things up isn't really going to work this year. The Seven Pillars have been skillfully positioned as ideas whose time has come. I'm losing members to the Meliorist side every week."

Martin Merchant, chairman of the Senate Commerce and Industry Committee was nodding. "The Meliorists' allies have been taking regular internal polls of Congress, showing a steady increase in their votes, and they're doing another one next week. I suggest we take our own poll of ourselves. How many among us are hard-liners? How many are still prepared to say with Calvin Coolidge that 'the business of America is business' and that the Meliorists are cooking the golden goose?" He looked around the table slowly. Many of his fellow solons were smiling nervously or shaking their heads wistfully or sighing. A few were gritting their teeth.

Billy Beauchamp spoke up. "Last month all of us met with one of the Meliorists. Did they pound their fists and threaten us, shout us down, display quiet cunning and shiftiness? From my experience and what I've heard from the rest of you, the answer is no. Whatever they may have been thinking, they respected our intelligence, laid their wishes out calmly, and listened to us. If they had an attitude, it was 'What's the Big Deal? We've Earned It!' and their fervent belief that the Agenda is great for the USA. Listen, I'm from one of the most conservative districts in the country, and I've slipped below fifty percent. My opponent is a newcomer to electoral politics, nominated by a brand-new party nobody had heard of a few months ago. They're tapping into a deep vein of resentment among voters against the rich and powerful. Obviously, more than a few are our voters -- or were.

"In my judgment, the struggle this fall comes down to one question: Are we prepared to go all out, pull out all the stops with our frantic business partners, to deny the American people a decent livelihood, a rightful voice in government, and a political and economic system that will no longer betray them and abandon them? If we are, we may destroy our party's control over the three branches of government for a generation, if not longer. And that's assuming we can beat the Meliorists. We may very well end up losing to them and losing our seats in one heave-ho."

"You've all made it easier for me to speak my mind," said Francine Freshet, chair of the House Environment Committee. "As I read the tea leaves, we have two choices left: either we surrender with slow-motion grace, or we take the Bulls by the horns, as it were, and ride the Agenda wave to victory, getting some get credit for it and saving our party in the process. I don't happen to think the Meliorists are revolutionists."

Duke Sabernickle, chair of the House Commerce Committee, slammed his fist down on the table. "I've heard enough! What disgraceful defeatism, and well before any defeat can be considered imminent. Look around. We're the leadership. We're still in charge. And we still have the nuclear option."

"And what, may I ask, is that, Duke?" inquired Daniel Dostart, the energetic speaker of the House.

"The nuclear option is to choose the right time and announce adjournment. Under the Constitution, the president can order us back, but not this president!"

"Adjournment?" exclaimed several Bulls at the same time.

"Exactly. Close up shop, take off, go on some European parliamentary junket." Duke said, almost spitting the words.

"We can't do that," objected Elaine Whitehat, chair of the House Education Committee. "Aside from the Agenda, there are vital defense and health-education appropriations bills that make up about three-quarters of the government's operating budget and that still need to be reported out of committee, debated, passed, and reconciled with the other body."

"So?" replied Sabernickle with curled lip. "We'll pass 'em and then vamoose."

"It won't work," Whitehat said levelly. "The other side has anticipated you by not allowing much distance between these must bills and the Seven Pillars. Besides, anyone who votes for adjournment would be best advised to flee the country. It would be political suicide."

"What an opportune moment to pause and reflect!" interjected Justice Tweedy. "Let's break for dinner and resume on a full stomach."

Everybody nodded to that except for the furious Sabernickle, who swore under his breath, "Goddamn jellyfish!"

In the large dining room, a mustached pianist with a permanent smile and practiced fingers was playing the old standards in subdued octaves so as not to intrude on the diners' conversations. There wasn't much to intrude on. A weariness had settled over the Bulls, perhaps because each of them had hoped to hear more fire and brimstone and defiance from the others than they were feeling themselves. Some made desultory small talk about their "quality time" with their grandchildren or a recent spectacular performance at the US Open or Yankee Stadium. After dessert and brandy, they reconvened in the conference room.

"What an excellent meal!" said Justice Tweedy, trying to start things off on a positive note, "Shall we continue our exchange of views?"

"Well," said Senate Majority Leader Tillman Frisk, "since our room for maneuver is contracting, the ball is more in the Senate court than over at the other body. As my distinguished colleagues in the House know full well, Senate rules allow for unlimited debate, the filibuster, the endless offering of non-germane amendments, and an armload of parliamentary obstructions that our full-time parliamentarian spends years trying to figure out and interpret from one vague precedent after another. However, given the weekly attrition of our numbers, one rule becomes paramount, in that it can dissolve all these obstructions. I refer to the discharge petition to move bills out of committee. If more than sixty percent of the vote is there, down go our historic tactics of delay and blockage."

"In the House," said Speaker Dostart, "these same discharge petitions can overcome the temporal prerogatives, shall we call them, of the committee chairs. And don't you think the other side isn't planning for that eventuality even as we sit here?"

"Of course," said Senator Frisk. "Once an idea whose time has come comes -- and this one is coming on eighteen wheels -- all bets, all old ways and means, go by the board, I hazard."

"Defeatism, defeatism, and more defeatism!" thundered Duke Sabernickle, pounding the table again. "Maybe I've had one too many dinners with our business friends, maybe it's because I'm younger than most of you and because I want to and can stay in the House longer than most of you, but aren't we the last stand of the free enterprise system, as many of you have repeatedly stated in the past? Aren't we the last stand for economic freedom against social engineering and the leftist plan for America's decline? The Seven Pillars? Hah! They're Seven Slides down the slipperiest slope in American political and economic history. I know whereof I speak in these matters. The Meliorists are always talking about 'Redirections.' What's our direction? Where is our courage? Or are we now no more than lily-livered, Janus-faced opportunists?"

A protracted silence followed Sabernickle's tirade. Then, slowly pushing back his chair and standing ramrod tall, Armand Armsbuckle, former air force captain, veteran decorated in two wars, and immemorial chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, commenced a reply to this junior Bull's unusual dressing-down of his seniors.

"As someone who has faced enemy fire and paid the price in combat, I should take umbrage at your taunts, Mr. Sabernickle, but that would only dignify them with an attention they do not deserve. Instead, I wish to make a personal statement before my colleagues. Brave as I was in war, I became a coward in politics. I didn't start out that way. I entered politics with a patriotic fervor to keep our country strong, honest, and prosperous. and a determination to respond to my constituents. As the years passed and my reelection became just about automatic, I slowly but surely came to see my constituency as the defense manufacturers who treated me so well, the helpful majors and colonels assigned to my office as Pentagon lobbyists, the corporate PACs and their handlers who made sure my campaign coffers were overflowing, the business associates who golfed with me, wined and dined me, and enjoyed my company and my family's at many social occasions."

By now the other Bulls were hanging on every word of this extraordinary confession from the normally reserved, proud chairman who commanded the disposition of half the federal operating budget.

"It was a comfortable life, full of accolades, flattery, and deference -- just so long as I was following orders from the military-industrial complex, as Ike put it so well. I learned to say yes to every weapons system, every inflated military contract, every foreign adventure, every episode of 'so sorry' collateral damage costing the lives of so many innocent dark-skinned civilians in those God-forsaken countries abroad, every fabrication by my presidents, secretaries of defense, and secretaries of state, every drain on our national budget to appease the defense budget Moloch. I learned to say yes to it all, and I did it at the behest of those desperately looking for enemies overseas both before and after the Soviet Union collapsed, and at the expense of needy people and their children, public services. and the preservation of our precious natural resources here at home.

"Like you, I have watched the awakening of our fellow citizens of all backgrounds and opinions. It made me start thinking about myself, ourselves. When I saw on one television program after another the salt of the Earth, our American people, taking stands, attending rallies, challenging the greed, power, arrogance, and imperiousness of their masters, even while knowing it could mean their jobs, their livelihoods, and their modest ambitions for their children, shame overcame me. I asked myself, What have I ever done for these people, other than giving some of them jobs manufacturing cluster bombs, napalm, missiles, artillery shells, bombers, aircraft carriers, submarines with multiple nuclear warheads, chemical and biological lethalities? Talk about weapons of mass destruction. My answer embarrassed and humiliated me.

"Like many of you, I enjoy spending time with my little grandchildren. I praise them, admonish them, play with them. They know of my position, of course. What can I say to them when, at a young age of curiosity about the world and its injustices, they sit on my knee and ask, 'Granddaddy, what have you done to help?' Do I keep quiet? Do I lie to them? Or do I tell them I did nothing because I was too busy making sure our country acquired enough weapons to blow up their entire world three hundred times over and send the rubble into outer space?

"The Meliorists were wise to avoid completely matters of military and foreign policy, including the gigantic waste and theft in military budgets. You may be thinking, since their Agenda for the Common Good excludes these areas under my jurisdiction, that this battle is none of my business. You're the ones dodging the brickbats. Things are relatively quiet over at the Armed Services Committees. But I am a United States senator, not just the senator from Lockheed-Martin, as one poster put it cruelly. I am a veteran, a lawmaker, a husband, father, and grandfather, and I am determined in this final stage of my public career to be faithful to the responsibilities inherent in those fundamental roles.

"During the recess, Paul Newman called and asked to meet with me, and I agreed. We've all enjoyed his movies over the years and marveled at his continuing skills as a professional racer at age eighty. What I did not know was that he fought in World War II, and that many of the other Meliorists did too. He is a thoughtful gentleman. We had a thoughtful meeting. No bluster, no posturing, no dissembling on his part. He met me elder to elder, as part of a generation whose wisdom has for too long been neither offered nor requested. He used a wonderful phrase about his children and grandchildren. For them and for their generation, he said, he wanted to be a good ancestor. He was so different from the legions of high-powered lobbyists and CEOs who come to me for their special procurements and favors. He didn't even ask me to support the Seven Pillars. He just wanted to explain personally who the Meliorists were, where they were coming from, and what they hoped to leave behind for our beloved country during their remaining years. He spoke about their past achievements and described their decision to move from success to significance, to work for a country where the rights of power are replaced by the power of rights. I never felt better than when I let him take me to dinner.

"Lest you think I'm going soft" -- the senator looked straight at Sabernickle -- "let me define what being tough means. Asserting moral courage is being tough. Waging peace is being tough. Standing up to arrogant power is being tough. And until we have the deeply just society our people deserve, doing the right thing even if it costs us in the short run is being tough. What's being soft? Not thinking through why we are in Congress is being soft. Kowtowing to the interests that fund our campaigns and our appetite for power is being soft. Rallying behind every warmongering political charlatan who sends others off to kill and die is being soft. How do I know? Because up until now I've been soft in all those cowardly ways. But no more. On Monday morning, I will hold a news conference applauding the Seven Pillars and announcing my support. I would welcome it beyond gratitude if any of you were to join with me. Thank you for hearing me out." Armand Armsbuckle slowly sat down.

In the hushed room, four chairmen looked down at the table and blew a ripple of air through their lips. Another muttered, "I'll be a buzzard's uncle." Two others leaned back and looked up at the ceiling with their hands clasped. Several kept their eyes on Armsbuckle with expressions of serenity. Harry Horizon and Francine Freshet clapped twice and broke off. Billy Beauchamp nodded with understanding. Benjamin Bullion furrowed his brow and put his fingertips to the bridge of his nose.

"Oh, for God's sake. This is too much. Iron man turns bleeding heart. Give me a damn break." Duke Sabernickle said disgustedly.

Several chairmen who had been trying to remain neutral shot him a dirty look, and one said, "Duke, you're out of order." Senate Majority Leader Frisk said quietly, "Thank you, Armand, for your service to your country," while Speaker Dostart added, "Ditto, Armand, and don't be so hard on yourself." Half a dozen chairmen who silently agreed with Sabernickle's views if not his tone instantly began thinking about how to marginalize Annsbuckle after the news conference, assuming he couldn't be dissuaded from that point of no return. Finally the chairman of the House Labor Committee, Walter Workman, who had been silent until now, said in a loud voice, "Bravo, Senator Armsbuckle, bravo!"

Justice Tweedy sensed that matters were getting out of hand. The strategic analysis and consensus he had hoped would come out of the retreat had been extinguished by Armsbuckle's announcement. And he was going public on Monday, no less. Justice Tweedy stood up gravely.

"Armand, who among us does not respect your experience and your views? Who among us has not entertained doubts over the years about the declining state of our country in the midst of growing capabilities? As events move faster and faster, I myself feel that things are spinning out of control -- just look at public and private debt levels, for example. But we came here to see if we could forge a common understanding regarding what we need to do vis-a-vis the Meliorists' drive through Congress. Not perfect agreement. Not an iron-clad united front, desirable as that would be. But common ground that permits us to move to the next level in handling this challenge. Now you tell us that on Monday the nation will watch you supporting the Agenda for the Common Good. If you go forward with your plan, you will have aborted the whole purpose of our being here this weekend. We need time to get our bearings, to determine our current power, our bargaining possibilities, the state of our allies, our options for revision. We've just returned from the hottest August of our lifetimes, and we need some time to digest that roiling month. The press, the lobbies, and our worthy opponents in Congress are all knocking on our doors for interviews, meetings, statements, committee schedules. As you noted, because the Seven Pillars do not cover the defense budget and military policies, you are not on the receiving end of these insistent entreaties. If you tie your immense prestige and credibility to the Agenda, that becomes the story of the week, followed by who knows what consequences. Can you give us another week, Armand? Let me ask all of us, how many would urge our distinguished colleague to defer his news conference by just another week?"

All raised their hands except Duke Sabernickle, who sat silent and grim-faced with his arms crossed.

"Armand?" asked Justice Tweedy.

"Your words and our long friendship touch me. I'll relent for another week, but we'll have to meet again next weekend to digest what has transpired in the intervening days. Agreed?"

Justice Tweedy scanned the faces around the table. "Does anyone disagree? ... Very well, it's unanimous. At this point, I think it best to adjourn, get some sleep, and get back to Washington tomorrow. I'll be in the breakfast room in the morning if any of you wish to exchange additional thoughts. It's been an arduous day for all of us, so thank you and good night."

***
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 31179
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

PreviousNext

Return to Ralph Nader

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron