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 9:45 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."
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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.
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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.
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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.'
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

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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."
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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."

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 10:04 pm

PART 2 OF 3 (CH. 16 CONT'D.)

As September wore on, the hordes of business lobbies found themselves in growing disarray. Most of them were not yet at the point of every lobby for itself, but they were thinking more and more along those desperate lines. The urgent need to hold together a united business front fully backing the united front of the Bulls was at the top of the pile of worries afflicting Brovar and Lobo. Brovar had intercepted an internal PCC communique revealing that Luke Skyhi had formed a task force of progressive business owners devoted to just this divide-and-conquer strategy. Already the thriving businesses of the sub-economy were in close coordination, urging from the inside that each lobby look out for its own interests on Capitol Hill before it was too late. Brovar called Lobo and told him to come down to Washington for the duration. He said that if the Meliorists succeeded in splitting the offense, it could spell disaster for the entire mission. This was no time for corporate narcissism. It was bad enough that the CEOs were obsessed with beating back shareholder approval of their enormous compensation packages. Lobo knew that Washington was now ground zero and agreed to spend most of his time there with a small, elite staff.

Meanwhile, the anonymously passionate progressives in Congress were shaping, moving, and troubleshooting both bills and Bulls with the crucial assistance of the Double Z. The task was enormously complex, but the Agenda allies were at the top of their spirit and expertise. They did not disdain diplomacy. On the contrary, getting things done in the hidebound Congress required hand-holding, face-saving, the generous allocation of credit, and the avoidance of public posturing and criticism. Fortunately, these were not needed to motivate the public, for in this epic struggle, the shift had begun: the followers were now leading, and the leaders were following. It helped mightily that the Meliorists, directly and by stimulating private donations large and small, were making sure the invoices were paid on time. Besides, the allies had had a taste of the public mood and civic activity in their districts in August, and they were still savoring it, especially those who had committed themselves to the Agenda from the start. On their return home for the congressional recess, their constituents had hailed them as heroes, and there wasn't any better adrenaline than that.

Every evening the allies met in their own boiler room, a block from the Rayburn office Building, to assess the day's progress and make assignments for the next day. They took turns chairing the meetings, without regard to seniority or congressional protocol. It was all about getting the job done -- check your ego at the door. They had been famished and ridiculed for so long that a massive reservoir of human energy awaited release. They felt no weariness, no exhaustion. Why would they? They were making history.

On the second Tuesday of September, they devoted their meeting to the matter of distracting and splitting the business offense. They'd invited Luke Skyhi to present the latest intelligence from the sub-economy.

"It always amazes me how bad habits breed more bad habits," Luke began. "We've become accustomed to management spearheading leveraged buyouts of shareholders at undervalued prices so they can turn around and make a killing by selling the company off at its true asset value. They get away with it because present law doesn't prohibit this secretive breach of fiduciary duty or address the conflict of interest between management's responsibility to represent the best interests of their shareholders and management's greed fed by inside information. The noted financial writer Ben Stein says such management buyouts should be criminalized and banned. Distraction number one.

"Then there are the efforts of the individual trade groups -- the timber and mining industries, the credit card companies, the oil and gas moguls, the insurance and banking companies, the retail chains, and so on -- to carve out some immunity, some exception, some privilege. They're not looking at the big picture. They're just fending for themselves, which will shortly mean fending against each other. Corporate cannibalism is in their nature once they're cornered, and they do believe they're cornered. If you think the Bulls got heat in August, our reports reveal that the pressure on the companies was immense from every direction and every point of contact, right down to the surge of whistle-blowers inspired in part by the regular valedictories at the National Press Club.

"Some of our sub-economy merchants have turned out to be very gregarious and energetic, volunteering for task forces that get them included in high-level strategy sessions of their various trade associations. You'll be interested in what they tell us. The meetings -- and there are plenty of them -- often end inconclusively, which is a departure from the-past. The participants are expressing doubt, anxiety, anger, indecisiveness. They're torn between charging ahead ideologically in total opposition or bending pragmatically to look out for themselves. The Lobo/Dortwist axis is furious, fearing that any possibility of a united coalition is swirling down the drain. Increasingly, the two men are going it alone with their own huge budget and their new public spokespersons, a bunch of parvenu CEOs they call 'the Solvents,' who are about to debut."

The progressives listened intently and asked pertinent questions about the coordination between the business groups and the Bulls. "No one on the other side is happy with that situation," Luke replied. "The plugs aren't connecting with the sockets." The conversation continued into the wee hours, until the allies finally called it a night and went home to sleep for a few hours and resume their anonymous legislative labors the next day.

If anybody was more upset these days than the corporate lobbyists, it was the congressional press corps. Used to grandstanding from publicity-hungry lawmakers, the media found it difficult to get interviews, a quote or two, or even background remarks from the progressives. David Roget of the Wall Street Journal, widely considered the most perceptive of the reporters on the Hill, wrote that the progressives were "like modern-day Buddhas, quiet, meditative, self-disciplined, friendly to their adversaries, focused, and almost scholarly in their attention to detail. To many observers, that makes them dull, but this is a luxury they can well afford."

***

When the opinion polls started to register not only victories for the Clean Elections Party in one district after another, but some landslides, the Oval office took notice. The president summoned his top advisers to a meeting in the Indian Treaty Room, whose fraught history was the farthest thing from the minds of those assembled.

"Well, friends and seers," said the president genially, "it looks as if we don't have much choice but to go down to defeat or bet the store -- our party, our White House, and our Congress -- against the Seven Pillars. They're sure worth a lot to the people, but are they worth that much to us? Would any of you geniuses care to comment?"

"Yes, sir," said Chris Topper, his chief of staff, "From our recent rapid-fire meetings with a wide range of our core constituencies, two contradictory impulses emerge. First, they are defiant and expect us to issue a magisterial call to battle, but when we probe deeper, they seem weary, exhausted from being pounded and pulled asunder week after week by the Meliorist swarm -- their favorite word for the popular agitations of recent months. They seem rootless, as if their predicates, frameworks, ideologies, and energies have vanished into the ether. Remember, they're not used to sacrifice, discomfort, or challenges equal to their own resources. Only in this room would I say that they're behaving like bullies finally being called to account."

"But is there any doubt that we can stop all this nonsense in its tracks by summary adjournment?" the president asked.

"There is grave doubt," said Lester Linx, his congressional liaison. "The defense and health-education appropriations bills have to be passed. The Allies can block adjournment as long as these bills are still pending. They've got or will have the veto-proof votes to arrange for simultaneous passage of these bills and the Seven Pillars, just as in a delicate exchange of hostages."

"What if we adjourn, block the Pillars, and take up the key appropriations in a lame-duck session, which I can unilaterally call after the election?" asked the president.

"That won't work because we don't have the votes for adjournment," Linx said. "Can't we get used to our minority status?"

A minute of anxious silence elapsed before Linx spoke again. "We just aren't holding the cards anymore," he said firmly.

"Well, there's always a putsch;," said one of the president's special assistants, trying to break the tension. "Remember the Reichstag?"

Nobody laughed. The president shot him a look of irritation. "Let's turn the subject around for a seditious moment," he said. "Would the country be stronger and better with or without the Seven Pillars? Let's start with a clean slate and be completely candid. What do you say, Hal?"

Harold Featherstone III, a rising star among the special assistants, looked his boss directly in the eye. "I say, is this why I joined the Dartmouth Review, then went to work for Forbes, wrote for the Wall Street Journal, and edited the National Review? If this is the beginning of a new course you're charting for us, Mr. President, you have my resignation."

The president reddened. "Your mind is more than closed, Hal, it's foreclosed. You're so blinkered you can't even contemplate hypotheticals in the privacy of this room."

"As long as they remain hypotheticals, I can play the game, sir," Featherstone said, "but once you start down this perilous hypothetical path, where do you stop? You're not positing a steady-state hypothetical. I posit that there can be no steady-state hypothetical with hypothetical limits, boundaries, and ambitions. That's my historical, realistic, and experience-based hypothetical, sir."

Shelburne Sherwood IV, Featherstone's chief rival among the assistants, rolled his eyes. "Whatever that may mean, I say our choice is either to fight the war and lose it, or to fight the battle and lose it but remain in position to fight the war again. I have a distinct preference for the latter. Instead of betting the farm, why not give in, stress the conservative dimensions of the Pillars, ride the wave as if the victory were ours, and survive for the presidential race two years hence?"

"You're sliding into tactics here," the president said. "Stick with the hypothetical question I asked."

"As your adviser on community and ethnic relations," said Clarence Fairchild, "I've come to the conclusion that the country would be much stronger standing on the Seven Pillars. Let's not kid ourselves, Harold. This is all about the redistribution of power, wealth, and income in accordance with the people's just desserts and their long-ignored constitutional rights. I think you're confusing your pretensions with intellect."

Featherstone's eyes fairly bulged out of their sockets. "And I think you're displaying your true pink and yellow colors. You're jumping off our party's platform and besmirching it with mud. You're tearing up our president's speeches and replacing them with idiot Agenda babble. How revealing to see what passes for your inner thought process finally oozing out of your duplicitous mind."

"In the interests of time, and out of respect for you, Mr. President, I'll refrain from commenting on Featherstone's vapid bilge," Fairchild said.

"Enough," snapped the president. "This is getting us nowhere. Here's how I see it. Our base economically consists of the rich and powerful who respond to our deeds -- like the Houston Petroleum Club boys, for instance, just to pull an example out of the hat. Our base politically consists of the tens of millions of people who respond to our words. I act as a business booster, but I speak as a politician. When our economic base becomes dangerously weak, as it has for the critical time being, we're left with our political base, who are abandoning us in droves week by week. We have fewer and fewer people who can speak persuasively to their skeptical ears. All of us in this room would describe ourselves as conservatives, but let's admit it -- we've allowed the corporations to maul and usurp our conservative beliefs and have become their tribunes. So what do we find ourselves defending, promoting, and falling on the sword for? Global corporations that have no allegiance to the country that nurtures them and sends its soldiers abroad to protect their interests. Is that true conservatism, Hal?"

Featherstone sat in stony silence, looking in the direction of his feet.
"Come on, Hal, speak up. How do you feel about the loss of our sovereignty to a World Trade Organization that circumvents our courts and moves disputes with other countries to private tribunals in Geneva, Switzerland, where secret judicial proceedings force us to obey their dictates and repeal our own laws and regulations?"

Featherstone looked up. "Sir, I --"

"Do you support all those subsidies and giveaways to business, paid for by the taxpayers, who are then prohibited by our own judges from challenging these handouts in federal court?"

Slowly, Featherstone shook his head no.

"All right." said the president. "Now, you and I do not like regulations on business, but do you approve of businesses lobbying to keep our courts fully open for companies and restrict access for wronged individuals?"

"No," Featherstone mumbled.

"As a devout Christian, do you approve of corporations riding roughshod over any moral or religious constraints and making tens of billions of dollars from gambling, pornography, and other sin industries?"

"No."

"Would you applaud a neighbor who put some capital into an enterprise while you put in the hard work, and who left you with so little pay at the end of his super-profitable day that you couldn't begin to support your family or pay for healthcare?"

"No."

"Should companies be allowed to pollute our God-given air, water, and soil just to make more profits when the result is sickness, private property damage, and medical expenses?"

"No."

"Should companies escape prosecution if they sell you a product or expose you to a chemical whose dangers are known to them but hidden from the public?"

"No."

"Well, there are plenty of other questions where those came from, but I think you're probably getting my point by now. Those questions are also answered in the negative by the Seven Pillars you've been fulminating about. If, over the years, the big corporations have appropriated our conservative power for their own objectives -- recall Mammon from your Bible -- and left us with our conservative rhetoric to fool our faithful followers while we advanced ourselves, why should we object if the Meliorists and their supporters are pushing us closer to some of our conservative beliefs? Like privacy, sovereignty, civil liberties. Like real freedom of contract, not the one-sided, fine-print contracts we all have to sign. Like clean elections, and control of our borders, which so exercises the cheap-labor interests puffed by the Wall Street Journal. Sure, the Meliorists stand for things we will never abide, but you and your charming wife probably don't agree all the time either, do you, Hal? It's not a matter of black and white. It's how the Seven Pillars add up, and I can see them adding up to a stronger USA. I can certainly see plenty of people being happier, healthier, freer, and able to pay their bills and spend more time with their children. The Institute of Medicine reported recently that eighteen thousand Americans die every year because they can't afford medical care. I'm sure my well-bred, well-paid, well-covered staff doesn't know any of these fellow Americans. But think about it. What is the big deal? I'm tired of mouthing the corporate catechism and suppressing my resentment over it. Maybe the Meliorists have made it possible for us to free the conservative movement from its commercial shackles. What do you say, Chris?"

His chief of staff was staring at him. "What do I say? I say I'm speechless. It's going to take me a while to digest your words. Unless they were just a Socratic exercise," Topper ventured hopefully, but the president made no response.

"What about all those suspended investments and dire warnings about a declining business climate if the Pillars are enacted?" asked Shelburne Sherwood.

"Chicken Little," the president said. "Just tactical bluffing. They're also trying to get me to threaten vetoes so as to shore up the Bulls. Check out the Budget Committee's report next week."

"What about your veto thinking, sir?" asked Lester Linx.

"It's not relevant to the present escalating situation. As Shel said, it would be betting the farm, even if the vote is decisive -- or should I say, especially if the vote is decisive." The president paused and looked at his advisers one by one, knowing that many of them were shaken or dispirited. "Cheer up, fellas. We don't have time for gloom and doom. Just go back to your offices and consider what I've said. We'll meet again in a few days, and meanwhile, no leaks. Repeat, no leaks. Keep your eyes, ears, and antennae on full alert, and as Abe Lincoln said, keep thinking anew. Chris, get me the latest read on the CEOs in New York, and be sure to ask them for their views on the Solvents. I suppose it's just barely possible that some new blood may be able to put a new spin on things."

***

For a solid week, virtually around the clock, the Solvents had been preparing for their debut at the National Press Club, scene of so many stirring speeches and valedictories in the past months. They'd been briefed to the gills on the Agenda and the Meliorists. They'd crafted their statements with the utmost care, reviewed them as a group for overlap and consistency, and committed them to memory so they could deliver them flawlessly. They'd studied profiles of the reporters who were likely to show up, and drilled each other with the questions that were likely to be asked. Lobo and Brovar had made sure the event was massively publicized and that the Solvents had all the resources of the CEOs and the hardline trade groups behind them.

As they strode to the dais and sat down to arrange their papers, they sensed an unusual atmosphere in the Press Club ballroom, not the usual kidding among the camera crews and scribes, but a kind of disdainful amusement. Well, thought Dexter Delete, he and his colleagues would soon wipe those smiles off their faces. They were there to communicate unyielding resolve in opposing the Meliorists and everything they stood for and intended to do to the country. Their concise and focused presentations would lay out the battle lines for the autumn showdown in Washington, DC. They had to avoid bluff and bravado and show the nation exactly what was at stake. They knew that because of the intense media interest their words would reach some hundred million people or more, and that they were already "personalities," which was fine by them if that was what it took to awaken the masses to the Meliorist peril.

Dexter Delete led off. He vividly portrayed the shakiness of the investment community and the stock market, and the devastating imminent effect on jobs, exports, and small businesses on Main Street. As a corporate private investigator, he had cause to know from the inside of his clients' premonitions and fears. "Our economy is formidable, our companies energetic," he declared, "but taken as a whole they are vulnerable precisely because their very energy overextends them in the credit and other markets. This overextension is vital to our continued economic growth, but it carries within itself the seeds of a sudden contraction in the face of trauma, as is well known to economic historians. The Meliorists are that trauma."

Next up was Gilbert Grande, the business consultant chieftain. "The pace of globalization these days means an enhanced inclination for capital flight under adverse pressures. The rapidly expanding economies of Asia, in particular, are happy to accommodate these shifts in plant, equipment, and startup industries that will become the big factor in coming years. Wherever these companies go, momentum, worker training, infrastructure, and R and D will follow. The Meliorists understand this very well. They cloak it in their continuing outcry that transnational corporations have no national loyalties, but in fact they are abetting it. The convulsions they've caused in our society since early this year are distracting my clients from the business of America, which is business. Their employees are either attending the lunchtime rallies or following the action on their computers and ignoring their work. Then they go home and are bombarded by media reports, excited neighbors, evening meetings, and the like. Productivity is declining as a result. Motivation is plummeting. Economics starts with psychology, contrary to the dogmas of the dismal science, and this Meliorist-inspired mass psychology is a catastrophe for our nation."

Elvis Inskull took the podium. "The Meliorists present a fascinating psychiatric profile. They're successful business people nearing the end of their active lives and searching for meaning, for their place in history, no matter what the cost to others of a more tender age. What do they have to lose if their gamble boomerangs on our country? Nothing, because they can blame it on the opposition's intransigence -- not to mention that they're all billionaires. This is the hallmark of the dogmatic mind, a messianic belief in the rightness of its cause, which can only be derailed by the machinations of evil foes. The media persistently describes the Meliorists as rational, cool. gradualist reformers. That is completely at odds with my assessment based on long experience in treating psychiatric patients and establishing healing residences for their cure. It is vital to go behind the PR dazzle and plumb the psychological depths. The Meliorists clearly have no economic motivations or political aspirations. Logic points to residual psychiatric disorders as a probative explanation of their behavior and the lengths to which they are prepared to go to satisfy their unacknowledged psychological cravings."

Some of the reporters were nudging each other and snickering as Steve Shredd rose to speak. "I come from a hardheaded business too often misunderstood, so I know it won't surprise you when I say that the task at hand is immediate, all-out opposition to the so-called Agenda for the Common Good. This battle with the Meliorists and their many tentacles here in Washington and throughout the country will be the most ferocious, well-financed struggle in the history of the American corporation. Simply put, it is a battle over who will lead this country -- the invisible hands of bustling, innovative corporations or the palsied hands of frustrated corporate retirees? I am authorized to inform you that three billion dollars and thirty thousand full-time lobbyists will be deployed on Capitol Hill not only to block this Agenda but to preclude its return forever. A cluster of advocates representing many categories of economic activity will be assigned to each member of Congress, both here and in their states and districts. Back home, these advocates will torpedo the Clean Elections Party wherever it is fielding candidates against incumbents who are committed to the defense of our great nation. The overall command will be in the hands of Lancelot Lobo and Brovar Dortwist."

Delbert Decisioner stepped up to play good cop to Shredd's bad cop. "Resolving conflicts has been my business for thirty-five years," he said in honeyed tones. "Short of warring spouses or outright war, there's scarcely a conflict I haven't produced arbitrators to resolve. However," he said with a rueful smile, "I regret to inform you that this conflict with the Meliorists is not resolvable by any other means than their total defeat. They won't give an inch. They maintain that the Agenda's very modesty and the careful drafting of all its interconnected parts precludes compromise. To which I say, balderdash! I personally am mobilizing the enormous world of conflict resolution firms to demonstrate that even those most skilled in settling disputes believe there is no chance of making so much as a dent in the Meliorists' authoritarian stubbornness. That will send a very clear message to the American people."

As Decisioner sat down, Washington Post columnist David Roader leaned over to Zack Lermond of the Baltimore Sun, his longtime competitor, and whispered, "I can't figure out their game, can you? Isn't this just recycled claptrap, or am I missing something?" Lermond shrugged his shoulders as Sally Savvy, the Lingerie Queen, took the mike. The press corps perked up perceptibly while the cameramen refocused and clicked away.

"You may wonder what I'm doing here. Well, I've had fantastic success in clothing my customers transparently, and I can clothe these Meliorist emperors the same way. I represent the textile industry, where the labor reforms of the Agenda spell extinction. There aren't many domestic clothing operations left, and we're hanging by a thong. The minute the Agenda passes, we're all outta here for Bangladesh or Vietnam."

"All of which," said Adam Agricoloff, the Asparagus King, stepping forward and gesturing to his colleagues, "is why we're sponsoring an open source competition for the seven best detailed proposals for stopping each of the Seven Pillars in its tracks. The prize for each winning idea is a million dollars, along with a budget of another million to publicize it and expose the fatal flaws in the corresponding Meliorist idea. Full information about the contest is available on our website, http://www.crisiscountdown.com. We cordially invite the millions of you watching on television or listening on your radios, both here and abroad, to participate. And now we'll take questions from the press."

As dozens of reporters rushed from the room to file their stories about the three-billion-dollar war chest and the thirty thousand lobbyists, David Roader stood and asked pointedly, "Just what are you trying to convey to the American people with this mishmash of declarations and accusations?"

"The grim reality of the political equivalent of war, Mr. Roader," said Steve Shredd, "and the urgent necessity for every American to enlist in this struggle against the Meliorists and for the twenty-first century."

"If things are so grim and so urgent, why aren't the CEOs here instead of you, their eleventh-hour substitutes?" Zack Lermond asked.

"Just my point," said Elvis Inskull. "The role of psychology is decisive. The CEOs are upstanding, successful, and very generous with their contributions, but they're all introverts. They're not publicity hounds like the Meliorists."

"I find it hard to discern anything new here other than yourselves and the three billion dollars. We already know what the business community has been doing. Just what are we supposed to find newsworthy in your statements?" asked Basil Brubaker of the New York Times.

"Intensity, all-out defiance, no compromises, a fight to the finish," said the Asparagus King. "In my business of growing fruits and vegetables by the zillions, we are in a seasonal fight to the finish against pests, fungi, rats, and drought. Only those growers with a focused intensity and a take-no-prisoners drive prevail. Those are the qualities we have conveyed this morning to a television audience of millions. What you write for tomorrow's newspapers will be your own take, through your own filters, and we can't do anything about that. Our side has had the upper hand in resources, manpower, and superior congressional contacts. What it lacked was what sportscasters encapsulate in the phrase 'the will to win.' That is what it has now, in us, and that is why we are here today."

"What are you going to do about the divisions and conflicts among the various business lobbies?" asked Linda Lancet of the Wall Street Journal. "Some would say that a lot of them are looking out for themselves at the expense of the overall opposition."

"That's a good probe," said Delbert Decisioner. "We know our opposition would like nothing better than to split our offense, and we're in the process of gathering detailed intelligence on the nature and depth of these divisions, with the goal of resolving them as quickly as possible. One of the reasons Lobo, Dortwist, and the CEOs brought us Solvents together was so that we could use our outsider status in the service of healing these potentially mortal clashes. We have no axes to grind."

"Pat Boylan of Newsday," said a craggy-faced man chewing on an unlit cigar. "The Las Vegas oddsmakers are putting your chances of stopping the Meliorist juggernaut at one in six. They have a good track record for being on the money. What do you say to those odds? And how much of the three billion is going into the campaign coffers of Republican senators and representatives?"

"We can't answer that last question," said Gilbert Grande. "Ask the Republican National Committee for their estimates. As for Las Vegas, let them stick to blackjack and roulette, and we'll stick to saving the Republic and the free enterprise system for which it stands."

"And would you add 'with liberty and justice for all'?"

"You're a smart aleck, Mr. Boylan," said Steve Shredd.

"It's a simple question. Please answer it."

"It's heckling. Next question, please."

Back at headquarters, Lobo and Brovar winced. All it took was one nasty remark to give the press their lead. They held their breath and waited for the other shoe to drop. Boylan was a war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner. He wasn't going to be dismissed by the likes of Steve Shredd.

"Wait a minute, I want an answer," Boylan shouted. "Mr. Grande just used a Pledge of Allegiance metaphor in describing your group's ideology. I want to know if the metaphor embraces the entire Pledge, including the last words. If you want to dodge the question, that's your prerogative, but don't call it heckling."

Delbert Decisioner saw the press conference starting to unravel. He moved in, nudging Shredd to one side. "Of course, Mr. Boylan. We all believe in every word of the Pledge of Allegiance."

"So we can write that your opposition to the Agenda for the Common Good is in furtherance of liberty and justice for all, correct?" Boylan said.

Laughter erupted in the ballroom.

Decisioner calmly waited for it to subside. "Naturally, you can write whatever you like, Mr. Boylan. Just let your journalistic conscience be your guide."

Lobo and Brovar breathed a cautious sigh of relief but were soon wincing again as a number of reporters asked questions about the group's contacts with the Bulls, the CEOs, the White House, the PCC, and the trade associations. It became apparent that the Solvents' vaunted networking operation had yet to leave the gate, and the remainder of the press conference did nothing to dispel the media's general impression that they were greenhorns.

David Roader returned to his office at the Washington Post in a reflective frame of mind. He sat at his desk deep in thought for a good thirty minutes, and then he began to write.

In my fifty-one years of journalism, I have never witnessed anything like what is now almost certain to occur in our nation's capital -- a bloodless popular revolution against the bastions of corporate power. Nor have I ever witnessed the retired super-rich taking on the entrenched super-rich. I have never witnessed the mobilization of the populace behind such a comprehensive leap forward for our country as the Agenda for the Common Good. I have never witnessed what increasingly looks like the wilting of the corporate supremacists under pressure coming from all directions in all dimensions.

Perhaps Thomas Jefferson would not have been completely surprised by these developments. As you may recall from American history class, Jefferson foresaw that when the 'monied interests' grew extreme in the pursuit of their goals, the political sphere -- the voters -- would arise to counteract them. What neither he nor any of our political ancestors foresaw was that the voters would arise with the help of other 'monied interests,' selfless and patriotic billionaires with a conscience and a passion for justice. No one foresaw it as recently as a few months ago, for that matter.

The popular movement set in motion by the Meliorists is spreading on its own, contagiously, even as it continues to receive guidance, publicity, and funds from these remarkably astute elders. We in the press can't begin to keep track of all the activity on Capitol Hill, much less around the nation. In the absence of some deus ex machina on the corporate side -- and the Solvents clearly don't fit the bill -- the Meliorists may be on the brink of total victory. Certainly that is what the polls are registering in an upward curve for the Agenda and the Clean Elections Party week by week, and a corresponding downward curve for the incumbents, especially those of the majority party in Congress. Local newspapers are reporting on the electric atmosphere back in the districts, the spreading sense that it's time for a real change, a mood that is very difficult to counter, even with the saturation media scare we've been treated to of late. Normally, clever political advertising can work to undermine its targets because there is no one on the ground in the communities to cry out, "Nonsense, we know better!" Now, however, there is a growing rampart of civic knowledge. Harry and Louise never had a chance for an encore this year for that very reason, though it didn't hurt that Patriotic Polly was waiting in the wings, as it were.

My congressional sources tell me of infighting and depression among the leadership and the committee chairs. "They seem unable to get it together," said one high-placed source who asked not to be identified. "The disarray on the Hill reflects a similar disarray among the K Street lobbies, and there are no corporate lawyers of towering stature whose strategic experience and wisdom could begin to unite them. Part of the problem is that there has been nary a sign that any part of the Agenda deck can be cut. There are no deals on offer." And indeed, part of the genius of the Agenda's congressional backers has been their consistent message that they will not allow the Seven Pillars to be watered down or traded off against one another. The Pillars have been very effectively presented as an interlocking legislative package that will shift the power in our political economy away from the corporations and toward the citizenry. The architectural metaphor is apt. The pillars of a building are integral to its structure. None are expendable.

More and more, it appears that the Bulls and their 'bears' are left with one option, short of unconditional surrender: to jump on the Agenda bandwagon and try to avert a public relations and electoral disaster. They can try to adjust to the new balance of power, regroup, and hope that reformist fatigue sets in so they can reassert their power in coming years, just as their predecessors did after the populist-progressive wave petered out before World War I. The corporations roared back with a vengeance in the 1920s, with the Depression and FDR only briefly slowing their inexorable march toward a corporate state in the decades since. As the Meliorists said only a few remarkable months ago, stay tuned.


Roader's column was not well received on K Street, nor on Wall Street, State Street, LaSalle Street, nor Wilshire Boulevard. The unease in the corporate suites proceeded not only from the substance of his piece but from the fact that he had made public in the 380 newspapers that carried his biweekly column what they privately knew to be the case. Other commentators and editorial writers were sure to pick up Roader's prediction. Most had already weighed in with similarly dismissive appraisals of the Solvents. High in their stories was the Boylan exchange with Shredd, whose business was described by one of them as "the manufacture of advanced cluster bombs widely condemned by human rights groups."

"We'll have to lower our expectations of the Solvents," Lobo said to Brovar a couple of days after the news conference. "They're not the heavyweights we'd hoped they'd be, and the press has no use for them. Damn, but I hope that open source contest brings in some new ideas."

***

On the weekend before Armsbuckle Monday, the Bulls reconvened at the Bunkers Hotel. Justice Tweedy called them to order with a sobering introductory statement.

"Friends and colleagues, our backs are to the wall. We interpret the wall in various ways, I know, but my own evaluation of the situation since we last met is that the Meliorists are gaining at an accelerating rate and the people out there know it. Editorial cartoonists are cruelly caricaturing us as relics heading for 'the dustbin of history.' The late-night comics have millions of viewers laughing at our expense. The Agenda allies are breathing down our necks to give them the schedule for final committee votes. They're being very cagy about not letting the defense and health-education appropriations bills get out in front of the Seven Pillars. Our retired colleagues in the Zabouresk-Zeftel group are proving invaluable to them in this regard. Personally, I'd like to see us come to a unanimous decision this weekend, rather than each of us going our own way or trying our own blocking maneuvers."

"You mean we should all go down with the ship together," said Duke Sabernickle sarcastically.

"Or maybe save ourselves together," said Elaine Whitehat.

For the next three hours, the committee chairs went over the same old ground and came to the same conclusion: their only options were to accept the Agenda and "heed the loudly declared will of the people," as Harry Horizon put it, or to cling to the slim possibility of defiance to the end, with the attendant likelihood of a double defeat on the Seven Pillars and on Election Day.

Dinner came and dessert went. At the evening session, they once again discussed the possibility of cutting deals on the Agenda, but they came to a dead end simply because they didn't have the votes. Adjournment was not a possibility for the reasons given at the earlier meeting. They shifted their attention to the White House. If the president dramatically vetoed all the bills, he would doom his party, and he would be easily overridden by lawmakers looking to save their own necks on Election Day. Another dead end. Even if the Bulls didn't care about being reelected -- and they were already getting subtle offers of lucrative positions, which disturbed them because they knew why -- their own junior followers would rebel if they tried to block the Agenda. They ended their meeting and went to sleep knowing that the inconclusiveness of the day's deliberations could not be repeated on the morrow.

After breakfast, an unusually silent repast, they reassembled in the conference room. The meeting was mercifully short. Within an hour, they had agreed to ride the Agenda wave and make the best of it. Armsbuckle would drop his plans for a press conference, and the group would prepare a statement for a joint press conference next week. The decision was unanimous. It was obvious, even to Sabernickle, that it had to be. Self-preservation is the cardinal instinct of legislators.

Once the decision was made, there were certain courtesies to be arranged. The Bulls would have to ask the president for a personal meeting, with no aides present on either side. Lobo and Brovar were next in line to be notified, but the Bulls knew Lobo would insist that the CEOs be included, at least via a closed circuit teleconference, to protect his hide and forestall any rumors that he was two-timing his reclusive bosses. A suitable representation of other corporate leaders would have to be notified personally as well. The problem here was an almost certain leak to the press, whether directly or indirectly, so the meeting would have to be held on the eve of the announcement, with apologies for the short notice. Major contributors and political friends and backers would only be informed on the morning of the news conference that an announcement was forthcoming, which would put their noses out of joint, but that couldn't be helped. The Bulls felt they had to keep things under wraps as long as possible to derive the maximum public relations benefit from their startling decision to come out in support of the Agenda.

Some of the Bulls were deeply upset by that decision but felt they had to go along. The majority knew they had done the right thing to avoid a nightmare of conflict and threatened retribution, but no one felt good about it except for Armsbuckle and a few others. Certainly, their former hardcore ideological backers would accuse them of cowardly treason -- or worse, cut them off entirely. There would be a terrible backlash from those quarters. Fortunately, the deadlines for qualifying a right-wing party or candidate had passed in every state. And none of the Bulls could deny the one indisputable advantage to riding the wave. There would be no discharge petitions to overturn their authority in their committees, the ultimate humiliation. If chairing a committee meant anything, it meant remaining in charge.

Before returning to Washington, they had what Justice Tweedy called their last lunch. It was polite enough and not entirely humorless, even displaying some grace, for they all knew that this would be the last time they assembled as the unchallenged masters of Congress in the old political style of a bygone era. As they said their goodbyes in the hotel lobby, it was probably a coincidence that the piped-in background music was Frank Sinatra singing "September Song."

***

Three days later, the omnipresent White House press corps sighted a stream of congressional committee chairs alighting at the White House one after another. To reduce their visibility, the Bulls arrived in ordinary cars, not limos, but that only served to arouse the reporters' suspicions. Something was up. White House Press Secretary Teddy Dodgem issued a one-paragraph statement saying that the president was meeting with his party's congressional leadership for a normal post-Labor Day review of pending legislation.

In the Indian Treaty room, the president greeted each of the Bulls personally. When they were all seated around the conference table, Justice Tweedy delivered the news, and was surprised at how calmly the president absorbed it. "It is most fortunate," Tweedy went on, "that none of us chairs has yet taken a stand on the Agenda. Our majority reports were scrupulously analytical and neutral, in contrast to the vigorous endorsement by the minority Agenda allies. Our circumspection will pay off during tomorrow's difficult news conference."

The president listened patiently until Justice Tweedy finished. Then he said, "Friends, you have made the politically expedient decision, and for once, paradoxically enough, that happens to be the best decision for the American people."

All around the table, jaws dropped. Evidently the president had been even more circumspect than the Bulls over the past months.

"Now that you've made your courageous decision, and I know it couldn't have been easy" -- here the president shot Duke Sabernickle a look -- "your challenge, I think, is to make your announcement and your subsequent engagements with the allies authentic not only in appearance but in reality. Some advice along these lines. Examine the Seven Pillars carefully for the provisions that are foursquare with conservative philosophy. Think about it. You don't oppose all government regulation. You decry corporate crime just as you decry street crime. While you may disagree with the environmentalists on the details, you too want to conserve our God-given Earth. You oppose corporate welfare and waste in government contracting because you believe the taxpayers' money should be wisely and efficiently used. You approve of the voluntary nature of membership and dues in these CUB groups. And why shouldn't the government behave like a business and get a fair market return for the use of public assets instead of giving them away? The Agenda also demands shareholder control over executive pay and company policies. Well, isn't it a basic tenet of capitalism that owners should control what they own? As for the raising of the minimum wage, isn't it just a first step toward fair pay for an honest day's work? What Christian, or for that matter what Jew or Muslim, could object to that? I could go on, but you get the drift. The Agenda for the Common Good may be the best thing that's happened to conservatism since Edmund Burke."

Just then, waiters arrived with coffee and cookies. The president took an Oreo and munched for a moment. "Your announcement will have to be carefully prepared with the help of your top staff and advisers. The press will be incredulous and therefore aggressive. They'll probe for cracks, for a hidden agenda. They'll remind you of some alleged inconsistency in your past remarks and hope for a slip of the tongue. They'll push you on the parts of the Agenda you abhor. You'll have to be on full alert for this major first impression. Damn, but I'd like to see the expressions on the faces of the Meliorists and their allies when they watch your press conference. The thing I love best in politics is turning the tables on my adversaries, surprising them, blasting their stereotypes of what they can expect from me."

"I'm not so eager to see the expressions on the faces of the CEOs and the Solvents when they find out," said Benjamin Bullion.

The president took another Oreo and dipped it in his coffee. "The Solvents are inconsequential, and the CEOs have made themselves irrelevant. Sure, it's not going to be all roses, Ben, but which side would you rather be on? And where are the CEOs and their cohorts going to go anyway? Off to start a new corporate party? They already have one or two now. Besides, the history of reform demonstrates that once the line is drawn in the political sand, the corporations will adjust and go happily on their profitable way. They're amazingly opportunistic and expedient institutions, in the best sense of those much-abused words. Take some of the major restraints aimed at corporations -- the ban on child labor, breakups under the antitrust laws, and mandatory safety standards, to name just a few. In every case the corporations adjusted and grew and became more profitable by the year. I see little in the Seven Pillars, despite some pretty fundamental shifts of power and wealth, that uproots the basic system of private property and market enterprise. The only exception is full Medicare, which will put an end to the insurance HMOs, but they asked for it with their profiteering, bureaucratic, wasteful ways, and in any case it's not irreversible.

"We conservatives like to say we favor clean, honest elections, but many of us don't welcome the public financing approach in the Agenda. To that I can only note that the financing is voluntary on the 1040, with a ceiling of three hundred dollars per taxpayer, so I can't see any real conservative downside here. Who among you likes to raise money? Most of us in this room don't have to because the money boys come to us, but for our more junior colleagues, fundraising is distasteful, forcing them to grovel and walk that fine line between bribery and extortion. Wouldn't it be refreshing if all the companies and lobbyists knocking on our doors had to make their arguments on the merits, not on the money?

"The Meliorists are pay-as-you-go types, except for emergencies. They don't want Social Security surpluses hiding the government's true annual operating deficit. Our nation is heading for a big debt-deficit entitlement crash if we don't turn things around, and the Meliorists are giving us that opportunity. Ending the bulk of corporate welfare reduces spending. Taxing securities transactions, pollution, and the addiction industries brings in revenue while cutting individual income taxes. There are many parts of the Agenda that you've resolutely opposed, but by and large it sure beats the French Revolution. Instead of going to the guillotine, you can share in the credit.

"History will beam down upon us in the wake of the Agenda, and in that light I've been coming around to your position on my own in the past weeks. Nothing like watching an irresistible force overtake an immovable object to help your common sense along and flush out your better instincts. I think we needed a cold shower to jolt us out of our knee-jerk complacency. And if you don't make it in November, it's not the end of the world. In two years, I'll see you in the private sector."

"Mr. President, what a breath of fresh air!" exclaimed Francine Freshet. "You've always been able to express what some of us feel but weren't ready to say out loud. Thank you."

"Sometimes the hardest decisions, the most agonizing decisions, turn out to be the greatest decisions," said Billy Beauchamp. "I'm immensely relieved that we are all on the same page. How do you plan to make your announcement, Mr. President? I presume you wish to follow ours, or am I mistaken?"

"Well, Billy, political ego tells me to go first and show that I'm leading the Congress, but institutionally it's better if you take the lead, resolve the present deadlock, and pass the legislation for my signature. That's the sequence laid out in our Constitution, of course, and I'll follow it. As for exactly how and where to respond to your enactment, I want to consult with my advisers."

"Mr. President," said Duke Sabernickle, "you've allayed some of my short-run concerns about the Agenda, but none of my long-term worries that they represent the first steps toward totalitarian socialism. Once the masses organize, once they taste victory, what's to stop them from going all the way?"

"You mean all the way with the backing of the Meliorist capitalists?" asked the president.

"Before long, they won't need the Meliorists," Sabernickle replied. "The Agenda essentially gives them all the gold on public lands, and that's just one example of the wealth that will be theirs under its provisions."

"It already belongs to them, Duke," said Billy Beauchamp. "They are the people, after all."

"To respond to your long-range worries," the president said, "I'm not clairvoyant, but I do have enough confidence in the American people and their institutions to believe that totalitarian socialism isn't in the cards. And now you'll have to excuse me. I have a meeting with the prime minister of Chad, where the situation is heating up. Stay in touch and keep me posted. You know any of you can always reach me by secured phone. Good day."

"Good day, Mr. President," chorused the Bulls.

As they left the White House one by one by a back exit and walked to their cars, the Bulls were again accosted by the press corps. "What's up, Congressman Meany?" a fresh-faced young reporter asked the chairman of the House Administration Committee.

"Just preelection politics, sonny, have a nice day."

***

That evening, Lobo and Brovar met in their office suite and ordered in dinner from Luigi's, a gourmet Italian restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue. They had expected to review the Solvents' semi-debacle and the responses to the open source contest, but on the agenda prepared by Lobo's chief of staff, Lawrence Nightingale, a new item caught their attention: Rumors of Collapse. Lobo called Nightingale in and asked him to explain before they started on their appetizers. Nightingale was anything but an alarmist, but he'd received a call from a staffer friend over at the Senate Armed Services Committee that he thought Lobo and Brovar would want to know about. The friend had overheard Chairman Armsbuckle speaking with his wife. The gist of the conversation was that Armsbuckle was canceling a press conference at which he'd planned to make an important announcement, and would appear instead at a joint press conference with the other committee chairs, who had "come around on the Agenda."

"Thanks, Larry," Lobo said. "We'll call you if we need anything else."

Brovar picked up a jumbo shrimp and studied it as Nightingale exited. "Something's up for sure when you add that to the other tips we've gotten," he said. "I don't know about you, but my appetite's dwindling. We've racked our brains, but nothing's working. The open source ideas are ludicrous or worse. There were several suggestions about inducing a terrorist attack against some major public target in such a way that it couldn't be traced back to our side. 'This is a tough choice,' one guy wrote, 'a choice only for patriots brave enough to see that such an attack is the only way to save our free enterprise system from these insidious capitalist turncoats.' He didn't say whether any of his 'patriots' would be willing to go down in the attack as the ultimate test of their sincerity. Can you believe such evil rot? These people float wild schemes like that because they're not close enough to the scene to come up with any remotely applicable strategy or tactic."

Lobo nodded. "I'm not impressed with open source problem solving either. It never seems to produce a formula that addresses people's lives and failures where it counts. It's good for solving some slice of a software program or easing some marketing delivery problem, but it's not ready for prime time on the important struggles."

Brovar poured them both a large glass of Chianti. "Here's to us and our faltering counterattack, Lobo. May the end be swift and merciful."

"Do you know more than you're telling me?"

"No, it's just the feeling I have more and more. And what are the Bulls up to with this press conference? It can't be anything good."

Lobo drained his glass of wine and poured himself another. "I knew we were in trouble when the CEOs wouldn't put themselves on the line like the SROs do. Conflicts have to be personalized. People want to see passion, fireworks. Instead I end up with a bunch of shrinking violets who want to stay in the back room when backroom business as usual is exactly the issue. You'd think they were monks instead of some of the most powerful men in the country. No wonder my poor dog gets such a workout."

"I know what you mean," Brovar said. "When I'm stuck with something, I take my dog for long walks too." He sipped his wine. "You know, one of our main problems has been the lack of vivid imagery that grabs people and makes them remember something and talk it up with their friends. Take the Beatty campaign steamrolling over Schwarzenegger out in California. Ask any ordinary Californian about that race and you'll get, 'I was bowled over by Warren Beatty and his buses of billionaires going around the state demanding that they be taxed more to eliminate the state deficit and make life better for people like me.' That's enough right there to beat the muscleman, even with all his flexing. Now, there's much more to Beatty's platform, plenty of proposals that mean something to voters, but just ask them to remember anything else. It's the imagery and what it conveys day after day. With all our media saturation and lobbying campaigns, we've never come anywhere near the equivalent of those billionaire buses. And we never could have, no matter how hard we tried. You know why? Because we're not perceived to be on the side of the people. We can tell them we are until we're blue in the face, but they aren't buying. They simply know more now."

Lobo took a big gulp of Chianti. "I guess I have to agree, but that doesn't change the fact that I haven't fulfilled my contract with the CEOs."

"No, Lobo, the CEOs are the ones who haven't fulfilled the contract. They never went as far as they led you to believe they would -- not that it would have helped, more than likely. You know, what's amazed me throughout this entire battle is that we tried all the boilerplate tactics that have worked so well in so many other showdowns over the decades and none of them came through for us. Some, like the attempt to delegitimize our adversaries, actually backfired. Right now my imagination -- supposedly the envy of my peers -- is shooting blanks. I'm tapped out."

"Well, there's only one solution," Lobo said, hiccuping. "More wine. We have to keep our spirits up. Let's change the subject and enjoy this fine meal. How's life with your new bride?"

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 10:08 pm

PART 3 OF 3 (CH. 16 CONT'D.)

As September drew to a close, the Meliorists intensified their focus on the Congress. Without being overbearing, they personally called the members and some of their staff people, and made it clear to the Bulls that they were available to meet with them at any time. They knew they already had a majority. Now they were going for a veto-proof Congress. Nor did they ignore the president, whom many of them had met at public occasions in the past six years. Warren Buffett made sure that word was very politely conveyed to the White House that the Meliorists were prepared to speak with the president at his convenience, should he so wish.

Meanwhile, if Brovar and Lobo were exhibiting signs of despair, the trade associations were in free fall, frantically fighting each other for preferred positions, grasping at straws to pacify their anxious memberships around the country, and trying to keep track of their newly expanded corps of lobbyists, many untutored in the ways of Congress and the capital. Luke Skyhi's early-alert system in the sub-economy kept him fully informed on the flailing of these elephantine organizations, and he made sure that the PCC exacerbated the strains among them. Perhaps too eagerly, he sensed the collapse, not just the defeat, of the K Street crowd.

Two days after their meeting with the president, the Bulls scheduled a news conference in the main hall of the Cannon office Building to announce their support of the Seven Pillars as a unitary package. They took pains to point out that they had never really opposed it. After all, hadn't they held prolonged public hearings of impeccable impartiality? Didn't their majority reports hew to an analytic, informative standard for committee and congressional deliberations? Hadn't they eschewed delaying tactics, of which they had plenty in their quivers? They knew the room would be packed and tried to anticipate as many questions as possible in their statement so the event wouldn't drag on too long. Politicians tended to lose in the course of an extended Q and A. Fortunately, their announcement was so astonishing that many reporters rushed off to file their stories before any questions were asked.

Those who remained were largely from the regional papers and television stations. Their questions were routine: When did you all decide to do this? Were there any dissenters? Did you discuss this with the president, and what did he say? Do you think this will work decisively in your favor in November against the Clean Elections Party? What's the reaction from K Street? Do you expect that your support of the Agenda will cost you in campaign contributions? Do you intend to urge the president to sign these bills?

As he listened to the questions and the responses from Justice Tweedy and others, Billy Beauchamp thought to himself how easy it was to answer when you'd done the right thing. He and the Bulls were wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

Just then, Reginald Sesko of Business Week stepped forward and asked sharply, "How do you propose to stop the downward drift of the stock markets and the decline in business confidence in the United States both at home and abroad?"

Billy jumped on that one. "I'd say that a living wage and universal health insurance are very good for the economy's prospects because they'll enhance consumer demand. Many European nations have some version of these same provisions, and their economies are prospering. Sometimes I think this 'business confidence' stuff is nothing but economic saber rattling so that the big companies can get what they want from Congress and the White House. It's far more important that the people have confidence in business, and the Agenda will advance that confidence."

The veteran reporter for the Oklahoma Constitution could hardly believe this was the Billy Beauchamp she knew. She was about to ask how he reconciled his newfound support for the Agenda with his past positions when Sam Sniffen of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said, "How are you going to pay for all this?"

Senator Pessimismo, chair of the Joint Budget Committee, took the question. "Our staff has conservatively concluded that the savings under the Agenda exceed the added expenses of new programs, mainly universal healthcare. Please note that the Agenda shifts healthcare costs from the business and nonprofit sectors to the government. They are still assessed, but minimally compared to what they're currently paying. Note too that although the government is absorbing more health costs, it will realize large savings in lives, paperwork, fraud collection, and so on. Moreover, the estimates of revenues from the new tax on securities transactions, replacing some individual income taxes, are also very conservative."

"This Agenda has legs," said Zack Lermond of the Baltimore Sun. "Once you pass it, those legs may march most of you out of office in a few weeks. How would you assess the impact of enactment on Congress in the coming months and years? Does it spell the end of the old ways of doing business on Capitol Hill?"

"Well, Zack," said Senate Majority Leader Frisk, "we're not prophets, and we'll certainly know more after the elections, but I think it's safe to say that a shift of priorities and orientations is probably in the cards for the next couple of years at least. It can't but be, it seems to me. Still, I wouldn't count the traditional lobbies out. It may take some time, but they'll regroup. Too many goodies up here for them not to."

There were a few more questions, and then, just like that, the press conference was over. A strange mixture of relief and foreboding seemed to settle over the Bulls as they dispersed quietly and walked back to their offices with their aides.

***

Over on K Street, twenty-five grim-looking trade association heads were already gathered at the law offices of Crusher, Vine and Clamber for an emergency meeting of the Temporary American Coalition for Economic Freedom (TACEF). The venerable senior partner and victorious veteran of many battles against "the rabble," as Chives Crusher privately called the American people, sat down at the head of an enormous mahogany conference table and began the meeting.

"Friends, we are defeated, notwithstanding our extreme exertions for weeks now. There is no hope on the Hill. Even Sabernickle has thrown in the towel. Constitutionally all that's left is the president, and even if he had the votes to sustain his veto, he may not use it for fear of destroying his party. All this you know. So what else do I have to say? Nothing. For the first time in my sixty-year legal career, I have no strategy, no tactics, no glimmer of a second-strike capability. We can always fight the appropriations process, the proposed regulations, the enforcement, and we will, but the sperm of the renegade oligarchs has germinated, and the hungry child of the rabble is about to be born. I just got off the phone with Dortwist, Lobo, and Jasper Cumbersome, and they are as speechless as your humble counselor. I invite your reactions."

"Brother Chives," boomed Horace Heath, the grand chief lobbyist of the rapidly consolidating HMO giants, "where the hell are the drinks?"

"Hear, hear," shouted the dispirited group in unison.

With a barely concealed smile, Crusher pushed a button under the table, and in came two valets with two large carts stocked with expensive whiskeys, bourbons, gins, and vodkas, along with a variety of enticing canapes. "I couldn't foresee the depredations of the barbarians even when they were at the gates, Horace, but I did foresee your thirst. Let's drink to our doom with the finest liquor this -- what does the press call us? -- this 'powerful and prestigious law firm' could sequester."

Whereupon the lobbyists began drinking with the zeal they usually reserved for their labors in the congressional fields. As evening darkened to night, their cheeks grew rosier, their ties looser, and their trips to the john more frequent. Mordant words and snide remarks directed toward their adversaries in the early hours of imbibing began to turn against their comrades-in-lucre: the CEOs, the Bulls, Lobo and Dortwist, the business media, the president. As the hours wore on and more refreshments were ordered in, they began to light into each other for perceived lassitude, narcissism, miscalculation, and utter stupidity. Then a forearm knocked into a shoulder, a hip into a torso, and the fracas commenced. Glasses clattered to the floor and shattered. Brother Chives got in a few good licks and then called security. It all ended with a clutch of limousines in long and loyal service to the powerful and prestigious law firm of Crusher, Vine and Clamber taking the soused and battered defenders of the plutocracy home to their respective mansions.

***

The scene in the penthouse boardroom the next morning was more sedate but no more upbeat. The CEOs had watched the press conference live on their plasma TVs, and the near life-size images had unnerved them, as if the Bulls were right there next to them. Now, as they waited for Lobo, they were angry and demoralized. They'd been checking their stock portfolios, which were dropping every day. The last-ditch effort to block shareholder authority over their compensation packages had collapsed, though they'd escaped a legislated maximum cap. Their multibillion-dollar drive to stop the SROs was in tatters.

A somber Lobo arrived at 8:45 a.m. and sipped some fresh orange juice while waiting to be summoned. He had one more idea in his arsenal. It had come to him during an intense "Besame Mucho" exchange with his pit bull. He saw the boardroom door open and heard CEO Cumbersome call, "Come in, Lobo." Entering, he noticed that the eyelids were heavier and the jowls weightier around the familiar table.

"We have three questions for you, Lobo," Wardman Wise began without preliminaries. "What went wrong? What did you do wrong? And what's next?"

"Are you firing me?" Lobo asked. "I haven't earned my dollar yet."

"Just answer the questions one at a time," said Wise.

"What went wrong? In a nutshell, the business community wasn't hungry enough, smart enough, or fast enough. No one took Dortwist's early premonitions seriously. In fact, he was ridiculed.

"What did I do wrong? Ultimately, nothing, because by the time we started, there was no way to win. Dortwist and I gave it all we had and more, but we were up against an irresistible force. In hindsight, even if you'd paired off against the SROs in early April, it probably would have been too late, but as you'll recall, we didn't get going until late June. After all these decades, the Agenda's time has come. Even the seemingly bottomless well of popular apathy has run dry.

"As for what's next, you have more than a billion dollars left. You can give it back to the donors through some prorated formula, or you can use it for independent expenditures to help save the Bulls in November. That's our last clear chance. Barring a White House miracle, the Agenda will be enacted, but we can prevent or delay or blunt implementation next year and the year after. To repeat, there will be enactment, but there doesn't have to be implementation. Riders to appropriations bills have stopped implementation of enacted legislation cold in the past, and they can do it again. The downside, of course, is the aroused fury of the citizenry and an encore confrontation with the Meliorists."

"That downside is decisive, Lobo," said Sal Belligerante. "I, for one, am not interested in another groveling defeat involving a struggle that might further radicalize the people."

"Nor am I," said Norman Noondark.

"The time has come to let matters cool down, Lobo," said William Worldweight. "It's over as far as I'm concerned."

Murmurs of agreement followed.

"By the way," asked Wardman Wise, "is there any indication as to whether the president, futilely or not, is going to veto the Pillars?"

"The indication is that he's going to sign them, and do so in a mass media event at some undisclosed but highly symbolic location. The politics of it is that the majority party wants to 'ride the wave' and steal the credit from the progressives, who have gone out of their way to avoid publicity. They may pay for their modesty by being coopted."

CEO Cumbersome looked around the table. "Lobo, the consensus here is that your services are no longer required. We thank you for your selflessness, your peerless dedication, and the candid honesty you brought to this most arduous mission. Will you join us for lunch at the Four Hundred Club?"

"Forgive me, gentlemen, but I have to take my pit bull to the vet. It's something of an emergency. My staff will be in touch with yours about an orderly windup of operations. Good day." And with that, shorn of his trademark swagger, Lobo got up and left the room, closing the door quietly.

***

The president was thinking grandly. Having sunk in the polls because of his perceived disinterest in the needs of ordinary people, his extravagant White House lifestyle, and his foreign misadventures, he wanted to give the historians a contrasting display of political courage. A very big contrasting display. He had decided that the signing ceremony would take place at Mount Rushmore, beneath the imposingly sculpted faces of four great presidents. The television networks would go wild over the spectacular visuals, but there was more. Prominently seated at the ceremony would be the Bulls on one side and the Meliorists on the other -- yes, the Meliorists themselves. Such, at least, was the president's plan. He called his advisers together to get their reaction over dinner.

"Welcome, gentlemen, take your seats," he said with a flourish as they filed into the residence dining room. "My chef has prepared a meal worthy of our lofty deliberations. The entree is Chilean sea bass."

Harold Featherstone III remained standing. "With all respect, Mr. President, I feel compelled to say at the outset that swallowing one bitter pill is difficult enough but swallowing seven of them is taking the Kool-Aid. The Agenda is so utterly and entirely at odds with everything we've fought for, campaigned for, and stood tall for during the last six years that it sears my soul to contemplate your signing it into law."

"Sit down and listen up, Hal," the president ordered sternly. "We're not in slumberland anymore. The alarm clock has gone off, and the people are awake. They're done with eating deception for breakfast, distraction for lunch, and rah-rah for dinner. So if you don't mind, let's talk about the signing ceremony."

"The Dakotas gave you your highest statewide percentages in the last two elections," said Chris Topper, the chief of staff. "They won't be pleased that you're signing off on the Agenda beneath Mount Rushmore. These people are not the type to demonstrate or march in protest, but they do have newspapers, broadcast stations, and blogs. Is there a public works project in the pipeline that you can preannounce? And the day before the signing, why not set up an exclusive teleconference with the major editors and television anchors, at least in South Dakota? The local media always appreciates these courtesies."

"Excellent ideas, Chris," said the president. "Put them in motion. We only have a few days."

"Why do you want the Meliorists there?" press secretary Dodgem asked. "Isn't that rubbing the noses of the Bulls and the party in the dirt?"

"Better they play second fiddle to our party's triumphant demonstration of compassion and action out at Mount Rushmore than that they have their own extravaganza in Washington and take full credit for what they forced us to do. It's possible that they'll have their own event anyway, but it will have to come after the signing, and it will be a distinct anticlimax."

"What if the Meliorists decline your invitation, Mr. President?" Shelburne Sherwood asked.

"They can't afford to decline. We'll be the big story dominating the media for days, and they'll want to be there to try to dilute our impact. No, they won't decline. They'll be confident that they can squeeze something out of their participation, but we'll get more out of them than they'll get out of us. I can see the headlines and leads now: 'Statesmanship of the highest order,' or 'The president displayed extraordinary grace with his erstwhile adversaries, rising above the partisan fray as our great presidents have done throughout our history,' or 'It's been a long time since the nation has seen such an extraordinary display of political unity in the interests of the American people,' or 'On this glorious morning in South Dakota, our president has demonstrated his generosity of mind by putting his John Hancock to the first steps toward a functioning democracy that will benefit millions of American families,' or 'The effects of the president's farsighted act on this historic day will be felt far from Mount Rushmore. Bravo, Mr. President!'"

Featherstone, who had been picking at his escargot appetizer, mustered himself. "Excuse me, sir, but I can see those leads and headlines too: 'No president in American history has so cruelly betrayed his political base as our current president did yesterday at Mount Rushmore,' or 'This day of infamy will be known as the Mount Rushmore Massacre, with untold consequences for the future of the president's party,' or 'Six leaders of the party's right wing e-mailed hundreds of thousands of their supporters today, inviting comments about the advisability of forming a new party dedicated to the principles just abandoned by a cowardly president,' or 'The Business Roundtable issued a rare warning to the president today of severe volatility in the securities markets in the wake of his signing the Agenda into law.'"

"You've always been a contrarian, Hal, and I appreciate that, but now you're bordering on gibberish. Where are these right-wingers and the business community going to go, especially after Rushmore broadens our base? Besides, you're looking at things from a narrow political viewpoint that simply doesn't recognize what's happened this year. Didn't you write an article for the National Review called 'The Challenge of Change,' on the ossification of the political world?"

Lester Linx, the congressional liaison, looked up from his cell phone. "Mr. President, I've just received a text message saying that Speaker Dostart and Majority Leader Frisk have a new vote count and that the Agenda is now veto-proof They'll put in a call to you once we've finished our meeting."

The president nodded. "Well, we were expecting it, weren't we? It makes Rushmore all the more important."

"Indeed it does," said Chris Topper, "and I have a few thoughts on your remarks, sir. Besides describing how the Pillars address real needs and injustices, it might be wise defensively to say a few words about past reforms that were initially opposed by business but were later seen to enhance profitability. You'll need a similar nod to your right wing about all the conservative principles adopted by the Agenda. You should also recognize the younger generation of Americans with a spirited appeal to their idealism and optimism. Finally, Mount Rushmore faces southeast and has good exposure to the sun. If you mention this in connection with the solar energy conversion envisioned by the Agenda, it will not go unnoticed either by the locals or by the growing number of sun fans, though of course you'll need a contingency plan in case of rain."

"Again, those are excellent ideas, Chris," the president said. "Thank you."

Clarence Fairchild, the community affairs adviser, cleared his throat. "If I may raise a rather sensitive historical point, sir, the US Army took the Black Hills from the Lakota tribe by force in 1876-77. Feelings on the subject run high among Native Americans, who regard the hills as sacred ground. Recognizing this in your remarks will go a long way toward salving old wounds."

"And you should bear in mind, Mr. President," said Lester Linx, "that many members of Congress besides the Bulls will want to attend. Ordinarily the number of congressional VIPs is limited by the number of seats on Air Force One, but you can bet that for this occasion plenty of representatives and senators will get there on their own. My advice is to take the usual VIPs along according to the usual criteria but announce that seats will be reserved for members of Congress near the visitor center. Courtesy also requires seating for the governor of South Dakota and other state dignitaries. Invariably there will be ruffled feathers, but as long as we have clear explanations of space constraints and guest protocol, we should be all right. It won't be easy to accommodate everyone who wants to attend, even in the great outdoors, but I guess we can always move the Meliorists and the progressives to folding chairs along the Presidential Trail, which is out of sight."

The president chuckled. "Very amusing, Les. I leave the logistics to you. Is there anything else?" he asked, looking around the table. "All right, let's proceed to the sea bass."

"Excuse me, sir, but I have a prior engagement with my conscience," said Harold Featherstone III, rising and walking stiffly out of the dining room to write his letter of resignation.

***

The last Friday of September was a crystalline fall day. Half a dozen eagles soared high above Mount Rushmore in a symbolic aerial spectacular as the president prepared to make his counterintuitive debut as a progressive political progenitor. With his first lady, he bounded up the stairs to the long rectangular outdoor stage and greeted the Bulls one by one, and then the Meliorists. Even in the outdoors, the media crush was apparent. TV news helicopters circled overhead. The wildlife on the ground didn't know what to make of it and scrammed. With his back to Mount Rushmore, at just the place where a fifth presidential head might be carved one day, the president, just three days after Congress passed the Seven Pillars, began his address to the nation.

"My fellow Americans, here at home and all over the world, what you see before you is the grandeur of our nation -- the rugged mountains and majestic forests, the eagles that represent our freedom and our strength flying across the wide blue skies, and these magnificent sculptures fashioned from solid granite to memorialize George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, four of our greatest presidents.

"It is a historic day. Our country is about to take a great step forward and upward. This did not come about by chance. It was inspired, and continues to be inspired, by certain leaders of our business community, now mostly retired. They call themselves the Meliorists, a modest name for a truly revolutionary movement that has remained true to its high ideals and has liberated the people to take their lives and their future into their own hands, which is the finest expression of freedom. By their force of example, dedication, brilliance, and perseverance, the Meliorists brought the country to the Congress. It was there that an unprecedented bipartisan effort unfolded. It was there that the exhausting, meticulous work of the public hearings, the committee reports, the markups, and finally the televised floor debates and votes transpired. It was there that the veteran committee chairs of my party cleared the way and actively supported the Seven Pillars of the Agenda for the Common Good. Let us have a round of applause for the Meliorists and the committee chairs." The president gestured toward both groups as the audience of invited guests clapped and cheered enthusiastically.

"Those great presidents," he went on, pointing to the sculpted faces, "came to their high office with many signal accomplishments of intellect and deed, but they also grew as they served. They grew not just through their own reflections and observations but because they had sufficiently open minds to listen to their countrymen and countrywomen, to heed their demands and their hopes and their impatience with inaction and misfeasance. Over the past nine months, I too have had the opportunity to grow, whether I liked it or not. Day after day, you the people made me take notice of your discontent with politics as usual, favoritism for the privileged few, the misuse of taxpayer dollars, and the abuse of your trust. With your minds and hearts, with your marches and rallies and new organizations, you demanded change after decades of unacknowledged patience. That demand made me realize that vested ideas are more impervious to change than vested economic interests or even vested bureaucratic interests.

"When I took the oath of office, my mind was closed. I was certain what I wanted to do and what I wanted to prevent. Too certain. Then came the fresh breeze of the Meliorists. At first I scoffed, then seethed, then resisted. Then I reflected, revised, and opened my arms to their good works and their vision for our country -- a catchup vision, an accountability vision, a democracy vision, a civic vision with staying power into the distant future. They grounded this vision in fertile soil and watched the seeds grow into a bountiful harvest of populist power, and they did it all in record time and with their own fortunes. Not a cent of tax money was involved. These are Americans who believe that from those who have acquired much, much is expected. Well, they have delivered and then some, and so will I."

The president paused and swept his arm toward a stack of documents on a table beside the podium. "There are the Seven Pillars, which I will now sign with presidential pens made entirely of industrial hemp, in soy ink, on paper also made from hemp -- the same kind of paper on which our Declaration of Independence was written in 1776."

As cameras clicked furiously, the president sat down at the table with the Meliorists and the Bulls on either side, methodically signed each of the bills numerous times. and gave the pens to those assembled around him. When the last bill was signed and the last pen handed out, there was a momentous silence, and then the audience burst into applause, joined by some 150 million viewers nationwide.

The president returned to the podium and spent the next fifteen minutes concisely reviewing the benefits and conservatism flowing from each of the Seven Pillars, with the aim of laying the public groundwork for implementation over the next two years, when the furious interest groups would reconnect with their congressional collaborators to set up treacherous hurdles to derail the reforms. He made it clear that he expected Congress to heed both the content and the determined tone of his words, which he had written himself, and to implement the bills without delay. He would be president for another twenty-seven months, and he wasn't interested in a Pyrrhic victory. During this oratorical performance, those who knew him best found themselves wondering if they'd ever known him at all, including the dumbfounded first lady, who managed to keep a smile frozen on her face even though she'd assumed, like almost everyone else on her husband's team, that his endorsement of the Agenda was a ploy.

When he concluded his tour de force, the president engaged in some hearty backslapping with the Bulls and mingled with the Meliorists. He shook hands with Warren, who said, "I'm curious, Mr. President, about why you chose not to meet with any of us. Was it because you didn't want to be accused of coming under the influence of us 'subversives'?"

The president smiled. "You're not only a shrewd investor, Mr. Buffett, you're a shrewd political analyst as well. But I kept myself informed about your activities, and today you see the result. I'm grateful to you and your colleagues for being here, by the way. Your presence made my themes of unity and implementation more credible. I'll catch hell from my longtime supporters when I get back to the White House, but those are the lumps of the job."

Bill Gates Sr. and Joe Jamail urged the president to appoint a special White House Task Force on Implementation, with regular reports to the public. They noted the almost total absence of federal reporting on industry compliance with health and safety laws, for example. The president reacted favorably and said that he'd keep the task force on its toes by locating it in the White House, as part of the office of Management and Budget complex.

Bernard told the president that he could use some help with his after-school Egalitarian Clubs. "They're going well where they've been set up, but in too many places the initiative is flagging. You've said that no child should be left behind in the schools, Mr. President. These clubs address the needs of youngsters left behind in the afternoons, when they often get into real trouble, especially in the cities. You could help give the effort a high profile."

"Your clubs sound like a perfect complement to my school program, which is also flagging a bit if the truth be told," the president said. "Let me know when you're free and I'll set up a meeting at the White House with my secretary of education, the PTA, the League of Women Voters, and the Urban League."

The other Meliorists all had words of praise and advice for the chief, who listened attentively. For his part, he cautioned them against continuing to support the ouster of the Bulls, who could be very useful during the implementation phase as known quantities who endorsed the Agenda. Phil Donahue immediately jumped in. "Sir, I think you have the wrong impression. We have no connection with the Clean Elections Party, whether operational or monetary, as required by federal law." The president winked. "Well, you know what I mean -- you all have moral suasion."

As the crowd at Mount Rushmore was dispersing, people all over the country were gathering joyously in parks and public squares, carrying posters of the Meliorist emblem and the Seventh-Generation Eye. For so long their marches and rallies had centered around the public demand for the adoption of the Agenda for the Common Good. Now, at last, they were celebrating, not demanding. Bars offered free champagne. Toy and novelty stores handed out free gifts and ice cream to children. From the village greens of New England to the sunny plazas of California, the people hailed their representatives in Washington with a roar of recognition and gratitude.

And they had reason to be grateful. Out in Tucson, Eugenia Lopez was thinking about how she would be able to reduce her debts and buy her three children the things they needed now that she'd be earning $4 more an hour. In Seattle, Tim Fullwell felt a crushing anxiety lift from his shoulders as he realized that he wouldn't have to go without food or fuel anymore to pay for his prescription drugs. In St. Louis, Martha and Albert Slayton breathed a sigh of relief: They'd moved to a more expensive suburb to avail their two children of better public schools and were feeling the pinch, but now they'd be able to keep up their mortgage payments with $20,000 in tax savings on their combined annual income of $100,000. In Philadelphia, Chesty Fuller, a full-time baker and part-time super-activist, was thinking about the millions of people who'd cut their civic teeth with the Meliorists and had their appetites whetted for more victories. He'd received dozens of e-mails from similarly energized friends in other states noting that all the new groups inspired by the Meliorists would be welcome and powerful allies in their many worthy but previously losing causes.

For Tony Lazzari, a World War II vet and union organizer of legendary fame, the Agenda was a dream come true. After many organizing successes in the fifties and early sixties, Tony had hit a wall. Taft-Hartley, the notorious antiunion law, was kicking in, and soon became the attack vehicle of choice for the union-busting industry of consultants, law firms, and their executive clients. Now, in his mid-eighties, he would live to see a resurgence of unionism in the fast-food industry, many other retail chains, and the vast pool of fortune 500 office workers.

In a Georgia mill town, Morgan Moses, known as the resident curmudgeon, wasn't scowling today. For years he had been the scourge of the wasters in local government, and once in a while he'd give the hotfoot to the state's congressional delegation about reckless spending in Washington. Now, finally, he could go to court with his Northeast Georgia Taxpayers Association and tackle these federal boondoggles. "No standing to sue," the despicable phrase that had been hurled at him for so long, was now consigned to the dust heap of legal history. His phone and e-mail traffic with taxpayer groups all over the country reached record levels as he threw himself into the fray with renewed intensity, along with countless other long-thwarted activists who saw the new day dawning at last.

***

There were scowls aplenty at Republican party headquarters the next morning when the newspapers hit the stands. "President Signs on to Meliorist Revolution!" the Washington Post trumpeted. "Seven Pillars Signed by President! Meliorists Can Claim Victory!" blared the New York Times, while the tabloid Post screamed, "President Kowtows Seven Times!!!" 'The visuals on the television news were good to both the president and the Meliorists, who had diplomatically declined all press interviews, saying through Jeno that this was the president's day and that they would hold a news conference of their own next week in Washington.

Despite their displeasure, the Republican operatives were in the business of winning elections. Their jobs and their reputations were at stake. For now, ideology would have to take a back seat, and so would placating the fat cats. All that mattered was the winning political move, and they smelled a big turnaround in the forthcoming polls. They didn't care where the dramatic presidential makeover came from as long as it reversed what looked like a landslide for their opponents. Ideological concerns could reassert themselves once the Republicans maintained their majority. As for the Agenda, they were convinced that what the president had said about implementation at Mount Rushmore was a fine example of his political cunning. Surely there would be many a slip between the cup and the lip in the implementation stage. Apparently they hadn't bothered to examine the legislation, which was tightly crafted to anticipate any betrayals or delays after passage. Except for universal healthcare, the bills required little in the way of appropriations and imposed deadlines and penalties on the officials charged with their execution.

On the Monday after Mount Rushmore, ahead of the release of the major polls, the political pundits rushed into print with their predictions as to how the president's surprise signing of the Agenda would affect the midterm elections. Their observations and their hasty "man in the street" interviews were good news for the president, but his party didn't share in the glow. The Clean Elections Party candidates were quick to claim a major victory even before their predicted Election Day triumph. With help from Dick Goodwin, they took credit in their campaign material for pushing the Bulls in the right direction, and then they focused on the all-important implementation stage, declaring that CEP electoral victories were indispensable to insure against backsliding, and that none of the incumbent corporatists could be trusted if they were returned to office. They also reminded the opposition that their party's pledge to go out of existence depended not just on the enactment but on the full implementation of the Agenda's electoral reforms.

Most of the business columnists took the signing of the Agenda hard. They foresaw business volatility, the resurgence of union bosses, overregulation, and trouble of all kinds from the newly organized groups of workers, consumers, and taxpayers. A prominent exception was Patrick Paydown, a persistent critic of the huge public, corporate, and consumer debt spirals, which he believed were unsustainable. To him, the Meliorists' main virtue was their fiscal restraint, their aversion to postponing hard decisions by laying on more and more credit, deficits, and debt. He favored their emphasis on true efficiencies and their tax on speculation in the securities markets, especially the $500 trillion a year in computer- driven derivatives trading, and said so in his widely syndicated column. But the bulk of the business press, led by the Wall Street Journal, kept attacking the Meliorists, and the more they did, the more the voters saw the necessity of electing the CEP candidates. There were so many fulminations and alarms coming from the upper classes and their mouthpieces that they were losing their propaganda value. This time the folks back home had the shield of knowledge and of their own mobilization, and now they had the president too.

Meanwhile, the business lobbies were huddling and wondering how to assuage their enraged members, who were demanding to know why all their dues, all their PACs, and all their macho lobbyists had gone down to ignominious defeat. The solution the influence peddlers came up with was to storm back to Capitol Hill and play the victim. They would strongly imply that the Bulls had let them down and therefore owed them this tax break and that pending subsidy, this proposed weapons system and that opening of federal lands to logging or mining, this escape from an industry's further pension obligations and that waiver of law enforcement.

The Bulls took umbrage. They knew a shakedown when they saw one. They had just done what nearly the entire country believed was the right thing to do, and now the corporate boys wanted to reinstate the old way of doing business and exact their payback. Duke Sabernickle, of all people, sadly explained that he'd had to go along on the Agenda even though he didn't want to, but that he'd be happy to put some of these bills, amendments, and riders into play. However, they would never make it through the Rules Committee, and did the business groups want to taint the bills as losers in case they wanted to start fresh next year? The stunned lobbyists took Sabernickle's advice and dropped their demands.

The congressional progressives were not so restrained. Seeing the seismic move in their direction, they seized every opportunity to offer the amendments that had been solicited from the traditional citizen groups at the behest of the Meliorists weeks ago. In went the reinstatement of the seventy-year-old, very successful, recently repealed Public Utility Holding Company Act, which blocked future pyramid mergers and the kind of holding companies that collapsed in the 1930s. In went a ban on all leveraged buyouts by management of publicly traded companies, as being so riddled with conflicts of interest and insider shareholder sabotage as to be illegal per se. In went a requirement that the entire texts of all government procurement contracts, leaseholds, and grants above $250,000 be posted online, together with a list of recipients, so that competitors, citizen associations, the media, and scholars could review and monitor them at their leisure. These and a host of other provisions, like tougher government purchasing standards for software, food, and fuel, found their way into the giant appropriations bills or were introduced and passed easily on the floor.

All in all, as September gave way to October, the business opposition was not only defeated, not only distracted by their sudden vulnerability in the November elections, not only facing the aroused critical energies of the people -- they were plumb exhausted. Political scientists took note of the new phenomenon of the rich but powerless and slated it for intensive research in the near future.

***

As Mount Rushmore was the president's day, the following Wednesday was the Meliorists' day. The Press Club ballroom was packed with an avalanche of reporters, editors, columnists, foreign correspondents, producers, camera people, sound people, and bloggers, along with some invited guests from the Hill, the White House, and various citizen groups. Warren opened the proceedings.

"Welcome, one and all, and thank you for coming. The Agenda for the Common Good is now law, and our nation is the stronger for it. I think you've heard enough from all of us in the past nine months, so let's get right to your questions."

For the next half hour, the Meliorists responded to the press graciously and succinctly. Several reporters asked questions designed to elicit signs of boasting, gloating, contempt for their adversaries, lust for power, premature declarations of victory in November, and the like, but none of the core group took the bait. They were asked in a variety of ways how they had accomplished such a fundamental redirection of the country, to which their replies were variations on the theme that what they had done was provide critical material resources, well-calibrated, timely strategies, and solid infrastructures to engage the passion, intelligence, time, and talent of the American people in a broad-based movement for change, as was the proper way for a democratic society to conduct itself. A few reporters were still harping on the claim that the Agenda reforms would create a tumult in the economy, but the Meliorists were old hands at fielding such questions and dispensed with them handily, with wit, wisdom, and a little barnyard humor from Ted.

More difficult were the questions about their future plans, because they hadn't yet discussed them. That was at the top of the agenda for their next Maui meeting, which they'd postponed until the coming weekend because of the Rushmore event. The press wanted to know how much money they had left and what they were going to do with it, whether they were going to continue funding the infrastructure, what role they intended to play as a group, and whether they would continue their involvement with their pet projects, like the Posterity Trust, people as corporations and vice versa, the People's Court Society, dead and live money, the Sun God festivals, and so on. The Meliorists replied frankly that they were undecided about their collective role but would continue to pursue their individual projects.

The room grew quiet as the doyenne of the White House press corps, Helen Promise, stood to ask her question. "Tell us candidly why you think the Bulls and the president -- not exactly beloved in the country -- changed their minds so dramatically and so quickly?"

"Ms. Promise," said Bill Gates Sr., "I respectfully submit that no one is better qualified to answer that question than you and your colleagues. You saw how the American people joined their hands and hearts and started to take control of the country over which they were supposed to be sovereign. All we did was give them a programmatic lift, a head start, a shoehorn, a bullhorn, a sense that we would be with them all the way with all the means at our disposal. The people did the heavy lifting, turning easy hope into hard reality against all the odds, and despite the message they and we have absorbed since elementary school that those odds are unconquerable. Let this be a lesson to all those who believe that apathy is immutable. Once the people found their cadence, they found their confidence, and there was no stopping them. The Bulls and the president saw this overwhelming force coming and decided to represent it instead of resenting it."

Yoko rose and held out her hands to indicate that the question period was at a close. "But we do have another response to your question, Ms. Promise," she said, "a musical one," and before the startled eyes of the audience and millions of television viewers, Patti Smith and her entire band came on stage and invited everyone to join in on "The People Have the Power." Perched on Patti's outstretched arm was Patriotic Polly, who had been taught the inspirational refrain and more or less blended right in. The press corps had never seen Patriotic Polly in the flesh, and they were transfixed. Some of them even abandoned their professional objectivity and started singing.

"It's truly a Hollywood ending," Paul said to Phil, "except that it's real."
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 11:13 pm

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 17

At the mountaintop hotel, high above the Alenuihaha Channel, the Meliorists greeted each other with smiles, handshakes, and hugs. They were thrilled to be back at their old haunt, with its breathtaking views and celestial cuisine. The hotel staff, who by now knew who their generous monthly guests were and what they were up to, were more than their usual gracious, beaming selves. Warren led the core group, as they still liked to call themselves in private, to the familiar conference table of silences and conspiracies, where they sat down to commence Maui Ten, but not before helping themselves to some luscious Hawaiian fruit grown on the island's organic farms.

"Welcome to the contemplation of the fruits of our labors since January," Warren said. "It's all so spectacular that it's sobering. With victory come many new opportunities and challenges, and the first order of business is to make sure that all across the country all hands remain on deck and on full alert, and that our institutions continue to build, digging deeper roots and growing stronger branches. The moment the oligarchs sense any slacking off, any sign of reformist fatigue, they'll recover from their intransigence fatigue and go on the counterattack. Besides, there are elections to win. Our mantra remains 'Take absolutely nothing for granted.'

"At our earlier meetings, we've spoken often of serendipity, and it just keeps coming and coming. I'm pleased to relate that Andre Engaget, who passed away last month in Santa Fe at the age of eighty-eight, has made me the trustee of a bequest of $2.8 billion for what he calls 'a Meliorist Project in Perpetuity.' The funds are to be utilized 'for the widespread and deep advancement of civic skills and civic practice, both in the nation's public and private elementary and secondary schools, and through a network of franchised adult education storefronts in all communities whose population exceeds three thousand. I realize how easily such a bequest can be frittered away on soft civics. That is not my testamentary intent,' Mr. Engaget writes in his will, and goes on to spell out clearly that he intends his grant to be used 'to foment a high-energy democracy.' He wants classroom learning connected to experiential learning in the community. He does not want rote courses in civics. He cites reports by citizen action groups as models for classroom materials. He provides prize money for students who perform best in various categories. He provides special funds for summer classes that will train teachers to teach these courses. He establishes auditing groups to keep standards high. He endows studies of outcomes, real societal improvements flowing from a civically skilled citizenry. He declares that if the schools reject his curriculum grant for whatever reasons, the money will still be available for extracurricular programs after class. There you are, B."

"I should say so," Bernard replied with deep emotion.

"There are many more specifics, including a fundraising corps to amplify his bequest so as to cover more and more schools, but for now I'll just say that a billion dollars of the bequest goes to an endowment, and the remainder to establishing infrastructure and operations. As a delicious irony, Mr. Engaget's fortune is much larger than this bequest, but he wryly notes that the $2.8 billion came from his early investments in various IPOs that skyrocketed in value. 'Wall Street and the stock exchanges will be funding this civic resurgence,' he writes with evident satisfaction."

"My kind of guy," Ted exclaimed with delight.

"And now," said Warren, "our Secretariat director par excellence has a few points for your consideration. Patrick?"

"Thank you, Warren. As you all know, after passing the Seven Pillars and the overdue appropriations bills for education, defense, health, and so forth, Congress suddenly adjourned yesterday. The Bulls ran out of patience with all the repeal amendments, figuratively threw down their gavels, and went home. Most members welcomed the adjournment because they wanted time to campaign.

"Now that the Agenda has passed and the focus is on the November elections, some of you have inquired as to whether it might be advisable for you to undertake direct campaigning on behalf of the Clean Elections candidates. As you'll recall, on the advice of Theresa Tieknots and our other experts in federal elections and campaign finance laws, we decided early on that the Meliorists would maintain a scrupulous distance from the Clean Elections Party. As a matter of policy, the Secretariat recommends a continuing avoidance of any electioneering. What we propose instead is what we're calling 'the Plunge' -- a ten-day tour of the deprived, ignored 'Other America,' in Michael Harrington's phrase. You would meet the people behind the statistics. You would see poverty, pollution, waste, price gouging, public facilities in disrepair, over- crowded prisons and juvenile institutions, concrete manifestations of greed and injustice -- the conditions that authentic politics should be confronting. With your high media profiles, you can generate a coast-to-coast atmosphere of concern for those of our fellow Americans who are suffering the most. Otherwise, the media this fall will be nothing but nonstop attack ads from opposing candidates -- utterly the wrong tone for this great year of change."

The Meliorists looked at each other around the table, as if wondering why they hadn't thought of this before. For a moment no one spoke. Then Phil raised his glass of mango juice.

"That's one hell of an idea, Patrick. There's a great deal to be said for coming to grips with the grim reality from time to time. As sensitive and empathetic as we try to be, there's no substitute for seeing crack babies in inner-city hospitals, or undernourished, asthmatic children playing near waste dumps."

"Or the destruction of streams and hollows from the coal barons' mountaintop blasting," Peter said.

"Or a hundred other outrages we could name," said Sol. "We should never forget the constructive uses of anger."

"Boy, do I ever have some destinations to propose!" Leonard said.

"Are you envisioning us all going out together?" Ross asked Patrick.

"I think you can cover more ground if you split up in twos and threes, maybe fours."

"What shall we call our tour? I'm not sure 'Plunge' conveys the right impression. How about 'Faces of Injustice'?" Yoko suggested.

"Or we could take a leaf from Chris Rock and call it the 'That Ain't Right' Journey," Bill Cosby said.

Jeno was nodding enthusiastically. "I like that a lot. It's not hackneyed, not pompous, not abstract. It has just the right vernacular touch."

"So we say that the Meliorists are going to tour conditions in America that would make most people cry out, 'That ain't right!' Does that work for a press release?" Patrick asked.

"I'm afraid it may carry a whiff of condescension," Bill Gates said. "What about 'Faces and Places of Injustice' as an official name, with 'That ain't right!' as a colloquial slogan that emerges in the course of the tour?"

"Sounds good to me," Max said.

"Any objections?" Warren asked, scanning the faces of his colleagues. "All right, Patrick, set the tour up for the last two weeks of October. And now Barry has an update for us on the Beatty campaign."

"It's more like a rout," Barry said. "Arnold is twenty-seven points behind in the polls. Like a bloodied prizefighter, he's clinching with Warren by adopting one plank after another of his platform at choreographed news conferences around the state. Nobody's buying it. In fact, it's boomeranged. Following the lead of a radio talk show host in Fresno, everyone is now calling the governor 'Beatty's dittohead,' and the surge behind Warren has indirectly helped the Clean Elections Party take the lead against the four Bulls from the Golden State. All in all, everything's coming up roses. Warren couldn't be happier, especially because the campaign money is coming in nicely, so he doesn't have to spend any of his own. Besides, with so much free publicity, he doesn't need much TV advertising."

"Is he running with the Agenda in substance if not in name?" Joe asked.

"He sure is, adapting the various proposals to state requirements and adding some of his own, though he doesn't mention us or the Common Good Agenda. He wants to be his own man, which is the right thing for him to do politically. It's good for us too, since we never wanted anyone to see us as a central directorate pulling the strings."

"On that encouraging note, let's break for dinner," Warren said. "Then we'll reconvene for an hour or so to discuss the exciting developments in the sub-economy."

Over dinner, the talk was almost all about the passage of the Seven Pillars and the president's performance at Mount Rushmore. The Meliorist victory, as the press called it, was so overwhelming, and the debates in the House and the Senate so quick and anticlimactic, that legal observers bewailed the lack of a legislative history to guide judges in any future cases. The heart of the exchanges between the Maui diners was how the lopsided vote would affect the upcoming elections. Had they succeeded too well and given incumbents who belatedly supported the Agenda an opportunity to win, or would the voters react like the Californians who saw through their governor's leap onto the bandwagon? The first state polls after passage of the Pillars should give a glimpse of any trends in either direction.

Back around the conference table after dinner, Warren asked Jeno to report on the sub-economy.

"With pleasure, Warren. My friends, this is a movement that could well grow to be as revolutionary in its way as the political movement we've launched. You're already well aware of the useful information Luke Skyhi has received from the sub-economy businesses that bored deep inside the Washington-based trade groups and proved invaluable to the PCC. What I want to convey this evening is a sense of what these Trojan horses are accomplishing to usher in a new age for business.

"First, and most pertinent to current events, they are galloping at breakneck speed to neutralize the knee-jerk injustices perpetrated by the trade groups cadres. Amazing what can be done from the inside by energetic business leaders possessed of a public philosophy for the marketplace. Amazing to me, at least. These sub-economy leaders -- I'll call them SELs for short -- are outworking the other members of the state and national boards, mobilizing their own epicenters to challenge their trade association bureaucracies, and demanding a reorientation of efforts away from scaring higher and higher dues out of the members and toward what they call foresight programs. For example, instead of obstructing seriously injured workers and consumers from suing over toxic industrial conditions or unsafe products, they want to go all out in the direction of enhancing safety and health to prevent such lawsuits in the first place. Pretty elementary, as Peter demonstrated in the spring, but sluggishness, obstinacy, and inertia require a push toward rational business policies directly from the inside. Since most business people active in trade association politics want to rise in the hierarchy, they curry favor with their superiors, but our SELs could care less about such 'standstill escalator promotions,' as they call them. They're getting their way more and more through hustle, argument, networking, and good press relations with the trade journals. Locally, they're filling the volunteer gap.

"Now project these currents of progressive business attitudes and actions through a steadily enlarging sub-economy over the next few years, and you can get really excited. The SELs are showing that honesty is the best policy in business and challenging the 'mum's the word' stance of the trade groups on members who engage in corporate crimes and abuses. They're redefining innovation not as the intricate trivia that make up much of what is called competition software modifications, advertising, minute but expensive product differentiations -- but rather as fundamental marketplace services that meet real needs and enhance consumer well-being.

"And how are these SELs doing in the marketplace, apart from their trade association maneuvering? Well, they're practicing what they preach. Live operators answer the phones. The workers are happy, the products and services honest, and the contracts readable, with no fine print about binding arbitration and no boldface caveats about the vendor reserving the unilateral right to change the provisions. These big-print, clear-language contracts have already become the talk of business sectors from insurance, banking, and brokerage to hospitals, car dealerships, and mortgage companies -- you name it. Uproar and outrage galore. All this comes to the attention of more and more customers, who learn just which vendors are on their side and reward them accordingly.

"The SELs are in close touch with one another and with the PCC, and are moving toward a rapid adoption of each other's best practices. Compared to the businesses as they operated before the SELs purchased them, sales, profits, worker satisfaction, and community support are on a steady upswing. The business pages are starting to do features. The business schools are initiating case studies and inviting the SELs to lecture to their students, which the SELs are only too happy to do. They're recruiting more and more graduates of these schools and sending them to a kind of reeducational halfway house where they unlearn much of what they've been taught and prepare themselves for maverick business entrepreneurship.

"The speedy results we're seeing are in no small part due to the fact that the SELs took over existing businesses rather than starting new ones. Many of these were Main Street retailers, and we know a lot about their performance because their operations don't require long lead times. Soon we'll start hearing from the wholesalers, the shippers, the agriculturalists, and the manufacturers. I'm particularly intrigued to see how honest middlemen, brokers, and procurement firms are faring.

"A word about financing. You'll recall that the preferred method was credit, using the acquired business as collateral. Then there was the loan pool you established. The growth in the demand for credit has been so rapid that capacity is oversubscribed. Predictably, the new SELs are being received with hostility by the finance industry, which increasingly does not want to deal with them. My project staff recommends that we consider both an enlargement of the credit pool with a revolving fund feature and a regional banking structure that would place this source of capital formation and business growth on a more permanent footing. Cooperative ownership of these banks by the SELs is another possibility.

"As for the numbers, the projection for next year is that collectively the SELs will account for one tenth of one percent of GOP, which means that only a fraction of the economy is now facing SEL competition. So, as they say, the growth opportunities are immense. I welcome your comments."

"Fascinating, Jeno," George said. "Obviously you can only scratch the surface of what's happening, but is it too early to tell whether there's any organized retaliation underway from the business establishment? For every action there will be a reaction, and not just in physics."

"So far, just bewilderment, consternation, some sporadic rebuttals. By and large, the establishment was caught off guard, and then surprised by the tumult in the conventional world of the trade associations. That's what big money on our side can do -- lightning moves on a breakthrough scale. It helps that the SELs are levelheaded and polite and work silently wherever they can. They don't come on like gangbusters. Again, a great tribute to Recruitment. No doubt the time will come when half the Wall Street Journal is devoted to the interactions and frictions between these two ecospheres and the changes that are bursting out all over. No doubt the counterattack will come too, and we can't discount the possibility that the big boys, especially the chains, will go to the government for help. As we know, there's ample precedent for that in our country's history. Look at how the banks have tried to hamstring credit union cooperatives through legislative action. Let us hope, should they try this avenue, that they'll find a different kind of government awaiting them."

"What preliminary indications are there for minority ownership, employment, and service to minority markets within the budding SEL world?" Bill Cosby asked.

"I'll take that one," Sol said. "I've had some involvement with these kinds of initiatives in San Diego, and it's a wide-open field for venturesome SELs. For instance, one of our acquisitions in Detroit was of a predatory lending operation that was immediately fumigated by the new owner, who replaced its avaricious routines with microlending for small business formation in the ravaged inner sectors of Motor City. Three hundred loans have been made, mostly to women, and there is every expectation, from the history of microlending abroad, of high rates of business success and repayment. Minority markets are beset by predators, often bankrolled by Wall Street money that doesn't want to get its hands dirty directly. These street-level predators control the neighborhoods while their bought political allies and police look the other way, so the SELs have to expect trouble. Already, one microlending storefront in Cleveland was torched during the wee hours of the night. It will take thought, planning, and coordination to anticipate and forestall similar sabotage. We have to make it clear to the people in the communities themselves why there are so few developmental credit unions serving them when thousands are needed. And minority employment goes hand in hand with these inner-city SELs, Bill, but I know from experience that training programs have to be set up first to create a pool of qualified entry-level applicants.

"I should add that it's not just credit that begs for an influx of SELs, it's health, affordable insurance, consumer products like furniture and appliances, home repairs, food outlets, and on and on. We're dealing with massively devastated neighborhoods, streets owned by drug dealers and pimps, millions of children, women, and men in dire need -- just what we're going to see on our tour. It's true that the Pillars will be making their beneficial impact felt in a major way soon, but meanwhile we should try to expand the sub-economy in the communities most in need of help."

"Before closing on this invigorating subject," Jeno said, "I want to leave you with one further example to illustrate just how revolutionary the SEL model can be. One of our SELs in Kansas City, Missouri, took over a healthcare billing design firm whose clients range far and wide, including hospital chains and large medical practices. The billing design industry is part of one of the largest overbilling frauds in American history. Malcolm Sparrow, a professor of applied mathematics at Harvard, is an authority in this arcane field. He estimates that anywhere from two hundred billion dollars to four hundred billion dollars a year in healthcare billings goes down the drain due significantly to the overbilling that's built into these computerized coded designs. So here comes our SEL into this snake pit, and soon he uncovers enough to say whoa to the entire operation. He revamps the firm, hires new employees, and is now using his unique insider vantage point to track down who's perpetrating what in his industry all over the country. He tells us that within five months he'll have enough on the tentacles of this institutionalized fraud, which Sparrow calls 'a license to steal,' that it will take 60 Minutes a hundred and eighty minutes to do the story. As we made clear in the Agenda, honest, accurate billing in the healthcare industry will save enough money to cover almost every uninsured American."

"Behold what we have unleashed," Warren said with a big smile. "We're reversing Gresham's Law. Honest money is driving out dishonest money, and good business is driving out bad. Now, it's getting late, so just two more matters on a lighter note before we call it a night. First, as some of you have mentioned to me, it's not too early to plan a mass celebration after the election, no matter its outcome. Millions of people have worked their hearts out on the Agenda and all our other projects -- the staff, the organizers, the lecturers, the CUBs and PCC chapters and Congress Watchdogs, and countless others. Do I have your approval to retain a trusted events firm in Omaha to give us a plan on how best to convey our everlasting thanks in a multidimensional and multilocational manner?"

The proposal was adopted by acclamation, with Yoko offering to advise on aesthetics.

"Fine," Warren said. "Next is something that's been on all our minds. What can we do for Maui? This beautiful island has provided a hospitable refuge for our deliberations in a setting of unsurpassed natural splendor. May I suggest that we spend Sunday morning touring some of the island and thinking about how to show our gratitude for the benefit of the local residents? We can drive up the coast, stopping at towns and hamlets on our way to the airport."

On a further note of acclamation, Warren adjourned the meeting, and the Meliorists retired to their rooms under a full moon that shone down upon the little hotel and gardens like a giant spotlight. Bill Joy strolled along with his colleagues, having completed his customary sweep of the premises -- as if it really mattered anymore. His task now was more to insure privacy than security, since there was nothing much left to be revealed.

On Saturday, the group breakfasted on the patio under a dew-smitten canopy of leaves and got underway in the conference room at nine sharp. The task at hand was a review of precisely prepared written reports from the managers of each project and initiative. The core group had let it be known from the outset that they had no use for power-point presentations. First up was Donald Ross's report on the Congress Watchdogs, which they had read before but were now paging through to refresh their memories.

1. CWs are operating in 60 percent of the congressional districts. All but thirty of them have at least one fulltime staff member and a rented office. These thirty are new and will soon have office space and staff too.

2. CWs have been helped greatly by the activities of the lecturers and the continuing efforts of the organizers. The CUBs mesh well on certain advocacy policies as well. (There are now 7.8 million dues- paying members in seventeen sectoral CUBs -- banking, insurance, etc. -- and all have growing state chapters.)

3. CWs have focused almost entirely on passage of the Seven Pillars, but along the way have begun to develop a youth auxiliary, regular cable programs, and a post-Agenda agenda. The young people are being trained in door-to-door canvassing, community events, and congressional advocacy skills.

4. CWs are still within the budgets you allocated to them, but there is an ongoing drive for self-sufficiency of staff, facilities, and funds. Progress here is variable, depending on the location. Going very well in states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and California (where there are four offices). More difficult in the South and Southwest. Membership dues provide a solid minimal base, however.

5. CWs are learning from one another about what works and what doesn't work. Unified agendas are crucial. Otherwise efforts can dissolve into hundreds of legislative requests and everybody's pet reform or design. With the Pillars, unity has been easy. Afterward, it's anyone's guess, unless the CWs continue with an exclusive commitment to the implementation of the Pillars.

6. CW meetings are wonderfully rambunctious. The excitement reigns when the various means of influencing members of Congress are discussed. Here personal approaches and best practices from all the CWs are pivotal. Training sessions and concise manuals are proving their worth. The goal is to have the lawmakers view the CWs with a mix of respect, fear, and wonder. They have to believe the CWs are uncooptable, have deep reserve capabilities, and can continue to widen their base and diversify their tactics in surprising ways.

7. Remarkably, recruitment procedures for the CW core two thousand have produced a membership in which no social, economic, educational, or ethnic category predominates. The only trait they share is their commitment to no-nonsense work and a continuing education in the ways and means of the Congress so as to make it represent the best interests of the people.

8. One problem. When assignments are focused in their neighborhoods, there are few frictions among the members, but when they gather in larger groups, the traditional human frailties and personality differences emerge, even if there's no disagreement on substance or tactics. Some of them go after each other as if there weren't bigger adversaries out there. I don't want to make too much of this: I only mention it because democratic processes and solid consensus-building rarely take account of these personality conflicts, which can be trouble if not dealt with promptly.

9. Over the longer term, there are imponderables. It's difficult to predict how the CWs will do on their own, without the media saturation, the Agenda excitement, the upcoming elections, and the immense backup infrastructure and foreground assistance from the lecturers and organizers. But there's been a fast CW learning curve, and the future looks bright even if there's no Meliorist encore. This year, the CWs played a role in many turnarounds for the Seven Pillars, not a crucial role, but an important one. Up against the Bulls, they were bull terriers -- "Here, there, everywhere," as their motto went -- at every possible public occasion. Two thousand motivated people per district can make quite a difference.


"Perhaps the best way to proceed," Warren said when everyone had finished reviewing Ross's report, "is to have free- flowing responses around the table, followed by a more rigorous discussion of whether we wish to make an additional year's sendoff grant to each of our projects and continue the infrastructure support from Promotions, Recruitment, and so on. Naturally, some of our conclusions will be tentative, pending the outcome of the elections next month and the subsequent response of the American people."

And so it went with each of the reports that morning and through a working lunch. Toward the end of the day, Warren gave the budget report. "We have total expenditures to date of about eight billion dollars. Monies in hand since we started in January have reached sixteen billion, with five billion in serious pledges plus the $2.8 billion Engaget bequest. And who knows how much more is in the pipeline or will be in the pipeline after the election? This is a most pleasant fix to find ourselves in. It will require careful thought in the coming weeks to allocate thirteen billion dollars along sustainable, institution-building lines. There are certain fiduciary restraints, since some of the money was solicited with the Seven Pillars in mind, but that obviously includes implementation."

"You and the Secretariat run one tight ship, Warren," Max said. "If they didn't call us the Meliorists, they'd have to call us the Frugalists."

"You know, it's interesting," said Bill Gates, "that with all we've set in motion and all we've spent, my son's foundation has already spent more -- fourteen billion in the past six years."

"That's very reassuring, Bill," Peter said. "I take it as a comment on our comparative paternal efficiencies."

Bill smiled. "You can take it that way, though the two money flows are really apples and oranges. It's a matter of different absorptive capacities and different opportunities for systemic initiatives. Third World diseases like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis are a different universe altogether. Anyway we're digressing, sorry."

"Let's digress to dinner," Warren said. "Ailani has prepared a feast of special Maui recipes tonight, and I'm having some old Hawaiian music piped in to set a relaxing mood."

When the Meliorists had reassembled in the conference room after their culinary and audio massage, Warren suggested that they skip the usual hour of silence. "We've really had a long day, and we have to get an early start tomorrow if we want to visit a number of towns and talk with the residents, so let's wrap up with whatever's on our minds and then turn in."

"At dinner, Sol and Bernard and I were exchanging concerns about whether we've peaked too soon as far as the elections go," Phil said. "After the great victories in Congress, there may be a public lull or a voter letdown -- just think about athletic teams that beat their big competitor and then lose to a mediocre team the next week. With the CEOs putting up a billion dollars to fund an aggressive counterattack over the next month, the Lobo/Dortwist crowd may try to take advantage of a public attitude of 'Well, we got what we wanted in the Pillars, and this election isn't that important.' If there is such a mood, it could certainly be encouraged through clever political advertising, especially with the Bulls claiming credit for passage of the Agenda. So ponder this. When we were engaged in rapid response to Lobo's propaganda machine, we had a free hand because we were outside any electoral context. It was just plain, robust, old-fashioned free speech. Now the CEOs will presumably be using a good chunk of their billions to support the reelection of their congressional friends under the FEC rubric of 'independent expenditures.' When we reply with our own media blasts, are we under the FEC rubric or outside in the land of free speech?"

"Important question," said Bill Gates. "It's my understanding that we're still free and clear. The Lobo operation will be supporting or opposing various candidates by name in the local and national media markets. We don't want to do this, even under independent expenditure rules, because we want to preserve our separation from the Clean Elections Party and its candidates, as Patrick advised yesterday. Our approach should be to urge people to get out and vote for a society that is advancing through the Seven Pillars, and for a Congress that will brook no delay in their efficient and expeditious implementation, without mentioning specific candidates or specific parties. That will keep us out of the clutches of the FEC regulations, while also allowing Bill Hillsman to give full play to his imagination."

"Won't that put us at a disadvantage in terms of what the voters are being exposed to on television?" Sol asked. "Generalities from us, specifics and local interest from the opposition?"

"That depends almost entirely on how astutely the ads playoff the CEOs' ads and rebut them," Bill Gates said. "That's why Hillsman is critical here. He'll know how to handle the situation."

"Well, we already know from experience that one Hillsman ad can have the impact of five or ten of the opposition's," George said. "I think we can count on him to head off the CEOs, but let's go on the offensive too. What about another wave of parades all over the country just before Election Day? Parades are great visible reminders of popular power. They'll energize the citizenry to get out the vote. Our parade teams from the Fourth and Labor Day are still in place and have even more experience now. Where I grew up, in Eastern Europe, the Soviets banned parades, except military ones, for fear of inciting the repressed masses to protest or riot or revolt. The Soviets knew the power of parades."

Bernard was nodding thoughtfully. "Papa always wondered why parades in his adopted country didn't look toward the future instead of just memorializing the past. I'd love to see us put together a nuts-and- bolts pamphlet titled 'How Local Parades Spark Change,' drawing on historical examples and our experience this year. What about it, Patrick?"

"I'll put Analysis on it tomorrow. They're already compiling reports on all the immense activity since January with an eye to what more can be done. This will fit right in."

"Okay," Warren said, "we have ads and parades on the table to counter a possible letdown. Any other suggestions?"

"What about personalizing the CEOs hiding behind the billion-dollar ad campaign?" Joe suggested. "You know, their pictures, their annual compensation, the average wage in their companies, the stands they've taken against social justice. Not all of them, since there were a few voices of conscience, just the hardliners, the greed-hounds. Is it worth suggesting this to Hillsman? Nothing like letting the people get to know some of their rulers, especially those with such dedication to their own anonymity."

Ted guffawed. "I wouldn't mind Jasper Cumbersome's mug becoming a household pinup."

"Well, let's let Hillsman decide," Warren said. "We certainly trust his taste, and we'll ask to see his drafts. We don't want to get into micromanaging here."

"We certainly don't," Sol said, suppressing a yawn.

Phil pushed back his chair. "I think our day is petering out. In the course of my sixty-five hundred TV shows, I developed a sense for when the audience was flagging. It's nine thirty, and we've been going hard since nine this morning. Let's hit the sack."
The next morning at 7:30 a.m., five town cars arrived for the east coast tour of Maui. The Meliorists split up into threes and fours, and each group went its own merry way, stopping in as many different towns as possible to talk with harvesters, strollers, people tending their gardens or sitting at outdoor cafes or on their way to church. At each stop they sought out old-timers and native Hawaiians to get a sense of what they felt they had lost or were losing and what they wanted as a community. Mauians were so used to tourists and visitors that they struck up conversations readily. The Meliorists rendezvoused for breakfast at Waianapanapa State Park, went on separately to Wailua, Keanae Point, Kailua, Pauwela, and a dozen other destinations, then met again for a late lunch at Hookipa Beach Park. All along the way, they gratefully took in the smells and sounds, the spectacular bird life, the ridges, valleys, and beaches, the play of sunlight on slopes, rivers, and trees. It was easy to believe the ancient Hawaiian myth that it was the demigod Maui who created the entire chain of the Hawaiian Islands from the deep sea.

Arriving at Kahului airport, the Meliorists exchanged notes on their day's journey while they waited to board their business jets. All told, they had spoken to hundreds of Maui residents and heard over and over again of their desire for local community centers. These congenial, gregarious people had no decent, attractive gathering places and made do with the outdoors or some school auditorium. They and their children would make good cultural, civic, recreational, and educational use of blended facilities that were both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Accordingly, as their gift to Maui, the Meliorists decided to fund six community centers and retain a green building firm in Honolulu to work with the local residents so that the siting and architecture flowed straight from their traditions, preferences, and needs.

When the planes were ready, the group said their farewells and climbed aboard to head for the mainland and the momentous stretch drive to the November elections. Halfway across the ocean, Warren turned to Patrick Drummond and said quietly, "You know, Pat, we've accomplished all this since January with an equivalent of a sixth of just my personal fortune. I'll be a long time wondering what took me so long. What in the world took me so long?"

***

In a converted high-ceilinged barn by a pretty canal in Minneapolis, Bill Hillsman sat deep in thought, turning his estimable media imagination to the task of making a national splash with the $150 million budget the Secretariat had assigned him to go up against the CEOs' billion-dollar ad campaign. Patrick Drummond had briefed him and told him there was another $100 million to add to his budget if the Meliorists liked what he came up with.

This was serious money for Hillsman. He wasn't one of the big boys in the advertising game, though he'd received more prizes for his news-making political ads than any single person in the country, as all the plaques and statuettes in his office attested. Still, each new challenge started with a blank page and a blank mind. He'd just come back from visiting his many sisters and brothers in Chicago, where he'd grown up. He often got ideas from thrashing things out in bull sessions with his siblings, but he'd come up empty this time. He liked to tell his associates how easy it was to think up great ads: "All you have to do is sit in front of your computer until beads of blood start dripping from your brow."

Today he was really straining. His desk was strewn with press clippings and profiles and pictures of the CEOs, but nothing leapt out. Sipping hot coffee, he started reading a wire service story that had just been filed and almost dropped his cup: "Attempted Kidnapping of Patriotic Polly Foiled." The copy went on to describe a break-in at the veterinary school in Delhi, New York, where Polly's trainer, Clifton Chirp, cared for her. At 1:00 a.m., two men in ski masks had crawled through an unlocked window, walked past a sleeping guard, and put a hood over Polly's cage, but not before the valiant bird cried out, "Wake up, wake up, wake up!" Apparently her trainer had anticipated that her guards might be prone to snoozing. The guard woke up, drew his weapon, and ordered the retreating men to put up their hands. The men unceremoniously dropped the cage and fled. After making sure that Polly was unhurt, the guard phoned the police and campus security to give chase to the intruders. A dragnet was underway around a large tract of woods where the kidnappers were believed to be hiding. There was no indication as to the motive behind their attempted seizure of the most famous bird in the world, "a parrot beloved by millions of Americans for her services to humanity and to justice for all."

"That's it!" Hillsman exclaimed.

That evening the network television news led with the Polly story. The anchors played tape and sound bites of the parrot's past exploits as the trumpeter of truth and the exposer of deceptive political ads. "Detectives on the case believe the botched kidnaping was a ransom attempt and was not politically driven. Although the suspects have not yet been caught, political operatives would have planned a smoother getaway," Tatie Youric surmised, evidently forgetting about the Watergate burglars. Bill Hillsman watched all the coverage in his wraparound television studio and knew that he had the star he needed for his constellation of ads. He put in a call to Clifton Chirp.

Lobo released the first wave of his media barrage a few days later. Hillsman replied immediately with one-minute spots that all began with Patriotic Polly crying, "Get up! Don't let the Agenda down!" He had easily anticipated what Lobo's themes would be -- the same old alarmist claptrap decked out as sober concern for the country's future -- and had crafted the body of each ad to rebut the claims factually and expose them as self-serving ploys to distract the populace and derail the Common Good.

With her reprise of a variation on the refrain that had first brought her to national attention, Patriotic Polly demolished the credibility of Lobo's billion-dollar extravaganza of falsehood and deception. Within seventy-two hours, his ads went the way of Harry and Louise.

***

The world of the Washington lobbyists had shut down. They'd lost big, and the object of their affections -- the Congress -- was in adjournment, so they headed back to their resorts and villas for another long vacation.

Brovar Dortwist had one last dinner with the Solvents, who were discouraged, disgruntled, and disgusted by the dismissive treatment they'd received at the hands of the media and the Congress. Always looking to the future, Brovar tried to turn their indignation into a resource for next year's counterattack. He shored up their morale, told them their job had been impossible before they even arrived on the scene, assured them that they had nothing to be ashamed of since they'd given it their best.

"If only we'd been unified from Wall Street to Washington," Delbert Decisioner muttered into his martini.

"We were divided, so those old farts conquered," said Sally Savvy, downing her white wine spritzer.

Brovar refrained from saying that there were far more elements at work than a divided business community and raised his glass for a toast. "To the corporate future and our victory over the radicals and the rabble."

"Hear, hear," mumbled his guests lugubriously.

As Brovar took leave of them, knowing that the Solvents had effectively dissolved themselves, Lobo was in his condo in Manhattan drowning his sorrows in scotch and his pit bull. With a few squawks, Patriotic Polly had obliterated his last- ditch ad campaign, and there was nothing left for him to do. His thoughts turned back to Yoko. He found himself dreaming about her every night -- exotic, erotic dreams that sometimes left him waking up on the rug by his bed with the puzzled pit bull sniffing him and licking his face. What did he want from Yoko? Why did she provoke these intense feelings in him when she knew nothing about him except that he was the CEOs' lead man? No drug, no psychiatry, no hypnosis could give him the answer. It was existential. He just had to be close to her, that was all, and it had to be soon.

***

The Faces and Places of Injustice Tour began the third week of October. The Meliorists broke up into five teams and covered twelve sites each. Promotions worked hard to publicize the tour and provide buses for all the reporters clamoring to be on board. Community residents were informed of the visits by the Daily Bugle kids, who were thrilled at the prospect of meeting their heroes in person. "Read all about it!" they cried. "The Meliorists are coming to town!"

As the teams soon discovered, "That ain't right!" was an understatement. With video streaming on their website every step of the way, they visited decrepit housing projects where children played on toxic brownfields, drug dealers brazenly plied their trade, and both streets and streetlights were in ruins. They went to a California prison and a juvenile detention camp, pointing out sharply that such institutions cost California taxpayers more than the state's entire higher education system, with over half of the inmates incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. They surveyed the terrible damage inflicted by the petrochemical companies on the ecosystem of the Louisiana Delta and its inhabitants. They walked through dilapidated inner-city schools in Cleveland and Baltimore -- broken desks, filthy restrooms, pathetic libraries, junk food, and unruliness everywhere. They sampled the bumper-to-bumper daily highway congestion in Los Angeles and Dallas to get the feel of the commuting grind, compliments of GM's and the highway lobby's crushing of mass transit decades ago. They were shocked by the plight of migrant farm-workers exposed to a deadly stew of agricultural chemicals, and of their counterparts on the factory farms tending crammed chickens and pigs fed on grain doused with daily antibiotics.

In the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, reverberating around the clock with the screaming of gas compressors and the rumbling of water pumps, they saw what the coal-bed methane companies were doing to thousands of helpless ranch families whose underground mineral assets had been leased to those companies by the federal government. In the coal country of Kentucky and West Virginia, they viewed strip-mined moonscapes and ravaged mountains, and met with the besieged inhabitants of the hollows who received no help from a government that had long ago surrendered this rich land to the rapacious coal barons. Outside Atlanta, they got a taste of ugly suburban and exurban sprawl, wasteful of time, fuel, land, and water, starved for efficient transportation, bereft of community.

Wherever possible, the teams highlighted contrasts, showing the faces of poverty -- so much of it child poverty -- in slums within sight of the gleaming tax-abated skyscrapers where the affluent made money from money and went home to mansions cleaned by the poor. Millions logging onto the Meliorists' website saw them standing before stadiums, arenas, and upscale gallerias built largely with taxpayer dollars, and then stopping in at run-down clinics, crumbling library branches with depleted collections, check-cashing stores, so-called food stores selling sugar, salt, and fat. The few derelict playgrounds in the slums just didn't have the lobbyists that the billionaire owners of sports franchises could retain, Leonard observed scathingly.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 11:14 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 17 CONT'D.)

One team went to an inner-city school and then to a school in a nearby affluent neighborhood, both funded by the same property taxes under different allocation formulas. Another team went to the fields where workers harvested crops under dangerous, backbreaking, low-wage conditions, and then flew to the commodities markets in Chicago to show how big money was made by yelling bids in the pits. In one of the more dramatic comparisons, Bernard, Yoko, and Max visited a large hospital in Chicago and talked with the executive director, who complained about shortages of everything from flu vaccines to emergency room capacity. Then they were off to a nearby factory where workers were putting in three shifts daily making deadly cluster bombs for shipment overseas to whatever country had the money to pay for these destroyers of innocent men, women, and children. The manager proudly told Max that he always made sure to have a six-month supply on hand in case a sudden spate of hostilities spiked his orders.

In West Virginia, Barry, Joe, and Ross attended a Rotary Club luncheon for the executives and managers of a local cluster of chemical plants. In the large banquet room, they stood along with everyone else to pledge allegiance to the flag and sing "America the Beautiful." After lunch, they toured the plants, and then a neighborhood of workers' houses with tiny front yards where children played and frolicked, enveloped in a cloud of gases and particulates. Bordering the west side of the neighborhood was one of America the Beautiful's rivers, now a colorful sewer from the dumping of chemicals year after year. They completed their trip with a visit to a clinic where children with blotched complexions and bad asthma gasped for breath.

Each day the teams held news conferences that beamed live all over the country and on global cable networks. Against a backdrop of powerful visuals, the Meliorists made two points over and over again. First, it did not have to be this way. The nation had the values, knowledge, and resources to do the right thing by its people. The Agenda was a solid first step in that direction, and the Faces and Places of Injustice made clear the urgency of following through on implementation. Second, the sources of injustice were often out of sight and far removed from the scene of the damage, as with monopolistic pharmaceutical companies that hiked drug prices and made essential treatment unaffordable for millions of Americans. Gross negligence in the drug and hospital industries caused tens of thousands of deaths annually, and many more injuries and illnesses, but those were hard to "visit." Backroom decisions shaped by avarice and power could not be brought into the light of day by a tour, the Meliorists stressed, but only by the piercing vigilance of the citizenry.

Toward the end of the tour, Jeno, Paul, Phil, and Bill Cosby decided to go to the nation's capital to see firsthand what many writers had described as a race- and class-segregated tale of two cities: one the preserve of the oligarchs, largely in the northwest quadrant of the district, and then the desolate, rubble-swept "other Washington" where unemployment, infant mortality, and crime reigned within view of the White House, within minutes of K Street. Good schools versus atrocious schools, expensive bottled water versus tap water tainted with lead, country clubs, tennis courts and squash courts versus asphalt jungle playgrounds, overstocked supermarkets versus no supermarkets at all, fancy private clinics versus overloaded Medicaid mills, stores catering to every want and whim versus pawnshops and liquor stores, late-model cars versus ramshackle buses, police protection versus police sirens -- the list went on and on. Only the main thoroughfares communicated a rough equality as shiny BMWs and clunker Chevrolets alike jarred through the potholes, a rare common experience for the impoverished and the affluent.

Washington, DC, had no excuses. With a huge and growing federal expenditure base, an army of corporate contractors, the vast influence-peddling industry, the unparalleled tourist attractions, the convention business, numerous public and private universities, and ever-rising real estate tax receipts, the city was Exhibit Number One of state capitalism accumulating and concentrating wealth amidst public squalor. It was America's litmus test, and America was flunking. It was proof positive that America did not take care of her own, and it didn't matter a whit that the Democrats were overwhelmingly dominant in city politics.

If the Meliorists' tour of the District of Columbia, the only national capital whose residents were denied voting representation in the national legislature, was big news at home, it was bigger news abroad, especially in countries that were adversaries of the United States. This unintended result discomfited the Secretariat and prompted a flurry of worried e-mails from the Redirectional networks. Having assiduously maintained a domestically based reform drive, the Meliorists suddenly found themselves under attack from the cable and radio yahoos for "feeding the Hate America mob" -- a public relations imbroglio they didn't need just a week before the election.

Fortunately, an energetic young reform candidate was in the process of sweeping his way to an easy victory in the DC mayoral race, despite the opposition of the local business establishment. During his lengthy campaign, Hadrian Plenty had literally walked the streets and knocked on the doors of half the households in the city. Bill Cosby, Phil Donahue, and Paul Newman were boyhood media heroes of his. He called them up and invited them to join him in a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel, two blocks from the White House. The trio were only too happy to accept. A joint appearance with Hadrian Plenty could only be a plus, they felt, and might keep matters from getting out of hand.

On the day of the news conference, the press turned out in force. The fourth estate had been waiting for months to see if the Meliorists would generate a crisis for themselves. Now the right wing had found its voice after a long period of frustration and was pouncing savagely. How would the Meliorists and their new ally cross this bed of hot coals?

Wise beyond his thirty-six years, Hadrian Plenty had the answer. Before an audience that included representatives of business, labor, tourism, the clergy, veterans' groups, civil rights organizations, and children's causes, he announced his theme: Facing Reality. Then he gestured to Bill, Paul, and Phil. "I want to begin by thanking the Meliorists for the invaluable service they've performed in publicizing the cruel inequalities in the District of Columbia. Facing reality is the first step toward a new reality. In the past ten days, the Meliorists have shown us harsh and heartrending realities not only here in Washington but across the nation. But in the past ten months, they have also shown us how people of goodwill and strong convictions can turn such realities around dramatically. It's not the Meliorists who've been running our metropolis down, it's the selfish power brokers in both the federal and local realms of the District. The Meliorists aren't running our city or our country down, they're lifting us up!"

When the enthusiastic applause died down, Plenty introduced the first of several invited speakers, a prominent businessman eager to ingratiate himself with the mayor-to-be. "When companies find themselves in trouble, the best way out is full candor," he declared. "Facing reality is just sound business practice, and isn't that what the Meliorists are doing in our city?" Then several labor representatives spoke of all the jobs that would be created by a revitalization of deteriorating neighborhoods and services, and thanked the Meliorists for spotlighting these more visibly than anyone had done before.

The clergy selected wonderfully apt quotations from the scriptures about not looking the other way when you know your neighbors are endangered, nurturing other people's children as if they were your own, and subordinating commercial interests to higher principles of morality and to God Almighty. Two veterans, one from the American Legion and one from the VFW, took out after the right-wing loudmouths who never served but never met a war they didn't want somebody else to fight. "The Meliorists, many of them veterans themselves, care deeply for their country," the Legion member said. "An active love of country is the true patriotism. A city that's falling apart disgraces our great monuments and war memorials."

A local NAACP leader spoke of the high promise of the civil rights marches and legislation, too often aborted by poverty and discrimination, and praised the Meliorists "for their valiant determination to confront the other Washington. How dare these talk show hosts, from their gated communications pedestals, pour their bile on these great defenders of Americans most in need? A society can only be strong when it is critical, and it can only be critical when everyone has a voice, not just those who monopolize our public airwaves."

A children's advocate expressed the hope that the Meliorists' tour would prompt the city to address the plight of the thousands of children growing up poor in a wealthy city, the seat of government, where drugs, drive-by shootings, and vandalism formed the environment of their most impressionable years, where the infant mortality rate was among the highest in the nation and HIV rates were double the national average. A tourism promoter acknowledged that all the recent publicity might scare visitors off in the short term, but she was confident that in the long term more people would visit Washington with their children when a decent quality of life was the norm for everyone. "I'm tired of having to hide the Other Washington and warn people not to wander off the beaten tourists paths," she said.

Sitting on the platform, Paul noticed that the press was getting restless. The event was beginning to seem a little too staged. He leaned over and had a whispered conversation with Hadrian Plenty, then strode to the podium, blue eyes flashing with anger.

"Why are we all here? Because the radio and cable blowhards are trying to turn the Faces and Places of Injustice Tour into an act of disloyalty to America. I'm here to tell you that Bush Bimbaugh and Pawn Vanity are nothing but dyed-in- the-wool cowards, monopolizing their microphones, pulling the plug on any unwelcome views, and freeloading on the public airwaves all the way to the bank. They have empty minds and craven hearts. Only their tongues show any signs of life. You know what happened when Bimbaugh invited Ted Turner on his show in an attempt to pump up his audience. The man cannot stand to be challenged.

"Well, here and now, I challenge him. I challenge both of these bombastic bullies to invite all the representatives on this platform onto their programs right away for two hours of back-and-forth. I challenge them before tens of millions of Americans to put up or shut up. This is their career moment of truth."

As Paul sat down to loud cheers from most of the audience, the award-winning student choir from DC's Spingarn High School filed on stage and sang "America the Beautiful," with its stirring evocations of peace and prosperity. When the students were done and Hadrian Plenty had duly praised them, he asked if the press had any questions.

Pauline Quicksilver of the Hartford Courant was racing up the aisle from the back of the ballroom, waving her arms wildly. Plenty recognized her.

"I just called Bimbaugh and Vanity. Their spokesmen were watching the live feed. They put me on hold for thirty seconds or so and then came back. Both declined the challenge on behalf of their bosses. 'Tell Newman nyet,' Bimbaugh's guy said. 'He'll understand that better than no.' Any reaction, Mr. Newman?"

Paul flashed that knockout smile of his. "What more is there to say? These shining stars of talk radio have just said it all."

Sitting in the audience, Jeno and Luke Skyhi grinned at each other and traded high fives. They could scarcely believe their good fortune. Bimbaugh and Vanity had fallen into a trap the Meliorists hadn't even thought to spring. It was a perfect distraction, and just when it was most needed, right before the election, when the two gutless wonders were exhorting the faithful to go to the polls. Now they were on the defensive. Their credibility would be the issue in the coming days.

"I could be wrong," Luke said, "but I bet even the dittoheads are going to have trouble with this latest display of 'values' from their ringleaders."

"I'm not taking that bet," Jeno said.

***

As if nature were sending a message, the nation was bathed in sunshine on Election Day, except for a light drizzle in Seattle. For weeks, pollsters had been predicting a record turnout for a midterm election, and early signs suggested that they were right. In some communities, people had organized parades and were marching to their polling places together in sizable numbers. Exit polls clearly reflected the appeal of the Clean Elections Party and the effects of ten months of Meliorist dynamics. The voters' responses revealed that they were particularly taken with the Agenda's shift in taxation from work income to securities transactions, but at the top of the list, just edging out universal healthcare, was the Democracy Act, which had really struck home with its subordination of the corporations to the people and its eye-opening declaration that "'person' is hereby defined by law as 'human being.'"

In the early evening, instead of the usual hours of watchful waiting, celebrations and victory rallies broke out everywhere. Premature? Not to these Americans. While the candidates were suitably subdued, the voters were confident that victory was assured and that the only question was by what margin. The bloggers, of course, were all over the place, ranting and rumoring and sometimes beating the traditional media to definite tallies. By 10:00 p.m., most of the returns were in and the networks were making their calls, but election snafus and overloaded precincts delayed the final count in some districts and states. Both the Clean Elections Party and the Meliorists declined to issue statements or talk to reporters, preferring to wait until the counts were complete.

The morrow came. Forty-eight of the fifty-seven Bulls had been defeated, some by unexpected margins. Those who won were saved because the CEP candidates got a late start due to continuing court challenges to their candidacies based on arbitrary ballot access laws adjudicated by partisan judges, as in a notoriously anti-third-party jurisdiction of Pennsylvania where three Bulls survived. But with the passage of the Agenda and its single-ballot access standard for federal elections, these Pennsylvania pols and their counterparts across the nation would no longer be able to deny voters a choice by evicting independent candidates from the ballot.

The makeup of Congress the day after the elections set the political pundits scurrying to do the new math. The CEP now made up 17 percent of Congress and held the balance of power between the new Democratic plurality and the fallen Republicans. Since many of the CEP candidates had won what were long believed to be the most secure seats for incumbents in the nation, the two major parties were already sweating over the prospect of greater losses two years hence, when the CEP would have a lot more experience and a lot more lead time. The surviving Bulls pragmatically resolved to heed the will of the people and implement the Agenda. As Senator Paul Pessimismo observed, "If we don't, we're history."

To no one's surprise, none of the six write-in corporation candidates for state governorships won their elections, but to Bill Gates Sr.'s immense delight, the Draft Corporations Yes Corporation won 9 percent of the Oregon vote.

***

In the Fourth Congressional District of Oklahoma, Billy Beauchamp breathed a sigh of relief. He'd lost to Willy Champ, but at least it was over -- the dread of defeat, the ordeal of trying to salvage the unsalvageable -- and he took comfort from the fact that the margin of victory was only eight points, 56 percent to 44. He was tired, but not perplexed. He knew why he'd lost. He put in a call to Willy.

"I want to congratulate you, not just on your win, but on the way you conducted yourself during the campaign. Together, I believe we may have set a new standard for enlightened discussion of the issues, without resort to invective or sound bites. But in the end, Triple T prevailed over Triple B."

"And I thank you for your graciousness and your willingness to contend with me on serious matters in open forums," Willy replied. "You made me a better candidate."

"Let's get together at Fran and Freddy's in a couple of weeks to discuss a move that will raise eyebrows. I'm going to recommend you for a seat on the Rules Committee, and if I succeed, that will truly be an unprecedented transition, and good for our district too. As my friend John Henry just told me, a man can go out with class or go out as an ass."

Out in California, there were no surprises. Warren Beatty swamped Arnold Schwarzenegger, who conceded right after the polls closed and went to the movies. Warren won 63 percent of the vote to Arnold's 33 percent, with the Green Party candidate, Peter Miguel Camejo, who had been shut out of the debates, taking 4 percent. The governor-elect eschewed the usual Los Angeles hotel celebration. Instead, he and his billionaire comrades piled into the now famous buses and went in a giant circle from downtown LA to Long Beach to Santa Monica. People lined the roads cheering and waving victory signs and throwing grape leaves before the path of the buses to symbolize the organic union of nature and politics. Only in California, Warren thought to himself as he and Annette and their children beamed and waved to the festive crowds while the billionaires held large signs up to the side windows: "You did it! Stay tuned!"

***

By the middle of November,. executives in droves were heading for business retreats at the better hotels and resorts to deliberate about "the New Politics" and "the New Congress." Since the Agenda was now federal law, it set the agenda for the retreaters. Should they adapt to it or continue to fight it? What were the cost-benefit consequences of either course of action? Where could they find new lobbyists with the experience and demeanor to connect with the practitioners of this New Politics, who were being driven, willingly or not, by the Meliorist Agenda. How could they build a new power base with new interfaces so they could prevail in the future? What could they do to take the steam out of the rebellion? What new language must they develop? Should they work directly with the Meliorists and bury the hatchet? One business commentator for Bloomberg News calculated that the sheer expenditures on these thousands of retreats, involving hundreds of different lines of industry, commerce, and the various professions, would give a measurable fillip to the gross national product.

Meanwhile, the Meliorists were heading for their own retreat, Maui Eleven. As they flew across the ocean to their beloved mountaintop hotel, their reflections were very different than they had been en route to prior Mauis. They felt elation, but also a kind of wistfulness, an incipient nostalgia. Many of them were thinking back to that first call from Warren and marveling over the stupendous breakthroughs since.

When they arrived, Bill Joy was already there, along with three of his most trusted and circumspect security men. He feared that after the Meliorist triumph, their adversaries, formerly bent on infiltration, might now be inclined to exact a measure of revenge. He wasn't about to let his guard down now, especially since Lobo knew about the hotel and had been so thoroughly humiliated by the Alpha Sig caper.

There was no taking away from the joyousness of the core group when they assembled around the conference table. They were too joyous for the discussion Warren wanted to have. "My dear colleagues," he said. looking at them fondly. "I hate to shift the mood, but with your indulgence, I have three questions for all of you. First, do you have any personal regrets arising from our work together? Second, what's the chief insight you've derived from this year's experiences? And finally, what do you think we should look out for in the coming year? Before you answer, may we have an hour of silence to focus our thoughts?"

"Of course, Warren," Sol said, sensing the importance of these questions to the man who had brought them all together.

The other Meliorists nodded, and the group fell into quiet meditation, elbow to elbow, occasionally jotting notes on their legal pads. The normally hyperkinetic Ted reflected to himself again that if he had learned nothing else all year, he had learned the value of silence.

"Thank you," Warren said when the hour was up. "And now for our regrets, insights, and premonitions. Max, will you start us off?"

"My greatest regret is that until this year I made my economic success a ceiling instead of a floor. Second, I learned from all of you that the real deed can in fact overcome the mythical word. Finally, we can't let our momentum slide in the face of what is sure to be a many-headed drive to roll back our Agenda. The strategy of fast-paced offense and surprise must remain standard operating procedure for our side."

"I regret all the time I devoted to leisure during the decade after the show closed down." Phil said. "What I learned is the stunning power that can come from unified, goal-driven, yet diverse minds like the ones around this table. What worries me is that our allies may become arrogant or messianic and overplay their hand."

"That for years I had neglected seeding democratic institutions and linking them with unquestionable corporate obligations such as loss prevention in the insurance industry," Peter said. "That plunging into the most abrasive controversies wasn't all that ostracizing, uncomfortable, or damaging. And I worry that a natural disaster or a terrorist strike, God forbid, will give the politicians an excuse to derail implementation of the Agenda. We haven't planned for this at all, though it's not clear to me that we could."

"I regret postponing my dream of a more just legal system for so long," Joe said. "I learned that the gap between people's need for justice and the supply of justice they have access to is far greater than even my cynical mind comprehended. Thirdly, I hope the president won't revert to form now that his party isn't facing elections. He and his bureaucracy have immense dilatory powers at their disposal. He may scuttle parts of the Agenda, stick his tongue out at Congress, and say, 'You don't like it? So impeach my ass and then try to convict me.'''

"I wish I'd thought of doing a movie where the rebellious rich take on the reigning rich," Paul said. "Second, I'm amazed at how relatively few organized resources and imaginations it took to awaken the latent humane instincts of the people and move them toward action. Democracy sure does bring out the best in people. Third, if there's an economic downturn, look out for resurgent yahooism stoking a virulent 'Who lost America?' backlash in cahoots with backroom business moguls writing the checks and pulling the strings."

"Given the way we mobilized ourselves," Bill Cosby said, "I regret that I never tried to mobilize rich black Americans in the same way -- business professionals, artists, athletes -- in order to continue and expand the economics of the civil rights movement. Next, I was astonished by the extent to which corporate power is unable to respond to quick, novel, and well-conceived challenges to its dominance. Last, watch out for ferocious opposition to the Agenda law requiring the media to pay for its licenses and give up some of its spectrum time to audience-controlled networks and programs."

"Obviously," Ted said, "I regret that I didn't put more energy behind organizing billionaires years ago, since they've been such a replicating bonanza for us. What I found out was that the superrich -- present company excepted -- are the greatest conformists of all because they have the least reason to be, given their immense material independence. Third, look out for us and a possible second round, yeee-hah!"

"Throughout my legal career, I've tried to have as few regrets as possible," said Bill Gates, "but now I wish I'd raised the bar higher for myself so that I had more regrets. Second, extending Ted's point on conformity, I came to realize what a tremendously deep rut the super-rich have fallen into, an awareness sharpened by the heights that an aroused minority of our wealthy allies have achieved this year. Finally, look out for people of goodwill who may try to spend our surplus billions on something besides the implementation and the systematic building of democratic skills and power."

"In light of what live money can do," Yoko said, "I regret letting my wealth become dead money for so long. So many people wanted donations from me that I withdrew and just preserved John's estate. Second, I was confirmed in my conviction that facts are not enough, that there has to be a moral and aesthetic dimension to humanize intellect and analysis. Lastly, I hope the retired super-rich in East Asia and Europe will try to copy what we've done."

"I wish Papa had lived to see what us megacapitalists have done to his Marxist doctrines and to watch me defend him on television," Bernard said. "I learned the vital importance of a leader like Warren, who ever so subtly subdued our fractiousness and elevated our competitive compatibilities. And I think we should look out for ourselves, our health and well-being, in case of a second act of some kind. Together we're hard to beat."

"Your faithful curmudgeon and skeptic regrets waiting so long to harness those traits to a bold imagination and provocative initiatives like the ones that have emerged from this crowd," Sol said. "Second, I used to think that the rich donated either out of self-interest or guilt, but this year I saw the powerful results of our appeal to our wealthy peers' sense of civic duty and legacy. That was a big discovery for me, and maybe for you too. Lastly, we've got to hold the president to his vow to join with Bernard on the Egalitarian Clubs. That is our future, friends, and quite possibly the only good that will come from this White House."

"Given our three thousand large bookstores as locations, why didn't I think years ago of starting a chain of citizen skill workshops to train and empower millions of people?" Leonard said. "As we saw, in an age when everyone is glued to television and computer screens, getting people and youngsters out into the public squares and the streets is more effective than ever, since the media and the politicians don't expect mass rallies. What we have to keep in mind for the future is that people need to be continually mobilized to act, because when all is said and done, they are the backbone and the conscience that keep making it all happen."

"When I was the biggest stockholder in General Motors and was on the board of directors," Ross said, "I wish I had hustled together some large investors, taken over, and transformed the Big Guy through a leveraged buyout instead of being bought out myself. What amazed me this past year was that we achieved our objectives without any special breaks, no crises or disasters to take advantage of. That might have made our task easier, but doing what we did in 'regular times' made it all replicable. But if the big company executives we whipped aren't given broad public recognition for the changes they had to swallow, look out. They need positive reinforcement to do more, or else they'll sulk and plan to escape, or revert and counterattack."

"In my various philanthropies, with few exceptions, I've operated as a Lone Ranger to help build democracies in numerous countries," George said. "Now I regret my lack of collaboration here in the United States over the years, my not returning calls and rebuffing invitations from potential allies like all of you. But I'm not at all sure that a group of comparable wealth and determination could accomplish what we did outside the English-speaking countries, in case we're ever thinking of pushing such initiatives on the global stage. And we've got to make sure the implementation gets underway during the political honeymoon period, swiftly and openly and equitably, before inertia sets in."

"My regret is that I didn't meet up with all of you twenty years ago," Jeno said. "My insight, coming from the great success of the PCC, is that beneath the surface there is a real yearning among business people for the union of profit with virtue and for the well-being of their fellow citizens. Finally, look out for Warren Beatty's behavior in office. Although he wasn't a CEP candidate, his progressive platform is very close to our Agenda, and we want to be sure he doesn't disappoint us. Right, Barry?"

"Right you are, Jeno. I'll keep an eye on him. As for my regrets, this year made me realize how often in the past the so- called notoriously outspoken Barry Diller went and censored himself on matters large and small. Never again. Insight? When there's a belief that the powers that be cannot be overcome, it's only because no one of power, gravity, and vision has tried to overcome them. And watch out for Barry Diller plunging back into his many businesses and getting totally absorbed in the world of the CEOs again. Don't let me do that."

"We won't, Barry, and I'm sure your television stations will report our denunciations on any occasion where you stray," Warren said owlishly. "My regret, it won't surprise you to know, is that I didn't put out the call to you some years ago. My insight -- all other things being equal, including smart strategies and good fortune -- is that this Meliorist endeavor of ours would never have made it through the spring if not for the way our characters, personalities, and temperaments synchronized. Bernard spoke of our 'competitive compatibilities' -- an elegant phrase to remember. My thought for the coming year is that we keep our group together at a less intense level, at least through the disposition of the surplus funds and the early implementation stage, until we're sure that we can hand off to enduring new institutions. I believe the public and the media expect no less, and I believe that's the consensus among us."

Warren paused and looked at his colleagues, who were nodding their approval. "Fine, then. Before we move on, I want to thank you all for your remarks. No doubt we'll have occasion to refer to them more than a few times in future weeks. And since we're not bailing out, we'll obviously want to keep the Secretariat operating. On this point, I call on its incomparable director."

Patrick adjusted his bow tie with a smile. "I'm glad you all see the need to keep us bugging you, but since we won't have to bug you as much, we propose to reduce the staff by half. Our main tasks will be to follow up on the implementation of the Agenda and carry out your decisions regarding the effective disposition of up to thirteen billion dollars. Wow!" he said, permitting himself an uncharacteristic exclamation before he went on. "I'd like to take this opportunity to express my profound pleasure in serving you this year, and not only because of the inherent importance of your work. In my previous job, with a corporate board, I constantly found my energy drained by petty ego clashes, trivial detours, and randomly shifting priorities. Your competitive compatibilities, your vision, and your vitality, have made my position at the Secretariat an administrative Nirvana, and I'm deeply grateful."

Visibly moved, the Meliorists returned his thanks warmly. "We couldn't have done it without you, Patrick," Warren said, speaking for all of them. "And let's not forget Bill Joy, who I hope will agree to continue to play an active role in any ongoing activities of ours, since his perspective as a farseeing futurist is invaluable. Tomorrow we'll get down to the nuts and bolts of distributing our surplus, but for now let's see what delights Ailani has in store for us this evening."

After another fabulous dinner and brandies, the core group reassembled in the atrium for another hour of silence before turning in. While they were engaged in their meditations, Bill Joy had a cup of coffee with his three security men -- Boris, Calvin, and Brad -- to make sure they stayed sharp and alert. Then he did a final check of the grounds, found nothing, and went to bed, still vaguely uneasy.

In the morning, the Meliorists found a slim stack of papers waiting for them at their places around the table. "I hope you all had a good night's rest," Warren said, "because we've got our work cut out for us today. You'll note that there are several matrices on the pages before you. Patrick has prepared them as a framework for our deliberations. Please take a few minutes to review them, and then he'll elaborate."

"Okay," Patrick said when everyone had finished, "let's look at the first matrix, which focuses on the power nodes of the corporation as an institution. It shows their intersections with the three branches of government, the electoral process, the media, the market, labor, capital, shareholders, technology, communities, academic institutions, and mass entertainment. These are the points at which corporations assert their dominance. The countervailing and displacing institutions we have established, whether in research, advocacy, or delivery, must respond to all these corporate nodes if they are to be successful, replicable, and renewable.

"The second matrix maps the foci of these research, advocacy, and delivery organizations as regards procedural-content democracy, such as access to power centers both public and private, and substantive-content democracy, which delivers the goods, services, and more intangible qualities of a just society going into the future. This matrix should be considered alongside the third, which describes the universe of possibilities for externally and internally financing the daily operations of these organizations and endowing them securely.

"The final matrix plots out society's progress in terms of reasonably measurable criteria. As new data becomes available, we plug it in, so that the matrix serves as a constantly evolving real-time overview of where we stand on the implementation of the Agenda."

Patrick tapped his fingers on the pages in front of him. "So much for this high level of abstraction. Now it's time to get down to specific sums, proper names, and logistics.
And remember that there are bound to be ad hoc organizations that don't fit into any of the matrices, maverick groups that shatter old paradigms with fresh eruptions of creativity, so you might want to consider using part of the surplus as a contingency fund."

For the rest of the day, breaking only for dinner, the Meliorists rose to formidable heights of concentration as they hammered out the details of their bequest to the future. Finally, just before midnight, they adjourned and went gratefully to their rooms to fall into bed, exhausted but satisfied with what they had accomplished.

They awoke refreshed to a glorious Sunday morning and gathered on the patio for breakfast. Yoko was admiring a stunning hibiscus in the garden when she thought she heard a distant din coming from way down the mountain road. At first she dismissed it, but a couple of minutes later the din was louder and the others had noticed it too. She rose, walked to the edge of the patio, and took out a small pair of binoculars that she'd begun carrying after Maui One to take in the flora and fauna.

What she saw startled her. A throng of men, women, and children, wearing leis and singing and banging on drums, was walking slowly up the winding road in the direction of the hotel. Yoko skipped over to Bill Joy, who was finishing a mushroom omelet, and dragged him to her observation post, handing him the binoculars. He scanned the approaching crowd and frowned. Maybe it was just some annual ritual, or maybe it was a celebratory march of some kind that would soon come to an end and return down the mountain, but maybe it was related to the presence of the Meliorists. In any event, he would take all precautions.

He ran into the hotel and down to the breakfast room, where Boris, Calvin, and Brad were ingesting enormous quantities of ham, eggs, pancakes, and fruit. "Showtime, boys," he said, and quickly filled them in. He sent Boris up to the roof of the hotel with a telephoto lens to get a better view of the apparent paraders. He stationed Calvin two hundred yards down the road with a barricade he'd had the hotel obtain months ago, just in case. He told Brad to park one of the limousines across the road a hundred yards down. The men sprang into action, and Bill went to find Ailani, who was cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

"Top of the morning to you, Ailani," he said.

"It's a beautiful one, isn't it, Mr. J? And what brings you here? Out of food? I have more for you."

"No, there's plenty of food, and it's all delicious, as usual. Listen, I need your help. There's something going on down the road, hundreds of people in flowers coming toward the hotel, maybe thousands. Is there some sort of local celebration every year around now?"

"Not that I know of, and I've worked here for twenty-two years. Anyway, don't worry, you've got the entire hotel exclusively until Monday."

"Listen, Ailani, don't you hear them?"

She went to an open window and cocked an ear. "Yes, it sounds like a pretty big crowd chanting and drumming."

"Can you stop what you're doing and run down there? I'd like you to join the marchers and find out who they are and what they want. They won't be suspicious of you. I'm sorry to trouble you this way, Ailani, but it's important."

"Sure, Mr. J, I'll change into something more festive and be on my way. I know a shortcut so I can casually join them from the side of the road. If I find anything out, I'll call you on my cell phone. Give me your number."

Bill returned to the patio, where the Meliorists were taking turns with Yoko's binoculars, intrigued and not at all suspicious. Okay, he thought, it was possible that the participants were completely innocent, but maybe the organizers were not so innocent and had invented some pretext for a parade as cover for nefarious deeds. After all, the narrow road only had one destination: the hotel.

On they came, singing, twirling, hoisting their children up on their shoulders, rhythmically beating their drums, many dressed in native Mauian costumes. Two acrobats were turning handsprings along the roadside, and several young women were passing around trays of sweets and drinks. As the marchers rounded a bend in the road, they came into clearer focus for Boris up on the roof. He called Bill on his cell and reported that there were three television camera crews in the crowd, and five or six reporters darting back and forth scribbling on their pads. At the head of the march were two Anglos who appeared to be advanced in years but lithe and agile. Next to them was a woman in a beautiful muumuu, smiling and waving. "She kind of looks like what's her name, the hotel cook," Calvin reported, adding that there were signs everywhere -- "Lahaina Welcomes the Meliorists," "Wailea Thanks the Meliorists," and so on from Kookea, Pukatani, Makawao, Hana, all the different localities in Maui.

Bill still wasn't satisfied. He called Calvin -- who was also equipped with a metal detector, another previous Bill Joy precaution -- and told him to speak to the two men leading the parade, find out who they were, and put them on the phone with him. Calvin wondered whether Bill had seen one too many Bond movies, but he followed orders. When the marchers were fifty yards away, he put up his hand and halted them.

The two leaders came forward. "Sir, what is this roadblock all about?" one of them asked. "This is a public thoroughfare, and I don't see your police credentials. Who are you?"

"The question is, who are you?" Calvin said brusquely. "You'll have to speak to my boss and explain yourselves."

"Well, since you're the one blocking the road and we're simply on a pleasant Sunday stroll, I guess we better speak to your boss."

Calvin got Bill on the phone and handed it to the man.

"Hello, my name is Kenly Webster. With whom am I speaking? ... Mm-hmm, I see. Well, my friend John Tucker and I are here to express our gratitude for what the Meliorists have done for their country. When we arrived yesterday, we learned that the people of Maui were organizing a parade for the same purpose, and they kindly invited us to join them as honored guests when they found out about our modest role in working for the Agenda. This may be an island of rich emigres, but there are still plenty of regular folks who want to say thanks."

"Would you hang on for a minute?" Bill said.

"Certainly."

Bill turned to the Meliorists, who had crowded around him on the patio when his phone rang. He asked if any of them knew a Kenly Webster or a John Tucker. Joe broke out in a grin. "Hell, yes! Gates and I met them at our Pledge press conference back in February. They're retired lawyers, both Princeton grads of the firecracker class of '55, and they became overnight legends during our lobbying for the Agenda. Entirely behind the scenes, they put out one brush fire after another. They were selfless, anonymous, and savvy as hell. What in the world are they doing here? Give me the phone."

"Kenly, you old son of a gun!" Joe roared. "What gives?"

"Just a little gratitude for everything you and your co-conspirators have done. John and I came here to thank you. The people who live, work, play, and die on this island want to thank you too, exuberantly, Maui-style. Maui isn't a potted plant, you know."

Bill Joy took the phone back. "Listen, Mr. Webster, I know this may sound strange, but I have security concerns. Are there any troublemakers or worse in your parade? If there were, how would you know?"

"Well, we've got a pretty good sixth sense. Just ask the folks on Capitol Hill. All these people want to do is express their love and admiration."

Bill asked Kenly to hold on again and conferred with the core group. He said he was willing to let the marchers proceed to the hotel, but he wanted them to go through the metal detector first. Warren put his foot down. "We can't live in a bubble, Bill," he said. "Would you find Ailani and ask her to prepare food and drink for our visitors?"

"I have a feeling Ailani isn't here, but I'll talk to the hotel manager," Bill said, and went inside to phone his security detail. "Come down off the roof," he told Boris. "Remove the roadblock," he told Calvin. "Bring the limo back," he told Brad. But unable to help himself, he told all three to position themselves strategically and stay on their toes.

Within half an hour, the procession had filled the hotel courtyard, and the celebration began in earnest. After a haunting rendition of a traditional honorific chant adapted to the achievements of the Meliorists, seventeen children came forth and with a light kiss placed seventeen jasmine leis on seventeen Meliorist necks. Then the head ranger of Haleakala National Park presented the Meliorists with a magnificently carved sculpture of the great Haleakala Crater, "in eternal recognition of your noble labors on behalf of justice for the peoples of the United States of America."

By now, the usual reserve of the core group had melted away, and they joined in the festivities. Ted borrowed a drum and banged away with abandon. Yoko harmonized with a chorus from Hana on a traditional Hawaiian song. Sol attempted a hula to the fond amusement of one and all. And why not? The previous January seemed so long ago, and so much had happened since, and so much would continue to happen year by year. Maui's native peoples, so often abused by outsiders throughout its history, had been the cradle of a new birth of freedom.

The festivities were still going strong when the Meliorists departed for the airport. They were reluctant to leave, but they had prior obligations back on the mainland, mostly with their neglected families. As they were about to board their planes, Yoko mentioned that after two long, beseeching, and pitiful letters, she had reluctantly agreed to have dinner with Lobo next week at the Four Seasons.

"Dinner with Lobo?" Bernard said. "What does he want? Don't go looking at any etchings afterward!"

Yoko laughed and gave Bernard a confident hug. "It's time for a little pathos. I'll let you know what happens. Meanwhile, I'll just say that wonderful Hawaiian word that means both hello and goodbye, greeting and farewell, gratitude for the past and hope for the future. Aloha."
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