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

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

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:07 pm

PROLOGUE

In the cozy den of the large but modest house in Omaha where he had lived since he started on his first billion, Warren Buffett watched the horrors of Hurricane Katrina unfold on television in early September 2005. He saw the furious winds and the avaricious waters breach the levees to cover three quarters of the historic city of New Orleans. He saw helicopter video crews surveying tens of thousands of residents lost, marooned, or fleeing the devastation of the roiling waters. He saw terrified people isolated from their would-be rescuers, too distant and too few.

Deeply affected, he stayed home the next day to watch the nonstop coverage of floating corpses, people stranded on housetops crying for help with outstretched arms, chaos and collapse inside convention and sports arenas overflowing with human despair, human kindness, and human depravity. He saw the exodus of thousands fleeing along the roads to anywhere, mothers and fathers clutching their children's hands, sometimes whole extended families, all of them looking for water, food, medicine, any kind of shelter.

On the fourth day, he beheld in disbelief the paralysis of local, state, and federal authorities unable to commence basic operations of rescue and sustenance, not just in New Orleans, but in towns and villages all along the Gulf Coast.

How could this be happening in the world's wealthiest country, with all the tools of modern engineering and meteorology at its disposal? Where was the Louisiana National Guard? Deployed to Iraq? How could bureaucracies so contagiously prevent each other from performing the tasks for which they existed? Why were the rescuers mostly ad hoc volunteers, propelled to action by care for their neighbors?

Warren was shaken to his core, so much so that he postponed closings on two large corporate acquisitions. He hadn't had a clue about the ineptitude or recklessness or rottenness of the people in power, who couldn't seem to respond to a vast natural disaster after years of assurances that they were ready for any calamity. Even the poorest of countries buried their dead quickly. What must the world think of a supposedly advanced country that left bodies bobbing in swollen waters or rotting in the post-Katrina sunshine?

Warren felt a wave of shame that bored through to his gut, his soul. He had to do something personally, immediately, at least for the refugees on the roadsides. For now, the hardest-hit place of all, the Ninth Ward, was inaccessible. He summoned two assistants, one to drive him nonstop down to New Orleans, the other to arrange for truckloads of food, water, blankets, portable toilets, basic medicines, sturdy tents, and sleeping bags, all to be accompanied by as many public health workers as they could muster.

Twenty-six hours later, he and his convoy arrived at a scene from Goya or Hieronymus Bosch. Some two thousand people lined the roads -- babies, children, parents, grandparents, stunned or crying or dozing fitfully, hungry and homeless and hopeless. Warren's relief workers quickly took charge. The physicians and medics erected temporary structures where they could mend the injured and treat the sick. Life-sustaining supplies were distributed on the spot. Canvas shelters were soon in place.

In the midst of all the activity, Warren was supervising and helping in the distribution up and down the roadside and into the adjoining fields. Word began to spread to the astonished families who thought the world had abandoned them. A megabillionaire from Nebraska had arrived with critical resources and personnel. The refugees watched in wonder as the renowned septuagenarian, in jeans and rolled-up sleeves, moved along the road, clearly in command.

Coming upon a family of a dozen or so adults and children huddled about a crude campfire, Warren reassured them and consoled them. He took their hands, hugged their trembling children, and looked into their eyes. The old-timers noticed that there were no reporters, no photographers, no television crews. A composed elderly grandmother cupped his hands in hers and cried out, "Only the super-rich can save us!"

Three days later, on the drive back to Omaha, straight north, the grandmother's words kept reverberating through Warren's head like a series of thunderclaps, each time eliciting outrage and flooding shame. But by the time the town car turned into his driveway behind the tall shrubbery, the dominant occupation of his mind was a deep, cool resolve.

He knew exactly what he had to do -- now, fast, fundamentally, and unyieldingly!
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:09 pm

CHAPTER I

In a high mountain redoubt above the Alenuihaha Channel, seventeen megamillionaires and billionaires sat on a wide balcony overlooking the lush green island of Maui and the far Pacific Ocean. They were alike in only three ways: they were old, very rich, and very unrepresentative of humanity, which they intended to save from itself. The man behind the gathering, the richest of them all, was Warren Buffet, who had rented the entire premises of a small luxury hotel for that January 2006 weekend. All the participants either knew each other or knew of each other, and the canny Warren had made sure that any gaps were filled in by distributing professional and personal biographies beforehand.

As his guests watched the sun set, talking quietly and sipping their drinks of choice, Warren rose. "I hate to take you away from this splendid view, but we have work to do," he said, and led them downstairs to a spacious atrium, inviting them to take their seats at a perfectly sized round table.

Warren's owlish visage assumed a solemn cast as he commenced. "My friends, what brings us here is a common foreboding -- a closing circle of global doom. The world is not doing well. It is spinning out of control. Its inhabitants have allowed greed, power, ignorance, wealth, science, technology, and religion to depreciate reality and deny potential. With our capitalist backgrounds, it's easy for us not to be beguiled by the plutocracy's self-serving manipulation of economic indicators. We know how wealth is being accumulated, defined, concentrated, and stratified. Why, four hundred and fifty of us have wealth equivalent to the combined wealth of the bottom three billion impoverished people on Earth.

"We know of the portentous and manifold risks we face, both now and in the future. The global environment is fragile, under severe assault. It is toxic, eroded, warming, and it's vulnerable to genetic engineering for short-term profit. Viruses and bacteria are subjected to increasing stress that yields deadly mutations, and weapons of all kinds are more widely and easily available than ever. Artificial intelligence is on a fast track to dehumanizing us. As a species, we are learning more and more but are less and less able to keep up with what's happening to us as human beings, and to our world, its land, water, and air. Many solutions have been proposed, yet even at the basic level of abolishing massive poverty and advancing public health, they are applied too slowly and haphazardly to achieve any real human betterment. And this at a time when we have more powerful global tools than ever before, because of the amassing of flexible capital and the proliferation of facilitating technologies. Never in history has there been a greater opportunity to effect change.

"For my own part, I must tell you that I am not the person I was a year ago. I've been thinking hard about what I want to do with my remaining years, with my capital, credibility, and hopes for coming generations. I have been described as the investment world's 'big bang,' and I do not want to go out with a whimper, if you'll pardon the cliche. I had planned to go on increasing the value of my estate and use it to establish a huge posthumous charitable foundation, but now I realize that's just a rationalization for continuing to do what I do best while escaping responsibility for what's done by others. Besides, why rely on the smug foundation world, which has brought forth so few innovations while spending trillions of dollars? Why bequeath to unimaginative people? I want to go out having advanced and implemented a grand design, and I want to do it now with the best talent available. I suspect that similar feelings are stirring in your minds and souls as well, and that's why I put out the call to you."

Warren paused, looked around the table, and raised his glass of Cherry Coke. "It's the beginning of a new year, my friends, and this gathering, I hope, is the beginning of a new direction for our planet. Here's to you all. The floor is open."

"Here's to you too, Warren. It's about damn time!" It was no surprise to anyone that Ted Turner, the "Mouth of the South," was the first to speak. "The world is going to hell in a poverty handbasket," he declared. "For years I've been trying to alert people to environmental disasters and overpopulation and the need to raise awareness of the peril so that nations will rise above their disputes and come together against these impersonal common enemies. Nuclear weapons did some of that between Russia and America in the recent past, and now inspectors on both sides are overseeing the dismantling of thousands of warheads. Maybe on epidemics, famine, natural disasters, and other frightful developments that trample national boundaries, we can overcome the lesser local hostilities that keep countries from cooperating. Lord knows I'm ready to do what I can. I've got plenty of time on my hands now that I don't have Time Warner on my hands," he finished with a grin.

Amidst the laughter that swept the table, Paul Newman lifted his glass of Old Fashioned Roadside Virgin Lemonade to second Ted's toast. "Warren, your call last month gave me a jolt of adrenaline the likes of which I haven't had since I quit racing last year. And I couldn't agree with you more about the whole foundation thing. Newman's Own is doing well, and the money's actually helping kids and their families, but only in the thousands. It doesn't cross the charity-to-justice line-the old palliative versus systematic divide. So I'm with you all the way on that, but I wonder if you and Ted aren't biting off a little more than all of us can chew --"

"Or gum," grumbled Sol Price, the acerbic mass-merchandising pioneer, who at ninety was the oldest of the group. He was once called the father of the retail model later imitated by Sam's Club, prompting him to reply, "I wish I'd worn a condom."

Paul flashed his famous smile. "Oh, come on, Sol, you've got more on the ball than most men half your age. But listen, what I was going to say was that Warren and Ted were talking about massive problems on a global scale. I'm all for new directions, but the planet is an awfully big place, Warren. Shouldn't we get our own house in order before we talk about projecting globally?"

"I was thinking the same thing," said Bill Cosby, "but national and international distinctions aren't all that clear anymore, whether we're talking about peace or arms control or my tormented ancestral home of Africa or WTO globalization and our loss of sovereignty. Whatever strategies we come up with, we have to remember that some of them may have global consequences, but on the whole I agree with Paul that we ought to focus our efforts here at home. Think global, revolutionize local."

Warren took a sip of his Coke. "Well put, Bill." It was the conclusion he had reached himself, but he wanted his colleagues to come to it on their own. "What does everyone else think? Is it the consensus that we frame our -- what shall I call it? -- our Redirections project to address the vast political and economic inequities of our own country?"

There were nods of assent all around.

"All right, good. Let's move on to the general principles and goals that should guide our enterprise."

"Here's a principle for you," said George Soros, who was a natural for Warren's group as an inveterate exhorter of his wealthy colleagues to be more socially conscious. "Whatever assets we assemble, whatever approaches and structures we decide on, we must advance them within open societies so that they can be deliberated, applied, or revised with the consent of those whom they are meant to aid. History has taught us that well-meaning impositions grafted onto the body politic or the political culture do not take readily and sometimes backfire ferociously. Believe me, as someone who's contributed nearly three billion dollars to further a global vision of open societies, I know what I'm talking about. For every successful movement like Solidarity, there are countless grassroots groups working their hearts out all over the world, but in the end they're crushed by the power of supreme global capitalism allied with subordinate government."

"As we saw for ourselves during the last election, George," said Peter Lewis, progressive founder of Progressive Insurance. "Between us, we gave something like thirty-five million to political groups working for change, and what did we get? Nothing. Whatever we put forward must have a multiplier mechanism attached. In this room we represent a net worth somewhere short of eighty billion dollars. We'll have to multiply ourselves, as we'll have to multiply what George called the assets, approaches, and structures we intend to advance. Otherwise, it will just be more of the same."

"Deja vu all over again," Warren said.

"Oy, you with your baseball references," said Bernard Rapoport, the effervescent "capitalist with a conscience," known to friends and associates simply as B. "I agree with Peter, as may be natural since we both made our fortunes in the insurance game. But I would add a caution: we must challenge bigness wherever we find it, and avoid it in our own efforts. Bigness is a curse. It is too bureaucratic, too autocratic, too top-heavy in making decisions, too remote from the ground, and too ubiquitous in our present state of corporate socialism or state capitalism, as my friend Seymour Melman used to say. Bigness is also too addicted to concentrating power, and too inimical to competition and democratic processes. Our economy is being crippled by all these companies that are 'too big to fail.' Bigness all over the world spells omnicide over time, to my way of thinking."

"Mine too," Phil Donahue joined in. "And not only that, but we mustn't come on as messianic. We need to find the common touch, to be able to go with the flow as we change and redirect the flow. People have to view what we're doing as an opportunity for better days, as alleviation of their pain, anxiety, worry, and fear."

"You are so right, Phil. We must be seen as offering ways of nurturing happiness, children, dreams, peace, fairness, honesty, and public morality. We don't want to be seen as nags." Yoko Ono paused to take a sip of tea. "I have to say that I was very surprised to get your call, Warren. I don't consider myself a power player, and I really couldn't see myself hanging out with a bunch of super-rich old men, but then I got to thinking. For decades I've been preaching peace and the importance of spiritual and artistic values, and what good has it done? Maybe you remember that a couple of years ago I bought a full page in the New York Times and left it blank except for the word 'peace' in the center in small type. I didn't receive a single response. It cost me fifty thousand dollars, but I didn't care about the money. It was the silence that got to me. Really, the New York Times and not one response. So I guess I'm ready for something new, which is why I decided that a bunch of super-rich old men wasn't such a bad idea after all."

"How honored we are," Sol muttered.

Paul cleared his throat. "Speaking of artistic values, let's remember that a little drama and mystique can't harm our efforts. Color, sound, light, excitement, humor, fun, joy, comfort, a sense of striving, the right metaphors from daily life, paradoxes to pique interest, success stories that people can relate to within their own frames so that these frames can then be stretched."

''I'd like to pick up on Yoko's mention of children." The unmistakable voice came from Ross Perot. "My own boy is running my business now, so I have plenty of time for our efforts, and I'd like to suggest a major motivating approach. People tend to care more about their children than themselves, and will often sacrifice anything for them. Children draw out our better instincts and make us take a longer view of matters. Our country is mortgaging its future in many ways, not just with huge debts and deficits on the economic front. The deficits are piling up environmentally too. We are shortchanging our children through the grotesque distortion of public budgets and wasted tax dollars, through the militarization of just about everything that relates to other countries and other peoples."

"As Ross says, we do need to take the long view, but we don't have a long time to take it." This from Max Palevsky, who had made a fortune as a corporate pioneer of the computer age and multiplied it during the dot-com revolution. "It is one rocky voyage on turbulent seas that we're embarking on. We were drawn here by multiple magnets of determined solidarity and purpose, and now we need a hard-core sense of urgency that must prevail over our other commitments. 'There is a continual dying of possible futures,' Juvenal said, and we can't afford any more such deaths. I suggest that we assume a one-year life expectancy for all of us -- that is, we need to do what we're going to do as if there were only one year left on Earth."

A smile flitted across Sol's face. "The world runs: have fun running with it -- that's always been my motto. We won't buy any green bananas, Max."

"I cotton to the idea of speed too," Ross said. "Some people believe in an incremental approach, building support over the years. We don't have that luxury anymore. The country needs a justice jolt! Now! It's in a deepening rut, with lousy leaders. Besides, the faster we move, the less likely we are to lose our momentum and burn out."

"True," said Barry Diller, multimedia dynamo. "I like the one-year timeline. It means a one-year sabbatical from my many business interests, but that fits perfectly with my inclinations right now. It's a move from success to significance. Never was I prouder than when I wrote an op-ed for the Times urging the FCC and Congress to make telecommunications policy as if the people owned the public airwaves -- which they do. If we're looking for assets, the commonwealth assets owned by the American people are a great start. The people own the public lands -- one third of America -- the public airwaves, the trillions in worker pension trusts, the vast research and development budgets the government doles out, yet corporations control what the people own against the people's interests. If we're looking for Redirections, this is one giant Redirection of existing assets toward the common good. It's a matter of what is fundamentally right and fair."

"And when the super-rich emphasize fairness, people stop what they're doing and listen. They begin to trust, to believe in what could be," said Jeno Paulucci, founder of Chun King and other highly successful frozen-food lines. Jeno had started out as a fruit peddler, and knew a lot about fairness and what could be. "One place to start is taxation, where it's for damn sure that those inside and outside Congress who write the tax laws avoid fairness like the plague. Who around this table doesn't know that their net worth would be less than half of what it is today if it weren't for tax inequity?"

Sol roused himself "That's right! For years I've been trying to get someone in Congress to introduce a small tax on wealth that would raise significant tens of billions every year from people like us. I have yet to succeed in getting such a bill introduced, even though I'm obviously not pushing my own financial self-interest. So to hell with Congress. Let's take matters into our own hands. What we need now are grand visions that are practical to achieve, such as the abolition of the raw poverty that afflicts tens of millions of our fellow Americans. It's not as if we don't know what to do. A living wage is the most immediate step, along with health insurance, technical training, decent housing, a reverse income tax, and good public facilities. A longer-range goal is capital ownership for the masses to supplement their wage income. These are all approaches that can in no way be dismissed as utopian schemes."

"On the subject of taxes," said noted attorney William Gates Sr., who was getting just a little tired of hearing himself referred to as the father of the world's richest man, "I'm sure you all remember my drive to preserve the estate tax. I learned a lot from that struggle, and I came away from it with a lesson that applies to all of us here. We can't stay behind the scenes. We've got to project ourselves and what we stand for in public, as public personalities, not through spokespersons or proxies or PR firms. If we're going to communicate our authenticity, we've got to be willing to speak and write, to debate and testify, to be questioned and cross-examined and challenged. An open society cannot be generated by a small 'secret society' meeting in private and pulling strings. If we're to be seen as educators, as possessing moral suasion, we can't cling to anonymity, as much as some of us would like to. To be sure, our affluent peers, in their myopia, may view our venture like they did the estate tax, as conflicting with their interests and our own, but that is part of our strength and credibility."

"I'd like to go back to Barry's notion of commonwealth assets for a minute," Bill Cosby said. "There is another commonwealth -- the family, the neighborhood, the community, the service clubs. They all provide the critical support and reaffirmation of values that get people though their days. They've been hammered by our rampant commercialism -- undermined, displaced, depleted -- yet they're the building blocks for Redirection, already in place but in need of revivification. People find their identification, their comfort level, their rhythm in communities. That's what made my show so successful."

"You know, the DVD of your first season is still a big seller at Barnes and Noble," said Leonard Riggio, chairman of the chain, "and your new book is flying off the shelves. But if you'll allow me a slight redirection of the conversation, let's remember that we're business people striving to plumb new depths, scale new heights, and push new frontiers, and we need something that no one has mentioned yet, something we're all very familiar with -- a capital budget and an operating budget. How much seed corn are we offering before our genius for leverage kicks into action? Obviously we want to be lean -- no bureaucracy, no bigness, as B says -- but we'll need emissaries directly accountable to us, and we'll need to 'project wealth' at the outset in order to secure the mass media when we want it. It was the projection of wealth that brought Ross much of his early and well-deserved attention. Appearances rooted in good causes and strategies do count, after all."

"They do indeed, especially the appearance of material success in this culture. It gives you the benefit of the doubt, it opens ears and eyes." It was unusually sedate language from Joe Jamail, virtuoso lawyer, known far and wide for his bold courtroom style.

"I've been wondering when we'd hear from you," Ted drawled. "Ever since we started, I've been expecting you to light into one of us about one thing or another. What's got into you? And the rest of us, for that matter. Let's face it, we've all got egos the size of Turner Field, but we've been agreeing with each other like Quakers at the meetinghouse. What gives?"

Warren permitted himself a slight self-satisfied smile. "It's true that you're a prize collection of strong-willed, nonconforming successfulists," he said, "but I invited the sixteen of you here for this first Maui roundtable out of hundreds of possible candidates. The choices were anything but random. My staff conducted exhaustive background investigations to determine intangibles such as temperament, ego control, knowledge, experience, determination, willingness to risk, circles of influence, degree of independence from curtailing loyalties and obligations, capacity to take heat, backlash, ostracism and rejection, absorptive capacity for new directions and subjects outside your range of understanding, track record in keeping confidences, and above all, moral courage, All of you have also expressed sadness, anger, disgust, fear, and hope for our country. With this kind of preparation, I was confident that our meetings would be characterized by a high degree of harmony and a --" Warren broke off, startled by what might or might not have been a loud snore.

"Yes, Sol, what is it?"

"Jet lag. Warren, please, a man needs his beauty sleep."

Warren consulted his watch, a Timex he'd had since starting on his second billion. "Thanks for the heads-up, Sol. I was so absorbed in our discussion that I lost track of the hour. We've put a lot on the table tonight for thought, response, and decision. If you'll indulge me just a little longer, I'd like to ask that we remain here for another hour in total silence, thinking about what we've heard and said and jotting down any additional reflections and ideas. It's a technique I've learned from some of my business partners in Asia and, like the prospect of hanging, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. I've used it with my executives to great effect, so give it a try, my friends, and then we'll retire for the evening."

Although a period of silence was an alien concept to many in the room, they all had too much respect for Warren to object. Every one of them had been at the edge of despair over the state of their country before his clarion call to action, but now they were galvanized, even Sol, who had been about to scoff and take himself off to bed when he remembered that in 1986 he'd bought stock in Warren's company at $5,000 a share that was now worth close to $100,000 a share. If it was good enough for Warren, it was good enough for Sol.

***

The next morning, after a breakfast of tropical fruits, the collaborators rejoined the dialogue.

"I trust you all had a good rest and are ready to take matters to the next stage, my friends," Warren said. "First, let me ask what reflections and ideas came to you during the period of silence last night. Shall we start with our resident curmudgeon and skeptic? Sol?"

"I'm telling you, Warren, I would never have believed how efficient and productive silence can be. I've got more ideas than I've got candles on my birthday cake, and that's saying something."

"Same here," said Max, "and you know, I think it's sitting together elbow to elbow that makes it work. It's a little like that Buddha-within-you type of group meditation, with one crucial difference. This group has an elaborate secular mission, no ifs, ahs, or oms." He chuckled at his own joke, provoking an impenetrable gaze from Bill Cosby.

Warren popped open a Cherry Coke. "Okay, Sol, let's hear those ideas of yours."

"Well, for starters, it came to me that we can create an entire sub-economy that builds markets and employs solutions kept on the shelf by vested interests. With our circles of influence and persuasion, we have the resources to start or acquire companies that break through in renewable energy, nutritious food, cooperative closed-loop pollution cycling systems, alternatives to toxic materials, housing for the homeless, health co-ops, zero-polluting motor vehicles, recycling, and even television-radio-internet programming to arouse the public and displace bad marketing that depletes family budgets. All this would be driven by a broad strategy for a self-reliant community-based economy sustained by civic and occupational training, capital ownership, and the expansion of commonwealth control of commonwealth property such as public lands and pensions, as Ted was saying yesterday. The various parts of this sub-economy would support each other, convert positive human values into economic delivery systems, and enlarge perceived possibilities for a better, happier life.

"Of course, opponents of the sub-economy will attempt to block it through predatory practices, media freeze-outs, and legislated restrictions of the kind we've seen in our history all too often, but we have the clout to repulse them until the success of the subeconomy drives them out of business or into mimicry. We are business people, we know what leverage and promotion are all about, we know the distortions the giant multinationals use to paint gross waste and destructiveness with a gloss of capitalist efficiency. We have lived in the eye of the lie for decades. Which is why we are ready, more than ready."

Sol's impassioned delivery, coming from a visionary entrepreneur with a compassion for the downtrodden, visibly moved the others, as if they too had taken their particular flights into this imaginative sub-economy. Warren, sitting on $46 billion, found himself physically agitated, but that was nothing compared to the whirring of his neurons alighting on the possibilities. There were a few moments of silence before an animated conversation picked up and one voice, George's, emerged.

"In working for open societies, I've learned a few things that are relevant to Sol's sub-economy and whatever other initiatives we choose to fund. Money can seed democratic institutions that can then fall from their vulnerability to autocratic forces or implode from poor selection of leaders and staff. Open society seeding is not like sowing seeds that turn themselves into sturdy trees with the help of sun, water, and soil. There are too many hurricanes trying to bring these fledgling institutions down. That's why we need a closed-loop strategy in everything we do. Look at efforts to combat global infectious diseases like TB, malaria, and AIDS. Bill's son is trying to do just that with his vast foundation grants, and he's probably feeling frustrated by the lack of delivery systems even for simple vaccination programs or other preventive measures. The science is in place, the material resources are in place, but not the end-point delivery. The US foreign aid program, where it is actually foreign aid, has suffered from this same sequential vacuum down to the community level. How to close the loop? The loop is closed by people on the ground where the needs are to be met, people operating in their own culture with their own local talent. Failure is a high probability without a closed-loop approach."

"That's right," said Peter. "We have to dig the roots deep by promoting the establishment of a whole variety of national and local grassroots groups focused on a range of consumer, taxpayer, community, and labor issues. I'm thinking here of the Citizens' Utility Board model. CUBs represent the largely unrepresented. They're instruments for reducing the enormous disparity of power between big companies and ordinary people. Consumer Advocates have proposed that the government require utilities, industries, the postal service, and so on, to include in their bills and mailings inserts allowing recipients to join such groups by checking off their membership and paying modest dues, an objective vigorously opposed by the companies concerned. But we can do it directly ourselves -- after all, it's only a matter of money, message, medium, and graphics -- and then these groups can start up quickly, with total membership in the tens of millions. Just consider the number of people who for twenty or thirty or fifty dollars will join a group espousing universal healthcare or a living wage or fair taxation or a clean environment or preservation of Social Security or pensions, or whatever priorities arise over the long run. These groups become our base."

"And they can be tremendously effective," Bill Gates said. "A mere thousand or so of us rich folks got together to fight the repeal of the estate tax, and when the Republicans tried to make repeal permanent, I think we made the difference, shoring up the Democrats, educating the public, and puncturing the propaganda that this repeal was intended to save small farmers' inheritances -- a total falsehood. It was actually for the benefit of the top fraction of one percent of estates, including our own."

George nodded. "It's what Richard Parker at Harvard talks about in "Here, the People Rule": facilitating the civic and political energies of the people -- and, I might add, in a deliberate democratic manner, learning from the feedback of an open society."

"Well, as long as we're talking basics," said Max, "let us dig deeper still. Will the people be sufficiently motivated to join these groups, and if so, will they participate? They may join if they're interested in the group's mission, but look at credit unions and food coops -- most of the members barely participate at all. Taxpayers don't show up at town meetings even though they know they'll have to pay more or endure more waste without their say. So we have to address the problem of motivating people, since our schools and our culture don't prepare them for active citizen roles, do they?"

"I've got it!" Ted exclaimed, slapping the table. "We need a mascot. How about a hawk?"

"That's fine for a certain basketball team, Ted," Warren observed wryly, "but not for a political initiative like ours. Everyone will be thinking hawks versus doves, and we don't want that."

"Yeah, you've got a point there. Okay then, maybe a ... a ... hell, I don't know, some critter, something with universal appeal, something that gets people laughing and talking to each other at the diner or the water cooler the next day."

"Great idea, Ted. Maybe you and I can brainstorm on it later," Phil said.

"You know," said Paul, "this reminds me of William James's phrase 'the moral equivalent of war.' He meant something nonmilitaristic that would motivate the citizenry to action as powerfully as war does. Waging peace doesn't quite cut it, does it? Because it's not visceral, it's cranial. Visceral can refer to many levels of the human psyche, though these days it rarely rises to neck level, much less higher, because the cultural marketplace consistently downplays imagination as it tries to confine the visceral to the gonadal. But visceral can also mean savoring debates and contests or absorbing different dimensions of beauty, of aesthetics. It can mean the idea of the heroic, where both physical and moral courage roam. Visceral can mean the arts that take a civilization to new peaks of appreciation and reward. We have to disseminate our ideas viscerally, in a way that embraces all these positive meanings and reaches wide national audiences, something that can be facilitated by ... hmm, let's see. By Barry," he said with a wink.

"Sure, Paul, I'll do some thinking about media strategies. And while I'm at it, why don't I arrange some leveraged buyouts of TV and radio stations so we can establish our own network covering the entire country? I've done so many mergers and acquisitions that it's a matter of routine in my law firm. Piece of cake."

"I second Paul and Barry heartily," said Phil. "Access to mass media outlets is crucial. To take just one random example, if I may, TV talk shows can raise possibilities, what ifs, and prospects of the good life for viewers and their progeny. We have to give people the sense that we're not talking about some utopia but about long-overdue improvements. If we can get people thinking, 'Why not?' and 'Who says we can't?' and 'Let's work together for love of our troubled country,' the launching of our concrete programs and initiatives will fall on more fertile soil."

Yoko looked up from doodling furiously on her notepad. "Along similar lines, I think we should have a symbol of some sort, a design of strength and beauty. We can't underestimate the immense power of the aesthetic impulse. Short of the survival impulse, no other exceeds its depth -- not greed, not lust, not envy, not gluttony. People can do without all these for long periods of time, or even forever. People cannot do without aesthetics. Just ask anyone how much money it would take to get them to agree to a permanent four-inch nose elongation or a threefold enlargement of their ears, even with no loss of function. It's no accident that the words 'truth' and 'beauty' have been joined together in the arts and literature of all cultures."

"One thing's for sure," said Bill Cosby. "We'll need every tool and idea we can muster to reach, inform, and organize the people. And we'll need all the power of the media and arts to immunize them against the anticipated pack of lies and smears and manipulative propaganda from the plutocrats. This is essential, to head off the master foolers who can command large audiences in every medium."

Leonard laughed. "I like that, heading them off at the pass. It reminds me of my father. He was a boxer, you know, loved the sport. He always said his idea of boxing was not getting hit. And speaking of master foolers -- or should I say master fools? -- won't we have to enlist Congress in our efforts at some point, and won't that bring us up against the big campaign contributors? So why not raise the entire net sum spent on congressional elections and make it available to candidates with no strings attached if they forgo all other fundraising, or if they only accept contributions under fifty dollars, or some such formula? That would free the Congress, or a majority of them anyway, to do what's right, short term and long term. Great investment, maybe two billion dollars a cycle."

"An excellent proposal," said Bernard. "I am so tired of writing checks to these cowards in the Democratic Party who keep frittering and flattering their way to political failure. Even when they agree with me on topic after topic, they vote the wrong way or they don't stand and fight for what they truly believe. It's all about money up there on the Hill, more so than at any time in my experience over the past fifty years, and it's getting worse. Just one big ongoing bazaar. But to guarantee campaign funds leaves open the question of how to apportion them among incumbents and challengers, and that's going to be thorny."

"Yes," Warren said. "but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The idea is sterling, and that's enough for now. Are there other general areas we haven't touched on yet, other thoughts you may have had during our period of reflection last night?"

Peter spoke up. "As to my 'silence dividend,' I guess you won't be surprised to hear that it concerns insurance. The industry is all about managing risk, though too often it interprets managing risk as managing liability, which are two different if related phenomena. In our redirections mission, we'll be confronting risks that either materialize by the hour or are looming on the horizon. Already, some European reinsurance companies like Swiss Re have drawn the connection between their profitability and climate change. They want to do something about global warming, a concern that obviously goes beyond conventional actuarial determinations of premiums and loss ratios. It requires a much longer time scale -- let's call it the corporate responsibility time zone. It's a concept we can use in terms of aggregating assets and identifying new approaches. We can expand the insurance function to help redirect markets."

"I agree," said Ross, "and one of the assets we'll have to aggregate to decisive intensity is our credibility. We need to search our nation for people whose performance, image, and strength of numbers enlarge our credibility instantly -- and I emphasize the importance of the word 'instantly.' Momentum is the wheelbase for comprehensive, careful planning. So where do we look? Let's start with the veterans' groups. I know these people and they know me. I know that the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars keep electing leaders who are absorbed with two issues -- protecting veterans' benefits and maintaining a strong military. Have you ever seen a presidential election where the two major candidates aren't clamoring to speak to the Legion and VFW conventions? That gives you an idea of the bipartisan pull of these organizations. It should also give us other ideas, no? I'm sure there are other groups that have the same broad credibility with millions of people and can be persuaded of the need for redirection. And let me add that redirection has to be viewed in patriotic terms, whether through traditional notions or by redefining patriotism acceptably. To me, patriotism is love of country, which means love of its people and its children and its land. It does not mean love of war."

"There's another form of patriotism not much recognized except in courts of law," said Joe, buttoning his suit jacket reflexively. "I mean the jurors. When you give jurors an opportunity to exercise their lawful power to do justice after absorbing detailed arguments and cross-examinations on both sides, and after being instructed by the judge, ordinary people rise to the occasion and take their duties as citizens very seriously. Jurors get a taste of democratic power legitimately exercised in the name of justice, something rarer than a raw steak for most people. Is there a lesson here outside the courtroom arena? You bet. You can bet your house on it. That deep sense of civic responsibility is a tremendous resource we can tap into, especially if we contrast it with the deep civic irresponsibility of our political and economic system as currently constituted. Every day millions of Americans feel that they're being pushed around, underpaid, excluded, uninsured, penalized, disrespected, ignored, and generally put on hold or told to get in line and shut up. We have to start with people's perceived injustices, not just with our ideas of their injustices, because that's how we get their attention so we can move toward causes and remedies, and onward to liberty and justice for all, as we like to say."

"When the truth is that liberty and justice are only available to some of us," Bill Gates observed sadly.

Joe took a long sip of his scotch. "Say that again, Bill."

"Say what? Liberty and justice for some?"

"Hell, yes, that's it!" Joe snapped his fingers. "We'll start a drive to change the end of the Pledge of Allegiance to 'with liberty and justice for some.' We'll get a member of Congress to introduce a Pledge the Truth amendment, like that guy did in the 1950s to get 'under God' inserted, and then we'll stand back and watch the fireworks. Just you wait, especially when the bill receives the kind of grassroots defense that we can generate. We can make sure this will be more than a one-day story about a bizarre bill in the congressional hopper."

"That's brilliant, Joe," said Bill Gates. "The trick will be to connect the uproar intricately with everything else we're doing, to give it legs that will get people thinking, if not marching, to mangle a metaphor or two. The possibilities here are many. For example, hard-pressed teachers in inner-city schools who can't get the most basic supplies can start having their students say the 'for some' Pledge every morning. That ought to rub some nerves raw."

Joe let out a hoot. "Beautiful! Let's run this one past some of our imaginative friends, people who would be geniuses on Madison Avenue if they could stand the place, people who are the right kind of troublemakers. They shouldn't be too hard to find."

"I believe I've got some of them working for me," Ted said. ''I'll check and get back with you. Meanwhile, we've been talking about civic approaches to tipping the balance of power to help the have-nots and the powerless, but let's get back to the economic arena and the marketplace for a minute. The Internet lets buying power and blog power form fast, though it's still pretty crudely organized. You can shop around for the best price, but there's not much collective negotiation or bargaining. Even with sophisticated software and operating systems like Linux, the awesome world of the Internet hasn't shifted much power from sellers to buyers, or from the political parties to the voters, for that matter. We should discuss ways to mobilize constituencies in virtual reality as well as everyday reality, because in both realities, financial companies, service firms, and credit organizations are tilting things more and more in favor of the sellers. Just look at credit scores and all those damn penalties and surcharges that are now simply debited so there's no need for the consumer to make out a check. Some of these charges are way out of line, like the ones for bouncing a check or even depositing a bounced check. Loss of control over our money breeds greedy debit rip-offs and fraud. And don't get me started on the gigantic fraud and billing abuse in healthcare. Our economic system is way, way off balance and getting worse. Look at the genetic testing that discriminates against certain workers --"

"And don't forget the diminishing freedom to sue the bastards, a freedom curtailed under the guise of controlling a phony 'litigation explosion,''' Joe interrupted, sounding more like himself. "Hell, the explosion is the sound of the big companies suing each other's asses. For everyone else, the courtroom doors are slammed shut in all kinds of ways -- loss of rights, costs, caps, delays, compulsory arbitration, et cetera. So if you're going to latch onto redressing imbalances, keep the doors to our courts open."

"I've always believed that the tort system is an excellent form of quality control for my industry," Peter said. "There are abuses on both sides, but the overriding issue here is who can and cannot use the courts or the law itself to redress grievances and keep the big boys honest."

"Is that the sun I see setting in the west over the shimmering Pacific Ocean?" inquired Sol pointedly. "It's not enough we skipped lunch?"

"You have only yourself to blame," Warren said. "You're the one who got us going with your eloquent oration on the sub-economy. However, at this juncture, let us adjourn to an early dinner, a dazzling buffet you can eradicate at your own pace. Then we'll have our period of silence to think about what we've said and heard around this table."

At the sumptuous dinner, in a wraparound glass-encased dining room, the vistas were breathtaking. If this group was seeking new horizons, they'd come to the right place. The Pacific was well named, stretching serenely into an infinite distance -- a perfect metaphor, in both quantity and quality, for the foresight they were striving to achieve.

As they sat down to their repast, Warren wondered what they would choose to discuss. He was used to the chitchat at exclusive dinners for the rich and powerful. He knew that the small talk during breaks in important business meetings usually signified relief from the tension of the meeting or from the participants' sheer concentration on making sure they were at the top of their game. To his pleasant surprise, the conversations that broke out in clusters of two or three around the large dining table extended the topics and concerns of the previous working meetings. There was no rupture, no change of pace, no step down from the significance of why they were there. The diners continued with what they'd had on their minds but hadn't had an opportunity to say.

During the serving of a gigantic Hawaiian dessert, the kind you rationalize eating because of its presumed fruity nutrition, Warren tapped his spoon on his glass. "My friends, I am greatly encouraged by the level of commitment and the vibrancy of the ideas I heard from you during our dinner conversations. With each of you making your contribution, the whole effort begins to take shape, tactical, strategic, philosophical, and anticipatory. There is plenty of material to think over during our silence period, or shall I say, plenty to be silent over."

With that, the collaborators repaired to the conference room and took their places around the table for an hour of silence, after which they wished each other good night and retired.

In the morning, at the final session of this first chapter of their momentous journey, Warren opened the proceedings with his customary directness. "My friends, during our engagement with a hearty breakfast, I want to say a few words by way of a send-off and lay out a series of charges for the next month, before we return here for our second gathering.

"First, you will all receive a transcript of our conversations through a secured system, since we want to keep our work in confidence. Next, I want to reiterate that we are not out to meticulously plan the future, as if we could, but to press for a redirection of major aspects of our political economy, new paths that are life-sustaining, productive, and peaceful in a constantly changing environment. The more we can focus people on positive and creative redirections, the more they will move voluntarily and rationally toward their better futures.

"Now, as to our next meeting here. To summarize and crystallize our deliberations, here's what I believe we must each do on our own during the next month. Our first task is to consolidate our epicenters, by which I mean reaching out to people we trust, people who are on the same wavelength and can do one or more of the following: contribute money and financial leverage, deliver other groups for various tasks, such as unions and veterans' organizations, give intellectual rigor to our proposed redirections, and broaden our access to and acquisition of media. Consolidating the epicenter also means finding unentangling alliances, with no quid pro quos or deals, locating natural economic allies, like the sustainable technology people, enlisting others among the super-rich who are up to our demanding criteria and may be willing to pitch in, thinking deeply about replication dynamics and how to increase the velocity of the events we put in motion, and doing all of the above with the urgency dictated by our presumed one-year life expectancy.

"We'll be in touch during the month, of course, to review progress and roadblocks. Meanwhile, keep in mind that we go public only when we are ready. Our priority at our next gathering should be to prepare a spreadsheet for action in well- meshed sequences that anticipate both serendipities and opposition. Rolling out our initiatives in the right sequence is critical, not just so that each stage furthers the next, but to maintain our own solidarity and cohesion, to stay on the same page, if you will. Dynamics are also key here. At present, the 'bad guys' are forcing the 'good guys' to play defense and fall back on their heels all the time. We intend to reverse that dynamic. In my experience in business, the crucial dynamic is staying on the offensive, setting the agenda, making things happen rather than reacting to them. The energy that flows from being on the offensive is incredible. And we also need an early alert system to pick up signs of a counteroffensive so that we can react accordingly. Your respective successes tell me that in your own areas of activity you have done this well, even intuitively, but clearly we're entering a much bigger game, and we have to scale up and extend our radar."

Warren paused and looked around the table. "Finally, may I propose a toast?"

As one, the assembly raised their mimosas.

"To our own evolution and to our posterity's future on our beloved and only planet Earth as we reach for the stars."
"Hear, hear," said one and all. There was not a smile in the room.

***

The next day, back in Omaha, Warren established a Secretariat headed by four of his most trusted associates, who set up a closed-circuit teleconferencing system for regular communication among the members of the core group. His first message was an afterthought that he wished had occurred to him in Maui, but on the other hand, it was a good opportunity to make sure that the lines were reliable and secure. He suggested to his confreres that they each undertake an initiative with public visibility as a way of probing the country's mood, and perhaps with some coordination, as long as nothing could be traced back to the Maui group. His only stipulation was that the Secretariat be notified of any activity forty-eight hours in advance. He told his colleagues that the purpose of his proposal was to quicken the pace and get some early feedback so they'd have a better idea of what lay in store. Privately, he added to himself that it would give him the measure of each of them.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:13 pm

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 2

Nurse Jane Harper came home from a hard day in the respiratory unit at St. Vincent's, kicked off her thick-soled white shoes, and sank into her favorite armchair. Reaching for the remote, she turned the TV on and tuned to CNN to catch the news. Wolf Blitzer was in the middle of a story about the trial of those two Enron guys, Lay and Skilling. Jane hoped the judge would throw the book at them. She was on her way to the kitchen to make herself a Lean Cuisine when a loud squawk stopped her in her tracks.

There on the screen was a parrot, the most gorgeous bird she'd ever seen, all iridescent reds and blues and yellows, cocking its head and fixing her with its bright eye as it said with uncannily perfect diction, "Get up! Don't let America down!" Under the parrot's feet was a running banner urging viewers to call or e-mail about an improvement they'd like to see in the country, nationally or locally, something they'd be willing to work toward. "Get up'! Don't let America down!" the parrot squawked again.

Jane thought about Lucinda Jackson, a single mother who'd come in today with her two small children, all of them suffering from shortness of breath. Like many of Jane's patients, Lucinda and her kids lived near a bus stop and had to breathe in the acrid pollution the buses spewed every seven minutes or so. Jane knew that some cities were converting to cleaner natural-gas fuels, but not Birmingham, where the bus fleet was aging and poorly maintained for emissions control. She saw the effects firsthand every day. It was a terrible situation, and she'd been angry about it for a long time, especially on behalf of Birmingham's children, but when she'd gone to the mayor's office last year to lodge a complaint, she was told there was no money for conversion.

"Get up! Don't let America down!"

Nurse Jane Harper grabbed her telephone and dialed the toll-free number at the bottom of her screen.

***

Stan Yablonsky pushed open the heavy wooden door of Clancy's Cave, shrugged off his Buffalo Bills jacket, and sat down at the bar next to his friend Mike O'Malley.

"Gimme a double Jack neat, Ernie," he said to the bartender.

"Hard day at the plant?" Mike asked.

"Hell, yeah, with all the lay offs there's half the people doing the same amount of work." Stan sighed. "Could be worse, though. Least I got a job."

Ernie slapped a cardboard coaster down on the bar and set Stan's bourbon on it.

"Thanks, Ernie." Stan turned to Mike. "So how 'bout you, buddy? Those little tweakers leave gum on your chair again or steal all the chalk?"

Mike laughed. "Those kids are a handful, all right, but you know, I feel for them. They're in the sixth grade and half of them still can't read, not that there's enough books to go around. And it's a tough neighborhood, high unemployment, shitty housing, drugs --"

"Hey, lighten up, man. I'm not in the mood for one of your lectures. How 'bout I buy you a beer?" Stan knocked back his bourbon. "Another round over here, Ernie, and turn on ESPN, wouldya?"

"What do you care? The Bills've been out of contention since December," Ernie said, but he reached up and flicked the TV on. As he was about to change the channel, the screen filled with the familiar faces of Paul Newman and Bill Cosby.

"Liberty and justice for all?" Newman was saying. "Don't make me laugh, Bill."

"That's my job, Paul," Cosby replied, "but this is no laughing matter."

"Hang on, Ernie," Mike said. "Let's watch this for a minute."

"Aw, c'mon," Stan grumbled, "put on SportsCenter."

"[T]o expose the lie we tell every time we recite our Pledge of Allegiance. What we have in this country, Bill, is liberty and justice for some."

"Damn right, and the 'some' doesn't include the kids in our crumbling inner-city schools, the retirees defrauded of their pensions by corrupt corporations, the folks in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, the vets who come home to inadequate medical care and no jobs ..."

As Cosby continued his catalogue of the manifold injustices afflicting American society, the camera closed in on his face -- that reassuring, genial face welcomed into millions of homes for so many years, now grim with anger -- and then panned back to reveal a huge blowup of the Pledge of Allegiance with "for all" crossed out and replaced by "for some."

By now, Stan and Ernie were staring at the TV along with Mike.

"And so we urge you today" -- close-up on Newman now, with steel in those blue eyes -- "to take the Pledge pledge, to bring our Pledge of Allegiance in line with reality by saying 'with liberty and justice for some' until the day when we can all truly say 'with liberty and justice for all."

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Mike O'Malley said. He had a long night ahead, still had to grade papers and do his lesson plan on the Underground Railroad, but at least he knew how he was going to start his class tomorrow morning.

***

Arlene Jones set a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie in front of the lone customer in the corner booth of the Treezewood Diner, a truck stop just off I-70 in central Pennsylvania.

"Give a holler if you need anything else, hon," she said as she went back behind the counter.

Normally the Treezewood was packed at all hours, even during the graveyard shift, but tonight there was a blessed lull. Arlene turned on the news to see the latest on that big snowstorm they'd been predicting, but what she saw instead was a shock of silver hair over a puckish face. Was she in a time warp? Hadn't Phil Donahue been off the air for a decade or more? She turned up the sound.

"The always controversial talk-show host has stirred up fresh controversy with his op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times," the anchorman said. "The piece was titled 'Who Is Denying America Its Future? A Wake-up Call.'"

Arlene didn't know who was denying America's future. She didn't know who was denying her own future. All she knew was that she'd spent thirty years working for tips and what she managed to make on the side mending clothes. According to the anchorman, Phil had said something in his op-ed about vested interests depriving people of their collective power and stripping them of their rights.

Arlene blushed, remembering those male strippers on Phil's show. She'd loved that show, and not just for the beefcake. She'd loved it for the way Phil raised issues no one else was willing to raise, for the way he'd given voice to his vast audience, mostly women who were home to watch him because they were caring for their children or their aged parents, or getting ready for the afternoon shift at some dull, low-paying job.

"Rather mysteriously." the anchorman said, "Mr. Donahue ended his piece with the words 'Stay tuned.'''

Arlene nodded. Yes, she would. She would definitely stay tuned.

***

On the outskirts of Oklahoma City, Jack Soaring Eagle walked slowly down the long, dusty drive that led from his trailer to his mailbox. He was hoping his unemployment check would come today. Up until last year, he'd been making pretty good money as a foreman in a kitchen appliance factory, but then the owners shut the place down and moved to China. Things had been tight ever since.

Jack opened the battered tin box, took out a handful of letters, and shuffled through them, scanning the return addresses as he walked back to the trailer. No check, just junk mail, a couple of bills, something from the local Cherokee council, and -- what was this? He stopped, arrested by a striking image in the upper left corner of the last letter. It was a simple, elegant line drawing of an eye that seemed to be looking far into the future. Under the eye were seven human figures, each extending a hand to the next, and beside it was a name: Yoko Ono.

Jack went inside and sat down at his kitchen table, studying the envelope. A letter from Yoko Ono? Must be some kind of joke. He'd never cared much for the Beatles, didn't like most of their music -- that "yeah, yeah, yeah" was like fingernails on a chalkboard as far as he was concerned -- but he remembered reading about John and Yoko's "Bed-in for Peace" back in '69 when he was stationed in Saigon. He and a lot of his buddies had already turned against the war in Vietnam, sickened by horrors like the My Lai massacre and by the politicians' lies about body counts, and he'd appreciated what John and Yoko were trying to do. Jack opened the envelope.

There was the eye again, at the top, followed by a letter from Yoko explaining its symbolism. She called it "the Seventh- Generation Eye," representing the principle that leaders must weigh all their decisions in terms of their impact on the future as far as the seventh generation to come. Jack didn't have to read on to learn that it was a principle derived from the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy; it was an integral part of the American Indian belief system, and one that guided his own tribe's deliberations.

Yoko went on to say that she wanted to do her part for the seventh generation by sending an energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) free of charge to any household requesting one. All the recipients had to do was provide name and address, along with one sentence explaining why they wanted such a bulb and specifying wattage. "I know a lot of you will think I'm off in the ether again and this is just another one of my wacky ideas," Yoko wrote, "but when you stop to consider that a single CFL can save two thousand times its own weight in greenhouse gases, maybe you'll decide it's not so wacky. Multiply that by millions of people using these bulbs, and it's enough energy to replace dozens of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants. Please join me in this simple act that will help insure the future of our planet. With thanks in advance from myself and your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren."

Jack sat drumming his fingers on the tabletop for a minute. Then he stood up and got the pad and pen he kept by the phone. "Dear Yoko Ono," he wrote. "I would like one seventy-five watt CFL to read by, and because it will brighten my life just like your letter has." He paused, then added "Gratefully yours" and signed his name with a flourish.

***

In the weeks following the Maui meeting, the activities of Warren's colleagues in the core group had exceeded his wildest expectations. He couldn't turn on the news or read the paper without hearing about an initiative one of them had launched or some controversy they'd stirred up.

As promised, Ted Turner and Phil Donahue had put their heads together to brainstorm about a mascot for the group's efforts. Ted's thoughts naturally ran along avian lines, and it wasn't long before they hit on the idea of a parrot. Phil called a friend of his in the highly regarded veterinary program at the State University of New York in Delhi, and was able to procure a splendid scarlet macaw, along with the services of linguistic trainer Clifton Chirp. Chirp rolled up his sleeves and went to work.

Patriotic Polly hit the airwaves in fifteen-second spots shown on thousands of stations, and was an immediate smash. She would have won an Academy Award in her category, if there were such a category. Amazing what an animal could communicate to humans, Warren thought. Fully 13 million viewers had e-mailed or called in their choice of a change they were willing to work for in their country or state or town, and Patriotic Polly was the talk of the nation for days. Late- night TV comedians joked about what else she might say, and Letterman offered a year's worth of crackers as a prize for the best submission. One unintended side effect was that the price of Amazonian parrots skyrocketed.

Hot on Polly's heels had come the Cosby/Newman telethon, a live three-hour event carried by all the major networks thanks to the behind-the-scenes exertions of Barry Diller. When the three men told the rest of the core group about their plan for the show at the first post-Maui closed-circuit conference, Joe Jamail and Bill Gates Sr. had suggested that the Pledge of Allegiance be one of the segments, which was why Mike O'Malley's class and hundreds of other classes around the country were now starting off the day with "liberty and justice for some." And that was only the first half-hour of the telethon. The rest of it was devoted to demonstrating how the media uses public property -- the airwaves -- to foster complacency, serve power, sell junk, and trivialize or distort or cover up the news. Cosby demanded a giveback of daily hours on the broadcast spectrum to citizens who wished to join together and create their own networks, to be funded by license fees imposed on the airtime that TV and radio had been using for free since their industries began. Newman showed clips from his own collection of independently produced films and documentaries to illustrate the kind of programming that the people, with well-funded studios, producers, and reporters, would put on the air. Then both of them announced an instant poll to be conducted via the toll-free number flashing on the screen, and over the next hour the audience registered an overwhelming desire for such a people's voice. Finally, Cosby and Newman urged viewers to flood the FCC and Congress with demands for legislative and regulatory hearings on such matters as children's television, coverage of civic action, and whatever ideas of their own they wanted to advance.

The next day, the headlines read, to paraphrase, "What the hell were Cosby and Newman doing? Trying to wreck their careers? Are they nuts?" The editors of the Wall Street Journal had a follow-up observation in an editorial titled "Possessed by Marx," wherein they dutifully accused the two men of being closet communists seemingly headed toward senility. Cosby and Newman wrote a letter to the editor in response. Unabridged and printed in full, it read, "Stay tuned."

On the flight home from Maui, Phil Donahue had composed the dazzling op-ed that was published a few days later in the New York Times and covered on some of the nightly news broadcasts, even on small local stations like Arlene Jones's. In his "wake-up call," he didn't beat around the bush about who was denying America its future. He pointed squarely to commercial interests that said no to the well-being of the people, and then he gave a rousing rundown of how the people's power, if awakened, could effect change. The response was tremendous. Not all of it was positive, but to judge by the letters that poured into his office, about 85 percent reacted as if they'd just overcome a long period of constipation: "What can we do?" they wrote, or "Here's what we're doing in our area that should be disseminated," or "Note to rulers: lead or get out of the way!" NBC was bombarded with letters demanding the return of Phil's talk show. Then there were the calls from friends who seemed to have come alive. Two of the wealthiest of them wanted to meet with him in Manhattan "to see how we can get things moving in this country." With his down-to-earth language, Phil had obviously hit a nerve. Lots of people were willing to jump out of the cake for him.

Yoko Ono had returned from Maui and gone straight to her New York studio. She'd been deeply affected by everything she'd heard at Warren's gathering, and particularly by an impassioned conversation she'd had with Bernard Rapoport over dinner, about the universal human obligation to posterity. Dear old B. Yoko fervently believed that the future could be made beautiful. Most people didn't see it, but art could put it right in front of them, give them an unmediated awareness, what she liked to call "a somersault of the mind." It was strange how people could tolerate injustice, brutality, fraudulence, and a host of other wrongs without being moved to act. Maybe they were bored, or maybe just defeated by a combination of the complexity of the world's problems and their own sense of powerlessness. But they did care about their children and grandchildren's future, a future they viewed with anxiety and uncertainty in this fast-changing, perilous world over which they had so little control, except to strive for a modicum of financial security. Art could cut through all that. Art could move them toward action.

Hour after hour, in silence and solitude, Yoko searched for the tao, the way, the path to the image that would crystallize the Maui mission. Finally it came to her, in her own somersault of the mind: the Seventh-Generation Eye. Quickly she sketched it, and then the seven linked generations, a symbol representing the connection between present and future through the most expressive organ of the human body, the window of the soul.

Yoko sat up at her drawing board and stretched. Astonishing how she'd seen it all at once, as if the proverbial lightbulb had dropped down over her head to signal a sudden idea or inspiration. She laughed at the cliche, and was still laughing as she moved to her computer and began typing a letter about lightbulbs. Oh, art was grand!

Over the next few days, Yoko mobilized her extensive network of friends and contacts to help her send out a million letters like the one Jack Soaring Eagle received, and close to 20 million e-mails, all from lists properly rented. She went personally to the main manufacturer of compact fluorescent bulbs and cut a deal to buy them at a wholesale price of $2.50 each, a considerable reduction from the usual wholesale price of $7.50 or more. Attached to each bulb she sent out would be a message estimating the amount of coal, oil, gas, and nuclear fuel wasted because General Electric, through its near monopoly well into the seventies, sold incandescent lightbulbs that burned out quickly and had to be replaced often.

As for Bernard, he'd also been thinking about his conversation with Yoko when he returned home to Texas. Bernard had always had a dream, ever since his father told him that if a society takes care of its children, it will also be taking care of itself. Part of what Papa meant was that people who would otherwise resist change could be persuaded to support it if they thought it was for the benefit of children.

Bernard placed ads on select cable channels saying that he would establish after-school Egalitarian Clubs to teach children civic skills and democratic values like equality of opportunity and the importance of a decent standard of living. Then he unloaded the provocation that brought a torrent of attention and criticism in the following days. He said that the big corporations were on an omnicidal track in the world -- destroying our democracy and the environment, to give just two examples -- and that a new generation of Americans had to learn to control, replace, or displace corporate power, especially since the schools were now instruments of corporate propaganda, both directly and indirectly. He spent hours giving interviews, drawing on his impressive historical knowledge of corporate crimes, abuses, tricks, and treasonous behavior toward the masses. It was as if he had prepared for these interviews all his adult life. A CEO himself, he was accused darkly of being a traitor to his class by at least one prominent business commentator, but Oprah Winfrey had him on her show for an hour with six seventh-graders from the Chicago public schools. It was an interaction for the ages.

Like Bernard, Jeno Paulucci had a long-cherished dream, that of establishing an alternative national chamber of commerce with local and regional chapters. He had had his fill of existing chambers that put corporations ahead of people in what amounted to a master-servant relationship. Jeno was the most naturally gregarious of the core group members. When he called himself "just a peddler from the Iron Range," this Republican wasn't kidding. Starting dirt poor in northern Minnesota as the son of immigrants, he'd built and sold some fifty companies, having a ball all the way. He loved his workers and treated them so well that he welcomed unions. He loved competition so much that he once proposed a price war to a larger competitor, until his lawyers admonished him about the antitrust laws. If there was one thing he knew, it was that commerce had to serve people, not the other way around. He had recently made just that point in his boisterous autobiography, Jeno: The Power of the Peddler.

Jeno drafted a two-page proclamation of the People's Chamber of Commerce, barnstormed with news conferences in ten cities at the rate of two cities a day, and took out ads on business cable channels, all of which led to extensive television and radio interviews. He always sounded the same note, inviting businesses of all sizes to join up by paying initial dues of $50 and signing the declaration of people's business principles and practices that a business ethics friend of his had written back in 1978. Once this first stage was completed, a more comprehensive founding convention would be held to create a chaordic organizational structure on the model originated by Visa founder Dee Hock. Hock coined the term, a blend of "chaos" and "order," in a book published in 2000, Birth of the Chaordic Age -- "chaos" being defined in the context of current chaos theory as elaborated by the Santa Fe group, not in its more familiar dictionary meaning. In accordance with Hock's principles, the People's Chamber of Commerce would feature maximum autonomy on the periphery (the local chapters), which would be loosely linked to a small core group that set obligatory minimum standards. The PCC would be chaordic for optimum creativity.

To the astonishment of everyone but Jeno, 78,000 businesses signed up in two weeks. As he had anticipated, many of them were franchises, large and small, which promised to bring in thousands more members. The PCC, Jeno said, was the beginning of the end for the giant trade associations -- drug, auto, mining, food, energy, banking, insurance, defense, real estate -- that monopolized the voices of business.

This incipient challenge to the sodden hegemony of the Washington-based trade associations became the news and then the speculation of the hour. "Where is it all heading?" one trade group president asked. "How can the people speak for business?" remarked another in a CNN interview, unaware how much he was communicating. After the first round of press, Jeno would only say to the legions of interview requests, "Stay tuned," a comment that was tantalizing to reporters almost beyond their endurance. The news media knew Jeno well from his days as a grand networker with a Rolodex the size of a Ferris wheel, and they knew something big was coming -- but what?

The uproar over the PCC was matched by the uproar Peter Lewis created in the insurance industry. Peter had forged his tumultuous, iconoclastic career in this industry, and he owed his massive, still-growing wealth to it, but he had long wondered about its central hypocrisy. Insurance companies talked about risk management as if it meant the best way for their computers to get the most profit out of existing risks. To Peter, that was not risk management. To Peter, risk management meant risk reduction or loss prevention. The insurance companies' dirty little secret was that they would accept more losses as long as they could collect more premiums. Why? So they'd have more dollars to invest. Today investment income was central to the swollen profitability of insurers, in contrast to the situation decades ago, when insurance underwriters were more like engineering firms, scrutinizing risks and trying to make it on premium income. In the nineteenth century, insurance companies would refuse to insure a factory without improvements in boilers to avert then-frequent explosions, but the insurance companies didn't operate that focused way anymore.

Peter took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street journal, disclosing for starters that the fire insurance industry didn't do much about fire prevention because fewer fires would mean less business. Despite lip service to prevention, these companies went out of their way to overlook weak fire codes, lax enforcement, and substandard materials. At the bottom of the ad was Peter's signature and the line "Interviews by the media are invited." Minutes after the paper hit the stands, the phones in his office started ringing off the hook The fireworks, so to speak, began exploding all over as Peter extended his criticism to health, life, worker's compensation, and auto insurers, and then to gigantic reinsurers like Munich Re and Lloyd's of London. He had an easy time with the reporters, who knew little about the subject, and the insurance executives were afraid to debate him. "Human and property tragedies have become the near exclusive inventory of the insurance companies," he declared, "when these companies should be the sentinels of health and safety in every area, from the local hospital operating room to the global environment."

Cascades of controversy erupted in every sector of the society and economy touched by the insurers. The story broke on a Monday, and by Saturday, Peter was satisfied that the dynamics he had generated were multiplying on their own. He settled back in his favorite chair at his Park Avenue duplex and inhaled deeply, Tomorrow he would digest the week. Today it was time for sweet serenity.

Having slept the entire way home from Maui to San Diego, Sol Price awakened the next morning refreshed and rejuvenated, or at least alive, and immediately took out full-page ads in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He also bought a minute to run the ad on Meet the Press. Under a big, bold headline -- "IS THIS THE WAY WE, THE SO-CALLED OLDER HIGH AND MIGHTY, WANT TO LEAVE OUR COUNTRY?" -- was a series of short phrases describing the decay and decline of our nation, all the worsening trends and tragedies. In large type at the bottom was the message "O Rich and Powerful, arise, you have nothing to lose but your country, your world, and your descendants' respect! Let's go to the heights and exit not with a whimper, wallowing in luxurious boredom, despair, and discouragement, but with a bang!"
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:13 pm

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

The ad was a grand slam. Sol couldn't believe the response. He heard from hundreds of influential people in retirement who had been silent for years. Some wrote letters. Others called him or just showed up at his home or office in their chauffeured Rolls and Mercedes, some with canes, all with fire in their eyes. Sol knew what to say, having thought for years about national Redirections and priority reversals. One by one he met with them, communicating, motivating, taking their addresses, and ending the meetings with, ''I'll be back for you. Get ready."

Within days of returning from Maui, Ross Perot bought thirty minutes' worth of time on the networks coast-to-coast and appeared with charts showing how the American people had lost control of their federal budget. He showed where their taxes were going and how the self-styled tax cutters were just cutting taxes on wealthy people like himself, producing mega-deficits and thereby taxing babies who would be responsible for the huge interest payments on the treasury debt when they grew up. He gave graphic examples of waste and corruption. He said that the Iraq war was "an economic sinkhole" and "a graveyard surrounded by quicksand," and that "we'd better bring our boys home pronto." He took calls from viewers and encouraged e-mails and letters of support. They came in the millions, heartening him with messages like "Great to see you back!" and "You're telling the truth again, Ross!" He was especially gratified by the response from veterans regarding their treatment when they came home from the wars. Many of them agreed with him about Iraq. Among the strongest endorsements he received was a letter from the Boston chapter of Veterans for Peace, which called itself the Smedley Butler Brigade in honor of the highly decorated Marine general (two Congressional Medals of Honor, among many other awards for bravery) who retired in 1935 and then wrote a book asserting that he'd been "a racketeer for capitalism," sent in to make various countries "safe" for US banks, oil companies, and other corporations.

Leonard Riggio came home and took it to the streets. Ever since he was a boy in Brooklyn, he'd had a visceral reaction to the way the working stiffs and the poor were treated on a day-to-day basis. Contacting neighborhood groups and labor leaders he knew, he quickly put together a rally of 25,000 people of little means in front of the New York Stock Exchange. They carried placards bearing slogans like "The Poor Will Be Heard From -- From Now On," "Stay Tuned, Paper Pushers and Speculators, This Is Just the Beginning," and "Tear Down That Wall Street!" Leonard marshaled some great speakers whom no one had heard of, determined as he was to bring out energetic new people who believed in movements, not just rhetoric. From the ghettos and barrios and slums of New York City came fire and brimstone about deeply felt injustices. Leonard supplied sandwiches for lunch and gave out posters, placards, and bumper stickers to the crowd to help spread the word. Exactly what "the word" was he didn't say, heightening the anticipation of dumbfounded reporters by intimating that today's rally was only the tip of the iceberg. When pressed, he pointed to a group of ralliers, each of whom held up a letter to spell out "Abolish poverty! Give us what we've worked for! No ifs, ands, or buts!" Coverage that evening and in the next morning's newspapers was tinged with puzzlement over what this rally foreshadowed. Pictures of wide-eyed stockbrokers gazing from their office windows bespoke trepidation.

A few days after Leonard's rally, Ted Turner uncorked an idea he'd had for years. Quickly he assembled a group of thirty irreverent older billionaires -- Barry, Peter, and George from the core group, the rest from the top of the Forbes 400 list, together representing nearly every line of industry and commerce -- and christened them Billionaires Against Bullshit.

Image

-- Billionaires Against Bullshit!, by Tara Carreon


They were his friends, people who enjoyed his hospitality and showmanship, two of them fellow yachtsmen from his America's Cup days. As a longtime media master, Ted knew that the best way to confront lies was not with the truth. The truth must be accessible, always on the shelf, so to speak, but lies were best confronted with marching feet or easily understood symbols. He was always amazed at how little awareness of this historically rooted point there was among activists bent on improving the human condition. Ever the flamboyant entrepreneur, he staged a huge media extravaganza with a series of giant screens portraying the deceptions and dissembling of those at the top in Washington and Wall Street. One by one, after the lies were sonorously announced, Ted's billionaires splashed a slurpy bucket of bull manure on the prevarication screens. The reporters, nibbling on their canapes, gave up on maintaining their objectivity. They laughed and nodded and wondered to themselves why they couldn't throw tough questions at the bullshitters they had to cover day after day.

The solons and moguls named on the screens were not amused upon learning how they'd been demeaned. Time Warner received several angry and threatening calls from the White House. When one exasperated special assistant was told that Ted was no longer on the board but was merely a large shareholder, he sputtered, "Well then, sell his shares!" The cool Time Warner executive replied, "Capitalist principles would have us leave that decision to Ted."

After the visual event came the news conference, where a crusty veteran reporter asked, "Okay, Ted, you've given us some kicks, but what's to say that Billionaires Against Bullshit isn't bullshit itself?" Ted absorbed this sonic blast and instantly wished that the press would treat the current occupant of the White House with similar forcefulness. Recovering, he replied simply, "Stay tuned."

Joe Jamail was savoring Ted's televised antics in his Houston office when he decided what his initiative would be. This "King of Torts" was always taking on big cases with millions or billions of dollars at stake, and as a result he was always postponing doing something close to his heart, something that would allow regular people to use the justice system and actually get some justice out of it. He believed that the intangible benefits of public confidence in the justice system went way beyond getting people refunds or bringing the big corporations to account.

Joe unveiled his brainchild proposal with fanfare at a well-prepared news conference with live TV hookups, including C- SPAN from Houston. With his well-known talent for the dramatic, he announced that he was putting $15 million of his own money behind the formation of the People's Court Society, a network of law students and law professors who would advise, gratis, any person wanting to use any small claims court case that passed a basic standard of credibility. Existing legal aid services and public defenders did very good work under hampering conditions, he said, but they couldn't begin to reach a majority of the excluded. The PCS would rent space at or near all 174 law schools in the country, and on Main Streets everywhere, so that working people and consumers, tenants and patients, could drop in and receive either representation or clear advice about how to represent themselves if they so wished.

Joe also gave notice that companies guilty of fraud or harm would no longer get off scot-free simply because their victims couldn't afford attorneys and expensive legal proceedings. Judge Judy was an amazing ratings success because people cared about small injustices between individuals. Now, through the accessible PCS, they'd be able to take on the big boys as well, in hundreds of small claims courts all over the country. "For too long," Joe said, "small claims courts have been used as collection agencies by commercial creditors and landlords. Now these courts will be used for the little guy. The corporate crooks have sliced up the class action rights of the people and made it more difficult to file for bankruptcy because of job loss or health expenses. Now they're going to have to face those they've fleeced." Behind him as he spoke was Judge Learned Hand's famous dictum, "If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice." The letters were two feet high to make the point.

The next day, the tortfeasors' lobby went berserk. "Joe Jamail is promoting a flood of frivolous litigation," declared the US Chamber of Commerce. "The PCS will undermine our global competitive edge, cost American jobs, raise taxes, and burden the business community unsupportably," roared the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Joe was denounced for his effrontery in hundreds of press releases, business editorials, and tirades by pompous talk show hosts, chief among them Bush Bimbaugh. Laughing all the way, Joe replied, "Access to the law is part of a just society. They're used to having it all to themselves. No more. The floodgates of justice are about to open."

Bill Gates Sr. also made a big splash in the weeks after Maui. In notices placed in labor, consumer, and taxpayer publications, he offered to pay for the Delaware incorporation of anyone who applied over the following twenty-one days. His aim was an egalitarian one, he said, since corporations had just about all the constitutional rights of human beings but enjoyed privileges and immunities far beyond those of lone individuals. Corporations had more freedom to sue, to go bankrupt, to pay lower taxes, to receive welfare; they could create overseas subsidiaries and holding companies, and they could avoid being jailed because they were artificial entities. In dozens of ways they were superior and unequal, under laws largely of their own making. "So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em and receive the blessings of limited liability," Bill's notice concluded. His motto, a twist on Huey Long's "Every man a king," was "Everybody a corporation."

Bill further announced that he was forming a committee to run five corporations for federal and state elective office in the next couple of years. Since corporations were legally deemed to be "persons" and could avail themselves of the equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment, there was no reason they shouldn't be able to run for senator, governor, state legislator, etc., as long as they met age and residency requirements. "Corporations are people too," Bill said at a news conference before befuddled reporters. He added that a six-person advisory committee on constitutional, corporate, and electoral law would be formed to combat challenges to this equality movement, and he pledged a vigorous defense against any lawsuits blocking his project to give more "voices and choices" to American voters.

Max Palevsky came back from Maui with an idea. He was not in the best of health but had a dynamo of a brain and knew more than most denizens of the planet about the enormity of the challenges facing it. Max had been in a funk for years, particularly after funding several important California electoral initiatives, including some on campaign finance reform, all of which lost. Even after some spirited female-gazing during country club lunches with his friend Warren Beatty, his resurgent libido did not put him in any persistently creative civic mood. Until Maui, he couldn't see a breakthrough for himself.

Max's obsession had always been civic anomie -- the failure of so many citizens to exert even minor efforts to combat or diminish injustices that they themselves perceived as harming them. When he was a child, his family had lived in New England, in three different towns, and his parents would sometimes take him to town meetings. There were always lots of empty seats in the small school auditoriums or the rooms at Town Hall. Over the years, in conversations with liberal activists, Max brandished this memory at them and taunted them about all the union members who voted Republican, directly against their own interests as working families. War, religion, guns, the flag -- whatever -- distracted them from essential matters like pay, pensions, safety, health insurance, public services, and the way big business used government against them. The same held true for poor voters; a quarter or more voted Republican. All this led Max to an iconoclastic thesis; that even if all obstacles to democracy were removed and there was a perfect playing field, most people would not play, would not show up or speak out.

Now he decided to experiment to prove his point. Renting out a six-thousand-seat convention hall in Los Angeles, he offered free tickets to anyone who would agree to attend two presentations on two consecutive nights. He left the content of the presentations deliberately vague, saying only that they were designed to test a sociopolitical hypothesis and that the results would be sent to all attendees within a month. But the real draw was the promise of entertainment by a hot new band, the Cool Drool, plus a surprise celebrity appearance and free fruit, soft drinks, and snacks.

The first night, a Monday, the hall was almost full and anticipation was high. After a sensational performance by the Drool, the lights dimmed and Max gave the signal to start the slideshow he'd commissioned, which used visuals, sound, and light to brilliant effect. On a huge screen, as a familiar-sounding voice provided running commentary, images of injustice appeared one after another: children in Los Angeles, chronically hungry, ill-housed, and deprived of the medical treatment they needed; shrunken workers dying from asbestos-induced mesothelioma; US soldiers dying in Iraq for lack of simple body and vehicle armor while members of the Halliburton board clicked champagne glasses over huge Iraq war contracts; executives sitting in their lavish offices as that familiar voice intoned, "They make an average of $10,000 an hour, while their workers average $9.00 an hour"; young blacks with no prior record. imprisoned at five times the rate of young whites with no record; a powerful montage of the president giving his reasons for invading Iraq, causing more than 650,000 civilian deaths, and the headlines showing that he was lying. On they came -- pictures of children abused in juvenile detention camps, of low-income people cheated by economic predators, of young fathers killed on construction sites because of dangerous working conditions, of loyal factory workers brought down by toxin-induced cancers -- with imagery, statistics, and human tragedy all working to engage the minds and emotions of the audience. Then the lights came up and Warren Beatty, the slideshow's narrator, walked on stage. He asked what kind of world we would be leaving our children and grandchildren if we didn't get serious, wake up, and take back our country. He urged his listeners to get involved in organizations working for change -- ushers were passing out flyers listing a hundred of these, along with mission statements and contact information -- and then he thanked the audience for their attention and opened the floor to questions.

For several long minutes, no one spoke. Finally a few people asked questions about the accuracy of this or that part of the presentation. No one asked, "Well, what can we do, when can we start?" Remarkably little anger was expressed, except by an injured carpenter who was cheated by his worker's compensation carrier. No one proposed a future meeting, rally, or march for the environment, or against the war or for any other cause. Afterward, as the audience streamed out of the hall, Max's people stationed at the exits reported that only about 10 percent were talking about the presentation. The other ninety were already into small talk about where they were going or who they were meeting. However, many mentioned how good the food was or how terrific the band was.

The next evening, a slightly smaller crowd showed up. Again the food and music were outstanding. After the opening performance, a silver-haired orator took the stage and unfurled a string of calmly delivered racist, sexist, homophobic, and ethnic slurs. By the third minute, the audience was shouting and throwing fruit and rolled-up newspapers at the stage, but the speaker continued, advantaged by a loudspeaker system that gave him sonic supremacy. Some people jumped up and stormed out of the hall. At no point did the speaker advocate acts of violence or suggest that the objects of his derision should be harassed or run out of the country. He simply unleashed a flurry of bigotry, citing bogus studies and fictitious history as foundations for his opinions. Within thirty minutes the hall was empty. Max's people at the exits reported that nearly everyone had expressed outrage and disgust. The event was page one in the next morning's LA papers, and the second story on the local evening news, right after a hot police pursuit. The sparse media coverage of the first event had focused on the Cool Drool and Warren Beatty.

Max waited three days before presenting his analysis in a full-page ad in the LA Times. He described the two presentations briefly and concluded, "The real deeds of government and business that kill, sicken, deprive, and defraud are far less upsetting to Americans than some nobody's bigoted words. Unless, that is, the deeds happen to touch on a personal injustice inflicted on an individual, in which case it's a horse race as to whether the personal bad deed or the terrible bad word provokes the most anger. A society that can't act to redress bad deeds in a motivated manner is on a downhill race to decay. A society that goes berserk over verbal slurs, however false and offensive, is a society that will distract itself in an escalating war over words." At the bottom of the page was the thought-provoking line "Pick Your Poison."

Max left town early the day the ad appeared, hoping to keep the focus on the issue he'd raised rather than on himself. Initially the outrage and vitriol poured forth as he'd expected, but then the reaction became more thoughtful as some of the talk shows, letters to the editor, and opinion pages began delving beneath the knee-jerk, politically correct rejoinders. Of course Max knew his little experiment was oversimplified, but it did provoke a lot of lively debate and a little introspection -- a key result he'd hoped for. He hired an anthropologist and a psychologist to analyze the whole hubbub before the next meeting in Maui. He had more such tests in mind, much more refined. "Stay tuned," he told one of his editor friends. "Stay tuned."

Among the more interested readers of Max's ad was George Soros, who had been taking in the exploits of his Maui colleagues with no little amazement. A man who had long believed in fundamental change within an open societ -- -his motto was "It is not a revolution until it succeeds" -- George walked his talk, but his unflagging moral and financial support of democratic movements and institutions in authoritarian countries, and lately in the United States, had left him feeling a bit wearied by how difficult change was, how much more powerful the forces of disintegration, habit, and greed seemed to be than the forces of integration, tolerance, and justice. At first, it had been difficult for him to envision what he could do post-Maui that he hadn't done pre-Maui, but he banished the thought. He would do something bold, something out of character for his fairly retiring, almost academic personality ("Soros" would be the antonym for "Trump" if there were ever a celebrity dictionary of antonyms). He would challenge the editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal to a debate at historic Cooper Union in New York City, site of many famous debates over issues like slavery, suffrage, labor, war, and civil rights. The debate resolution would be as follows: "Resolved that the principal threat to democracy in America and around the world is the large multinational corporation." As if that weren't bold enough, George called in some favors from high-ranking contacts at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the two institutions were persuaded to sponsor the debate. This decision was so discordant with the image of the Bank and the IMF -- both had long been accused of being imperious, antidemocratic, insensitive to the impoverished, and wedded to ruling oligarchies -- that the announcement created a frisson of disbelief in the airy upper circles of global finance and industry. The ruling classes most definitely took notice.

The editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page was a man by the name of Reginald Sedgwick. He hated George Soras, who had been slammed by the paper in more than thirty-five editorials. To Sedgwick, Soras was a traitor to his class for making big money out of big money, especially in currency speculation. To have the ultimate successful global capitalist espouse progressive policies, oppose Republicans in elections, and support higher taxes on corporations and the rich was the ultimate apostasy. Unfortunately, no one could call Soros a communist or socialist -- two of the Journal's favorite epithets -- nor could he be dismissed as an armchair philosopher who knew nothing about the real business world. George Soros had played the business game for the highest stakes and had won again and again, for himself and his legions of loyal investors. He would be a formidable opponent, and Sedgwick was tempted to decline the challenge -- he had a bully's cowardliness when it came to someone of his own size -- but the business press and the right-wing commentators and talk show hosts were touting him as their champion, licking their chops and rising as one to proclaim that he was the man to slay the forked-tongued dragon. He had no choice but to accept.

The day of the great debate -- besieged by every media outlet from The Onion to Vanity Fair -- came and went. And so did Sedgwick. He resigned his post the following month. In devastating detail, George demonstrated how hierarchical, monetarily fanatical megacorporations crushed dissent, civic values, and open societies while cozying up to their autocratic or dictatorial counterparts in government. He argued convincingly that the world's hopes and dreams, and even its continued existence, were at stake in the global collision between democracy and myopic corporatism, with its control of capital, labor, technology, media, and government. The great debate left the halls of Cooper Union and started around the country as if the self-censoring media had finally seen the light. When asked what he could possibly do for an encore after such a triumph, George replied, "Stay tuned."

For his own part, Warren Buffett hadn't exactly been twiddling his thumbs in the weeks since Maui. He and his people had been assembling the all-important brain trust that would respond with alacrity in specialized fields, from drafting legislation to assessing the feasibility of solar energy conversion on a wide scale. Among those enlisted were first-class wordsmiths and communications experts, specialists in friendly ultimatums and local mobilization, talented recruiters, and a whole array of people well versed in matters relating to budgets, billings, contracts, science, engineering, public works, healthcare, access to justice, corporate governance -- the list went on. Without disclosing the existence and mission of the core group, Warren told these people that he was in the preliminary stage of launching a project for broad reform and wanted them on board. They responded with a sense of hunger for new directions.

Warren had also been refining the operations of the Secretariat and orchestrating the weekly closed-circuit TV conferences that enabled the core group to keep abreast of each other's initiatives and report on their efforts to consolidate their epicenters. Many of them had gone home and started with selected members of their bemused extended families, who were so astonished by their overachieving older relatives' sudden energy after returning "from some trip" that they immediately agreed to contribute to the cause, again without being told the full dimensions of the cause. Core group members had similar positive results with many of the other billionaires they approached, and they also secured commitments of support from groups that were longtime recipients of their donations or had been galvanized by one of their exuberant initiatives. Warren was impressed by the range of these organizations, which included taxpayer groups worried about huge deficits and wasteful spending -- was it a coincidence that such groups first received national attention on the Phil Donahue Show? -- sustainable economy institutes, local veterans' associations, antipoverty groups, neighborhood associations, several trade unions, media reform and access organizations, consumer groups and consumer cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations representing defrauded patients, tenants, debtors, insurance holders, and car buyers, educational and civic entities, small investor clubs, local environmental leagues, artistic groups responding to Yoko, and groups of wealthy retirees bored out of their minds playing golf or bridge.

As Maui Two approached, Warren felt a growing admiration for the achievements of his colleagues in so short a time, and marveled again at the creativity of their initiatives. As a major owner of a giant reinsurer, he'd had a rough moment when Peter took the industry on, but he told himself that he was being tested, and he met his inner conflict with silence and valorous inaction. The rest of the initiatives filled him with joy, and he was so taken with Patriotic Polly that he'd carved out some time to answer calls to the toll-free number advertised during her spots. His first call was from a respiratory nurse in Birmingham, Alabama, who told a heartfelt story. She said she was ready to act but didn't know what to do. Without revealing his identity, he promised to look into the matter and call her back in a couple of days.

Warren went to his newly formed brain trust -- officially named the Analysis Department -- which was able to provide details and prices for bus conversions to natural gas: overall reduction in pollution tonnage, reduction in illnesses and property damage over time, and so forth. Then he had a hunch. Was the City of Birmingham demanding competitive broker bids for its municipal bond sales? It turned out that the answer was no. Warren called on the Analysis economists, who estimated that if the city insisted on competitive bids, it would save $45 million in bond dealer fees every two years on average. Presto. More than enough to pay for the bus conversions and even purchase some new energy-efficient buses. A call to Ted located two Alabama members of Billionaires Against Bullshit who swung into action. The rest was history. The city government didn't know what hit it -- there was a furor in the papers and on television -- and quickly announced a competitive bidding policy and a natural-gas conversion program. The nonplussed Jane Harper was interviewed so often she became a civic celebrity and received a promotion at her hospital.

Warren smiled to himself at the recollection and popped open a celebratory can of Cherry Coke.

***

A Sunday evening toward the end of January found the eminent political columnist for the Washington Post poring over a pile of clippings. David Roader prided himself on being a modest forecaster, in between covering what he tiredly called "the humdrum of cyclical political nothing campaigns." In his pile he spied a series of developments that suggested a fledgling phenomenon. There was certainly enough there to warrant attention in his twice-weekly syndicated column. He sat down to write, his glasses perched well below the bridge of his nose:

Maybe I'm seeing more than meets the eye, but have you noticed some unusual activity by some unusually rich people in the last month or so? One billionaire starts a fast-growing populist business association to take on the business behemoths in town; another organizes a big demonstration by the working poor in front of the New York Stock Exchange; yet another has taken on the entire insurance industry, of which he is a leading executive. One has placed full-page ads in major newspapers calling on his affluent peers to exercise a higher order of social conscience. Maybe it is to be expected that a cable industry pioneer noted for his maverick views would take it upon himself to launch Billionaires Against Bullshit, and maybe it's not so remarkable that a very rich plaintiffs' attorney has established a litigation network to file zillions of small claims against big companies, and maybe the wizard from Waco wants to climax his career by using his wealth to form after-school civic youth clubs, but it's all happening at once. And that's not all. An erstwhile computer software entrepreneur is sponsoring bizarre back-to-back hoedowns to show that people care more about bigoted words than about harmful deeds. At the same time, according to my sources, the Chief Business Investment Guru of the United States, a major investor in this newspaper, is making calls at a furious pace to round up more billionaires in an effort, as he puts it, "to turn this country around." And remember Soros v. Sedgwick? To top it all off, the well-to-do father of the world's richest man is busily incorporating thousands of individuals in the state of Delaware, and intends to run some corporations for elective office -- all in the name of egalitarianism!

I may have missed other similar eruptions, but I know enough to draw an interim conclusion. All these men are billionaires, most of them are in their seventies, eighties, or early nineties, and many of them end their interviews and press conferences with the same two words, "Stay tuned," all of which points to some sort of connection between them.

Something is bubbling here. Whether that something is heading for a seismic upheaval it is far too early to say, but in my fifty-one years of political journalism, I have never seen such stirrings from the very gut of the plutocracy. And the Internet traffic regarding the rich guys' activities leaves Britney and Paris in the dust.

No one who has read the newspapers for the past six years can have failed to notice the corporate crime wave, the contempt for prudent and self-restrained business behavior, the buying of political favors, and the lack of corporate patriotism in our country. Even leading business publications that rely on corporate advertising revenue -- among them Fortune and Business Week -- have been so taken aback by these unsavory trends that they have run cover stories and editorials denouncing corporate outlaws and their limitless greed. At present it is impossible to tell whether the activist billionaires represent this same resurgence of corporate ethics or something much more revolutionary. I guess we'll just have to stay tuned.


Monday morning, in his comfortable home in the nation's, capital, Brovar Dortwist was sipping hot black coffee with his young Arab-American wife, Halima, as he checked the major newspapers on his laptop. Brovar was a conservative lobbyist -- or rather, the conservative lobbyist. Every Wednesday at 10:00 a.m., in his office on K Street, he brought together more than a hundred of the most aggressive, no-holds-barred lobbyists and greasers in the corporate-occupied territory known as Washington, DC. Sitting at the head of a large table with standing room only around it, Brovar was the commander in chief, using his direct pipeline to the White House and his rapid-fire style to bark the craven missions of the week and send his troops forth to carry the banner of the almighty buck.

To call these sessions corporate pep rallies would be to underestimate the intense preparation and the vast resources in place. Brovar streamed out directives concerning the White House, Congress, the federal agencies, and the courts, all with the objective of consolidating the control of government by private economic power -- what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called "fascism" in a 1938 message to Congress urging the creation of a Temporary National Economic Committee to investigate the abuses of economic concentration. Most of Brovar's directives were part of a concerted offensive to secure more tax havens, tax reductions, and deregulation; to expand corporate control over the public's commonwealth assets; to weaken the government's enforcement capability; to restrict the right to sue the corporate predators in court; and in general to strengthen the power, privilege, and immunity of the corporations vis-a-vis the multitude of regular people who did the work and paid the bills. There was so little defense to play these days. In the sixties and seventies, those pesky citizen advocacy groups and their congressional allies made life so trying, until the great corporate counterattack launched by the Business Roundtable began harvesting its rewards during the later Carter years and the two terms of Ronald Reagan.

Sinking his teeth slowly into a petite Middle Eastern pastry, Brovar came to Roader's piece and paused in his swift scanning. He read every word and sat frowning at the polished mahogany surface of the dining table for a good five minutes. Then he packed up his laptop, gave his wife a distracted peck on the cheek, and strode off to work.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:21 pm

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 3

A month after their first Maui gathering, the members of the core group journeyed to the mountaintop hotel once again. Warren had arranged for a light supper, during which he suggested that they all retire early to be fresh for an intensive day's work tomorrow. Not a chance. The dining room was abuzz with lively exchanges about the events of the previous month, the diners too engrossed in their conversations to think of sleep.

"Warren, please, a man needs to shmooze," said Sol, and returned his attention to Bernard and Yoko, who were discussing ways of popularizing the Seventh-Generation Eye symbol.

Warren threw up his hands in mock despair and went over to see what Max was talking to Bill Gates about so intently.

At a corner table, Cosby and Newman were deep in thought over nearly untouched plates of lomi salad. They'd been stunned by the response to their telethon, which had been a huge success even though it flew in the face of what an adoring public expected of them. Now the need to take the next step was gnawing at them, but they still hadn't hit on an idea.

Paul speared a chunk of salmon. "Dead money," he said.

"Come again?"

"Don't you play poker, Bill? It's what's in the pot from the guys who fold. Just think of all the vast fortunes lying around in some trust, or in stocks, bonds, money markets. They're dead, inert, going nowhere in terms of the needs of the world, or even worse, passively serving oppression. Dead money is just money making money, instead of making things people need or making things happen. We've got to find a strategy for jolting dead money into live money, something that goes beyond simple charity or donations to political campaigns that get seedier by the year. We've got to resurrect dead money!" Paul finished with a plate-rattling bang on the table.

Bill, a chronic philanthropist who'd put his own money to work funding educational projects and outreach to inner-city youth, had been listening to all this with mounting excitement. "Amen, brother!" he said. "I hear you. I'm with you now. Dead money is like a stagnant pool breeding mosquitoes. Live money is like a gurgling brook full of marine life and on its way to join a river. But you're right, charity isn't enough. Remember those 'I Have a Dream' commitments where wealthy folks pledged to pay for the college educations of seventh graders if they hung in and made it through high school? Okay, that turned dead money into live money for those kids and their futures, but against the needs of millions of children, it was a drop in the bucket, just like the money the two of us give to this or that cause."

"Yes, there's no doubt that live money can make a real difference to individuals, but the challenge is to direct it toward fundamental change. There are some good development models out there, like one I saw from the UN Development Program on the enormous jump-start effect of some forty-five billion dollars on health, nutrition, and drinking water in impoverished areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. That's live money on the scale we're going to need here if we're going to succeed. For starters, consider how much it would take to follow through just on Leonard's idea from our last meeting about funding congressional elections."

Across the room, Warren stood up and yawned loudly. "I don't know about the rest of you Maui mastodons, but I'm turning in."

Paul and Bill exchanged a look. "Wait a minute," Paul called as they pulled their guitars from under the table, tuned up, and broke into "This Land Is Your Land.' All joined in on the chorus.

"Great way to end the evening," Warren said. "I only wish I'd brought my ukulele. Good night, everyone. Sleep well so we can get started catapult-style at eight after the best breakfast you'll have had in a month."

With that, they all repaired to their rooms, and the star-studded Maui night descended on the slumbering future earthshakers.

***

The next morning, Joe was awakened by a commotion in the hall. "What the hell?" he said as he jumped out of bed and flung open his door to see Ted grinning like a maniac and shouting, "Get up! Don't let America down."

Sol's door opened. He stood there in his pajamas for a moment, taking in the scene with a scowl. "Everybody's a comedian," he said, slamming the door.

After a buffet breakfast that exceeded Warren's prediction, the group assembled around the table in the conference room.

"Good morning, all," Warren said, "and special thanks to Ted for rendering our alarm clocks unnecessary. I want to begin by saying how impressed I was by the energy and ingenuity each of you displayed during the month between our last Maui meeting and Punxsutawney Phil's unfortunate sighting of his shadow the other day. Our first order of business is a status report on your initiatives so that we're all up to speed on the latest developments. Ross, will you start us off?"

"Sure, Warren, happy to oblige. My TV presentation brought in just over five million calls, letters, and e-mails from old Perotistas -- I have to admit that I always kind of liked people calling themselves that -- and from whistle-blowers and folks with all sorts of utopian schemes, personal complaints, and good solid ideas. I've opened a small office to process them and distill the serious from the whimsical. And I'm glad I denounced the Iraq war and went to bat for POWs and MIAs, because now the veterans' groups, at least most of the ones I've heard from, will go to bat for us." Ross went on to tell his colleagues how his growing distaste for the war had drawn him closer to the Smedley Butler Brigade and their still very timely analysis. "Which reminds me," he said. "Should we consider bringing a military man into our deliberations, for credibility on issues of defense and national security?"

"I've been wondering about that too," said Paul, who'd served as a Navy gunner during World War II.

"Yes, might be a good idea," Warren said. "Someone like Anthony Zinni would be perfect. He's a retired four-star Marine general and an outspoken critic of the war, with a service record and a chestful of medals that make his patriotism unassailable. But let's table this matter for now and take it up when we've all had a chance to think it over. Meanwhile, who's next?"

Phil pulled a letter from his jacket pocket. "This is an offer from the head of NBC. He wants to give me a national talk show, and get this -- he specifically wants me to deal with injustice, hard solutions to the nation's problems, bold doings among ordinary people, and the plight of millions of Americans who get pushed around or shut out while they do the essential, grimy, everyday work that keeps the rich and famous sitting pretty on top. He says NBC wants 'a new Dr. Phil for the new burgeoning civil society.'" Phil smiled as he neatly folded the letter into a paper airplane and sailed it toward Warren. "Too late, big suit. The train has left the station. We've got much bigger fish to fry, including him. Right, Barry?"

"You bet, Phil. I had to pull some strings to get Paul and Bill's telethon on the major networks, but pretty soon we won't need them at all. Remember what A. J. Liebling said? He said the only way to have a free press is to own one. My corporation already owns a bunch of TV, cable, and radio outlets, and my staff is working on buyouts that will give us a national network of stations with strong local and regional loyalties, like WTIC in Hartford and WCCO in Minneapolis. Not that I'm buying these particular stations, but you get the idea."

Sol cleared his throat. "Me, I still prefer a good newspaper, and that ad I took out in the big dailies really paid off. For a while there, my office looked like we were running a bingo tournament," he said, and described the parade of mega- wealthy oldsters who had descended on him in San Diego, earnest men and women who were bored, depressed, resigned to leaving this Earth in an ungodly mess, until they read his message and respected the messenger. Sol was no dot-com tycoon in his forties appealing to the cane-and-wheelchair set to give back. "I've asked my staff to collate their names according to likely areas of action, geographical location, and amount pledged."

"Did you know --"

"Did I know what, Mr. Squawk-Like-a-Parrot-at-the-Crack-of-Dawn?"

"Did you know," Ted said over the laughter that erupted around the table, "that a dozen of your guys joined Billionaires Against Bullshit? We started out with thirty, and now we've got fifty-five. There'd be more, but we screened all the applicants to get rid of the ones who were too compromised by bullshit investments or just wanted to join as an ego trip. We also turned away a few foreign billionaires because they're not US citizens, but we told them to stay tuned."

"It's extraordinary, isn't it," said Bill Gates, "this desire of the older rich to make a difference in the world? I think we're really on to something here. In my own fundraising during the past month, I drew heavily on my longstanding group of wealthy men and women opposed to the repeal of the estate tax. I selected the most likely large contributors, met with them or made a personal call, and explained our undertaking in general terms, indicating that specifics are coming. Then I declared my donation and asked them to do likewise as a pledge. I was pleasantly surprised by their impatience with the stagnation of our country and by their agreement with our judgment that purposeful upheavals and realignments are long overdue. One of them, a very successful retired investment banker, and a prominent advocate of public campaign financing, even said, 'Only if the effort is full throttle, Bill, only if it's full throttle. I'm not interested in due diligence.'"

"I got some good results from friends and associates too," Yoko said, "but I also got some chronic poor-mouthing from very rich people who keep discounting their acquired wealth every year as if they're starting from scratch."

Bill Cosby was nodding in assent. "That's just what Paul and I were talking about at dinner," he said, and recounted their conversation about dead money. "We think it's a vital concept, and we're going to commission an economist to give us some hard numbers."

"Speaking of hard numbers, let's see where we stand with our finances." Warren passed a stack of cards around the table. "Over the last month, the Secretariat has collected the names of the superrich you contacted and the amounts they agreed to contribute contingent on what you yourselves offered to put up. Those contingent pledges, I'm pleased to report, total six billion dollars. Now if you'll all indicate your own contributions on these cards and pass them back, I'll do the math."

Warren collected the cards, jotted some figures on a notepad, and looked up with a broad smile. "Nine billion dollars. That gives us a total of fifteen billion for our first operating budget. Not bad," he said, thinking to himself that if his own contribution was the largest, he was also the richest, and that these people were dead serious. He'd chosen well.

"As to the nuts and bolts," he continued, "all funds donated will be forwarded to a trust escrow account within seven days. The trust will then establish two accounts under proper IRS rules, one for charitable purposes and one for lobbying and political purposes, the former deductible and the latter definitely not. Allocations from the escrow account will be based on the priorities we set as we proceed. So shall we proceed?"

"Let's," said Leonard, self-designated street person. "As you know, twenty-five thousand strong turned out for the Wall Street rally. We had sign-up tables all over for those interested in further action, and we collected about three thousand names. Of those, we've identified a hundred or so born or seasoned organizers for future events. We've analyzed in detail all the feedback from the rally -- the impressions of our people on the ground, the overheard talk in the crowd, the water- cooler reaction of the stockbrokers in their offices, the press coverage and commentary -- and I can tell you that you haven't seen anything yet. We've planted the seeds of mass rolling demonstrations, marches, and rallies across and up and down our country."

"The People's Court Society is on the move too," Joe said. "There's a wonderful flood of litigation underway, and the law schools have really gotten on board. I'd originally thought of this as a nice extracurricular activity for the students, but deans and professors have embraced it as a welcome addition to their for-credit clinical programs. As just a taste of what's in store, two hundred small claims suits have already been filed against major corporations. The law students were already trying to advise their poor clients in other clinical programs, so it was a quick shift from begging to litigation. The legal press has yet to take much notice of the coming shockwaves, but it won't be long."

"Hey, people are corporations too!" Bill Gates said to another wave of laughter. "They've been flooding my office to incorporate themselves under Delaware's generous laws, and in the process, they've learned firsthand about the double standard between corporate status and citizen status. Corporations have all kinds of privileges and immunities. For starters, as nonvoters, they can deduct their expenses when they sue and when they lobby. Citizens who are voters cannot. More on this later. For the time being, thousands of people are having fun naming their corporate selves, and the local press is having a field day covering this 'corporate explosion' in their midst. As for the other project, the one to run five corporations for public office, it's still in the planning stage, with the advisory committee preparing for their third intensive meeting. We've had inquiries about potential candidacies from a number of small corporations, but we haven't yet filtered them to see if they're just practical jokers. Initial commentary on my news conference was rich with satire and ridicule on the issue of 'personhood,' but the media braying has since abated."

"If I can jump in here," Bernard said, "there's been considerable interest from parents and teachers in my Egalitarian Clubs, but what's really engaged people is the whole issue of the public schools as instruments of corporate propaganda and commercialism. That's touched a much more sensitive nerve than corporate abuses involving consumer harms or environmental damage. We've got big companies refusing to pay their fair share of property taxes, demanding and getting abatements, and starving the local school budget; big companies advertising in the schools themselves during the twelve-minute Channel One period, pushing sugar, fat, soda, and junk food; big companies pouring garbage entertainment and violence into the minds of kids after school. There's lots of repressed rage coming from beleaguered parents who realize more and more that big companies are raising their children while they, the fathers and mothers, are at work, putting in longer and longer hours."

"But there are still plenty of kids who haven't been brainwashed," Yoko said. "Some of my favorite letters asking for CFLs were from kids who said that they knew how hard their parents worked and wanted to help them save money, or that they wanted to save energy so there'd be more for kids in other parts of the world, or that they thought the Eye was 'way cool' and loved what it stands for."

"So all in all, Yoko, how many Americans will it take to screw in your lightbulbs?" asked Ted with a Turnerian twinkle.

Yoko smiled. "All in all, Ted, my office has subcontracted for the shipment of more than three million energy-efficient bulbs, and we've got the names and addresses of everyone who requested them. That's a good list to have in terms of our other initiatives, especially those concerning energy and sustainability."

"I hope you've all seen the letter Yoko sent out," Warren said. "Even apart from the brilliance of the Eye design, it's a masterpiece. And so is your letter, Jeno."

"Thanks, Warren. For those who haven't had a chance to read it, I'll try to summarize. I wrote to the tens of thousands of businesses that signed up for the People's Chamber of Commerce, and began by cataloguing one grievance or dissatisfaction after another that many businesses have with their Washington-based trade associations. These associations have a bureaucratic drive of their own. They inflate all the terrible things the government will inflict on the industry if the money doesn't keep flowing into their coffers. They concoct outrageous demands for privileges, subsidies, and tax loopholes from Congress to justify larger budgets. They manufacture hinterland fear and frenzy, as they did with the right to sue in court, despite having no factual basis for their hype. And these trade lobbies never support national interest agendas. Shouldn't they be using their muscle to get the energy industry and the auto companies to refine their products for greater efficiency? Isn't that in their own economic interest? My letter cited example after example of how narrow, craven, and self-seeking these trade associations are, when the interests of the people of the United States should come first and foremost. But in the long run, our history demonstrates that displaying foresight and espousing principles of fairness, justice, and democracy, as the PCC intends to do, lifts all boats."

Peter raised his mug of coffee. "Hear, hear! I read your letter, Jeno, and it's a knockout. With your permission, I'd like to send a copy out to some business associates."

"Same here," came a chorus of voices, Ross describing the letter as "a clarion call," Max as "a prospectus for the future," Sol as "a challenge to the conscience of the merchant class, perfectly tuned to the audience."

"You're a hard act to follow, Jeno," Max said, "especially since I haven't had the time to expand on my experiments with civic arousal, other than to review all the popular and scholarly commentary. The anthropologist and the psychologist aren't getting along because they differ radically on the explanation for the behavior of the two audiences in Los Angeles. I told them to stop arguing and finish their reports ASAP, and then I'll decide on my next move."

Warren turned to Peter. "And what about those verbal thunderbolts you hurled at the insurance industry's tepidness or deliberate inaction on protecting lives, property, and health through loss prevention?"

"Well, after their PR flacks got done denouncing me from pillar to post, a low roar was heard, and now it's beginning to sound like an approaching typhoon of outrage from policyholders, firefighters, employees in the workplace, people all throughout the insured economy. I think I gave them a way to articulate their concerns, and I think they trusted what I said because I criticized my own golden goose. And miracle of miracles, the Senate Commerce Committee has perked up from its well-compensated slumber and announced five days of public hearings, to begin in a month. Maybe it's because the chairman is facing a rare closely contested election this year, but in any case, they've asked me to be the lead witness, and they've assured me that the committee is prepared to use its subpoena powers in abundance. That could lead to a real shake-up, especially if our group takes advantage of the coming thunder and lightning."

"Bravo, Peter." Warren consulted his notepad. "I think we've heard from everyone now, except for you, George. You got global coverage for your debate with Sedgwick, and I'm still seeing clips of it on the news. Had any takers for another debate?"

"Not a one," George said with an expressive arch of his eyebrows. "No news here, except that I'm told Sedgwick bought a spread in New Mexico and is raising ostriches."

"Good, he can put his head in the sand with them," Warren said, "and on that note we'll adjourn for lunch. There's a cornucopia of fruit, banana bread, and coconut pudding awaiting you in the dining room."

''I'll have the pastrami on rye," Sol said.

After lunch, as everyone was settling in for the afternoon meeting, a tall, dapper man in a suit and bow tie strode into the conference room.

"My friends," Warren said, "allow me to introduce Patrick Drummond, director of our Secretariat, a managerial wizard and one of my closest associates for the last twenty-five years. It's Patrick who deserves the credit for the smooth workings of our closed-circuit conferences, and it's Patrick who's been receiving all your communications for the last month. I've asked him to join us this afternoon to take notes on our discussion and collate the results."

After a cordial exchange of greetings, the group got down to hard tacks to set an agenda for action during the coming month. Hour after hour, the roundtablers worked at a furious pace, refining goals, setting priorities, allocating the human and material assets assembled during the past month's work, and deciding who would take primary responsibility in which areas. They interacted like smoothly meshing gears, expressing strong views without acrimony. They had checked their egos at Warren Buffet's door. Already predisposed to action, knowing what they wanted, drawing on their boundless entrepreneurial energy, realizing that collectively they had an unprecedented capacity to effect change, they were determined to get moving, to get the job done -- at least their part of it -- within a year. They knew that if it took longer, the opposition would have more time to mobilize and their chances of success would diminish.

A powerful new human force was being unleashed in that conference room, contrary to all cultural and psychological expectations about the rich, famous, and successful, contrary to the conventional view of human nature as greedy and self-serving. On top of that wondrously endowed mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Warren's warriors felt giddy with hard-headed hope. They worked on into the evening, until Warren stood to adjourn the meeting. "I thank you all for your labors, my friends," he said. "And now, supper, silence, and sleep."

***

In the morning the group rose without help from Ted and gathered around the familiar round table for a working breakfast. Warren opened the meeting by passing out agenda sheets that he and Patrick had prepared overnight.

"What you see here," he said, holding up his own sheet, "is a list of the major Redirections distilled from all our previous discussions and exchanges. I continue to use the word 'Redirections' because it connotes flexibility and a sense of learning as we go. It also connotes, however unexciting, the absence of dogma, rigidity, and isms. The excitement will come in other ways, you can be sure. Your names appear next to the Redirections for which you volunteered to assume either primary or secondary responsibility during yesterday's meeting.

"These ten Redirections were chosen with an eye to their potential for amassing additional human and material assets, arousing the downtrodden, securing positive media attention, provoking reaction from the vested interests, motivating the young, highlighting solutions, cracking the mind-suppressing paradigms of the intellectual classes, enhancing countervailing challenges to the power structure, redefining patriotism in terms of civic duty, and fast-tracking some long overdue practical improvements in the lot of millions of Americans. As we move on to implementation, let's all remember the importance of replication dynamics and leveraged velocity, as discussed during Maui One."

While Warren was speaking, his colleagues had been studying their agenda sheets with evident approval.

REDIRECTIONS ACTION AGENDA

1. First-Stage Improvements (economic inequality, health, energy, food, housing -- a just society and fair economy): Max, with Jeno, Sol, and Bill C.

2. Congress: Bernard, with Leonard and Peter.

3. Electoral Reform (voters, candidates, parties, shaking up incumbents): Warren, with Bernard and Max.

4. Posterity (children, school budgets, youth clubs): Bernard and Yoko, with Ross, Paul, Bill C., and Warren.

5. Promotions (media buyouts, people's networks, staged events, theater, spectacle): Barry, Ted, and Phil, with Paul, Yoko, Bill C., and Bill G.

6. Credibility Groups (veterans, civic organizations, women's clubs, etc.): Ross, with Paul, Bill C., and Peter.

7. Sustainable Sub-economy (breakthrough companies, progressive business organizations): Sol and Jeno.

8. Access to Justice: Joe and Bill G.

9. Mass Demonstrations (rallies, marches, teach-ins, etc.): Leonard and Barry.

10. Citizens' Utility Boards (massive expansion of dues-paying civic advocacy groups): George, with Jeno and Max.


"I think each Redirection is largely self-explanatory," Warren went on, "but perhaps I should say a few words about two of them. Unlike existing Citizens' Utility Boards, our CUBs won't restrict themselves to the big power companies, but will address a broad range of consumer and public concerns. We're using 'CUB' generically, since these groups will certainly be of utility to our citizens. The Promotions Redirection represents what Patrick and I heard from all you media and performance types who kept harping on the need to dramatize our efforts in ways that will appeal to mass audiences.

"Now let me suggest a few organizational principles. First, each Redirection project will have one manager and one clerk -- that is all. Their function will be to keep things moving, locate glitches, and report any crucial logjams or opposition to the Secretariat for higher-level action. Keeping the staff slim accords with a managerial philosophy of devolution, which means always pushing the work and energy down to the community or to the best real-life platform. Otherwise we'll end up building a top-heavy apparatus, and we all know where that leads. As for support services, our Secretariat will work out budgets with your single manager and single clerk, and will arrange for task-specific teams to gather data and prepare reports as needed. The Secretariat remains the back-and-forth communications hub.

"Obviously there will be much experimentation in the coming month. Let's hope that exuberance doesn't breed too many blunders. The Redirections are designed for minimal error, with no catechism, no doctrine, just an open source philosophy with intermediate and goal-targeted compasses. Remember too, over the next month, to make waves, not tsunamis. Be very attentive to feedback and subsequent refinements. You won't have much time for this, but you ignore it at your peril. Reflexivity, right, George?

"I see that I'm making a speech here, but I can tell from your faces that you're all satisfied with our Redirections agenda. I think you'll agree that our work here is done, so with your indulgence, I'll go on with my closing remarks.

"Some of these Redirections are bucking broncos, others are slam dunks, and still others are just plain fun. They should all eventually become sheer joy. Some of them are tools for building power, while others are forms of direct pressure for substantive change like a living wage.

"Speaking of joy, I've talked to each of you privately about bringing on board Bill Joy, formerly of Sun Microsystems, which he cofounded. He's the most imaginative technical futurist thinking and writing today, and yet he's completely grounded in reality. He is not an elder like most of us, but he's wealthy enough, and without objection I'll call him to make the invitation. He is the great antidote to these techno-twits who are imperiling us with their contempt for the ethical and legal framework necessary to contain future Frankensteins. We have many skills around this table, but science and technology -- with apologies to computer wiz Max, who now calls himself a Luddite -- are not among them. That is what Joy brings to us, along with impressive foresight and an alert energy.

"One last reminder. I'm sure you all saw David Roader's column in the Post speculating about a possible connection between the recent activities of certain billionaire oldsters. Well, if that's all the astute, well-connected Mr. Roader knows, then I think our secret is safe for now, but be careful. It's fine if people make connections between us as individuals -- in fact, we want them to -- but please safeguard our acting as an entity for the time being. Public disclosure of this group would galvanize our opposition. The time will come when the opposition builds to such a point that we'll step forward in our strength and unity and enter the fray for the showdown. By then we will not be alone."

Whereupon they all drank a toast to their mighty endeavor, took leave of each other, and boarded two business jets supplied by Warren and Ted for the journey back to the mainland. The next day, a short paragraph in the Hollywood Reporter noted a sighting of Paul Newman and Bill Cosby at the Maui airport.

***

Monday morning in New York City, George Soros summoned his three-person action team, which he'd put on high alert well before he landed at JFK. He wanted a meeting within twenty-four hours with the prime advocates of the CUB model, Robert Fellmeth, a dynamic, prolific law professor from San Diego who'd written a report on the subject a few years back, and John Richard, a longtime CUB proponent who knew intimately the kinds of arguments used against them. By noon, George's team had made the invitations and put together a memo on the two main existing CUBs, in Illinois and San Diego, as well as all the CUBs that had been proposed but rejected. They'd also compiled a list of CUB sectors to be rapidly developed: banking, investment, and brokerage; auto, health, home, and life insurance; postal services and utilities; Social Security and income taxation; consumer, tenant, and voter rights; and anticonsumer (as in credit and software) standard form contracts. Attached was a description of the CUB structure: membership, dues, elected boards of directors, staffs of organizers, publicists, attorneys, economists, and other technically skilled people. Those solicited for voluntary participation would be reached through selected mailing lists and demographically targeted mass media, in keeping with the principle of closing the loop on the ground.

George devoured this information and waited impatiently for the four o'clock deadline for his team's report on available mailing lists and the best estimates on costs and rates of return. That's what successful, self-made people of wealth are like -- big on detail while keeping the big picture in mind. They are chronically averse to procrastination -- one definition of an entrepreneur is someone who never does anything today that could have been done yesterday -- and that trait alone gives them a major advantage over their competent but slower-paced peers.

George's team also prepared a report on how the existing CUBs had adjusted to the Supreme Court's split 1986 decision prohibiting laws or regulations that required companies to place invitational inserts in their billing envelopes. At the time, Justice Rehnquist delivered a blistering dissent in defense of the California regulation requiring such inserts, and rejected the narrow majority's ruling that the regulation violated the electric utility monopoly's First Amendment rights, specifically its right to remain silent! The tortured logic here is that if the inserts were allowed, the utility would have to rebut their consumer-oriented content. After the decision, the San Diego CUB had to go to less rewarding cold mailings, but the Illinois CUB secured passage of a law requiring state government mailings above a certain number to enclose such inserts.

On Tuesday morning, Robert and John arrived at George's office promptly at nine. George told them what he needed, fast. First, a draft invitational letter containing the basic message; he'd have his writing experts add the flash. Second, all possible leads for recruiting the best possible directors and staff for each CUB, these positions to pay good upper-middle- class salaries with benefits. Third, a plan to get the CUBs underway immediately, for an interim period of eight months, to allow the structure to get on track before the members took over to elect a board and assume other governance duties as befitted a grassroots association. Fourth, liaison with the tiny existing citizen organizations that had been working for years against various companies' abuses. All these tasks would be budgeted immediately, George said. Both men agreed to take them on.

John foresaw logistical needs that required immediate attention -- offices, legal and promotional services, a whole infrastructure for establishing enduring institutions. George, already on this, said that a three-hundred-room Washington hotel was available to house the national CUB offices. The hotel wasn't doing well, and he knew the CEO of the chain, who would sell for a reasonable price. The rooms would become offices, each with a bath. There were several conference rooms, as well as cooking and exercise facilities for the staff. Perfect. Modest renovation could be accomplished within a month.

On his flight across the country, Robert's encyclopedic mind had outlined a substantive agenda for each of the CUBs, with starting times for the items staggered and backup strategies attached. George was impressed. It wasn't even noon. He ordered lunch and champagne. The material assembled by his team of three the day before now had to be digested in detail.

Working outward, the group discussed the five-year budget line, the websites, the preliminary announcements, the estimated paid memberships over five years, the initial actions -- petitions, lawsuits, agency interventions, public hearings, reports, articles, conferences, rallies, and other kickoff activities -- and the short- and longer-range objectives, hammering out the details with precision. Robert proposed a two-year average membership objective of 1.5 million for each of the fifteen different CUBs -- some would be larger, some smaller -- with average dues coming in at $50 a year. John proposed a central service organization to handle media, accounting, Internet facilities. legal advice. etc., and to be lodged in the hotel so that the CUBs could concentrate on their substantive missions, especially intensifying member activism back home. George said to himself, "These fellows are the kind of talent and experience lying in wait that we can expect to find everywhere -- mature, experienced, short on funds, but hanging in there year after year."

The last question to be resolved was when liftoff should be and whether all the CUBs should launch at once. Everyone agreed that each CUB should have its day, with the announcements spaced two days apart to allow time for media coverage and for the opposition to get their licks in and help make even more news. The millions of letters mailed out for each CUB would be timed so that the bulk of them arrived in the middle of the national news focus and the launch of the website. George expressed hope for a 5 percent return, an unusually good number. As for liftoff, it would be in thirty days sharp, meaning right after Maui Three, though of course George didn't mention that.

Over at the Congress Project, the agenda was nowhere near as self-executing. In their initial huddle, Bernard, Leonard, and Peter tried to reduce this enormously indentured institution to human scale. The 535 men and women of Congress all had offices in DC and in their home districts or states. They had dozens of staffers enabling, scheduling, and shielding them with varying degrees of sycophancy and sincerity. Bernard and his colleagues had many years of contact with members of Congress and their top staff. Not much of it was useful for the task at hand, except to underline the importance of the multibillion-dollar buyout to replace the money of the lobbyists.

But before getting to that blockbuster foray into the real political wars, the three men attended to the infrastructure necessary to change such a mired behemoth. Money is the lubricant of incumbency, in that it helps sitting members to ward off challengers in both primary and general elections, but votes, not money, get politicians to Washington, DC, so it starts with the people back home. What do they need to know in order to elevate their expectations of congressional performance and take matters into their own hands to make it happen? Make what happen? The three agreed on this one: replace all who do not meet a minimum standard of heeding the interests of the people. Bernard estimated that fewer than 15 percent of those in Congress would survive such a cut. But what standard? That started them down a line of thought about standards of performance: standards of empowering the people back home; standards of informing the people back home through studies, website information, oversight hearings on the executive branch, and scores for voting records; standards for judicial confirmation; standards of accessibility. If, for example, more than a third of a legislator's time was spent raising campaign money during an election year, that would fall beneath the standard of accessibility. Admittedly, such standards could not be mathematically quantified, but at least they would shine a nonpartisan and institutionally focused light on Capitol Hill. The men knew that these standards, once written, would be fodder for the numerous citizen groups in Washington that were information sinks. The Congress Project would need special budgetary support for a crash effort. They called the Secretariat. Done.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:22 pm

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

Next, they would hire two hundred full-time organizers, assign them proportionately to the fifty states, and send them out with major advance publicity to each congressional district with an approximate population of 600,000, to find residents who in turn would be willing to find two thousand voters in each congressional district serious about establishing a Congress Watchdog group. Each group would have a full-time staff and office, with a budget for part-time workers. Their immediate tasks would be public evaluation of incumbents and public accountability sessions. In each district they would distribute cards allowing voters to declare their positions on various issues on one side, and showing how their senators and representatives voted on those issues on the other. That way the voters would be able to see at a glance how their views compared with the deeds of the lawmakers, not the rhetoric. Local media and relevant websites would receive regular dispatches about deeds versus rhetoric, and Barry's democracy networks of TV and radio stations would be sure to publicize these extensively.

With adequate financial resources and organizers, two thousand serious voters in each congressional district was a realistic goal. For one thing, almost every district had one or more universities, colleges, or community colleges. For another, letters to the editor in local newspapers and magazines could be scoured for names, and the lists of millions who'd responded to the various core group initiatives after Maui One could be broken down by zip code. The organizers could drive a Congressional Action Bus through cities and towns to bring out people willing to make time for turning Congress around. After all, it was an institution that spent some 22 percent of the people's income and could send their children off to war, raise their taxes, give their commonwealth property away to corporations, and leave them defenseless against rapacious lobbies that kept wages down, drug and fuel prices up, and big business happy.

A vital part of the organizers' work would be to screen admission to the Watchdog groups through interviews and questionnaires designed to establish common ground at the outset. Potential members would be expected to devote a minimum of twenty hours a month to monitoring their representatives' positions on a livable wage, universal cost-effective health insurance, and the rest of the First-Stage goals for a greater and better America. They would also have to be reasonably well-informed on these issues so they could impress the media and their friends and neighbors with their commitment. Such preconditions would assure a high degree of unity and minimize bickering and indecisiveness.

Now for the Blockbuster Challenge. The project staff began by preparing a preliminary estimate of the amount spent by members of Congress in the prior election. Subtracting resignations or departures from office, the total for the House and Senate came in at about $2 billion, just as Leonard had predicted at Maui One. This 2 billion would come from the core group's operating budget and would be administered by twelve trustees, distinguished men and women who had completed their careers and had no further ambitions for power, status, or lucre. The trust would match each incumbent's net fundraising in a giant buyout of the special interests that normally funded them. The slogan would be "Buy Back Your Congress: The Best Bargain in America." Any incumbent who resisted this no-strings buyout, other than by rejecting all private contributions, would be on the A-list for defeat by the Congress Watchdogs and their allies. Just that simple. Until the passage of a fair public campaign finance law, a similar amount of money would be raised every two years, preferably through small contributions from the aroused citizenry, to continue the Great Buyout.

Having developed the Congress Project to this point, Bernard, Leonard, and Peter put in a call to the Promotions Project and got Barry, who was eager to discuss synergy and to work with them as an early real-life test of his networks and media strategies. He promised to have a plan ready in three days and suggested that they all meet soon afterward.

At the Promotions Project, deliberations tended to have a certain combustible quality, given the temperaments involved: Barry, the bone-crushing, mercurial boss; Ted, the iconoclastic, impulsive, daring visionary with his feet on the ground; and Phil, the vernacular imagery king whose show served as America's Town Meeting on public taboos every morning for nearly thirty years. To these three gentlemen, selling the core group's mission to the American people was a priority that could scarcely be overstated. They knew better than most the kind of big-money multimedia counterattack that was awaiting them, and they wanted to anticipate every weakness and come back strong against every smear, deception, and lie. They knew a titanic battle lay ahead.

Barry had been acquiring radio, TV, and satellite outlets ever since Maui One, through the magic of leveraged buyouts. He had a law firm that spit them out like extruded plastic. It was all a matter of financing. Buying good income-producing assets solved that problem, though Promotions would need a modest budget from the core group for restaffing and some reprogramming of station content, which had to be serious and irresistible, like 60 Minutes. As for newspapers, there was no need to buy one; it would be cheaper to buy space for ads that made news themselves, in the style of Bill Hillsman, the iconoclastic adman. As for movies, Barry would contact the Dreamworks duo and others he'd brought into the business, to discuss some imaginative assignments that would intrigue the video-doused younger generation.

They approached the next subject gingerly. The media, even the mass media, was only as good as the message, the presentation of the message, and the timing. When the counterattack came, they'd be ready for the big boys, with their Madison Avenue skillsters and their endless treasuries, but meanwhile, they needed a smash hit out of the box. They mulled over the slate of Redirections for visual, symbolic, and emotional intensity. Of course they would coordinate with the Congress Project and all the other Redirections-- that was a big part of their job-- but as an opening salvo, Congress just didn't cut it, no matter how hard they tried to personalize Capitol Hill, or more accurately, Withering Heights. They all racked their brains. The hopelessly competitive Ted was determined to come up with something that would surpass the rousing success of his and Phil's brainchild, Patriotic Polly, but in the end it was Barry's idea that won the day. They would start in California, the trendsetting state, with what pool players called a bank shot.

With Ted and Phil on speakerphone, Barry placed a call to his close friend Warren Beatty, the progressive but indecisive Hollywood actor who had been making noises about going into politics for a long time. California's current governor was a former grade-B actor whose political decisions were daily irritations to Beatty. Twice he had publicly chided "my old friend Arnold," who chose not to reply. California had a large deficit that could be erased with one piece of legislation that the Democratically controlled legislature would be pleased to pass: a return to the level of taxation of the very wealthy before the tax cuts drowned state revenues in a sea of red ink. Governor Schwarzenegger was adamantly opposed to such legislation, probably because he had so many super-wealthy friends and contributors. To meet the state's expenses, he kept floating huge bond issues and cutting programs for those on the lower rungs of the income ladder. This would be the heart of Barry's pitch to get Beatty off the fence.

"Hello, Warren, Barry Diller here," he said when the actor picked up.

"Hi, Barry, got a good script for me for a change?"

"You bet, but not the kind of script you mean. I have a two-stage plan that will put you in the governor's mansion."

"Are you kidding? Really, Barry, what's the scoop?"

"Simple. You get your ass out of Mulholland Drive and hit the road, contacting all your wealthy friends and their friends up and down the California Gold Coast. Your message: you are going to donate what the tax cut awarded you to the public treasury, and you want them to do the same as part of a reverse revolt of the rich. Then you all go to Sacramento, demand that the megamillionaire governor follow suit, and lean on the legislature to repeal the tax cut. We will provide you with staff and media backup, two press people, and a list of the California super-rich."

"Who's 'we'?" Warren asked.

"Me, Ted Turner, Phil Donahue, and your pal Max Palevsky."

Warren whistled. "Quite a group. You know, I just did a thing with Max last month."

"Yeah, I heard, quite a thing. Anyway, like I was saying, we'll get behind you all the way, with whatever you need. By next week, I'll have four billionaires, give or take, lined up to announce their own tax-cut givebacks and accompany you on your swing up the state. Two of them have real star power. The resultant uproar and the media saturation on your historic bus trek will get you to ninety-nine percent name recognition, if you don't have it already, and after you take Sacramento by storm, you announce for governor. When millions of Californians see what you've done outside the governorship, they'll be ready to believe what you say you're going to do inside it once you evacuate the corporate cyborg who's there now. So, what do you say?"

"Tempting, but I don't know. Why don't we have dinner at the club and talk it over?"

"Look, you've already thought about running and weighed the pros and cons. It's time to make a decision, Warren. It's time to fish or cut bait. I'll call you back tomorrow morning for your answer -- unless you have any more questions?"

"No, I guess not. Okay, Barry, call me at ten."

"Well, fingers crossed," Phil said as Barry hung up.

At ten the next morning, Barry called back, and Warren said yes. Three times. At long last, his demons of indecision were exorcised, and he was ready to put his ideas and convictions into practice. Barry was ecstatic. He told Warren that the aforementioned support team would arrive at his home in seventy-two hours. "Then we'll have a conference call for the rollout no more than two days later. Ciao."

Barry sat back in his desk chair and contemplated the coming campaign. "The Reverse Revolt of the Rich," he kept repeating to himself. "Something's not quite right. Aha. The People's Revolt of the Rich, that's it! The perfect oxymoron to pique interest." He pulled out his famous electronic Rolodex, and within hours he had commitments from the four billionaires he'd promised Warren, and from a dozen more who agreed to come on board, partly persuaded on the merits and partly flattered by Barry's call. Like others in the core group, Barry was discovering that he could call in an enormous number of IOUs because he'd almost never asked his affluent peers for anything, except maybe to buy some tickets to a charity ball or make the tiny allowable contribution to a political candidate. There were golden assets in them thar hills!

When the core group members were informed of the Beatty initiative, they were all for it. Max didn't mind that Barry had dropped his name without talking to him first; he'd been Warren's close friend for thirty years, and they'd had many a bachelor adventure together. Bill Cosby loved "the imposition of responsibility on the rich by the rich but for the people," as he put it. Bill Gates offered to tap his estate tax group for more billionaires to join Beatty, and Ted said he would canvass his Billionaires Against Bullshit.

Meanwhile, the Mass Demonstrations Project was in active collaboration with the First-Stage Improvements Project. Together, Leonard and Max launched what they called the lunchtime rebellion-rallies in the main squares of the older cities, like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston. The rallies started small on a Monday, but the colorful speakers and the distribution of nutritious lunches soon attracted larger and larger crowds. The topic was economic inequality, with dozens of vivid examples that resonated with the daily experience of the lunchtimers. Leonard and Max drew on the work of Bill Gates's coauthor on the keep-the-estate-tax book, Chuck Collins, whose collection of inequalities was unsurpassed in the nation. They had their organizers distribute material filled with data, personal stories, angering comparisons between CEO pay and grunt worker pay -- $10,000 per hour compared to $9.00 per hour -- accompanied by an explanation of how continued inequality would destroy both our worker economy and our democracy.

Halfway across the country, in a quiet office in Omaha, Warren and Bernard began the arduous work of marshaling the best proposals for electoral reform. They considered the rights of voters, candidates, and parties, with the objective of a competitive, diverse spectrum of choices. Their working premise was that the electoral system is fixed, not just by the corrupt political machines that have marked our history, but by a 217-year-old Electoral College and an exclusive, winner-take-all, commercially funded two-party system that effectively results in an elected dictatorship. In the economy, such domination would be in violation of the antitrust laws. In the electoral arena, it was politics as usual. But as a federal judge once said, "Democracy dies behind closed doors." Smaller parties and candidates who might have affected the content and sometimes the margins in two-party races had the doors closed on them by a bewildering, arbitrary, capricious, and sometimes venal array of local, state, and federal election laws that prevented them from competing and having a chance at the voters. No other western country had as few candidates on each ballot line and as many obstacles to both voters and candidates as the United States. Not even close.

As businessmen who started out small against the big boys, Warren and Bernard knew how crucial it was to keep the doors open to new blood, new proposals, new energies, budding movements -- even if or precisely because their preferred party was on top. They were tired of lesser-evil choices for voters. They also knew that dozens of blue-ribbon commission reports on electoral reform were gathering the proverbial dust, pathetic victims of politics as usual.

How, then, to get the show on the road? They arrived at three approaches. First, a big-time shakeup of the system through a massive media campaign and mobilization rallies under the umbrella of "Bring Back the Sovereignty of the Voters." These would emphasize the usual ingredients of electoral reform: public financing of campaigns, eradication of obstacles to voting and running for office, open access to debates, varieties of instant runoff voting, proportional representation, same-day voter registration -- and, Bernard insisted, binding none-of-the-above (NOTA) choices on all ballot lines. NOTA would give voters what they did not have -- the opportunity to vote no confidence in all the candidates. Should NOTA win, that ballot-line election would be nullified and a new election with new candidates would be scheduled within thirty days.

To head Operation Shakeup, Warren had his eye on an old friend of his, Jerome Kohlberg, a retired billionaire investment banker with a proven passion for electoral reform. One call from Omaha to his Hamptons residence and he agreed immediately, asking if he could start yesterday. Warren said he would be contacted within a week with the comprehensive plan and resources; in the meantime he should study the reform proposals and make his own contacts to expand the clout behind the operation.

Approach number two they called the Trojan Horse Strategy: mobilize all the former members of Congress who had been driven away by the stench of the system. Warren called Cecil Zeftel, a former member of the House from Hawaii, who had written a searing book about the putrid lobbying and cash-register politics dominating our national legislature. Bernard called James Zabouresk, ex-senator from South Dakota, who'd retired with a similar public blast. The two men agreed to lead the effort and said they would start rounding up their former colleagues right away. Zabouresk wanted to stress the human costs of not having electoral reform, such as no health insurance for millions of people.

The other hoof of the Trojan Horse Strategy would be to infiltrate congressional staff with new staff committed to electoral reform. Bernard had marveled over the years at the influence of perhaps two dozen key staffers in either body who were the trim tabs that turned the ship around. Although there were predisposed "ships" among the lawmakers, they were often demoralized, but the flame was still there. The staffing initiative would have to extend to congressional offices back home to track emerging grassroots pressures for change and convey them up the line.

The third approach was the most audacious: create a one-issue political party with an electoral reform platform at all three levels of government. Upon formation, the Clean Elections Party would announce that it would go out of business once the platform was enacted into law. It would have no other ambitions, no other agendas. Starting a new party was an uphill task, but if the money was available, the forlorn longtime advocates of reform would swing into action all over the country. The very simplicity of the party's purpose -- to show the way to clean elections so that the people had a fighting chance to address the widely perceived needs and injustices they encountered in their daily lives -- would have an undeniable appeal.

Warren got himself another Cherry Coke and poured a glass of red wine for Bernard. It was time for a break before they composed a memo to the Congress Project, with which they would coordinate their activities closely. Bernard wondered how the Access to Justice Project was doing, since there would also be some overlap there. They put in a call to Bill Gates's resort home in the San Juan Islands and got an update from him and Joe.

No two lawyers could have been more different physically, temperamentally, and in outward demeanor than Bill, tall and measured with words, and Joe, shorter and given to bombast, not to mention bursts of profanity. Bill liked to joke about the time Joe was on This Week and Sam Donaldson asked how much he made from the Pennzoil case. On national TV, Joe shot back, "That's none of your business. That's between me and the IRS." (Later it was reported that his fee was $450 million.) But on the myriad issues involving access to justice, there was an iron bond between them. Equal justice for all was their professional passion, and Bill had even persuaded the Washington State Supreme Court to establish an Access to Justice Board. "Nobody makes it alone," he said repeatedly, noting that poverty or privilege are dealt to human beings from birth and that a just society tries to level the playing field.

With the People's Court Society in full swing, Joe and Bill set out to broaden its base of operations by bringing in the bar associations and judges' organizations. At the same time, they realized that "access to justice" had to be defined more concretely. The phrase begged for detail, for human interest, for a portrait of the kind of society that real access to justice would bring. But as Joe pointed out, quoting one of his heroes, philosopher of jurisprudence Edmund Cahn, "You cannot understand justice unless you understand injustice." To that end, they would commission a report that would be called "The State of Justice in America: Supply and Demand" and would break the access issue down state by state as well as at the federal level, providing a taxonomy of different injustices, estimating the tangible and intangible costs to society, and reviewing the inadequacies of the law and the justice system, as presently constituted, to cope with demands for justice -- in short, demonstrating conclusively the serious gap between the demand for justice and the supply.

From their own contacts and from Analysis in Omaha, they collected a list of names and systematically worked through it to put together a group that could prepare such a report on an eight-week deadline. Over three days, the response from law school deans, professors, and students, from leaders of the bar and mavericks alike, from neighborhood activists and moonlighting reporters, was more than sufficient to signal the Secretariat that it was a go. Bill thought that some state attorneys general could be convinced to announce annual State of Justice Reports that would begin to frame statewide standards and workable measurements of justice and injustice. That would give the project important backing. Calls from Bill, Joe, and key friends to the attorneys general of the fifty states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico brought forth six definites and twelve maybes; the rest were noncommittal or opposed. One of the latter said that such a report was "impossible to conceive, politically suicidal to put out, and hopelessly expensive to implement."

"All the more reason to do it, right, Bill?" Joe said.

For all they had accomplished, both men were still casting about for a big idea, something that would build on the momentum of the "for some" Pledge, which was still a subject of hot debate in the media and the schools. They couldn't very well expect Newman and Cosby to have a telethon every month, so they pondered in silence for the better part of an hour. They were getting a little frustrated, and Bill knew it was almost 5:30 p.m., when Joe started on his daily scotch, de rigueur for years. They needed something that would sow widespread outrage at injustice, but what? Interesting that an ethnic or racial slur from some cabinet secretary or sports coach was national news, provoking demands for resignation, but real injustice seldom aroused such intensity, even when exemplified. Max's cultural conundrum.

Suddenly a light went on in Bill's mind. Why not hold two national essay contests on the questions "Which state is the most unjust in the nation?" and "Which state is the least unjust in the nation?" Essays would be limited to ten thousand words and would be judged by an impartial panel of retired judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and civic leaders. Winners, runners-up, and second runners-up would receive respectively prizes of $100,000, $50,000, and $25,000, plus a complete bound set of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court.

Joe responded with enthusiasm but added that they would need an infrastructure for the nationally announced contests, to generate controversy in the media and among politicians and jurists. Some of Ross's credibility groups might be useful here. They also decided to ask Barry to start an Injustice of the Day segment on the television and radio networks he was developing. And maybe Leonard could organize justice marathons, with the proceeds going to a legal aid fund for the indigent. These marathons could be occasions for media-smart street displays showcasing the runners and local celebrities.

When Ross was told about the essay contests, he was thrilled. His Credibility Project had been stalled. It was hard to get veterans' groups, scout troops, women's clubs, and service clubs like the Elks and Rotary excited when they couldn't be told much about what was going to happen. After poring over profiles of dozens of national groups with local chapters, Ross decided that his project would start by contacting them with offers of help, charitable contributions, and free professional advice, and expressing a genuine interest in their programs and objectives. Ross would cultivate his relationships with the American Legion, the VFW, and several smaller organizations of wartime vets. Paul and Bill Cosby each had their own niches with the many charities to which they had donated generously, like the Hole in the Wall camps, the United Negro College Fund, and the NAACP, and Paul had a huge following among auto racing fans as the oldest successful racer in NASCAR history. Bill Gates could furnish a list of health and medical charities that the Gates Foundation had been working with for several years in the increasingly prominent drive against global infectious diseases. And Ted was highly thought of in environmental and peace circles, not to mention among the ranks of carnivorous Americans who liked bison meat. Now, with the essay contests, Ross and company could approach these various groups with something solid, inviting their memberships to enter and compete for the not inconsiderable prize money.

At the First-Stage Improvements Project, which was responsible for hands-on solutions to the injustices that were being catalogued, quantified, and publicized by the other projects, Max and his cohorts chose the mantra "Make America Number One as a Humanitarian Super-power." They began with a discussion of fundamental principles.

"Whether our leaders choose to acknowledge it or not," Max said, "our democracy rests on a compact among the American people. I call it the Basic Livelihood Compact. Few would dispute that everyone should have adequate food, shelter, healthcare, and education. The paralysis in our country arises over how to achieve these goals. Some argue for the marketplace, some for the government, some for a combination of delivery systems, and feelings run high on all sides. We can't avoid this gridlock, but we must overcome it. Our goal is the double circle of material happiness -- self- starting, self-reliance, and self-preservation in the inner circle, and community self-starting, community self-reliance, and community self-preservation in the outer circle. My study of history convinces me of the value of strengthening local community, particularly in its economic and environmental dimensions. Some sage once said, 'Without community there is crisis.' Just look at our inner-city neighborhoods and our rural poor."

"Very well put," said Jeno. "But if we're proposing a livable wage, full Medicare for everyone with cost control and quality control, basic nutrition for the poor, low-income housing programs, good public transit, strong environmental protection, acceleration of renewable energy output, public control of commonwealth assets -- you know the list -- well, it all sounds pretty federal to me. It doesn't sound like building a grassroots movement for Redirection."

"True," Sol said, "but there's no real contradiction. To advocate action on the federal level is simply to recognize where the power and money to reduce widespread inequality presently lie. As the Redirections gain momentum, power will be devolved to the self-reliance circles. But in our federal system the protector of last resort -- I'm speaking of national security, natural disasters, pandemics, R and D, and so forth -- will be the federal government. As far as Redirections go, our core group will put the movement on the tracks, but only the organized populace can get to the destination."

Max was nodding impatiently. "So let's get started in a high-profile way that will bring all these issues down to earth. I propose that on five successive days, commencing next week, two billionaires a day demand that Wal-Mart change its business model, allow unionization, and pay its workers no less than $11 an hour, with full health insurance. If Costco can treat its workers fairly and remain a successful discount giant, Wal-Mart can too. With Ted's billionaires, Bill's pro-state-tax group, and our own contacts, we have a treasure trove of names to call on. They should come from retailing, banking, real estate, manufacturing, and communications for maximum impact. Some of them will be speaking as large shareholders in Wal-Mart."

"That's a hell of an idea," Jeno said. "Let's connect with Promotions on it ASAP."

"Right," Max said. "And we'll have our project manager prepare a Wal-Mart strategy memorandum fur the billionaires to digest so that they can speak for themselves and not through spokespersons. The memorandum should outline a uniform demand, followed by a list of points that can be varied to build the story for the country and the media. Promotions can work with the billionaires so that they all reinforce the central demand, but with distinctive touches that reflect their business experience and different facts about Wal-Mart and its competitors. Two unions and a number of community groups have some very up-to-date websites that will be useful to the manager."

Before they adjourned for the day, Jeno suggested that Sol should be the first to make the demand because he knew plenty about the Costco model, having helped create it, and would be preaching what he once practiced in the same line of commerce. Sol agreed to lead the charge. As head of the Sustainable Sub-economy Project, he didn't exactly have time on his hands, but there it was largely a matter of putting together the pieces. So much work had been done by so many around the world, from concept to operating models, that it was primarily a gathering exercise. Meanwhile, Jeno, who was the sub-economy liaison with the People's Chamber of Commerce, reported that within a week the PCC would be operating out of its sustainable building headquarters in Washington, DC, just vacated by a leading environmental organization. The staff was planning a blowout of an announcement and opening day festivities.

After two days of reviewing the material assembled by the project manager, Sol and Jeno decided to lead with the sustainable practices whose benefits would radiate most widely: first, solar energy, which came close to being the universal solvent of many environmental devastations and perils; second, the expansion of a carbohydrate economy to replace the present hydrocarbon economy; third, preservation of species and their ecologies; and fourth, the displacement by sustainable technologies of toxic and destructive technologies like the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, atomic power, and synthetic petrochemicals. It was understood that all four were interrelated and mutually supportive objectives.

Sol gave a world-weary sigh. "Which is all well and good, Jeno, but blah blah blah. How do we get people where they live? There've been so many studies, scientific warnings, exposes, and documentaries, but somehow, even with frightening visuals, the public isn't moved to action. We need something new, something outrageous."

"If it's outrageous we want, I think we know where to find it," Jeno said, reaching for the phone to call Ted.

The next day, during a conference call with Ted and the rest of the Promotions team, Sol and Jeno laid out their priorities. "We know what we want to do," Sol said, "but how do we get people behind us? How do we jolt them?"

"Jolts," Ted said, his eyes lighting up. "Let's see --"

"Hemp," said Yoko.

"Hemp?" said Jeno.

"Hemp. Brilliant," said Sol, who turned out to be a fount of information on the subject. "Hemp is five thousand years old, a tough, long-fibered, and most versatile carbohydrate. Industrial hemp is legally imported, but our US farmers can't grow it because it's on the DEA banned list as being too similar to marijuana. But it's not psychotropic because it is only a third of a percent THC -- the substance that induces a high in marijuana smokers. In other countries industrial hemp has been used for clothing, fuel, food, chlorine-free paper, lubricants, and thousands of other products. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it. Henry Ford built a car from industrial hemp, and auto companies now use it to make parts for interior passenger compartments. During World War II, growing hemp to make strong rope was encouraged as part of the war effort, but if you grow it in the US today, you're arrested and your crop is confiscated. A coalition of hemp supporters, including the International Paper Company, farmers' organizations, state agriculture commissions, state legislators, and environmental and consumer groups, has petitioned twice to get it off the DEA list, once under Clinton and again more recently. Both times the petition was denied in bipartisan decisions. There's been no movement on the issue, except that one member of the House, Don Saul of Texas, has finally introduced a bill to legalize the domestic growing of industrial hemp, with four co-sponsors. Unfortunately, House leaders have yet to schedule hearings.

"Thank you, Professor Price," said Bill Cosby.

"Not at all," said Sol.

"Hey, didn't Woody Harrelson get arrested years back for publicly planting a few hemp seeds in Kentucky?" asked Phil.

"Yes, and a jury acquitted him," Sol said. "He lives in Maui now."

"There's your jolt," said Barry. "I'll call Woody and ask if he'd be willing to come to DC and stand in front of the White House with fifty farmers and activists, each holding a flowerpot, and all simultaneously planting industrial hemp seeds in their pots. The visuals will fly across the nation when the police descend to wrench away the pots and haul the fifty offenders off in their paddy wagons. We'll call it the Pot Revolution, an ironic twist on the word 'pot' that's sure to generate more controversy. We'll need advice of counsel to avoid a conspiracy charge, and of course Joe's team will give the demonstrators free legal representation. I know that Peter and some others in our core group support the legalization of marijuana, but with apologies to them, we'll have to be careful to distinguish clearly between marijuana and industrial hemp and to downplay any involvement of marijuana users and their advocates. They'll only distract from what will become a mass-media educational campaign that shows how the carbohydrate economy can strengthen national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil and promoting many additional environmental benefits. Two generations of absurdity are enough."

"The Pot Revolution -- that's wonderful," said Bill Gates. "Let's try to come up with something just as good for solar energy. It drives me crazy the way solar has so often been relegated to articles in the real estate section about some house or small building partially solarized, and then it's back to ho-hum. Amazing, isn't it, that planet Earth's greatest free lunch from its birth to this day is a subject seen as unexciting. Imagine how exciting it would be if the sun stopped shining."

Bill went on to relate a story about a visit years ago to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington State. He was talking to some nuclear engineers about the complex systems they were creating to store and treat radioactive wastes and keep them from leaking into the groundwater that feeds the mighty Columbia River. Shaking his head at the convoluted engineering details, he asked them why they didn't just retrain themselves as solar engineers because solar was the future and they must know it. To which one older engineer replied, "The atom is endlessly fascinating, a limitless intellectual challenge. Why, solar energy is just sophisticated plumbing. Not very interesting." "Only crucial to the planet's future," Bill found himself retorting as he strolled out the door. Ted had been listening to all this with a furrowed brow. "Got it," he said suddenly. "Girls. Girls, girls, girls!"

Yoko rolled her eyes.

"We'll find hundreds of beautiful women and dress them up as solar commandos or whatever, and we'll use them in a series of Aztec-type festivals dedicated to the Sun God. Without the human sacrifice, of course."

"Not so fast," Sol said. "I can think of a few good candidates."

Ted was too revved up to laugh. "These festivals will be so graphic that the media won't be able to resist them. They'll be marvels of sound and light. We'll commission Mesoamerican historians and anthropologists to make them as authentic as possible within the confines of demonstrating modern solar technology in dramatic ways that rebut all the myths and lies about solar energy conversion. You know how nuclear physicists keep saying that solar isn't practical because it's too diffuse? We'll put a giant magnifying glass over a giant vat of eggplants and tomatoes, and then we'll give out bowls of delicious stew. Solar engineering is all about concentrating and transmitting solar energy -- elementary, my dear Watson, but still not enough for these nuke naysayers."

"I'd add some onions," Yoko remarked dryly.

Ted ignored her. "Naturally, the festivals themselves will be solar-powered to the fullest extent possible. We'll make a big deal out of the Sun God -- his mythology, his rituals, his powers. The religious right will jump all over this as sacrilegious, but their sermons will only help us reach wider audiences. The more thoughtful clergy will remind parishioners that the world may have been made in seven days but millions of years later the sun that sustains it still isn't its energy source of choice. The Sun God festivals will launch a national mission to go to the sun the way we went to the moon."

"Not a bad jolt," observed Sol. "How long will it take to get the festivals off the ground and organize the pot people?"

"Not long if we put a couple of teams on it twenty-four/seven," Barry said.

"All right, let's have our project managers do that," Sol said.

Yoko had been unusually quiet during the conference call because she was preoccupied with thoughts about the Posterity Project, which still hadn't met because the members had been so busy with the other Redirections. They were having their first session tomorrow, in Omaha, and when the call was finished, she headed straight for the airport.

When she arrived at Warren's home by taxi, he welcomed her warmly and ushered her into the dining room, where the rest of the group was just sitting down to a late lunch. As they ate, Yoko told her colleagues about the discussion with Sol et al. and the plans for the Pot-In and the Sun God festivals. "And you know," she said, "jolts are fine, I'm all for them, but what I've been thinking about is guilt and shame. Our generation is using posterity as a dumping ground for its failures, leaving them a ravaged Earth, a debt-ridden government and economy, and a war-racked world. We are woefully irresponsible toward our posterity. Even the word 'posterity' isn't used anymore as it was in speech after speech, declaration after declaration, by our eighteenth-century forebears. To me, the neglect of certain words is a telling sign of where we are as a people. We love to talk about the future, but that word doesn't convey the same personal obligation to those yet to be," she said solemnly, and went on to describe a poster she was working on, a stark representation of knives being hurled at a group of children, with "Pollution," "War," etc., in black letters on each knife in midair, to symbolize all the ills this generation was leaving behind. "The subtlety of modern art is of little use here," she added.

Warren, who had intended to leave his entire fortune to a foundation before his Maui conversion, had a somewhat different take on the Posterity Project. "First," he declared, "trust is the antidote to feelings of guilt and shame. We must articulate a relationship of trust between the generations, rooted in the kind of individual trust that exists between parent and child. Parents feel guilty or shamed when they don't give their all to their children because they know they've violated that relationship of trust. Our task is to elevate the parental trust commitment to the level of a generational commitment. I suggest the formation of a National Trust for Posterity to advance this trust commitment as a yardstick for today's policies, programs, and practices, much as environmental impact statements or historic preservation covenants do in their particular spheres. With this one overriding concept of intergenerational trust, the NTP will consolidate the many, many insufficient efforts in civil society to protect and nurture posterity and enable future generations to 'fulfill their human possibilities,' in John Gardner's apt words. It's really just a matter of putting your Seventh-Generation Eye into practice, Yoko, and it has to be as dynamic in action as the Eye is as a symbol. It has to have both steak and sizzle. It has to be sound and tough, with a directional dynamic worthy of Maui."

Ross, who had been busily taking notes, spoke up. "Easier said than done."

"Yes, so let's get going!' said Bernard, half rising from his chair in excitement. 'Let's put some substance on this scaffolding. Give it outstretched arms, give it Yoko's brilliant logo, give it schools that teach students to tell truth to power, give it Youth Clubs for Civic Experience after school, give it neonatal care, caring daycare, nutrition care, give it ways to tap into youth ingenuity, youth questioning of our generation's stagnation, give it a Youth Political Party, give it network television programs by and for college students, high school students, and elementary school students, sit them in circles around hip adults who'll pepper them with questions and guide them out of the cultural cocoons that have devalued their imaginations and expectations for themselves. So many kids are growing up in stultifying, violent, pornographic environments -- we have to change that. We have to give them new, enticing experiences and horizons."

Ross summoned the project manager, and together the group hammered out a detailed plan for the NTP. They'd been working for several hours when Warren stood and stretched. "Time for a break. Let's see what's going on in the world," he said, turning on the evening news.

The lead story was the amazing journey of Warren Beatty up the coast of California in a natural-gas-powered bus with a big sign on both sides, "The People's Revolt of the Rich," surrounded by contrasting pictures of how the rich and the poor live in the Golden State. On top of the bus was a giant picture of Governor Schwarzenegger with the words "Hasta La Vista, He Won't Be Back!" During the interview segment, the reporter asked Beatty just what he was doing. "Getting very rich people to reject their tax cut and pay what they were paying ten years ago so that California can get out of debt and have the funds to meet its vital public responsibilities," he replied. "And how is that going?" she asked. "Well," he said, "I'm getting a little mansionitis, but these billionaires are opening their doors. About half of them are coming on board for the trip to Sacramento. This has to be the richest bunch of bus passengers in human history." The reporter laughed. "Do you think you'll succeed?" she asked. "Of course. With the people and the super-rich on the same side, how can we fail?" Beatty said, flashing his famous wink-smile as he stepped through the high gates of another mega-mansion.

"Well, it does take your breath away," said Bernard.

"Get ready to lose more breath," Yoko said quietly.
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Re: ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!, by Ralph Nader

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

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Good day, gentlemen!"

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well, are you?"

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sol crossed his fingers.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***


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

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

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

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

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

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

"No. Next question."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

"Yeah, right, like the media would have blanketed a conference of very distinguished solar experts," Ted muttered to himself as he packed his bag for Maui.
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