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

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


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


Monday afternoon, Bill Gates Sr. and Joe Jamail announced their drive to make "America the Beautiful" the National Anthem of the United States. It would take an act of Congress. Bill Hillsman had created an ad comparing the beauty of the American countryside -- amber waves of grain -- with the martial flag symbolism of "The Star-Spangled Banner," written during the War of 1812 against the British, who were now our allies.

The right-wing media took the bait at comedic speed. "Our Anthem was born in blood and guts," thundered Bush Bimbaugh, "and that is what America stands for. America is not a tourist attraction, not a languid landscape. Our Anthem is masculinity, 'America the Beautiful' is femininity. Which do our enemies and adversaries abroad fear the most, I ask all you feminazis?" Joe and Bill knew that Bimbaugh and his ilk would use up their air time and print space ranting about the Anthem for weeks to come while overlooking the real power shifts taking place right under their noses. A perfect feint and decoy. For Bill Hillsman, it was his chance to prove that the right ad pays for itself many times over when it generates a cascade of free reporting, media commentary, and person-to-person conversation. So vituperative were the denunciations by the nationally syndicated right-wingers that the network television news devoted a minute or two to the ruckus and played part of the Hillsman ad. Joe left a message for Bill Gates saying simply, "I think we got the baying pack's number."

On Tuesday, the valedictory at the National Press Club was delivered to a packed luncheon ballroom by a retired Wal- Mart vice-president who came loaded for bear with copies of internal memos. One proved that the company's top executives were well aware of the hiring and mistreatment of illegal aliens. Another dealt with the more than accidental divergence between the posted prices of the products on Wal-Mart's shelves and the higher prices rung up on the computerized checkout registers, justifying it on the grounds that the customer was given an itemized receipt and could always return the merchandise before leaving the premises. "Pennies by the billions add up," as some irreverent "associates" liked to say. The former VP pointed to a big chart mounted behind him, comparing the pay of top Wal-Mart executives -- about $10,000 an hour, forty hours a week, plus perks and benefits -- with the median worker wage of less than $8.00 an hour, not the $9.58 claimed by management and swallowed uncritically by the media. He explained how Wal-Mart cranked the figure up by averaging in higher-paid supervisory workers and truck drivers, and then he took questions from the press with precision and aplomb. His presentation dominated the wire services and cable news channels all day, and Wal-Mart's stock dropped by 3 percent. So popular were these Press Club events, which were now almost thrice weekly, that tickets were sold out a month in advance. Tomorrow a retired credit card executive would disclose the secrets of overcharging in his former industry.

On Wednesday, Luke Skyhi of the PCC completed his plans for the sustainable economy arena shows in ten cities. The events were designed to close the loop between means and ends by demonstrating exactly how sustainable companies would improve the living standards of ordinary people. Having received the approving nod from Jeno and Sol, Luke decided to move fast, scheduling the ten shows for the Friday-to-Sunday weekend of what would be Maui Five, unbeknownst to him. The Secretariat touched base with the core group, and after much consultation they decided to skip Maui Five, further consolidate the infrastructure, give themselves a breather to allay their slightly suspicious families, and participate in the shows whenever they could. Luke and his best and brightest team gave themselves one month to pull off this historic visual and economic breakthrough. Fortunately there were timely cancellations at two of the biggest arenas, Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The Thursday after Maui Four became known nationwide as the day when four hundred thousand Americans announced their incorporation at Bill Gates Sr.'s jamborees. People from all walks of life flocked to parks and stadiums across the country sporting their corporate charters around their necks, and wearing caps and T-shirts printed with the slogan "People Are Corporations Too." To roars of approval, accompanied by the famous Roman Army drumbeats -- boom! boom! boom-boom-boom-boom! -- speakers extolled one privilege and immunity after another that now accrued to these converts to corporate status. "People are fed up being people," declared leading corporate analyst Robert Weissman, at the Pittsburgh jamboree. "They desire upward mobility and power, the power to evade, escape, disappear, reappear, to be in many places at once, to deduct their entertainment and lobbying expenditures and delight in the loopholes and amenities of the tax code and the corporate bankruptcy laws." Charles Cray, a speaker at the Las Vegas event, particularized the benefits unique to Nevada-chartered versus Delaware-chartered corporations. Delicious buffets half a football field long provided free food under banners that read, "Corporations Are Eaters Too."

For the reporters in attendance, the whole scene was so far outside their normal frame of reference that they ran around with their cameras, mikes, and pens as if lost in a labyrinth. "Is this some kind of gag? April Fool's Day has come and gone, you know," said one of them to a woman in a nurse's uniform at the Birmingham jamboree. "I'll thank you to show some respect when addressing Birmingham Can, Unlimited," replied Jane Harper tartly. "You manufacture cans?" asked the bewildered reporter. "I manufacture can-do's," said Jane. Eventually, toward the end of the daylong jamborees, the press began to absorb the message. If the double standard in American law favored corporations over people, then why not have the people become corporations? This wasn't a giant gag, it was a giant demonstration of seriousness about a fundamental inequity.

On Friday, Bill Gates made it a double whammy with a press conference announcing the candidacies of five corporations for five state governorships. The corporations all met state requirements for elective office. They would be running under new names that signified the principal issue for each campaign, and that had been duly filed with the relevant secretaries of state: the Clean Up the Corrupt Texas Legislature Corporation, the Dethrone Corporate Welfare Kings Corporation, the Outsource CEOs Corporation, the Living Wage Corporation, and the Stamp Out Corporate Crime Corporation. Volunteer petitioners, identified by colorful headbands reading "Corporations Are People Too," were already on the streets collecting qualified signatures and were meeting with an enthusiastic response. The first wave of political advertisements for each corporation candidate would roll out over the weekend. When Bill Gates was finished with the formal announcements, the press corps was treated to a hilarious skit depicting the five corporations on the stump and in debates with perplexed opponents.

Over the weekend, the Meliorists took a well-earned rest from their exertions and relaxed with their families. On Sunday they read with interest the Washington Post story about the average citizen's response to the extraordinary activities of certain older individuals whom the paper called "the Three R's -- respected, resolute, and rich." The story confirmed the reports from Kyle Corey and other field organizers for the Congress Watchdog Groups. Like the conversation in Clancy's Cave, the responses of those interviewed by the Post revealed a mix of skepticism and support, though the balance seemed to be tipping in the direction of support.

On the second Monday in April, Warren Buffett's poll of investors came out. Buffett was always news, but this was big. Among its more significant findings, the poll showed that 88 percent of individual investors and 91 percent of institutional investors believed in investor control over executive compensation packages. A large majority also believed that after passing a reasonable ownership or petition threshold, they should be given printouts of the names of all the shareholders in their companies so that they could propose competitive slates for the boards of directors and mount credible campaigns on their behalf. By a margin of four to one, they supported cumulative voting and their right to approve any merger that totaled more than 5 percent of the larger merging partner by revenues or employees. The full poll was posted on Warren's website, along with links to related articles in the press.

On Tuesday, Barry Diller and Bill Cosby awaited the first television airing of the "Pay Back, Pay Up!" advertisement exposing the broadcast industry's fleecing of the public through its free use of the airwaves. Once again, Bill Hillsman came through with a knockout ad. A full minute long, it showed a representative cross-section of Americans with hundred-dollar bills flying out of their pockets and purses into the coffers of suitably jowled media moguls. "Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?" asked the voiceover. "There is, when it's on all of us. You own the public airwaves. Like any landlord, you should make sure you receive your rent. Contact the FCC and demand that it collect the millions you're owed. Then you'll have the money to put on the kind of programming that will make you proud, engaged, stimulated, and happy to have your children watching television. Call your members of Congress at 202-224- 3121, or write them. They can't resist two hundred million landlords." The narrator was none other than the esteemed former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite.

Channel 7 (ABC) in Washington, DC, was scheduled to run the ad first, before it went national. At the last minute, the station pulled it on instructions from the higher-ups. No surprise. Promotions had anticipated censorship and was ready. It sent the ad out to the electronic and print media with a sharply worded statement pointing to a historic pattern among broadcasters of suppressing news about their privileged and subsidized status. From congressional hearings to critical conferences and reports, these FCC-licensed companies had long been deciding what was not in their commercial interest to tell the people, using the people's own property.

The print media and Barry's networks went to town on the Channel 7 blackout. Some broadcasting conglomerates that also owned newspapers and magazines did not report the story, but the New York Times and the Washington Post front- paged it and ran editorials strongly taking Channel 7 to task. They also printed the entire text of the ad, which was replayed all over the Internet and discussed endlessly in Blogland. The debate was on. Demands that Congress and the FCC act came from all quarters as liberals and conservatives joined hands on this simple matter of fairness. What a buildup for the huge rallies planned for the end of the month!

As the second week of April went on, these latest provocations of the Meleorists gathered force. The whole idea of the corporation candidates struck a chord among more and more people, especially those with a mischievous streak. The press was fascinated and started profiling the directors and officers of the five corporations, who had all educated themselves on the issues described by their corporate names and were highly articulate. Business reporters fell over each other covering this maverick phenomenon, which they recognized as something fresh and a little zany, but backed by money and influence. Almost breathlessly they ignited a public debate over corporations as "persons" and what that meant if the consequences were pursued. Could corporations be imprisoned if convicted of a felony? If so, how? By blockading the headquarters and padlocking the door? What about capital punishment? How would the state carry out the corporate death penalty? By pulling the corporation's charter? Forcing it into bankruptcy, firing all the directors and officers? John Stewart of The Daily Show had a field day with the material.

There arose such a clamor from Oregon, stimulated in part by Greg Kafoury and Mark MacDougal, two hyperactive trial lawyers, that Bill Gates located a sixth corporation willing to run for that state's governorship as the Draft Corporations Yes Corporation. Veterans comprised the board of directors, and peace advocates were the officers. Meanwhile, citizen groups began circulating petitions demanding that corporations pay their income taxes at the higher federal rate that applied to individuals -- after all, corporations were people too. Right-wingers insisted in screeds to the nonplussed letters editor of the Wall Street Journal that corporations, as "persons," should have the right to vote, as should their independent corporate subsidiaries and holding companies, as long as they were eighteen years old.

Warren's investor poll also continued to attract attention in the business and political press. Opinion was divided, with slightly more than half of the commentators endorsing the changes in corporate governance favored by most of the polled investors. The rest said that such changes would hamper management, make executives less venturesome, and prove unworkable in practice. Another rollicking debate was underway, in the course of which there were additional disclosures, such as company ruses to hide higher executive pay by covering the tax obligation on the already lavish compensation packages. A pro-investor advertising campaign designed by the indefatigable Bill Hillsman fueled the controversy further. His theme was that corporate executives were destroying capitalism, whose principles included control by owners and excluded government bailouts that would nullify or circumvent the discipline of the free market. "The ads make a fair point and are historically accurate," the Wall Street Journal was forced to admit, but went on to discount Warren's poll as stemming from "the dubious motivations of a disgruntled aging executive." Right, Bill Hillsman thought to himself. Warren Buffett, the second-richest man in America, and getting richer by the year. Extremely disgruntled.


On the first day of the congressional spring recess, seventy-year-old Billy Beauchamp, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, headed home to southwest Oklahoma in a corporate jet owned by the Viscous Petroleum Corporation. A thirty-eight-year House veteran, he had had no opponent for the last thirty of them, except for the occasional accountant or attorney looking for free publicity on a campaign budget of $20,000 or less. Politically, life was so easy for Congressman Beauchamp that he had grown more and more portly and courtly over the years, and more and more powerful. All House bills had to go through his Rules Committee before getting to the floor, and he was one tough gatekeeper, quick to block any legislation he didn't like, or to attach rules barring amendments and restricting the time for debate. Part of his power stemmed from the fact that there was nothing he needed, neither legislation nor favors. Campaign funds and PAC money for his loyalists came to him in boatloads from corporate interests as a matter of course, and he had no burning causes of his own, other than to maintain the power of business. He regularly entertained lobbyists who came to his office bearing their road maps for congressional action -- or inaction -- and served a special brandy when the oilmen and gasmen dropped in.

But on the flight home, Billy Beauchamp was not reminiscing about his triumphant legislative career. He had other things on his mind. His long-slumbering rural district was bursting with political agitation, and he wanted to get a reading from some of his old friends, the farmers and ranchers and small businessmen who were the backbone of his past reelection coronations. There was no better place to do that than Fran and Freddy's Feed, a family-owned restaurant in Lawton, the Comanche County seat. Despite his worries, the congressman was looking forward to the house specialty, chicken-fried steak with cheese grits.

That evening, seated in a big booth with his friends after much hearty backslapping, Billy asked them what they thought was going on lately. To a man, they expressed their loyalty to him, and to a man they conveyed warnings about what was looming on the horizon.

"This year is different, Billy," said Ernest Jones, a Lawton banker. "It's as if everything's turned on its head. None of us have seen anything like it. Folks here are putting together the pieces of what's been troubling them for a long time."

"I've been getting that feeling for a while now," Billy said as a gum-chewing waitress shuffled over to take their orders -- house specials all around. "Look at her," he went on as the waitress ambled back to the kitchen. "Everyone in this restaurant used to treat me with deference and respect, but now what I see in their eyes is that I'm history. And what the hell is that weirdo button they're all wearing? Is this some kooky anti-establishment mood like in the sixties, or is it a real movement?"

"Might could be," said farmer Gil Groundwork. "I got me one of them buttons myself. Came with the lightbulb I sent for when that Yoko Ono letter came around. It's the Seventh-Generation Eye."

"Say what? You going hippie on me?" Billy looked at Gil in disbelief.

Gil pointed at a busboy clearing a nearby table. "See that T-shirt? What does it say?"

Billy squinted at the busboy as the waitress arrived with five large platters. '''Sooners Rather Than Later.' Very funny. I take it they're losing their patience."

"I reckon they've just about kicked it into the ditch," Gil said. "This kid is probably making five-fifty an hour before deductions. He can't pay his way with that, and lots of people are telling him he doesn't have to if he just takes up with all these marchers and organizers."

"And the old-timers are talking to the kids, showing them their calluses and their poverty after a lifetime of working their asses off for rich guys." Hal Horsefeathers looked down at his work-roughened hands. "We're telling them not to let the same thing happen to them."

"Hey, let's call a spade a spade," said John Henry. "It's all about greed and power, Billy, greed and power that won't let up. For greed and power, nothing is ever enough. It's time for the populist posse to ride again. Myself, I'm sick of my own repossession shop -- too many people in debt, can't pay their monthly charges, the interest and penalties pile up, and my guys move in. It's a nice living, but it stinks. Wasn't going to do anything different, but then along come these rich old guys, and by God, they make sense."

Congressman Billy Beauchamp frowned and looked down at his plate for consolation, cutting himself a big bite of chicken-fried steak. It wasn't as good as it used to be.


April 17 was not only tax day. It was also a very taxing day for big business. In Washington, DC, George Soros was about to give his seismic speech on the inefficiencies of corporate -- he emphasized corporate -- capitalism. In New York, the mother of all Wall Street rallies, whether labor, civil rights, environmental, or antiwar, was surrounding the New York Stock Exchange. It was an unprecedented gathering, a rally of nearly two hundred thousand investor-owners -- Leonard had delivered on his promise to Warren -- demanding that their ownership guarantee control. The first speaker was a law professor who had served on the SEC. "Ownership means control. It's been said that trying to organize the sixty million individual investors in this country is like herding cats, but don't you believe it," he declared, and went on to lay out a step-by-step action plan.

Other speakers detailed the corporate crimes responsible for the loss of trillions of pension and trust dollars supposedly held by Wall Street brokers, investment bankers, and bank trust departments. African American investors spoke of the backbreaking toil of the slaves who built so much of the Financial District, including the wall that gave Wall Street its name; they called slavery and its aftermath "centuries of affirmative action for white males." Authors of books about "corporate lying, cheating, and stealing," as one prosecutor phrased it, raised bullhorns to the crowded windows of the surrounding office buildings and bellowed appeals for more whistle-blowers. The ralliers roared their anger and shouted in unison, "Down with the tyranny of self-enriching bosses!" Working off sets of photo cards passed out by Leonard's organizers, they called out the names of the Fortune 100 companies and their CEOs one by one in earsplitting decibels. Representatives of some of the multibillion-dollar institutional investors spoke out in support, as did managers of university endowments. The big mutual funds were reserving judgment -- and small wonder, since they had ownership-without-control problems and investor-gouging traditions of their own.

Toward the end of the rally, a retired CEO of a brokerage firm took the podium to announce that the head of the New York Stock Exchange had been invited to speak and had turned the invitation down flat. A deafening chorus of boos arose from the crowd, which surged forward toward the steps of the Stock Exchange. Startled police panicked and began pushing the demonstrators back with billy clubs or dragging them off to paddy wagons. The scuffles and arrests, the handcuffing of some unresisting demonstrators trained in passive civil disobedience, the spectacle of police force trained on a gathering of small investors-- all made great visuals for the print photographers and television cameras. Once again the Meliorists had conceived an event that bridged the conservative-liberal divide.


Every April, the American Society of Newspaper Editors descended on Washington, DC, for its annual convention. Over the years the convention had been a command performance for the prominent political, business, and academic personages chosen as speakers. In most cases, the speeches were soporific, routine, predictable anthems of self- promotion, but every now and then an electrifying presentation came along, like the now largely forgotten Cross of Iron speech delivered by newly inaugurated president Dwight D. Eisenhower in April 1953. In powerful language, Eisenhower delineated the folly of the US-Soviet arms race and the inhumane opportunity costs borne by the civilian populations of both nations, especially the children.

Today, anticipation was running high in the giant ballroom of the Washington Hilton. The advance buzz was that George Soros's speech was going to be one for the capitalist ages, a sort of "Move over, Adam Smith -- what you forewarned in 1776 in your Wealth of Nations has come to seamy maturity beyond your wildest nightmares." George had laid down two stipulations when he accepted the invitation. One was that the speech be carried live, at least on C-SPAN, and that there be full media access. The other was that he speak before lunch, not after. Something of a gourmet, he had seen many a stomach full of food and drink dull the brain and wilt the attention span. Mild hunger had the opposite effect, producing almost undivided attention.

At high noon, the society's president, James R. Rant III, introduced the speaker briskly. "The highly successful financial speculator and philanthropist George Soros needs no introduction. Therefore, I give you George Soros." More than polite applause greeted George as he took the podium, and then utter quiet fell over the room.

For a few seconds, he looked out over the audience. Meeting heightened expectations always made him nervous. He preferred to exceed lowered expectations. Earlier, he had waved away the teleprompter, saying that he was going to extemporize from his notes. That way he could give an impression of informality without sacrificing the precision of his remarks. He could not afford to wander. The last thing he wanted to read in the press reports was, "In a rambling speech today, George Soros said that ..."

In spite of himself, he began stiffly. "O editors of large, medium, and small newspapers, lend me your open minds. For I will not pander to you with sonorous platitudes. Nay, I will respect you by asking you to join me in a journey toward reality. The free mind engages realities; the indentured mind is enslaved by myths. Concentrated power sustains its hegemony with myths that pacify its subjects. Systems of intolerable control fueled by limitless greed have to justify their domination. Myths serve that purpose.

"Today, the dominant institution in our country is the global corporation. Never have corporations been larger, with revenues comparable to or exceeding the gross domestic product of entire nations, with a grip on government that is scarcely challenged, with technologies of unprecedented reach, with workers who are theirs to hire or jettison at will, with a limitless mobility and capacity to evade the jurisdiction of our laws while continuing to profit from their presence in this land of ours.

"The global corporation's principal claim to legitimacy is its efficiency and productivity. The cold hearts and monetized minds of these corporate behemoths rationalize their autocratic decisions on grounds of superior efficiencies and increased productivities. They will admit of only one master they cannot challenge -- the market. The market made me do it, the market is all-wise. They espouse this market fundamentalism shamelessly when in fact they spend their days trying to insure that they are the market. They labor to make government and its laws dutiful servants who keep them ensconced as the market powers. With their immense capital they can turn the governments of smaller nations into debtor putty, and when matters become shaky they can download their risks to national and international governmental institutions.

"The global corporation completes its occupation of our minds -- and many sharp, learned minds are no exception -- by controlling the definitions of efficiency and productivity. Under these definitions, slavery can be and has been justified on the grounds that well-treated slaves enhance the efficiency of any given enterprise. But the time came in our nation's history when it was no longer the market that controlled the outcome. A war was fought and laws were passed to make slavery a grave crime, notwithstanding the fact that it reduced labor costs. How often must we return to the verity that those who define our terms and our yardsticks of economic progress control our dialogue, our very thought processes? That is why so many of us are unable to see that these yardsticks, determined entirely within the corporate sphere, are short-term, shortsighted, and only further reinforced by the stock market, quarterly returns, and executive stock options, barring external intrusions such as effective regulation, litigation, or a civil war. When corporations so overwhelmingly control the premises of the discussion that they are part of the daily catechism in our schools, is it surprising that we all bow to their conclusions?

George paused to take a sip of water. He was hitting his stride. "With your indulgence, let me take you down the abstraction ladder. Let me pose some organizing questions that are based on some of your own finest reporting, your finest hours in journalism, which I choose to take very seriously.

"Is it efficient and productive to dump toxic pollutants into the air, water, soil, food, and property used by millions of innocent women, children, and men? By the corporate definition -- reducing costs by using the environment as a free private sewer -- the answer is yes. By any reasonable societal definition of efficiency and productivity -- where costs have to include the damage to health, safety, and property values -- the answer must be no.

"Is it efficient to produce energy-guzzling consumer products such as motor vehicles and household appliances so that the electric and gas utilities and the oil and coal companies can sell more of their products? For Exxon Mobil, Peabody Coal, El Paso Natural Gas, and General Motors, the corporate efficiency answer is yes. For the population as a whole, for the country as a whole, for consumers as a whole, the inbuilt waste of stagnant technologies requires that the answer be no.

"In the context of the growing peril of global warming, is it efficient to keep expanding the use of fossil fuels, to oppose renewable fuels, and to resist enforceable standards for greater energy efficiency? Within the frame of planet Earth and its peoples and its economy over time, the answer is a resounding no.

"Is it efficient for the corporations to protect their entrenched wasteful technologies by actively opposing alternative technologies that are better for the human race in the long run? No. It's a case of a powerful inefficiency, so to speak, repressing a powerless efficiency. But the corporation answers yes in all its destructive myopia and continues mortgaging the future while the general public pays the bills.

"Is it efficient for the timber companies to twist the arm of the Forest Service so that they can clear-cut more of the people's land while using totally subsidized roads and paying Uncle Sam absurdly low prices for the logs? And to do it at the expense of protecting the national forests from serious damage and expanding their recreational use for generations to come? For the timber companies, it's efficient to take every last tree standing in our national forests, which supply less than five percent of the country's total timber harvest. For posterity -- may we resurrect that word so oft employed by our forebears -- it is distinctly inefficient. One only has to look at the denuded upper Midwest and other regions where forests disappeared in the nineteenth century to anticipate the wasteful long-term economic consequences. There was once a thriving lumber business in the upper Midwest; there is none today.

"How efficient was it, in the thirties and forties, for General Motors to conspire with a tire company and an oil company to buy up trolley systems -- their remaining competitors -- in twenty-eight metropolitan areas, including the world's largest electrified mass transit network in the Los Angeles area, and then proceed to tear up the tracks and lobby government for more highways? Clearly, neither the Justice Department, which moved the indictment against the three companies for criminal violation of the antitrust laws, nor the federal district court, which convicted them, thought it was efficient for the country, but the damage was done. The economic inefficiency of the failure to create a more balanced surface transportation system can be seen today in the daily bumper-to-bumper traffic at commuter hours -- more fuel wasted, more time wasted, more air pollution in our lungs, and more accidents on our roads. The work done by innovative transit engineers and at such universities as Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, gives us a glimmer of the modern, flexible mass transit systems that could have graced those once valuable rights of way.

"Is it efficient for the defense industry to lobby for larger and larger military budgets and unneeded weapons systems when those wasteful and inefficiently contracted tax dollars could be spent on the people's needs instead? Standing before this convention in 1953, President Eisenhower itemized the number of schools and hospitals and public transit systems that could be funded if the United States and the Soviet Union would only lift 'the cross of iron' from their citizenry's shoulders. And yet the industry's top executives have the nerve to complain about all the uneducated workers coming their way. I suppose it's too much to hope that the 'military industrial complex,' as Eisenhower called it in his farewell address in January 1961, would ever miss a chance to raise the military budget even higher than the one half of the entire federal operating budget it represents today. To the Lockheed-Martins, enough is never enough. To be on the receiving end of tax dollars from Uncle Sam is an efficient result for these companies' bottom lines and executive compensation packages. It is not an efficient result for a country that should have been reaping an annual peace dividend since 1991, following the internal collapse of our major military adversary.

"Is it efficient that the healthcare industry rakes in an annual two-hundred-billion-dollar bonanza through gross billing fraud for services rendered -- or not rendered -- as documented by the Government Accountability office of the Congress? Is it efficient for the patients? The taxpayers?

"Is it efficient that the corporate health insurance industry uses about twenty-five percent of every premium dollar for administrative, executive, and bureaucratic expenses when the government's health insurance program, Medicare, only uses three percent on such expenses before paying out? Aren't company efficiencies supposed to advance consumer efficiencies rather than enter into a zero-sum relationship with them? Yet the latter is exactly what the wheelchair manufacturing monopoly and the virtual GE lightbulb monopoly and the automakers with their fragile vehicles did to their customers for many years before consumer advocacy groups and competitive forces finally came to the rescue.

"The Great Lakes once had a thriving commercial fishing industry. No more. Apparently the lakeshore chemical and petrochemical industry found it efficient to dump mercury and other poisons into these wondrous natural creations.

"Of late the outcry from corporations demanding that government activities be turned over to them through the outsourcing of procurement programs has become thunderously loud. The grotesque increase in taxpayer costs from this commercialization of so many military and civilian services has been camouflaged by the corporate ideology that companies are more efficient than government. Tell that to the Pentagon's civil service procurement officers, who, like Admiral Hyman Rickover before them, can point to one case study after another detailing the massive cost overruns they have had to endure and absorb. Tell it to the auditors of the Hurricane Katrina contracts. Tell it to the Seabees and the Salvation Army, who know a thing or two about efficiency.

"Very few people, even in the Pentagon, know that deep inside that department, at the Walter Reed army research complex, the government maintains its own 'drug company.' For nearly four decades it has been discovering and testing crucial drugs at less than five percent of the development costs that the big pharmaceutical companies claim to justify the exorbitant prices patients pay for drugs. The astonishing expediency of the corporations emerges here as well. The pharmaceutical industry has managed to shape federal policy in such a way that the medicines researched and developed by the government are given free to one or another of the big drug companies under what are essentially monopoly marketing agreements. That is to say, no royalties to the government from profits, and no price controls to keep the companies from gouging their patients, many of whom are the taxpayers whose dollars funded the research to begin with. To add to the windfall, the pharmaceutical firms are always hiring away the government's medical officers and other scientists, with their taxpayer-funded years of experience. These companies obviously think the whole arrangement is a model of efficiency. They're wrong.

"There is no end to the elaborations of the myth of corporate efficiencies, which in fact arise from the imposition of inefficiencies on consumers, workers, and taxpayers. I was just reading a new book by the eminent John Bogle, one of the pioneers of the mutual fund industry, and the founder of the low-fee Vanguard series of funds. His sad and angry conclusion was that the aggregate take in fees charged to the average mutual fund investor over time amounts to one third of investment gains. That, I suppose, is an efficient figure from the viewpoint of the mutual funds' management. I doubt that investors would agree if they were aware of the vigorish.

"You may note that I have scarcely touched upon what economists call the diseconomies of the business corporation. Consider if you will the well-documented human damage from the overprescribing or misprescribing of drugs peddled to the public through massive television advertising and other industry promotions. The adverse effects of these drugs claim more than one hundred thousand American lives a year and produce far larger numbers of serious problems such as gastrointestinal bleeding. When you factor in the warnings of leading medical scientists that the reckless promotion and prescribing of antibiotics overloads patients and generates resistant strains of bacteria, the casualty toll just keeps rising.

"Or what about the epidemic of corporate crime that your publications have been reporting day after day? Trillions of dollars have been drained or looted from workers, pensioners, and 401(k) holders in the past half dozen years. That is some externality! As are the sixty-five thousand people who die every year from air pollution, according to the EPA, or the fifty-eight thousand workplace-related deaths from disease and trauma every year, according to OSHA, or the nearly one hundred thousand people who die annually as a result of medical negligence or incompetence in hospitals, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

"These diseconomies and many more reported in the press led Ralph Estes, a prominent professor of social cost accounting, now emeritus, to conclude that corporations have done more harm than good. 'What?' you say. 'Has George Soros gone off the deep end?' Open minds, please. Consider that many of these external costs are reflected in suffering and destruction that escapes marketplace feedback -- for example, the loss of a loved one without recompense where recompense is due, or the depletion of natural resources through land erosion, deforestation, mountaintop destruction, and so on -- or are shifted to future generations. Moreover, and importantly, the very costs transform themselves into many forms of economic demand that fuel business, profits, and jobs.

"Let's take a mundane example -- the ridiculously flimsy bumpers on your motor vehicles, which essentially protect nothing but themselves, and that very poorly. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates annual repair costs model by model. A five-mile-per-hour collision can run you anywhere from five hundred to four thousand dollars, or even more, either directly or in higher insurance premiums. And the other side of cost is sales. The collision repair industry, starting with the original equipment manufacturers and ending with the body shops, takes in billions of dollars a year from the business of fixing preventable damage. It's not as if the auto company engineers don't know how to build simple bumpers that protect other parts of the car in low-level collisions, certainly up to ten miles an hour.

"But, you say, the US economy is the wealthiest and mightiest in the world, despite its huge consumer, corporate, and governmental debt burdens. You're right, as long as we don't ask tough questions about the quality of life it produces. And for whom? And at what expense to posterity? To the global environment? To vulnerable people overseas? At what expense to consumers, workers, and taxpayers, to public services and hollowed-out communities and depleted natural resources? At what expense to distributive justice for the working people of America, to their living standard, their time, their tranquility?

"Let's turn our open minds back to the early 1900s, a period of widespread poverty, insufficient affordable housing, low wages, hungry children. Well, our mighty, wealthy economy roared through the century, stimulated by several wars, and here we are the beginning of the twenty-first century, with an economy twenty to twenty-five times more 'productive' per worker, inflation-adjusted, than in the horse-and-buggy days. So what do the newspapers tell us, sometimes in the most graphic and heart-rending of terms? That we live in a period of widespread poverty, insufficient affordable housing, low wages, and hungry children, that tens of millions of American families are deeply in debt, that disparities of income and wealth in our nation are huge and steadily growing.

"'So why hasn't the capitalist economy collapsed?' you may wonder. Setting aside the fact that it did, during the Great Depression, the answer is simple. Because it is not a capitalist economy, with companies both large and small having an unfettered freedom to fail. Rather, it is a predominantly corporate capitalist economy, with Washington, DC, serving a backstop function of bailing out, guaranteeing, subsidizing, and overcontracting to big business. As the astute restaurateur Nathra Nader once said, 'Capitalism will always survive because socialism will always be there to save it.' Corporate capitalism is in charge, but it is inundating us with manufactured wants and whims instead of delivering the necessities and allowing public budgets to reflect the priorities of a sane and just society.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the task that lies before us is abundantly clear. We must redefine efficiency and productivity as if what matters most is the well-being of our people and their descendants. As if corporations adjust to be our servants, not our masters. Toward this end, we must stop letting the big corporations and their apologists think for us and start thinking for ourselves. We need open minds for an open society. We have nothing to lose but our myths. We have everything to gain by thinking anew about how to create real prosperity for all our citizens, how to protect the environment they live in, and how to insure the peaceful sustainability of our planet.

"Thank you for inviting me to address you this afternoon. May you pursue these inquiries further here at your convention and on returning to your work of opening more minds."

At first, a stunned silence greeted the conclusion of George's speech -- five seconds, ten seconds, fifteen. Then a single clap was heard, then two, three, four, a dozen, building to a crescendo of applause from a roomful of standing editors, though the ovation didn't quite drown out some loud booing. Maybe a dozen mossbacks, George thought as he took in the reaction. When the audience quieted, a panel of editors chosen for the occasion asked a few unusually thoughtful questions arising from George's points. It was clear that the editors had listened to his remarks and discarded their prepared questions about the IMP, globalization, and the like.

The reporters in the room rushed to file their stories. The Washington Post led with "Global financier George Soros told the American Society of Newspaper Editors today that large corporations are engines of inefficiency and that they get away with it because they hide it in their profit-and-loss statements." The New York Times headline read, "Financier- Philanthropist Says Large Corporations Weave a Web of Myths." The Wall Street Journal ran with "George Soros Attacks Corporate Efficiency Myth, Asks for Open Minds."

"Not bad," George said, reading the clippings back in his office with his project manager. "We went after the central dogma, and maybe others will follow. How was the television?"

"Thirty-five seconds -- a clip of one or two of your pithier lines," replied the manager. "It's not a one-day story. There'll be commentary and editorials, calls and e-mails, and plenty of outrage from the expected quarters to keep it going."

"We'll see," George said. "It certainly was the best possible audience. Before a Chamber of Commerce crowd, the speech would have gone in one ear and out the other, and they'd have jeered me out of the hall. Which is fine, because it wasn't designed for the closed-minded business community, but for market-brainwashed citizens and students around the country. Once the myth starts to collapse, the multinationals will know what it's like when an entombed mummy hits air."


By the third week of April, Sols campaign against Wal-Mart was putting tremendous pressure on the company. Sales were down in the two hundred stores subjected to regular and very effective picketing, but not nearly as steeply as in the five stores beset by dozens of small businesses that were undercutting Wal-Mart's prices on its forty leading sellers. These fire sales struck at the heart of the slogan seen on Wal-Mart trucks as they traveled the nation's highways 24/7: "Always the Lowest Price. Always." At the same five stores, the Sol-SWATs were completing their work on the union organizing drive. Company attorneys, Wal-SWATs, and representatives of the National Labor Relations Board were all on location tensely performing their respective roles. As if all that weren't bad enough, Wal-Mart was losing lawsuits unrelated to Sol's crew and all the media attention they were garnering. Denial of lunch breaks caused one judge to rule in favor of thousands of Wal-Mart workers in the West. Women charging discrimination in both pay and promotions won their case. Week after week, Wal-Mart was getting an overdose of bad news.

In response, the company organized demonstrations of satisfied low-income shoppers and loyal workers, but so many Wal-Mart freebies were handed out that the press discounted the turnouts. Meanwhile, the Sol-SWATs organized counter-demonstrations of exploited workers, small family businesses that had been pillars of their communities until Wal-Mart crushed them, and shoppers who felt ripped off by the company's sales practices. Speakers made sure to cover all the bases. Again and again, they compared the hourly Wal-Mart worker wage with the $10,000 an hour or more paid to top executives, and stressed the company's mandatory better treatment of its Western European workers. Again and again, they explained how local property taxpayers were subsidizing Wal-Mart's privileged presence in their communities, and how federal taxes were subsidizing Wal-Mart's low-wage business model. The speeches were sprinkled with contrived leaks about what was coming Wal-Mart's way on an even larger scale. Sol's partial mole on the board of directors told him that it was this credible threat of a sustained and expanded campaign that most frightened the board and the CEO.

Wal-Mart's standing on Wall Street continued to suffer. Controversy and uncertainty were never good for a company's stock. The number of "market underperforms" recommended by the stock analysts was on the rise, and there were no "buys," only "holds" and even a few "sells." One analyst for a major investment banking firm issued a report warning that Wal-Mart's very business model was in jeopardy. He noted that of the model's two underpinnings -- a spectacularly hard- bitten supply chain ending with just-in-time inventory, and low wages and benefits -- it was the latter that was particularly in jeopardy. Wal-Mart's stock continued to slide, not precipitously, but at that gradual pace that drives brokerage firms crazy. As one broker put it, "The China price is one thing, but this is more like Chinese water torture."


The last weekend in April -- what would have been near Maui Five -- saw the opening of Luke Skyhi's ten-city arena extravaganzas showcasing the sustainable economy in a way that dispelled the Goody Two-Shoes aura of so many environmental rallies. The displays, which included some props and visuals borrowed from the Sun God festivals, were emotionally and intellectually stunning. There were no corporate-sponsored greenwashing exhibits like the ones that had usurped the annual Earth Day celebration. Just the opposite. The destructive corporate economy was the focus. The sustainable economy, with its here-at-home jobs, was the solution. The contrast between the two -- the portrayal of life under the sustainable economy as compared with the rat race, the disrupted families, the declining living standard of the majority of Americans under the Fortune 500 economy -- was stark and dramatic, just the kind of vivid contrast that works to raise expectations and motivate people to act, to shift their buying habits, to refuse to take no for an answer.

No one was more amazed at the impact on the attendees and the media than the established groups and cooperatives that had been working for a sustainable economy for years, crying tediously in the wilderness, for the most part objects of curiosity or derision to all but their tiny cadre of adherents and practitioners. "All steak, no sizzle," wrote one columnist years ago. Laboring in the vineyards largely in vain, they nonetheless represented the future survival path for the planet. For decades their idealism sustained them in the face of their disappointment in a corporate-saturated public that kept looking the other omnicidal way. But these arena shows were something different. They represented idealism backed by power and driven by a strategy of wholesale displacement of the destructive corporate economy. Even the rhythms of the music exuded power. So did the art, the speeches, the technologies. So did the presence of so many politicians and spotters for the big corporations, who showed up uninvited but were more than welcome to attend. Luke Skyhi wanted the political and corporate scions to feel the power, see the power, taste the power, and be in shock and awe of the power. The large arena shows were not only designed to be powerful in themselves; the PCC made sure they signaled that the drive for a sustainable economy was about to move into other arenas, into the legislatures, courts, executive branches, and executive suites of the soon-to-be powers that were. No more Mr. Nice Guy!

Luke Skyhi was beginning to put the pieces of the Redirections network together all by himself. Emboldened by his sense that there were mighty forces at his back, he told the media, in his keynote address, just how the rubber was going to hit the road. His words conveyed a mood of conviction and determination. "No more excuses! The train has left the station, and the track is branching out in all directions, so stay tuned," he said as a quartet of jazz vocalists broke into the theme song Yoko had composed for the glorious weekend, "If It Takes Forever, I Will Wait for You, but the Polar Bears Won't."


Out in California, Warren Beatty's campaign took full advantage of the weekend's arena events in Los Angeles and San Francisco-Oakland, just as it had been taking full advantage of the Sun God festivals and the increasingly vociferous and media-savvy lunchtime rallies in those cities, as well as San Jose and San Diego.

In recent weeks, the campaign had almost been sidetracked by charges of womanizing against both candidates. A salivating press and blogosphere pounced on a flurry of accusations and visuals from jilted husbands and tearful women relaying their stories often poignant, whether true or not -- over and over until the public felt like it was watching an X- rated soap opera. Salaciousness fatigue set in. It turned out that Mutually Assured Promiscuity was as effective a deterrent in the California gubernatorial campaign as Mutually Assured Destruction is claimed to have been during the Cold War. After a fortnight of TV, radio, and tabloid frenzy, the sex-capades of the two Lotharios became a sideshow, and Warren knew how to keep them a sideshow. He was a different man now, a faithful husband to his adored wife, Annette, and a proud father of their four children. He suavely advised all current rakes in the state to try married life. The reporters ate it up, and the cockhound dustup died down to barroom chuckles and website jokes.

More important political business took center stage. The problems of the state were immense, and perceived as such by most Californians. In ever greater numbers, they felt that their governor had blown the opportunity presented by his initial sky-high poll numbers when he characterized picketing nurses as "special interests" and said he was "kicking their butt." Thus commenced his Waterloo. He had alienated not only the nurses, but teachers, police, and firefighters, with both his style and his policies of protecting the wealthy at their expense. Moreover, with the restoration of the tax on the super-rich over the governor's veto, Warren had staked his claim to the debt and deficit issues that had given the former celluloid action hero some policy credibility.

Barry Diller continued to be Warren's political lifeguard. Quietly he synergized the pertinent initiatives of the Meliorists with his friend's campaign to keep it varied, exciting, fresh, and substantive. It wasn't so much that the agenda was particularly new -- it covered pensions, tax reform, water purity and availability, long overdue public works projects to employ the unemployed, a living wage, universal quality healthcare, modernization of public transport to contain sprawl, safe and clean streets, revamped schools that taught civic skills and literacy from the earliest grades, a crackdown on corporate crime and abuse of power, etc. -- it was the decisive, unambiguous manner in which Warren argued for it, drawing on all his actor's skills. He made reform seem unstoppable. His campaign left Arnold frittering and the Democratic Party dumbfounded -- that is, reviewing his agenda, they found out how dumb they'd been in past election cycles.

Other would-be progressive politicians and candidates all over the country began to take heed. The cliche that as California goes, so goes the nation, seemed less a cliche with every passing week. Nobody took greater heed than the members of Congress -- heed mixed with more than a few flutters of fear.

Warren's caravan of the super-rich had grown to four buses that traveled all over California, from the northern mountains to the southern deserts and beaches, from the inner cities and sprawling suburbs to the valleys where migrant farmworkers toiled. The election was his to lose, but he refused to play it safe. He crisscrossed the state tirelessly, his days of chronic indecision long behind him. A transplanted Californian from Virginia, he was on a journey of public self- discovery as much as a quest for the public interest, and Californians were responding in droves.


In Omaha, Warren and the Secretariat spent the Maui Five weekend on a comprehensive ingathering of all the assets and strategies for the coming invasion of the Congress by the people. According to the profiles the Congress Project was compiling, about 15 percent of the members of Congress were as close to first-rate as the voters were likely to get under the present corrupt political-electoral system. The advancement of the First-Stage Improvements would begin with them as the various Redirectional projects sought the most suitable sponsors for the different parts of the overall legislative agenda. But the growing populist fervor would ignore no one on Capitol Hill, not the newly arrived nor the veteran Bulls who commanded the committees. Every member would see just how decisive the stakes were for their ambitions, their parties, and of course their reelection prospects. So entrenched and complacent were the incumbents -- the lifers -- in their one-party districts or states that they would be completely off guard when the tornado hit the Capitol Dome. They would be flabbergasted, not so much by the legislation, but by the blitzkrieg of people power all around them -- especially the people back home who they thought were loyal or simply ignorant or apathetic. The Meliorist legislation that would soon be introduced represented a politically relentless surprise attack on injustices well known to both the solons and the public. The politics of the almighty dollar and the almighty corporation had kept such legislation off the dockets and out of congressional sight for most of America's modern political history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I like it," said Senator Crabgrass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, of course, how are you?"

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

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

"Excelente. Adios."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Khyber Pass?"

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

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

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

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

"Of course, Lobo."

"Dessert and brandy, Brovar?"

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, I do, Mr. Chairman."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Amen, amen," warbled Cynthia Chord.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Any objections?"

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

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

"I'll clear my schedule right away."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sol nodded and sipped his martini.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"Shall we quickly test both images in focus groups?" Yoko suggested.
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PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 12 CONT'D.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'We' who? Who said that?"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You tell me, Jasper."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Move to applaud," Paul said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"With pleasure."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone stared at him, forks in midair.

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

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

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

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

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

It was the perfect free media buildup to zero hour.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in the ballroom, the press conference resumed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That doesn't sound very American."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scattered applause floated through the ballroom.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, Christ," growled Bashem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

"Yes!" echoed Audre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fine, how about Wednesday?" Lobo said.

"How about tomorrow?" said Brovar.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I guess that pretty much sums it up, Bullion," the president said. "Let's adjourn to the dining room."
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