ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!
The battle of July was well and truly joined both in Washington and throughout the country. Congressional hearings on the Agenda legislation were underway in the House and Senate, with witnesses ranging from academic experts to think- tank apologists to business lobbyists. Each hearing gave prime time to testimony from affected Americans. The progressives demanded and received an end to the predawn practice of lobbyists hiring stand-ins to save seats for them. Seating was now reserved for ordinary citizens, families of those testifying, and of course the media, which packed the tables along the sides of the room. The denizens of the Hill were always exceptionally quickened by what they perceived to be "new energy" from the hustings. It had happened when the evangelicals mobilized in 1980, and it was happening now with the SROs and the immensely layered activity of the folks back home in support of the Agenda. The solons had never seen so many varied eruptions among their constituents, not to mention the phone calls from very rich people singing the songs of the SROs. Members of Congress were used to dealing with one-issue groups, and their usual responses weren't adaptable to wave upon wave of informed and motivated human energy. No pundits or professors or anyone else, including the pompous pollsters, had come close to predicting what was now transpiring, not even the acclaimed Zogby outfit, which went where other polling companies feared to tread.
At the same time, the salvos and the pressure from the business side were going through the Capitol Dome. In the normal course of congressional legislation, controversy was more or less confined to the specific interest groups with the most at stake, but this Agenda tumult had all the corporate lobbies fully staffed and media-budgeted, and all the PACs writing checks to legislators right and left. No Washington summer doldrums this year. The taxi and limousine business had never been so good. The trendy restaurants and bars were brimming with customers. Hotels were overbooked. Flights to National Airport and Dulles were full day after day. The media hired new hands and forked out overtime as they battled one another for scoops, leaks, and gossip. The lights in the K Street buildings and congressional offices stayed on late into the night.
Out in Omaha, the Secretariat was putting the finishing touches on a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the Meliorists, under the brilliant tutelage of GIS pioneer Jack Mangermond. Software layer after software layer provided minute-to-minute visual locations on the rallies, marches, lectures, CUB events, and Congressional Watchdog activities. The system was a kind of master matrix created from ingenious data patterns that allowed the Meliorists and their project managers to absorb at a glance what was happening when and where. For example, there were maps of each state and congressional district showing the number of legislators for, against, or neutral on each bill of the Agenda. Another map broke down PAC contributions to members of Congress by geographical region. An enormously useful tool and time-saver, GIS was a hit with Promotions, Analysis, Recruitment, Mass Demonstrations, and all the rest of the Meliorists' far-flung projects, which each turned it to their own distinct purposes. The managers fed the system additional information to be geographically modeled, and got GIS patterns on their adversaries wherever the data permitted. All in all, they were light-years ahead of the corporatists in spotting trends, causes and effects, weak spots, gaps and imbalances that required corrective action.
At the end of the first week of Agenda hearings, Warren suggested that the Meliorists pay courtesy visits to selected members of Congress, one on one, without publicity if possible. His colleagues seconded the idea and began dropping in at the House and Senate in the evening to confer individually with two or three members. These visits gave the Meliorists an opportunity for personal contact and direct appraisal that they couldn't get through intermediaries or from the public record. The arrangement suited the legislators too. They didn't want the distractions or burdens that an impulsive press might generate, and they were flattered by the attention, especially from Paul, Phil, Bill Cosby, Warren, Yoko, and the other more famous Meliorists. The visits served to strengthen backbones on the Hill and were generally so successful that the Meliorists decided to meet with the legislators back home in more leisurely settings during the August recess. Meanwhile, Zabouresk and Zeftel, the Double Z team, was all over Capitol Hill, assessing, assessing, assessing, breaking the legislators down into categories of yes, no, and leaning one way or the other, feeding back in micro-detail which members needed what kind of carrot or stick, what kinds of people were calling on them, what kind of press needed to be nudged.
Donald Ross and his Congress Watchdogs were in overdrive too. Always looking over the next hill and anticipating what would be needed at crunch time, Ross was zeroing in on the reelection campaigns of the entrenched incumbents most likely to block the Agenda legislation. In the coming months, these Bulls were sure to hunker down in their home districts and states and cater to their voter base to firm it up. They would expect to lose the liberals and the left, but they couldn't afford to lose their traditional constituency, which included the Reagan Democrats, white working-class males who had made the difference in one presidential and senatorial race after another. Knowing that one defecting voter had more impact on an incumbent than four who voted against the incumbent, Ross developed a sophisticated software program to screen out those voters most likely to defect. Then the local Watchdog groups would go to work on them person to person, at living room meetings and potluck suppers, in beer halls and bowling alleys, during softball games and Saturday morning hikes. The goal was to develop a corps of voters who could go to their particular Bull and say, "We've been your supporters for years, but it's time for a change. Make it happen and you'll be our hero." Careful advance work would be required for instance, making sure the press got wind of a potentially disastrous margin of defections and conducted the appropriate interviews -- but the most important predicate was already in place: new energy. Nothing startled and spooked an entrenched politician more than new sources of civic energy or old civic energy turning a newcomer.
The congressional hearings continued throughout the month, with all the attendant publicity and lobbying. There were some lively TV and radio debates, and even midnight vigils in honor or in criticism of specific members of the Senate or the House. Millions of people started to give this historic confrontation the attention usually reserved for major sporting events. Millions of others were contributing in their own ways to this movement for an unprecedented shift of power behind the needs of the American people. Mass attention bred more mass attention. As ever more members of Congress registered their support for the various Agenda bills, the Watchdogs organized large rallies to praise them so loudly and publicly that it would be political suicide for them to change their minds.
By the beginning of the third week of July, the corporate scare campaign was reaching just about everyone who turned on the television or radio. With the Agenda legislation under close public scrutiny day after day, Lobo's Wave Two became more targeted, with a barrage of thirty- and sixty-second spots attacking specific proposals in the various bills. The bond market began to get the jitters, and the stock market went into a very gradual but noticeable slide. The business press, which was not all on the same page, reported first the possible impact on "business confidence," then the likely impact on "the business climate," then actual announcements by CEOs that their companies were rethinking their investments in the United States.
Well before the emotional meeting with Lobo that led to Bump's excursus, the CEOs had been busy lining up companies that would announce, whether it was true or not, that they were moving plants or facilities overseas because of the "instability" allegedly caused by the revolt of the SROs. It was an old ploy. based on the theory that fear repeated over and over again creates its own facts and breeds its own rationalizations. Not to be outdone, Bill Hillsman floated over the airwaves short messages featuring similar scare-mongering claims that had been made by the business barons of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries about the abolition of slavery and child labor, the doubling of Ford workers' pay to $5 a day, the creation of Medicare and Social Security, and the issuance of auto safety regulations. The coarseness of the business alarms before each of these steps forward for America stunned television and radio audiences. Hillsman dramatized just how fraudulent, mean, and wrong the claims were at the time, and all the more so when viewed from the vantage point of the present. Each ad ended with a rhetorical question and answer: "Have you been watching similar scare tactics on your television set lately? Let's repeat history and toss the lies away."
Out on the hustings, the candidates of the Clean Elections Party were starting to turn the screws on the incumbent Bulls, who were having trouble adjusting to another kind of "instability" -- the possibility of their defeat at the polls. For years they had walked effortlessly to reelection in their one-party districts and states, the other major party having long ago decided that it was a waste of money to field a candidate against a certain landslide. Running unopposed had become run-of-the-mill for the Bulls. Now the CEP was moving into the vacuum and becoming the number two party in these districts gerrymandered to the advantage of either the Republicans or the Democrats.
Well-funded, well-advised, and well-organized. the hyper-motivated CEP candidates found receptive audiences everywhere for their message about the abuses and lost opportunities stemming from public elections funded privately, by greed, as compared with the virtues of public elections funded publicly, by principle. Although the party strictly observed an organizational separation from the Meliorists. there was a policy-by-policy, solution-by-solution parallelism between its campaigning and the Redirections projects, a mutually reinforcing relationship that worked to the benefit of both sides. The CEP website was getting more and more hits, which produced more and more donations. Its candidates were moving up in the polls and getting more press, which brought them to the attention of more voters, which further upped the polls. Soon they were sufficiently visible in neighborhood after neighborhood to issue credible debate challenges to the incumbents.
The candidates were by far the CEP's most valuable asset. They were congenial, knowledgeable, caring, and creative. They were people like Willy Champ. They were people like Rachel Simmons, a fifty-two-year-old accountant for a large food distribution charity in Orlando, Florida. She was unusually gregarious for a bean counter and had run successfully for three terms on the local board of education. She wanted to aim higher but recoiled at the shredding of conscience and candor required by campaign fundraising. She kept up to date on the political scene, paid her annual dues to a half dozen reform organizations, and waited for an opportunity that she doubted would ever come. One day she got a call from a CEP organizer asking her to come to a small exploratory meeting, but only if she was truly interested in becoming a candidate. One thing led to another, and soon she found herself running against Congressman Charles Carefree, an incumbent Bull who had held his seat since 1968. Years of frustration erupted into waves of energy as Rachel vowed to meet every adult in the district.
The Bulls were at first slow to react to the CEP challenge, but during July some of them started running ads on local television extolling their irreplaceable pork-laden incumbency -- a highway here, a public building there, a clinic here, a dam repair there. They began going home on weekends to slap backs and pick up babies for the photographers. To their chagrin, people would come up to them and say things like, "Hi, Earl, haven't seen you around here in ages." The Bulls were alarmed by such remarks, a sign of sinister trends in the making, and resented the time they had to spend on unaccustomed travel. It was hot and sweaty out there on the campaign trail, and they still had to deliver for their patrons back in Washington. They began to wonder if they were up to the double duty. If one duty had to go, the path of least resistance told them to stay in Washington, where they had their comfortable homes, all the privileges of office, and social circles happy to defer to them. Meanwhile, the CEP candidates, hungry and full of zeal, kept coming and coming up the long, steep hill.
As a matter of mutual defense, the Bulls formed an alliance across party lines. They called it the Maginot Club, and they met in one of the many secluded, unmarked offices deep in the Capitol building, a nicely appointed room where the chairs were comfortable and drinks from the well-stocked bar were readily at hand. There, every other day at 7:00 p.m., they assembled to assess the situation vis-a-vis the Meliorists and recalibrate themselves for the next day. One of their first acts was to call their favorite lobbyist, Brovar Dortwist, who had quickly assumed leadership of all the Washington lobbies whether the lobbies liked it or not.
"Brovar," said Senator Thinkalot, "we're on a short time leash, so we have to get right down to business. We're pretty well up on what the lobbies are doing and how they're doing it, but what we need is a daily gauge of the effect they're having on our colleagues, on the media, and on the people back home. Are they getting the Rotary Club and Kiwanis types? Are they waking Main Street up to the SRO peril, and if so, in what specific ways beyond the usual rumbles? Let's face it, Brovar. For all their sound and fury, for all their daily talking points, the lobbies are basically lazy, egotistical bureaucracies. They've had it too easy for too many years -- just like us, I suppose."
"Couldn't have given myself better marching orders, Senator. We're right on course, and we're going seven days a week. I've got a big Rolodex full of influential people all over the country, not just inside the Beltway, and it's getting the exercise of its inanimate life, you can rest assured. But on your end, Senator, you need to line up some witnesses besides the usual think-tank and trade group types. I'm sure you've seen the CEOs' scare ads about the 'business climate' and companies pulling up stakes, and that's fine as far as it goes, but you need some real workers up there testifying about losing their jobs, you need some ordinary Americans who'll have to pay more taxes or higher prices or whatever because of the Agenda. It shouldn't be too hard to find them and get them up to snuff and up on the Hill for the hearings."
"Just what I was thinking, Brovar," said Congressman Carefree. "The SROs have witnesses like that telling their sob stories every day, and it's working. We need their counterparts. Get a hold of the Falwell folks and have them canvass their huge Sunday morning flocks."
"I'll do that, Congressman," Brovar said, and for another thirty minutes he and the Bulls exchanged information and talked about how best to fortify the Maginot line against the populist Leviathan.
When he got off the phone, Brovar felt elated and increasingly in charge. He loved a good fight, especially one he'd been warning about before anyone else in his camp. He recalled how the trade association flacks scoffed at him at that meeting back in March and carried the day with their "We're still completely in charge, no losses in sight" mantra. Now, with the capitulation of Wal-Mart, they were changing their tune. They were feeling the tremors, and they were far more receptive to Brovar, even humble.
Like the Meliorists, Brovar was always thinking ahead. He was known to have prepared and distributed a thirty-year plan to shrink government to the point that it could be "flushed down the toilet." Consistency wasn't his strong suit -- he favored a large, powerful military, for example, which couldn't exactly be funded by passing the hat -- but he fancied himself a seer. Whenever he had to take his mind "further down the pike," as he put it, he would go for an evening stroll by the Tidal Basin with his Doberman, Get 'em, no matter what the season. Tonight was one of those times.
As he walked along with Get 'em alert at his side, sniffing the air for muggers or possibly squirrels, Brovar posed himself a question out loud. "What if the Bulls were facing certain defeat in November unless they relented and dropped their blockade of the Agenda?"
"Ruff," said Get 'em.
Brovar gave him a pat on the head. "Rough is right, boy, but you know what I'd do?"
Get 'em cocked his head and pricked up his ears.
"I'd ask my business pals to offer them lucrative jobs in their forced retirement, with plenty of free time for family and recreation. That way they could block and go down as martyrs for free enterprise."
Brovar doubted it would come to such a drastic crossroads, but he had to start preparing for it now, for two reasons. First, the offers had to be made well in advance so that no one could say they were quid pro quos -- deniability, with the calendar dates to prove it. Second, Lobo had floated some on-the-edge battlefield ideas during their New York meeting, and Brovar didn't want to be implicated in any such extremism. A jobs program for the Bulls would protect him and keep Lobo from going over the legal line when Capitol Hill went white-hot in the final days, or so Brovar hoped.
There was one more contemplation that occupied him that evening along the Tidal Basin. Not all of the Meliorists' bills were objectionable to him. In particular, the elimination of corporate welfare appealed to a deep feeling he had always harbored about the hypocrisy of big business spouting free enterprise and pocketing tax dollars on the dole. While it was usually easier to hold a diverse coalition together by opposing everything slam-bang, these were not usual times, so why not win one for the Brovar? He was more consistent than most about his economic ideology in a town full of forked- tongued corporatists who wanted to milk big government for the goodies instead of cutting it down to size. In the give- and-take over the various bills, conceding a significant plank in the Agenda might help to defeat many of the others.
Get 'em was straining at his leash. "Okay, boy, let's go home. Halima has a delicious Arabic dinner waiting for us. She knows how much you like raw kibbee with pine nuts."
While Brovar was strategizing about the nation's future with Get 'em, Phil Donahue was at Promotions headquarters doing his daily scan of the GIS maps and marveling at the multiplying energy levels portrayed so vividly. Behind the dots and patterns were human beings. More and more of them were getting on radio and TV and having their say in the newspapers and weekly magazines. Some were even being profiled in the style pages.
One of those dots was Arlene Jones, the Pennsylvania truck-stop waitress who'd been following the activities of the billionaire rebels ever since she saw Phil on the news back in January. Like millions of Americans, she'd been captivated by Patriotic Polly and intrigued by some of the other early initiatives of the core group, but at first she thought it was all just a gag, a kind of ongoing senior reality show. Into April and May, she realized these billionaires meant it. They weren't fooling around. Week by week, she noticed the usually profane small talk at the Treezewood turning into conversations about where the country was heading and the ruckus those "superrich old guys" were creating. Never had she expected the truckers to talk about anything serious, other than their own personal or business woes.
Arlene began discussing the old guys and their ideas with her customers, friends, and neighbors. She collected clippings and reports. She logged onto some of the Redirectional websites. She soon found out who her congressman and two senators were, and began writing them letters. She went to a couple of rallies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on weekends. Her address book filled up, and at age forty-four, unmarried, she found her formerly humdrum life transformed.
In mid-June, Mason Fluery, reputed to be one of the best of the crop of lecturers drawing crowds around the country, came to a town near Arlene's home. She went to hear him with some likeminded friends. His energy was infectious, his words full of practicality. He argued that the people had the power against big business, but only if they organized and moved. Moved! Economic justice in this country was long overdue and was no more than what was owed to the people for all their hard work. After the lecture, Mason invited the audience to a get-together at a local restaurant. He knew it would be a smaller crowd -- parents had to get home to their children -- but that would help create a more intimate bond with the movement he was speaking for day after day. Mason urged them to join a CUB or a Congress Watchdog Group, if they hadn't already. "The whole country is waking up," he said. "Be part of its history."
On the drive home, Arlene's old Chevy was filled with excitement and energy as she and her friends discussed the lecture and the points Mason had made. "Hey," she said suddenly, "I've got an idea for a slogan." Less than a month later, that slogan was rippling on parade banners across the nation: "What's the Big Deal About the Agenda's Fair Deals? We Earned Them!"
Among the GIS dots on the other side of the country were Arnie Johnson and Alfonso Garcia, the McMansion day workers who'd watched Warren Beatty's bus caravan of billionaires with such skepticism back in February. As the weeks passed, they saw that Beatty was serious about taking on the Governator, and that a bunch of other super-rich guys were serious about taking on the whole system. Soon Arnie and Alf were talking more politics than sports, with their greatest scorn reserved for black and Hispanic politicians spouting off about the poor, and especially the black and Hispanic members of Congress.
"Look at those cats," Arnie said to Alf one afternoon in April. "They got it made. They raise their own pay, give themselves great benefits. Health insurance, life insurance, pensions -- you name it, they got it. Safe districts, no worries about anything except getting away with fooling the folks in the hood. Same with your people, sucking up to the big boys, letting some business bucks to the charities shut them up. Man, after all the struggle over the years to get the vote, what do we have to show but a bunch of silk-talking, kowtowing Uncle Toms and no Tacos?"
"You said it, amigo. Those pendejos got it so made they do nothing about conditions in their own barrios, nothing about all the slumlords, loan sharks, crappy storefronts, cruddy food, dirty streets, violent crime -- ah, where do you start and where do you end? But now, with the super-rich hombres, there is esperanza. There's a big huelga on the way for justicia por el pueblo. Si se puede! Those viejos are driving los ricos loco. It's getting so I can't wait for the news every night. Hey, want the rest of my second burrito? Do I have to ask? They don't call you Arnie the Appetite for nothing."
By May, Arnie and Alf were veterans of the lunchtime rallies, leading the chants and yelling out their reactions to the speakers. It made them feel part of something powerful and exciting, and they didn't mind the free lunch either. With all the uncertainty of working from job to job, you forgot that you had a voice, you counted, you could be part of a movement for justice. These mansion jobs weren't unionized, and the construction boss could toss you aside if he didn't like the color of your shoes. So you learned the right tone of voice and the right demeanor -- just short of "Yes, massa" -- you learned to swallow any complaint or injury, you learned to keep your mouth shut about shoddy materials and sloppy workmanship.
What Arnie and Alf heard at the rallies stayed with them. They hadn't known that the multimillionaires who contracted for these mega-mansions paid a smaller percentage in taxes on their stock and dividend income than the two friends paid on their construction wages. As one impassioned speaker had said, "You sweat and pay more. They sit and pay less. All they do is make money from money, and that doesn't help working folks. It doesn't help the sick and the poor. It doesn't help anyone but those who don't need any help." Over the weeks, Alf and Arnie widened their circle of friends. They joined up when the Congress Watchdog organizers came around. They went to a training meeting with lecturer Carlos Cruz, learned how to sharpen their arguments, and picked up literature in English and Spanish. They talked up the Agenda in their neighborhoods and asked for meetings with their members of Congress and the State Assembly. They sought out blue-collar stiffs who'd voted for politicians who turned around and voted with the corporate boys once they were in Washington or Sacramento. If reason and facts didn't work, Alf and Arnie weren't above resorting to shame. "You've been rolled, guys," they'd say. "Are you just going to stand there and take it?" It turned out that a lot of them weren't.
Mason Fluery and Carlos Cruz and the other lecturers were responsible for connecting a lot of those dots on the GIS map. There were now 1,400 full-time lecturers, backed by an organizing staff of 650. The Meliorists weren't about to make the same mistake Clinton had back in 1993-94, when fewer than fifty people were going around the country trying to organize voters behind his misbegotten health insurance legislation. With the organizers scheduling the lecturers at one venue after another, and with the lecturers becoming media-famous in their own right, each of them spoke to an average of a thousand people a day, all kinds of people, across the whole American spectrum, at high school and college auditoriums, at Elks, Knights of Columbus, Grange, and union halls, at VFW and American Legion posts, at every conceivable gathering place. Daily, more than a million people were listening to the lecturers talk about how to lift up America, participating in discussions afterward, and going home with armfuls of handouts and DVDs. The lecturers and organizers learned as they went along, getting better and better, exchanging experiences and tips, like checking the local Ramada or Holiday Inn for conventions or business luncheons where they could say a few words. With the DVDs, the extent and quality of what Promotions called the "reach" was indeterminate, but there were encouraging anecdotal reports of people watching them and signing up with the CEP or the Congress Watchdogs or the CUBs.
For all its sweep and sophistication, GIS didn't begin to capture just how taken the country was with the Meliorists and their directions for their country. Scarcely a community was untouched by some form of activism, and it wasn't just about the Agenda for the Common Good. Long-suppressed civic energies burst forth like crocuses in springtime. Groups surfaced to demand the regulation of tanning salons to prevent skin cancer, and of beauty salons to protect workers from chemicals and particulates. The stalled movement to reform the corporate student loan racket, with its government guarantees and high interest rates, erupted on campuses and inside Congress. Progressive legislators found renewed vigor as they went after the authoritarian rules and procedures that gave the majority party a virtual stranglehold on congressional legislation. The dormant advocates of recreational sports came alive to challenge the dominance of commercialized sports, demanding that the newspapers call their sports pages the Spectator Sports section unless they started covering participatory amateur sports in their communities and nationwide. Whether it was the hospital infection epidemic, Channel One and commercialism in the schools, crumbling subway systems, decaying housing projects, municipalities using eminent domain to take over private homes for the use of corporations, or the endless robotic menus that cost customers hours on the phone with airlines, utilities, banks, and so many other big companies, citizens were up in arms! From petty peeves to the big issues of economic and political justice, the people were arising!
A few days after the last of the Seven Pillars was introduced in Congress, with all the paid and free media coverage pro and con still in full swing, the Meliorists commissioned polls on each of the bills and found to their delight that approval ratings ranged from 72 percent to 85 percent. Soon thereafter, the big polling companies registered about the same range of approval, except on the healthcare bill, which hit almost 90 percent. Lobo and the CEOs brought up the rear with polls whose questions were so obviously slanted that when the results came in at about 47 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval, the media declared them a victory for the Meliorists. Once again, the CEOs were on the defensive.
Even so, the Washington lobbies found themselves gravitating to the superior organizational efforts of Lobo/Dortwist, if only to escape complete despair. On a fraction of a fraction of their budgets, Luke Skyhi was showing them what it was like when the opposition batters came from the Major Leagues. No more pounding on pitiful protestors, semi-starved consumer and environmental groups, or demoralized unions operating on default. The US Cavalry had come to town.
The faceless lobbyists were especially infuriated by one of Luke's more inspired strokes: a rogue's gallery of mug shots of the Capitol's hundred most ruthless corporate pitchmen and greasers, captioned with lists of their sins. Luke printed the photos up on high-quality poster paper and distributed them by the tens of thousands. Half the members of Congress hung them in their reception rooms, declaring the miscreants persona non grata. Hand-wringing indignation ensued among the pitchmen and greasers. During lunch one day at the lavishly carpeted and chandeliered Metropolitan Club, a senior corporate lawyer said to the head of the National Coal Industry Association, a longtime friend, "Dammit, Buford, this is the last goddamn straw. The nerve of that guy, putting 'Wanted' over our pictures like we were common criminals." Buford sighed and downed a double shot of Jack Daniel's. "And I thought this was going to be a nice, quiet summer, at least as long as there were no hurricanes or terrorist attacks," he said. "Wake up, Buford," said the lawyer. "We've got a different kind of hurricane and a different kind of terrorist attack, and frankly, I'd prefer the real thing."
All through July, interview requests and invitations to speak poured into the offices of the PROs, as the press was routinely calling the Meliorists now. Time, Newsweek, People, Business Week, Fortune, Vanity Fair, O, and a host of other national magazines wanted them for cover stories. They became household names, folk heroes, if they weren't already. Then there were the Billionaires Against Bullshit. Reporters fell all over them and their social circles. Before they finished their interviews or got off the air, the Meliorists and their allies always tried to focus attention on the Congress and the Agenda.
Meanwhile, the right-wing media was tying itself into knots. Even Bush Bimbaugh, the hitherto undisputed king of talk radio, couldn't seem to make his hysterical rants stick anymore. His dittoheads just weren't calling in like they used to, jamming the switchboard and drowning out the voices of the treasonous libs. He was so down he started taking uppers again. The Bimbaugh star was being eclipsed, and he knew it. The more he attacked, the more strident and repetitive he became. Finally he decided that there was only one thing to do: beard the lion in his den. Courage wasn't his strong suit -- he was big on soliloquies and screened callers -- but he knew an approaching freight train when he saw one. Well, okay, so he'd give one of the SROs thirty minutes. The only one he could barely stomach was Ted Turner. Bush popped another pill, placed the call, and extended the invitation. Ted accepted with ill-concealed relish.
On the appointed day, Ted showed up a few minutes early at Bush's elaborate studio. Bush greeted him cordially, although Ted couldn't help noticing his sweaty handshake. They went into the sound booth and began.
"Good day, red-blooded Americans, you're listening to the Truth, and if you abide by it you will be enlightened to the shining heavens. My special guest is Ted Turner, of cable TV, Atlanta Braves, and latifundia notoriety -- hey, look it up, unilinguals. Welcome, Ted, to a Bimbaugh first -- a one-on-one with one of you billionaire subverters of America."
"Well, Bush, that's a nice, impartial, lying piece of cowshit. You know, I've always wanted to be on your show so I could ask you how it feels to be a corporate welfare king, you bulbous freeloader, you! Folks, he's using your property -- the public airwaves -- free of charge to make his twenty million bucks a year."
Bush went ballistic. Reflexively he pushed the Silent button on his aggressive guest so he couldn't be interrupted as he delivered his stinging rebuttal.
"Why, you slimy cur, you wife-swapper, you ... you ... you sucker for the feminazis, the commies, the queers, and the left-wing wackos! How do you feel having your brain so far up your anal cavity?"
Ted grabbed his mike to reply, discovered it was dead, and did what came naturally. He jumped up, grabbed Bush's wheeled chair, spun him into the far corner, and took over his mike, which was very much alive.
"Hey, dittoheads. Bush Bimbaugh is getting rich off you by shilling for the big business tycoons and peddling all kinds of bigotry. Have you ever heard him take on a big company? Have you ever heard him go after big oil, big drug, big auto, big insurance, big bank? Of course not. They own him because they sponsor him. He's a coward, can't take any criticism, though he sure dishes it out. But what do you expect from a draft dodger who thinks it's great to send other people's sons and daughters to fabricated wars? What do you expect from a sponger who insists that five-fifteen an hour is plenty as a minimum wage while he's pulling down a hundred grand a day, or thirty-three thousand three hundred and thirty-three bucks an hour, for slinging his manure? Want more? Just log onto RedirectAmerica.org."
By now, Bush had recovered and was about to assault Ted from behind when he spotted a producer frantically holding up a sign behind the glass partition: "Don't, he'll sue you! Tort!" Bush froze, seething with rage, and swiped his finger across his throat to signal the producer, who pulled the plug just as Ted was saying, "Take it from a recovered redneck -- " The telephone lines were lit up like Times Square on New Year's Eve.
"Get the hell out of here, Turner," Bush shouted. "By the time I'm done with you in the next forty minutes, they'll think you escaped from the nuthouse. I am going to pulverize you. You're no redneck, you're just plain red."
"Don't worry, jocko, I wouldn't want to pollute my lungs in here any further. But ask your legally inspired producer over there about the Sullivan case. Ask him about intentional and false defamation of a public figure. You might want to look before you leap into a courtroom for an eight-figure verdict. So long, chowderhead."
As Bush well knew without any help from his producer, New York Times v. Sullivan set an extremely high standard for defamation suits, making it difficult for public figures to prevail unless they could prove malice and intent. It was a landmark in Supreme Court decisions supporting freedom of the press, and had greatly eased the flow of sharp and critical free speech in the decades since it was handed down. Normally it was a mainstay of Bush's show, but today it tamed his tongue, because he was full of malice and intent.
Returning to the air after a very long commercial break, he recovered his composure and reverted to form: ignore the previous dustup and go back on the offensive against some easy target. "Listen up, people. Our National Anthem is under attack again, this time from a bunch of Hispanos out in LA. Get this, they want to sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in their so-called native language. Well, El Rushbo's got some news for them. No way, Jose!"
On Capitol Hill, the hearings ground on day after day, with an army of stenographers taking down every word for the public record. That was fine with the Bulls -- so long as the hearings were underway, the hard decisions could be deferred. Every afternoon, in a suite near the Rayburn office Building, the Double Z met with the congressional progressives to advise on the testimony and how to keep the media focused on it. Now and then, they'd ask the valedictory speakers to stay over a day after their Press Club tell-alls and testify at the relevant hearings.
For the time being, the progressives were keeping a low profile. Staying out of the media limelight helped them in their negotiations with the Bulls and gave them the leverage of going to the press as a last resort if the Bulls didn't cooperate. But their names did not escape Brovar Dortwist, who began compiling information on these "ringleaders," as he called them, and arranging for companies in their districts or states to announce that they were taking their plants or white-collar operations abroad, with a scarcely veiled reference to the inhospitable views of the incumbent progressive. The Meliorist response teams did their best to put out a statement the next day exposing the move abroad as something that had been planned long ago and would have happened anyway, but sometimes it was hard to get accurate information promptly enough. The Dortwist tactic was having some effect, meshing as it did with the CEO's daily saturation scare campaign on TV and radio.
Wherever it was determined that public opinion was starting to trend against the progressive incumbent, the lecturers were rerouted to provide the bigger picture and respond to local fears. "Corporate flight is part of business as usual for the big companies," they told their audiences at community meetings and press conferences. "They've been going abroad for years, and the government gives them incentives to do it. Representatives of the Department of Commerce attend business conferences to expound on all the ways Washington encourages companies to expand their foreign investments, including outsourcing and moving US facilities overseas, often to dictatorships all too willing to supply them with serf workers. Meanwhile, these same companies are collecting federal and state contracts and subsidies and tax breaks right and left. They're having it both ways -- serf labor abroad and freebies at home -- and we need legislation to stop them. Their flight isn't just an abandonment of your districts and states, it's a flight from loyalty and allegiance to the country where they were born and prospered. Tell that to the corporate patriots!"
Max Palevsky came up with another wrinkle. He asked Analysis to tally the announcements of flight abroad in the progressives' districts and those in the Bulls' backyards. The results were dramatic: 80 percent to 20 percent. Analysis also concluded from previous trends that companies in the Bulls' districts were holding back announcements they would otherwise have made over the past few weeks. Promotions went public with the data in a big way and kept the Meliorists on the offensive, notwithstanding the energetic efforts of Dortwist and Lobo, who were now realizing just how deep and powerful the Meliorists' strike-back capabilities were.
The Washington lobbies weren't used to contending with such a formidable opposition phalanx. They were used to fielding a media blast, pumping money into campaign coffers, expanding their lobbying intensity on the Hill and back in the districts, and uncorking the champagne. For at least three decades, Congress had reliably yielded to the demands of one business sector after another, including the oil, drug, chemical, auto, real estate, mining, banking, insurance, agribusiness, genetic engineering, defense, fast-food, and brokerage industries. Now there was not only resistance, but resistance with muscle behind it. The lobbyists' local dealers and agents were feeding back their impressions, almost unanimously reporting that folks were aroused and determined and angry, as if they'd had quite enough of all the greed, all the propaganda, and all the lies. "No more 'crush the local reformers and be done with it,'" as one insurance agent put it. "These reformers can call on outside agitators who are very, very adept and motivated. I don't even trust my own employees anymore. They're always whispering on their cell phones and disappearing on their lunch hour." A distressed realtor e-mailed his trade association pleading for guidance. "It's just a whole new scene, not one we have any experience in handling. What do we do? Help!" In every region of the country, in every arena, new civic energies were putting the Meliorists ahead of the curve and drawing their adversaries into unknown territory.
Toward the end of July, the National Association of Health Maintenance Organizations -- health insurers that amassed large numbers of customers mostly by merging themselves into ever fewer giant companies -- decided to take the bull by the horns and do something about the Agenda's universal healthcare bill. They invited representatives of some allied trade organizations, including the fast-food and big-box discount chains, to their swank new offices for a no-holds-barred strategy session. The discussion began with the tried and true buzzwords "socialized medicine," which had worked so well ever since President Harry Truman first proposed a national healthcare system back in 1945. Then the participants moved boldly on to the tried and true charges about big government rationing healthcare and tying doctors and hospitals up in interminable red tape.
"Well, it's worked before," said the CEO of Monument Insurance, one of the biggest HMOs, "but let's not forget that this is the most popular bill on the Agenda, with approval ratings pushing ninety percent. We've got to match them and go them one better. I say we bring back Harry and Louise, who performed so brilliantly on television to deep-six Clinton's plan in 1993. Our surveys back then showed that Harry and Louise had a ninety-percent recognition factor by the time we vanquished the reds. Why not a return engagement? I'm sure our intrepid couple haven't aged a bit."
"I'll tell you why," said his media adviser. "Because guess who the SROs will trot out to go up against H and L."
"Hillary Clinton?" asked the CEO of McBurger's. "Just kidding. Go ahead, who? An ex-surgeon general? A famous physician?"
"No, a famous parrot."
Groans filled the room.
"Calm down, gentlemen," said the director of the Everyware discount stores. "Nobody's invincible, not even Patriotic Polly. If we put Harry and Louise in a series of different ads with different attack themes, the bird will never be able to keep up. She'll be squawking some tired one-note refrain that will make her an object of mockery. She can't possibly learn enough new words and phrases fast enough to respond to the devastating specifics of our ads." He paused. "Can she? Smithers," he barked at his young assistant, who was sitting behind him taking notes, "get me the top avian consulting firm in the country to advise on the mental capacity of a parrot."
"Perhaps an ornithologist, sir?" Smithers ventured timidly.
"Whatever it takes, Smithers, just do it!" The director turned back to his colleagues. "We'll wait for the report to be on the safe side, but I've got a powerful hunch that Patriotic Polly has finally met her match in Harry and Louise."
"I've got a powerful hunch you're right," said the Monument CEO. "Okay, we'll get the text of the SROs' budget-busting legislation over to the ad agency right away so they can start breaking it down into sound bites. Assuming confirmation that Polly's a birdbrain, Harry and Louise will hit the airwaves in a couple of days."
The meeting adjourned on a note of enthusiastic self-congratulation. It didn't matter to these barons of the business world that the Meliorists' bill provided for public payment but competitive private delivery of health services under careful quality and cost controls. It didn't matter to the HMO chiefs that unlike the health plans they offered, the bill mandated free choice of doctors and hospitals and equal access to health services for all. It didn't matter that the bill would dramatically reduce red tape, the collection bureaucracy, the one-secretary/one-doctor paperwork ratio, the huge administrative expenses accounting for more than 25 percent of all healthcare expenditures, and the enormous computerized billing fraud of the current system. It didn't matter that the resultant savings would be enough to cover all Americans with less per capita spending than was exacted by the soaring prices and waste of the status quo. All that mattered was propaganda, the charming evasions and prevarications of a fictional celebrity couple named Harry and Louise.
As the HMO bigwigs and their friends were repairing to their favorite watering holes, the Agenda division of Promotions was poring over the daily transcripts of the public hearings on the Seven Pillars. "Too voluminous, too overwhelming," declared Pauline Precis, the division's top editor. "We must find the compelling, persuasive, vibrant details, the nuggets that will become national currency, part of daily parlance, part of the daily understanding of the damage done to basic principles of fairness and justice. Get to work, people."
They did. Three hours later, Pauline's staff presented her with a potent sampling of the testimony.
> A single mother in Appalachia: "I'm working to live and support my children, but my boss made sure I couldn't make a living from my work."
> A hotel maid from Queens: "My son got lead poisoning from the paint in our apartment. I couldn't afford the treatment. He died. When I buried him in a pauper's grave, the gravedigger looked up at me and said, 'Sorry for your loss, ma'am. Stinks that this is a pay-or-die country.'''
> A community organizer in Boston: "Every day I walk through crumbling neighborhoods and breathe dirty air. In the distance I can see the skyscrapers of the rich, who work in comfort and go home to well-kept neighborhoods. I've studied the tax code, and I know that work is taxed way more than capital. In the good old USA, we tax food, furniture, and clothing instead of stocks, bonds, and options. That's crazy. Let's tax what we don't need, not what we need."
> An Oglala chief from the Great Sioux Nation: "The power of the Sun created the Earth. After many generations, let the Sun do the work for the Earth before the Earth returns to dust."
> A labor organizer in Peoria: "When the few rule the many, when their greed overruns our need, they seed rebellious deeds. So it has been forever, and so it will forever be."
> A political economist at Harvard: "The new slavery of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations requires a new abolitionist movement -- no less moral, no less legal, no less constitutional, no less fundamental than the old abolitionist movement against the enslavement of African Americans. The new slavery is not just one of daily life indentured to the power and whims of giant global corporations; it is an enslavement of our genes, of our commodified children, of our environment, of our intelligence, of our inalienable right to a decent livelihood under a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The reigning dogmas of authoritarian corporatism must be overthrown before it's too late, before our nation and mankind as a whole become one immense Brave New World."
> An auto worker from Detroit: "I lost my arm and my job in a plant accident. I'm a mom, but my kids were all grown and out of the house. I had plenty of time on my hand, so I decided to start a group home for street kids. I want to improve my country. I want all Americans to improve our country. That's our God-given right, but we can't exercise it because our country isn't a true democracy. It's a country where the rich dictate power to truth. We are the unseen, the shadow people who do their work or have to pick up after their devastations. We are expendable. This must stop. This must stop everywhere."
"That's more like it, people." Pauline said. "Now get me the visuals, get me the witnesses at the table in a packed hearing room, get me their back stories -- where they came from, what they've been up against in their daily lives. This is a media gold mine for news, features, ads, DVDs, whatever we want to make of it. Get me reaction shots from the committee, get me interviews with the witnesses' families, get me --"
A tinny rendition of the William Tell Overture interrupted her. She unholstered her cell phone and snapped it open. "Um- mm, I see.... Yes, Barry, of course, I'll be right there." Snap, reholster. "Gotta run, people, back in ten, get on it."
Arriving in Barry's office, Pauline flung herself into a chair. "So the rumors are true. The HMOs are dusting Harry and Louise off for a national media duet against universal healthcare."
"Yup," Barry said. "I just got confirmation from the Secretariat. They're moving fast, and we've got to be ready to come back at them. Any ideas?"
"Patriotic Polly, of course. She can say something simple but powerful, like 'Your health -- not for sale to the HMOs!'"
"I like it," Barry said. "I'll call Clifton Chirp right away and get him on the job. But we need something less generic too, something that addresses the specifics of the Agenda bill and the mud they're going to sling at it. Bill Hillsman would be perfect, but he's already up to his eyeballs with the energy legislation and the Dynamic Democracy Act."
Barry and Pauline sat thinking for a minute, then grinned at each other across Barry's desk. "Blister!" they said simultaneously.
Blister Blurr was a counter-advertising specialist who had come on board with Promotions just after the Fourth. He'd been waiting for an opportunity to show his stuff, and was delighted to get the call from Pauline. Working at breakneck speed, he pulled up all the 1993 Harry and Louise skits for close scrutiny and then fashioned his antidote, heavy on satire. His first script had a couple named Lou and Harriet chatting in their kitchen about Harry and Louise.
"They sure must've got themselves tuckered out back in '93, popping up all over the TV day after day the way they did," Lou said. "And here they are, thirteen years later, doing it again. Don't they get tired of spouting the same old falsehoods?"
"No," Harriet said, "because they're actors. In real life, they've got full health insurance, and their parents are on Medicare. Gracious, what people won't say on television just for money. Are you an actor, Lou?"
"Honey, we've been married for going on twenty years. You know I'm not an actor. You know I work at Wal-Mart, just like you."
"Yes, and we both have second jobs, but we don't have health insurance. We just can't afford it with two teenagers in the house."
"Say, Harriet, do Harry and Louise have any kids? Let's invite those actors over and ask them. Let's sit them down right here at this table and see what they have to say to two real Americans."
Blister reviewed the sixty-second script and pounded out another one on the cries of "Red tape!" and "Socialized medicine!" that were sure to come from Harry and Louise. Then he sat back and admired his handiwork. The ads would prompt viewers to skepticism or outright laughter when the HMO thespian duo came on the screen. There would be a backlash against the fakery, and the press would want to interview the actors about their own health coverage. Reporters might even start hounding their poor parents. Lou and Harriet would get the water-cooler chatter going and deal a body blow to a multimillion-dollar brand name that was still remembered by a substantial portion of the adult population. There was just one problem. Blister called Pauline.
"I need you to find me a couple of down-to-earth working folks for my ads," he said.
"No problem," said Pauline. "There are scores of them up here testifying on the Hill."
"They have to be married, uninsured, and preferably Wal-Mart employees with two kids."
"Well ... well, okay, there must be hundreds of couples like that, maybe thousands."
"And they have to be named Lou and Harriet."
"What?" said Pauline, and then the light dawned. "Oh, Blister, that's brilliant! Okay, it won't be easy, but I'll see what I can do."
Blister went home to grab a bite and walk his basset hound -- everyone worth knowing in Washington had a dog -- and returned to the office a few hours later. He was working on a third ad, a thirty-second spot featuring Lou and Harriet with Patriotic Polly, when the phone rang.
"Long story short," said Pauline. "I called Barry, Barry called Sol. Sol called his lead SWAT team in Bentonville, they called their people at the two hundred stores, and Mrs. Harriet Robinson is on her way up here from Atlanta with her husband, Henry. Everyone calls him Hank, but his middle name is Louis."
"Close enough!" Blister said. "Thanks a million."
Now the only remaining question was whether to wait until Harry and Louise debuted again or to run Lou and Harriet preemptively. Blister consulted Barry, Phil, and Bill Cosby, and they all agreed that it was best to wait until the first Harry and Louise ad hit and immediately slap the Lou and Harriet nullification on the air with the same media buy. Going out first with Lou and Harriet might force the HMOs to cancel Harry and Louise, and then the ads wouldn't make much sense. Far better to confront the HMOs with the choice of persisting with a fatally weakened Harry and Louise or suffering the humiliation of withdrawing them.
The resurrected duo premiered on a Thursday, their brows furrowed with concern over the horrors of the Agenda's healthcare bill. Hot on their heels came Lou and Harriet, calmly skewering the fabrications of their HMO counterparts, with an assist from the hugely popular Patriotic Polly. By Monday, Harry and Louise had been yanked off the air to a chorus of mocking catcalls from the late-night comedians and millions of Americans who would not be fooled and cheated a second time.
As Harry and Louise were retiring their act in disgrace, three unlikely middle-aged men of ramrod bearing were registering as guests at the mountaintop hotel in Maui. A day later, an athletic-looking woman in her thirties joined them. They did their best to fit the customary guest profile, chatting casually with the other guests and the hotel staff about how exhausted they were from their jobs as drug company "detail" salespeople constantly on the road, going from one physician's office to the next. They spoke loudly of shucking their cell phones and Blackberries and telling the front desk to hold all calls. They were here to relax their brains out as far away as possible from work. They just wanted sun, mountain breezes, walks through the lush Hawaiian landscape, and rest. During the day, they napped ostentatiously on chaises by the pool or in armchairs in the common rooms. Late at night, on the pretext of being restless, they strolled through the grounds and bugged the place silly with parabolic microphones and miniature cameras.
Lobo's detectives had hit pay dirt. They'd followed a trail with many detours that finally led them to the Maui hotel where the SRO movement was spawned. The first clue came when Ted and Peter were overheard at one of the Sun God festivals talking about a forthcoming trip to Maui. Then Sol and Jeno, in Washington for a CUB event, mentioned Maui during a phone conversation at their hotel near the National Press Club. It happened that the DEA was tapping all the hotel phones for a drug sting, and that the tapper was an old friend of Lobo's. Over an informal lunch at a restaurant near the White House, the tapper told Lobo what his eavesdropping had inadvertently swept up. From there it was relatively easy. Paul Newman and Bill Cosby had been sighted at the Maui Airport in February and mentioned in a Hollywood Reporter gossip column that came up on a Google search. After a couple of weeks of sleuthing, the detectives closed in on the hotel.
It was a high-stakes game Lobo was playing, but it was a measure of his determination to salvage all he could for his side. He had weighed the odds, realized how far behind the CEOs were, and knew by now that total victory was out of the question. It was a matter of how much they were going to lose. In his war room he had his own GIS electronic wall, cruder than the Meliorists' system, but sophisticated enough to show all the alarming activities taking place across the country day by day. Every time he looked at it, he prayed that the CEOs were looking at it too. He was not at all sanguine that they had what it took in terms of direct involvement, passion, and willingness to back the effort with sufficient funds. The day he'd dressed them down, exhorting them to step up to the plate personally in this World Series of power struggles, he was floored by Hubert Bump's stunning gauntlet, so much so that he remembered every word: "We're done for if we think we can prevail merely by beefing up the old war chest and redoubling the old battle plans. To effect the counterrevolution, we must revolutionize ourselves. We must go where no business leaders have gone before, do what no business leaders have done before, and above all think like no business leaders have thought before."
There was thus far no indication that the CEOs were going to take Bump's challenge to heart. True, everyone had agreed at the last meeting to let the Washington lobbies do their thing at least for the month of July, but in August the Bulls and their backbenchers were going to be facing the most organized and inescapable accountability recess in congressional history. Lobo and Dortwist were busy scheduling their own local business accountability events and counter- demonstrations extolling deregulation and free enterprise, and pointing ominously to closing factories and withdrawn investments, but Lobo knew it was an uphill battle. And the Harry and Louise debacle had confirmed his worst fears, revealing the pettiness, the shallowness of the tactical thinking of the fully insured lobbyists. That was what was giving Lobo nightmares about never getting ahead of the curve, just stumbling from one giant pothole to another and falling further and further behind as the minutes ticked away into hours into the preciously few days left for any recovery.
Over at AFL-CIO headquarters, on the other side of Lafayette Park across from the White House, the mood was very different as the labor chiefs of the member unions assembled in sublime elation, the kind of joy that follows receipt of a wondrous and unexpected gift. Tommy Tawny, head of the AFL-CIO, gaveled the meeting to order and summarized the sunny scene. Labor's long-stalled and quite modest legislative menu was suddenly the cat's meow. Sympathizers of the past had become out-and-out supporters of the present. Loudmouth opponents of the past were behaving like mice these days. Notably, the Bulls went out of their way to be polite when labor sent witnesses up to testify on the Meliorists' Agenda.
"The Hill is in a revolutionary state of tumult," Tommy declared. "Throwaway the conventional wisdom, to use Ken Galbraith's phrase. It's a whole new ball game. We at the AFL-CIO are even planning to picket our notorious next-door neighbor, the Chamber of Commerce. No matter how often they crushed us in Congress, we've never done that before, and it'll be good for our members to hoof it a bit." He paused and walked over to the long side of the conference room, where labor's GIS map was blinking. "Look at all our locals. They're no longer rusting and creaking. They've come alive! They're flexing their muscles as part of the aroused masses, all those people out in the streets and at the rallies and picketing Wal-Mart. Their leaders are even organizing discussion circles with the rank and file about the Agenda for the Common Good and its historical background. Man, it's lucky the old-timers insisted on building or buying their own union halls. It was a sign of permanence, they always said."
"Do the PROs want to meet with us?" asked Sparky Lightman, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
"No," Tommy said, "they want to keep their distance from all the liberal Washington lobbies. So do we, for that matter. The more each lobby pursues members of Congress on its own, the less likely it is that our opponents can tar us with some damaging stereotype, and the more flexibility we have. Lobbies can do things individually and do them faster than they could as a coalition."
"Besides, we have to focus on labor law reform, and no coalition is going to do that for us," added Ned Navastar of the Longshoremen. "We have to clear the deck so that workers can form unions without having to jump through a hundred hoops thrown at them by union-busting law firms or consultants. And we have to quadruple our AFL-CIO lobbyists too, Tommy. When the Hill door was closed, you didn't need too many people up there. Now that the door's wide open, there's a lot more ground to cover."
"You're reading my mind, Ned," Tommy said. "Yes, this has to be done. Is there any objection?"
Ann Moro of the California Nurses Association spoke up. "There sure is. It's way too vague. We need to know exactly how many lobbyists we can deploy on the Hill immediately. We've got to seize this rare moment in history. There's no time for recruitment and training, so let's have a show of hands around the table. I'll start. The CNA is small, but we'll volunteer fourteen of our lobbyists, beginning right now with myself and my deputy for the remainder of the congressional term. Who's next?"
"You're a pistol, Ann," Tommy said. "Fair enough. I'll reassign a hundred of our headquarters staff to the Hill, including me and my vice-president. Let's see what the rest of you can field."
Within thirty minutes, the union chiefs had pledged a total of 865 lobbyists to work full-time on the Hill. Ann clapped her hands. "Well, that's not quite twice as many as the drug industry sics on Congress -- just one industry -- but it's a start. Now, how are we going to make this coming Labor Day like no other Labor Day before it?"
"You tell us, Ann," yelled Larry Strong of the United Auto Workers.
"All right, I will. As the newest member of the AFL-CIO, may I say how appallingly pathetic Labor Day has become over the decades? To most Americans, it's nothing but one giant sale. As leaders of your unions, why are you hiding your light under a barrel? Tommy, why aren't you on Meet the Press? Larry, why aren't you on Face the Nation? And what about the Labor Day parades? They used to be demonstrations of worker power, but now attendance is so low that the marchers look like stragglers. Well, here's what I suggest we all do, and what we're definitely going to do in California. We're going to do whatever it takes to bring out the rank and file, tear them away from their backyard grills for a few hours. Our union leaders are going to make appointments with our senators and representatives and notify them in advance that our membership will be encircling their local offices in a silent vigil, waiting to see if the leaders emerge from their meetings with these lawmakers with a clear declaration of support for the Agenda -- not just the labor part, but the entire Agenda for the Common Good. If the lawmakers say yes to the Agenda, cheers will go up and they'll be asked to say a few words to the packed crowd of workers and their families. If they say no -- well, there are going to be a lot of people talking to a lot more people in a very personal way about how the representative or senator took them away from their barbecue festivities in vain. The visuals will be perfect for the evening news, and the vigils will present a fine opportunity to collect the names of the really committed for further pressure on Congress in September and October. You'll all get to know more of your members too. So many of them see you as all rank and no file."
"Boy, Ann," said Buster Boyd of the Boilermakers, "you sure know how to present a great idea and then sour it at the end by sticking it to us. I came up from the ranks, spent many a year in nearly unbearable heat in the plant. Were you ever a nurse, Ann?"
"Touche, Buster. I take your point, so let's get back to planning a super Labor Day that will make our opponents sweat."
"I think we all agree that Ann's idea is a winner," said Tommy, "but how do we implement it? We're not used to showing labor's muscle on Labor Day, at least not in recent years. Ann, will you head a task force to plan for maximum turnout and report back by the end of July so that we'll have five weeks or so to actually get it down?"
"I assume all you presidents around the table will cooperate," Tommy went on, "and some of you may want to join the task force. You've all read the Agenda, and there's nothing objectionable to us in any of its sections. Okay, next on our own agenda is the sticky matter of union jurisdictional conflicts, so let's get to it before we break for lunch."
Ann could barely conceal a smile of pity, but it was quickly extinguished by an idea that popped into her head. She would get in touch with the managers of the "Read all about it!" newspaper kids. She was determined to include all workers, not just union workers, in the Labor Day parades and Agenda vigils, and the kids could blare out announcements of both in cities all over the country in the days leading up to Labor Day. Perfect, she thought. And with Warren Beatty handily winning his primary, California labor ought to be more upbeat by the day. Ann could hardly wait to get to work.
As July headed toward August, the public hearings in both houses of Congress continued to build an extraordinarily detailed record of contemporary, historical, and forward-thinking testimony and accompanying documentation. The quality of the questioning was impressive both from the progressives and the Bulls -- an example of how solid public procedures elevated content and behavior.
Over at Analysis the staff was working two shifts processing the daily transcripts and summarizing their contents for distribution to all relevant destination points throughout the expanding network, including websites and blogs where they were devoured and covered with commentary and debate. Since the hearings featured pro and con testimony at each session -- the Bulls had insisted on this to get their rebuttals and their side of the story in the press every day -- the subsequent public discussion was nourished in the same way. All over the country and on the Internet, a thousand town meetings bloomed.
Analysis then broke the transcripts down for selected audiences interested in this topic or that. Labor material went to the unions; consumer and investor material to those groups; material on health, the environment, and democracy to lists of credibility groups and specialized action organizations. All dispatches were set in a crisp typeface and beautifully designed. The Analysis breakdowns also yielded a trove of material for the Daily Bugle youngsters: "Lawmakers asked to get tough on crime in the suites! Read all about it!" "Topple corporate welfare kings, demands ex-CEO welfare king! Read all about it!" "Clash over corporate greed on Capitol Hill! Read all about it!"
Analysis was full of former academics and citizen researchers used to grinding out material and wondering if anyone was reading or listening, so they were astounded at the interest in what they were disseminating from their current shop. "The difference is obvious,' said super-wonk Mark Green during a coffee break. "Remember all those polls showing heavy majorities in favor of much of the Agenda long before there was an Agenda? Well. the soil was fertile, but there was no rain, just year after year of drought. Now the glorious spring rains have come, and the seeds have burst forth, first the sprouts, then the flowers, and then the pollination. The Earth is green again, sustaining all kinds of vibrant and constantly reproducing life. The dust storms are no more, and all because of drops of rain, millions of consistent drops of rain. Long-repressed hopes have grown into change, into compassionate, creative realities rooted in the moist, firm, life-giving soil."
Back in their respective headquarters in New York City and Washington, DC, Lobo and Brovar were pondering escalation options against the Meliorists. On their short list -- their very short list -- were two items: destabilizing the economy, and offering lucrative positions to any Bull who wanted to go out batting a home run for the status quo. They would have to be very careful. The first option was intrinsically risky and was bound to incur more charges from the SROs that business was behaving unpatriotically. The second could be seen by prosecutors as a bribe. It would be best not to have to resort to either tactic, but there was nothing else in the Lobo/Dortwist bag of tricks, as even Brovar had to admit. The media scare buys were in full swing, and the Washington lobbies were going all out within their limitations, but the results weren't encouraging. The pressure at the community level was already getting to more than a few dealers and agencies long accustomed to having their way with a malleable public. Now they were noticing that the more aggressive, overt anti-Meliorists among them actually lost business. People just weren't going to bestow their buying dollars on vendors who fought against the common good, and they told them so.
Brovar called his potential partner in crime. "Can't we find out more about the SROs' forthcoming moves, Lobo?" he asked. "That might be of some help. By the way, have you found your mole yet?"
"I've given all my people lie detector tests, and they all passed. I've had my captains interview all of them, and nothing came up, except one guy blurted out that he was having an extramarital affair. As for finding out more about the SROs' plans, I've got some things in the works, and I'll keep you posted. For now, though, we're slipping further and further behind, and our base in Congress is showing fissures everywhere. It's like we're facing some giant crusher machine that expands its grip in a thousand new ways every day. You've got to hand it to the old guys. If they've lost a little bounce in their step, they're still way ahead of us."
"Much as I don't want to, I have to agree. But in a situation like this, Lobo, it's the better part of valor to stay calm and keep thinking. In any battle there are always two general ways to win. Either you defeat the enemy, or the enemy defeats itself. We haven't tried the latter approach yet. How can we provoke the SROs to defeat themselves, since they seem incapable of doing it all by their lonesome?"
"Beats me. Got any ideas?"
"Not yet, not yet, but there's always a way. The problem with the SROs is that the usual dirty tricks just don't work. Say we show that they cheated on their wives years ago, defrauded someone years ago, abandoned their children years ago, watched porn flicks years ago -- it's all 'years ago.' People want fresh prey. The public says 'So what?' to exposures that might bring down someone in their forties or fifties. Even assuming we can connect the proposals in the Agenda to the SROs' stock portfolios or other investments, people will say they're so rich they couldn't possibly be in it for the money. And the media will say what the SROs always say -- that they're capitalists, of course, only they're doing on behalf of the people what the current capitalist bosses are doing against the people. Face it, Lobo, these guys are knights in shining armor, invulnerable to conventional smears. Besides, since people are now mobilizing on their own, it's almost too late for any discrediting of the SROs to matter. Except maybe for the money flow."
"And except for the Bulls. As you know better than anyone, Brovar, the SROs have to win in Congress by veto-proof margins, or else our lame-duck president can turn back the tide with the stroke of seven pens. It's time to move to the third wave -- the last stand at the Khyber Pass -- but we can't convey our sense of grim reality to anyone, including the CEOs, who must be challenged anew to come out swinging one on one with the SROs."
Lobo needn't have bothered to contemplate this series of square-offs. He needn't have worried about the ticklish matter of going back to the CEOs and telling them even more forcefully that they had to take the SROs on personally. Once again the Meliorists were ahead of the curve and sprang their challenge the next day. Mercifully, their news release did not mention the CEOs by name or refer to them as a cabal. With the Seventh-Generation Eye at the top of the release, the message was brief and direct: "The Meliorists hereby invite any CEO of any corporation with annual sales of $25 billion or more to debate us individually on national television, before an impartial moderator, under rules of engagement acceptable to both parties. Our purpose in making this offer is to elevate our deliberative democracy to new heights of discourse and civility at a time of intense congressional attention to the Agenda for the Common Good. All inquiries from CEOs will be treated confidentially until they agree to a public debate. We do not wish to inhibit inquiries by premature publicity."
That afternoon the New York Post gave the release a front-page, full-page banner headline: "TITANIC SHOWDOWN: PROS VS. CEOS." The accompanying article on the jump page reported that the paper had called dozens of CEOs to elicit their reaction, with no success. Two days later, after more deafening silence from the CEOs, the Post's full-page headline read, "CEOS: MUM'S THE WORD. CHICKENS??"
Unbeknownst to Lobo, there was another option on Brovar's short list, the one he had begun to formulate during his walk with Get 'em. He summarily convened the Washington lobbies and their think-tank apologists for a meeting of a kind they could never have imagined in their wealthy complacency only a few months ago. He had tried to warn them, only to be met by their dismissive scoffing. Now, as at his Wednesday morning gatherings of the greed and power brigades, he sat at the end of the long conference table and took charge, opening the meeting without preliminaries.
"I'm not going to belabor all the ways that things are not going well for us, to put it mildly. We are on a downhill course to defeat. Sure, you'll all have your jobs, and your organizations may even grow in staff and budget. Isn't it the nature of corporate power that it's always able to take care of its core defenders? That's why left-wing dictators can't do anything but shut it down. If they don't, the corporatists keep coming back again and again, like bamboo trees.
"Here in America, the power situation is far more complex when it involves an intense disturbance of business as usual. The SROs aren't pushing to shut us down -- that would be an easy fight for us to win. Instead, they're holding us to our own bullshit standards and principles, which we've used for so long to control the population to suit our purposes. No, the SROs aren't trying to shut us down -- though the HMOs may not be negotiating long-term leases -- they're just telling us to share a little more of our wealth with the workers, to stop mistreating consumers and blocking investor control and ignoring known solutions, to start meeting some of the long-neglected needs of millions of our fellow Americans. And they've set in motion such a fundamental shift of power to those millions of Americans that there's no going back to the status quo ante. Cleverly, and as you might expect from their past successes in the business world, they are persuading many more members of Congress than we would like, and more and more of the press, that their Redirections are more economically efficient and productive than the current system of corporate dominance. All in all, a neat package, isn't it?"
Low grumbling rumbled around the massive conference table.
"So I ask you," Brovar went on, "why not recognize their Agenda and go along with it in such a way that we can sow the seeds of gradual repeal and the future restoration of our control? That's what the docs did when they dropped their longstanding opposition to Medicare in 1965. It's turned out pretty well for them, no?"
There was a loud creaking and scraping of chairs as all the attendees sat bolt upright and leaned forward on the table.
"What in the world are you suggesting, Brovar?" shouted Edgar Exerson, head of the Hospital Chains of America. "Did I hear you right? Did you all hear him right? Are you leading us down the road of surrender? Is this the Wal-Mart capitulation on steroids? Explain yourself!"
"Don't get so steamed, Edgar, it clouds your analytic mind. Remember the old saying 'Refusing to bend, they broke'? You know what's going on around the country. And if you don't, just look out your office window. Haven't all of you seen the demonstrators and pickets and newspaper kids in front of your shiny office buildings? The steadily expanding breadth and depth of this movement -- rural, urban, and suburban -- has no precedent in American history. The great populist revolt of the 1880s and on was born and stayed mostly in the countryside. The teeming cities just teemed. This movement is not going to run out of money, talent, and media -- again, it has no precedent in American history. You, Lanky Lightshaft, you and your broadcast industry powerhouses, tell 'em, Lanky, do you think you can do the usual, put out the word and black out the coverage on your stations? You couldn't even black out coverage of the SROs' demand that your industry finally start paying rent for your broadcast licenses. Would you care to rebut me, Lanky?"
Lightshaft clenched his jaw and shook his head.
"Would anyone care to rebut me? No takers?" Brovar stared slowly down the table at each one of them. "All right, to continue, July is coming to an end soon. The hearings will be over, though by no means the fallout. Then there's the month-long August recess, when all hell is going to break loose on our Hill buddies back home. Okay, all you tough guys, you fight-to-the-finish guys, how many of you have canceled your usual August vacations?" Again Brovar eye-balled each of them, down one side of the table and up the other. Finally, a hand went up.
"And who are you, madam?" Brovar asked.
"The name is Fiona Future, executive director of the National Association of Renewable Energy Industries. I canceled my four-week cruise in the Greek islands."
"There you have it. One person out of the forty-seven of us here, and not exactly in the most vulnerable of industries, is staying in the summer heat of Washington, DC, because of the crisis situation. In addition to me, of course. So I can only surmise that the rest of you don't like what I've been saying. Okay, let's hear from you dissenters. Tell us what we should do, what we can do, what we must do. Take the gloves off. Earn your pay."
Arnold Adverse cleared his throat in the tortured silence. "Speaking for the pharmaceutical industry, I would launch a campaign of delay to give us time to regroup for next year's session. If congressional history teaches us anything, it's to avoid panic legislation. Major bills require careful deliberation and should not be rushed through Congress. Pell-mell lawmaking can have many unintended consequences, many side effects that we, the American people, will rue. In a period of big deficits and a shaky dollar, let us not rock the boat just because some old billionaires took it into their heads to throw their weight around."
"Fine speech, Arnold, but I've got news for you. The SROs have anticipated you. For weeks, through their lecturers and the media, they've been trumpeting how long overdue the changes proposed in the Agenda are, how many times in the past half century similar proposals have been considered and rejected because of corporate lobbying. Haven't you seen their latest national TV ads, which make this point in brilliant, memorable, personal fashion, by showcasing ordinary Americans whose lives will be dramatically improved by this or that Agenda provision? They've also got a series of ads giving examples of corporations ramming through gross special interest legislation via paragraphs stashed away in bills running to hundreds and hundreds of pages, with no public hearings, no public notice, no declared sponsor, no nothing -- sneaky little paragraphs with big results, like big tax breaks, scuttling safety budgets, and so forth. What's the matter with you, Arnold? Are you under the influence of one of your clients' medications? Not only will it not work, it'll backfire. Next proposal?"
"Here's one for you, Dortwist," barked Jim Mobilaski of the Defense Industries Association. "We take all the things we're doing now, which individually aren't enough, increase the intensity, and deploy them all at the same critical time. I call it the Blitzkrieg Strategy. We expand our media buys, step up the announcements of plant shutdowns and capital flight, triple our operations on Capitol Hill, stir up opposition to the progressives in their home districts through our own demonstrations and marches, and top it all off with a press conference at which we declare in grave tones that we are compelled as sellers of goods and services in America to make known our fear of a total economic collapse should the Agenda pass into law. We call a general strike -- one full twenty-four-hour day when we will shut down all operations, except for emergency services. No gasoline, food, medication, clothing, transportation, banking, insurance, repairs -- no nothing for a solid day. The first general strike by vendors in our history ought to get their attention."
George Watson of the Bankers Association paled visibly. "Even if you manage to pull all that off, how can you guarantee that it won't ignite more anger against us? There comes a point when more is less, and we may have reached that point. Already, our moves to rattle the economy have scared our side more than the Meliorists and their supporters. Stock markets continue to slide, companies that planned to go overseas in phases are now uprooting their entire operations because they believe they've got cover. What makes us think more of the same won't produce an even sharper blowback?"
"I agree," said Warly Wynnit, president of the Association of Gaming Companies. "Why not a Hail Mary with our first- string team, the Bulls? Let's stick to the Khyber Pass and make the most of it. As long as the Bulls control the congressional red and green lights, nothing can pass to the floor without their approval, right?"
"Wrong," Brovar said. "There is such a thing as a discharge petition, which a majority of members of the House can sign to get bills to the floor. The progressives may just have enough votes to carry it off, and it's such a humiliation to the leadership that some of the Bulls, especially given the pressure back home, may quit on us. It's not likely, but it's possible, and at the worst possible time.
"As for Jim's Blitzkrieg Strategy -- a term with most unfortunate associations -- it ranges from the redundant to the preposterous. A general strike of vendors is a kamikaze dive with no enemy ships below. We're talking super blowback here. Remember when Gingrich caused the temporary shutdown of the US government? That marked the decline of Gingrich -- he turned lots of people off, including some of his supporters. Americans view such tactics as blackmail, dirty pool. Gingrich was smart, though. He quit and changed his name to Get-rich, which is more than we'll be able to do after the so-called blitzkrieg turns around and flattens us. Anyone else?"
"Why the hell don't we bite the bullet and take the SROs up on their challenge?" asked Paul Pain, president of the Nanotechnology Industries Association. "Why don't we put our most articulate CEOs in the ring with them, one on one, to unmask these aging egomaniacs once and for all as senile saboteurs whose Agenda will wreck our great economy?"
Brovar folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair. "It's been three days since the challenge, Paul. Have any of our valiant CEOs stepped forward? Is there an intrepid soul among them? Can anyone here name a CEO who's likely to put on the gloves? It's hard to understand, really, when you consider the patsies they'd be up against: the Wal- Mart slayer Sol Price, the firebrand Jeno Paulucci, the street fighter Leonard Riggio, the cunning trial lawyer Joe Jamail, the beloved Bill Cosby, the awesome Warren Buffett, or maybe Bernard Rapoport, aching for a second victory, or the demure Ted Turner, or what about the tongue-tied Phil Donahue or that introvert George Soros? Hey, come on, let's stop kidding ourselves. They're beating us. All we can do is go through the aggressive motions and hope for a miracle. Think about what I said at the outset. I haven't made up my mind yet, and I don't know about the CEOs, but just think about how bad a smaller, compromised SRO victory would really be compared to the wholesale popular revolt that might follow if we manage to drag things out into next year. Meanwhile, I'll keep in touch if there are any new developments, and I trust you'll do the same. By the way, before we break up, have any of you reconsidered canceling your vacations? No? No one? All right, then, see you in September."
Also unbeknownst to Lobo, Jasper Cumbersome summoned the CEOs to the penthouse boardroom for a quo vadis meeting in response to a stinging editorial in the previous day's Wall Street Journal. Titled "Whither the Withering CEOs? the editorial recounted the weakening position of big business vis-a-vis the Meliorists and slammed the "inactivity, inattention, and insipidness" of the CEOs. "And this was supposed to be the supercharged vanguard army for free enterprise capitalism?" the writer asked mockingly. "About the only elbow grease we've seen from them has been their flat-out opposition to their investors voting on the fat pay packages they give themselves. Bring back the tough John D. Rockefeller and the wily J. P. Morgan." The newspaper did not know that the CEOs' temporary withdrawal was a deliberate strategy on their part, designed to give them greater "flexibility," and that much was being done by Lobo's sizable operation without their being up front. But a month had passed, a month filled with congressional hearings and rising public tumult and demands. It was time for an evaluation.
CEO Cumbersome brought the meeting to order and reported that the money was flowing in nicely. The war chest was now up to $3 billion after some large contributions from a few hedge fund billionaires. "But I'm afraid we've got more money than strategy," he lamented, throwing the meeting open for suggestions.
"As a lifelong sailor," said William Worldweight, "I know what a good trim tab can do to the ship's direction. Our power has always been our trim tab. So long as we kept piling it up, we never had to think about what to do if we ever started losing it from within. We were ready for the Communist threat because we could fire up the hot rhetoric and call out the Marines, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force. I don't think the 101st Airborne will be of much use to us now against their own families and friends. Sure, we still have the power to bring down the economy and blame the SROs, but it will be on our own heads, and our heads will roll. We'd be betting the house, and we'd lose."
"If I may interject on that point," said Wardman Wise, "Lobo has sent us an intercept of what appears to be an authentic communication between some of the SROs, and that's exactly what they want us to do. They want us to be in fight-to- the-finish mode. They directly challenged us to those public debates to polarize us further. They don't want us to be flexible and position ourselves so we can cut the deck on Capitol Hill. They smell total victory for their Agenda. But please continue, William."
"I don't have much more to say, except to ask my friends around the table to give their interpretation of what seems to be the most popular poster in the daily demonstrations and marches. I'm sure you've all seen it many times on television and in the newspapers: 'What's the Big Deal? We Earned It.' I am eager to hear your views."
Samuel Slick slapped the table impatiently. "Just listen to yourself, William. Where have you been? Our wealthy classes have had a great run, longer than could ever have been imagined. As we grasped for more, we got more. As we acquired more power, the people contented themselves with less power. It's astonishing in the light of history, really. Arthur Schlesinger postulated that reform movements arise every thirty years or so in the United States, but after the tumult of the 1960s, the 1990s came and went with barely a whimper. I'd have thought that the multitudes had more fight in them. More recently, I'd have thought that the Internet would give them the tools to connect, to find each other, to organize. Instead they've been playing computer games, gossiping, and exhibiting themselves and their pathetic lives on their websites, blogs, and Facebook. Marx would have had to revise his definition of the opiate of the people from religion to the Internet.
"But those days are gone now. It's taken more like forty years, but the masses are on the move. What does that poster mean, William? Obviously, it's about the Meliorists' Agenda. And how can I say that the people carrying the poster are inaccurate or greedy or misled? They work their fingers to the bone, holding down one, two, three jobs, and still their bills pile up and they go without. They work for us while we make ten or twenty thousand dollars an hour. I know I'm supposed to be a hardliner here, especially coming from the oil industry, but hell, I grew up with people who could carry that sign. I was born into a poor family. I saw my aunt die at forty-six because she didn't have the money for surgery. My dad came home once with his hand crushed from a power press accident in the shop. My mother made a few bucks as a seamstress while raising five children in what you'd have to call a glorified shack. Some of you have similar stories of hardship and deprivation. Some of you tell me you teach Sunday school. What the hell for, given what we all do during the week? What a farce we play, Lucifer. Do we believe in the Bible? Do we believe in the Golden Rule? Sure, who doesn't until Monday morning, when the gold rules. How much money do we need to provide for seven generations of progeny? I'll bet when you were in your twenties, if someone asked you how much you expected to make by the time you were sixty, your answer wouldn't even be a hundredth of what you're making now. Adjusted for inflation.
"Maybe we should start saying what we think instead of thinking about what we should say. The Meliorists represent the mildest rebellion we're ever going to see. What do you think is likely to come later, not only for us but for our children and grandchildren? You know how Americans are. They take it and take it and take it, and then they explode and tear it all down if their rulers cling rigidly to greed as their sole creed. The Meliorists? Just think about the soft meaning of the name they've chosen for themselves. Is it ever going to get better for us than that? Workers, after decades of loyal labor, are losing their jobs to China as corporations blend criminal communism with criminal capitalism. Their sons are sent overseas to fight, kill and die for crooked politicians and their corporate paymasters. Pensions are disappearing. Those lucky enough to have jobs watch their benefits and pay shrinking while we accumulate more pay, more bonuses, more stock options, more golden parachutes. Millions of American children go to sleep hungry, with diseases of hunger. The masses aren't going to stay dumb forever just because they're the masses. Every empire in the world has fallen apart or decayed because the people who ran the show believed it could never happen there. Have we got some drug that immunizes us from this historical fact?"
Slick paused and looked directly across the table at Hubert Bump. "Maybe you think I've disqualified myself from this august group of CEOs. If you think I should quit, just tell me and I'll go quietly, keeping your confidences. But first I want to hear what's really on your minds and in your hearts now that Hubert and I have broken the ice of self-censorship and double-talk. I guess I'm too old for that endless bullshit." He sighed, took a long drink of water, and waited.
The silence in the boardroom was total. It went on for one minute, two minutes, three. Many faces around the table were red. A few were ashen.
Finally Cumbersome spoke. "Well, who's next on the block? If we're ever going to let it all hang out, now is the time and place, I suppose."
"Can we have a little consideration of context and consequence at this point, if Mr. Slick doesn't mind?" said Justin Jeremiad facetiously. "Does anybody know whether any of the Washington lobbies are indulging in this kind of introspection? And suppose we were to commence negotiations with the SROs and their forces on Capitol Hill. How would our Washington allies react? And what would Lobo do now that we've unleashed him? It's getting complicated."
"Our information," said Wardman Wise, "is that the lobbies are proceeding as expected with the straight-arm approach to their opponents. We can't be seen as saboteurs or weaklings by our peers, not to mention our growing number of donors who think that we too are proceeding resolutely and effectively with our own straight-arm, not to overuse the football metaphor. It looks to me like we may have gotten ourselves into a box we can't get out of, not even to get into a different box. Some important thoughts have been expressed by our two colleagues, unwelcome as those thoughts may be. Perhaps, that's why the unadulterated pursuit of profit is so enjoyable -- it spells unity, solidarity, with no broader concerns intruding. It's almost martial in its discipline. Greed has few doubts at its extreme. I don't believe any of us is anywhere near that extreme, but we know there are those in the world of commerce who do fit that description."
"Without impeaching anything that's been said, aren't we getting a bit airy?" asked Edward Edifice. "I mean, we do have an elaborate Agenda to cope with. Why don't we meet in a couple of days and go through the Agenda item by item to see what we'd like to modify, within the reality that after August we're likely to get our asses hosed. I don't see Lobo as having any special August strategy. This is going to be the hottest peacetime summer in American history, and I'm not talking Fahrenheit. There's just no escaping the Meliorists and their throngs of supporters. Everywhere I go, everywhere I look and listen and read, they're there. The people are a-coming, and not just in a song. The level of organization, the speed of response, the discipline, preparation, and depth, the quality of their bench, their seemingly inexhaustible resources -- their presence extends so far and wide that they've obliterated the Red State/Blue State boundaries. You can even feel it on the golf links, in the clubs, in our children's private academies, at the symphony and the theater during intermission.
"I know what some of you are thinking, even now. Sure, we're still in charge, nothing has happened yet, our temples aren't crumbling. It reminds me of the optimistic man who fell out of a skyscraper. As he passed the fifty-fourth floor, a secretary looked out the window. 'How are you doing?' she asked. 'So far so good,' he replied."
"I endorse Ed's excellent suggestion," said Roland Revelie. "May I urge the chair to schedule another meeting after we've all conducted a section-by-section analysis of the so-called Seven Pillars of the Agenda? I think it will take about ten days, which will put us into the August recess, when the Congress is out of town."
"Is that the sense of the meeting?" asked Cumbersome. "All in favor say aye.... Fine, the ayes have it, but you'll have to let me know how to reach you, since we'll all be out of town too, taking our well-earned vacations. Before we leave, does anybody here want to take up the SROs' debate challenge? I know I don't. I can't see anything but downside to that trap."
"But if Lobo can come up with someone who can really put on a show of strength," said Ichiro Matsuda, "then why not? We may learn something from new minds who see things in a more combative way than we do."
"Fair enough," said Cumbersome. "We'll ask him. Meanwhile, until further notice, we're adjourned."
A few days before Maui Eight, Bill Joy arrived at the mountaintop hotel to conduct his usual sweep of the premises, with more than the usual reasons to suspect an intrusion, because of some tidbits he'd picked up from his unsuspecting and still undetected mole. Amazing how the powerful could turn a blind eye to the so-called lowly who served them.
That evening, Bill was sitting out on the deck sipping pineapple juice when the effusive Ailani brought him his freshly cooked dinner of mahimahi with papaya salsa. "I think we've just had some guests who may interest you," she said. "They asked lots of questions and seemed to be working hard to act like vacationers. Anyhow, I was cleaning the atrium one morning when I saw one of them dart away, but not before he dropped something. I picked it up, but I couldn't figure out what it was." She fished around in her apron pocket. "Here it is. Maybe you'd like to have it?"
"I would, Ailani, thanks. And how are your children?"
"They're fine, just fine, full of energy. In fact, I can't wait for the summer to end so they can get back to school," she laughed, continuing on her rounds.
Bill studied what Ailani had given him. It was the lens of a tiny camera. He finished his dinner, went to his room, and unpacked his detection equipment. Several hours later, he had located twenty-eight microphones and seven micro- cameras in the hotel and on the grounds, but he didn't disturb any of them. At breakfast the next morning, he spent a long time chewing his food and reflecting. Then he rose slowly from the table, retrieved his rental car, and drove six miles to a bluff designated by the Maui Tourist office as a scenic overlook. He stepped out of the car, walked fifty yards or so, just in case whoever bugged the hotel had got to him too, and turned toward the ocean to put in a call to Omaha.
"Hi, Warren, Bill Joy here. Well, it's finally happened. The place is wired to the rafters with all the latest in cameras and mikes. The way I see it, I can either do a full sweep and hope I get them all, or I can leave them there so we can give our spies a weekend of disinformation. That could be fun, but it'll take a Newman-caliber performance from of all of us. Besides, we'd have to find some other secure place to meet and plan our scenes. What do you think?"
"Well, I need a little time to switch gears here, since I've been absorbed in our CEO distraction legislation on executive compensation and investor control. It's really sapping the CEOs' attention, especially because they can't go public with it. Instead, they have to make dozens of lengthy 'educational' calls to their brethren to get them contacting their members of Congress. This major tilt in their lobbying is costing them on the Agenda legislation because they're spending their political capital on their own greed and perks. I'm feeding the story to some major media friends so that the publicity will erode their position further. Call me back in half an hour, will you, and I'll refocus on Maui. In the meantime enjoy the vistas."
Thirty minutes later, Bill called back.
"This is a tough one," Warren said. "I'm going back and forth. On the one hand, the easy way out is not to go to the hotel at all and rent another place instead, maybe on another island. Whoever did this would only know one thing -- that we're on to them, assuming their bugging hasn't spread to our other networks. But you've been checking those, right?"
"All clear, as far as I can tell, which is plenty."
"The harder path is to go there and do as you suggest -- lead them down the road of false leads. But what might those be? We won't know until we meet somewhere else to thrash them out. And do we want to take the risk when we're winning? What risk? Well, suppose we all put on an Academy Award performance with a great disinformation script. Still, given what modern technology can do, they could splice the pictures in such a way as to show me on your lap in an amorous pose, Bill. You really can't win when you give them the raw digital material in a private location where there are no reporters or third-party observers, as there are at a congressional hearing or a news conference. And they could use their audio and visual recordings to clothe our meeting in an aura of conspiracy at odds with our championing of an open society. In other words, they can create their own disinformation if we let them.
"But we do have to meet. We have important matters to discuss. We can't postpone for another month, because in August we'll be gearing up for the home stretch on the Agenda drive, starting with Labor Day. So how about this? We go to Hawaii, but to a different hotel on a neighboring island. We'll have to find a small one with no guests because of a cancellation, or else just buy the place out and let the owners cancel on whatever guests are there, with more than adequate compensation. Over at our old hotel -- damn, I hate to be driven out of there -- we'll play a practical joke on our bugging pals. We'll find some raucous rock band, or a gathering of antique car buffs or realtors or salespeople, or --wait a minute, I've got it! Alpha Sig!"
"Pardon me?" Bill said.
"Alpha Sigma Phi. It's the fraternity I joined when I was at Penn. It happens that the graduating seniors are getting together in Philly this weekend to talk about what they can do on behalf of the Agenda for the rest of the summer, and to have a last fling before they start work. I know because they invited me to come speak to them. I had to decline because I'd be in Maui, but now they're going to be in Maui, because I'm going to give them an all-expense-paid trip to our hotel. I'll tell them it's just something I want to do for them as a fraternal gesture, to make up for my absence. They're good kids, but with everything on the house, I'm sure we can count on them for some good old-fashioned wild behavior that will give our buggers an eyeful and an earful. It will all have to be done lickety-split, of course, but it's manageable when the money is there. What say you?"
"I say they don't call you the Oracle of Omaha just for your wealth, Warren. But let me make sure I've got it right. I go back to the hotel and say we unexpectedly have to cancel for the weekend but we're still paying the full tab and sending a replacement party. You contact your boys and fly them out here for their free stay in paradise, with one stipulation. I think you should tell them that a crew from an ad agency will be filming on the premises all weekend for a series of spots showcasing the hotel, if they don't mind. That way they'll have indirectly waived any right of privacy they may later claim was violated by the hotel or anyone else. I'm sure it won't come to that, but it's still a wise precaution. Then we search the other islands for an exclusive hotel or club to host our meeting under the usual anonymous cover. Can we get all that done in time to notify the rest of the core group of the new location?"
"Patrick and I will begin making the arrangements right away. Since you're already there, stay put, and as soon as we find a new hotel, you can hop over and spread around whatever gratuities are necessary to empty the place out. Once you've done that, our trap will be fully laid. In the immortal motto of Alpha Sigma Phi, 'The cause is hidden, the results well known.'"
"Alpha Sig forever!" Bill said.