ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!
At the mountaintop hotel, high above the Alenuihaha Channel, the Meliorists greeted each other with smiles, handshakes, and hugs. They were thrilled to be back at their old haunt, with its breathtaking views and celestial cuisine. The hotel staff, who by now knew who their generous monthly guests were and what they were up to, were more than their usual gracious, beaming selves. Warren led the core group, as they still liked to call themselves in private, to the familiar conference table of silences and conspiracies, where they sat down to commence Maui Ten, but not before helping themselves to some luscious Hawaiian fruit grown on the island's organic farms.
"Welcome to the contemplation of the fruits of our labors since January," Warren said. "It's all so spectacular that it's sobering. With victory come many new opportunities and challenges, and the first order of business is to make sure that all across the country all hands remain on deck and on full alert, and that our institutions continue to build, digging deeper roots and growing stronger branches. The moment the oligarchs sense any slacking off, any sign of reformist fatigue, they'll recover from their intransigence fatigue and go on the counterattack. Besides, there are elections to win. Our mantra remains 'Take absolutely nothing for granted.'
"At our earlier meetings, we've spoken often of serendipity, and it just keeps coming and coming. I'm pleased to relate that Andre Engaget, who passed away last month in Santa Fe at the age of eighty-eight, has made me the trustee of a bequest of $2.8 billion for what he calls 'a Meliorist Project in Perpetuity.' The funds are to be utilized 'for the widespread and deep advancement of civic skills and civic practice, both in the nation's public and private elementary and secondary schools, and through a network of franchised adult education storefronts in all communities whose population exceeds three thousand. I realize how easily such a bequest can be frittered away on soft civics. That is not my testamentary intent,' Mr. Engaget writes in his will, and goes on to spell out clearly that he intends his grant to be used 'to foment a high-energy democracy.' He wants classroom learning connected to experiential learning in the community. He does not want rote courses in civics. He cites reports by citizen action groups as models for classroom materials. He provides prize money for students who perform best in various categories. He provides special funds for summer classes that will train teachers to teach these courses. He establishes auditing groups to keep standards high. He endows studies of outcomes, real societal improvements flowing from a civically skilled citizenry. He declares that if the schools reject his curriculum grant for whatever reasons, the money will still be available for extracurricular programs after class. There you are, B."
"I should say so," Bernard replied with deep emotion.
"There are many more specifics, including a fundraising corps to amplify his bequest so as to cover more and more schools, but for now I'll just say that a billion dollars of the bequest goes to an endowment, and the remainder to establishing infrastructure and operations. As a delicious irony, Mr. Engaget's fortune is much larger than this bequest, but he wryly notes that the $2.8 billion came from his early investments in various IPOs that skyrocketed in value. 'Wall Street and the stock exchanges will be funding this civic resurgence,' he writes with evident satisfaction."
"My kind of guy," Ted exclaimed with delight.
"And now," said Warren, "our Secretariat director par excellence has a few points for your consideration. Patrick?"
"Thank you, Warren. As you all know, after passing the Seven Pillars and the overdue appropriations bills for education, defense, health, and so forth, Congress suddenly adjourned yesterday. The Bulls ran out of patience with all the repeal amendments, figuratively threw down their gavels, and went home. Most members welcomed the adjournment because they wanted time to campaign.
"Now that the Agenda has passed and the focus is on the November elections, some of you have inquired as to whether it might be advisable for you to undertake direct campaigning on behalf of the Clean Elections candidates. As you'll recall, on the advice of Theresa Tieknots and our other experts in federal elections and campaign finance laws, we decided early on that the Meliorists would maintain a scrupulous distance from the Clean Elections Party. As a matter of policy, the Secretariat recommends a continuing avoidance of any electioneering. What we propose instead is what we're calling 'the Plunge' -- a ten-day tour of the deprived, ignored 'Other America,' in Michael Harrington's phrase. You would meet the people behind the statistics. You would see poverty, pollution, waste, price gouging, public facilities in disrepair, over- crowded prisons and juvenile institutions, concrete manifestations of greed and injustice -- the conditions that authentic politics should be confronting. With your high media profiles, you can generate a coast-to-coast atmosphere of concern for those of our fellow Americans who are suffering the most. Otherwise, the media this fall will be nothing but nonstop attack ads from opposing candidates -- utterly the wrong tone for this great year of change."
The Meliorists looked at each other around the table, as if wondering why they hadn't thought of this before. For a moment no one spoke. Then Phil raised his glass of mango juice.
"That's one hell of an idea, Patrick. There's a great deal to be said for coming to grips with the grim reality from time to time. As sensitive and empathetic as we try to be, there's no substitute for seeing crack babies in inner-city hospitals, or undernourished, asthmatic children playing near waste dumps."
"Or the destruction of streams and hollows from the coal barons' mountaintop blasting," Peter said.
"Or a hundred other outrages we could name," said Sol. "We should never forget the constructive uses of anger."
"Boy, do I ever have some destinations to propose!" Leonard said.
"Are you envisioning us all going out together?" Ross asked Patrick.
"I think you can cover more ground if you split up in twos and threes, maybe fours."
"What shall we call our tour? I'm not sure 'Plunge' conveys the right impression. How about 'Faces of Injustice'?" Yoko suggested.
"Or we could take a leaf from Chris Rock and call it the 'That Ain't Right' Journey," Bill Cosby said.
Jeno was nodding enthusiastically. "I like that a lot. It's not hackneyed, not pompous, not abstract. It has just the right vernacular touch."
"So we say that the Meliorists are going to tour conditions in America that would make most people cry out, 'That ain't right!' Does that work for a press release?" Patrick asked.
"I'm afraid it may carry a whiff of condescension," Bill Gates said. "What about 'Faces and Places of Injustice' as an official name, with 'That ain't right!' as a colloquial slogan that emerges in the course of the tour?"
"Sounds good to me," Max said.
"Any objections?" Warren asked, scanning the faces of his colleagues. "All right, Patrick, set the tour up for the last two weeks of October. And now Barry has an update for us on the Beatty campaign."
"It's more like a rout," Barry said. "Arnold is twenty-seven points behind in the polls. Like a bloodied prizefighter, he's clinching with Warren by adopting one plank after another of his platform at choreographed news conferences around the state. Nobody's buying it. In fact, it's boomeranged. Following the lead of a radio talk show host in Fresno, everyone is now calling the governor 'Beatty's dittohead,' and the surge behind Warren has indirectly helped the Clean Elections Party take the lead against the four Bulls from the Golden State. All in all, everything's coming up roses. Warren couldn't be happier, especially because the campaign money is coming in nicely, so he doesn't have to spend any of his own. Besides, with so much free publicity, he doesn't need much TV advertising."
"Is he running with the Agenda in substance if not in name?" Joe asked.
"He sure is, adapting the various proposals to state requirements and adding some of his own, though he doesn't mention us or the Common Good Agenda. He wants to be his own man, which is the right thing for him to do politically. It's good for us too, since we never wanted anyone to see us as a central directorate pulling the strings."
"On that encouraging note, let's break for dinner," Warren said. "Then we'll reconvene for an hour or so to discuss the exciting developments in the sub-economy."
Over dinner, the talk was almost all about the passage of the Seven Pillars and the president's performance at Mount Rushmore. The Meliorist victory, as the press called it, was so overwhelming, and the debates in the House and the Senate so quick and anticlimactic, that legal observers bewailed the lack of a legislative history to guide judges in any future cases. The heart of the exchanges between the Maui diners was how the lopsided vote would affect the upcoming elections. Had they succeeded too well and given incumbents who belatedly supported the Agenda an opportunity to win, or would the voters react like the Californians who saw through their governor's leap onto the bandwagon? The first state polls after passage of the Pillars should give a glimpse of any trends in either direction.
Back around the conference table after dinner, Warren asked Jeno to report on the sub-economy.
"With pleasure, Warren. My friends, this is a movement that could well grow to be as revolutionary in its way as the political movement we've launched. You're already well aware of the useful information Luke Skyhi has received from the sub-economy businesses that bored deep inside the Washington-based trade groups and proved invaluable to the PCC. What I want to convey this evening is a sense of what these Trojan horses are accomplishing to usher in a new age for business.
"First, and most pertinent to current events, they are galloping at breakneck speed to neutralize the knee-jerk injustices perpetrated by the trade groups cadres. Amazing what can be done from the inside by energetic business leaders possessed of a public philosophy for the marketplace. Amazing to me, at least. These sub-economy leaders -- I'll call them SELs for short -- are outworking the other members of the state and national boards, mobilizing their own epicenters to challenge their trade association bureaucracies, and demanding a reorientation of efforts away from scaring higher and higher dues out of the members and toward what they call foresight programs. For example, instead of obstructing seriously injured workers and consumers from suing over toxic industrial conditions or unsafe products, they want to go all out in the direction of enhancing safety and health to prevent such lawsuits in the first place. Pretty elementary, as Peter demonstrated in the spring, but sluggishness, obstinacy, and inertia require a push toward rational business policies directly from the inside. Since most business people active in trade association politics want to rise in the hierarchy, they curry favor with their superiors, but our SELs could care less about such 'standstill escalator promotions,' as they call them. They're getting their way more and more through hustle, argument, networking, and good press relations with the trade journals. Locally, they're filling the volunteer gap.
"Now project these currents of progressive business attitudes and actions through a steadily enlarging sub-economy over the next few years, and you can get really excited. The SELs are showing that honesty is the best policy in business and challenging the 'mum's the word' stance of the trade groups on members who engage in corporate crimes and abuses. They're redefining innovation not as the intricate trivia that make up much of what is called competition software modifications, advertising, minute but expensive product differentiations -- but rather as fundamental marketplace services that meet real needs and enhance consumer well-being.
"And how are these SELs doing in the marketplace, apart from their trade association maneuvering? Well, they're practicing what they preach. Live operators answer the phones. The workers are happy, the products and services honest, and the contracts readable, with no fine print about binding arbitration and no boldface caveats about the vendor reserving the unilateral right to change the provisions. These big-print, clear-language contracts have already become the talk of business sectors from insurance, banking, and brokerage to hospitals, car dealerships, and mortgage companies -- you name it. Uproar and outrage galore. All this comes to the attention of more and more customers, who learn just which vendors are on their side and reward them accordingly.
"The SELs are in close touch with one another and with the PCC, and are moving toward a rapid adoption of each other's best practices. Compared to the businesses as they operated before the SELs purchased them, sales, profits, worker satisfaction, and community support are on a steady upswing. The business pages are starting to do features. The business schools are initiating case studies and inviting the SELs to lecture to their students, which the SELs are only too happy to do. They're recruiting more and more graduates of these schools and sending them to a kind of reeducational halfway house where they unlearn much of what they've been taught and prepare themselves for maverick business entrepreneurship.
"The speedy results we're seeing are in no small part due to the fact that the SELs took over existing businesses rather than starting new ones. Many of these were Main Street retailers, and we know a lot about their performance because their operations don't require long lead times. Soon we'll start hearing from the wholesalers, the shippers, the agriculturalists, and the manufacturers. I'm particularly intrigued to see how honest middlemen, brokers, and procurement firms are faring.
"A word about financing. You'll recall that the preferred method was credit, using the acquired business as collateral. Then there was the loan pool you established. The growth in the demand for credit has been so rapid that capacity is oversubscribed. Predictably, the new SELs are being received with hostility by the finance industry, which increasingly does not want to deal with them. My project staff recommends that we consider both an enlargement of the credit pool with a revolving fund feature and a regional banking structure that would place this source of capital formation and business growth on a more permanent footing. Cooperative ownership of these banks by the SELs is another possibility.
"As for the numbers, the projection for next year is that collectively the SELs will account for one tenth of one percent of GOP, which means that only a fraction of the economy is now facing SEL competition. So, as they say, the growth opportunities are immense. I welcome your comments."
"Fascinating, Jeno," George said. "Obviously you can only scratch the surface of what's happening, but is it too early to tell whether there's any organized retaliation underway from the business establishment? For every action there will be a reaction, and not just in physics."
"So far, just bewilderment, consternation, some sporadic rebuttals. By and large, the establishment was caught off guard, and then surprised by the tumult in the conventional world of the trade associations. That's what big money on our side can do -- lightning moves on a breakthrough scale. It helps that the SELs are levelheaded and polite and work silently wherever they can. They don't come on like gangbusters. Again, a great tribute to Recruitment. No doubt the time will come when half the Wall Street Journal is devoted to the interactions and frictions between these two ecospheres and the changes that are bursting out all over. No doubt the counterattack will come too, and we can't discount the possibility that the big boys, especially the chains, will go to the government for help. As we know, there's ample precedent for that in our country's history. Look at how the banks have tried to hamstring credit union cooperatives through legislative action. Let us hope, should they try this avenue, that they'll find a different kind of government awaiting them."
"What preliminary indications are there for minority ownership, employment, and service to minority markets within the budding SEL world?" Bill Cosby asked.
"I'll take that one," Sol said. "I've had some involvement with these kinds of initiatives in San Diego, and it's a wide-open field for venturesome SELs. For instance, one of our acquisitions in Detroit was of a predatory lending operation that was immediately fumigated by the new owner, who replaced its avaricious routines with microlending for small business formation in the ravaged inner sectors of Motor City. Three hundred loans have been made, mostly to women, and there is every expectation, from the history of microlending abroad, of high rates of business success and repayment. Minority markets are beset by predators, often bankrolled by Wall Street money that doesn't want to get its hands dirty directly. These street-level predators control the neighborhoods while their bought political allies and police look the other way, so the SELs have to expect trouble. Already, one microlending storefront in Cleveland was torched during the wee hours of the night. It will take thought, planning, and coordination to anticipate and forestall similar sabotage. We have to make it clear to the people in the communities themselves why there are so few developmental credit unions serving them when thousands are needed. And minority employment goes hand in hand with these inner-city SELs, Bill, but I know from experience that training programs have to be set up first to create a pool of qualified entry-level applicants.
"I should add that it's not just credit that begs for an influx of SELs, it's health, affordable insurance, consumer products like furniture and appliances, home repairs, food outlets, and on and on. We're dealing with massively devastated neighborhoods, streets owned by drug dealers and pimps, millions of children, women, and men in dire need -- just what we're going to see on our tour. It's true that the Pillars will be making their beneficial impact felt in a major way soon, but meanwhile we should try to expand the sub-economy in the communities most in need of help."
"Before closing on this invigorating subject," Jeno said, "I want to leave you with one further example to illustrate just how revolutionary the SEL model can be. One of our SELs in Kansas City, Missouri, took over a healthcare billing design firm whose clients range far and wide, including hospital chains and large medical practices. The billing design industry is part of one of the largest overbilling frauds in American history. Malcolm Sparrow, a professor of applied mathematics at Harvard, is an authority in this arcane field. He estimates that anywhere from two hundred billion dollars to four hundred billion dollars a year in healthcare billings goes down the drain due significantly to the overbilling that's built into these computerized coded designs. So here comes our SEL into this snake pit, and soon he uncovers enough to say whoa to the entire operation. He revamps the firm, hires new employees, and is now using his unique insider vantage point to track down who's perpetrating what in his industry all over the country. He tells us that within five months he'll have enough on the tentacles of this institutionalized fraud, which Sparrow calls 'a license to steal,' that it will take 60 Minutes a hundred and eighty minutes to do the story. As we made clear in the Agenda, honest, accurate billing in the healthcare industry will save enough money to cover almost every uninsured American."
"Behold what we have unleashed," Warren said with a big smile. "We're reversing Gresham's Law. Honest money is driving out dishonest money, and good business is driving out bad. Now, it's getting late, so just two more matters on a lighter note before we call it a night. First, as some of you have mentioned to me, it's not too early to plan a mass celebration after the election, no matter its outcome. Millions of people have worked their hearts out on the Agenda and all our other projects -- the staff, the organizers, the lecturers, the CUBs and PCC chapters and Congress Watchdogs, and countless others. Do I have your approval to retain a trusted events firm in Omaha to give us a plan on how best to convey our everlasting thanks in a multidimensional and multilocational manner?"
The proposal was adopted by acclamation, with Yoko offering to advise on aesthetics.
"Fine," Warren said. "Next is something that's been on all our minds. What can we do for Maui? This beautiful island has provided a hospitable refuge for our deliberations in a setting of unsurpassed natural splendor. May I suggest that we spend Sunday morning touring some of the island and thinking about how to show our gratitude for the benefit of the local residents? We can drive up the coast, stopping at towns and hamlets on our way to the airport."
On a further note of acclamation, Warren adjourned the meeting, and the Meliorists retired to their rooms under a full moon that shone down upon the little hotel and gardens like a giant spotlight. Bill Joy strolled along with his colleagues, having completed his customary sweep of the premises -- as if it really mattered anymore. His task now was more to insure privacy than security, since there was nothing much left to be revealed.
On Saturday, the group breakfasted on the patio under a dew-smitten canopy of leaves and got underway in the conference room at nine sharp. The task at hand was a review of precisely prepared written reports from the managers of each project and initiative. The core group had let it be known from the outset that they had no use for power-point presentations. First up was Donald Ross's report on the Congress Watchdogs, which they had read before but were now paging through to refresh their memories.
1. CWs are operating in 60 percent of the congressional districts. All but thirty of them have at least one fulltime staff member and a rented office. These thirty are new and will soon have office space and staff too.
2. CWs have been helped greatly by the activities of the lecturers and the continuing efforts of the organizers. The CUBs mesh well on certain advocacy policies as well. (There are now 7.8 million dues- paying members in seventeen sectoral CUBs -- banking, insurance, etc. -- and all have growing state chapters.)
3. CWs have focused almost entirely on passage of the Seven Pillars, but along the way have begun to develop a youth auxiliary, regular cable programs, and a post-Agenda agenda. The young people are being trained in door-to-door canvassing, community events, and congressional advocacy skills.
4. CWs are still within the budgets you allocated to them, but there is an ongoing drive for self-sufficiency of staff, facilities, and funds. Progress here is variable, depending on the location. Going very well in states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and California (where there are four offices). More difficult in the South and Southwest. Membership dues provide a solid minimal base, however.
5. CWs are learning from one another about what works and what doesn't work. Unified agendas are crucial. Otherwise efforts can dissolve into hundreds of legislative requests and everybody's pet reform or design. With the Pillars, unity has been easy. Afterward, it's anyone's guess, unless the CWs continue with an exclusive commitment to the implementation of the Pillars.
6. CW meetings are wonderfully rambunctious. The excitement reigns when the various means of influencing members of Congress are discussed. Here personal approaches and best practices from all the CWs are pivotal. Training sessions and concise manuals are proving their worth. The goal is to have the lawmakers view the CWs with a mix of respect, fear, and wonder. They have to believe the CWs are uncooptable, have deep reserve capabilities, and can continue to widen their base and diversify their tactics in surprising ways.
7. Remarkably, recruitment procedures for the CW core two thousand have produced a membership in which no social, economic, educational, or ethnic category predominates. The only trait they share is their commitment to no-nonsense work and a continuing education in the ways and means of the Congress so as to make it represent the best interests of the people.
8. One problem. When assignments are focused in their neighborhoods, there are few frictions among the members, but when they gather in larger groups, the traditional human frailties and personality differences emerge, even if there's no disagreement on substance or tactics. Some of them go after each other as if there weren't bigger adversaries out there. I don't want to make too much of this: I only mention it because democratic processes and solid consensus-building rarely take account of these personality conflicts, which can be trouble if not dealt with promptly.
9. Over the longer term, there are imponderables. It's difficult to predict how the CWs will do on their own, without the media saturation, the Agenda excitement, the upcoming elections, and the immense backup infrastructure and foreground assistance from the lecturers and organizers. But there's been a fast CW learning curve, and the future looks bright even if there's no Meliorist encore. This year, the CWs played a role in many turnarounds for the Seven Pillars, not a crucial role, but an important one. Up against the Bulls, they were bull terriers -- "Here, there, everywhere," as their motto went -- at every possible public occasion. Two thousand motivated people per district can make quite a difference.
"Perhaps the best way to proceed," Warren said when everyone had finished reviewing Ross's report, "is to have free- flowing responses around the table, followed by a more rigorous discussion of whether we wish to make an additional year's sendoff grant to each of our projects and continue the infrastructure support from Promotions, Recruitment, and so on. Naturally, some of our conclusions will be tentative, pending the outcome of the elections next month and the subsequent response of the American people."
And so it went with each of the reports that morning and through a working lunch. Toward the end of the day, Warren gave the budget report. "We have total expenditures to date of about eight billion dollars. Monies in hand since we started in January have reached sixteen billion, with five billion in serious pledges plus the $2.8 billion Engaget bequest. And who knows how much more is in the pipeline or will be in the pipeline after the election? This is a most pleasant fix to find ourselves in. It will require careful thought in the coming weeks to allocate thirteen billion dollars along sustainable, institution-building lines. There are certain fiduciary restraints, since some of the money was solicited with the Seven Pillars in mind, but that obviously includes implementation."
"You and the Secretariat run one tight ship, Warren," Max said. "If they didn't call us the Meliorists, they'd have to call us the Frugalists."
"You know, it's interesting," said Bill Gates, "that with all we've set in motion and all we've spent, my son's foundation has already spent more -- fourteen billion in the past six years."
"That's very reassuring, Bill," Peter said. "I take it as a comment on our comparative paternal efficiencies."
Bill smiled. "You can take it that way, though the two money flows are really apples and oranges. It's a matter of different absorptive capacities and different opportunities for systemic initiatives. Third World diseases like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis are a different universe altogether. Anyway we're digressing, sorry."
"Let's digress to dinner," Warren said. "Ailani has prepared a feast of special Maui recipes tonight, and I'm having some old Hawaiian music piped in to set a relaxing mood."
When the Meliorists had reassembled in the conference room after their culinary and audio massage, Warren suggested that they skip the usual hour of silence. "We've really had a long day, and we have to get an early start tomorrow if we want to visit a number of towns and talk with the residents, so let's wrap up with whatever's on our minds and then turn in."
"At dinner, Sol and Bernard and I were exchanging concerns about whether we've peaked too soon as far as the elections go," Phil said. "After the great victories in Congress, there may be a public lull or a voter letdown -- just think about athletic teams that beat their big competitor and then lose to a mediocre team the next week. With the CEOs putting up a billion dollars to fund an aggressive counterattack over the next month, the Lobo/Dortwist crowd may try to take advantage of a public attitude of 'Well, we got what we wanted in the Pillars, and this election isn't that important.' If there is such a mood, it could certainly be encouraged through clever political advertising, especially with the Bulls claiming credit for passage of the Agenda. So ponder this. When we were engaged in rapid response to Lobo's propaganda machine, we had a free hand because we were outside any electoral context. It was just plain, robust, old-fashioned free speech. Now the CEOs will presumably be using a good chunk of their billions to support the reelection of their congressional friends under the FEC rubric of 'independent expenditures.' When we reply with our own media blasts, are we under the FEC rubric or outside in the land of free speech?"
"Important question," said Bill Gates. "It's my understanding that we're still free and clear. The Lobo operation will be supporting or opposing various candidates by name in the local and national media markets. We don't want to do this, even under independent expenditure rules, because we want to preserve our separation from the Clean Elections Party and its candidates, as Patrick advised yesterday. Our approach should be to urge people to get out and vote for a society that is advancing through the Seven Pillars, and for a Congress that will brook no delay in their efficient and expeditious implementation, without mentioning specific candidates or specific parties. That will keep us out of the clutches of the FEC regulations, while also allowing Bill Hillsman to give full play to his imagination."
"Won't that put us at a disadvantage in terms of what the voters are being exposed to on television?" Sol asked. "Generalities from us, specifics and local interest from the opposition?"
"That depends almost entirely on how astutely the ads playoff the CEOs' ads and rebut them," Bill Gates said. "That's why Hillsman is critical here. He'll know how to handle the situation."
"Well, we already know from experience that one Hillsman ad can have the impact of five or ten of the opposition's," George said. "I think we can count on him to head off the CEOs, but let's go on the offensive too. What about another wave of parades all over the country just before Election Day? Parades are great visible reminders of popular power. They'll energize the citizenry to get out the vote. Our parade teams from the Fourth and Labor Day are still in place and have even more experience now. Where I grew up, in Eastern Europe, the Soviets banned parades, except military ones, for fear of inciting the repressed masses to protest or riot or revolt. The Soviets knew the power of parades."
Bernard was nodding thoughtfully. "Papa always wondered why parades in his adopted country didn't look toward the future instead of just memorializing the past. I'd love to see us put together a nuts-and- bolts pamphlet titled 'How Local Parades Spark Change,' drawing on historical examples and our experience this year. What about it, Patrick?"
"I'll put Analysis on it tomorrow. They're already compiling reports on all the immense activity since January with an eye to what more can be done. This will fit right in."
"Okay," Warren said, "we have ads and parades on the table to counter a possible letdown. Any other suggestions?"
"What about personalizing the CEOs hiding behind the billion-dollar ad campaign?" Joe suggested. "You know, their pictures, their annual compensation, the average wage in their companies, the stands they've taken against social justice. Not all of them, since there were a few voices of conscience, just the hardliners, the greed-hounds. Is it worth suggesting this to Hillsman? Nothing like letting the people get to know some of their rulers, especially those with such dedication to their own anonymity."
Ted guffawed. "I wouldn't mind Jasper Cumbersome's mug becoming a household pinup."
"Well, let's let Hillsman decide," Warren said. "We certainly trust his taste, and we'll ask to see his drafts. We don't want to get into micromanaging here."
"We certainly don't," Sol said, suppressing a yawn.
Phil pushed back his chair. "I think our day is petering out. In the course of my sixty-five hundred TV shows, I developed a sense for when the audience was flagging. It's nine thirty, and we've been going hard since nine this morning. Let's hit the sack."
The next morning at 7:30 a.m., five town cars arrived for the east coast tour of Maui. The Meliorists split up into threes and fours, and each group went its own merry way, stopping in as many different towns as possible to talk with harvesters, strollers, people tending their gardens or sitting at outdoor cafes or on their way to church. At each stop they sought out old-timers and native Hawaiians to get a sense of what they felt they had lost or were losing and what they wanted as a community. Mauians were so used to tourists and visitors that they struck up conversations readily. The Meliorists rendezvoused for breakfast at Waianapanapa State Park, went on separately to Wailua, Keanae Point, Kailua, Pauwela, and a dozen other destinations, then met again for a late lunch at Hookipa Beach Park. All along the way, they gratefully took in the smells and sounds, the spectacular bird life, the ridges, valleys, and beaches, the play of sunlight on slopes, rivers, and trees. It was easy to believe the ancient Hawaiian myth that it was the demigod Maui who created the entire chain of the Hawaiian Islands from the deep sea.
Arriving at Kahului airport, the Meliorists exchanged notes on their day's journey while they waited to board their business jets. All told, they had spoken to hundreds of Maui residents and heard over and over again of their desire for local community centers. These congenial, gregarious people had no decent, attractive gathering places and made do with the outdoors or some school auditorium. They and their children would make good cultural, civic, recreational, and educational use of blended facilities that were both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Accordingly, as their gift to Maui, the Meliorists decided to fund six community centers and retain a green building firm in Honolulu to work with the local residents so that the siting and architecture flowed straight from their traditions, preferences, and needs.
When the planes were ready, the group said their farewells and climbed aboard to head for the mainland and the momentous stretch drive to the November elections. Halfway across the ocean, Warren turned to Patrick Drummond and said quietly, "You know, Pat, we've accomplished all this since January with an equivalent of a sixth of just my personal fortune. I'll be a long time wondering what took me so long. What in the world took me so long?"
In a converted high-ceilinged barn by a pretty canal in Minneapolis, Bill Hillsman sat deep in thought, turning his estimable media imagination to the task of making a national splash with the $150 million budget the Secretariat had assigned him to go up against the CEOs' billion-dollar ad campaign. Patrick Drummond had briefed him and told him there was another $100 million to add to his budget if the Meliorists liked what he came up with.
This was serious money for Hillsman. He wasn't one of the big boys in the advertising game, though he'd received more prizes for his news-making political ads than any single person in the country, as all the plaques and statuettes in his office attested. Still, each new challenge started with a blank page and a blank mind. He'd just come back from visiting his many sisters and brothers in Chicago, where he'd grown up. He often got ideas from thrashing things out in bull sessions with his siblings, but he'd come up empty this time. He liked to tell his associates how easy it was to think up great ads: "All you have to do is sit in front of your computer until beads of blood start dripping from your brow."
Today he was really straining. His desk was strewn with press clippings and profiles and pictures of the CEOs, but nothing leapt out. Sipping hot coffee, he started reading a wire service story that had just been filed and almost dropped his cup: "Attempted Kidnapping of Patriotic Polly Foiled." The copy went on to describe a break-in at the veterinary school in Delhi, New York, where Polly's trainer, Clifton Chirp, cared for her. At 1:00 a.m., two men in ski masks had crawled through an unlocked window, walked past a sleeping guard, and put a hood over Polly's cage, but not before the valiant bird cried out, "Wake up, wake up, wake up!" Apparently her trainer had anticipated that her guards might be prone to snoozing. The guard woke up, drew his weapon, and ordered the retreating men to put up their hands. The men unceremoniously dropped the cage and fled. After making sure that Polly was unhurt, the guard phoned the police and campus security to give chase to the intruders. A dragnet was underway around a large tract of woods where the kidnappers were believed to be hiding. There was no indication as to the motive behind their attempted seizure of the most famous bird in the world, "a parrot beloved by millions of Americans for her services to humanity and to justice for all."
"That's it!" Hillsman exclaimed.
That evening the network television news led with the Polly story. The anchors played tape and sound bites of the parrot's past exploits as the trumpeter of truth and the exposer of deceptive political ads. "Detectives on the case believe the botched kidnaping was a ransom attempt and was not politically driven. Although the suspects have not yet been caught, political operatives would have planned a smoother getaway," Tatie Youric surmised, evidently forgetting about the Watergate burglars. Bill Hillsman watched all the coverage in his wraparound television studio and knew that he had the star he needed for his constellation of ads. He put in a call to Clifton Chirp.
Lobo released the first wave of his media barrage a few days later. Hillsman replied immediately with one-minute spots that all began with Patriotic Polly crying, "Get up! Don't let the Agenda down!" He had easily anticipated what Lobo's themes would be -- the same old alarmist claptrap decked out as sober concern for the country's future -- and had crafted the body of each ad to rebut the claims factually and expose them as self-serving ploys to distract the populace and derail the Common Good.
With her reprise of a variation on the refrain that had first brought her to national attention, Patriotic Polly demolished the credibility of Lobo's billion-dollar extravaganza of falsehood and deception. Within seventy-two hours, his ads went the way of Harry and Louise.
The world of the Washington lobbyists had shut down. They'd lost big, and the object of their affections -- the Congress -- was in adjournment, so they headed back to their resorts and villas for another long vacation.
Brovar Dortwist had one last dinner with the Solvents, who were discouraged, disgruntled, and disgusted by the dismissive treatment they'd received at the hands of the media and the Congress. Always looking to the future, Brovar tried to turn their indignation into a resource for next year's counterattack. He shored up their morale, told them their job had been impossible before they even arrived on the scene, assured them that they had nothing to be ashamed of since they'd given it their best.
"If only we'd been unified from Wall Street to Washington," Delbert Decisioner muttered into his martini.
"We were divided, so those old farts conquered," said Sally Savvy, downing her white wine spritzer.
Brovar refrained from saying that there were far more elements at work than a divided business community and raised his glass for a toast. "To the corporate future and our victory over the radicals and the rabble."
"Hear, hear," mumbled his guests lugubriously.
As Brovar took leave of them, knowing that the Solvents had effectively dissolved themselves, Lobo was in his condo in Manhattan drowning his sorrows in scotch and his pit bull. With a few squawks, Patriotic Polly had obliterated his last- ditch ad campaign, and there was nothing left for him to do. His thoughts turned back to Yoko. He found himself dreaming about her every night -- exotic, erotic dreams that sometimes left him waking up on the rug by his bed with the puzzled pit bull sniffing him and licking his face. What did he want from Yoko? Why did she provoke these intense feelings in him when she knew nothing about him except that he was the CEOs' lead man? No drug, no psychiatry, no hypnosis could give him the answer. It was existential. He just had to be close to her, that was all, and it had to be soon.
The Faces and Places of Injustice Tour began the third week of October. The Meliorists broke up into five teams and covered twelve sites each. Promotions worked hard to publicize the tour and provide buses for all the reporters clamoring to be on board. Community residents were informed of the visits by the Daily Bugle kids, who were thrilled at the prospect of meeting their heroes in person. "Read all about it!" they cried. "The Meliorists are coming to town!"
As the teams soon discovered, "That ain't right!" was an understatement. With video streaming on their website every step of the way, they visited decrepit housing projects where children played on toxic brownfields, drug dealers brazenly plied their trade, and both streets and streetlights were in ruins. They went to a California prison and a juvenile detention camp, pointing out sharply that such institutions cost California taxpayers more than the state's entire higher education system, with over half of the inmates incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. They surveyed the terrible damage inflicted by the petrochemical companies on the ecosystem of the Louisiana Delta and its inhabitants. They walked through dilapidated inner-city schools in Cleveland and Baltimore -- broken desks, filthy restrooms, pathetic libraries, junk food, and unruliness everywhere. They sampled the bumper-to-bumper daily highway congestion in Los Angeles and Dallas to get the feel of the commuting grind, compliments of GM's and the highway lobby's crushing of mass transit decades ago. They were shocked by the plight of migrant farm-workers exposed to a deadly stew of agricultural chemicals, and of their counterparts on the factory farms tending crammed chickens and pigs fed on grain doused with daily antibiotics.
In the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, reverberating around the clock with the screaming of gas compressors and the rumbling of water pumps, they saw what the coal-bed methane companies were doing to thousands of helpless ranch families whose underground mineral assets had been leased to those companies by the federal government. In the coal country of Kentucky and West Virginia, they viewed strip-mined moonscapes and ravaged mountains, and met with the besieged inhabitants of the hollows who received no help from a government that had long ago surrendered this rich land to the rapacious coal barons. Outside Atlanta, they got a taste of ugly suburban and exurban sprawl, wasteful of time, fuel, land, and water, starved for efficient transportation, bereft of community.
Wherever possible, the teams highlighted contrasts, showing the faces of poverty -- so much of it child poverty -- in slums within sight of the gleaming tax-abated skyscrapers where the affluent made money from money and went home to mansions cleaned by the poor. Millions logging onto the Meliorists' website saw them standing before stadiums, arenas, and upscale gallerias built largely with taxpayer dollars, and then stopping in at run-down clinics, crumbling library branches with depleted collections, check-cashing stores, so-called food stores selling sugar, salt, and fat. The few derelict playgrounds in the slums just didn't have the lobbyists that the billionaire owners of sports franchises could retain, Leonard observed scathingly.
One team went to an inner-city school and then to a school in a nearby affluent neighborhood, both funded by the same property taxes under different allocation formulas. Another team went to the fields where workers harvested crops under dangerous, backbreaking, low-wage conditions, and then flew to the commodities markets in Chicago to show how big money was made by yelling bids in the pits. In one of the more dramatic comparisons, Bernard, Yoko, and Max visited a large hospital in Chicago and talked with the executive director, who complained about shortages of everything from flu vaccines to emergency room capacity. Then they were off to a nearby factory where workers were putting in three shifts daily making deadly cluster bombs for shipment overseas to whatever country had the money to pay for these destroyers of innocent men, women, and children. The manager proudly told Max that he always made sure to have a six-month supply on hand in case a sudden spate of hostilities spiked his orders.
In West Virginia, Barry, Joe, and Ross attended a Rotary Club luncheon for the executives and managers of a local cluster of chemical plants. In the large banquet room, they stood along with everyone else to pledge allegiance to the flag and sing "America the Beautiful." After lunch, they toured the plants, and then a neighborhood of workers' houses with tiny front yards where children played and frolicked, enveloped in a cloud of gases and particulates. Bordering the west side of the neighborhood was one of America the Beautiful's rivers, now a colorful sewer from the dumping of chemicals year after year. They completed their trip with a visit to a clinic where children with blotched complexions and bad asthma gasped for breath.
Each day the teams held news conferences that beamed live all over the country and on global cable networks. Against a backdrop of powerful visuals, the Meliorists made two points over and over again. First, it did not have to be this way. The nation had the values, knowledge, and resources to do the right thing by its people. The Agenda was a solid first step in that direction, and the Faces and Places of Injustice made clear the urgency of following through on implementation. Second, the sources of injustice were often out of sight and far removed from the scene of the damage, as with monopolistic pharmaceutical companies that hiked drug prices and made essential treatment unaffordable for millions of Americans. Gross negligence in the drug and hospital industries caused tens of thousands of deaths annually, and many more injuries and illnesses, but those were hard to "visit." Backroom decisions shaped by avarice and power could not be brought into the light of day by a tour, the Meliorists stressed, but only by the piercing vigilance of the citizenry.
Toward the end of the tour, Jeno, Paul, Phil, and Bill Cosby decided to go to the nation's capital to see firsthand what many writers had described as a race- and class-segregated tale of two cities: one the preserve of the oligarchs, largely in the northwest quadrant of the district, and then the desolate, rubble-swept "other Washington" where unemployment, infant mortality, and crime reigned within view of the White House, within minutes of K Street. Good schools versus atrocious schools, expensive bottled water versus tap water tainted with lead, country clubs, tennis courts and squash courts versus asphalt jungle playgrounds, overstocked supermarkets versus no supermarkets at all, fancy private clinics versus overloaded Medicaid mills, stores catering to every want and whim versus pawnshops and liquor stores, late-model cars versus ramshackle buses, police protection versus police sirens -- the list went on and on. Only the main thoroughfares communicated a rough equality as shiny BMWs and clunker Chevrolets alike jarred through the potholes, a rare common experience for the impoverished and the affluent.
Washington, DC, had no excuses. With a huge and growing federal expenditure base, an army of corporate contractors, the vast influence-peddling industry, the unparalleled tourist attractions, the convention business, numerous public and private universities, and ever-rising real estate tax receipts, the city was Exhibit Number One of state capitalism accumulating and concentrating wealth amidst public squalor. It was America's litmus test, and America was flunking. It was proof positive that America did not take care of her own, and it didn't matter a whit that the Democrats were overwhelmingly dominant in city politics.
If the Meliorists' tour of the District of Columbia, the only national capital whose residents were denied voting representation in the national legislature, was big news at home, it was bigger news abroad, especially in countries that were adversaries of the United States. This unintended result discomfited the Secretariat and prompted a flurry of worried e-mails from the Redirectional networks. Having assiduously maintained a domestically based reform drive, the Meliorists suddenly found themselves under attack from the cable and radio yahoos for "feeding the Hate America mob" -- a public relations imbroglio they didn't need just a week before the election.
Fortunately, an energetic young reform candidate was in the process of sweeping his way to an easy victory in the DC mayoral race, despite the opposition of the local business establishment. During his lengthy campaign, Hadrian Plenty had literally walked the streets and knocked on the doors of half the households in the city. Bill Cosby, Phil Donahue, and Paul Newman were boyhood media heroes of his. He called them up and invited them to join him in a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel, two blocks from the White House. The trio were only too happy to accept. A joint appearance with Hadrian Plenty could only be a plus, they felt, and might keep matters from getting out of hand.
On the day of the news conference, the press turned out in force. The fourth estate had been waiting for months to see if the Meliorists would generate a crisis for themselves. Now the right wing had found its voice after a long period of frustration and was pouncing savagely. How would the Meliorists and their new ally cross this bed of hot coals?
Wise beyond his thirty-six years, Hadrian Plenty had the answer. Before an audience that included representatives of business, labor, tourism, the clergy, veterans' groups, civil rights organizations, and children's causes, he announced his theme: Facing Reality. Then he gestured to Bill, Paul, and Phil. "I want to begin by thanking the Meliorists for the invaluable service they've performed in publicizing the cruel inequalities in the District of Columbia. Facing reality is the first step toward a new reality. In the past ten days, the Meliorists have shown us harsh and heartrending realities not only here in Washington but across the nation. But in the past ten months, they have also shown us how people of goodwill and strong convictions can turn such realities around dramatically. It's not the Meliorists who've been running our metropolis down, it's the selfish power brokers in both the federal and local realms of the District. The Meliorists aren't running our city or our country down, they're lifting us up!"
When the enthusiastic applause died down, Plenty introduced the first of several invited speakers, a prominent businessman eager to ingratiate himself with the mayor-to-be. "When companies find themselves in trouble, the best way out is full candor," he declared. "Facing reality is just sound business practice, and isn't that what the Meliorists are doing in our city?" Then several labor representatives spoke of all the jobs that would be created by a revitalization of deteriorating neighborhoods and services, and thanked the Meliorists for spotlighting these more visibly than anyone had done before.
The clergy selected wonderfully apt quotations from the scriptures about not looking the other way when you know your neighbors are endangered, nurturing other people's children as if they were your own, and subordinating commercial interests to higher principles of morality and to God Almighty. Two veterans, one from the American Legion and one from the VFW, took out after the right-wing loudmouths who never served but never met a war they didn't want somebody else to fight. "The Meliorists, many of them veterans themselves, care deeply for their country," the Legion member said. "An active love of country is the true patriotism. A city that's falling apart disgraces our great monuments and war memorials."
A local NAACP leader spoke of the high promise of the civil rights marches and legislation, too often aborted by poverty and discrimination, and praised the Meliorists "for their valiant determination to confront the other Washington. How dare these talk show hosts, from their gated communications pedestals, pour their bile on these great defenders of Americans most in need? A society can only be strong when it is critical, and it can only be critical when everyone has a voice, not just those who monopolize our public airwaves."
A children's advocate expressed the hope that the Meliorists' tour would prompt the city to address the plight of the thousands of children growing up poor in a wealthy city, the seat of government, where drugs, drive-by shootings, and vandalism formed the environment of their most impressionable years, where the infant mortality rate was among the highest in the nation and HIV rates were double the national average. A tourism promoter acknowledged that all the recent publicity might scare visitors off in the short term, but she was confident that in the long term more people would visit Washington with their children when a decent quality of life was the norm for everyone. "I'm tired of having to hide the Other Washington and warn people not to wander off the beaten tourists paths," she said.
Sitting on the platform, Paul noticed that the press was getting restless. The event was beginning to seem a little too staged. He leaned over and had a whispered conversation with Hadrian Plenty, then strode to the podium, blue eyes flashing with anger.
"Why are we all here? Because the radio and cable blowhards are trying to turn the Faces and Places of Injustice Tour into an act of disloyalty to America. I'm here to tell you that Bush Bimbaugh and Pawn Vanity are nothing but dyed-in- the-wool cowards, monopolizing their microphones, pulling the plug on any unwelcome views, and freeloading on the public airwaves all the way to the bank. They have empty minds and craven hearts. Only their tongues show any signs of life. You know what happened when Bimbaugh invited Ted Turner on his show in an attempt to pump up his audience. The man cannot stand to be challenged.
"Well, here and now, I challenge him. I challenge both of these bombastic bullies to invite all the representatives on this platform onto their programs right away for two hours of back-and-forth. I challenge them before tens of millions of Americans to put up or shut up. This is their career moment of truth."
As Paul sat down to loud cheers from most of the audience, the award-winning student choir from DC's Spingarn High School filed on stage and sang "America the Beautiful," with its stirring evocations of peace and prosperity. When the students were done and Hadrian Plenty had duly praised them, he asked if the press had any questions.
Pauline Quicksilver of the Hartford Courant was racing up the aisle from the back of the ballroom, waving her arms wildly. Plenty recognized her.
"I just called Bimbaugh and Vanity. Their spokesmen were watching the live feed. They put me on hold for thirty seconds or so and then came back. Both declined the challenge on behalf of their bosses. 'Tell Newman nyet,' Bimbaugh's guy said. 'He'll understand that better than no.' Any reaction, Mr. Newman?"
Paul flashed that knockout smile of his. "What more is there to say? These shining stars of talk radio have just said it all."
Sitting in the audience, Jeno and Luke Skyhi grinned at each other and traded high fives. They could scarcely believe their good fortune. Bimbaugh and Vanity had fallen into a trap the Meliorists hadn't even thought to spring. It was a perfect distraction, and just when it was most needed, right before the election, when the two gutless wonders were exhorting the faithful to go to the polls. Now they were on the defensive. Their credibility would be the issue in the coming days.
"I could be wrong," Luke said, "but I bet even the dittoheads are going to have trouble with this latest display of 'values' from their ringleaders."
"I'm not taking that bet," Jeno said.
As if nature were sending a message, the nation was bathed in sunshine on Election Day, except for a light drizzle in Seattle. For weeks, pollsters had been predicting a record turnout for a midterm election, and early signs suggested that they were right. In some communities, people had organized parades and were marching to their polling places together in sizable numbers. Exit polls clearly reflected the appeal of the Clean Elections Party and the effects of ten months of Meliorist dynamics. The voters' responses revealed that they were particularly taken with the Agenda's shift in taxation from work income to securities transactions, but at the top of the list, just edging out universal healthcare, was the Democracy Act, which had really struck home with its subordination of the corporations to the people and its eye-opening declaration that "'person' is hereby defined by law as 'human being.'"
In the early evening, instead of the usual hours of watchful waiting, celebrations and victory rallies broke out everywhere. Premature? Not to these Americans. While the candidates were suitably subdued, the voters were confident that victory was assured and that the only question was by what margin. The bloggers, of course, were all over the place, ranting and rumoring and sometimes beating the traditional media to definite tallies. By 10:00 p.m., most of the returns were in and the networks were making their calls, but election snafus and overloaded precincts delayed the final count in some districts and states. Both the Clean Elections Party and the Meliorists declined to issue statements or talk to reporters, preferring to wait until the counts were complete.
The morrow came. Forty-eight of the fifty-seven Bulls had been defeated, some by unexpected margins. Those who won were saved because the CEP candidates got a late start due to continuing court challenges to their candidacies based on arbitrary ballot access laws adjudicated by partisan judges, as in a notoriously anti-third-party jurisdiction of Pennsylvania where three Bulls survived. But with the passage of the Agenda and its single-ballot access standard for federal elections, these Pennsylvania pols and their counterparts across the nation would no longer be able to deny voters a choice by evicting independent candidates from the ballot.
The makeup of Congress the day after the elections set the political pundits scurrying to do the new math. The CEP now made up 17 percent of Congress and held the balance of power between the new Democratic plurality and the fallen Republicans. Since many of the CEP candidates had won what were long believed to be the most secure seats for incumbents in the nation, the two major parties were already sweating over the prospect of greater losses two years hence, when the CEP would have a lot more experience and a lot more lead time. The surviving Bulls pragmatically resolved to heed the will of the people and implement the Agenda. As Senator Paul Pessimismo observed, "If we don't, we're history."
To no one's surprise, none of the six write-in corporation candidates for state governorships won their elections, but to Bill Gates Sr.'s immense delight, the Draft Corporations Yes Corporation won 9 percent of the Oregon vote.
In the Fourth Congressional District of Oklahoma, Billy Beauchamp breathed a sigh of relief. He'd lost to Willy Champ, but at least it was over -- the dread of defeat, the ordeal of trying to salvage the unsalvageable -- and he took comfort from the fact that the margin of victory was only eight points, 56 percent to 44. He was tired, but not perplexed. He knew why he'd lost. He put in a call to Willy.
"I want to congratulate you, not just on your win, but on the way you conducted yourself during the campaign. Together, I believe we may have set a new standard for enlightened discussion of the issues, without resort to invective or sound bites. But in the end, Triple T prevailed over Triple B."
"And I thank you for your graciousness and your willingness to contend with me on serious matters in open forums," Willy replied. "You made me a better candidate."
"Let's get together at Fran and Freddy's in a couple of weeks to discuss a move that will raise eyebrows. I'm going to recommend you for a seat on the Rules Committee, and if I succeed, that will truly be an unprecedented transition, and good for our district too. As my friend John Henry just told me, a man can go out with class or go out as an ass."
Out in California, there were no surprises. Warren Beatty swamped Arnold Schwarzenegger, who conceded right after the polls closed and went to the movies. Warren won 63 percent of the vote to Arnold's 33 percent, with the Green Party candidate, Peter Miguel Camejo, who had been shut out of the debates, taking 4 percent. The governor-elect eschewed the usual Los Angeles hotel celebration. Instead, he and his billionaire comrades piled into the now famous buses and went in a giant circle from downtown LA to Long Beach to Santa Monica. People lined the roads cheering and waving victory signs and throwing grape leaves before the path of the buses to symbolize the organic union of nature and politics. Only in California, Warren thought to himself as he and Annette and their children beamed and waved to the festive crowds while the billionaires held large signs up to the side windows: "You did it! Stay tuned!"
By the middle of November,. executives in droves were heading for business retreats at the better hotels and resorts to deliberate about "the New Politics" and "the New Congress." Since the Agenda was now federal law, it set the agenda for the retreaters. Should they adapt to it or continue to fight it? What were the cost-benefit consequences of either course of action? Where could they find new lobbyists with the experience and demeanor to connect with the practitioners of this New Politics, who were being driven, willingly or not, by the Meliorist Agenda. How could they build a new power base with new interfaces so they could prevail in the future? What could they do to take the steam out of the rebellion? What new language must they develop? Should they work directly with the Meliorists and bury the hatchet? One business commentator for Bloomberg News calculated that the sheer expenditures on these thousands of retreats, involving hundreds of different lines of industry, commerce, and the various professions, would give a measurable fillip to the gross national product.
Meanwhile, the Meliorists were heading for their own retreat, Maui Eleven. As they flew across the ocean to their beloved mountaintop hotel, their reflections were very different than they had been en route to prior Mauis. They felt elation, but also a kind of wistfulness, an incipient nostalgia. Many of them were thinking back to that first call from Warren and marveling over the stupendous breakthroughs since.
When they arrived, Bill Joy was already there, along with three of his most trusted and circumspect security men. He feared that after the Meliorist triumph, their adversaries, formerly bent on infiltration, might now be inclined to exact a measure of revenge. He wasn't about to let his guard down now, especially since Lobo knew about the hotel and had been so thoroughly humiliated by the Alpha Sig caper.
There was no taking away from the joyousness of the core group when they assembled around the conference table. They were too joyous for the discussion Warren wanted to have. "My dear colleagues," he said. looking at them fondly. "I hate to shift the mood, but with your indulgence, I have three questions for all of you. First, do you have any personal regrets arising from our work together? Second, what's the chief insight you've derived from this year's experiences? And finally, what do you think we should look out for in the coming year? Before you answer, may we have an hour of silence to focus our thoughts?"
"Of course, Warren," Sol said, sensing the importance of these questions to the man who had brought them all together.
The other Meliorists nodded, and the group fell into quiet meditation, elbow to elbow, occasionally jotting notes on their legal pads. The normally hyperkinetic Ted reflected to himself again that if he had learned nothing else all year, he had learned the value of silence.
"Thank you," Warren said when the hour was up. "And now for our regrets, insights, and premonitions. Max, will you start us off?"
"My greatest regret is that until this year I made my economic success a ceiling instead of a floor. Second, I learned from all of you that the real deed can in fact overcome the mythical word. Finally, we can't let our momentum slide in the face of what is sure to be a many-headed drive to roll back our Agenda. The strategy of fast-paced offense and surprise must remain standard operating procedure for our side."
"I regret all the time I devoted to leisure during the decade after the show closed down." Phil said. "What I learned is the stunning power that can come from unified, goal-driven, yet diverse minds like the ones around this table. What worries me is that our allies may become arrogant or messianic and overplay their hand."
"That for years I had neglected seeding democratic institutions and linking them with unquestionable corporate obligations such as loss prevention in the insurance industry," Peter said. "That plunging into the most abrasive controversies wasn't all that ostracizing, uncomfortable, or damaging. And I worry that a natural disaster or a terrorist strike, God forbid, will give the politicians an excuse to derail implementation of the Agenda. We haven't planned for this at all, though it's not clear to me that we could."
"I regret postponing my dream of a more just legal system for so long," Joe said. "I learned that the gap between people's need for justice and the supply of justice they have access to is far greater than even my cynical mind comprehended. Thirdly, I hope the president won't revert to form now that his party isn't facing elections. He and his bureaucracy have immense dilatory powers at their disposal. He may scuttle parts of the Agenda, stick his tongue out at Congress, and say, 'You don't like it? So impeach my ass and then try to convict me.'''
"I wish I'd thought of doing a movie where the rebellious rich take on the reigning rich," Paul said. "Second, I'm amazed at how relatively few organized resources and imaginations it took to awaken the latent humane instincts of the people and move them toward action. Democracy sure does bring out the best in people. Third, if there's an economic downturn, look out for resurgent yahooism stoking a virulent 'Who lost America?' backlash in cahoots with backroom business moguls writing the checks and pulling the strings."
"Given the way we mobilized ourselves," Bill Cosby said, "I regret that I never tried to mobilize rich black Americans in the same way -- business professionals, artists, athletes -- in order to continue and expand the economics of the civil rights movement. Next, I was astonished by the extent to which corporate power is unable to respond to quick, novel, and well-conceived challenges to its dominance. Last, watch out for ferocious opposition to the Agenda law requiring the media to pay for its licenses and give up some of its spectrum time to audience-controlled networks and programs."
"Obviously," Ted said, "I regret that I didn't put more energy behind organizing billionaires years ago, since they've been such a replicating bonanza for us. What I found out was that the superrich -- present company excepted -- are the greatest conformists of all because they have the least reason to be, given their immense material independence. Third, look out for us and a possible second round, yeee-hah!"
"Throughout my legal career, I've tried to have as few regrets as possible," said Bill Gates, "but now I wish I'd raised the bar higher for myself so that I had more regrets. Second, extending Ted's point on conformity, I came to realize what a tremendously deep rut the super-rich have fallen into, an awareness sharpened by the heights that an aroused minority of our wealthy allies have achieved this year. Finally, look out for people of goodwill who may try to spend our surplus billions on something besides the implementation and the systematic building of democratic skills and power."
"In light of what live money can do," Yoko said, "I regret letting my wealth become dead money for so long. So many people wanted donations from me that I withdrew and just preserved John's estate. Second, I was confirmed in my conviction that facts are not enough, that there has to be a moral and aesthetic dimension to humanize intellect and analysis. Lastly, I hope the retired super-rich in East Asia and Europe will try to copy what we've done."
"I wish Papa had lived to see what us megacapitalists have done to his Marxist doctrines and to watch me defend him on television," Bernard said. "I learned the vital importance of a leader like Warren, who ever so subtly subdued our fractiousness and elevated our competitive compatibilities. And I think we should look out for ourselves, our health and well-being, in case of a second act of some kind. Together we're hard to beat."
"Your faithful curmudgeon and skeptic regrets waiting so long to harness those traits to a bold imagination and provocative initiatives like the ones that have emerged from this crowd," Sol said. "Second, I used to think that the rich donated either out of self-interest or guilt, but this year I saw the powerful results of our appeal to our wealthy peers' sense of civic duty and legacy. That was a big discovery for me, and maybe for you too. Lastly, we've got to hold the president to his vow to join with Bernard on the Egalitarian Clubs. That is our future, friends, and quite possibly the only good that will come from this White House."
"Given our three thousand large bookstores as locations, why didn't I think years ago of starting a chain of citizen skill workshops to train and empower millions of people?" Leonard said. "As we saw, in an age when everyone is glued to television and computer screens, getting people and youngsters out into the public squares and the streets is more effective than ever, since the media and the politicians don't expect mass rallies. What we have to keep in mind for the future is that people need to be continually mobilized to act, because when all is said and done, they are the backbone and the conscience that keep making it all happen."
"When I was the biggest stockholder in General Motors and was on the board of directors," Ross said, "I wish I had hustled together some large investors, taken over, and transformed the Big Guy through a leveraged buyout instead of being bought out myself. What amazed me this past year was that we achieved our objectives without any special breaks, no crises or disasters to take advantage of. That might have made our task easier, but doing what we did in 'regular times' made it all replicable. But if the big company executives we whipped aren't given broad public recognition for the changes they had to swallow, look out. They need positive reinforcement to do more, or else they'll sulk and plan to escape, or revert and counterattack."
"In my various philanthropies, with few exceptions, I've operated as a Lone Ranger to help build democracies in numerous countries," George said. "Now I regret my lack of collaboration here in the United States over the years, my not returning calls and rebuffing invitations from potential allies like all of you. But I'm not at all sure that a group of comparable wealth and determination could accomplish what we did outside the English-speaking countries, in case we're ever thinking of pushing such initiatives on the global stage. And we've got to make sure the implementation gets underway during the political honeymoon period, swiftly and openly and equitably, before inertia sets in."
"My regret is that I didn't meet up with all of you twenty years ago," Jeno said. "My insight, coming from the great success of the PCC, is that beneath the surface there is a real yearning among business people for the union of profit with virtue and for the well-being of their fellow citizens. Finally, look out for Warren Beatty's behavior in office. Although he wasn't a CEP candidate, his progressive platform is very close to our Agenda, and we want to be sure he doesn't disappoint us. Right, Barry?"
"Right you are, Jeno. I'll keep an eye on him. As for my regrets, this year made me realize how often in the past the so- called notoriously outspoken Barry Diller went and censored himself on matters large and small. Never again. Insight? When there's a belief that the powers that be cannot be overcome, it's only because no one of power, gravity, and vision has tried to overcome them. And watch out for Barry Diller plunging back into his many businesses and getting totally absorbed in the world of the CEOs again. Don't let me do that."
"We won't, Barry, and I'm sure your television stations will report our denunciations on any occasion where you stray," Warren said owlishly. "My regret, it won't surprise you to know, is that I didn't put out the call to you some years ago. My insight -- all other things being equal, including smart strategies and good fortune -- is that this Meliorist endeavor of ours would never have made it through the spring if not for the way our characters, personalities, and temperaments synchronized. Bernard spoke of our 'competitive compatibilities' -- an elegant phrase to remember. My thought for the coming year is that we keep our group together at a less intense level, at least through the disposition of the surplus funds and the early implementation stage, until we're sure that we can hand off to enduring new institutions. I believe the public and the media expect no less, and I believe that's the consensus among us."
Warren paused and looked at his colleagues, who were nodding their approval. "Fine, then. Before we move on, I want to thank you all for your remarks. No doubt we'll have occasion to refer to them more than a few times in future weeks. And since we're not bailing out, we'll obviously want to keep the Secretariat operating. On this point, I call on its incomparable director."
Patrick adjusted his bow tie with a smile. "I'm glad you all see the need to keep us bugging you, but since we won't have to bug you as much, we propose to reduce the staff by half. Our main tasks will be to follow up on the implementation of the Agenda and carry out your decisions regarding the effective disposition of up to thirteen billion dollars. Wow!" he said, permitting himself an uncharacteristic exclamation before he went on. "I'd like to take this opportunity to express my profound pleasure in serving you this year, and not only because of the inherent importance of your work. In my previous job, with a corporate board, I constantly found my energy drained by petty ego clashes, trivial detours, and randomly shifting priorities. Your competitive compatibilities, your vision, and your vitality, have made my position at the Secretariat an administrative Nirvana, and I'm deeply grateful."
Visibly moved, the Meliorists returned his thanks warmly. "We couldn't have done it without you, Patrick," Warren said, speaking for all of them. "And let's not forget Bill Joy, who I hope will agree to continue to play an active role in any ongoing activities of ours, since his perspective as a farseeing futurist is invaluable. Tomorrow we'll get down to the nuts and bolts of distributing our surplus, but for now let's see what delights Ailani has in store for us this evening."
After another fabulous dinner and brandies, the core group reassembled in the atrium for another hour of silence before turning in. While they were engaged in their meditations, Bill Joy had a cup of coffee with his three security men -- Boris, Calvin, and Brad -- to make sure they stayed sharp and alert. Then he did a final check of the grounds, found nothing, and went to bed, still vaguely uneasy.
In the morning, the Meliorists found a slim stack of papers waiting for them at their places around the table. "I hope you all had a good night's rest," Warren said, "because we've got our work cut out for us today. You'll note that there are several matrices on the pages before you. Patrick has prepared them as a framework for our deliberations. Please take a few minutes to review them, and then he'll elaborate."
"Okay," Patrick said when everyone had finished, "let's look at the first matrix, which focuses on the power nodes of the corporation as an institution. It shows their intersections with the three branches of government, the electoral process, the media, the market, labor, capital, shareholders, technology, communities, academic institutions, and mass entertainment. These are the points at which corporations assert their dominance. The countervailing and displacing institutions we have established, whether in research, advocacy, or delivery, must respond to all these corporate nodes if they are to be successful, replicable, and renewable.
"The second matrix maps the foci of these research, advocacy, and delivery organizations as regards procedural-content democracy, such as access to power centers both public and private, and substantive-content democracy, which delivers the goods, services, and more intangible qualities of a just society going into the future. This matrix should be considered alongside the third, which describes the universe of possibilities for externally and internally financing the daily operations of these organizations and endowing them securely.
"The final matrix plots out society's progress in terms of reasonably measurable criteria. As new data becomes available, we plug it in, so that the matrix serves as a constantly evolving real-time overview of where we stand on the implementation of the Agenda."
Patrick tapped his fingers on the pages in front of him. "So much for this high level of abstraction. Now it's time to get down to specific sums, proper names, and logistics. And remember that there are bound to be ad hoc organizations that don't fit into any of the matrices, maverick groups that shatter old paradigms with fresh eruptions of creativity, so you might want to consider using part of the surplus as a contingency fund."
For the rest of the day, breaking only for dinner, the Meliorists rose to formidable heights of concentration as they hammered out the details of their bequest to the future. Finally, just before midnight, they adjourned and went gratefully to their rooms to fall into bed, exhausted but satisfied with what they had accomplished.
They awoke refreshed to a glorious Sunday morning and gathered on the patio for breakfast. Yoko was admiring a stunning hibiscus in the garden when she thought she heard a distant din coming from way down the mountain road. At first she dismissed it, but a couple of minutes later the din was louder and the others had noticed it too. She rose, walked to the edge of the patio, and took out a small pair of binoculars that she'd begun carrying after Maui One to take in the flora and fauna.
What she saw startled her. A throng of men, women, and children, wearing leis and singing and banging on drums, was walking slowly up the winding road in the direction of the hotel. Yoko skipped over to Bill Joy, who was finishing a mushroom omelet, and dragged him to her observation post, handing him the binoculars. He scanned the approaching crowd and frowned. Maybe it was just some annual ritual, or maybe it was a celebratory march of some kind that would soon come to an end and return down the mountain, but maybe it was related to the presence of the Meliorists. In any event, he would take all precautions.
He ran into the hotel and down to the breakfast room, where Boris, Calvin, and Brad were ingesting enormous quantities of ham, eggs, pancakes, and fruit. "Showtime, boys," he said, and quickly filled them in. He sent Boris up to the roof of the hotel with a telephoto lens to get a better view of the apparent paraders. He stationed Calvin two hundred yards down the road with a barricade he'd had the hotel obtain months ago, just in case. He told Brad to park one of the limousines across the road a hundred yards down. The men sprang into action, and Bill went to find Ailani, who was cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
"Top of the morning to you, Ailani," he said.
"It's a beautiful one, isn't it, Mr. J? And what brings you here? Out of food? I have more for you."
"No, there's plenty of food, and it's all delicious, as usual. Listen, I need your help. There's something going on down the road, hundreds of people in flowers coming toward the hotel, maybe thousands. Is there some sort of local celebration every year around now?"
"Not that I know of, and I've worked here for twenty-two years. Anyway, don't worry, you've got the entire hotel exclusively until Monday."
"Listen, Ailani, don't you hear them?"
She went to an open window and cocked an ear. "Yes, it sounds like a pretty big crowd chanting and drumming."
"Can you stop what you're doing and run down there? I'd like you to join the marchers and find out who they are and what they want. They won't be suspicious of you. I'm sorry to trouble you this way, Ailani, but it's important."
"Sure, Mr. J, I'll change into something more festive and be on my way. I know a shortcut so I can casually join them from the side of the road. If I find anything out, I'll call you on my cell phone. Give me your number."
Bill returned to the patio, where the Meliorists were taking turns with Yoko's binoculars, intrigued and not at all suspicious. Okay, he thought, it was possible that the participants were completely innocent, but maybe the organizers were not so innocent and had invented some pretext for a parade as cover for nefarious deeds. After all, the narrow road only had one destination: the hotel.
On they came, singing, twirling, hoisting their children up on their shoulders, rhythmically beating their drums, many dressed in native Mauian costumes. Two acrobats were turning handsprings along the roadside, and several young women were passing around trays of sweets and drinks. As the marchers rounded a bend in the road, they came into clearer focus for Boris up on the roof. He called Bill on his cell and reported that there were three television camera crews in the crowd, and five or six reporters darting back and forth scribbling on their pads. At the head of the march were two Anglos who appeared to be advanced in years but lithe and agile. Next to them was a woman in a beautiful muumuu, smiling and waving. "She kind of looks like what's her name, the hotel cook," Calvin reported, adding that there were signs everywhere -- "Lahaina Welcomes the Meliorists," "Wailea Thanks the Meliorists," and so on from Kookea, Pukatani, Makawao, Hana, all the different localities in Maui.
Bill still wasn't satisfied. He called Calvin -- who was also equipped with a metal detector, another previous Bill Joy precaution -- and told him to speak to the two men leading the parade, find out who they were, and put them on the phone with him. Calvin wondered whether Bill had seen one too many Bond movies, but he followed orders. When the marchers were fifty yards away, he put up his hand and halted them.
The two leaders came forward. "Sir, what is this roadblock all about?" one of them asked. "This is a public thoroughfare, and I don't see your police credentials. Who are you?"
"The question is, who are you?" Calvin said brusquely. "You'll have to speak to my boss and explain yourselves."
"Well, since you're the one blocking the road and we're simply on a pleasant Sunday stroll, I guess we better speak to your boss."
Calvin got Bill on the phone and handed it to the man.
"Hello, my name is Kenly Webster. With whom am I speaking? ... Mm-hmm, I see. Well, my friend John Tucker and I are here to express our gratitude for what the Meliorists have done for their country. When we arrived yesterday, we learned that the people of Maui were organizing a parade for the same purpose, and they kindly invited us to join them as honored guests when they found out about our modest role in working for the Agenda. This may be an island of rich emigres, but there are still plenty of regular folks who want to say thanks."
"Would you hang on for a minute?" Bill said.
Bill turned to the Meliorists, who had crowded around him on the patio when his phone rang. He asked if any of them knew a Kenly Webster or a John Tucker. Joe broke out in a grin. "Hell, yes! Gates and I met them at our Pledge press conference back in February. They're retired lawyers, both Princeton grads of the firecracker class of '55, and they became overnight legends during our lobbying for the Agenda. Entirely behind the scenes, they put out one brush fire after another. They were selfless, anonymous, and savvy as hell. What in the world are they doing here? Give me the phone."
"Kenly, you old son of a gun!" Joe roared. "What gives?"
"Just a little gratitude for everything you and your co-conspirators have done. John and I came here to thank you. The people who live, work, play, and die on this island want to thank you too, exuberantly, Maui-style. Maui isn't a potted plant, you know."
Bill Joy took the phone back. "Listen, Mr. Webster, I know this may sound strange, but I have security concerns. Are there any troublemakers or worse in your parade? If there were, how would you know?"
"Well, we've got a pretty good sixth sense. Just ask the folks on Capitol Hill. All these people want to do is express their love and admiration."
Bill asked Kenly to hold on again and conferred with the core group. He said he was willing to let the marchers proceed to the hotel, but he wanted them to go through the metal detector first. Warren put his foot down. "We can't live in a bubble, Bill," he said. "Would you find Ailani and ask her to prepare food and drink for our visitors?"
"I have a feeling Ailani isn't here, but I'll talk to the hotel manager," Bill said, and went inside to phone his security detail. "Come down off the roof," he told Boris. "Remove the roadblock," he told Calvin. "Bring the limo back," he told Brad. But unable to help himself, he told all three to position themselves strategically and stay on their toes.
Within half an hour, the procession had filled the hotel courtyard, and the celebration began in earnest. After a haunting rendition of a traditional honorific chant adapted to the achievements of the Meliorists, seventeen children came forth and with a light kiss placed seventeen jasmine leis on seventeen Meliorist necks. Then the head ranger of Haleakala National Park presented the Meliorists with a magnificently carved sculpture of the great Haleakala Crater, "in eternal recognition of your noble labors on behalf of justice for the peoples of the United States of America."
By now, the usual reserve of the core group had melted away, and they joined in the festivities. Ted borrowed a drum and banged away with abandon. Yoko harmonized with a chorus from Hana on a traditional Hawaiian song. Sol attempted a hula to the fond amusement of one and all. And why not? The previous January seemed so long ago, and so much had happened since, and so much would continue to happen year by year. Maui's native peoples, so often abused by outsiders throughout its history, had been the cradle of a new birth of freedom.
The festivities were still going strong when the Meliorists departed for the airport. They were reluctant to leave, but they had prior obligations back on the mainland, mostly with their neglected families. As they were about to board their planes, Yoko mentioned that after two long, beseeching, and pitiful letters, she had reluctantly agreed to have dinner with Lobo next week at the Four Seasons.
"Dinner with Lobo?" Bernard said. "What does he want? Don't go looking at any etchings afterward!"
Yoko laughed and gave Bernard a confident hug. "It's time for a little pathos. I'll let you know what happens. Meanwhile, I'll just say that wonderful Hawaiian word that means both hello and goodbye, greeting and farewell, gratitude for the past and hope for the future. Aloha."