ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!
A month after their first Maui gathering, the members of the core group journeyed to the mountaintop hotel once again. Warren had arranged for a light supper, during which he suggested that they all retire early to be fresh for an intensive day's work tomorrow. Not a chance. The dining room was abuzz with lively exchanges about the events of the previous month, the diners too engrossed in their conversations to think of sleep.
"Warren, please, a man needs to shmooze," said Sol, and returned his attention to Bernard and Yoko, who were discussing ways of popularizing the Seventh-Generation Eye symbol.
Warren threw up his hands in mock despair and went over to see what Max was talking to Bill Gates about so intently.
At a corner table, Cosby and Newman were deep in thought over nearly untouched plates of lomi salad. They'd been stunned by the response to their telethon, which had been a huge success even though it flew in the face of what an adoring public expected of them. Now the need to take the next step was gnawing at them, but they still hadn't hit on an idea.
Paul speared a chunk of salmon. "Dead money," he said.
"Don't you play poker, Bill? It's what's in the pot from the guys who fold. Just think of all the vast fortunes lying around in some trust, or in stocks, bonds, money markets. They're dead, inert, going nowhere in terms of the needs of the world, or even worse, passively serving oppression. Dead money is just money making money, instead of making things people need or making things happen. We've got to find a strategy for jolting dead money into live money, something that goes beyond simple charity or donations to political campaigns that get seedier by the year. We've got to resurrect dead money!" Paul finished with a plate-rattling bang on the table.
Bill, a chronic philanthropist who'd put his own money to work funding educational projects and outreach to inner-city youth, had been listening to all this with mounting excitement. "Amen, brother!" he said. "I hear you. I'm with you now. Dead money is like a stagnant pool breeding mosquitoes. Live money is like a gurgling brook full of marine life and on its way to join a river. But you're right, charity isn't enough. Remember those 'I Have a Dream' commitments where wealthy folks pledged to pay for the college educations of seventh graders if they hung in and made it through high school? Okay, that turned dead money into live money for those kids and their futures, but against the needs of millions of children, it was a drop in the bucket, just like the money the two of us give to this or that cause."
"Yes, there's no doubt that live money can make a real difference to individuals, but the challenge is to direct it toward fundamental change. There are some good development models out there, like one I saw from the UN Development Program on the enormous jump-start effect of some forty-five billion dollars on health, nutrition, and drinking water in impoverished areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. That's live money on the scale we're going to need here if we're going to succeed. For starters, consider how much it would take to follow through just on Leonard's idea from our last meeting about funding congressional elections."
Across the room, Warren stood up and yawned loudly. "I don't know about the rest of you Maui mastodons, but I'm turning in."
Paul and Bill exchanged a look. "Wait a minute," Paul called as they pulled their guitars from under the table, tuned up, and broke into "This Land Is Your Land.' All joined in on the chorus.
"Great way to end the evening," Warren said. "I only wish I'd brought my ukulele. Good night, everyone. Sleep well so we can get started catapult-style at eight after the best breakfast you'll have had in a month."
With that, they all repaired to their rooms, and the star-studded Maui night descended on the slumbering future earthshakers.
The next morning, Joe was awakened by a commotion in the hall. "What the hell?" he said as he jumped out of bed and flung open his door to see Ted grinning like a maniac and shouting, "Get up! Don't let America down."
Sol's door opened. He stood there in his pajamas for a moment, taking in the scene with a scowl. "Everybody's a comedian," he said, slamming the door.
After a buffet breakfast that exceeded Warren's prediction, the group assembled around the table in the conference room.
"Good morning, all," Warren said, "and special thanks to Ted for rendering our alarm clocks unnecessary. I want to begin by saying how impressed I was by the energy and ingenuity each of you displayed during the month between our last Maui meeting and Punxsutawney Phil's unfortunate sighting of his shadow the other day. Our first order of business is a status report on your initiatives so that we're all up to speed on the latest developments. Ross, will you start us off?"
"Sure, Warren, happy to oblige. My TV presentation brought in just over five million calls, letters, and e-mails from old Perotistas -- I have to admit that I always kind of liked people calling themselves that -- and from whistle-blowers and folks with all sorts of utopian schemes, personal complaints, and good solid ideas. I've opened a small office to process them and distill the serious from the whimsical. And I'm glad I denounced the Iraq war and went to bat for POWs and MIAs, because now the veterans' groups, at least most of the ones I've heard from, will go to bat for us." Ross went on to tell his colleagues how his growing distaste for the war had drawn him closer to the Smedley Butler Brigade and their still very timely analysis. "Which reminds me," he said. "Should we consider bringing a military man into our deliberations, for credibility on issues of defense and national security?"
"I've been wondering about that too," said Paul, who'd served as a Navy gunner during World War II.
"Yes, might be a good idea," Warren said. "Someone like Anthony Zinni would be perfect. He's a retired four-star Marine general and an outspoken critic of the war, with a service record and a chestful of medals that make his patriotism unassailable. But let's table this matter for now and take it up when we've all had a chance to think it over. Meanwhile, who's next?"
Phil pulled a letter from his jacket pocket. "This is an offer from the head of NBC. He wants to give me a national talk show, and get this -- he specifically wants me to deal with injustice, hard solutions to the nation's problems, bold doings among ordinary people, and the plight of millions of Americans who get pushed around or shut out while they do the essential, grimy, everyday work that keeps the rich and famous sitting pretty on top. He says NBC wants 'a new Dr. Phil for the new burgeoning civil society.'" Phil smiled as he neatly folded the letter into a paper airplane and sailed it toward Warren. "Too late, big suit. The train has left the station. We've got much bigger fish to fry, including him. Right, Barry?"
"You bet, Phil. I had to pull some strings to get Paul and Bill's telethon on the major networks, but pretty soon we won't need them at all. Remember what A. J. Liebling said? He said the only way to have a free press is to own one. My corporation already owns a bunch of TV, cable, and radio outlets, and my staff is working on buyouts that will give us a national network of stations with strong local and regional loyalties, like WTIC in Hartford and WCCO in Minneapolis. Not that I'm buying these particular stations, but you get the idea."
Sol cleared his throat. "Me, I still prefer a good newspaper, and that ad I took out in the big dailies really paid off. For a while there, my office looked like we were running a bingo tournament," he said, and described the parade of mega- wealthy oldsters who had descended on him in San Diego, earnest men and women who were bored, depressed, resigned to leaving this Earth in an ungodly mess, until they read his message and respected the messenger. Sol was no dot-com tycoon in his forties appealing to the cane-and-wheelchair set to give back. "I've asked my staff to collate their names according to likely areas of action, geographical location, and amount pledged."
"Did you know --"
"Did I know what, Mr. Squawk-Like-a-Parrot-at-the-Crack-of-Dawn?"
"Did you know," Ted said over the laughter that erupted around the table, "that a dozen of your guys joined Billionaires Against Bullshit? We started out with thirty, and now we've got fifty-five. There'd be more, but we screened all the applicants to get rid of the ones who were too compromised by bullshit investments or just wanted to join as an ego trip. We also turned away a few foreign billionaires because they're not US citizens, but we told them to stay tuned."
"It's extraordinary, isn't it," said Bill Gates, "this desire of the older rich to make a difference in the world? I think we're really on to something here. In my own fundraising during the past month, I drew heavily on my longstanding group of wealthy men and women opposed to the repeal of the estate tax. I selected the most likely large contributors, met with them or made a personal call, and explained our undertaking in general terms, indicating that specifics are coming. Then I declared my donation and asked them to do likewise as a pledge. I was pleasantly surprised by their impatience with the stagnation of our country and by their agreement with our judgment that purposeful upheavals and realignments are long overdue. One of them, a very successful retired investment banker, and a prominent advocate of public campaign financing, even said, 'Only if the effort is full throttle, Bill, only if it's full throttle. I'm not interested in due diligence.'"
"I got some good results from friends and associates too," Yoko said, "but I also got some chronic poor-mouthing from very rich people who keep discounting their acquired wealth every year as if they're starting from scratch."
Bill Cosby was nodding in assent. "That's just what Paul and I were talking about at dinner," he said, and recounted their conversation about dead money. "We think it's a vital concept, and we're going to commission an economist to give us some hard numbers."
"Speaking of hard numbers, let's see where we stand with our finances." Warren passed a stack of cards around the table. "Over the last month, the Secretariat has collected the names of the superrich you contacted and the amounts they agreed to contribute contingent on what you yourselves offered to put up. Those contingent pledges, I'm pleased to report, total six billion dollars. Now if you'll all indicate your own contributions on these cards and pass them back, I'll do the math."
Warren collected the cards, jotted some figures on a notepad, and looked up with a broad smile. "Nine billion dollars. That gives us a total of fifteen billion for our first operating budget. Not bad," he said, thinking to himself that if his own contribution was the largest, he was also the richest, and that these people were dead serious. He'd chosen well.
"As to the nuts and bolts," he continued, "all funds donated will be forwarded to a trust escrow account within seven days. The trust will then establish two accounts under proper IRS rules, one for charitable purposes and one for lobbying and political purposes, the former deductible and the latter definitely not. Allocations from the escrow account will be based on the priorities we set as we proceed. So shall we proceed?"
"Let's," said Leonard, self-designated street person. "As you know, twenty-five thousand strong turned out for the Wall Street rally. We had sign-up tables all over for those interested in further action, and we collected about three thousand names. Of those, we've identified a hundred or so born or seasoned organizers for future events. We've analyzed in detail all the feedback from the rally -- the impressions of our people on the ground, the overheard talk in the crowd, the water- cooler reaction of the stockbrokers in their offices, the press coverage and commentary -- and I can tell you that you haven't seen anything yet. We've planted the seeds of mass rolling demonstrations, marches, and rallies across and up and down our country."
"The People's Court Society is on the move too," Joe said. "There's a wonderful flood of litigation underway, and the law schools have really gotten on board. I'd originally thought of this as a nice extracurricular activity for the students, but deans and professors have embraced it as a welcome addition to their for-credit clinical programs. As just a taste of what's in store, two hundred small claims suits have already been filed against major corporations. The law students were already trying to advise their poor clients in other clinical programs, so it was a quick shift from begging to litigation. The legal press has yet to take much notice of the coming shockwaves, but it won't be long."
"Hey, people are corporations too!" Bill Gates said to another wave of laughter. "They've been flooding my office to incorporate themselves under Delaware's generous laws, and in the process, they've learned firsthand about the double standard between corporate status and citizen status. Corporations have all kinds of privileges and immunities. For starters, as nonvoters, they can deduct their expenses when they sue and when they lobby. Citizens who are voters cannot. More on this later. For the time being, thousands of people are having fun naming their corporate selves, and the local press is having a field day covering this 'corporate explosion' in their midst. As for the other project, the one to run five corporations for public office, it's still in the planning stage, with the advisory committee preparing for their third intensive meeting. We've had inquiries about potential candidacies from a number of small corporations, but we haven't yet filtered them to see if they're just practical jokers. Initial commentary on my news conference was rich with satire and ridicule on the issue of 'personhood,' but the media braying has since abated."
"If I can jump in here," Bernard said, "there's been considerable interest from parents and teachers in my Egalitarian Clubs, but what's really engaged people is the whole issue of the public schools as instruments of corporate propaganda and commercialism. That's touched a much more sensitive nerve than corporate abuses involving consumer harms or environmental damage. We've got big companies refusing to pay their fair share of property taxes, demanding and getting abatements, and starving the local school budget; big companies advertising in the schools themselves during the twelve-minute Channel One period, pushing sugar, fat, soda, and junk food; big companies pouring garbage entertainment and violence into the minds of kids after school. There's lots of repressed rage coming from beleaguered parents who realize more and more that big companies are raising their children while they, the fathers and mothers, are at work, putting in longer and longer hours."
"But there are still plenty of kids who haven't been brainwashed," Yoko said. "Some of my favorite letters asking for CFLs were from kids who said that they knew how hard their parents worked and wanted to help them save money, or that they wanted to save energy so there'd be more for kids in other parts of the world, or that they thought the Eye was 'way cool' and loved what it stands for."
"So all in all, Yoko, how many Americans will it take to screw in your lightbulbs?" asked Ted with a Turnerian twinkle.
Yoko smiled. "All in all, Ted, my office has subcontracted for the shipment of more than three million energy-efficient bulbs, and we've got the names and addresses of everyone who requested them. That's a good list to have in terms of our other initiatives, especially those concerning energy and sustainability."
"I hope you've all seen the letter Yoko sent out," Warren said. "Even apart from the brilliance of the Eye design, it's a masterpiece. And so is your letter, Jeno."
"Thanks, Warren. For those who haven't had a chance to read it, I'll try to summarize. I wrote to the tens of thousands of businesses that signed up for the People's Chamber of Commerce, and began by cataloguing one grievance or dissatisfaction after another that many businesses have with their Washington-based trade associations. These associations have a bureaucratic drive of their own. They inflate all the terrible things the government will inflict on the industry if the money doesn't keep flowing into their coffers. They concoct outrageous demands for privileges, subsidies, and tax loopholes from Congress to justify larger budgets. They manufacture hinterland fear and frenzy, as they did with the right to sue in court, despite having no factual basis for their hype. And these trade lobbies never support national interest agendas. Shouldn't they be using their muscle to get the energy industry and the auto companies to refine their products for greater efficiency? Isn't that in their own economic interest? My letter cited example after example of how narrow, craven, and self-seeking these trade associations are, when the interests of the people of the United States should come first and foremost. But in the long run, our history demonstrates that displaying foresight and espousing principles of fairness, justice, and democracy, as the PCC intends to do, lifts all boats."
Peter raised his mug of coffee. "Hear, hear! I read your letter, Jeno, and it's a knockout. With your permission, I'd like to send a copy out to some business associates."
"Same here," came a chorus of voices, Ross describing the letter as "a clarion call," Max as "a prospectus for the future," Sol as "a challenge to the conscience of the merchant class, perfectly tuned to the audience."
"You're a hard act to follow, Jeno," Max said, "especially since I haven't had the time to expand on my experiments with civic arousal, other than to review all the popular and scholarly commentary. The anthropologist and the psychologist aren't getting along because they differ radically on the explanation for the behavior of the two audiences in Los Angeles. I told them to stop arguing and finish their reports ASAP, and then I'll decide on my next move."
Warren turned to Peter. "And what about those verbal thunderbolts you hurled at the insurance industry's tepidness or deliberate inaction on protecting lives, property, and health through loss prevention?"
"Well, after their PR flacks got done denouncing me from pillar to post, a low roar was heard, and now it's beginning to sound like an approaching typhoon of outrage from policyholders, firefighters, employees in the workplace, people all throughout the insured economy. I think I gave them a way to articulate their concerns, and I think they trusted what I said because I criticized my own golden goose. And miracle of miracles, the Senate Commerce Committee has perked up from its well-compensated slumber and announced five days of public hearings, to begin in a month. Maybe it's because the chairman is facing a rare closely contested election this year, but in any case, they've asked me to be the lead witness, and they've assured me that the committee is prepared to use its subpoena powers in abundance. That could lead to a real shake-up, especially if our group takes advantage of the coming thunder and lightning."
"Bravo, Peter." Warren consulted his notepad. "I think we've heard from everyone now, except for you, George. You got global coverage for your debate with Sedgwick, and I'm still seeing clips of it on the news. Had any takers for another debate?"
"Not a one," George said with an expressive arch of his eyebrows. "No news here, except that I'm told Sedgwick bought a spread in New Mexico and is raising ostriches."
"Good, he can put his head in the sand with them," Warren said, "and on that note we'll adjourn for lunch. There's a cornucopia of fruit, banana bread, and coconut pudding awaiting you in the dining room."
''I'll have the pastrami on rye," Sol said.
After lunch, as everyone was settling in for the afternoon meeting, a tall, dapper man in a suit and bow tie strode into the conference room.
"My friends," Warren said, "allow me to introduce Patrick Drummond, director of our Secretariat, a managerial wizard and one of my closest associates for the last twenty-five years. It's Patrick who deserves the credit for the smooth workings of our closed-circuit conferences, and it's Patrick who's been receiving all your communications for the last month. I've asked him to join us this afternoon to take notes on our discussion and collate the results."
After a cordial exchange of greetings, the group got down to hard tacks to set an agenda for action during the coming month. Hour after hour, the roundtablers worked at a furious pace, refining goals, setting priorities, allocating the human and material assets assembled during the past month's work, and deciding who would take primary responsibility in which areas. They interacted like smoothly meshing gears, expressing strong views without acrimony. They had checked their egos at Warren Buffet's door. Already predisposed to action, knowing what they wanted, drawing on their boundless entrepreneurial energy, realizing that collectively they had an unprecedented capacity to effect change, they were determined to get moving, to get the job done -- at least their part of it -- within a year. They knew that if it took longer, the opposition would have more time to mobilize and their chances of success would diminish.
A powerful new human force was being unleashed in that conference room, contrary to all cultural and psychological expectations about the rich, famous, and successful, contrary to the conventional view of human nature as greedy and self-serving. On top of that wondrously endowed mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Warren's warriors felt giddy with hard-headed hope. They worked on into the evening, until Warren stood to adjourn the meeting. "I thank you all for your labors, my friends," he said. "And now, supper, silence, and sleep."
In the morning the group rose without help from Ted and gathered around the familiar round table for a working breakfast. Warren opened the meeting by passing out agenda sheets that he and Patrick had prepared overnight.
"What you see here," he said, holding up his own sheet, "is a list of the major Redirections distilled from all our previous discussions and exchanges. I continue to use the word 'Redirections' because it connotes flexibility and a sense of learning as we go. It also connotes, however unexciting, the absence of dogma, rigidity, and isms. The excitement will come in other ways, you can be sure. Your names appear next to the Redirections for which you volunteered to assume either primary or secondary responsibility during yesterday's meeting.
"These ten Redirections were chosen with an eye to their potential for amassing additional human and material assets, arousing the downtrodden, securing positive media attention, provoking reaction from the vested interests, motivating the young, highlighting solutions, cracking the mind-suppressing paradigms of the intellectual classes, enhancing countervailing challenges to the power structure, redefining patriotism in terms of civic duty, and fast-tracking some long overdue practical improvements in the lot of millions of Americans. As we move on to implementation, let's all remember the importance of replication dynamics and leveraged velocity, as discussed during Maui One."
While Warren was speaking, his colleagues had been studying their agenda sheets with evident approval.
REDIRECTIONS ACTION AGENDA
1. First-Stage Improvements (economic inequality, health, energy, food, housing -- a just society and fair economy): Max, with Jeno, Sol, and Bill C.
2. Congress: Bernard, with Leonard and Peter.
3. Electoral Reform (voters, candidates, parties, shaking up incumbents): Warren, with Bernard and Max.
4. Posterity (children, school budgets, youth clubs): Bernard and Yoko, with Ross, Paul, Bill C., and Warren.
5. Promotions (media buyouts, people's networks, staged events, theater, spectacle): Barry, Ted, and Phil, with Paul, Yoko, Bill C., and Bill G.
6. Credibility Groups (veterans, civic organizations, women's clubs, etc.): Ross, with Paul, Bill C., and Peter.
7. Sustainable Sub-economy (breakthrough companies, progressive business organizations): Sol and Jeno.
8. Access to Justice: Joe and Bill G.
9. Mass Demonstrations (rallies, marches, teach-ins, etc.): Leonard and Barry.
10. Citizens' Utility Boards (massive expansion of dues-paying civic advocacy groups): George, with Jeno and Max.
"I think each Redirection is largely self-explanatory," Warren went on, "but perhaps I should say a few words about two of them. Unlike existing Citizens' Utility Boards, our CUBs won't restrict themselves to the big power companies, but will address a broad range of consumer and public concerns. We're using 'CUB' generically, since these groups will certainly be of utility to our citizens. The Promotions Redirection represents what Patrick and I heard from all you media and performance types who kept harping on the need to dramatize our efforts in ways that will appeal to mass audiences.
"Now let me suggest a few organizational principles. First, each Redirection project will have one manager and one clerk -- that is all. Their function will be to keep things moving, locate glitches, and report any crucial logjams or opposition to the Secretariat for higher-level action. Keeping the staff slim accords with a managerial philosophy of devolution, which means always pushing the work and energy down to the community or to the best real-life platform. Otherwise we'll end up building a top-heavy apparatus, and we all know where that leads. As for support services, our Secretariat will work out budgets with your single manager and single clerk, and will arrange for task-specific teams to gather data and prepare reports as needed. The Secretariat remains the back-and-forth communications hub.
"Obviously there will be much experimentation in the coming month. Let's hope that exuberance doesn't breed too many blunders. The Redirections are designed for minimal error, with no catechism, no doctrine, just an open source philosophy with intermediate and goal-targeted compasses. Remember too, over the next month, to make waves, not tsunamis. Be very attentive to feedback and subsequent refinements. You won't have much time for this, but you ignore it at your peril. Reflexivity, right, George?
"I see that I'm making a speech here, but I can tell from your faces that you're all satisfied with our Redirections agenda. I think you'll agree that our work here is done, so with your indulgence, I'll go on with my closing remarks.
"Some of these Redirections are bucking broncos, others are slam dunks, and still others are just plain fun. They should all eventually become sheer joy. Some of them are tools for building power, while others are forms of direct pressure for substantive change like a living wage.
"Speaking of joy, I've talked to each of you privately about bringing on board Bill Joy, formerly of Sun Microsystems, which he cofounded. He's the most imaginative technical futurist thinking and writing today, and yet he's completely grounded in reality. He is not an elder like most of us, but he's wealthy enough, and without objection I'll call him to make the invitation. He is the great antidote to these techno-twits who are imperiling us with their contempt for the ethical and legal framework necessary to contain future Frankensteins. We have many skills around this table, but science and technology -- with apologies to computer wiz Max, who now calls himself a Luddite -- are not among them. That is what Joy brings to us, along with impressive foresight and an alert energy.
"One last reminder. I'm sure you all saw David Roader's column in the Post speculating about a possible connection between the recent activities of certain billionaire oldsters. Well, if that's all the astute, well-connected Mr. Roader knows, then I think our secret is safe for now, but be careful. It's fine if people make connections between us as individuals -- in fact, we want them to -- but please safeguard our acting as an entity for the time being. Public disclosure of this group would galvanize our opposition. The time will come when the opposition builds to such a point that we'll step forward in our strength and unity and enter the fray for the showdown. By then we will not be alone."
Whereupon they all drank a toast to their mighty endeavor, took leave of each other, and boarded two business jets supplied by Warren and Ted for the journey back to the mainland. The next day, a short paragraph in the Hollywood Reporter noted a sighting of Paul Newman and Bill Cosby at the Maui airport.
Monday morning in New York City, George Soros summoned his three-person action team, which he'd put on high alert well before he landed at JFK. He wanted a meeting within twenty-four hours with the prime advocates of the CUB model, Robert Fellmeth, a dynamic, prolific law professor from San Diego who'd written a report on the subject a few years back, and John Richard, a longtime CUB proponent who knew intimately the kinds of arguments used against them. By noon, George's team had made the invitations and put together a memo on the two main existing CUBs, in Illinois and San Diego, as well as all the CUBs that had been proposed but rejected. They'd also compiled a list of CUB sectors to be rapidly developed: banking, investment, and brokerage; auto, health, home, and life insurance; postal services and utilities; Social Security and income taxation; consumer, tenant, and voter rights; and anticonsumer (as in credit and software) standard form contracts. Attached was a description of the CUB structure: membership, dues, elected boards of directors, staffs of organizers, publicists, attorneys, economists, and other technically skilled people. Those solicited for voluntary participation would be reached through selected mailing lists and demographically targeted mass media, in keeping with the principle of closing the loop on the ground.
George devoured this information and waited impatiently for the four o'clock deadline for his team's report on available mailing lists and the best estimates on costs and rates of return. That's what successful, self-made people of wealth are like -- big on detail while keeping the big picture in mind. They are chronically averse to procrastination -- one definition of an entrepreneur is someone who never does anything today that could have been done yesterday -- and that trait alone gives them a major advantage over their competent but slower-paced peers.
George's team also prepared a report on how the existing CUBs had adjusted to the Supreme Court's split 1986 decision prohibiting laws or regulations that required companies to place invitational inserts in their billing envelopes. At the time, Justice Rehnquist delivered a blistering dissent in defense of the California regulation requiring such inserts, and rejected the narrow majority's ruling that the regulation violated the electric utility monopoly's First Amendment rights, specifically its right to remain silent! The tortured logic here is that if the inserts were allowed, the utility would have to rebut their consumer-oriented content. After the decision, the San Diego CUB had to go to less rewarding cold mailings, but the Illinois CUB secured passage of a law requiring state government mailings above a certain number to enclose such inserts.
On Tuesday morning, Robert and John arrived at George's office promptly at nine. George told them what he needed, fast. First, a draft invitational letter containing the basic message; he'd have his writing experts add the flash. Second, all possible leads for recruiting the best possible directors and staff for each CUB, these positions to pay good upper-middle- class salaries with benefits. Third, a plan to get the CUBs underway immediately, for an interim period of eight months, to allow the structure to get on track before the members took over to elect a board and assume other governance duties as befitted a grassroots association. Fourth, liaison with the tiny existing citizen organizations that had been working for years against various companies' abuses. All these tasks would be budgeted immediately, George said. Both men agreed to take them on.
John foresaw logistical needs that required immediate attention -- offices, legal and promotional services, a whole infrastructure for establishing enduring institutions. George, already on this, said that a three-hundred-room Washington hotel was available to house the national CUB offices. The hotel wasn't doing well, and he knew the CEO of the chain, who would sell for a reasonable price. The rooms would become offices, each with a bath. There were several conference rooms, as well as cooking and exercise facilities for the staff. Perfect. Modest renovation could be accomplished within a month.
On his flight across the country, Robert's encyclopedic mind had outlined a substantive agenda for each of the CUBs, with starting times for the items staggered and backup strategies attached. George was impressed. It wasn't even noon. He ordered lunch and champagne. The material assembled by his team of three the day before now had to be digested in detail.
Working outward, the group discussed the five-year budget line, the websites, the preliminary announcements, the estimated paid memberships over five years, the initial actions -- petitions, lawsuits, agency interventions, public hearings, reports, articles, conferences, rallies, and other kickoff activities -- and the short- and longer-range objectives, hammering out the details with precision. Robert proposed a two-year average membership objective of 1.5 million for each of the fifteen different CUBs -- some would be larger, some smaller -- with average dues coming in at $50 a year. John proposed a central service organization to handle media, accounting, Internet facilities. legal advice. etc., and to be lodged in the hotel so that the CUBs could concentrate on their substantive missions, especially intensifying member activism back home. George said to himself, "These fellows are the kind of talent and experience lying in wait that we can expect to find everywhere -- mature, experienced, short on funds, but hanging in there year after year."
The last question to be resolved was when liftoff should be and whether all the CUBs should launch at once. Everyone agreed that each CUB should have its day, with the announcements spaced two days apart to allow time for media coverage and for the opposition to get their licks in and help make even more news. The millions of letters mailed out for each CUB would be timed so that the bulk of them arrived in the middle of the national news focus and the launch of the website. George expressed hope for a 5 percent return, an unusually good number. As for liftoff, it would be in thirty days sharp, meaning right after Maui Three, though of course George didn't mention that.
Over at the Congress Project, the agenda was nowhere near as self-executing. In their initial huddle, Bernard, Leonard, and Peter tried to reduce this enormously indentured institution to human scale. The 535 men and women of Congress all had offices in DC and in their home districts or states. They had dozens of staffers enabling, scheduling, and shielding them with varying degrees of sycophancy and sincerity. Bernard and his colleagues had many years of contact with members of Congress and their top staff. Not much of it was useful for the task at hand, except to underline the importance of the multibillion-dollar buyout to replace the money of the lobbyists.
But before getting to that blockbuster foray into the real political wars, the three men attended to the infrastructure necessary to change such a mired behemoth. Money is the lubricant of incumbency, in that it helps sitting members to ward off challengers in both primary and general elections, but votes, not money, get politicians to Washington, DC, so it starts with the people back home. What do they need to know in order to elevate their expectations of congressional performance and take matters into their own hands to make it happen? Make what happen? The three agreed on this one: replace all who do not meet a minimum standard of heeding the interests of the people. Bernard estimated that fewer than 15 percent of those in Congress would survive such a cut. But what standard? That started them down a line of thought about standards of performance: standards of empowering the people back home; standards of informing the people back home through studies, website information, oversight hearings on the executive branch, and scores for voting records; standards for judicial confirmation; standards of accessibility. If, for example, more than a third of a legislator's time was spent raising campaign money during an election year, that would fall beneath the standard of accessibility. Admittedly, such standards could not be mathematically quantified, but at least they would shine a nonpartisan and institutionally focused light on Capitol Hill. The men knew that these standards, once written, would be fodder for the numerous citizen groups in Washington that were information sinks. The Congress Project would need special budgetary support for a crash effort. They called the Secretariat. Done.
Next, they would hire two hundred full-time organizers, assign them proportionately to the fifty states, and send them out with major advance publicity to each congressional district with an approximate population of 600,000, to find residents who in turn would be willing to find two thousand voters in each congressional district serious about establishing a Congress Watchdog group. Each group would have a full-time staff and office, with a budget for part-time workers. Their immediate tasks would be public evaluation of incumbents and public accountability sessions. In each district they would distribute cards allowing voters to declare their positions on various issues on one side, and showing how their senators and representatives voted on those issues on the other. That way the voters would be able to see at a glance how their views compared with the deeds of the lawmakers, not the rhetoric. Local media and relevant websites would receive regular dispatches about deeds versus rhetoric, and Barry's democracy networks of TV and radio stations would be sure to publicize these extensively.
With adequate financial resources and organizers, two thousand serious voters in each congressional district was a realistic goal. For one thing, almost every district had one or more universities, colleges, or community colleges. For another, letters to the editor in local newspapers and magazines could be scoured for names, and the lists of millions who'd responded to the various core group initiatives after Maui One could be broken down by zip code. The organizers could drive a Congressional Action Bus through cities and towns to bring out people willing to make time for turning Congress around. After all, it was an institution that spent some 22 percent of the people's income and could send their children off to war, raise their taxes, give their commonwealth property away to corporations, and leave them defenseless against rapacious lobbies that kept wages down, drug and fuel prices up, and big business happy.
A vital part of the organizers' work would be to screen admission to the Watchdog groups through interviews and questionnaires designed to establish common ground at the outset. Potential members would be expected to devote a minimum of twenty hours a month to monitoring their representatives' positions on a livable wage, universal cost-effective health insurance, and the rest of the First-Stage goals for a greater and better America. They would also have to be reasonably well-informed on these issues so they could impress the media and their friends and neighbors with their commitment. Such preconditions would assure a high degree of unity and minimize bickering and indecisiveness.
Now for the Blockbuster Challenge. The project staff began by preparing a preliminary estimate of the amount spent by members of Congress in the prior election. Subtracting resignations or departures from office, the total for the House and Senate came in at about $2 billion, just as Leonard had predicted at Maui One. This 2 billion would come from the core group's operating budget and would be administered by twelve trustees, distinguished men and women who had completed their careers and had no further ambitions for power, status, or lucre. The trust would match each incumbent's net fundraising in a giant buyout of the special interests that normally funded them. The slogan would be "Buy Back Your Congress: The Best Bargain in America." Any incumbent who resisted this no-strings buyout, other than by rejecting all private contributions, would be on the A-list for defeat by the Congress Watchdogs and their allies. Just that simple. Until the passage of a fair public campaign finance law, a similar amount of money would be raised every two years, preferably through small contributions from the aroused citizenry, to continue the Great Buyout.
Having developed the Congress Project to this point, Bernard, Leonard, and Peter put in a call to the Promotions Project and got Barry, who was eager to discuss synergy and to work with them as an early real-life test of his networks and media strategies. He promised to have a plan ready in three days and suggested that they all meet soon afterward.
At the Promotions Project, deliberations tended to have a certain combustible quality, given the temperaments involved: Barry, the bone-crushing, mercurial boss; Ted, the iconoclastic, impulsive, daring visionary with his feet on the ground; and Phil, the vernacular imagery king whose show served as America's Town Meeting on public taboos every morning for nearly thirty years. To these three gentlemen, selling the core group's mission to the American people was a priority that could scarcely be overstated. They knew better than most the kind of big-money multimedia counterattack that was awaiting them, and they wanted to anticipate every weakness and come back strong against every smear, deception, and lie. They knew a titanic battle lay ahead.
Barry had been acquiring radio, TV, and satellite outlets ever since Maui One, through the magic of leveraged buyouts. He had a law firm that spit them out like extruded plastic. It was all a matter of financing. Buying good income-producing assets solved that problem, though Promotions would need a modest budget from the core group for restaffing and some reprogramming of station content, which had to be serious and irresistible, like 60 Minutes. As for newspapers, there was no need to buy one; it would be cheaper to buy space for ads that made news themselves, in the style of Bill Hillsman, the iconoclastic adman. As for movies, Barry would contact the Dreamworks duo and others he'd brought into the business, to discuss some imaginative assignments that would intrigue the video-doused younger generation.
They approached the next subject gingerly. The media, even the mass media, was only as good as the message, the presentation of the message, and the timing. When the counterattack came, they'd be ready for the big boys, with their Madison Avenue skillsters and their endless treasuries, but meanwhile, they needed a smash hit out of the box. They mulled over the slate of Redirections for visual, symbolic, and emotional intensity. Of course they would coordinate with the Congress Project and all the other Redirections-- that was a big part of their job-- but as an opening salvo, Congress just didn't cut it, no matter how hard they tried to personalize Capitol Hill, or more accurately, Withering Heights. They all racked their brains. The hopelessly competitive Ted was determined to come up with something that would surpass the rousing success of his and Phil's brainchild, Patriotic Polly, but in the end it was Barry's idea that won the day. They would start in California, the trendsetting state, with what pool players called a bank shot.
With Ted and Phil on speakerphone, Barry placed a call to his close friend Warren Beatty, the progressive but indecisive Hollywood actor who had been making noises about going into politics for a long time. California's current governor was a former grade-B actor whose political decisions were daily irritations to Beatty. Twice he had publicly chided "my old friend Arnold," who chose not to reply. California had a large deficit that could be erased with one piece of legislation that the Democratically controlled legislature would be pleased to pass: a return to the level of taxation of the very wealthy before the tax cuts drowned state revenues in a sea of red ink. Governor Schwarzenegger was adamantly opposed to such legislation, probably because he had so many super-wealthy friends and contributors. To meet the state's expenses, he kept floating huge bond issues and cutting programs for those on the lower rungs of the income ladder. This would be the heart of Barry's pitch to get Beatty off the fence.
"Hello, Warren, Barry Diller here," he said when the actor picked up.
"Hi, Barry, got a good script for me for a change?"
"You bet, but not the kind of script you mean. I have a two-stage plan that will put you in the governor's mansion."
"Are you kidding? Really, Barry, what's the scoop?"
"Simple. You get your ass out of Mulholland Drive and hit the road, contacting all your wealthy friends and their friends up and down the California Gold Coast. Your message: you are going to donate what the tax cut awarded you to the public treasury, and you want them to do the same as part of a reverse revolt of the rich. Then you all go to Sacramento, demand that the megamillionaire governor follow suit, and lean on the legislature to repeal the tax cut. We will provide you with staff and media backup, two press people, and a list of the California super-rich."
"Who's 'we'?" Warren asked.
"Me, Ted Turner, Phil Donahue, and your pal Max Palevsky."
Warren whistled. "Quite a group. You know, I just did a thing with Max last month."
"Yeah, I heard, quite a thing. Anyway, like I was saying, we'll get behind you all the way, with whatever you need. By next week, I'll have four billionaires, give or take, lined up to announce their own tax-cut givebacks and accompany you on your swing up the state. Two of them have real star power. The resultant uproar and the media saturation on your historic bus trek will get you to ninety-nine percent name recognition, if you don't have it already, and after you take Sacramento by storm, you announce for governor. When millions of Californians see what you've done outside the governorship, they'll be ready to believe what you say you're going to do inside it once you evacuate the corporate cyborg who's there now. So, what do you say?"
"Tempting, but I don't know. Why don't we have dinner at the club and talk it over?"
"Look, you've already thought about running and weighed the pros and cons. It's time to make a decision, Warren. It's time to fish or cut bait. I'll call you back tomorrow morning for your answer -- unless you have any more questions?"
"No, I guess not. Okay, Barry, call me at ten."
"Well, fingers crossed," Phil said as Barry hung up.
At ten the next morning, Barry called back, and Warren said yes. Three times. At long last, his demons of indecision were exorcised, and he was ready to put his ideas and convictions into practice. Barry was ecstatic. He told Warren that the aforementioned support team would arrive at his home in seventy-two hours. "Then we'll have a conference call for the rollout no more than two days later. Ciao."
Barry sat back in his desk chair and contemplated the coming campaign. "The Reverse Revolt of the Rich," he kept repeating to himself. "Something's not quite right. Aha. The People's Revolt of the Rich, that's it! The perfect oxymoron to pique interest." He pulled out his famous electronic Rolodex, and within hours he had commitments from the four billionaires he'd promised Warren, and from a dozen more who agreed to come on board, partly persuaded on the merits and partly flattered by Barry's call. Like others in the core group, Barry was discovering that he could call in an enormous number of IOUs because he'd almost never asked his affluent peers for anything, except maybe to buy some tickets to a charity ball or make the tiny allowable contribution to a political candidate. There were golden assets in them thar hills!
When the core group members were informed of the Beatty initiative, they were all for it. Max didn't mind that Barry had dropped his name without talking to him first; he'd been Warren's close friend for thirty years, and they'd had many a bachelor adventure together. Bill Cosby loved "the imposition of responsibility on the rich by the rich but for the people," as he put it. Bill Gates offered to tap his estate tax group for more billionaires to join Beatty, and Ted said he would canvass his Billionaires Against Bullshit.
Meanwhile, the Mass Demonstrations Project was in active collaboration with the First-Stage Improvements Project. Together, Leonard and Max launched what they called the lunchtime rebellion-rallies in the main squares of the older cities, like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston. The rallies started small on a Monday, but the colorful speakers and the distribution of nutritious lunches soon attracted larger and larger crowds. The topic was economic inequality, with dozens of vivid examples that resonated with the daily experience of the lunchtimers. Leonard and Max drew on the work of Bill Gates's coauthor on the keep-the-estate-tax book, Chuck Collins, whose collection of inequalities was unsurpassed in the nation. They had their organizers distribute material filled with data, personal stories, angering comparisons between CEO pay and grunt worker pay -- $10,000 per hour compared to $9.00 per hour -- accompanied by an explanation of how continued inequality would destroy both our worker economy and our democracy.
Halfway across the country, in a quiet office in Omaha, Warren and Bernard began the arduous work of marshaling the best proposals for electoral reform. They considered the rights of voters, candidates, and parties, with the objective of a competitive, diverse spectrum of choices. Their working premise was that the electoral system is fixed, not just by the corrupt political machines that have marked our history, but by a 217-year-old Electoral College and an exclusive, winner-take-all, commercially funded two-party system that effectively results in an elected dictatorship. In the economy, such domination would be in violation of the antitrust laws. In the electoral arena, it was politics as usual. But as a federal judge once said, "Democracy dies behind closed doors." Smaller parties and candidates who might have affected the content and sometimes the margins in two-party races had the doors closed on them by a bewildering, arbitrary, capricious, and sometimes venal array of local, state, and federal election laws that prevented them from competing and having a chance at the voters. No other western country had as few candidates on each ballot line and as many obstacles to both voters and candidates as the United States. Not even close.
As businessmen who started out small against the big boys, Warren and Bernard knew how crucial it was to keep the doors open to new blood, new proposals, new energies, budding movements -- even if or precisely because their preferred party was on top. They were tired of lesser-evil choices for voters. They also knew that dozens of blue-ribbon commission reports on electoral reform were gathering the proverbial dust, pathetic victims of politics as usual.
How, then, to get the show on the road? They arrived at three approaches. First, a big-time shakeup of the system through a massive media campaign and mobilization rallies under the umbrella of "Bring Back the Sovereignty of the Voters." These would emphasize the usual ingredients of electoral reform: public financing of campaigns, eradication of obstacles to voting and running for office, open access to debates, varieties of instant runoff voting, proportional representation, same-day voter registration -- and, Bernard insisted, binding none-of-the-above (NOTA) choices on all ballot lines. NOTA would give voters what they did not have -- the opportunity to vote no confidence in all the candidates. Should NOTA win, that ballot-line election would be nullified and a new election with new candidates would be scheduled within thirty days.
To head Operation Shakeup, Warren had his eye on an old friend of his, Jerome Kohlberg, a retired billionaire investment banker with a proven passion for electoral reform. One call from Omaha to his Hamptons residence and he agreed immediately, asking if he could start yesterday. Warren said he would be contacted within a week with the comprehensive plan and resources; in the meantime he should study the reform proposals and make his own contacts to expand the clout behind the operation.
Approach number two they called the Trojan Horse Strategy: mobilize all the former members of Congress who had been driven away by the stench of the system. Warren called Cecil Zeftel, a former member of the House from Hawaii, who had written a searing book about the putrid lobbying and cash-register politics dominating our national legislature. Bernard called James Zabouresk, ex-senator from South Dakota, who'd retired with a similar public blast. The two men agreed to lead the effort and said they would start rounding up their former colleagues right away. Zabouresk wanted to stress the human costs of not having electoral reform, such as no health insurance for millions of people.
The other hoof of the Trojan Horse Strategy would be to infiltrate congressional staff with new staff committed to electoral reform. Bernard had marveled over the years at the influence of perhaps two dozen key staffers in either body who were the trim tabs that turned the ship around. Although there were predisposed "ships" among the lawmakers, they were often demoralized, but the flame was still there. The staffing initiative would have to extend to congressional offices back home to track emerging grassroots pressures for change and convey them up the line.
The third approach was the most audacious: create a one-issue political party with an electoral reform platform at all three levels of government. Upon formation, the Clean Elections Party would announce that it would go out of business once the platform was enacted into law. It would have no other ambitions, no other agendas. Starting a new party was an uphill task, but if the money was available, the forlorn longtime advocates of reform would swing into action all over the country. The very simplicity of the party's purpose -- to show the way to clean elections so that the people had a fighting chance to address the widely perceived needs and injustices they encountered in their daily lives -- would have an undeniable appeal.
Warren got himself another Cherry Coke and poured a glass of red wine for Bernard. It was time for a break before they composed a memo to the Congress Project, with which they would coordinate their activities closely. Bernard wondered how the Access to Justice Project was doing, since there would also be some overlap there. They put in a call to Bill Gates's resort home in the San Juan Islands and got an update from him and Joe.
No two lawyers could have been more different physically, temperamentally, and in outward demeanor than Bill, tall and measured with words, and Joe, shorter and given to bombast, not to mention bursts of profanity. Bill liked to joke about the time Joe was on This Week and Sam Donaldson asked how much he made from the Pennzoil case. On national TV, Joe shot back, "That's none of your business. That's between me and the IRS." (Later it was reported that his fee was $450 million.) But on the myriad issues involving access to justice, there was an iron bond between them. Equal justice for all was their professional passion, and Bill had even persuaded the Washington State Supreme Court to establish an Access to Justice Board. "Nobody makes it alone," he said repeatedly, noting that poverty or privilege are dealt to human beings from birth and that a just society tries to level the playing field.
With the People's Court Society in full swing, Joe and Bill set out to broaden its base of operations by bringing in the bar associations and judges' organizations. At the same time, they realized that "access to justice" had to be defined more concretely. The phrase begged for detail, for human interest, for a portrait of the kind of society that real access to justice would bring. But as Joe pointed out, quoting one of his heroes, philosopher of jurisprudence Edmund Cahn, "You cannot understand justice unless you understand injustice." To that end, they would commission a report that would be called "The State of Justice in America: Supply and Demand" and would break the access issue down state by state as well as at the federal level, providing a taxonomy of different injustices, estimating the tangible and intangible costs to society, and reviewing the inadequacies of the law and the justice system, as presently constituted, to cope with demands for justice -- in short, demonstrating conclusively the serious gap between the demand for justice and the supply.
From their own contacts and from Analysis in Omaha, they collected a list of names and systematically worked through it to put together a group that could prepare such a report on an eight-week deadline. Over three days, the response from law school deans, professors, and students, from leaders of the bar and mavericks alike, from neighborhood activists and moonlighting reporters, was more than sufficient to signal the Secretariat that it was a go. Bill thought that some state attorneys general could be convinced to announce annual State of Justice Reports that would begin to frame statewide standards and workable measurements of justice and injustice. That would give the project important backing. Calls from Bill, Joe, and key friends to the attorneys general of the fifty states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico brought forth six definites and twelve maybes; the rest were noncommittal or opposed. One of the latter said that such a report was "impossible to conceive, politically suicidal to put out, and hopelessly expensive to implement."
"All the more reason to do it, right, Bill?" Joe said.
For all they had accomplished, both men were still casting about for a big idea, something that would build on the momentum of the "for some" Pledge, which was still a subject of hot debate in the media and the schools. They couldn't very well expect Newman and Cosby to have a telethon every month, so they pondered in silence for the better part of an hour. They were getting a little frustrated, and Bill knew it was almost 5:30 p.m., when Joe started on his daily scotch, de rigueur for years. They needed something that would sow widespread outrage at injustice, but what? Interesting that an ethnic or racial slur from some cabinet secretary or sports coach was national news, provoking demands for resignation, but real injustice seldom aroused such intensity, even when exemplified. Max's cultural conundrum.
Suddenly a light went on in Bill's mind. Why not hold two national essay contests on the questions "Which state is the most unjust in the nation?" and "Which state is the least unjust in the nation?" Essays would be limited to ten thousand words and would be judged by an impartial panel of retired judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and civic leaders. Winners, runners-up, and second runners-up would receive respectively prizes of $100,000, $50,000, and $25,000, plus a complete bound set of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court.
Joe responded with enthusiasm but added that they would need an infrastructure for the nationally announced contests, to generate controversy in the media and among politicians and jurists. Some of Ross's credibility groups might be useful here. They also decided to ask Barry to start an Injustice of the Day segment on the television and radio networks he was developing. And maybe Leonard could organize justice marathons, with the proceeds going to a legal aid fund for the indigent. These marathons could be occasions for media-smart street displays showcasing the runners and local celebrities.
When Ross was told about the essay contests, he was thrilled. His Credibility Project had been stalled. It was hard to get veterans' groups, scout troops, women's clubs, and service clubs like the Elks and Rotary excited when they couldn't be told much about what was going to happen. After poring over profiles of dozens of national groups with local chapters, Ross decided that his project would start by contacting them with offers of help, charitable contributions, and free professional advice, and expressing a genuine interest in their programs and objectives. Ross would cultivate his relationships with the American Legion, the VFW, and several smaller organizations of wartime vets. Paul and Bill Cosby each had their own niches with the many charities to which they had donated generously, like the Hole in the Wall camps, the United Negro College Fund, and the NAACP, and Paul had a huge following among auto racing fans as the oldest successful racer in NASCAR history. Bill Gates could furnish a list of health and medical charities that the Gates Foundation had been working with for several years in the increasingly prominent drive against global infectious diseases. And Ted was highly thought of in environmental and peace circles, not to mention among the ranks of carnivorous Americans who liked bison meat. Now, with the essay contests, Ross and company could approach these various groups with something solid, inviting their memberships to enter and compete for the not inconsiderable prize money.
At the First-Stage Improvements Project, which was responsible for hands-on solutions to the injustices that were being catalogued, quantified, and publicized by the other projects, Max and his cohorts chose the mantra "Make America Number One as a Humanitarian Super-power." They began with a discussion of fundamental principles.
"Whether our leaders choose to acknowledge it or not," Max said, "our democracy rests on a compact among the American people. I call it the Basic Livelihood Compact. Few would dispute that everyone should have adequate food, shelter, healthcare, and education. The paralysis in our country arises over how to achieve these goals. Some argue for the marketplace, some for the government, some for a combination of delivery systems, and feelings run high on all sides. We can't avoid this gridlock, but we must overcome it. Our goal is the double circle of material happiness -- self- starting, self-reliance, and self-preservation in the inner circle, and community self-starting, community self-reliance, and community self-preservation in the outer circle. My study of history convinces me of the value of strengthening local community, particularly in its economic and environmental dimensions. Some sage once said, 'Without community there is crisis.' Just look at our inner-city neighborhoods and our rural poor."
"Very well put," said Jeno. "But if we're proposing a livable wage, full Medicare for everyone with cost control and quality control, basic nutrition for the poor, low-income housing programs, good public transit, strong environmental protection, acceleration of renewable energy output, public control of commonwealth assets -- you know the list -- well, it all sounds pretty federal to me. It doesn't sound like building a grassroots movement for Redirection."
"True," Sol said, "but there's no real contradiction. To advocate action on the federal level is simply to recognize where the power and money to reduce widespread inequality presently lie. As the Redirections gain momentum, power will be devolved to the self-reliance circles. But in our federal system the protector of last resort -- I'm speaking of national security, natural disasters, pandemics, R and D, and so forth -- will be the federal government. As far as Redirections go, our core group will put the movement on the tracks, but only the organized populace can get to the destination."
Max was nodding impatiently. "So let's get started in a high-profile way that will bring all these issues down to earth. I propose that on five successive days, commencing next week, two billionaires a day demand that Wal-Mart change its business model, allow unionization, and pay its workers no less than $11 an hour, with full health insurance. If Costco can treat its workers fairly and remain a successful discount giant, Wal-Mart can too. With Ted's billionaires, Bill's pro-state-tax group, and our own contacts, we have a treasure trove of names to call on. They should come from retailing, banking, real estate, manufacturing, and communications for maximum impact. Some of them will be speaking as large shareholders in Wal-Mart."
"That's a hell of an idea," Jeno said. "Let's connect with Promotions on it ASAP."
"Right," Max said. "And we'll have our project manager prepare a Wal-Mart strategy memorandum fur the billionaires to digest so that they can speak for themselves and not through spokespersons. The memorandum should outline a uniform demand, followed by a list of points that can be varied to build the story for the country and the media. Promotions can work with the billionaires so that they all reinforce the central demand, but with distinctive touches that reflect their business experience and different facts about Wal-Mart and its competitors. Two unions and a number of community groups have some very up-to-date websites that will be useful to the manager."
Before they adjourned for the day, Jeno suggested that Sol should be the first to make the demand because he knew plenty about the Costco model, having helped create it, and would be preaching what he once practiced in the same line of commerce. Sol agreed to lead the charge. As head of the Sustainable Sub-economy Project, he didn't exactly have time on his hands, but there it was largely a matter of putting together the pieces. So much work had been done by so many around the world, from concept to operating models, that it was primarily a gathering exercise. Meanwhile, Jeno, who was the sub-economy liaison with the People's Chamber of Commerce, reported that within a week the PCC would be operating out of its sustainable building headquarters in Washington, DC, just vacated by a leading environmental organization. The staff was planning a blowout of an announcement and opening day festivities.
After two days of reviewing the material assembled by the project manager, Sol and Jeno decided to lead with the sustainable practices whose benefits would radiate most widely: first, solar energy, which came close to being the universal solvent of many environmental devastations and perils; second, the expansion of a carbohydrate economy to replace the present hydrocarbon economy; third, preservation of species and their ecologies; and fourth, the displacement by sustainable technologies of toxic and destructive technologies like the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, atomic power, and synthetic petrochemicals. It was understood that all four were interrelated and mutually supportive objectives.
Sol gave a world-weary sigh. "Which is all well and good, Jeno, but blah blah blah. How do we get people where they live? There've been so many studies, scientific warnings, exposes, and documentaries, but somehow, even with frightening visuals, the public isn't moved to action. We need something new, something outrageous."
"If it's outrageous we want, I think we know where to find it," Jeno said, reaching for the phone to call Ted.
The next day, during a conference call with Ted and the rest of the Promotions team, Sol and Jeno laid out their priorities. "We know what we want to do," Sol said, "but how do we get people behind us? How do we jolt them?"
"Jolts," Ted said, his eyes lighting up. "Let's see --"
"Hemp," said Yoko.
"Hemp?" said Jeno.
"Hemp. Brilliant," said Sol, who turned out to be a fount of information on the subject. "Hemp is five thousand years old, a tough, long-fibered, and most versatile carbohydrate. Industrial hemp is legally imported, but our US farmers can't grow it because it's on the DEA banned list as being too similar to marijuana. But it's not psychotropic because it is only a third of a percent THC -- the substance that induces a high in marijuana smokers. In other countries industrial hemp has been used for clothing, fuel, food, chlorine-free paper, lubricants, and thousands of other products. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it. Henry Ford built a car from industrial hemp, and auto companies now use it to make parts for interior passenger compartments. During World War II, growing hemp to make strong rope was encouraged as part of the war effort, but if you grow it in the US today, you're arrested and your crop is confiscated. A coalition of hemp supporters, including the International Paper Company, farmers' organizations, state agriculture commissions, state legislators, and environmental and consumer groups, has petitioned twice to get it off the DEA list, once under Clinton and again more recently. Both times the petition was denied in bipartisan decisions. There's been no movement on the issue, except that one member of the House, Don Saul of Texas, has finally introduced a bill to legalize the domestic growing of industrial hemp, with four co-sponsors. Unfortunately, House leaders have yet to schedule hearings.
"Thank you, Professor Price," said Bill Cosby.
"Not at all," said Sol.
"Hey, didn't Woody Harrelson get arrested years back for publicly planting a few hemp seeds in Kentucky?" asked Phil.
"Yes, and a jury acquitted him," Sol said. "He lives in Maui now."
"There's your jolt," said Barry. "I'll call Woody and ask if he'd be willing to come to DC and stand in front of the White House with fifty farmers and activists, each holding a flowerpot, and all simultaneously planting industrial hemp seeds in their pots. The visuals will fly across the nation when the police descend to wrench away the pots and haul the fifty offenders off in their paddy wagons. We'll call it the Pot Revolution, an ironic twist on the word 'pot' that's sure to generate more controversy. We'll need advice of counsel to avoid a conspiracy charge, and of course Joe's team will give the demonstrators free legal representation. I know that Peter and some others in our core group support the legalization of marijuana, but with apologies to them, we'll have to be careful to distinguish clearly between marijuana and industrial hemp and to downplay any involvement of marijuana users and their advocates. They'll only distract from what will become a mass-media educational campaign that shows how the carbohydrate economy can strengthen national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil and promoting many additional environmental benefits. Two generations of absurdity are enough."
"The Pot Revolution -- that's wonderful," said Bill Gates. "Let's try to come up with something just as good for solar energy. It drives me crazy the way solar has so often been relegated to articles in the real estate section about some house or small building partially solarized, and then it's back to ho-hum. Amazing, isn't it, that planet Earth's greatest free lunch from its birth to this day is a subject seen as unexciting. Imagine how exciting it would be if the sun stopped shining."
Bill went on to relate a story about a visit years ago to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington State. He was talking to some nuclear engineers about the complex systems they were creating to store and treat radioactive wastes and keep them from leaking into the groundwater that feeds the mighty Columbia River. Shaking his head at the convoluted engineering details, he asked them why they didn't just retrain themselves as solar engineers because solar was the future and they must know it. To which one older engineer replied, "The atom is endlessly fascinating, a limitless intellectual challenge. Why, solar energy is just sophisticated plumbing. Not very interesting." "Only crucial to the planet's future," Bill found himself retorting as he strolled out the door. Ted had been listening to all this with a furrowed brow. "Got it," he said suddenly. "Girls. Girls, girls, girls!"
Yoko rolled her eyes.
"We'll find hundreds of beautiful women and dress them up as solar commandos or whatever, and we'll use them in a series of Aztec-type festivals dedicated to the Sun God. Without the human sacrifice, of course."
"Not so fast," Sol said. "I can think of a few good candidates."
Ted was too revved up to laugh. "These festivals will be so graphic that the media won't be able to resist them. They'll be marvels of sound and light. We'll commission Mesoamerican historians and anthropologists to make them as authentic as possible within the confines of demonstrating modern solar technology in dramatic ways that rebut all the myths and lies about solar energy conversion. You know how nuclear physicists keep saying that solar isn't practical because it's too diffuse? We'll put a giant magnifying glass over a giant vat of eggplants and tomatoes, and then we'll give out bowls of delicious stew. Solar engineering is all about concentrating and transmitting solar energy -- elementary, my dear Watson, but still not enough for these nuke naysayers."
"I'd add some onions," Yoko remarked dryly.
Ted ignored her. "Naturally, the festivals themselves will be solar-powered to the fullest extent possible. We'll make a big deal out of the Sun God -- his mythology, his rituals, his powers. The religious right will jump all over this as sacrilegious, but their sermons will only help us reach wider audiences. The more thoughtful clergy will remind parishioners that the world may have been made in seven days but millions of years later the sun that sustains it still isn't its energy source of choice. The Sun God festivals will launch a national mission to go to the sun the way we went to the moon."
"Not a bad jolt," observed Sol. "How long will it take to get the festivals off the ground and organize the pot people?"
"Not long if we put a couple of teams on it twenty-four/seven," Barry said.
"All right, let's have our project managers do that," Sol said.
Yoko had been unusually quiet during the conference call because she was preoccupied with thoughts about the Posterity Project, which still hadn't met because the members had been so busy with the other Redirections. They were having their first session tomorrow, in Omaha, and when the call was finished, she headed straight for the airport.
When she arrived at Warren's home by taxi, he welcomed her warmly and ushered her into the dining room, where the rest of the group was just sitting down to a late lunch. As they ate, Yoko told her colleagues about the discussion with Sol et al. and the plans for the Pot-In and the Sun God festivals. "And you know," she said, "jolts are fine, I'm all for them, but what I've been thinking about is guilt and shame. Our generation is using posterity as a dumping ground for its failures, leaving them a ravaged Earth, a debt-ridden government and economy, and a war-racked world. We are woefully irresponsible toward our posterity. Even the word 'posterity' isn't used anymore as it was in speech after speech, declaration after declaration, by our eighteenth-century forebears. To me, the neglect of certain words is a telling sign of where we are as a people. We love to talk about the future, but that word doesn't convey the same personal obligation to those yet to be," she said solemnly, and went on to describe a poster she was working on, a stark representation of knives being hurled at a group of children, with "Pollution," "War," etc., in black letters on each knife in midair, to symbolize all the ills this generation was leaving behind. "The subtlety of modern art is of little use here," she added.
Warren, who had intended to leave his entire fortune to a foundation before his Maui conversion, had a somewhat different take on the Posterity Project. "First," he declared, "trust is the antidote to feelings of guilt and shame. We must articulate a relationship of trust between the generations, rooted in the kind of individual trust that exists between parent and child. Parents feel guilty or shamed when they don't give their all to their children because they know they've violated that relationship of trust. Our task is to elevate the parental trust commitment to the level of a generational commitment. I suggest the formation of a National Trust for Posterity to advance this trust commitment as a yardstick for today's policies, programs, and practices, much as environmental impact statements or historic preservation covenants do in their particular spheres. With this one overriding concept of intergenerational trust, the NTP will consolidate the many, many insufficient efforts in civil society to protect and nurture posterity and enable future generations to 'fulfill their human possibilities,' in John Gardner's apt words. It's really just a matter of putting your Seventh-Generation Eye into practice, Yoko, and it has to be as dynamic in action as the Eye is as a symbol. It has to have both steak and sizzle. It has to be sound and tough, with a directional dynamic worthy of Maui."
Ross, who had been busily taking notes, spoke up. "Easier said than done."
"Yes, so let's get going!' said Bernard, half rising from his chair in excitement. 'Let's put some substance on this scaffolding. Give it outstretched arms, give it Yoko's brilliant logo, give it schools that teach students to tell truth to power, give it Youth Clubs for Civic Experience after school, give it neonatal care, caring daycare, nutrition care, give it ways to tap into youth ingenuity, youth questioning of our generation's stagnation, give it a Youth Political Party, give it network television programs by and for college students, high school students, and elementary school students, sit them in circles around hip adults who'll pepper them with questions and guide them out of the cultural cocoons that have devalued their imaginations and expectations for themselves. So many kids are growing up in stultifying, violent, pornographic environments -- we have to change that. We have to give them new, enticing experiences and horizons."
Ross summoned the project manager, and together the group hammered out a detailed plan for the NTP. They'd been working for several hours when Warren stood and stretched. "Time for a break. Let's see what's going on in the world," he said, turning on the evening news.
The lead story was the amazing journey of Warren Beatty up the coast of California in a natural-gas-powered bus with a big sign on both sides, "The People's Revolt of the Rich," surrounded by contrasting pictures of how the rich and the poor live in the Golden State. On top of the bus was a giant picture of Governor Schwarzenegger with the words "Hasta La Vista, He Won't Be Back!" During the interview segment, the reporter asked Beatty just what he was doing. "Getting very rich people to reject their tax cut and pay what they were paying ten years ago so that California can get out of debt and have the funds to meet its vital public responsibilities," he replied. "And how is that going?" she asked. "Well," he said, "I'm getting a little mansionitis, but these billionaires are opening their doors. About half of them are coming on board for the trip to Sacramento. This has to be the richest bunch of bus passengers in human history." The reporter laughed. "Do you think you'll succeed?" she asked. "Of course. With the people and the super-rich on the same side, how can we fail?" Beatty said, flashing his famous wink-smile as he stepped through the high gates of another mega-mansion.
"Well, it does take your breath away," said Bernard.
"Get ready to lose more breath," Yoko said quietly.