ONLY THE SUPER-RICH CAN SAVE US!
High atop the mountain in Maui, overlooking the serene sun-soaked waters of the Pacific Ocean, the core group gathered once again. They arrived brimming with energies they had never felt before in all their active, productive, profitable lives. Some who got there early relaxed with hors d'oeuvres and wine and waited for their colleagues to join them. When all were assembled in the atrium conference room, surrounded by tall windows giving breathtaking views, Warren convened the meeting.
"Colleagues in justice," he began, "as our first order of business, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce our newest and youngest colleague, the farseeing Bill Joy, formerly of signal repute with Sun Microsystems. He is an independent thinker about the practical and ethical import of present and future technology. You will recall our discussion about the critical need to have someone with his expertise in matters of science and technology, and his knowledge of how corporations are proceeding to put these portentous innovations into play. We welcome you, Bill" -- applause broke out around the table -- "and we reaffirm the confidentiality of our common venture, about which you have been briefed by each of our core members. We invite you to say whatever is on your mind."
"Thank you all for your extraordinary undertaking. On the one hand, it is an unprecedented feat; on the other, its genius is such that I found myself wondering why something like it hadn't happened a long time ago. It should have been so obvious, inasmuch as it takes only a tiny fraction of a percent of very wealthy and open-handed protagonists to get major change underway. Yet there's a culture lock here. The sense of adventure sits all too lightly on the shoulders of those endowed with society's wealth and power.
"I've studied what you've accomplished since your launch, and I applaud your revolutionary thrusts. Like you, I believe that a revolution is only a revolution when it works, not when it's announced or fired up. At present, as you follow through on your initiatives, I see my role as advising you on the technology you're using or could use, along with the technology that may soon be used against you. At Warren's request, my first step will be to set up a secure website for you, to serve as a kind of cyber bulletin board for posting timely information, and to stream video from the various rallies and so forth. Meanwhile, I've got a lot of listening, asking, digesting, and thinking to do before we see if my participation should be broader. After all, you've got a few years on me. Meanwhile, it's good to be here, and good to be one of you."
More applause followed.
"Thank you, Bill. Next, I've asked the very able director of our Secretariat to report on the progress of our various projects and the backup capabilities we've put in place to make them run smartly and smoothly."
At that moment, as if summoned telepathically, the bow-tied Patrick Drummond came in, was introduced to Bill Joy, and proceeded with a comprehensive update on the core group's work thus far. His presentation was videotaped so that parts could be played back if necessary during subsequent meetings.
"When do we eat, Warren?" Paul asked when Patrick had concluded.
"Right now. In the dining room is a light dinner buffet that should be just right given your long travel here and the lateness of the hour. Afterward, we'll have a one-hour silence period around this table, in keeping with our valued custom, and then off to slumber. Tomorrow is what we've all been waiting for -- an intensive first take on the nature of the counterattack, its probable sequence and timing. We're all bursting with thoughts and intuitions that must be analyzed and synthesized so that we can anticipate and stop the looming reaction to two amazing months of Redirectional breakouts. We have to be ready, we have to have the institutions on the ground and the pillar assets in place so they can't be undermined, smeared, or coopted."
"Exactly," said Sol, "but tomorrow is another day. Let's eat already."
Which they proceeded to do, with gusto, all the while talking, shrugging, nodding, affirming, challenging, doubting, querying, and galvanizing one another at such a pace that the reflective hour of silence was a godsend.
When everyone else had retired, Bill Joy took a moonlit walk around the lush grounds. He knew that Warren had reserved the entire hotel and that no other guests were on the premises. The management and staff presumably had no idea what was going on, and the waiters and maids loved the generous gratuities. But he also knew that the hotel was defenseless against a deliberate attempt at surveillance. And why not? A small, expensive hotel catering to wealthy honeymooners and retirees should have such worries? After a thorough inspection, his misgivings were somewhat allayed, since he found nothing in the way of gadgets or bugs. Still, he wondered how long this critical privacy could last. During dinner he'd heard Paul Newman and Bill Cosby talking about the wardrobe precautions they'd taken to avoid being sighted at the airport, as a gossip column had reported after Maui Two. Bill Joy resolved to prepare for the worst during future Mauis.
Bright, early, and effusive at breakfast, the core group reconvened in the conference room in good spirits and with heightened perceptions. Sol was reminded of the old saying back in New York City during the labor protests of the thirties: "You can't be tired out if you're fired up."
As always, Warren opened the meeting. "I thought the best procedure this morning would be to go around the table as we did at Maui One and hear what each of us has to say on the question 'Where and when will the counterattack come, and in what form?' Then we'll discuss what maneuvers of ours will be most effective. Who'd like to start us off?"
"Well, I'll go first," Barry said, "because I'm not retired and may have a more current sense of the latest modes and methods likely to be used against us. There will of course be stages in our opponents' response: first, ignorance of what we're doing, other than what they've seen of us through our ads and statements in the mass media and our other public actions; next, initial dismissal and denial; then the third stage, rebuttal and denunciation; and finally the stage of realization, fear, rage, and a search-and-destroy counteroffensive. Remember, they start from the position of having a power lock on all potential challenge points in the political, economic, legal, and media arenas. They're complacent in their sense of control, but the control is real -- just look at what they're doing to organized labor, the publicly owned commonwealth, and the government itself.
"Their complacency will work to our advantage because it gives us more time. Still, they do have an early alert system, in the form of their funded think tanks, whose mission and budgets are based on spreading alarm through exaggeration and sometimes outright fabrication. They are very good at this. Look at their drumbeating before the invasion of Iraq, or their devilish inflation of the regulatory agencies as ogres, when in fact those agencies, if they're not asleep, perform as consulting firms to the very industries they're supposed to regulate. To head off these 'pimp tanks,' as one friend of mine describes them, means feinting and decoying them, because they're always looking for fancied threats to the 'free enterprise system' and to their corporate donors. I'm getting ahead of myself, but I do urge you all to think about feints and decoys as part of our response.
"Now, whom are we talking about in any counterattack? Obviously --"
"Maybe Wal-Mart?" Sol interjected. "Just a wild guess."
Barry smiled. "Right, Wal-Mart, and the other companies and specific industries we've targeted, along with their law firms and public relations firms, their captive politicians, their own credibility organizations, such as some evangelical churches, veterans' groups and service clubs, their incorporated commercial media, their in-house media, and many of their branch dealers and agents and franchisees in every community. Also fortifying them are the ingrained historic and contemporary myths about free-market fundamentalism that George has written about, and that are difficult to counter precisely because they aren't based in reality. The commercialization of patriotism and charity during disasters further depletes the critical faculties of the human mind. In our monitoring capacity, we would do well to lay all these forces out on clear spreadsheets so we can visualize them."
"There's one sure mode of attack that we don't have to visualize figuratively," said Bill Cosby. "They'll go after each of us. They'll try to compromise our integrity and deflect attention to us rather than what we're doing. The media is attracted to the personalization of conflicts like chickens to grain. The Mexicans have the word for it -- personalismo. The corporations will employ private detective firms to dig up dirt. They'll try to show that the things we're accusing the business powers of doing are things we did years ago ourselves. They'll unearth people from the past who will try to slander and libel us. They'll have a hard time succeeding with most of us, but you never really know, do you?"
"No, you don't," George said thoughtfully. "I've lived through this kind of assault for years now. My business enemies have gone to the far reaches of the Earth to look for any technical regulations they can accuse me of violating, any palms they can grease to enmesh me in a frame-up. All of us have been so active for so many years, the bases we've touched and the balls we've hit are so numerous, that any probe will uncover plenty of opportunities to twist, distort, and allege. Our very business successes have meant that there were lots of losers, and some of them carry grudges or out-of-context memories of what we may have said. Unscrupulous investigators can easily generate fake composite photographs and remarks and digitalize them all over the world before we find out what they've done. Bill Joy, take this under advisement and help us ponder the response."
The newest member of the core group nodded. ''I'll do that."
Next around the table was Sol. "One of the standard corporatist lines of attack over the years is what can be called the 'ism' attack -- trotting out foreign, subversive ideologies that they have predisposed the public to recoil against. They did this for years with socialists, anarchists, and communists, and the latest buzzword is 'terrorists.' There are no rebels, resisters, freedom fighters, or agrarian reformers anymore -- they're all terrorists now. Well, our enemies certainly can't use those labels against us, but trust the hidebound Wall Street Journal editorialists to come up with some new ism, and then the commercial media will run with it. I haven't the slightest idea what it will be, but they'll desperately need a label, a stereotype, and we have to be ready to nip it in the bud, using satire and ridicule and whatever else it takes."
"When I consider this whole question of the counterattack," Jeno said, "I ask myself, How are they thinking? They'll say they need better intelligence, human intelligence. To me that means they'll make a major effort to infiltrate everything we build, right down to our inner groups, whether through disguised informants or spies, or by bribing waiters, bellboys, even taxi drivers. And you better believe they'll be using the latest widgets that Bill Joy can enlighten us about. Infiltration done cleverly can sow discord, acrimony, distrust, and disintegration. In our response, we have to avoid the extremes -- paranoia at one end, repression at the other."
Joe spoke up. "Well, you shouldn't be surprised to hear me raise the possibility of frivolous or trumped-up litigation designed to break our concentration, flood us with discovery motions, subpoena our files, and in general tie us up. Having said that, I don't know what their causes of action could be, short of contrived defamation suits or claims that we're messing with their economic relationships. But they'll figure something out, with their white-shoe law firms and endless deductible budgets. And if they don't, they'll file anyhow, trying to survive motions to dismiss in order to bog us down in depositions. As allowed by statutes of limitation, they'll even dig up accusations from past business or employee relationships and file groundless lawsuits to consume our time. Our response to these forays will have to be shots across the bow to convince them that such litigation is a two-edged sword. Still, they may think they can wear us down because of our age and our presumed desire for leisure and time with the grandkids -- they'll profile us for certain, Cosby's right on the money about that."
"Yes," Peter agreed, "and it's not just a matter of our reputations. We all have assets, lines of credit, property-- they'll go after them. They may use subtle, hidden boycotts against businesses or executives allied with or sympathetic to us. I can see it now. They'll go after the customers and shareholders of my prospering insurance company, stop doing business with us, stereotype us and move to dry us up -- a corporate campaign in reverse by the corporatists. They'll depress my stock, our stocks, if they can manage to quarantine them so as to avoid a boomerang bite on their own assets."
"As one who has endured character assassination more than once," Ross put in, "let me tell you that they are going to play dirty -- not all of them, but there is always a rogue element doing these things to give cover to the rest who quietly support and sometimes fund the dirty-tricks crowd. They start conventionally enough, sometimes by charging that we are directly profiting from our efforts or have secret profitable designs. Then they may hint darkly at a covert world conspiracy by sticking us with a name like 'the Bilderbergs,' something that will get the all-night-radio UFO types agitated. They may even try to intimidate our children or grandchildren or other family members. Whatever they do, we have to remain cool but calculating. Paranoia can expose us to ridicule from the pundits and cartoonists. Believe me, I know."
"To shift the focus for a minute," said Bill Gates, "I know the defense fellows at Boeing, and one obvious way to put us on the defensive is to charge that we're sponsoring policies and changes that will undermine our national security. Our opponents will try to paint a picture in which the enemies of the American people abroad are in some way aided and abetted by our activities. They'll borrow Lenin's term 'useful idiots' to describe how we're helping the enemy's psychological war against America, even if unintentionally. Sounds farfetched, but we're laying everything on the table before we discuss our counter-strategy."
"It doesn't sound so farfetched to me," Bernard said. "Remember the red scare and Attorney General Palmer's witch- hunts right after World War I, or the McCarthyite smear of some of the best Foreign Service officers ever as 'comsymps' or 'fellow travelers' who 'lost China'? Let's not think it can't happen again. Forewarned is forearmed."
"And that's not the only way of smearing us, B," Yoko said. "I suspect some of our smarter opponents will try to turn some portions of 'the people' against us. They'll look over our agenda and ask who the losers will be among ordinary folks, and then they'll target those folks vigorously to make us out as enemies of the people. I've seen this kind of thing in the music and entertainment world -- turning the fans into haters. The Wal-Mart unionizing project presents just such an opportunity to portray us as opposing cheap prices for poor shoppers. It's a tactic that predicts phony consequences of our actions and then hurls them against us. The upper classes have used this tactic throughout history, as in the hiring of mercenaries from the lower classes to oppress the very people they came from. Today they can hire people to go to rallies or marches and disrupt them. We know they have big-time money, and given what's at stake, they'll spend it freely. There are plenty of desperate 'scabs' out there," Yoko finished, turning to Max, who was sitting on her right.
"My first thought was that maybe the big boys will try to lure us into compromising situations while hidden cameras record the lascivious scenes. Then I remembered our ages. Who would believe them? We are beyond the reach of Viagra's wildest Loreleis. Dirty old men we can no longer be."
"Speak for yourself, Max," Ted shot back.
Max ignored him and continued. "I think we're going to get a lot of wildcatting. We're pinching lots of toes, and they're everywhere, right down to Main Street. It's hard even to list the categories of where opposition will erupt. But while I'm at it, let me toss another possibility into the cauldron. I think the multinationals will try to enlist the public and the politicians against us by using the 'adverse business climate' ruse and threatening to pull out of the country, or giving that as an excuse for the factories and businesses they're already sending to China and elsewhere. 'Bad business climate' scorecards terrify politicians. Given the abandonment of our country that goes on every day, it's entirely plausible that the corporations will use the business climate and us as a scapegoat. It will take the heat off the president, Congress, and the states for doing nothing to stop the flight from America, because it's all the fault of 'those guys.'"
Leonard was drumming his fingers on the table. "On the other hand, they could just do nothing. Going from analysis to paralysis to psychoanalysis, they could find it profitable to live with us and what we're doing. Never underestimate their adaptability as long as they can still ring their registers and send out their bills. Sure, some will groan like gored oxen, and some will fail, but as long as others see the advantages and profit opportunities in a 'no more business as usual' climate, they'll step over the whiners in a New York minute. However, if I may propose the greatest of all understatements today, it'll be very hard to predict.'"
Still smarting from Max's remark, Ted went macho. "I've heard it all except one option. What about direct physical action, like taking some of us hostage to stop the rest of us or to smoke us out? Be like bounty hunting. Ransom. The press would love it. TV would be ecstatic -- CNN's ratings would skyrocket. But hey, think of what they could do by pulling ads from CNN, which will always be associated with yours truly." He paused, frowning. "Well, anyway, there's my two cents. That leaves you, Warren, our sagacious owl. What do you foresee?"
"Well, you've all covered a lot of ground, so the pickings are pretty slim from my perch. If there's anything we neglected on this first go-round, maybe it's refining Barry's stages of reaction by breaking down categories of reactors who will respond differently from one another in time, intensity, and strategy. I think we should be more attuned to corporate surrogates. Giant businesses do not like to strike directly. That's why even in normal circumstances they have spokespeople, attorneys, academies, spun-off subsidiaries, media intermediaries, and publicly elected allies in Congress who carry water for them, as in some of the savings and loan collapses. Given the perturbations hammering them, they'll be looking to create new surrogates with minimal vulnerabilities and very little to lose, much as we ourselves have used shell corporations in some of our past deals. I also think Yoko's point about our opponents turning some of 'the people' against us is right on. Who knows? The more we succeed in taking away their power, the more desperate they may become, unless the phenomenon Leonard alluded to -- stepping over each other to get to the profits -- kicks in to give us the gift of divide and conquer. Sometimes we can think too hard here, though I know being prepared for all potential counterattacks is crucial to our success and our personal equanimity. But there are times when I feel, a little recklessly, like saying, 'I don't give a hoot! Let the rats scamper as they may!'
"In any case," Warren continued over the cheers of his colleagues, "it's time for lunch -- all native Hawaiian cuisine, so be a little adventuresome."
"I'll have the brisket," Sol said.
In the lunchroom, which was designed to facilitate informality, the core group members strolled to the buffet, sat chatting at small circular tables in twos and threes, relaxed in reclining chairs for a bit of solitude, sought each other out for clarification of a point or to discuss a Redirections problem, or simply, perish the thought, engaged in a little small talk. Bill Joy was taking it all in, moving from one cluster to another, getting a sense of the mood, the determination, the level of human energy or anxiety. As had been explained to him when he signed on, there was no Redirection project dealing with the onrush of science and technology because none of the core group knew enough even to delegate reliably and maintain some semblance of control over such a bucking bronco. But these were no fainthearted oldsters, as he'd seen for himself all morning. With him on board, maybe they'd be ready to hear a presentation during Maui Four without being too shaken up by the doomsday scenario that had to be confronted if it was to be avoided.
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a massive dessert that seemed to contain every fruit that ever grew on the islands and every flavor and shade of sherbet ever concocted. Strong Kona coffee was served as a tasty brake on devouring the delicious dessert too fast.
Back in the conference room, Warren directed his colleagues' attention to the agenda, on which he'd listed Quality Managers and Organizers as the next topic for discussion. He wanted to give them time to digest the morning's speculations on the coming counterattack before they discussed their response, and besides, the nuts and bolts were paramount. As champion managers themselves, they all knew that the proper choice and oversight of management and organizers was their number one challenge. No matter how well conceived and specific their action plans, they would go no further than management's execution.
Warren circulated a report from Seymour Depth, head of Recruitment, showing that progress was better than expected at this point on the calendar. There truly was plenty of talent out there eager to get on board. Recruitment had been going almost around the clock, receiving resumes, sifting, checking, and interviewing applicants, and recently candidates for the Clean Elections Party. There were now nearly nine hundred lecturers, and some of them were proving to be natural leaders in other capacities. Most of those hired, experienced as they were in such areas as rallies, lobbying, and institution building, had to be further trained for duties and expectations new to them. Moreover, none of the managers, organizers, lobbyists, or candidates could be given the "big picture," for fear of prematurely disclosing the entire network, but they were dealt a big enough piece of their own projects to keep them satisfied.
The progress report summarized numbers already recruited and numbers left to recruit, and appended a preliminary evaluation of the key dozen top managers so far. Jeno raved about the executive director of the People's Chamber of Commerce, a thirty-two-year-old phenom named Luke Skyhi, who had a recall capacity of business history that left Jeno breathless. Luke confessed to having read scores of books on the subject in his early teens. He went on to finish business school and law school in four years, and then he systematically took seven year-long positions in different lines of industry and commerce. When Jeno interviewed him, it was love at first sight, and so far, in his few days on the job, he was building a crackerjack staff and firing off press releases that made the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses apoplectic.
George sounded a cautionary note when he came to the line in the report noting that all managers currently on the job were amazed that they did not have to raise money, beg for money, apply for money, or write proposals for money -- a completely unique experience for them. "The same applies in my line of work, and it can cause problems. Money that's easy to come by may not be spent frugally or wisely or even ethically. It does liberate the managers to focus exclusively on their missions, but it removes a discipline that is not to be dismissed as useless. The rub is to find a substitute discipline, short of close auditing from the outside, though that's something we probably ought to institute too. But the real substitute discipline has to come from the quality of the budget the managers are operating under and from their own character. After all, large sums are involved here, and speed is of the essence -- a potentially wasteful combination."
"Point taken, George," Warren said. "And now that we've refreshed ourselves on this central topic, let's turn to the status of our epicenters. Are they growing, consolidating, meshing, moving, replicating?"
What a response! The red thread running through the reports of every one of the core group members was their amazement at how many people they felt they could call upon without hesitation -- the old Rolodex may have been languishing for a while, but once dusted off, it came alive -- coupled with their astonishment at the positive reaction. They were uniformly invigorated. Some remarked on how many outstanding IOUs they had and how often these were graciously acknowledged. They had all had sour or sad conversations with people who were bitter, or who were merely sticks-in-the-mud, or who harbored secret sorrows, or who were deeply depressed because of illness or the loss of a spouse, or who had simply given up on the troubled world they were about to leave, but even this negative feedback energized them, such were their personalities, thank you, Warren.
Always looking ahead to the next step, Warren acknowledged the generally good epicenter reports and asked how everyone was managing what appeared to be an overflow of potential joiners. His colleagues replied that mostly they were not. There was no time. These were people who would be insulted if they were contacted by an underling, yet personal treatment in every case wasn't possible.
Bill Cosby proposed a way out, based on comparable situations where prominent entertainers were trying to raise major money for charitable causes. "You select five or six of your best epicentrists with some prominence in their own fields, and you deputize them to call on your behalf, excusing you for being a mere mortal confined by a twenty-four-hour day. A little humor will melt any initial ice. You bond even more with your dazzling half-dozen comrades, and the job gets done more quickly." The idea was well received.
"Is there such a thing as a too big, too busy epicenter?" Paul asked. "Right now, mine is neither, and it's flowing nicely into the desired channels, but I've imposed certain hurdles on my epicenter entrants, and I wonder if I should be doing that."
"That depends entirely on your temperament and theirs," Max said, "and on the assignments you set them, from easy entry to more ambitious kinds of work. Remember, there are never enough worker bees, and without those noble souls the achievements on the ground do not occur, no matter what excellence reigns at the top. And by worker bees I mean detail people striving to implement, implement, implement -- probably the toughest of jobs, the dearest of skills."
Bernard sat up in his chair. "Exactly, exactly! That's my biggest problem in getting these Egalitarian Clubs underway. Everybody thinks it's a great idea, but far fewer are willing to do the gritty work to transform it into reality in their own communities, for their own children."
The pads in front of the core members were filling up as they jotted down comments and reminders, with not a single doodle to be seen. No frivolity for this bunch, and no gizmos. After all, most of them had grown up using Underwood typewriters and pre-ballpoint pens. They also agreed that manual note-taking was more secure, especially given shaky handwriting and cryptic abbreviations.
"Speaking of gritty work," Warren said, "the time has come to discuss the nature of our strategy to head off, delay, dissipate, diminish, or defeat our adversaries. Over lunch I asked George to provide us with a synthesis of their probable lines of action and a profile of our reaction. The floor is yours, George."
"Well, it's all a little like a chess game. What will my opponent do if I make this move? It's also similar to speculation in the financial markets. Let me begin by summarizing your premonitions: libel and slander, old grudges reasserting themselves, attempts to tar us with isms and ideologies, infiltration, baseless personal litigation, accusations of profiteering, attacks on our assets and companies, efforts to turn some of 'the people' against us, claims that we are undermining national security and worsening the business climate, hostage-taking or kidnapping, and finally the possibility that they'll adjust to our demands, at least some of them, and in effect do nothing.
"Our planning of the Redirections and their strategies thus far has been very well suited to defense. As decided at our first gathering, we have eschewed all matters relating to foreign policy, military policy, and corporate globalization movements, except in the case of Wal-Mart's China price. By focusing strictly on domestic conditions and changes, we disarm our adversaries and strip them of many of their attack options, like raising issues of loyalty, or that old grab bag of twisting patriotism in such a way as to secure the allegiance of veterans' and business organizations. We force them to contend on domestic injustice, domestic needs and fairness -- an arena where their propaganda is not so effective because it clashes with people's daily experience. This also makes it difficult for them to employ their friends in the government's security services to infiltrate our operations. Are they going to use the CIA and the FBI to infiltrate groups devoted to clean elections, good health insurance, a living wage, affordable housing, consumer protection, and energy conversion to make our country more self-reliant? Are these isms and foreign ideologies? By sticking to domestic issues, we can turn the appeal to patriotism and national sovereignty to our own objectives."
"If I can interrupt for a moment," Warren said, "that reminds me of my earlier suggestion that we bring a reflective retired general like Anthony Zinni into our core group. I think we can now agree that this is inadvisable, inasmuch as it would becloud the clarity of our domestic focus when we emerge more publicly as an entity. However, I'm pleased to report that General Zinni and others in his circle are willing to extend their advice informally."
There were murmurs of approval as George resumed. "Another of our defensive assets is our dedication to building institutions and recruiting the best leaders. Rationally charismatic people like Luke Skyhi will be magnets for the mass media and take the spotlight away from us when our opponents eventually discover that there is an 'us.' As these wonderful people assume a high profile, they too will be subjected to libel and slander by the rabid, baying packs on talk radio and cable shows, but as they say, that goes with the territory. And because our recruits have impeccable credentials in their various arenas of social justice, attacks on them may even backfire on the right-wing market fundamentalists. Creating a more viable customer base as poverty recedes, rebuilding public works, applying technology tailored to the people's circumstances, providing voice and access to justice for millions of Americans -- none of this represents much of a cause of action even for frivolous litigation. Nonetheless, we should signal in the proper legal publications that any such suits will be met both with countersuits for abuse of process, as well as investigations of the corporate law firms involved and formal complaints to the grievance committees of bar associations or licensing boards. That will really cool them off, unless these business bozos want to proceed in court pro se.
"As for turning 'the people' against us, our opponents may succeed to some degree through cleverness, money, and selective demographics, but remember once again how well we're preparing the groundwork to thwart such maneuvers. Our well-publicized rallies and unionization drives, the CUBs, the People's Court Society, the collaborative credibility groups we're building, the audiences reached by the lecturers, Barry's media focus on justice, the First-Stage Improvements Project centering on widely perceived economic inequalities, the Beatty campaign in California, the solar festivals, the vibrant small business constituency of the PCC -- all these and their daily expansion will outrun anything but the most blatant fomenting on our opponents' part. Alert we must remain, however; these opponents may be smug, but they still know how to hire smart operators looking for fat retainers.
"The 'business climate' rant will be a problem, but a little way down the pike. We can prepare for it with a massive media campaign showing that stronger democracies and greater justice have always led to growing economies and larger markets. Just look at two countries comparable in natural resources and size, Brazil and the United States. With one fifth of the population of Brazil, California alone has a substantially larger GDP than that South American giant. The American people need a repeated education that it is democracy, justice, and the rule of law that make capitalism produce a better material life for more people, not capitalism in itself. There was plenty of unfettered capitalism in Brazil, but it was concentrated and cruel and unproductive because there was very little democracy, justice, or rule of law in the course of centuries of domination by plantation barons, monarchies, juntas, and oligarchs.
"We have not given much thought to a move against our investments, assets, and associated firms, which is a real peril, in my judgment. I suggest that a cluster of us versed in analogous techniques during our most aggressive years prepare an investment-asset-affinity corporate protection plan, one that will also address the profiteering charge, and see about the possibility of acquiring a unique insurance coverage. Is there any objection if Warren, Peter, Bill Gates, and Max join with me to work on a plan that we'll share with you during Maui Four?"
"Excellent idea," said Sol. "You can call it the It Takes One to Know One Plan." Those whom George had not named smiled, relieved not to be taking on such a weighty responsibility, while the chosen squared their shoulders with a sober sense of duty.
George acknowledged them with a nod and continued. "From a defensive standpoint, that leaves hostage-taking or some direct physical assault. I consider this highly unlikely, but it cannot be discounted. All of us should start with the studied avoidance of excessive rhetoric, slashing personal attacks, or any verbal or physical expression of vindictiveness that can be conveyed over the media. Remember Max's brilliant experiment showing the power of words over deeds in getting people riled up? Our public utterances, and those of everyone associated with us, must be positive in tone, offering optimism, motivation, and concrete solutions to real problems.
"Bill Joy has some security concerns about our meetings here in Maui and is already working on safeguards. Beyond that, take the normal precautions that I'm sure you've been taking since you became public figures. Wealthy people are always alert to the kidnapping threat.
"Above all, take it easy in the saddle -- this is America, after all, and we are well insulated by the nature of our projects, all of which call for overdue reforms, and by their rapid devolution and replicative design. The more the work, the success, and the glory devolve downward, the more the spotlight stays on the ground, where people can see the Redirections in action instead of wallowing in personalismo at the so-called top. The emerging open society that undergirds our efforts will in itself be a strong defense.
"Now, to turn to offense, recall first what Barry said about feints and decoys. Joe and Bill Gates are showing us the way with their Pledge the Truth campaign, which is not only substantively significant but also a decoy absorbing the right-wing fundamentalists and the Bush Bimbaugh types on talk radio. I'm sure we can think of many other ways to feint out the more rabid of our opponents and in the process advance our agenda. For example, let's come up with a new role for Patriotic Polly. Or imagine if a large landowner in Wyoming could be persuaded to rent huge advertising billboards blocking the view of the Grand Tetons along scenic highways heavily traveled by tourists. I'm talking about two miles of closely situated billboards pushing whiskey, cigarettes, junk food, porn videos, and the like. The obvious litigation would pit private property rights against the use of public property -- that is, the public highways -- and throw open the question of whether such use has any legal status. Imagine the publicity. Imagine the roars of the 'wise use' fundamentalists. No end to feints and decoys like this.
"As for the corporate think tanks, we have to make them defend the 'business judgment rule,' that SEC-recognized catch-all allowing top management to shut the shareholders out by claiming that virtually any decision executives care to make is necessary in their business judgment. Mergers, acquisitions, voluntary decisions to go bankrupt and vaporize shareholder value -- all have been justified on grounds of business judgment, the perennial fig leaf of corporate governance hypocrisy. Get lost, shareholders, you only own the company. It's a stark matter of executive hegemony versus true capitalist ownership. Put the think tanks in that cul-de-sac and they'll work on a hundred policy papers to fight this mortal peril to the closed enterprise system. Jeno's valedictory speeches, the PCC, and the attack sub-economy are inherently offensive instruments, that will keep our adversaries scrambling for a response. Remember too that there are many executives who could care less about the business judgment rule and other decoys as long as they maintain their dominance. That's where the united front of business may start to crack, with some companies seeing economic opportunity in our reforms, as will surely be the case at last with solar energy and energy conservation.
"As a final generalization, the more dynamism we put behind showing the contradictions of our political economy and juxtaposing its self-professed ideals with American realities, the better our offense. Hypocrisy is always the Achilles' heels of the charlatans. Holding big business to its highest acknowledged standards is the best offense and the best defense."
"Well reasoned for a speculator, George," Warren laughed. "With that analytic mind of yours, have you ever thought of going into value investing? Never mind, just an inside joke between us. Let me throw open the discussion to anyone who wishes to add to, modify, or multiply what George has laid on the table."
Yoko put down her pen. ''I'd like to hear more about Leonard's observation that the business establishment may adjust to the coming changes, as it did a century ago when it was obliged to start complying with safety regulations, labor laws, higher taxation, the ban on child labor, and the like. After all, as I keep saying, from the global perspective we're all in the same boat. The real victory is to get the opposition to see the writing on the wall and make some very major accommodations. For instance, environmental crises are going to do a lot of damage to businesses, not just to ordinary people. The viral and bacterial dangers we see bubbling up in Africa and East Asia are going to disrupt their operations, their sales, their workforce, and even their own operations at the top. These bugs don't recognize Fortune 500 rankings."
"Yoko, you make our ultimate quest clear," Bernard said, "but unless the business bosses see irresistible force and virtual encirclement, they won't think of complying or adjusting. They have to see on their own that the ball game as they have played it is over. So what you're really asking, as our Redirectional transformation proceeds, is how do we help their better selves or help a different leadership emerge, how do we let them save face, how do we make them live up to their professed standards and jettison their pernicious practices?
"I expect as the months go by that there will be more and more voluntary resignations of CEOs who would rather retire gracefully on their unconscionable pensions than face what's coming at them from all points of the compass, and from their own investor-owners. As for the criminal or grievously greedy among the corporatists, they will fight to the finish. That's where the rule of law and strong law enforcement come in, as well as the purging influence of more corporate democracy. Let's not overgeneralize our opponents. They are a mosaic up and down and sideways, with little in common except their worship of the bottom line."
Ted cleared his throat. "You know, listening to you and Yoko makes me think that we'll have to go global after all before we end our Redirections quest. I'm not talking about the danger of the multinationals abandoning our country and outsourcing themselves, not just their jobs. That's a debatable proposition, if only because of the size and profitability of our markets and the ease with which domestic businesses will move in. I'm talking about Yoko's idea that we're all in the same boat. That seems to imply a planetary imperative from which there's no real escape, doesn't it?"
"On a timeline of decades or centuries, you're certainly right," Bill Joy said, "but for now a year is probably horizon enough for us mortals."
"Well, just a thought," said Ted. "No point in getting ahead of ourselves."
"Especially at our age," said Bill Gates wryly. "But to return to our counteroffensive, from my perspective as a corporate lawyer, I'd say that our legions of billionaires carry a quiet but heavy stick. One determined, driven heavyweight can exert leverage far out of proportion to the influence of the passive wealth on the other side. We have the more motivated among the wealthy, not they, and the right phone call or face-to-face meeting can pull a lot of weight with the top fellows. Also, don't discount the big mutual funds and pension trusts, which on certain subjects can become key allies. That's why it's important to get advance commitments from all our potential supporters on the Redirections we know will be most controversial."
"Here's another note of encouragement," Peter said. "Suppose they huff and puff and roar and rage. So what? We can still continue on our way. It's only when they actually obstruct us that we have to fight back. Let's not assume that what they do will automatically block our path. In my experience, ignoring the opposition knowledgeably is as important as fighting it knowledgeably."
"With that valuable observation, is their anything further on countering the counterattack?" Warren asked. "If not, I suggest we move on to our expected accomplishments for the coming month and deal with any glitches. Is anybody in need of help?"
"Yes!" cried Newman and Cosby simultaneously.
"This idea of massive amounts of dead money and what to do about it has hit a stone wall," Bill said. "We got a thirty- page report from our economics professor -- a Nobel laureate, by the way -- who estimated that there's a staggering eighteen trillion dollars' worth of dead money in the US alone. More important, he formulated a brilliant definition of what dead money is, identified different kinds of dead money, showed why it remains comatose, who benefits from this status, and who rewards it, and outlined the general conditions necessary to turn dead money into various kinds of live money. In a postscript to his report, his Eminence thanked us for introducing him to the distinction between dead and live money, but while buttressing our sense of what an important distinction it is, he couldn't propose a systematic strategy to move forward."
"I've been giving your excellent distinction some thought, since we were all pretty much sitting on dead money until a couple of months ago," Phil said. "Let's break this line of thinking down a bit. First, the reason most wealth is dead money is that people believe that's what gets them the maximum monetary return. Dead money isn't sentimental; it's in the hands of hardheaded investment types with dollar signs on their brains. That mindset limits the options to socially responsible mutual funds that offer equally good or better returns. There are funds, for example, that invest in affordable housing to take advantage of tax breaks. In Chicago, when my TV program originated there, I knew wealthy people who put some of their savings into South Shore Bank, which uses the money to back very successful mortgages in lower- income neighborhoods, at competitive interest rates. There are all kinds of good causes soliciting large investors to put modest sums into their activities through annuities and trusts. Who among us has not been asked to do this by our alma maters? Notre Dame never stops with me.
"But I don't think this is quite what Bill and Paul have in mind. I understand their live money to mean investments that break open the capital faucet for a great invention or innovation -- say, a dimmer switch that saves electricity, or a highly accurate way for a general practitioner to feed a patient's symptoms into a program on the Internet and get a diagnosis from a nephrologist or cardiologist or whatever the relevant specialty. That's a valuable kind of venture capital, and we should be more cognizant of such opportunities, but Paul and Bill seem to be going for more -- shuck the yardstick of direct monetary return and invest in life, invest in justice, invest in peace, invest in preserving oceans and forests, invest in the future, and by all means invest smartly and concretely and daringly. Isn't that just what we're doing now? The question is how to turn the bond market and the moribund mutual funds more in this direction, how to redirect the pension money so often invested with corporations that work against labor, outsource jobs, bash unions, and fuel the arms buildup by investing in the 'military-industrial' complex.
"As Paul and Bill discovered, it's hard to find anyone who has any answers beyond their dreams and the outlets I've briefly summarized. I do have one answer. Next year, let's single out some of our notable Redirectional successes and form a vigorous little group to replicate these kinds of investments in an institutionalized manner that will start a tradition, much as Andrew Carnegie started the modern philanthropic tradition, most prominently with his libraries. Historically, many philanthropists turned their dead money into live money by establishing local hospitals, schools, museums, libraries, parks, arboretums, and other lasting institutions. We can do something similar, but something that goes way beyond philanthropy, by taking a proven reform in one state and diffusing it to all the states that have the same problem. For instance, there's a case out of the California courts to increase custody payments from deadbeat dads that could produce many billions of dollars for spouses and children nationwide. Or what about all the uncollected deposits and insurance monies that escheat to the states, or the money that's awarded by the courts in cases involving a particular abuse but not distributed for lack of recipients or claimants? Under the cy-pres doctrine, that money could be placed in advocacy trust funds to tackle similar abuses in perpetuity --"
"The cypress doctrine?" Sol interrupted. "Trust funds for trees? What's next?"
"I know, I know, I'd never heard of it either, but when I recently called some of my favorite public law charities, they told me all about cy-pres and other ways of putting unclaimed funds into permanent institutions that go after the very injustices that led to the monies being recovered in the first place. Looking back at tapes of my show, I see how many of these injustices were brought to my televised attention in the most poignant of ways, and how few remedies or means of deterrence there were. With the dead money/live money distinction as a catapult, there's great work to be done here."
"Well, you've given us plenty to ponder, Phil," said Bill Cosby.
"That's for sure," Paul agreed. "To get from charity to justice, we've got to keep thinking about ways to tap into the greatest pool of capital the world has ever seen. If even a tiny fraction of one percent of it was diverted into live money, the beneficial consequences could be enormous. Thoreau once said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. So do the mass of investors, in their own uninspired way."
"Nicely put," Warren said. "Okay, gentlemen, I'll have the Secretariat take up these ideas of yours for processing in the usual expeditious manner."
"By the way," Barry said, "Warren Beatty called up the other day asking for suggestions about a theme for his campaign, something along the lines of the New Deal or the Great Society of past campaigns. That got me thinking about what we should call ourselves once we go public. 'Core Group' just doesn't cut it. Ted and I were talking about this at lunch."
"We need an accurate but bland name," Max said, "something that won't lend itself to conspiratorial innuendo -- shades of the Trilateral Commission."
"You mean something like the Fabian Society?"
"Yes, something like that, but clearly very distant from that group's approach."
Bernard sat up in his chair. "Here's what I propose: the Patriotic Meliorist Society."
"The what?" Joe said.
"Huh?" echoed Ted.
"Exactly the desired response," Bernard said. "Meliorists are people who believe in and work toward bettering society. Let our enemies try to distort or caricature that one. Historically, it's a term that was common in old England and in the works of American pragmatists like William James and John Dewey. For some reason, it's slipped out of usage, but you'll find it in every dictionary."
Yoko stifled a giggle. "Really, B, the Patriotic Meliorist Society? The PMS? I don't think so."
There was a moment of embarrassed silence before Bernard laughed. "All right, then, just the Patriotic Meliorists."
"You know," Warren said, "I like it."
"Well, why don't you all mull it over for a while," Bernard suggested. "It does have the virtue of making people ask what it means, and the definition is very straightforward. I think in time it will catch the ear."
"We'll do that, B," Warren said. "Before we go on to our slated goals for the next month, it is my frugal pleasure to report that we have not yet spent a billion dollars. You're all holding to your specific budgets. The pace of spending will increase when we unfurl the Blockbuster Challenge, among other larger expenses. A total of fifteen billion has been received or reliably pledged, with about ten billion in hand. The money has been invested in safe overnight government bonds and triple-A corporate bonds for rapid liquidity. And now, on to March. George?"
"We've got a first wave of fifty million letters in the mail to form ten different CUBs. Projected dues-paying membership for each of them should average a million and a half by the time we've finished soliciting. The mailings are backed by a brace of news features and websites, print, TV, and radio advertisements, plus staggered exposes of the power abuses, industry by industry, that the CUBs are designed to monitor and countervail. Recruitment is busy finding top-flight directors and staff for each CUB, and I've also been fortunate in receiving the expert advice of John Richard and Robert Fellmeth. Each of you should be as blessed in your initiatives. Under their direction, our Service CUB has been established to help the advocacy CUBs with media, fundraising, promotion and sale of reports on consumer abuses, and any miscellaneous brush fires that may break out. The pace is quickening, and by mid-month the exposes will doubtless come under attack from the Wall Street Journal types whose revenues come heavily from just those companies the CUBs are intended to watchdog. The various CUB actions are being designed to mesh well with the other Redirections, and will start flowing shortly. Finally, renovations on the hotel I bought in Washington are complete -- it's now an office building with a record number of bathrooms."
"How we envy you," Sol said.
"Especially at our age," Bill Gates repeated to general amusement, and went on to report on the Access to Justice Project. "Joe's idea of changing the Pledge of Allegiance has become a master stroke to jolt the country into thinking about both the quality and the quantity of justice. From the moment the Pledge the Truth amendment was introduced in the House and Senate, people have been arguing about it in cafes, bars, and barbershops, on street corners and around the water cooler. Everyone has a strong opinion, from Rotarians and Scout leaders to smokers standing outside their offices in the cold, and of course there have been the expected howls of outrage from the expected quarters. On a more orderly level, law schools are scheduling debates on the state of justice in America, and colleges and universities are planning symposia. The controversy has raced into the mass talk media, and Joe and I have become either poster children or devils incarnate. More and more schools, especially in poorer areas, are adopting our proposed change of language and explaining it to the students. Jeno, do you think your vaunted People's Chamber of Commerce will suggest that its members use the revised Pledge at their business luncheons and other functions?"
"Remember devolution?" Jeno retorted. "That'll be up to Luke Skyhi and his associates at the PCC."
"Simmer down, Jeno, I was just kidding, but we do want to find additional venues for the revised Pledge, so if any of you have suggestions, please send them over to Joe and me. Meanwhile, our immediate task is to get more members of Congress to sign on -- we're up to about three dozen -- so that the bill will be taken more seriously. The closer it gets to passage, the hotter and more widespread the debate will be, and the more attorneys general will decide to issue State of Justice reports. That will be good for the other Redirections too. It will help fuel the lunchtime rallies, it's integral to the First-Stage Improvements drive for a fair economy, it will make our credibility groups more alert to injustice, and it will swell the sense of urgency washing over Congress and the state legislatures. Precisely because the Pledge of Allegiance has been drilled into all of us since kindergarten, it's a sure way of reaching people who ordinarily wouldn't get involved."
"Thank you, Bill," Warren said. "Bernard, will you do the honors for both of us on our Electoral Reform Project?"
"Gladly. As we told you all a few days ago, we're in the planning stage of forming a new single-issue political party devoted to campaign reform. To bring you up to date, we've thoroughly investigated Bill Hillsman, and he's the real McCoy. We didn't get the color of his jagers, though. Our background check discovered that he doesn't wear underwear.
"This is an election year. Deadlines for candidates and party formation are rapidly approaching. We've put in an all-points request to Recruitment and Promotions for managers, organizers, candidates, and assistance. We've decided only to challenge the most powerful ten percent of legislators in the Congress, given the pressure of time, and to go after a few easier seats where we have a chance of coming in second or maybe even winning, in order to influence voter expectations for future elections. Moving so fast with a new party would ordinarily be seen as crazy, but we have the funds, the legal bulldozers, and the crisp issue of clean elections -- the name of the party. And when we announce that it's going out of business once the reforms are implemented, that will really grab people. Finally, electoral reform has a good track record in the state initiatives that have embraced it, and it polls exceedingly well.
"We're working on lining up a slew of endorsements by ordinary people expressing their own legitimate interests in reform in their own words. Then it's off to Promotions and intense news coverage. Many of the credibility groups will be supportive, because while they may be full of partisan Republicans or Democrats, they know in their hearts that adopting the clean elections agenda is something both major parties should and can do. The expanding rallies can start incorporating the clean elections message, which has to be cast in terms that show concretely how it can produce a politics that responds to people's daily needs -- your medicines will be cheaper and safer, your air and water will be cleaner and your take-home pay more decent, the corporate criminals ripping you off will be prosecuted, your health will be tended to regardless of your ability to pay, and so on. Otherwise electoral reform is too abstract and too vulnerable to distortion by its enemies."
"Maybe the Clean Elections Party could use some attention from Promotions' theater wing," Warren put in. "After all, look what a splendid job they've done with solar energy and hemp."
Ted was about to second Warren's suggestion when Patrick Drummond glided into the conference room, handed Warren a sheet of paper, and glided out again.
Warren studied the sheet and looked up with a grin. "It's an email from Leonard's project manager, reporting that the first rally to hit the hundred-thousand mark took place in Los Angeles today."
"Fabulous," Barry said. "Our actor friend must really be tearing up the turf in the Golden State."
"This seems like a perfect time to break for an hour of silence, and then dinner," Warren said. "Afterward we should spend a few minutes discussing our interview policies, since the e-mail also mentions a Time magazine cover story titled 'What's Happening in America?' with pictures from six of the rallies in a montage surrounding a photo of Warren Beatty. The magazine won't be available in the distribution chain until late tomorrow afternoon, so we don't know what they've written, but cover stories usually go for five pages or more. Can't wait to see what pieces they've picked up to weave into what kind of speculation. Did Time call any of you?"
"They called Bill and me about the Pledge," Joe said, "but we didn't call back."
"No one else?" Warren looked around the table. "Great. That means they're probably not on the trail yet. So far, so good."
While his colleagues stood and stretched their legs, Warren went to a phone in the corner of the conference room, and a few minutes later the hotel's energetic cook, Ailani, came in with a hearty "Aloha, honored guests!" and a tray of refreshments. They all thanked her, chose one of the colorful umbrellaed drinks, and resumed their seats for the hour of silence. What were they thinking during that hour? Were they beginning to feel the pressure from the torrent of Redirectional activity and the steadily expanding corps of people that had to be kept on track? Were they still hewing to their principle of keeping their projects as simple as possible even as they laid the firm foundations for the assault on the corporate citadel? Warren's Secretariat was doing a magnificent job, but even the greatest of rodeo riders gets thrown sometimes. How soon must the victories start coming to keep the momentum going strong? They all had their private misgivings -- they were only human, after all -- but they told themselves to stay as cool as their drinks. After a few minutes of silence, the beauty and tranquility of their surroundings cleared their heads for a calm consideration of the tasks that lay ahead. By the time they broke for dinner, they were marvelously relaxed, trading ideas and jokes and stories, and simply enjoying the food.
When they reassembled in the conference room, Barry led off with a few media-savvy points about interview requests.
"With the Time story about to break, I want to stress that you're all fair game for interviews. If you turn them down, that becomes the media focus instead of the issues you're pressing. And besides, you're the best advocates of your own causes, as Bill Gates argued at Maui One, and as you showed with your subsequent initiatives. Just remember that in no case should you say anything that might reveal your connection to the core group. Our approach should be to make them report on us in micro, not in macro. With each passing week, media attention will increasingly focus on what our opponents are saying as they awaken to their overdue comeuppance. Watch their reaction to Peter's Senate testimony next week or to the unfolding CUB challenges. Their bellowing will take up far more column inches and airtime than our forays against them. At the same time, the principle of accelerating devolution means that more and more of our managers, organizers, and candidates will be taking center stage. Promotions will be there to help them."
"Thank you, Barry," Warren said. "Now let's take up the Blockbuster Challenge, which we'll publicize with the slogan 'Buy Back Your Congress: The Best Bargain in America.' No matter how great the idea and its consequences for our democracy, it'll be a bust if it's not handled well -- or worse, as the French say, a blunder. So over to you, Bernard."
"Well, first the data. The project staff is still analyzing the gross and net data regarding expenditures in every House and Senate race in the last election. The gross data comes from the FEC, but it's insufficient without the data on how much was spent to raise the money. Separating fundraising expenses from campaign expenses can be daunting, even with the FEC reporting formats, but we need this information because we don't want to be cheated by any legislator who takes us up on our offer, and because it will give us a better understanding of the entire industry of raising and spending campaign money. Once these data are all in and analyzed, we'll come up with an average net for congressional campaigns and mark it up twenty percent to sweeten the offer, but before we can do that, there are a number of questions we need to address. As you know, Joan Claybrook will soon be on board as our Blockbuster manager, and I sent her a list of these questions and asked her to review them. Her response is before you." Leonard gestured to the stapled handouts that had been placed around the table during the dinner break. "Naturally I didn't tell her anything about our core group, so I deleted question nine from my e-mail to her, the one about how to connect the Blockbuster Challenge with the other Redirection projects when it comes to cranking up the heat on members back in their districts and states. Let's take a few minutes to read over what she said."
There was a rustling of paper as everyone picked up Joan's memo.
1. Who should make the offer?
The offer is best made by a committee of perhaps a dozen highly respected John Gardner types, retired people of unquestioned integrity and worldly experience -- a professor emeritus like Jacques Barzun, a former federal judge, university president, foundation president, diplomat, etc. A nonpartisan ex-president would be the cherry on the sundae.
2. Where do we say the money is coming from? What options do we have?
I'm told the money is there, to the tune of $2 billion or more, so yes, everyone will ask where this huge sum is coming from. If you say it's coming from a number of well-intentioned billionaires, you'll be asked who they are, and very rich people are rarely squeaky-clean, no matter how noble their lives. Here's a thought: you could use some of your $2 billion to raise smaller contributions from ordinary people -- say, no more than a hundred dollars -- and set up receiving groups in trust in the name of each incumbent. The details would have to be worked out, but these could be PACs in escrow, so to speak, conditional on the incumbent's accepting the clean elections agenda. That way the offer becomes very real because the money is for the asking once the condition is met. Given the contribution cap, there would have to be many such PACs in each district, but they could be given colorful, meaningful names that would help convey the clean elections message. This is a touchy issue, and many minds should be consulted on its best resolution.
3. How do we convince Congress and the public that we're credible, that we can actually produce the money?
If you answer question 2, then you answer question 3.
4. How do we convince Congress and the public that there are no strings attached other than electoral reforms?
If you answer question 3, then you basically answer question 4, though there are some fairly conventional credibility factors you can add, like shifting the burden of proof to anyone who can show otherwise, or getting members of Congress themselves to vouch for you, or inviting reporters to investigate vigorously, or making it clear that even incumbents with the most odious records can receive the funding if they commit to clean elections.
5. How do we proceed if only 10 or 15 percent of the Congress responds affirmatively?
I think you need to set a minimum percentage. I'd say you need 25 percent of the members, in both the Senate and the House, to make going to all this trouble worthwhile.
6. How can we make sure our offer is lawsuit-proof under the cap limits, as for PACs, and cannot be seen as a bribe either legally or in public perception?
You get the best five attorneys specializing in campaign finance legalities -- including one or two who've worked in the FEC and the Justice Department -- to advise you and write clearance memoranda. This you need to do right off, first thing. I highly recommend Theresa Tieknots of Chicago, an expert in federal election and campaign finance law.
7. Can we move fast enough here, given the tight schedule between now and Election Day in November?
The schedule is very tight, but with plenty of money I estimate you can get in under the wire. And you have to insist that any monies already collected by the incumbents be returned or given to charity if they accept your offer.
8. What do we do about challengers to the incumbents and the additional imbalance we may be inadvertently generating against them?
This is the most nettlesome question if we believe in a level playing field for the candidates, including those from minor parties. I dealt with something roughly similar years ago as director of a project that involved preparing magazine-length profiles of all congressional officeholders running for reelection in 1972 -- never done before in American history, a thousand volunteers, scores of paid writer-researchers, etc. More than a few members of Congress, fearing a critical report, demanded that we do the same reports on their challengers. "Why just us?" they asked. "Unfair!" We argued that we were only profiling legislators, politicians with real power and a real record. Most challengers didn't fit these criteria. Power has its privileges, we said, but it also has its responsibilities. Challengers have no formal power. In your case, the concern is reversed. Most incumbents will not demand that the same offer be made to their challengers -- where there are any. It's the challengers who are going to demand the offer because they have a harder time raising money and for them the clean elections pledge is a no-brainer. In this disparity lies our argument -- we tell the challengers that most incumbents won't take the pledge and will thereby incur your project's active opposition, which will invariably help the opposing candidates. In addition, we tell them that if an incumbent doesn't take the pledge -- which has to involve more than just a verbal acceptance, as my staff will work out soon -- then the project's money will go to the challenger in some pro rata fashion. That's my first take on this question. I'll try to ask around among my colleagues discreetly, and when I come on board, I hope to get the project launchers' thoughts as well.
"Well, what do you think?" Bernard asked when his colleagues had finished reading.
"Not bad for starters," Max said, "but that eighth question is a tough one."
Leonard and Peter, who were Bernard's seconds on the Congress Project, pointed out that their data on expenditures for every race during the last election included the challengers. "So their spending has already been taken into account," Peter said. "We just have to find the right formula for our disbursements. Everyone who credibly adopts the clean elections agenda should receive funds."
"I agree," Warren said. "A project to buy back the Congress can hardly stand to be accused of making challengers beg, kneel, and prostitute themselves because they aren't yet incumbents. Is that the consensus?"
There were nods all around. Bill Cosby added that if candidates had to give back any money they'd already raised, that would be a pretty good indication that their commitment went beyond words. "Their donors will be furious with them," he observed.
"We also have to bear in mind that the Clean Elections Party will be part of the mix and will be running candidates -- a further asymmetry if all are not included in the Blockbuster offer. Ironically, our new party won't be able to accept any of the money ladled out by the Blockbuster campaign, because whatever the pro rata formula is, it won't be nearly enough. The Clean Elections Party is the hammer. The hammer has to be bigger than the nails. The new party has to be funded amply as the battering ram for the Blockbuster pledges."
Bernard frowned. "Isn't that an insurmountable problem? I, for one, would want to avoid the spectacle of the Clean Elections Party candidates refusing to take the clean elections pledge."
"Well, it's a problem, all right," Warren said. "Whether it's insurmountable or not remains to be seen. Both projects will have to stay in the closest contact as they unfold over the coming months. Maybe the solution is to have some billionaire announce that he's personally funding the Clean Elections Party, and that the party is rejecting the Blockbuster offer precisely because it supports the Blockbuster objectives, which can't be realized in practice without a one-time resort to unlimited expenditures. One of us can always take this on if need be, but I think it would be best to find a billionaire outside our core group."
"That shouldn't be too hard," Ted said. "One of the billionaires we already have on board may be willing to step in. They've all been a huge help to us so far, and some are taking the lead in their own right. I'm telling you, releasing the energy built up in retirement has been like splitting the atom, and I want more of it. There are plenty more billionaires than you'll find in the Forbes 400, but a lot of them are completely unknown, like the ones who've quietly inherited their wealth or become instant billionaires after the sale of some dot-com or some other hotshot company, or all the millionaires turned billionaires just from their investments soaring in recent years. I know a guy who founded a nutrition company and watched his stock go from a dollar a share to twenty dollars a share in a year, and another guy who got the same results with his defense company after he invented some detection system for national security. There are billionaires everywhere, in the most unlikely places -- the Ozarks, Catalina Island, a half-deserted farm town in Nebraska, country club prisons. I even know one from the remote Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota." Here Ted flashed Jeno a wicked smile. "The thing is, I can't quite figure out how to net the next crop, so it's time to rope you fellows into this pitch for the rich. Any ideas?" He turned to Warren.
"Some of us are rapidly disqualifying ourselves, wouldn't you say? I've already gone out on various limbs, none more alienating to many wealthy people than my stance on investor control of executive compensation. Why don't you get the names of the billionaires that your billionaires play with -- cards, golf, shuffleboard, yachting, whatever -- and ask them to start recruiting."
"I've already done that, Warren. I've taken it as far as I can."
"Well, how about organizing a billionaires' convention?" Joe suggested. "Call it the Just Billionaires Convention, something like that, something with class. Maybe that will smoke out the ones put off by Billionaires Against Bullshit."
"Here's an idea," Yoko said. "Propose a number of great causes that billionaires can be proud of attaching themselves to. I know a tycoon who's providing cheap wheelchairs to people in developing countries with severe disabilities -- and the tax laws actually allow him to make money from the scheme, would you believe."
"Here's another idea," Phil said. "Research the existing lists of the wealthiest people in the country to see what suppressed passions for justice they may have had years ago that can be reawakened in the much more auspicious climate created by what Ted and the rest of us are in the process of doing. After all, the massive media coverage we've received so far has got to be sinking into some of their heads -- you know, that 'Why not me?' feeling."
"Listen to this," Yoko said. "At a dinner with a potential epicenter billionaire last month, I broached the subject of doing something dramatic to alleviate poverty, something that would be both fast and ongoing. The billionaire thought for a while, imbibed some Grand Marnier, chewed a handful of walnuts, and said, 'My friend, there are at least a million people in this country who wouldn't even notice if their monthly Social Security checks were assigned to a well-organized assistance program for poor families in our blessed land.' Then he laid out an entire plan. With a million donors of checks averaging seventeen hundred dollars a month, you could divide that sum in half and augment the meager incomes of two million families in need by more than ten thousand dollars a year. Two million families on a surer footing means about eight million people all told. The donors could be given the names of the families if they wished, and even meet with the parents and children from time to time. Think of the sensitization to the daily struggles of people who are usually out of sight and out of mind. I'll bet Oprah would be interested. 'I'd be happy to make this my personal endeavor and enlist others similarly endowed,' the billionaire told me. 'There are intangibles here that are quite consequential for the more humane tone of our society, and there is a potential emulation factor for other such endeavors in other arenas.'
"Naturally, I was impressed, though I cautioned him to beware of the enemies of Social Security, who might jump on his idea to promote a means test and chip away at the system's universality. Then I encouraged him to contact Patrick Drummond at the Secretariat for the proper referrals to our burgeoning networks -- without, of course, mentioning the Secretariat or the networks."
"That's a great story, Yoko," Bernard said, "but don't we have to face the fact that there are scores of billionaires who are simply too immersed in luxury to bestir themselves? They have worn the garb of greed for too long. I'm reminded of the words of Khalil Gibran, the mystical Lebanese poet and artist who lived in America early in the last century, and who spoke of 'the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.'''
"Kind of brings it home, doesn't it?" Phil said.
Jeno looked up from jotting the Gibran quotation on his pad. "You know, maybe all they need is a little gradual socialization in the corps of active billionaires or in the midst of an exciting bunch of progressive business people. I think I'll ask Luke Skyhi to form a billionaires' auxiliary of the People's Chamber of Commerce. It's almost comical, sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that in itself ought to draw some of them in, just out of curiosity, and then we'll make the meetings lively and stimulating and fill their minds with prospects of true grandeur. What do you call those places between prison and going free?"
Ted gave Jeno a puzzled look. "You mean halfway houses?"
"Right, that's it. The Billionaires' Auxiliary of the PCC will be a halfway house for the wealthy."
"Ted, what's your assessment of how many billionaires are truly beyond reach?" Peter asked. "By now you must have spoken to more of them than the rest of us put together."
"Well, I get down to brass tacks with them right away -- no beating around the bush with bullshit words of evasion, no howdy-doing -- and I can tell pretty fast how they're going to break down. About one in five jump on board. They get it. They usually have their own peeves, some of them so relatively trivial that I have a hard time keeping my trap shut -- but when don't I? Others are interested in problems that are significant but largely symptomatic of deeper inequalities and distortions of power. A few are dead-on in their analysis.
"Of the remaining eighty percent, about half of them are interested enough to want to meet, seems like they're looking to take on some important challenge so that the future will remember them and their descendants will respect them. Grandparents and great-grandparents don't impress their little ones just by being billionaires. So I meet with them, run some of our initiatives by them to gauge their response, and sign them up if I think they're ready. That's how we got some of the billionaires against Wal-Mart, for example.
"About another twenty percent are clueless -- into selling their mega-mansions for fifteen times what they paid thirty years ago, or worrying about their investment returns, their wayward trophy wives, their gout and their livers, their heirs, what have you. I call these the 'Huh?' folks and cast them aside. The last twenty percent are downright hostile, people with the most closed minds and snuffed-out imaginations you'll ever come across. They are defenders of the ruling class, sometimes offensively so. To them I say, 'To each his own. Hope to see you around before the global high watermarks obstruct our vision.'
"As for the emulation effect Yoko's billionaire mentioned, it's hard to gauge. When the guys who are hesitating start reading about their peers, some of them will see how empty their lives have become and will want to get in on the action. If they're the thick-skinned type, they'll think it's a good way to have some fun and do some good. Others will say to themselves, 'Who wants to wade into that firestorm? I want peace, quiet, and comfort.' Rest assured that we'll be stoking the emulation effect in every way possible. My manager is first-rate in that regard."
"All very interesting, Ted," Peter said. "The comparably few calls I've made left me with the impression that the semi- responsive ones are willing to get together and hear more but aren't in any rush. Last week I talked to a fellow Princetonian whom I'm going to meet at the Yale game this fall. But I do have to say that I got considerably better results and a perverse tickle from one of my calls. There I am, speaking to a guy who's loaded from what Henry George called the 'unearned increment' -- otherwise known as very valuable real estate -- and I'm trying to sell him on certain aspects of our Redirections that he can't quibble over, like energy independence, healthcare, and clean, efficient government, and he's backing and filling about 'cash flow' and being 'heavily leveraged.' I've got his net-worth details on my desk, and they show he's lying through his teeth. He's so liquid he's hired specialists to find outlets for his masses of money.
"So I'm saying, 'Bruce, what about fifty million?' And he keeps thinking he's talking to someone from the Democratic Party or something. I say, 'Bruce, I was born at night but not last night.' He squirms. We've known each other for thirty- five years, so he can't pull the old 'Let's have lunch sometime' on me. I let him squirm. I say, 'Bruce, last year you gave five million just to encourage Jews to marry Jews. What kind of country do you want their children to grow up in? Since then, you've had a bang-up year in commercial real estate, flat out and nonstop.' So he says, 'Peter, how about twenty- five million.' I pause, as if to convey disappointment Then I say, 'Well, okay, for starters. You'll never regret this contribution, Bruce, nor will your descendants. Now, when do you want to have lunch?'"
"Brilliant!" Bill Gates exclaimed. "We should all try Peter's approach. When I call billionaire lawyers, I always have a wealth biography in front of me too. Lawyers my age are preoccupied by their declining annual income as their younger partners deliberately phase them out, so they cry poor even though they made it big over their productive years, and bigger still with their investments. I use every tool from peer emulation to their long-suppressed professional ideals about the proper functioning of the law in a just society. I know a lot about the issues that upset them, which makes for more targeted discussions. I've set a floor of five million dollars, and I've had considerable success, but I've found that many of them are hungry for some kind of recognition beyond plaques or testimonials or building wings named for them. Somewhere in our expanding talent bank, can we find a person to come up with more substantive ways of acknowledging their gifts?"
"Done," Warren said, jotting a note on his pad.
"Here's my favorite bullshit response to my calls. 'Joe, I think what you're doing is so admirable, but I've been giving my charitable dollars to the Kill the Tapeworms and Lice Children's Association. It does such wonderful work.' Or, 'You know, Joe, my lifelong passion has been supporting the Hospital for Orthopedically Damaged Low-Income Persons. It takes up all my spare time and fortune.' To which I silently say, 'Buddy, I've got your financials and the filings for your charity, and what's there is not what you say is there. You're rolling in dough, and your bullshit is just a cover and an excuse.' What I actually say is, 'I'm not asking you for charitable dollars. We all give charitable dollars. I'm asking you for survival dollars for your children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren. I'm asking you to take some of that dead money and turn it into live money that breathes life, freedom, health, and possibilities for all human beings to thrive. Give me a call when you're ready to join the greatest cause of them all, peace and justice on Earth, beginning right here at home.'"
Bill Cosby raised his water glass. "Dead money, live money -- hear, hear, Joe! Thank you."
"Okay, Ted, you've got your answers, and one of them you won't have to implement yourself, if I heard Jeno right," Warren said. "The rest are in your capable southern hands. Now it's time to break for refreshments and an hour of silent reflection, and after that I suggest you go out on the upper balcony, do some aerobics and look at the stars and the moon shining down on Haleakala Crater on the clearest night you've ever seen. Gives you perspective on space, time, mortality."
"Just what we need," Sol said.
If nature could ever trump nurture, it had to be in a place like Maui. How could anyone, even Sol, start the day less than optimistic in such a scene from paradise? The nation-shakers filtered into the conference room Sunday morning fully restored by their stargazing, an excellent night's sleep, and a delectable breakfast. The topic for discussion was the Wal- Mart unionizing drive.
"My dear friends," Sol said warmly, "may I ask for your views on the possibility suggested by our delightful colleague Yoko that our enemies -- in this case, Wal-Mart -- will try to turn a portion of 'the people' against us? My SWAT teams have confirmed that Wal-Mart is mobilizing its low-income 'satisfied customers,' and we must counter their populist ploy lest it taint the unionizing effort, and by extension our other Redirectional projects." Despite the gravity of his words, Sol was beaming.
"Well, for sure they're going to concentrate on the five stores under assault," Bill Cosby said, "but they won't be able to muster counter-demonstrations of poor customers without offering lots of goodies and freebies. You know how hard it is to get people out these days. The more Wal-Mart oils their rallies with free food, coupons, toys, et cetera, the less credible their crowds will be, and you can strike at their perceived strength of offering the lowest prices anywhere by organizing your own rallies of consumers who've been ripped off by Wal-Mart, which has had a free ride on this claim so far. But you'll need to know more about Wal-Mart's national effort against you, Sol. Don't you have a mole on their board of directors?"
"What we know is that the board, while publicly putting up a brave united front, is in a state of turmoil. Our billionaires have been working their old friends over. Major economic pressure is being brought to bear. One of the directors, while refusing to turn state's evidence or divulge proprietary information, is keeping us informed of their discussions at what are now weekly meetings of the board. The circle is tightening around Wal-Mart, what with rallies, pickets, SWAT teams, storefronts, fire sales, and we're just getting started. But watch out for the tail of the giant dragon. We can't rule out the possibility that Wal-Mart will start putting two and two together from the press clips and go to groups like the Business Roundtable for assistance."
Warren glanced at his Timex. "We'd better think about wrapping things up, my friends. I'd like us to close with a free- for-all discussion of what's on your mind for the coming months, especially next month. My own view is that each month is going to see an exponential increase in just about everything -- our activity, media, counterattacks, serendipities. You can almost feel the growing rumble in the country. My revolution of the investor class against tyrannical and greedy top management is rising like healthy yeast. The coming month is the month that will give roots to our Redirections of power from the few to the many. Soon Time's cover story will be 'Volcanic Rebellion Inside Big Business,' or 'When Business Rebels Shrug.'''
There ensued a vigorous and rigorous review of all the initiatives, full of lively repartee, and leading to refinements and accelerated schedules, especially for getting the Clean Elections Party and its candidates on the ballot before the approaching deadlines. At noon Ailani served lunch without interrupting the flow of conversation, and by one o'clock the core members were on their way home. Maui Month Three was underway.