November 2, 2009

Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us: Chapter 4 Review

Bitterly Books is undertaking a chapter-by-chapter review of Ralph Nader's work, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us. You can read past chapter synopses here. Past reviews can be read here, and Viator's columns can be read here.

For the complete coverage of
Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, click here.


M. Bromberg "BellemeadeBooks" writes on Amazon:

"Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" -- the title with its quotation marks and exclamation point included -- is Ralph Nader's 736-page first novel, and he makes no bones about it: the thinly-disguised double of Grover Norquist, anti-tax advocate and central figure in the Bush administration, is about the only real-life figure in Nader's latest assault on the best-seller lists who isn't named outright. Everyone else, from Warren Buffett to Warren Beatty, gets name-checked and suitably prominent roles in Nader's self-described new fictional genre, "the practical utopia."


In this chapter:

"It's pushing it a lot," Leonard said. "And that's what we're going to do!"(p.118)
That's what she said!


Nader continues to display his skill with dialogue in this chapter, and gives Ted Turner some real zingers when he decries "the omnicidal trajectory of unbridled corporatism"(p.113) and "their singularly obsessed drive for profit [that] is so inimical to spiritual and civic values"(p.113). That's right, motherfucker, he said inimical.

Nader has also nailed the voice of Warren Buffett, paraphrasing his sagacity and almost oracular vision with summaries like this one:

He pointed out that when the assault on the citadels of coporate power began in earnest with the implementation of each project's substantive agenda, the resultant controversy and uproar might compromise the establishment of the necessary organizations, and that the substantive agendas would go nowhere without the infrastructure to support them.(p.107)
I have no idea what it means, but it demonstrates that Buffett is so wise that he is completely inscrutable.

And Nader captures the voice of the people, having a construction worker sarcastically qipping, "Yeah, like the rich ever done anything good for my black ass. Or your Mexican culo"(p.110). The comments from him and his friend are particularly acrid because "where politics was concerned, they were died-in-the-wool cynics"(p.110, sic). I'm hoping that they spend most of their time in well-ventilated areas because the stench of decomposition mixed with wet wool must be horrific.

Three developments in this chapter warrant closer scrutiny.

First, there's the Governor of California. Ralph Nader has taken a number of jabs at Arnold Schwarzenegger, like when Warren Beatty tricked Schwarzenegger into talking on the phone and "Arnold had to think fast, faster than in his most desperate movie scenes, and this time with no one to program him"(p.108), so it's natural to expect Arnold to act like a cartoonish villain who delivers movie lines in tortured English, faithfully transcribed with a heavy Austrian accent. Instead, Nader has taken the moral high road, allowing us to see Schwarzenegger as a sympathetic character who is trying to make tough choices for the welfare of his state. Arnold gets a chance to explain himself to Warren Beatty in this chapter:

Warren, in many ways we are quite alike, not in terms of background or style or movies, but both of us like to win, and neither of us is satisfied with being a successful actor. We both believe there's more to life than fiction, than the set, than the accolades, than the swarms of beautiful, willing women and the big bucks. We are at that age, you know, when we want to go nonfiction. When I ran for governor, the most solemn promise I made was that under no circumstances would I raise taxes. Given my polls and my troubles with the legislature, I have little left but my dynamic personality, Maria, and my sacred word.(p.125)
This explanation adds a special poignancy to Arnold's declaration that "I will never go back on my promise to Caddyfawnyuns"(p.125, sic).

Then there's Warren Beatty's People's Revolt of the Rich, a bunch of billionaires on buses. They took a lot of detours through slums on their way to the state legislature, and Beatty "directed his drivers to go through these communities so that his wealthy friends, looking out the windows, could see for themselves what the gross maldistribution of income did to people's lives, to their families, to their immediate surroundings"(p.124), while "some joker rented a camel to trudge alongside the slow procession"(p.109). It's like a circus sideshow, except you can't tell who are the gawkers and who are the exhibits.

People were holding signs cheering the bus on and thanking this or that billionaire known to be aboard. Many of the signs read, "You are not alone!"—a message that touched the bus riders deeply. Imagine ordinary people telling them, with all their wealth and friends in high places, that they were not alone.(p.108)
Just imagine the nerve of some people, addressing their betters directly like that. Ultimately, these billionaires relate their experience to California lawmakers, who "felt cleansed somehow, as if the legislative halls had been fumigated"(p.124).

And Sol Price is going to the mattresses to take on Wal-Mart. The accounts of opening "a Wal-Fart, Wal-Dart, Wal-Cart, Wal-Part, and Wal-Hart, in lettering that bore an ostentatious resemblance to the company's trademarked name"(p.130) would be comical if the plans of attack weren't so elaborately planned. Sol is trying to unionize Wal-Fart Wal-Mart, and he expects the megacorporation to react aggressively and quickly. However, thanks to his "worker intelligence system their maneuvers will be chronicled daily for an equally quick response"(p.106). "Please don't confuse what is about to confront Wal-Mart with the ineffectual maundering of the unions, which haven't managed to organize a single store after eight years of effort"(p.105), warns Sol at the beginning of the chapter. And it's not an empty threat. Wal-Mart deployed SWAT teams to destroy the fledling unions, but the hunter became the hunted as "Sol was deploying SWAT teams of his own to bust the union busters"(p.133). The corporate fascists at Wal-Mart are unaware that they are playing into Sol's hands, because all along "the secret strategy of the Sol-SWATs was to let the opposition in on the secret"(p.133). Let's take a look at the team that is taking point on Sol's anti-SWAT offensive:

Its vital statistics: average age, forty-six; four men, two women; one African American, one Mexican American, one Jewish American, two Anglo Americans, and a Mongolian American. They'd been chosen on merit, not for diversity, and that was how it turned out.(p.133)
That's right, Wal-Fart Wal-Mart is totally fucked. "Sol's Wal-Mart offensive was now on track for victory, but the drama would be intense"(p.134).

Meanwhile, the entire Buffett plan continues to unfold in secret. However, Jeno is worried that "there must be dozens of eager-beaver reporters out there, trying to follow up on [...the] suggestion of connections between us, and they may blow our cover"(p.103), and he's right. "Soon there was a spate of editorials wondering who was behind these lunchtime rallies. Editors set their investigative reporters on the money trail and found that it dead-ended with local billionaires,"(p.134), so their secret is safe for now. George Soros stupidly blabs about the group to his underlings, but smoothly covers it by describing it as "just my nickname for some of the ad guys around the office"(p.120).

This chapter features a punishing 28 triads and 18 BFLs packed into 35 pages. This one is noteworthy because it is describing one of the teabag lunchtime rallies when it ties a yellow onion to its belt and tries to catch the ferry to Shelbyville:

And what a rally it was—the lunchtime regulars, their ranks swelled by thousands of citizens from all walks of life, and at the center the soldiers back from Iraq, some on crutches or in wheelchairs, defiant, articulate, passionate, hugging older veterans from past wars, challenging their smug, cloistered commander in chief, redefining the patriotic course of action as withdrawal from a war based on lies and soaked in blood, a war whose multiplying effect was the recruitment and training of more and more terrorists from more and more countries, as the White House's handpicked director of the CIA himself had told a Senate committee.(p.135)
One of the BFLs is actually justifiable, as Oprah Winfrey has turned out for the grand unveiling of Jeno's PCC, and it can take a lot of convincing to get her to back a project. So Nader needs a convincing BFL:

The PCC manifesto, which used phrases and formulations new to these seasoned luminaries, things like "the corporate destruction of capitalism," "crime in the suites," "high-status slavery," "corporate fascism," "constitutionalizing the corporation," "quo warranto," "dechartering with probation," "environmental bankruptcy," "chaordic restructuring," "the enforceable corporate covenant with society," "the foresight to foresee and forestall," "tort law as protector of the physical integrity of human beings, their property, and the natural environment," "solarizing technology," "the carbohydrate economy," "from greed to need to seed," "respect for taxpayer assets," "the commonwealth economy," "the seizure of leisures," "the commercialization of childhood," "the pornography of style versus the engineering of substance," and "We are the fauna!"(p.112)
Mercifully, Nader spares us from actually having to read the text of the manifesto, but the observant reader may be curious as to why Oprah wasn't included in Warren's original gang of seventeen from the start. We can refer to the previously mentioned BFL from chapter 1 to realize that she must have failed Buffett's omniscient background investigation of:

Temperament, ego control, knowledge, experience, determination, willingness to risk, circles of influence, degree of independence from curtailing loyalties and obligations, capacity to take heat, backlash, ostracism and rejection, absorptive capacity for new directions and subjects outside your range of understanding, track record in keeping confidences, and above all, moral courage.(pp.23-24)

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