You can read past chapter synopses here. Past reviews can be read here, and Viator's columns can be read here.
The entirety of chapter six is spent chronicling Warren Buffett's Maui Three conference. That's forty-one pages covering three days of discussion, debate, and strategic planning with gripping dialogue like "we would do well to lay all these forces out on clear spreadsheets so we can visualize them"(p.173). The most activity in the entire chapter is when "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"(p.196). The action sequence is also noteworthy because now we know who is behind the carefully documented menu from the Maui conferences.
Although there is "no frivolity for this bunch, and no gizmos"(p.182), Buffett's billionaires have decided to bring techno-whiz Bill Joy on board. He announces that "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"(p.170). Presumably his second step will be finding a way to deal with Peter Lewis bitching about how his videos only got one-star ratings because people have grudges against him.
While the Maui group had previously discussed bringing General Anthony Zinni on board, they now dismiss the idea because "it would becloud the clarity of our domestic focus when we emerge"(p.183). This is a tremendous disappointment to anyone who had hoped that the addition of Zinni would lead to a bloody civil war pitting billionaire against billionaire while Buffett's brigade confronts the evil corporatist menace using a tank charge led by Bill Cosby, withering artillery fire directed by Paul Newman, and an air raid with a B-52 bomber dropping a nuke-riding Ted Turner.
Instead, the group discusses violence of a more personal nature, worrying about the methods that their opponents might employ against them. "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"(p.177). George Soros thinks that the best defense against physical violence is to play nice, and advises the group that "all of us should start with studied avoidance of excessive rhetoric, slashing personal attacks, or any verbal or physical expression of vindictiveness that can be conveyed over the media"(p.185). If only those strong safeguards of personal security had been available to Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart. The group also wonders if the corporatists are " going to use the CIA and the FBI to infiltrate groups dedicated to clean elections, good health insurance, a living wage, affordable housing, consumer protection, and energy conversion to make our country more self-reliant?"(p.183). Yes, probably.
The Maui mafia rebrands themselves as the “Patriotic Meliorists." “Historically, it's a term that was common in old England and in the works of American pragmatists like William James and John Dewey”(p.192). Attentive linguists will be nonplussed by Nader's assumption that everyone will become aware of—and adhere to—the word's original meaning.
Plans for national improvement are discussed. Their “Blockbuster Challenge” is a special interest group offering to fund candidates who will agree to refuse all money from special interest groups. This has to be done carefully, because it “cannot be seen as a bribe either legally or in public perception"(p.200). They can give their bribery attempt a veneer of respectability if they have it launched by "retired people of unquestioned integrity and worldly experience [.... including] a nonpartisan ex-president"(p.198), which should be easy to find. Meanwhile, Blockbuster Challenge candidates may or may not be running against Clean Election candidates from the third party established by the Meliorists to pursue election reform and dissolve once its goals have been enacted.
While discussing worker reforms, they ask if they will create a hostile business environment that drives out foreign companies. Ted Turner thinks it’s “a debatable proposition, if only because of the size and the profitability of our markets and the ease with which domestic businesses will move in,"(p.188) a valid point since Detroit lies crouched like a panther and ready to spring into action the moment that Japan gives it an opening. (Also, Robocop.)
There is talk of buying a stretch of highway with a view of the Grand Tetons and remaking it into a little slice of heaven. "I'm talking about two miles of closely situated billboards pushing whiskey, cigarettes, junk food, porn videos, and the like"(p.186).
And the billionaires want to reinterpret some laws so that they can start spending "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"(p.191). This will work in the short term, but could get embarrassing when claimants are finally located and have to be told that their money has been spent on porn billboards, rigged elections, and companies forced overseas.
Finally, they look at some of the dangerous excesses of their peers. "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"(p.203), says Yoko Ono. Although this should be stopped before it’s allowed to encourage others, the group starts thinking about how many billionaires are currently infesting the country. "There are plenty more billionaires than you'll find in the Forbes 400, but a lot of them are completely unknown"(p.202). If they can start locating these hidden Harrimans, they might be able to boost their efforts. "There are billionaires everywhere, in the most unlikely places—the Ozarks, Catalina Island, a half deserted farm town in Nebraska, country club prisons"(p.203), all locations known for the charity, generosity, and moral probity of their inhabitants. This is capped off by Yoko Ono’s story about a conversation with a billionaire where he "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.'"(p.204).
Every time a bell rings, a billionaire gets his wings.
November 13, 2009
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