Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Two: Progress

They say there's just enough religion in the world to make men hate one another, but not enough to make them love."
~Louis Cypher

In the dark confines of his Capitol office, Senator Sheldon Runyan was perplexed.  In the wake of the President signing the National Health care system in to law, his Party had fallen into disarray.  The year had already started badly, with so much of its membership wiped out, but even as vacant seats were being filled things could hardly be any worse.  States who’s Governors had the power to appoint replacements, and happened to have Democratic Governors, sent Democrats as replacements, greatly cutting into their majority.  And amongst those Republicans that did come, any who started to emerge as strong voices of opposition to the Administration, repeatedly seemed to have their credibility undermined by changing their votes at the last minute, seeming to cave without any explanation as to why. First Jarmon, then Roberts and now Huggins. One after another, it seemed any opportunities for new leadership emerging would inevitably get squelched.  With such a lackluster record, it came as no surprise that Acting Speaker Ron Paul was ousted within such a short time.
While the lingering power vacuum left opportunities for Senator, he wanted to better understand just who on the outside was pulling the strings, and how they were doing it.  These men were not bought off. On the contrary, fairly large sums of money seem to land in the hands of those who would oppose them.  And if they were being blackmailed, there was no evidence of it beyond vague rumor – rumor that existed only because no other explanation for their behavior was forthcoming.  But the whole situation bothered him.  Particularly in light of the next item on the Congressional Agenda: Campaign Finance Reform.
The Citizens United decision allowed for huge sums of money, such as the ones he had been hearing about, to come into campaigns undisclosed and unlimited.  This was fine by him: In 2010 it had benefited his party greatly, and it was generally assumed that it would ensure them victory in 2012.  But the new Supreme Court was almost certain to strike down and reverse that precedent. And once that cleared the path for real reform, it could end up being a very difficult task to close the funding gap, especially as almost half of their potential incumbents were still pending appointment or confirmation.  If things worked out the way he feared, anyone who was not filling their warchests now, could find themselves being legally deprived of the opportunity to close the gap come election season.
He knew he had to lead, but his Party remained in shambles.
He knew he had to fight, but he did not yet know who his opponent was.
So, for now, he would bide his time. He would watch. He would listen. And he would learn.
In the Oval Office, the President and his Cabinet listen, as FBI Director Mueller reported on the ongoing investigation of Edward Carpenter, which has now expanded to include the recently formed Avalon Organization.
“Most of their assets have been split up amongst numerous financial management institutions. They have accounts – huge accounts – with just about all of the big players, and many of the smaller ones.”
“How much is their total worth?” The Vice-President inquired.
“We don’t have an exact count yet, but we’re estimating well over a hundred-billion,” someone whistled at that figure, “and that’s a conservative estimate.”
“Where did it all come from?” asked the Secretary of State.
“Tracing the money back to its origins, the accounts were opened with either cashier’s checks, or with funds transferred from commercial banks… from accounts opened with cashier’s checks.”
“And can we trace those?”
“Yes we can. In each case, the checks were easily large enough to require additional documentation to handle. And in each case, once they were traced back to their institutions of origin, we found a disturbing pattern.”
“Which is?”
“In every single case the money came from the account of some who is now dead.”
“Suicide.” Rhetoric, as if she had to ask.
“On New Year’s Eve, 2010, yes.  And it seems that these resources are being used to pass on campaign funding to Members of Congress who gave the most support to that health care package you signed, Mister President.”
“Funny, I don’t recall receiving a donation for having signed it.” It was meant to be a joke, but in that moment the President felt too small to pull it off.
“Ah-hem. Yes, well… We still have nothing material connecting him to the deaths. We’ve poured over phone records, email… There’s nothing that at all suggests that Carpenter had any contact with any of these people prior to their deaths.”
“What about his associates?” asked the Chief of Staff.
“Aside from Agent West and Gretchen Randle, both of whom passed full background checks with flying colors, most of them seem like no more than a random collection of people he knew mostly online, or through the media."
"The media?"
"Well, hold that for a moment... We know that Carpenter had numerous prior contact with three of these men - John Rydell, Paul Wyczyk and Professor Robert Todd - though their websites and blogs as well as through email.  All political stuff, but all academic. Nothing subversive, aside from the occasional complaint about you caving into Republican demands."
The President sighed. "Yeah, he had a thing or two to say about that when we met."
"It’s his most recent contact of his that disturbs me.  We all know he was in Cambridge at the time that Doctor Henry Starling went missing and/or was presumed killed."
Confusion. "Yeah, so...?"
"SO... We've been keeping a eye on him and his associates and a seventh person has been added to Carpenter's entourage."
Director Mueller had one of his men dim the lights and projected a picture onto the wall from a projector hooked into his laptop.  It was of Edward, and two men whom no one immediately recognized.  The Director hit another key and a separate picture materialized next to one of the men.
"This is Henry Starling, at University in 1963, just before he was diagnosed with ALS. And this..."
Another keystone superimposed another picture.
"...Is one Robert Todd, back when he was a student at the University of Sacramento, Class of 1970.  I'm sure you see the resemblance.  A Professor Robert Todd recently left his tenured post at Berkley, effective without notice. Here's his faculty picture."
Yet one more keystroke and another picture.
If there was any doubt that there was something going on that defied rational explanation, it was gone now.  There were the suicides on New Year's Eve, which he knew all about, despite it being impossible for him to have been involved.  They had seen him survive an ostensibly fatal gunshot wound. They watched as he wriggled off of the hook a second time, in what could only be described as 'mind control,' though neither the President, nor any of those who witnessed his behavior that night, with Carpenter in their crosshairs, would admit to describing it that way.  They saw inexplicable behavior in Congress - votes changed that they immediately wanted to link to Carpenter or his people, despite there being no evidence of contact between them anyone in Congress other than their SUPPORTERS.  And now they him with see two men, identifiable only by photographs nearly half a century old.
Attorney General Holder leaned forward. "Do you have ANYTHING that would help us cement a legitimate conviction against Carpenter or any of his associates?"
Director Mueller cleared his throat. "No."
"Well, we've got motive - he benefited greatly from these deaths.  And he basically confessed while he was here, after he was advised of his rights."
"And was shot in the chest." The Director reminded him. "Plus he can use the videos to show that they were clearly suicides."
While he didn't like the idea of using a State's Secrets statute to hide exculpatory evidence, the President saw an opportunity there. "Those are classified. Inadmissible."
The Director grunted. "Oh they would have been, but I have it on reliable authority that several of these have been leaked to the media.  Um... Senators have been recieving..."
"Who leaked them?!" The Vice President shot out.
"Presumably a member of one of their staffs. OR... whomever sent the emails to them in the first place."
"Any leads on that?"
"No. Whoever did it knew what they were doing.  Which... is what makes me think it was an inside job."
"How about West?"
"Not a chance. We've been watching him too closely."
The Treasury Secretary got an idea. "Putting that aside, what about the money? Taxes, I mean.  Will anything be forthcoming form that, do you think?"
The Director raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "We thought about that, but before each of their deaths, each of these men met with their lawyers to draw up certain legal arrangements regarding the liquidation of their assets, and the cashier's checks in question.  You see... while they were alive when the checks were drawn up, they remained uncashed, and thus part of these men's estate, in escrow, until after their deaths. Whereby their cashing became part of the fulfillment of the Will of the estate."
"In accordance with the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, signed by your predecessor, Mister President, Mister Carpenter doesn't owe a single penny in Taxes on said inheritance."
Chaos erupted from the room, with at least few calls of ‘just round them all up.’  The Director waited for the President to restore order before continuing.
“We’ve moved against him once before. And it didn’t work out so well.  And putting aside that there are still those among you who see him as an asset,” the directors tone indicated his disagreement with this opinion, “we still don’t know how many more of them are out there. We found no evidence that he’s communicating with anyone else, but then we found no evidence that he communicated with any of the deceased either.  So we really don’t know what might happen. Considering what we apparently believe he’s capable of, we could be risking much moving against him prematurely.  We can’t just kill him. We’ve tried. Twice. And we can’t arrest him and try him. Especially now that some of the video evidence has been leaked.  And if we try to make him just disappear?”
“It would certainly bring his associates out of the woodwork!” the Vice President shot out.
The Director looked indifferent. “Would it, Joe?  Or would one of us suddenly have a change of heart as the President did, and so many members of Congress did?  Or worse, do we end up on camera ourselves?  While I’m respectful of your opinion, I advise caution.”
And as the meeting closed, CIA Director Panetta leaned over to whisper to the Vice President, “And don’t forget: We’re getting something out of this deal ourselves!”
As the cold eventually gave way to Spring, the President’s time became more occupied with numerous uprising in the Middle East as the Arab Spring came into full bloom.  Inquiries were made as to how much Edward was involved in this. To his own companions he simply said that he was not, even though he did support the populist uprisings as a matter of principle and personal opinion.  When the official inquiries came, he reminded the authorities the he offered help only with North Korea and Iran, pointing out that Iran looked to be the only power to come out of this mess unscathed.
“Almost as if it was destined to work out this way.” He said with a smile, patting the CIA Director on the shoulder as he did.
These days it seemed like Panetta was the only one that ever spoke to him directly.  That was fine with Edward. He really only needed one way in, and as long as this guy was going around promising progress on Iran, Edward would be able to accomplish whatever else he needed to, in terms of foreign policy.
On the Domestic Front, the chaos in the Middle East took the spotlight away for the new agenda item in the house: Campaign Finance Reform.  After having their coffers filled with enough funding for their next three campaigns, the supporters of the Health Care System seized the opportunity to shut the door on their potential opponents, given that any proposals moving forward would not be enacted retroactively.  In this way, they could persuade the incumbents to enact stricter limits, and regulations with actual teeth, since it would only protect their own positions.
“Conservative or Liberal, there appears to be no limit to what principles someone might bend in order to fulfill their own ambition,” Edward was heard saying frequently, sometimes amused by this, sometime in lament.
It was around this time that a new rule was adopted unanimously by Edward’s council: Any person holding elected office was permanently ineligible to ever receive the tears, any anyone who had received the tears may never hold, or run for, public office.  And any exceptions would first require the rule to be struck down in its entirety.
There was opposition of course. While Congressman Spencer, the Missouri Democrat who championed the health care system, was joined by Senator McKay of Massachusetts in blazing the path toward getting corporate money out of politics, Republicans led by Congressman Keaton of Ohio and Senator Rumson of Wyoming stood up for what they called ‘free speech.’  But without the hard core Right Wing media to carry the message, the opinion that Corporations were People and that giving Politicians money was Speech was fading fast in the public consciousness.  It was also becoming clear that any challenge in the Supreme Court would backfire, as the new court was almost chomping at the bit to overturn the Citizens United precedent.
So once again, the Republicans fell into disarray when their loudest voices of opposition, and next best chance for true party leadership, seemed to repeatedly falter and have a change of heart during key votes.  The package that finally passed included hard limits on all individual contributions, severely limited the amounts that could be donated directly by Corporations and Non-Profits, did away with PAC’s and 529’s entirely, and required full traceability of all contributions over $100 from individuals, and ANY money from Corporate or Non-Profit Organizations.  And any tax-exempt organization that donated to, or publicly endorsed, a Party or Candidate would lose that status.  It was the most sweeping reform of election funding in decades.  At the Congressional Level, candidates or incumbents found to be in violation of the rules would be removed from the ticket, or removed from office, whichever applied.
Publically, it would put the Political process back in the hands of the people. Privately it insured that any opponents of Edward’s supporters would be hopelessly out-funded, with no legal means for the foreseeable future.  And, just as before, it passed by razor-thin margins.
“And now?” Edward addressed a gathering of his immortal council, “Let’s see what we can do about World Peace.”

No comments:

Post a Comment