Saturday, July 13, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Six: Eden's Serpent

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

~ John Maynard Keynes

As the Arab Spring wore on and one oppressive regime after another fell abroad, back home the last bastions of the Neo-Conservative generation, starting with the late Newt Gingrich and ending with the late John Boehner were being systematically swept away by a court that would have be derisively labeled as “activist,” were there anyone left in the Conservative noise machine with enough of an audience for it to matter. For their parts, the battered and disorganized Republicans did their best to mount oppositions, but what voices weren’t squelched by an unsympathetic media and growing rumors fueled by the leak of more and more New Year’s Eve videos, along with hints of the manifesto that each person had a hand in writing, were simply changed directly by Edward, once things came down to a vote. And for all the political theatre, all of the new Supreme Court nominees breezed through their confirmation hearings, especially compared to what it might have looked like only a year ago.

Once seated, the justices hit the ground running; taking on more cases than any other Court had done in a single season. During the parallel confirmation hearings, the American Civil Liberties Union went on a hiring streak, and social media would soon go berserk with so many issues on the table all at once. By the time it was over, it was clear that things were never going to be the same, and the secular democracy that Edward was striving for would begin plowing forward under its own momentum. First to be overturned was the precedent set in Citizens United, sending the signal that any challenges to the new Campaign Finance rules would likely be unsuccessful. Other precedents fell and Corporations would no longer be given the same Rights as people, though they remained legitimate legal entities for all financial and litigious purposes. The spending of corporate money on political campaigns and PAC’s would no longer be treated as “speech.” Precedents regarding the patenting of life were overturned, paving the way for all discoveries of new genes existing within the human genome to be available for the benefit of all people. Intelligent Design and any theories resembling Creationism were forbidden to be taught as science, though were permitted to be taught in Philosophy and Theology classes respectively, and the word’s “under God” were removed from the Pledge of Allegiance being said in Public Schools. By the time the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, and same-sex marriage and transgendered equality were recognized by all fifty states, what would have been a shocking front-page headline only a short time ago was barely a blip on the radar of anyone not directly affected by the changes. A decisive blow was struck for civil liberties, when the bulk of the Patriot Act, including the use of warrantless wiretaps, torture – including enhanced interrogation, and the authority of the Executive Branch to kill American Citizens living abroad who were suspected of involvement with terrorism – were all declared unconstitutional and would be forced to submit to due process and judicial oversight moving forward. A precedent that received very little attention, appearing very narrow in scope at the time, allowed the possibility to regulate the intentional broadcasting of demonstrably false information in anything called, or resembling a “news” broadcast. This not only allowed the reinstatement of the Fairness doctrine, which was now well on its way towards being signed back into law, but opened the door to a certain amount of regulation over the amount of propaganda that could be disguised as “news.” Edward knew he would have to keep a close eye on that, but was relieved that there could basically never be another ‘News Corporation’ established, now that the liquidation proceedings were completed – thanks again in part to a sympathetic Supreme Court who showed no desire to hold up that process.

And it was the liquidation of News Corp., along with the bankruptcy of Clear Channel, due to the deaths of their on-air “talent” along with the requirement that their expensive contract still be paid out their estates, which made it all possible. Without an organized opposition in the News media, most of the disorganized opposition in the social and internet media was dismissed as little more than the work of cranks and conspiracy theorists.

“If they only knew,” Edward would often laugh to himself.

Within his close circle of friends, John could not have been happier. More had been accomplished in a few months than he would have thought possible in his lifetime. Paul was concerned about how much power corporate America appeared to be losing over so short a period of time, but admitted that civil liberty had never been stronger. Robert’s suspicions about Edward’s involvement and methods were overwhelmed by his elation that the Science classroom would now be clearly reserved for Science alone and that theories such as Evolution and Climate Change would no longer carry extra labels describing them as “only theories” simply because certain people found them politically inconvenient. Further, he held out hope that continuing health care reforms would stifle and eventually eliminate the market for unscientific, “alternative” medicine. Epiphany was happy with the numerous precedents for equality and non-discrimination. Gretchen was happy with all of it, and spent most of the year as if she was in the clouds, carried along in a constant state of elation. Any concerns that West had about security were minimal, since the courts could only address behavior that the public actually knew about, and at the end of the day, Edward and his Tablet could more than adequately deal with any threats known only to them. Starling had virtually disappeared into the academic labyrinth, consulting for just about every research outfit under the sun, and publishing a dizzying array of his own research either under pseudonyms, or through a third party. It was stunning to see what he was capable of, no longer held back by a body that had betrayed and imprisoned him. Yet with each new milestone, the Tablet’s traffic lights would turn double-green only for a week or so before turning yellow/red again. Edward was growing frustrated with Gabriel’s apparent indecisiveness, but made an effort to appreciate that it in place of the prior certainty of death. As the weeks and months wore on, and the time wound down this became increasingly difficult.

And as the year came towards its close, the world was treated to the most extraordinary news since the end of the Second Great War: Israel and the newly recognized Palestinian State had reached a peace accord. Shortly thereafter, on New Year’s Eve, 2011, the Islamic State of Iran, the lone Country that refused to support the treaty, experienced a string of bizarre suicides amongst its ruling elite, just as the U.S. had experienced the year before. And just as before, each person recorded a video as their last will and testament, condemning their own actions while power, and naming their successor, both verbally on camera, and in official writing as applicable. There was no great manifesto left behind, however many found it curious that the official appointments appeared to be signed in blood. Despite the extensive discussion and investigations that would follow, as the year closed the world celebrated as the single greatest obstacle to global peace and stability was swept away like so much dust in the wind.

And it was with backdrop that Edward called his inner circle together to discuss a proposal that he described, rather curiously, as something that would permanently eliminate the need for both the minimum wage and Labor Unions. This intrigued the more conservative Paul, even as everyone else was struck by the irony of the strongly Left-leaning Edward ostensibly proposing the elimination of these Liberal bauers. By the time he was done explaining what he had in mind, however, it was Paul who was left wondering how this was going to work, if it was even possible and if it was a good idea in the first place. Standing at the front of the now posh and luxurious interior of the High and Low, Edward addressed his colleagues.

“In 1980, the average compensation package of the highest paid executives the fortune 500 was approximately forty to fifty times that of what the lowest paid employees were getting. Today it is closer to four-hundred times. Over the past thirty years, as the American economy has grown, the top 1% of earners has been almost the exclusive beneficiary of that growth. This is true even after you adjust for inflation, and changes in the tax code.”

“Tax the shit of them then!” John called out, only half-joking.

A few laughs, a frown from Paul, and more than one nod of agreement for everyone else later, Edward continued. “Not a bad idea. And there’s still time for that. But I would like to propose something that would be a far more efficient method of… um… redistribution, for lack of a more politically palatable term. I call it the ‘Proportionate Pay Act.’

The core principal is very simple: In any incorporated entity, the total value of the largest compensation package given cannot exceed the value of the smallest by more than fifty times, excluding benefits, such as health care and vacation time, that are doled out equally to all employees, or according to a system that all employees are equally subject too, such as seniority.

In practical terms, if there is enough growth in revenue to give the CEO a five-percent raise, then there must also be enough to give all employees, on average, a 5-percent raise as well. While the exact value of the raises would remain larger at the top, the ratio top to bottom can never be more than it is now, or rather what it was when American prosperity benefited everyone, and not just the elite. There’s no reason that salaries should all be equal, but there is also no reason they should not grow proportionately, and that everyone should both benefit and, when applicable, suffer proportionately.

This includes bonus and stock options as well. Which brings me to another point – if a company reports a loss to either the IRS or their shareholders, or if the lay off more that 1% of their staff in any given year, no bonus compensation may be paid out to anyone: So no more laying a bunch of people off right after Christmas, just to meet their annual targets and get their executive bonuses. Of course, SOME industries, like retail, that are highly seasonal, might have some leeway on that. We’ll need to hammer out those details.

Since the overall payroll amount doesn’t have to change, this won’t cost a corporation any profit; nor jobs - it just makes the bulk of them pay a lot more. And companies will need to compete with each other for the best people, since the only way for any one person to make a disproportionately larger check will be to work for a better company – who will then in turn be competing to attract the best people, and so on.

What do think? Can we start hammering out some details?”

The primary voices of dissent, as usual, were of the “it will never work” or “congress will never support it” variety. Once Edward had sufficiently convinced everyone to put those feelings aside and open their minds, the ideas started flowing and a reasonably detailed proposal began to form and Paul’s accounting background left few stones unturned in their search for loopholes.

Working into the night, it was John who finally signaled that they were finishing up. “Well, Eddie, I’ve got to admit… Until now, I really didn’t think you had the chops for this, but the more we think about this, and try to find its flaws, it just keeps looking better and better.”

“Thank you, John. I think we’re getting pretty close. We can let the politicians fight out the rest of the details. If they screw up too badly, we’ll still be able to fix things anyway. Gretchen? Can you this into the hands of one of our supporters?”

Massaging fingers made weary by hours of typing, she smiled. “Yeah, I can think of two or three who might be interested sponsoring in this.”


In his dark office beneath the Capitol Building, a scowl crept across the face of Senator Sheldon Runyon. By the time he was half way through, he had read enough. He slammed his hand down on the desk and crumpled up the white paper, summarizing the proposed ‘Proportionate Pay Act,’ and tossed it across the room in disgust.

After several frantic attempts, he finally punched in the extension of one of his colleagues. The first of many whom he hoped would join him in opposing this measure.

Despite the best efforts of the opposition to keep the bill quiet, it was only a matter of days before the media was talking about it, and several Congressmen – all backed by Edward – were making the rounds to sell it. The media tried to take it usual tack of pitting one side against the other, in an effort to promote a false sense of balance or controversy but, lacking the once hard core base of talking heads from the Right, there was no denying the Bill’s apparent popularity. This was surprising given the audacious nature of the proposal, but it adversely affected only the top one or two percent, brought GREAT benefit to everyone else – more than a few points of tax relief ever could – and the general feeling amongst prominent economists was that it would be an incredible boon for the economy. And when it was pointed out to the few Republican Senators left with the political will to oppose it that it would eliminate the need for both the minimum wage AND unions, two things they usually opposed, they were left with little more than trying to drum up sympathy for overpaid CEO’s with platitudes about “Socialism” that rang hollow in the face of the benefits that so many now dared to let themselves dream about.

Sheldon Runyon knew there would normally be no shortage of Senators and House Members who would oppose this. He knew six different ways his chamber could effectively table the measure indefinitely, even once it was out of committee. But time was running short. He was under no illusions that it would be difficult to build this coalition in the current environment. The Right no longer had its traditional standard-bearers in the media: Fox News, AM Radio… all gone. And what remained was significantly less sympathetic to what was increasingly being characterized as the Republican’s rampant corporatism. The once largely mythical Liberal media had been replaced by something resembling an ACTUAL Liberal media; one that was eager to throw off the yoke of its corporate masters and practice a far more populist brand of journalism; one that had little tolerance for political message-discipline.

Complicating matters further was that, by now practically all of the New Year’s Eve videos involving the deaths of Members of Congress had been leaked to the press, forcing the current membership to labor under a constant reminder of why they were there in the first place, knowing full well what had happened to all of their predecessors. The name “Edward Carpenter” has also become associated with all of them, and though no direct evidence was ever found (or leaked) linking him to the deaths, his name became one spoken only in whispers as if saying the Devil’s name aloud would summon him. And after so many potential leaders, rising stars within the party, came forward to lead the opposition to one measure after another, only to mysteriously reverse course at such awkward and politically inopportune moments, steadfastly refusing to offer any explanation for their actions, the rank and file was left conclude that this phantom, “Edward Carpenter” had somehow “gotten to them.” He had some dirt, or found some, and stifled their ambitions. They were wrong about this, but to them it was the only explanation that made any sense.

So in one call after another, Runyon found that the multitude of Congressman who would be willing to join him in blocking this were simply too afraid, or too interested in self-preservation, to do so in the present environment. A realization formed in the Senator’s mind, revealing the only way he would be able to build any kind of opposition coalition here:

Edward Carpenter would have to die.

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