Excerpt: Book 1 – The Golden Rule, Chapter 11

The Golden Rule – Chapter 11

Indianapolis—2031

 

The Monday after Bernie’s exasperatingly brief vacation in Bermuda, he returned to his office. While catching up on his mail, a news item caught his eye. He flicked to the article and read it.

 Automotive Executive Dies in Moped Accident in Bermuda

            Chief Executive Officer Ernest Everhard of Auto-Brake Lining, Inc. and his wife, Avis, died yesterday in a moped accident near their hotel on the resort island of Bermuda. Everhard, owner of the San Francisco-based automotive company, was attending a convention at the exclusive Atlantic Hotel. According to police, he was riding in tandem behind his wife when a truck driven by a local resident ran their moped into one of the many stone walls that border the narrow Bermuda roads. This was the third accident of its type this year …

            As he read, he had a disquieting feeling, first Bonsack, and now this. Yet another business executive had died inexplicably and even though this occurred inBermuda, he felt the two were related. He contemplated calling his son when a message appeared on his monitor.

 “Accept Our Blessing.”

            He clicked for his secretary.

           “Yes, sir?”

            “Carolyn, did a message just come up on your screen?”

             “No, did you send one?”

             “No, I received one that says, ‘Accept Our Blessing.’”

             “That rules out the Toms.”

              He laughed. “Yeah, they’re not likely to bless anyone. Thanks, Carolyn.” He flicked off and spent the morning reviewing theAngelFallsshutdown files in preparation for his trip there. With each page he reviewed, he got angrier. This was a travesty. Being right and not mattering seemed like his job description. It was his fault; he lacked command presence. To the Toms, he was a cipher, without what Gorman called “fuck-you ruthlessness.” If he had no other gifts but that, the Toms would have accepted him like a brother. He stared at the vast array of numbers tucked into tidy cells and reflected sadly on how his limitations destroyedAngelFalls. Reluctantly, he accepted their appraisal. He didn’t have it in him.

            Carolyn interrupted his reverie. “A gentleman’s here to see you.”

            “Who is it?”

             “I believe it will answer your earlier question.

             “What? Send him in.”

              Carolyn opened the door and the man entered. Before closing it, she gave Bernie a conspiratorial look. He shrugged. The visitor was dressed in blue overalls, typical of an ANGS equipment operator. He was in his late twenties and had slightly mussed, brown hair and pale skin, with the wispy suggestion of a mustache and goatee. His eyes were light blue, almost translucent, and they were focused unwaveringly on him.

           Bernie extended his hand. “I’m Bernie Rosenthal, come in.”

          “Blessing,” the man said. “Qade Blessing,” and joined Bernie in his office.

           “Carolyn, I’m going out for awhile,” he said as he and Blessing walked past her desk.      

           “Is everything alright?” she asked.

           “Yes, everything’s fine. I shouldn’t be long.”

             During the brief conversation in Bernie’s office, he felt Qade Blessing was an emissary, and he thought he knew from whom. They took the elevator to the first floor, but when the doors opened, Blessing stopped him. The elevator doors closed, and Blessing put a key into a lock on the elevator panel, turned it, and pressed the button marked “b”. The elevator descended to the basement, a place Bernie hadn’t visited in years, ever since Angs’ research and development facility moved from there to its new, more elaborate and prestigious facilities dubbed the Taj Mahal, leaving the labyrinthine basement dark and empty.

             “Mr. Blessing, I …”

             “Please, call me Qade.”

            “All right, Qade. You’re with the moles, right? Where are you taking me?”

             Blessing smiled serenely. “You mean Parker’s group? I’m sorry; I’m not one of them.”

            The answer surprised him. If he wasn’t a Mole, how did he know about them? Blessing continued on, stopping only when he realized Bernie wasn’t following. He turned; his pale blue eyes colorless in the dim light.

           “If you’re not with the Moles, where are we going?” Bernie demanded.

            “To meet someone who has a great interest in you.”

             “I’m afraid no one has any great interest in me, except my wife.”

             “You’re wrong. We need a warrior,” Blessing said, in a calm, soft, surely-you-know tone.

              It was so unexpected Bernie stopped and laughed. “A warrior? Whatever that means, I’m certainly not your man. Now if you were looking for a worrier …”

             It was Qade’s turn to laugh. “No, you heard me right, a warrior, a fighter.”

             Of all the words Bernie might have expected to hear, “warrior” was certainly not among them. “Qade, look, I don’t know what you want but I’m not your man. I’m CFO here, not some … ninja.” He reconsidered the situation. “And you know what? I’m not feeling real comfortable here. Let’s go back to my office. We can talk there.”

             “It’s not like that. No one wants to hurt you. It’s important you come with me.”

              Bernie glanced down the dark empty corridor. “Why?”

             Qade hesitated. “It concerns your son.”

             “Mark? What about him?”

             “You’ll have your answer when we get where we’re going.”

               Bernie stepped closer to Qade. “Is Mark in trouble?”

              “Not with us.” With that, Blessing turned and walked on.

               Bernie watched Qade, almost to the point of losing him in the shadows. Reluctantly, he followed, remembering what Ennis Parker had told him about the people accessing Angs’ internal business systems, the ones who went through the firewall “like smoke through a screen door.” e-Rats? Bernie knew he shouldn’t be here but he had to know more about his son.

               He followed Blessing until the corridor ended at a vertical metal ladder. Blessing climbed, opened a metal door, and stepped out. Warily, Bernie trailed after him. They surfaced outside in what was known at Angs asJurassicPark, an expanse of huge, old, and no longer serviceable chemical storage tanks—rusting relics from the industrial age.

              He trailed Blessing down a row of tanks, the morning sun blinding him as it blipped intermittently though the gaps between the tanks.

             “Over here, Mr. Rosenthal.”

              Blessing stood by a rusted tank. Suddenly, a camouflaged door slid open. “After you.”

              Considering the civil unrest outside and recent murder of Jim Bonsack—and possibly the guy inBermuda—Bernie hesitated. Finally, he steeled himself and stepped in. Blessing followed and the door closed behind them. Inside it was dark, empty, and foreboding.

             “Stand closer,” Blessing said, his voice echoing inside the huge, rusting tank.

               “What?”

               “A little closer, here,” Qade said, gesturing with a flashlight to a spot on the gravel floor.

                 Reluctantly, he moved to the spot.

                 “Joad, Omega Level One, please,” Blessing said.

                 Bernie was startled when the area they were standing on slowly descended, stopping on the floor of a well-lit subterranean room. When they stepped off the platform, it lifted back into position as a pillar and ceiling section.

                “Thank you, Qade.”

                 He heard the woman’s voice and searched for the source. She was behind him, in her early forties and still beautiful with light, straight, yellow-blonde hair and matching light, yellow-brown eyes— striking features that he, like most of the men at Angs, found unforgettable.

               “Arlene Klaatu?” He said in a voice that failed to hide his bewilderment. “You … you were murdered.”

               “I was.” She smiled sadly. “Welcome, Bernie, It’s been a long time.”

                During her consulting gig at Angs, Klaatu had had a difficult relationship with the Toms, and their arguments over implementation of a new information system were well known throughout the company. For all that, he hadn’t given credence after her unusual disappearance when rumors spread that she had been murdered. He knew the Toms were capable of much, but not that; so he accepted the less intriguing notion that the Toms had just run her off and embarrassed, she’d fled to anonymity.

               What he knew of her came from her résumé. Born inAbilene,Kansas, she was a member of Mensa and a cheerleader, as well as president and valedictorian of her high school class. She’d graduated from Harvard where she studied political science and advanced thought, and had done her postgraduate work in information technologies at Stanford, where she’d received a fellowship at the fabled Palo Alto Research Center, called PARCplace. There, she co-founded a company she eventually sold and accepted a consulting job at Angs until her sudden disappearance.

             “Where am I?” he asked. “And what are you doing here?”

              “It’s good to see you after all this time. Thanks for coming. I’m sorry about the drama, but its best. We call this Omega Station. It’s my home and our command and control center. The reason I’m here and not …” her eyes looked skyward, “is why we want to talk to you.”

              It was unsettling, looking into those beautiful, unwavering, and yet somber yellow eyes. “You’re not serious? A command and control center under a chemical tank, here at Angs?”

               She shrugged. “Yes, it’s exactly like that.”

              “Like what? Qade said my son is in trouble. What’s going on?”

               “Before we can answer, there’s someone you must meet. He’ll explain it to you.”

                He looked around the room. Other than Qade and Arlene, the room was empty. “Who?”

               “His name is Gohmpers and he’s looking forward to meeting you.” She turned, but he gently grabbed her arm and turned her around to face him.

                “What trouble is my son in?” She looked at him sadly. He released her arm.

                “It’s complicated, Bernie, but I promise, Gohmpers will explain everything. Mark isn’t in imminent danger, but he’s in harm’s way.”

                “That’s not reassuring. Can you at least tell me what happened to you?”

                Arlene looked down and then away, as if trying to avoid a painful memory. “It’s all related to why we asked you here. I don’t know if you remember, but a couple of days before … I had a pretty intense argument with Gorman.”

               “He doesn’t accept rejection.”

                She smiled sadly. “You have no idea. He and Tom Morgan insisted I develop surveillance technologies that would violate the privacy of their customers, suppliers, employees, and competitors—and break lots of laws. They wanted functionality that went way beyond normal, reasonable, business requirements and included surreptitious monitoring of privileged personnel, their business transactions, and all of their communications, everywhere, all the time. As you know, I’m an expert in those technologies, and they knew it. I had no choice but to refuse.”

               As CFO of Angs, Bernie should have known this. “I don’t understand.”

              “They were concerned about the future. Gohmpers will fill you in on that, too.”

               “Some of those applications were installed. I recently stumbled across one.”

               “Bernie, there are things you need to understand before we continue. In the early part of the twenty-first century, stateless terrorists attacked theUnited States and with Congress’s consent President Bush declared war on them. From that moment, the concept of perpetual war developed. After all, how can it truly end? Who surrenders? And that doesn’t even consider the constant cyber warfare we’re involved in. America is on continual war footing even though there are no targetable enemies and no home front to attack and defeat. The Bush Doctrine has continued through four presidents, even though we’ve only been attacked occasionally.

              “I’m familiar with all that.”

               She nodded. “Good. I promise that Gohmpers will explain how that affects your son. As to why I’m here, Bernie, I was in high school when I first got interested in AI, artificial intelligence. Back then, scientists and science fiction writers assumed AI would be this universally available, beneficial tool for mankind. They weren’t wrong but they just didn’t think it through. Artificial intelligence has contributed much to make the world better but the most powerful AI applications are funded and controlled by private industry and the government. Before technology made the oceans irrelevant as buffers, democracy and free-market capitalism were fine concepts, but to support the status quo today, real and absolute power is required, and AI has become the supreme weapon of power and has been co-opted by those who want more power and greater control over our country and our economy. Basically, that’s what Gorman wanted, and what I resisted.

             “That difference of opinion was why I was terminated—my employment and my life. For an appallingly large fee and by downplaying the Big Brother aspects, my replacement, Rebecca Morning provided the Toms with similar functionality. Eventually Rebecca realized what I knew and she confronted the Toms, too. She was luckier: they just let her go. Forgive my immodesty, Becca was good, but she’s not in my class. In the end, outside consultants finished the project in secret, but what they accomplished, even though it’s powerful and illegal, it was less than what the Toms wanted, less than I could have delivered, but far more than should have been delivered.”

              “So why did you disappear?”

                “It wasn’t by choice, I assure you. One night after work, a man was waiting for me in the Angs parking lot. He came up behind me. I turned … in time to see his arm coming down. He hit me with a metal bar, I think. Then, he took me to one of these chemical tanks and deposited me there. He figured my body would never be found, but I was fortunate. God had a purpose for me and didn’t want me to die just yet.” She paused and looked down. “The next thing I knew, I woke up here.”

                 “Here? How?”

                 “Gohmpers and his assistants saved me. You’ll meet them, too. Their security monitor picked it up. They retrieved me from the tank and took me to a hospital.”

                  “The police said there were no hospital records.”

                   “The police work was thorough.”

                     “How …?”

                    “You’ll understand soon.”

                    “Did you recognize the man who hit you?” When she didn’t respond, Bernie persisted. “Was he from Angs?”

                     “This still isn’t easy for me. You’ll know everything soon. Please, come.” She walked to a wall and stopped. “Joad, access Omega Two.” The door slid open.

                      “How were you able to build this under our noses? And who are you talking to?”

                      “Building it was easy. This is Angs, after all. We diverted funds from illegal political contribution funds I’m sure you’re unaware of. Using Angs’ integrated enterprise software, we set the status of the construction budget as approved and we were able to schedule, build, and pay for everything, no questions asked. Our contractors were free to come and go.”

                     “You diverted company funds? You’re telling that to the wrong person, Arlene.” He reconsidered. “Illegal contributions? And you have your own construction people?”

                       She shrugged. In spite of the physical abuse she still looked beautiful. “Don’t trouble yourself about the illegal funds. Even if you perform an audit, you won’t find anything. And as to our construction people, you met one of our supervisors.” She pointed to the other room where Qade was sitting. “After you learn more from Gohmpers and what our ends are, I hope you’ll consider what we did insignificant.”

                      “I’ll promise anything right now; I’m at a distinct disadvantage. But this Gohmpers guy will have to be persuasive for me to ignore what you confessed to.”

                        He followed her to the next room, staring at the surroundings, amazed that these facilities were constructed without the Toms’ approval.

                      “Here at last, a warrior to fight the madness.” Bernie heard the voice before he saw him.

                       The deep voice came from a large, powerfully built black man who materialized from behind a bookshelf wearing a pale-yellow turtleneck and white silk warm-up pants. The man’s shaven head reflected the room lights.

                       “Gohmpers?” he asked.

                       “Mr. Rosenthal, yes, thanks for coming. I’m pleased to finally meet you.”

                       “What’s going on with my son?”

                        “I’m sorry to bring you here this way. May I call you Bernie?” Bernie nodded. “You must understand that if Qade had explained everything in your office, you wouldn’t have believed him. Besides our Blessing, please accept my apology. Now, about your son. Sadly, Mark is involved with something that is on the verge of creating an unfortunate future for him and for all of us.”

                      Bernie considered Mark’s position as chief executive officer at Crelli Enterprises. “I’m proud of Mark and I feel pretty good about his future.”

                    “I’m here to convince you otherwise.”

                    “If you have something to say, please get to it because I have to get back to my office.”

                   “Mark has been chosen by a bad man. Andrew Crelli is planning the greatest political revolution in history.”

                  “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t share your dislike for Republicans.”

                    Gohmpers smiled. “No, no, Crelli is not a Republican. He’s using the Republican Party as cover while he builds strength.”

                   “That’s ridiculous.”

                    Gohmpers smiled. “Yes, it does sound ridiculous.”

                    Bernie returned the smile. “It’s the times. Our politicians can’t figure a way out of this perpetual recession so everyone is panicking. I think developing conspiracy theories help. But you didn’t invite me here to discuss conspiracy theories.”

                    “I didn’t but there are a lot of conspiracy-theory wing nuts out there.”

                   “We clearly have problems, but most of the panic is caused by the damn media trying to propagate myths so they can sell advertising.”

                    “Most conspiracy theories,” Gohmpers added helpfully, “involve military takeovers—maybe with nukes—or computer viruses, things like that. I’ve read some books about coups that are quite fascinating but except that the hero always ends up with the girl and the author never explains what happens after the coup succeeds. Do you know why that’s avoided?”

                    Annoyed at his own interest, Bernie considered it. “It doesn’t make good theatre.”

“That’s a fair point. Consider this: in an open society likeAmerica, people can theorize about how to start a revolution, but no one knows how to overcome the checks and balances inherent in our system that could make a revolution successful.”

                  “Like what?”

                   “Take all the vested interests: the lawyers, lobbyists, minority parties, the media, well-financed minority interests, the disloyal opposition, all would make revolution difficult. Besides, extremes inAmericaebb and flow all the time, but we always come back to moderation. That’s actually the problem, today.Americais sliding into the abyss because our system of checks and balances makes it impossible to change course. Everyone has already figured out their piece of the pie and they won’t give that up.”

                   “That sounds reasonable, but where are you going with this and how does it affect Mark? You said my son’s in trouble, and we’re talking movie plots. If you have something to tell me about my son, please do it now.”

                    Gohmpers persisted. “Please bear with me. Did you ever wonder why, regardless of whether we elect either Republicans or Democrats, neither ever solves our problems?”

                     “Everyone wonders that. What’s your point?”

                      “Humor me a little more, please, Bernie. Aren’t you curious why politicians argue the rightness of their ideas and yet never solve our problems? Say you were to try the impossible and lead a coup in the good oldUnited States of America. What would be your first major obstacle?”

                       Frustrated, Bernie turned to Arlene who smiled and nodded to Gohmpers. Annoyed, Bernie responded. “I guess I’d have to find a way to get elected President or some other important office.”

                       “Yes, you’d need to be an insider—a deep insider. By the way, Andrew Crelli’s an important senator. Now what else would you need to overcome?”

                          Knowing he couldn’t leave without permission, Bernie reluctantly yielded to Gohmpers in order to speed things up so he could find out about Mark and get back to work. “Okay, I’d need a lot of funding and, I guess, backing from like-minded, influential people so I don’t run afoul of Homeland Security or the FBI.”

                       “Yes, good. Crelli owns a Fortune 100 company that develops and implements hardware and software for national security—he’s very well liked by that community—and his father-in-law is the Senate Majority leader. We’ve worked around those obstacles easily enough.”

                       “You’re going to persist with this?”

                        “Just a little longer, please. Crelli has position, money, and backing. Now what?”

                         “Status and charisma. I know Senator Crelli has both with Crelli Enterprises, his success prosecuting e-Rats as senator and the coverage the paparazzi provide when he’s out partying with the rich and glamorous. Can we cut to the chase? Crelli is leading a coup. How and why does he do it, and what does this have to do with my son?”

                         “The key to it all is that he possesses an incredibly sophisticated state-of-the-art surveillance technology—something well beyond even what the government knows about. As to the reason: entrepreneurs like him are very concerned about the long-term health of our economy and its competitiveness. They are projecting impending doom if things continue as they are.”

                         “I don’t believe you’re right about that. Sure we’re in a very bad economic cycle right now, and we’ve been struggling for years without growth. But we’ve pulled ourselves out in the past. Why would entrepreneurs take such a risk?”

                          “What you have to understand is that capitalist private industry doesn’t work like a democracy and business leaders are unhappy laboring within a political system that won’t face problems and solve them.  In the early days of our republic, it didn’t matter because we had vast frontiers and entrepreneurs knew they could stretch for horizons, but those days are over and the worst of our fears about capitalism are manifesting. At its best and most efficient, capitalism is autocratic; it has to be to thrive. Waiting for a vote or even influencing a vote is anathema to what capitalists require for competitive advantage. To that, add that the connected, wealthy and powerful always know when to buy cheap and sell dear way before the average citizen. The stock market, frankly every market is stacked in their favor. That’s how they got rich and how they stay rich. They want us to believe that what we have is a competitive environment, but it’s really just a rigged game, an inside trader’s paradise. But since the perpetual stagflation of the 2020s, things have changed. Our debt is far too high, and the great unspoken secret is we’re incapable of repayingChina,India,Brazil,Turkey,Mexico, and other countries what we owe them. For a time, that was fine, but now our creditors have nurtured their own middle class and they don’t need the buying hysteria of the American consumer or our currency, for that matter. For now, we’re safe because of our military, but our creditors are discovering ways to cripple us.Americais an economic house of cards, and the world is ready and willing to provide the gentle breeze needed to blow it down.”

                   “We influence everything, and we’re everyone’s best trading partner.”

                    “That was true once. With merely 1 percent of their population now middle class,China,India, andBrazildon’t need our buying power any longer. Besides, our middle class has been so hamstrung due to their debt and high unemployment that they no longer generate commercial awe around the world.America’s creditors no longer have to put up with us, our currency, or our debt. The world is ready and willing to throw us into debtor’s prison and frankly, we deserve it.”

                     “You’re oversimplifying. Economic warfare hurts everyone.”

                      “True, but like military warfare, economic wars hurt until there’s a winner. And we can’t fall back on military victory because Chinese military expenditures surpass ours and their ability to hurt us with cyber warfare is far greater than our ability to hurt them. The fear is they will shut down our economy and our military if we don’t back down. In the end, we’re helpless except for one thing that Arlene will talk about in a few minutes. Basically,ChinaandBrazilare squeezing us like we squeezed theSoviet Unionuntil it collapsed fifty years ago.”

                     “Look, I know the Toms are really concerned but …”

                      “No, no, it’s much worse and the Toms know it. After a generation of systemic unemployment, we have a large, disaffected population, an entire generation without life-affirming work. WhateverAmericahas tried to do internationally, we’ve been trumped by the might and entrepreneurial muscle ofChina. For all its internal issues,Chinasets international trade rules now. We’re no longer in charge. In fact, because of the success ofChina,Brazil, and in a way,Russia, democracies are looking at their economic futures much differently. More and more countries are altering their form of government and shifting to more proactive, autocratic political systems that support free-market operations but can make critical decisions in a New York minute. Crelli, his entrepreneur friends and some of our smarter politicians understand the implications.Americahas always been schizophrenic, a republic with autocratic capitalism. It worked when there were frontiers but the frontiers are gone. Around the world, capitalists have become more comfortable with autocratic governments. They are all the rage.”

                   “But the rich and powerful inAmericaare never helpless.”

                  “They aren’t helpless, but they’re very worried. They control politics like they always have, but suppose a foreign power or two gains control of our internal economics—it’s already happening, most of our large corporations are owned at least partially by foreign powers. What follows isAmerica’s rich will be beholden to people they don’t control. They are very uncomfortable with that, as you can imagine.

                   “Bernie, Americans are too proud, too greedy, and too selfish. Worse, they’ve lost the ability to develop and share a cohesive vision of what the country should be. In state after state, the electorate has passed referendums to make their lives seem better but they’ve done it without funding those mandates—the electorate has joined the politicians in driving the country bankrupt. Add to that how governments behave. Because legislators work in constant election-reelection mode, most are so controlled by lobbyists that no truly beneficial legislation passes, or if it does pass, it is so diluted as to be ineffective. We’re in a sad state, and we’re in desperate need of a strong leader with strong convictions. Suppose the Chinese have it right. They’re autocratic, and they’re certainly out-competing us at every turn. Maybe the American republic and free-market capitalism isn’t adaptable anymore, and maybe autocratic free market capitalism is the wave of the future. If that’s true, and powerful people believe it is,Americaneeds a new form of government that will allow the rich to maintain their status in the world.Americamay have invented creative destruction, but we don’t want to become a victim of it.”

                    “That’s a lot of maybes.”

                    “Maybe, maybe not. With each new administration, government is either further privatized to provide new profit outlets for businesses, or further socialized to pass risk and loss on to the taxpayers. Maybe, there’s that word again, maybe it’s time the executive branch was privatized. I could argue that the legislative branch already has been.”

                     “More conjecture.”

                     “Once, we were a country of entrepreneurs. Now we’re mostly a country of copycats. When a true entrepreneur discovers something that has great appeal and payback potential, everyone copies it. Is it such a stretch to believeAmericawill copy what autocratic economies are doing well?”

                      “But those countries don’t have a history of functioning freedom. We can’t become autocratic, there’s too much freedom and information, and if we’re not entrepreneurs, as you say, we are mavericks.”

                       “To survive, our government will do whatever it takes, even if that means monetizing the country and commoditizing its citizens.”

                        “Okay, I concede. You’re right. Let’s say Senator Crelli is planning to implement the Chinese system. Okay, fine, what does this have to do with my son?”

                        “American capitalists have found in Crelli the candidate they have been looking for.”

                        “That may be true, but we’ve had extended periods in our history when significant majorities controlled too much and that has always been their downfall.”

                        “Today it’s different. We’re more … desperate. Everyone sees the end coming, and those who are in control want to make damn sure the end won’t occur during their watch.”

                         “Still, if Crelli and the Republicans try, they’ll fail, and the Democrats will be there…”

                         “Forget the two-party system. It’s dead. Have you heard of the Entrepreneur Party?”

                         “That loony libertarian group with the really hot leader, Toni something?”

                         “Tanya Brandt, she’s the figurehead until Crelli’s ready to take over. Here’s concrete information for you to chew on. A significant number of Republican and Democrat politicians have seen the writing on the wall and have become closet members of the Entrepreneur Party.”

                         Bernie realized that somewhere in this conversation Gohmpers had stopped speculating and seemed to know how the government could be, indeed would be, overthrown, and he believed his son’s mentor, Senator Crelli, was involved. That’s when the reality of Gohmpers’ fantasy struck him. “Mark is planning to overthrow the government.” As ridiculous as it sounded, if it was true, Mark truly was in grave danger.

                         “We believe he is.” Until Gohmpers responded, Bernie wasn’t sure he’d voiced his concern, so he repeated it.

                         “Am I sure?” Gohmpers responded. “Certainly not. It’s early and there are many things that can happen. But, by nature, Crelli and his allies are prodigious planners and self-actualized achievers, so it’s wise to act as if they will certainly try. That’s why we contacted you.”

                         “What the hell can I do?”

                         “Protect your son.”

                         “But if you’re wrong, I’ll ruin his brilliant career and he’ll hate me forever.”

                         “But if we’re right, you’ll save him from committing treason, or worse.”

                         “What could possibly be worse?”

                         “If Crelli succeeds.”

                         “What? No, he can’t. How could he?”

                         “Crelli is an extraordinary talent and it’s a goal of every executive worth his salt to build an organization that is too big to fail. It’s their nature, their legacy. Control is in their genes so unless something is done, Crelli’s business empire has everything it needs to replace our government.”

                         “But this isAmerica. Coups are impossible. And if it were to succeed, Mark would become a valued employee. I can’t believe I’m saying this.”

                         “History isn’t on your son’s side. Autocrats have never been reliable employers.”

                         “You and Arlene could be terrorists for all I know, and you’re setting me up.”

                         “That’s fair. I can’t prove we’re not.” Gohmpers handed Bernie a folder. “You were inBermudarecently on an abbreviated vacation. After you were excused, Crelli chaired a secret meeting. These documents are a reconstruction of notes from that meeting.”

                         “How did you know I was … excused?” Bernie read the papers. “You mean …?”

                         Gohmpers nodded. “Crelli’s plans are taking shape and you are an outsider and in the way. They needed to remove you.”

                         Bernie read the documents, which literally had been pieced together from shredded notes.

                         “Holy … if this is real … why didn’t Mark say anything about Crelli’s run for president?”

                         “They sent Mark away with you, so we’re not certain he is a true insider. You, on the other hand, were a nuisance that Tom Gorman hadn’t counted on.”

                         “Tom is involved?”

                         “Until we know more, assume everyone there is involved.”

                          Bernie’s world was falling apart. “Gohmpers, my son isn’t a rebel. He’s a good kid. He wouldn’t do this.” He spoke his fear. “You want me to help you stop a revolution.” Gohmpers nodded. Bernie stared at Arlene, who was sitting quietly on a sofa. “No one’s capable of this.”

                         She looked up. “I know Andy. He is. You’ve met him. You know it, too.”

                         “Arlene, I’ve met hundreds of punk-young executives like Crelli; he’s nothing special.”

                         “You didn’t look hard enough. On the day you met Crelli, Mark was celebrating his engagement to the love of his life. You have no idea how sorry I am Mark decided to break off the engagement.”

                         Bernie felt sick. “Jesus, Arlene, do you really think …?”

                         “To gain share and profits, the media has ripped at the middle of our country, polarizing our people and making them strident and cynical. It’s why nothing useful ever gets done. The few Americans who spend any time thinking about their government believe it’s ineffective, unresponsive, and corrupt, and who can blame them? They see an absent, vapid Congress arguing petty, self-serving politics to no discernable end—and that from those few thinking Americans who care. The rest are too absorbed in their economic pilgrimage to wealth, or in their recreational shelter from reality. I’m involved because I have a very complicated history with Andy.”

                         Bernie wondered what that could be, but Arlene said no more about it.

                         Gohmpers concluded. “Americais out of control and, unfortunately, Americans are ready and willing to listen to Crelli’s siren’s song. It’s sad but in a way, we deserve it.  When it comes to politics, Americans have long relied on the kindness of strangers. Andy Crelli could very well be the last in a long line of strangers to disappoint them.”

                         “But he’s just a senator—and a junior one at that. There must be people with more power who can stop him.”

                         In Bermuda, you saw some of his strength, but he has so much more. Everyone believes he ran for the Senate to clean out the e-Rats and that once his e-Swat Task Force put them all behind bars, he’ll return to his first love, Crelli Enterprises.”

                         “Mark doesn’t think that. He believes Crelli has the bug for politics.”

                         “That’s a good way to put it.” Arlene continued. “What you have to understand is that the e-Rats weren’t Andy’s enemies—well some—but most were his creation. His people fabricate false trails that lead to the arrest and conviction of many innocent people who he accuses of being e-Rats. He’s able to transfer funds from companies that e-Rats allegedly raid and puts those funds into the accounts of innocent people to improve his conviction rate. His task force tracks down terrorist-hackers and exposes them: the nation is grateful and his approval ratings soar. Did you know his approval is over 90 percent inKentuckyand almost that high nationally? He can and will parlay that into a successful presidential run.”

                         Bernie continued to leaf through the bizarre and frightening information in the papers Gohmpers gave him. “There’s no way Crelli can implement these programs.” He turned a few more pages. “There’s no way—the government can’t just kill poor people.”

                         Arlene leaned over his shoulder. “To saveAmerica, and that’s what he believes he’s doing, Andy will if he must. He’s a businessman. He believes life isn’t cheap, it’s cost prohibitive.”

                         Gohmpers added, “The government has been forced to operate on a “pay as you go” plan. No law can pass unless funding exists for it. Crelli will implement the same plan for people. If you provide value, you live. It’s the ultimate libertarian fantasy and he intends to make it real.”

                         “So expose him. The media will crucify him for it. He can’t win an election if the people think he’s going to kill them. Contact the FBI. They’ll stop him.”

                         “We’ve discussed all of that,” Gohmpers said. “When I was young, patriotism was about more than defending your country in a time of war. Now, that’s all it is. It’s no joke that far too many believe killing the poor is the best way to a better, more robust economy. The reality is we can’t prove anything in these papers. There’s no direct link between the programs described in these papers and Andy. Besides, since the first terrorist bombing inNew York at the turn of the century, if it makes them feel safer, the people seem okay with the government suspending or eliminating all kinds of constitutional protections like the right to habeas corpus, and the right to privacy.

                         “Unfortunately, these documents are too bizarre for the people who could do something about this threat to take it seriously. Worse, the people who could do something are probably in on it. The genocide you’re reading about would appear simply to be a smear campaign against a highly respected, maybe even adored senator. He would certainly spin it to show e-Rats trying to exact revenge. Besides, Crelli is allied with entrepreneurs who own the corporations that control media content, so they’d squash any meaningful assertions and dialogue. I wish it was different.”

                         Gohmpers handed Bernie a photograph of a man swizzling an umbrella-decorated cocktail while tanning on a lounge chair beside a pool. “Do you recognize him?”

                         Bernie stared at the picture of the old, bald man in a bathing suit. “No, should I?”

                         “He’s FBI Director Juan Vincenzo. Next to him, that’s Raji Gomez, the head of the CIA. They were Crelli’s guests inBermuda. Traditional avenues have been shut off. That’s why we need you. We have nowhere else to go.”

                         “Shit,” Bernie said, scratching his head. “You’re really scaring me.”

                         “Now do you understand?” Arlene asked.

                         “Setting aside the moral issues, isn’t genocide bad economics?”

                         “Objectively, killing indiscriminately or by race or religion would be bad economics because it cuts across economic strata. But if you have more mouths than you can feed and you can selectively eliminate those who are an economic burden, well …”

                         “Mark would never support that. He’d die first.”

                         “Now you understand why you need us.”

                         “But …”

                         “Long before your son discovers what Andy is doing, he’ll be incriminated, and his life will be in jeopardy.”

                         “From who?”

                         “He only has to fear Andy if the coup is successful.” Arlene responded. “If Andy fails, Mark will be a traitor, and his life will be forfeit. Today, Andy needs him. Mark is energetic and charismatic, and he attracts young voters. He’s passionate, believing so strongly in what he does that he persuades doubters by the sheer force of his sincerity. He’s also an original thinker with excellent problem-solving capabilities. But he’s naïve and hasn’t seen through Andy. And he probably won’t until it’s too late. He bought into a fantasy and can’t comprehend how Andy intends to pervert it.”

                         “But suppose you’re wrong, Arlene? What if Crelli is a patriot who only wants what’s best forAmerica? By interfering, you’ll be hurting millions. What about that town inOhio? It isn’t corrupt. According to Mark, the results are spectacular, and the townspeople are thriving.”

                         “Wharton? Mark’s right. With Crelli Enterprises leading the way, their schools have improved, crime has all but been eliminated, and employment is increasing. Mark negotiated with local and state government officials to cut taxes and infrastructure costs on the Crelli manufacturing facility there. In exchange, Crelli Enterprises has taken over services for the community. It is a monumentally successful endeavor.”

                         “It’s a great concept. If you’re wrong, we lose successes like Wharton.”

                         “It’s a risk,” Arlene nodded. “The entrepreneurs allied with Andy are using the Wharton model to privatize state and local services across the country. It’s always been their desire to socialize risk and privatize profits. Once the profits have been squeezed out, they’ll eliminate services and let the towns fend for themselves. Andy is an autocratic, libertarian capitalist who wants to runAmericalike a for-profit business, and there’s no place for fairness or equality in that model. If Mark was in charge, I’m certain it would be different. But in his position, at his age, he can’t take Andy on, even if he wanted to. I doubt anyone can. Andy’s the most passionate and focused businessman you’ll ever meet and he always imposes his will. Trust me. Mark’s dreams will become a nightmare.”

                         “The Constitution …”

                         “The Constitution was written at a time when communication was dispersed by horse or sail, and people were interested in the experiment called democracy.” Gohmpers clarified. “We don’t know all of it, but Crelli will circumvent the Constitution.”

                         Arlene interrupted. “Andy is an idealist. He believes that business must run the country, that the time is right, and he has the business model to do it.”

                         Gohmpers continued. “Have you heard of Michael Ely?”

                         “No.”

                          “Ely is the former mayor of Wharton. He lost his re-election bid last year to a man named Harold West, an employee at Crelli Enterprises and a member of the new Entrepreneur Party. Even though there’s a recession, Ely was a well-liked incumbent Republican running for re-election in a prosperous Republican town. West beat him, handily.”

                          “That doesn’t mean anything. The Entrepreneur Party is a group of wing nuts. Maybe this West guy found a constituency inOhio. Anything can happen in politics.”

                          “In which case, there are more wing nuts than we know because,” Arlene explained, “to our knowledge, more than one hundred closet members of the Entrepreneur Party have been elected to Congress as either Republicans or Democrats. Even now they’re serving on critical committees and neither party’s leadership suspects a thing.”

                          “Well tell them.” Bernie was exasperated.

                          “I’ll buy you a ticket. Fly to Washingtonand explain this to them,” Gohmpers said, adding to Arlene’s comments. “At the core of all religions is the belief that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s God’s Golden Rule because from that premise, societies grow. But those on welfare and needing assistance are the only constituency in Americawho can’t elect representatives. It wasn’t always so, but money has corrupted things. Today the world is in such a sorry state that is operates with a new Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. Five years ago, I would have laughed as you laughed earlier about the possibility of someone overthrowing our government. Today, I honestly believe Crelli has more than a puncher’s chance. He has the opportunity, the motive, and the resources. He controls the media and so has the marketing support to get elected. He controls a portion of the Congress and once he’s elected President, he’ll control even more. He’ll appoint his own judges all the way to the Supreme Court.”

                          “But you’re not certain.”

                          Arlene handed him another folder. It was marked “Bermuda Accords.”

                          He read a paper titled, “Notice to Shareholders,” whereby Crelli Enterprises offered to purchase Bonsack DSS, Inc. “Are you saying Crelli had Jim Bonsack killed?”

                          “I know that Andy has acquired businesses in that manner before.”

                          “Arlene, this is crazy.” She nodded in agreement. “But why does he want them?”

                          “For their technology and to reduce competition,” she said, looking weary. “Bucky Duke’s company PAI has some very sophisticated artificial-intelligence protocols. Full disclosure, I developed those protocols and Duke stole them from me. It was Bonsack’s company, by the way, that completed the Angs project after Rebecca Morning was let go. Andy needed Bonsack’s technology to merge with his own decision-support algorithms so he could create a very sophisticated application that could literally run businesses without human intervention. It’s a technology that monitors, reports, and even makes decisions based on its ownership’s directives. If Duke had obtained Bonsack’s company, it might have slowed Andy’s plans, so the technology was stolen and Bonsack killed. Buying his company was a cover. Notice the date. The offer was made a week before Bonsack’s murder.”

                          “How did you get your hands on these documents?” Bernie asked.

                          “We’re not without resources,” Gohmpers explained. “The have-nots and ain’t-gots of the world have one distinct advantage; they’re invisible to the wealthy and powerful. They’re the ghosts in our economy. I’m talking about housekeepers, maintenance men, trash collectors, secretaries, accountants; people who assist the wealthy but are unseen by them.”

                           “How can a small group forced to hide underground take on Crelli and his machine?”

                           Gohmpers smiled. “Thanks to Arlene and her technical team, we’ve managed to stay a step ahead of Duke at PAI, Bonsack, and even Crelli. Arlene has a most remarkable friend, Joad. Joad can penetrate almost any security undetected, evaluate the information, and act on our behalf.”

                          “Act on your behalf? You’re talking e-Rat stuff.”

                          “Yes,” Arlene responded. “But I like to think of it more like ‘Robin Hood dot-com.’”

                          “We take from the wealthy to help the needy.” Gohmpers added. “Will you join us?”

                          “What would I have to do?”

                          “Protect your son and stop Crelli. This is the first battle of the information age and you’re the warrior we need to fight it.”

                           “I’m not your guy; I’m an accountant, for Christ’s sake.”

                           “You’re much more.” She looked at Gohmpers. “Have I mentioned the Bush Doctrine?”

                             Bernie nodded. “Once Andy’s elected, you’ll hear about his corollary to the Bush Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine permits a president to keep the country on perpetual war footing due to terrorist activity. Once Andy is elected, he will make the case that economics is a continuous war fought on a different battlefield, and he’ll get Congress to grant him perpetual war powers with which he will make the changes he deems necessary. Bernie, we must stop him, and you’re the only one who can convince your son to help us.”

                            “But how?”

                            “You’ll think of something. You should know that Angs supports Crelli.”

                             Bernie hadn’t considered that, but of course, Gorman was inBermuda.

                          “Angs is one of many companies that launder funds and divert resources to Andy. They’re a market leader in an industry that has little competition, so the business almost runs itself. This allows the Toms the time to support the coming revolution. Mark’s involvement drew us to you. Because of you, Gorman, and Morgan, Omega Station is an ideal location for our headquarters. Please help us. It’ll be dangerous, but you’ll have unimaginable resources.”

                          “You’re persuasive, but I can’t ruin my son’s career just because you have a hell of a story to tell and seem to be nice people. I’ll have to think about it.”

                           “If there was another way to stop Andy, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

                           “Arlene, do you know what you’re asking?”

                           “Unfortunately, we do, Bernie.”

                            He stared intently at them. “Why not just kill him and be done with it?”

                           “We’re not murderers,” Gohmpers answered, “and we can’t risk creating a martyr. Even if we were good at it, Crelli is far too well guarded. Right now, our strength is in our anonymity. Two generations ago, an historic string of victories convinced wealthy and connected entrepreneurs and entrepreneur wanna-bes that free-market capitalism was the final evolutionary step in God’s holy order. Democracy was the kicker. Elections every two years make the business environment less than ideal, so around the world, inChina,Brazil,Russia, many of the Middle Eastern sheikdoms, almost everywhere, autocratic capitalism has sprung up. Look atChina. Once a communist power, their leaders serve business today; they provide long-term interests and programs but allow their businesspeople free rein. The world believes that that model is the winner now, not freedom or democracy. Around the world, people have voted with their pocketbooks; they prefer the freedom to consume over other freedoms. Andy is providingAmerica’s version. It will look like freedom but it won’t be.”

                          Arlene added, “this is a phase that had to come. Our citizens need to see what’ll happen when capitalism reaches the extreme and destroys the democratic process. But Andy and his followers must fail so our country can finally lose its awe for what they believe are financial heroes who have grown too rich and powerful. Besides, if it isn’t Andy, it’ll be someone else. The devil we know, as bad as he might be, is better than the one we don’t. Our goal is to stop Andy, but by other means than murder.”

                          “What happens if I can’t help you?”

                          “We won’t quit, but no one’s in a better position to protect your son than you.”

                            Bernie tried to make sense of it. He looked first at Arlene, and then at Gohmpers. “I can’t live here. I have family.”

                          “Live as you have. That’s an advantage. But you and your family will be in grave danger if you’re discovered, so it’s best if you work within the system as long as possible.”

                          “Arlene, that morning … who was waiting for you? Who tried to murder you?”

                           She glanced down. Without looking up, she said, “It … it was Andy’s goon, Reno Soren.”

                           Another piece to add to the puzzle. “I’ll talk to Jane. But I warn you, if I find out you haven’t been straight with me, I promise, I’ll do whatever it takes to take you down.”

                          “Talk to her. But be very careful because the walls, even in your home, have ears.”

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What is the Joad Cycle

The Joad Cycle is a series of dystopian speculative fiction novels set in our America from 2032-2084 after a Constitutional Coup has brought to power an extreme Right Wing, Christian, Libertarian Entrepreneur who is the leader of the new Entrepreneur Party. In this America, business interests rule, government has been marginalized. and the poor and the middle class no longer exist, the result of a massive economic genocide. To survive, every citizen lives to create wealth and should living cost more than they can generate in value to the economy, they are executed. Mostly, this is an Anti-capitalist Love Story.

$$$ How to Read this Site $$$

This site is mostly fictional and it supports the novels, providing backstory and additional related short stories that take place within the world of the Joad Cycle.

The site offers a Blog and Journal from the perspective of one main character, the hero of the first book, The Golden Rule . This character, Bernie Rosenthal who is very liberal politically, works as Chief Financial Officer for U.S. Angs, a multinational multibillion dollar private corporation owned by Tom Gorman and Tom Morgan, the Toms, who represent ultra Conservative Koch brother types. Bernie is humbled by the tyrannical Toms during the day and finds a release journaling his job frustration. Meanwhile, Bernie's future self, Berne Thau, adds to the blog entries with his perspective, more than 30 years in the future, after money, greed, and the Right Wing revolution end the American Republic .

We are living in trying times. According to Berne Thau, they will get much more difficult.

Why this curmudgeon wrote this story

Every generation, parents tell their children that life was better back when they were young… and the children always scoff.

But now that I have qualified to pass judgment on that age-old warning, now that I’ve been both young and old, I have come to realize that the old have it right and children scoff at their peril though in the ways that American society has been taught to measures success, every generation since maybe the turn of the twentieth century anyway, has had it better.

But with age, and career experience, I have learned that those ways are deceptive and worse, they are wrong. Success is measured based on wealth, conveniences, and life expectancy issues when it should be evaluated on what we hope to be as individuals and what we become as people—the expectancy of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been successful enough. For most of my baby boomer life I was comfortable middle class interspersed with a few years of unfortunate decline towards impoverishment, never quite getting there before bootstrapping back to comfort.

For a time, I was a certified member of the 1%—in income though not in wealth. The 1% is a class of people who rule their part of the world and have a lot of confidence that somebody they know rules the rest of it. I wasn’t a one-percenter for many years, but it was a good life until my associations made me believe that I just didn’t want it anymore. I apologize to my family for what I had become and these novels are my penance.

People congratulated me for the success I’d earned as if those less and least successful earned that lack as well. And with the memory of a manufacturing facility in a small, rural, one-employer town in out-of-the-way Northern Maine near the Canadian border closed to improve a bottom line somewhere else, with an American town murdered for earnings per share, I signed off and began to write the The Joad Cycle.

In my research, I came to fear for my family that grew from the narrowest and shallowest possible family tree to three generations deep and two wide. My family is important and so I wrote these novels for them, for their future, for what I dread we have taken from them and will continue to take, long after we are dead.

I live in the Midwest and my friends are good people and I value them. They are conservative and most are Christians and somehow, we argue over unions as if union members aren’t patriotic Americans, too, and besides, what is to be gained by condemning workers in a country of workers. And we disagree on the poor? Social Safety Nets may not be working as well as they could (But how would we know if these Safety Nets are working? It is not as if some brave politician will stand up and precisely define what a win looks like in the freest, richest country in the history of history—and seriously, doesn’t free-form Capitalism deserve the bulk of the blame with its all-encompassing goal of creating winning humans and losing humans).

And discussions on life and death with my conservative friends, life at the very beginning and the very end, and guns and gods…forget about it. But unlike politicians and the media, we are friends so we work around the discomfort and the dislike for the greater good.

My friends are the current version of the salt of the earth and all of us abide by family values above all, even if we can’t agree on them. Good people like us accept a society where too many of our children are handled by strangers during the critical formative years. And in the twilight years too many parents and grandparents are handled by strangers until their money runs out, like sand in an hourglass, their lives extended only so far as Government security or private insurance will grant.

And when Americans finally expire after insufferable pain and embarrassment and to the sighs of sad but relieved loved ones, it reveals the immaturity of the vast majority of the American people who won’t resolve; once and for all, when God’s reason ends life and so they leave that to for-profit resolution. Can’t it just be in the fading twinkle of an ancient woman’s eyes?

But all of this pales to the legacy of GREED! Greed, that race for wealth that is ingrained in us all from television at a too early age that drives us to become economically viable so that with something extra in our paychecks at the end of the week, we can indulge ourselves with gifts, with palliatives, to relieve the pain and discomfort that we feel for doing what we must do to earn what wealth we cab. Greed is the satisfying of artificial and constant cravings.

And those who are considered the best of us, majority stockholders, officers of corporations, politicians, and celebrities all at the top of their respective food chains, they earn their way into the 1% and possessing this true wealth, they gift themselves truly extraordinary palliatives in order to compensate for something deeply unsatisfying within that was once more human, what they lost in the dog-eat-dog world that we all live in.

This is the world that we pass on to our children and our grandchildren. This world is what will own them someday like it owns us today. They are truly greed’s legacy. That too is the basis for my cautionary tale of America’s future, The Joad Cycle.

But I still idealize my youth. I remember what it felt like when I was a boy and so I wrote a grand love story, too.

 

Gary Levey

05/01/2012