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5.0 out of 5 stars Visionary super-rich & consumer movement alliance, September 19, 2009
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This review is from: Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! (Hardcover)
Courtesy of The San Francisco Chronicle, this review-article is reposted here for the benefit of Amazon-readers:

Novel Approach: Ralph Nader Turns to Fiction
by Hillel Atalie

Published on Saturday, September 19, 2009 by The San Francisco Chronicle

Ralph Nader, the consumer activist and corporate scourge, is saying nice things about the kind of folks you'd expect him to despise.

"Never in America have there been more super-rich people with relatively enlightened views," says Nader, lean and hopeful at age 75, dark eyes aglow as he speaks at the offices of Public Citizen, the progressive research and advocacy group he founded nearly 40 years ago.

"Not all the super-rich are craven greedhounds, dominators and bullies. Some of them take on their counterpart greedhounds, dominators and bullies."

It's as if Glenn Beck had found the bright side of socialism.

Nader hasn't turned conservative and he isn't making this stuff up, although he is, in a way. After decades of speeches, articles, policy papers and policy books attacking corporations and politicians, Nader has turned to fiction.

"Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" is more than 700 pages, worthy of a billionaire's portfolio, and its heroes are a gang of 70-something plutocrats, from Warren Buffett and Ted Turner to Bill Cosby and Yoko Ono, who conspire to set off a progressive revolution.

The story begins in 2005, not long after Hurricane Katrina. A secret gathering is convened by Buffett at a Maui mountain retreat, where 17 very wealthy people agree to take back the country they think has been betrayed.

They give speeches, write books, organize community action groups. They infiltrate corporate boards of directors, stage demonstrations for the environment and better wages. They start a People's Chamber of Commerce, advocate changing the national anthem to "America the Beautiful" and dream up a politicized parrot, "Patriotic Polly," that becomes a media folk hero.

"Fiction is a way to liberate the imagination," Nader says, "to see what could happen if 17 billionaires and super-rich people really put their minds to it, along with a parrot, and took on the existing business power bloc and the politicians in Washington who serve (it)."

The super-rich name themselves "Meliorists," believers that people can make the world better. They persuade the elusive Warren Beatty to run against Arnold Schwarzenegger for California governor. They conspire to force Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to allow its workers to unionize. They push for universal health care. They start a new political party, dedicated to publicly financed elections. They are so quick, and clever, their foes can't catch up.

The masses respond. Conservative smear campaigns fail. The corporations and the politicians retreat, powerless against the joy and fire of an engaged public.

It all works.

"In the real world?" asked Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation, the liberal weekly where some of Nader's early writings appeared. "In the real world of satire I can imagine it, but not in the other world, the one we inhabit. But Ralph is a prophet; he has been right about so many things the rest of us couldn't imagine."

"The cast seems a bit like People magazine, doesn't it?" said author-journalist Alexander Cockburn, who supported Nader's 2000 and 2004 third-party presidential campaigns and has frequently published his essays in Counterpunch, a left-wing newsletter Cockburn co-edits.

"Good luck to Ralph. God knows how he found the time to write a 700-page novel. ... But the use of billionaire's money for anything other than malign purposes is extremely rare, as Ralph well knows."

Nader teases, but doesn't kid. He believes the top can motivate the masses and wants very much for the people mentioned in his novel to read it. He already has some success: Early blurbs came from Beatty ("With this utopian fantasy, he shows us how good he thinks things could be") and from Patti Smith, whose "People Have the Power" becomes a progressive theme song in the book.

Messages left with Buffett and fellow Meliorist Barry Diller were not immediately returned. Spokesmen for Ono and Turner each said their client had yet to read the book and would have no comment.

Since the days of Karl Marx, revolutionaries have debated how much, if any, help from the top was needed to overthrow the ruling class. Nader thinks that the aging rich make for ideal instigators - wise and wealthy, beyond accusations of personal ambition, people of the highest achievement, yet also frustrated.

"They're very demoralized as to the state of the country," Nader says. "They play golf and they grumble and they've persuaded themselves that they're powerless, which is absurd."

His book includes pages of detailed policy proposals, Nader's common literary format, and draws upon public and personal observations. He believes each of the super-rich included is capable of the actions taken in his novel, citing as an example Turner's well-documented interest in the environment.

Nader says his decision to write a novel was in part a response to the nonfiction books he had read in recent years. The corruption of politicians and financial institutions is diligently investigated and revealed. But only the problems are addressed; solutions either are not provided or are too dull to inspire.

"You can see it on TV," he says, "when (liberal author-journalist) Bill Greider gets on Bill Moyers, for example, and he talks about the failure of the Federal Reserve and the Wall Street collapse and that's all very interesting.

"And then he gets to, `Here's one thing you can do about it. You can re-enact the usury laws and control the skyrocketing, gouging interest rates that fed all this speculation.' People look the other way."

Greider, whose books include "Come Home, America" and "The Soul of Capitalism," countered that he had received strong, positive reaction for his advocacy of usury laws, which set maximum interest rates for loans.

"But I agree, in general, about what happens with exposes," he says. "It's a basic complaint, that there's not a follow-through of outrage and action to books like mine, and to his, I might add."

Parts of the novel are now physically impossible. The super-rich crusaders include Paul Newman, who last year died of cancer (Nader says he was already well into the book, and that Newman's role was too important to remove him from the story).

Another Meliorist is Leonard Riggio, the chairman of Barnes & Noble Inc., whom Nader places in charge of organizing street rallies. The reason: Riggio once told Nader that he had a lifelong dislike of bullies, strange comfort for the many independent booksellers - retailers long championed by Nader - who blame Barnes & Noble for helping to drive them out of business.

"I'm pretty sure that's accurate, what he feels about bullies, but it's still ironic," says Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, which represents the country's independent stores.

"There are ironies," Nader acknowledges. "These people are not angels. And that's one reason they're so effective, because they're not angels."

The son of Lebanese immigrants, Nader was born in Winsted, Conn., in 1934, and remembers that as a teenager he finished "dozens" of socially conscious works such as Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" and the muckraking of Ida Tarbell. He would read and listen to the radio, to baseball games featuring, irony again, those ultimate underdogs, the New York Yankees.

"That's my only Yankee imperialism," he says. "But that was before (team owner George) Steinbrenner. I was coming off the image and history of Babe Ruth and my hero, Lou Gehrig ... because he showed me stamina."

His education was pinstriped: Princeton University as an undergraduate, then Harvard Law School. In his 20s, he taught and worked as a lawyer in Hartford, Conn., and freelanced articles, notably a 1959 piece for The Nation in which he charged the leading automakers with caring more about design than about safety.

Six years later, he published "Unsafe at Any Speed," a slow seller at first that helped launch the modern consumer movement, thanks in part to those he attacked. General Motors, builder of the Corvair, the "sporty" little deathtrap that was the main target of Nader's book, assigned private investigators to dig up dirt. The resulting publicity propelled the book onto the best-seller lists, got Nader a personal apology from the president of GM, and pushed Congress to pass new auto-safety laws and regulations.

"Ralph Nader became famous 40-plus years ago operating on a fairly straightforward logic, that if you expose wrongdoing and get attention, it will produce a political reaction," Greider says. "And that's what his campaign was about, and it was successful, and helped lead to laws for clean water, clean air and a rather long list of legislation."

Nader said it took just months to finish the novel, "the words flying out" of his Underwood typewriter, a process so flush that when an occasional thunderstorm knocked out the electricity he would continue to work, by candlelight.

He cites a couple of reasons for waiting until now to try fiction: "insufficient" imagination and a stubborn belief, now worn down, that the truth was enough, that "around the corner we'd have a breakthrough in health care, we'd have a breakthrough in corporate accountability." His mind was not changed by the election of Barack Obama.

Even Utopia isn't perfect. Of all the hurdles cleared and miracles realized in his novel, one great leap is never considered:

Ralph Nader becoming president.

"Fiction has some boundaries," he says with a laugh.

© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 18 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 19, 2009 8:45:28 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 19, 2009 8:46:29 AM PDT
ECKJR says:
From the brief comment in Parade magazine and the first few lines of Ullern's critique, I'd hoped that the ultra-rich were going to take back the government from the Obama administration and Democrat congress. Wishful thinking on my part!
Just such a meeting of the ultra-rich already took place just a few months ago, in fact--behind closed doors, of course! To paraphrase an old saying, "Maybe you're not paranoid afterall--maybe they actually conspiring against you!"

Posted on Sep 24, 2009 9:24:58 AM PDT
God says:
I'm not sure this country can or even should be "saved". As usual, people turn their heads on the mass killing and torturing of animals.....also citizens of this country and world. Americans are heartless killers. Never mind the petty finances of it all. Feeding cows chicken manure full of antibiotics and steriods on a massive scale to be able to bring to market billions of tons of meat is a joke and a very cruel one at that. A few are getting very rich, and millions and millions are getting very sick. Check out PETA's websites for more, a lot more information about animal cruelty.
But in its limited way, I'm sure this will be a good read. Nader is a hero. He just never caught on to the whole picture and neither did you if you support the animal holocaust.
JM

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 24, 2009 1:34:58 PM PDT
Alamo2 says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 6:06:04 AM PDT
2 says:
These two things are clear: Nader's tireless work for justice has improved the quality of life of every man, women, and child in the United States; and there is no factual basis for the the claim that Nader's candidacy somehow cost Al Gore the presidency. The claim rests completely on the weak and unverifiable assumption that every person who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore otherwise. On the contrary, exit polls in several states (including Florida) indicated that Bush received the votes of more registered Democrats than did Nader. The two-party system that masquerades as democracy denied Nader (and every other third-party candidate) sufficient access to media and debates to be a serious contender. Al Gore's loss is due to his own poorly run campaign and the partly's nomination of a weak candidate. Furthermore, what you call "narcisism" is rather commitment and integrity in the face of pressure to compromise. I regret not casting my vote for Ralph Nader in 2000 or 2004; but I did not make the same mistake in 2008. I look forward to supporting Ralph again in 2012.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 6:06:31 AM PDT
2 says:
These two things are clear: Nader's tireless work for justice has improved the quality of life of every man, women, and child in the United States; and there is no factual basis for the the claim that Nader's candidacy somehow cost Al Gore the presidency. The claim rests completely on the weak and unverifiable assumption that every person who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore otherwise. On the contrary, exit polls in several states (including Florida) indicated that Bush received the votes of more registered Democrats than did Nader. The two-party system that masquerades as democracy denied Nader (and every other third-party candidate) sufficient access to media and debates to be a serious contender. Al Gore's loss is due to his own poorly run campaign and the partly's nomination of a weak candidate. Furthermore, what you call "narcisism" is rather commitment and integrity in the face of pressure to compromise. I regret not casting my vote for Ralph Nader in 2000 or 2004; but I did not make the same mistake in 2008. I look forward to supporting Ralph again in 2012.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 6:17:47 AM PDT
Alamo2 says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 6:20:58 AM PDT
Alamo2 says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 6:53:56 AM PDT
2 says:
It was not my intention to present the argument as "fact" but rather to sumbit that Nader's real impact on the election can not be known with certainty. Likewise, Nader's chances as a "viable candidate" will never be known without equal access to debates. His platform in 2008 was closer to popular opinion than any other; yet the nation was prevented from hearing that platform. To paraphrase the immortal Eugene Debs: "It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you do not want and get it." So, I stand by my vote.

Of course, as expected, the "change" candidate was elected in 2008. Now we're discovering what an unusual form of "change" he brings: more troops in Afganastan than Bush ever deployed, the extension of indefinite dentention for suspected terrorists, the likely reauthorization of the Patriot Act, impunity for criminal acts commited by the Bush administration. no real healthcare reform, and on and on. I think the problem here is much larger "right wing hate."

I would love to support the Democratic Party, if it would become a progressive party again. A real Democrat like Kucinich is hard to find these days.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2009 9:33:15 AM PST
Sparky says:
Please stop perpetuating the myth that Nader's candidacy threw the election to Bush. The Supreme Court's usurpation of state jurisdiction and incredibly specious ruling handed the election to Bush via improper application of the theory of imminent harm. A very good book to read in this regard is Vincent Bugliosi's "The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President" (9781560253556).

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 30, 2009 8:30:53 AM PST
missye says:
democrats have done a great job of making the masses believe that Nader lost the election. they fail to look at the incompetence of the gore and Kerry campaign. the fact that over 10million democrats voted for Bush insted of Gore had nothing to do with Nader. we also forget that every 3rd candidate in florida had more votes than the difference beween bush and gore.
instead of looking at how thet have sold out the liberals, the deomcrats have turned to blaming Nader. To equate nader to he bush win and further to deaths, is a falacy in arguments.
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