Monday, September 11, 2006

On September 11, we always pause to remember our friend John who was on the 101st floor of the South Tower.

We met him in a graduate-level finance class at a major Ohio university. He figured out from a comment made in the class that we had quite a bit of political involvement, and as soon as the class was over he asked for suggestions about what Democratic Party campaigns to get involved with. His enthusiasm nearly knocked us over.

He explained that he ended up in Ohio as part of an effort to flee his home state. Although very young, he had been appointed to fill the unexpired term of a high-level office by his state's governor. Unfortunately, he discovered that he had inherited an office with a flair for large-scale corruption. Despite the urging of the old crusts in the party - and a threat that his political career would be over - John went to the prosecutor with his findings.

Honest to his core, John indeed found out that his days in office were numbered as he took to the witness stand again and again.

The trials dragged out for years. In the interim, John all but completed his Ph.D economics in a top-level Indiana university. His flirtation with economics was triggered by his admiration for the writings of Jamie Galbraith. But a last-second change of heart occurred. Economics, he believed, was too academic for his tastes. He had an itch for something with a little more action. Plus, he always felt he could return to finish his doctorate if things didn't work out.

With the dot-com investment train roaring down the tracks, John had a fleeting notion that an MBA might be an easy way to jump on board. Ohio had some MBA tracks that he thought would permit him to use his doctoral credits. He also needed to be relatively close to his home state in order to testify in the ongoing corruption trials.

John suffered (in boredom, not fear like most) thru some advanced accounting and finance classes with us and in that period he agonizingly complained about the ODP's lack of quality data, let alone any sophisticated data-mining techniques. You see, he had taken the time to volunteer his experience at the ODP only to be frustrated by the lack of basic information systems - and worse - the sheer lack of a coherent strategy.

After election day 2000, John was politically morose and again growing impatient with his life. He had some ideas for using advanced data techniques to help in political campaigns, but needed to get his feet wet with venture capital. John chucked his Ohio roots in early 2001 and easily nabbed a job with a major investment firm that was working out the bugs in a new venture-funded project.

Just settled into Manhattan, John asked us to read an apropos column in the Boston Globe by Galbraith that read in part (remember, this is pre-9/11):
WITH THE EVENTS of late in the year 2000, the United States left behind constitutional republicanism, and turned to a different form of government. It is not, however, a new form. It is rather, a transplant, highly familiar from a different arena of advanced capitalism.

This is corporate democracy. It is a system whereby a board of directors - read Supreme Court - selects the chief executive officer. The CEO in turn appoints new members of the board. The shareholders are invited to vote in periodic referenda. But the franchise is only symbolic, for management holds a majority of proxies. On no important issue do the CEO and the board ever permit themselves to lose.

The Supreme Court clarified this in a way that the Florida courts could not have. The media have accepted it, for it is the form of government to which they are already professionally accustomed. And the shameless attitude of the Bush high command merely illustrates the prevalence of this ethical system.

. . .

Bush should be opposed on actions whose reach will extend beyond his actual term. First, the new president should be allowed lifetime appointments only by consensus. The 50 Senate Democrats should block judicial nominations, whenever they carry even the slightest ideological taint. As for the Supreme Court especially, vacancies need not be filled.

Second, the Democrats should advise Bush not to introduce any legislation to cut or privatize any part of Social Security or Medicare.

Third, Democrats should oppose elimination of the estate tax - a social incentive for recycling wealth that has had a uniquely powerful effect on the form of American society.

Fourth, we must oppose the National Missile Defense - a strategic nightmare that threatens the security of us all.

Fifth, Congress should enact a New Voting Rights Act, targeted precisely at the Florida abuses. This should stipulate mandatory adoption of best-practice technology; a 24-hour voting day; a ban on private contractors to aid in purging voter rolls; and mandatory immediate hand count of all undervotes in federal elections.

. . .

Gore's campaign proved that there is a majority for a government that is truly a progressive coalition. Americans will elect a government that includes and represents labor, women, minorities - and greens. This is the government we must seek to elect.

And for that, the first task is to assure that the information ministries of our new corporate republic do not cast a fog of forgetting over the crime that we have all just witnessed, with our own eyes.
He accomplished a lot in his 29 years. Though no physical trace of John was ever found, his ideas still resonate with us.


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