Strakon Lights Up, No. 43

Imagining the ruling class


Remember Archer Daniels Midland? The "supermarket to the world" hasn't gotten a lot of ink lately, but back in October 1996 Ruben Castillo, a Central Government judge who'd paid his dues in a big pro-Clinton law firm in Chicago, socked the agrofascist titan with a $100 million penalty for price-fixing — "the largest antitrust fine in history," according to Sharon Walsh, writing in the Washington Post. Some ADM executives — including Michael Andreas, son of Dwayne, the company's big kahuna — even got themselves indicted.

At the time, I wrote a piece intended for The Last Ditch discussing how a Dark Suit citadel such as ADM could become the target of such an assault. I was concerned to demonstrate that the regime's attack didn't represent any kind of "victory" for the socialist Red Guards in some sort of imagined "war" with the fascist Dark Suits.

In the course of making my argument, I quoted Walter Karp's observation (in Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America) of "the elementary political fact that if a ... political act hurts one special interest it will also benefit some other special interest." And I pointed out that the second most important function of the Dark Suits' "executive committee" — the established financial sector — is to limit and broker the jockeying for political advantage among well-connected corporations. (The most  important function of the "committee" is to enable the bankers to feather their own nests at the expense of the public and, if need be, at the expense of the corporations.)

Unfortunately, the piece never made it into the newsletter: I wrote it wearing my writer's cap and then spiked it owing to space limitations while wearing my editor's cap. Stumbling across it the other day while digging through my archives, I thought it was a shame that a certain antic chunk of it had never gotten into print. I hope some readers may find it diverting. (It starts out serious, but it gets antic fairly quickly.)


The senior Dark Suits — the executive committee of the ruling class — can make things happen, but we should also remember that another technique available to them is simply to let  things happen, when doing so is in their interest. The bureaucrats in Washington City are always up to something. In fact, we can think of government as resembling the force of gravity: it's always pulling everything toward the ground. Often, I think, all the ruling class has to do to get its way is refrain from catching the ball as it drops.

Hearing the term "ruling class," many people seem to envision scenes like this:

Bill Clinton and Janet Reno have placed a conference call to Mr. Morganfeller in New York.

"Glayud yew could give Janet and me this tahm, Mr. Morganfeller. Ah know just how vallable your tahm is."

"My pleasure, Bill," Mr. Morganfeller purrs.

"Well, ole Janet and me was wondrin' what yew'd like us to do on that ADM thang yew was talkin' about. If yew done dee-cided, that is."

"Yes, let's arrange a price-fixing case."

"Price-fixin's always good," Clinton says.

"Sounds good to me," Reno says. "Though I guess that means you don't want us to shoot anybody or burn —"

"Whoa, there, Janet! Now, Mr. Morganfeller, ole Janet's quite a li'l joker."

"I know she is, Bill. Ha ha. Funny." He clears his throat. "I'll have my people call that young fellow out of Bill Singer's firm in Chicago. Castro...?"

"Cath-teeee-yo," Reno says, doing her best to sound authentically nasal.

"Whatever. We'll tell him to make it plain that the company had better plead guilty. I think we'll go for a fine of ... 75 — no, $100 million."

"Wee dogies," Clinton says. "All raht then."

I think a scene like this is much more likely:

One day very early in the case (which according to the Washington Post has actually been percolating for four years), Mr. Morganfeller invites two men to lunch with him in the Teak Room of the Alexander Hamilton Club in Lower Manhattan. One of his guests is Clark Cutlet, a semiretired lawyer and the higher circles' senior Mr. Fix-it. After lunch, Cutlet will 'copter to the airport to board one of Mr. Morganfeller's jets and fly to Washington: this evening he must put in an appearance at a soirée — a purely social affair, you understand — with the new president, Billary Clinton, and friends. Mr. Morganfeller's second guest is Lester Syrup, and you may imagine him either as the chairman of the nation's largest soft-drink company or as the chairman of ADM's biggest competitor in producing corn-based sweeteners for soft drinks.

As the three men unfold their heavy damask napkins, Cutlet says to Mr. Morganfeller, "I've already told Les how sorry I am that I, ah, didn't get a chance to buttonhole Premier Turbana at that Commerce reception last week."

"Don't worry yourse'f about it, Clark," Les Syrup says. "Though we surely would enjoy gettin' a lock on all a that Jabbanasti bidniss. There's 800 million a them Jabbanastis! And Turbana's cuttin' off their tea subsidies, 'cause the World Bank told her —"

Mr. Morganfeller interrupts, patient, gentle, smiling. "We know what the World Bank told her, Les." He glances at Cutlet, who is also smiling.

"Yes, we read about it in the Wall Street Journal," Cutlet jokes.

A little frown now on Mr. Morganfeller's face: there's no call for humiliation. Cutlet clears his throat and reaches for his glass of Glenfiddich.

"Oh. 'Course," Syrup says, blushing a little. "It's just that them Jabbanasti folks is gonna get mighty thirsty, they can't get their cheap tea."

"Well, Les," Mr. Morganfeller says, "Commerce is at sixes and sevens right now, what with Bush taking early retirement and Clinton pitching his tent. Personally, I don't think the time is right for you to start talking about Jabbanasti concessions. And there might be some other, ah, considerations that are too complicated to go into right now." He studies the menu over his half-glasses.

So Syrup knows he's out on that one. He consoles himself by rolling a sip of Old Weller around on his tongue. He'll try again next time. After all, the word on the Street has it that the World Bank and two of the commercial banks Mr. Morganfeller controls are offering the People's Republic of Ooga-Booga billions of dollars if it "privatizes" the way Jabbanastia did.

But then Cutlet says, "Les, here's something you'll be interested in. I hear that some munchkins down at Justice have got it in their heads to go after ADM. Big, big price-fixing case. Seems they've come up with some sort of whistle-blower."

Syrup raises his eyebrows and looks at Mr. Morganfeller.

Mr. Morganfeller shakes his head. "It's a shame. Poor Dwayne. His operation is so ... beneficial. Indispensable, in fact. Feeds so many millions of hungry people. Supermarket to the world, one might even say." He inspects his menu again.

Syrup and Cutlet wait, venturing no comment.

Finally Mr. Morganfeller continues. "Still, Dwayne's people should have known better. And now he'll have to pay the piper."

"More than one piper, probably," Cutlet now interjects. "We — I mean, I   know some people at Kraft, Quaker Oats, and Farmland Industries, and they're all going to sue ADM on the basis of this prosecution. Probably win a ton of money in damages."

"What a pity," Mr. Morganfeller says. "But clearly there's nothing anyone can do about it. Nothing at all. After all, we live in a democracy! Speaking of feeding the people ..." He beams at the hovering waiter. "Serge, I believe you might bring us the sautéed pancreas of swan today. And a bottle of the Chateau d'Yqem from my personal stock. Is that satisfactory, gentlemen?"

Syrup nods, suppressing his own grin. Swan pancreas or not, he suddenly feels his appetite returning.

May 17, 2000


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