Saturday, December 04, 2010

Torch in the Night, Chapter Two, Part One

Begin with the beginning.

Chapter Two

The Eagle and the Vulture

Washington, DC, a few days later.

Kevin Traynor stood looking out of a huge plate glass window of the First Am terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport. He did not stand out by his height. He was slender, but not athletic, never really having time for a workout. Nevertheless, there was something in the way he stood and walked that spoke of confidence, determination, and pride. Whatever it was, it matched his angular face and resolute chin. The hair framing his oblong face was dark-blond and rather shaggy, but cropped short to appear businesslike. Dark pilot's sunglasses shielded his blue eyes. Away from the office he would wear jeans and a leather jacket, but when he had to dress formally, like now, he preferred a black suit and a silk tie. He had come to the Capital to argue the landmark case First American Corporation v. New York in the Supreme Court. Briefly, with a shudder, he thought of Tom Hardy, a former presidential candidate for the Altruist Party, who had argued that New York's arbitrary gun licensing laws were constitutional.

Obviously, as every individual has the rights to life, liberty, and property, he has the right to defend these rights, and thus the right to own and carry the weapons necessary for self-defense. As these rights are natural rights, any law that abridges them is wrong. Yet, it was not the business of the Supreme Court to make good laws. Its only business was to interpret the Constitution. Thus, to get rid of gun control, Traynor had to convince the justices that the right to keep and bear arms recognized by the Constitution not only was a protection against federal gun control, but also applied to state and municipal governments. He had to get the justices to rule that the Fourteenth Amendment had extended the Second Amendment to the states. In legalese, the Second Amendment had been incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment. After such a ruling, the often capriciously administered state licensing schemes, like in New York, and outright gun bans, like in Chicago, would be null and void.

While Traynor's argument had been perfectly logical, Hardy had worked with smoke and mirrors. Again and again, he had tried to sway the justices with cowardly little half-hints at the fudged statistics his ilk had manufactured. They purported to show that thousands of people were killed with guns every year, while only very few lives were saved by civilian-owned guns. In fact, the opposite was true. Every year, millions of crimes were thwarted and countless lives saved through armed self-defense, many more than all gun deaths by accident, suicide, and crime combined. Yet, that was beside the point. Even if the gun control freaks' statistics had been true, that would have been meaningless. Human rights are not subject to cost benefit analysis. Even if a billion people could be saved by murdering one innocent man, sacrificing the one would still be morally indefensible. Ethically, sacrificing one man to save many would be a kind of the most outrageous crime possible: cannibalism.

However, facts, logic, reason, and rights counted for little in this day and age. Even though Traynor had already secured a landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down zoning laws restricting floor area and height of skyscrapers, he knew that the highest court of the land was unpredictable. Justices were not above twisting the Constitution beyond recognition by the most abstruse sophistry for ends they deemed desirable. Regarding property rights, First American Properties v. New York City had in fact been diametrically opposed to the high court's ruling in Kelo v. New London, adjudicated only a few years before. While First American Properties held property rights as sacrosanct, Kelo had meant that individual property rights were at the mercy of the government's political agenda. Sure, while First American Properties concerned zoning, Kelo had been about eminent domain, but to anyone who wanted to see, the contradiction was glaringly obvious. Thus, the present case was a tossup. If the justices believed in the doctored statistics, they might side with Hardy and trample human rights into the dust.

Well, right now Traynor was going to catch the last ever airliner leaving Washington for New York. Across the traffic, cabs, limousines, and buses, he could see the wide steel and glass vault above the airport's new subterranean train station. It served First American's Twenty-First Century Limited, the fastest train in the world. The difference between the Twenty-First Century Limited and what the now dissolved government-run passenger railroad had passed off as high speed trains was like day and night. The Twenty-First Century Limited connected Logan International Airport and Boston's South Station, crossed the Long Island Sound Bridge at New London, stopped at Idlewild before entering the East River tunnel and rushing into Manhattan's Pennsylvania Station. From there, it passed under the Hudson for Newark Liberty International Airport, downtown Philadelphia, Philadelphia International Airport, downtown Baltimore, Baltimore Washington International Airport, and Washington Union Station before arriving at its terminal, Dulles International.

Commercial air travel between the cities of the megalopolis along the Eastern Seaboard had never been a good idea. It was a waste of fuel, money, and time. To get from downtown Washington to Manhattan, one first had to drive out to the airport, go through lengthy, invasive security checks, board a plane for a flight that practically consisted of only takeoff and landing, the most dangerous and fuel intensive phases of any flight, only to drive back downtown once in New York. Only the absence of a speedy and reliable train service connecting downtowns had made this waste viable. Well, it had been put paid to. Plus, the Twenty-First Century Limited served as a feeder to the international airports of the region. From now on, international airlines only needed to provide service to one of the large East Coast airports.

At a time when conglomerates had been out of fashion among the bean counters, the Boss had built First American Corporation to be the largest conglomerate in the world. The bean counters believed shareholders could extract more profit from industrialists if the latter were confined to running some core business ad nauseam. The Boss had proven that curiosity and a taste for new challenges would beat rote repetition any time. He took over market leaders like Durand Chemical, improving them still. He bought ailing, apparently obsolete businesses like New York Pacific Railroad dirt cheap and turned them around.

First American's corporate charter stipulated that the company would undertake any venture its executives thought fun. What they thought fun striving for was expressed by the corporate motto: "The Highest, the Greatest, and the Best." At first, that had often limited capital availability. But in the long run, First American's daring investments usually paid off more handsomely than the timid bean counting of the competition. Over the last few years, First American's return on investment had been slightly but consistently higher than that of the competition. True, some of First American's mega structures and sweeping damn-the-torpedoes investments never turned a profit in dollars and cents. Yet, when a First American ship came in, it made profits beyond the bean counters' wildest dreams. Frequently, First American's approach was so innovative and bold that the company would enjoy a monopoly for years. It would be a monopoly in the best sense of the meaning, with customers gladly paying top dollars for something that could not be found anywhere else.

Read on…

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