"It sounds crazy," said Carson disgustedly. "It sounds like something that would happen in Venezuela or Zimbabwe. Making up the rules as they go along."
"It was crazy, especially because the whole thing started with eight Western states that wanted a states' rights amendment. It was mostly over coal and gas revenues, and water rights. They wanted to cut back on federal control of their resources, and then they were joined by seven Southern states. That was the original group of fifteen states. But pretty soon lots of blue states jumped on the bandwagon, when they thought they might be able to turn a convention in their direction. Nobody really thought it would actually happen, it seemed so far-fetched--but in less than a year there were thirty-four states calling for a constitutional convention. For six or seven totally different amendments, mind you.
"Nobody saw the train wreck coming. Well, almost nobody--the radical Democrats in Congress saw it. They wanted it--they saw the potential. It was a setup, a scam from day one. A big scam to turn the country hard-core socialist in one big jump. We all know that now. But by the time we figured out what they were up to, it was too late to stop it. Congress had complete control of how to run the convention, and that meant the Democrats. The train had left the station, and it couldn't be stopped. Then the Poor People's Party was organized, and the next thing you know, we had Philadelphia. They held these so-called 'state ratifying conventions' right there in the big sports arena in Philadelphia, right after the constitutional convention. It was such a joke! That's why we called it the kangaroo convention."
"And the Supreme Court didn't stop it?"
Doug said, "Oh, the Supreme Court--I forgot that one. There are twelve justices on the Supreme Court now. That was another amendment: twelve justices instead of nine. President Tambor nominated the three new justices as soon as the convention was over, after the amendments were passed. Congress confirmed them the same day Tambor nominated them. The old Supreme Court with nine justices was our last hope: that they'd throw the whole thing out. Just invalidate the whole thing. But they didn't stop it. They voted five to four that the Supreme Court had no standing to overrule the convention results. The majority said that Article Five conventions are up to Congress. That was the last ruling by the nine-judge Supreme Court. Most people think the five liberals on the old court liked the new constitution better. They agreed with the new amendments, so that's why they voted to stay out of it. Now that there are twelve justices, the liberals win everything. Three of the conservative justices resigned in protest, but that just gave Tambor three more seats to fill. Since the convention, it's like living in Venezuela, or Russia. It's Alice in Wonderland."
"What about Congress?"
"What about Congress?" Doug asked back. "The Democrats had unbreakable majorities. The whole convention was their idea. Oh my God, the Democrats were all in heaven--and the Republicans were just as gutless as ever. The RINOs rolled over for the new constitution, most of them anyway. They never had the numbers to stop it. You know, as long as they can keep their snouts in the hog trough, that's all they really care about. A few Republicans challenged the basic legality of the con-con, but they were shouted down and called fascists and racists, all the usual stuff. They took an unholy beating in the media. So most of them caved in, and shut up."
"Typical," agreed Carson.
"Very. It works every time with RINOs. Growl at them, call them racists or homophobes, and they'll run for cover with their tails between their legs. They just want to stay in Congress--it's like being royalty. I think most of the RINOs in Congress like being in the permanent minority--it's easier. Just keep your head down, shuffle along, make your votes, and get invited to millionaire parties every night of the week." Doug spat on the floor of the cave. "Bunch of pathetic losers."
"But I take it that not all of the states accepted the amendments."
"You can say that again," said Doug, laughing. "Most of the Northwest, some of the South, half of Texas--but not enough to kill the new constitution. The president, the Congress and the Supreme Court accepted the new amendments, and that's who counts. They control most of the military, and all of the federal law enforcement agencies. And they're in charge in Washington, D.C., so they make the rules for everybody."
"Only they can't enforce it out West."
"Well, that's right," agreed Doug, "They can't enforce it out there in the free states. Their state legislatures rejected the new constitution out-right. They said that everything that happened in Philadelphia was illegal and invalid because their so-called state delegates were stooges and imposters. So now the Northwest is using the old original constitution. They even got rid of the federal income tax, because they said it was unconstitutional. They say that the Sixteenth Amendment was bogus because it was passed by some kind of a fraud back in 1913. They use a 12 percent sales tax instead, and it's the same tax for everybody. Rich, poor--everybody pays 12 percent. And they keep it in their own states--they don't send any money to Washington."
"I'll bet Washington can't stand that," said Carson. "Washington, D.C., I mean."
"Can't stand it is right. Especially with the federal states still stuck in the depression. Yeah, the feds opened up a real can of worms with this new constitution. The states that rejected the new constitution didn't just stop there; they started what they call the 'rollback.' That's how they got rid of the federal income tax. They even got rid of New Dollars out there. Now they use gold and silver instead. They're hard-core on the original constitution."
Carson was intrigued. So the Northwest was going back to the gold standard. That was how he had been doing business in the Caribbean, and he still had a few ounces hidden in his belt, and more stashed in the derelict tugboat near his wrecked catamaran. He said, "Politicians can't just create more gold and silver out of thin air, like they do with paper and electronic money. Taking away their printing press is like cutting off their balls and putting a ring through their nose."
"Exactly right. It cuts the power of the government right off at the knees. People are finally starting to figure this out, and boy, do the politicians up in D.C. ever hate it."
"What about the South, the emergency zone?" asked Carson. "Which constitution are they following?"
"Basically, General Mirabeau speaks for the emergency zone. He is the e-zone. He's the only law down there that matters. They haven't had an election in three years. I don't know how he really feels, I don't think anybody does, but I don't think he's committed one way or the other. As far as I know, he hasn't rejected the new constitution, but why should he? He rules like a king from Louisiana to Georgia. He makes up the laws as he goes along, under his own emergency powers act. It's easier for him to avoid making trouble with Washington. What would it gain him? Washington can't force him to do anything, so it's a standoff. Personally, I think General Mirabeau is just for General Mirabeau."
Carson said, "The folks here in Tennessee can't be happy about the new constitution."
Doug asked, "What difference does it make if they're happy about it, when they're under martial law?"
"Did people really turn in their guns?" asked Carson.
"Here, or up in the federal states? Up north, people didn't have much choice. The police already knew where most of the guns were, from all kinds of computer records and registration lists. Most people up north turned them in. At least it looked that way on television. People had no alternative. It was either turn them in or get arrested. Or take a chance on having a SWAT team make a midnight visit. Maybe some folks up north buried their guns, I don't know. If they're buried, they're still buried, I guess. But they're not much good when they're in the ground."
"Nobody fought back?"
"Some hardcore types went down shooting, but not many. I was right there; I was still up in Maryland then. There were a few shootouts on the news, but not a lot."
"What about you, Doug? What did you do with your guns?"
He grinned sheepishly. "I didn't have any guns to turn in. My family was pretty liberal, and they were always against guns in general. You know, growing up in Maryland, my family blamed guns for violence in society. I never touched a real gun until after I was drafted." Doug finished wiping down his rifle's barrel assembly, rejoined it with the lower receiver, and pushed the two cross pins through.
"What about here in the South?" Carson asked.
"Oh, it was way different down here. Even after the new constitution was passed, the local sheriffs wouldn't cooperate with the feds, not when it came to gun control. They wouldn't set up collection centers like the city cops did up north. Then they had the hurricanes and the earthquakes, so things just worked out differently down here. The local police down here could barely find enough gasoline to drive around, much less to go out on gun raids. Not that they wanted to anyway. With all of the looting, people needed their guns--the local police understood that. Taking people's guns away wasn't a priority down here. After the earthquake, the feds couldn't even bring food in, so they sure as hell couldn't come in looking for guns. So anyway, folks down here are mostly still armed, just like before the Second Amendment went down the tubes. And with what happened after the earthquakes, people damn sure wouldn't give up their guns. Guns mean survival--life or death. If people didn't understand that before the quakes, they sure know it now. They won't give up their guns now, no matter what the law says." Doug Dolan picked a loaded thirty-round magazine up from the table and slid it into the rifle. He stood the weapon up on the table, pulled down the charging handle, and let it fly home with a rasping metallic snap, chambering a round. "And I won't either. At least not while I'm alive."
"And that's why the feds are coming down so hard on Kentucky and Tennessee?"
"That's what most folks think," replied Doug. "If the feds can't get Kentucky and Tennessee and the Carolinas whipped into shape, they'll never be able to get control of the Deep South, what they call the emergency zone. That'll leave General Mirabeau in charge, except he's not really under Washington's authority. All Washington really controls now is the Northeast and the Midwest, from Maine to Minnesota and down to Virginia--and Virginia is shaky. There's a lot of mountains in Virginia, just the same as eastern Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas."
"Mountain folks are a different breed of people, that's been my experience."
"Mr. Carson, the federal government is just an empty shell anymore, and that's how I think it looks in most of the country. It's hollow, it's all rotten inside--it just hasn't collapsed yet. Why should General Mirabeau obey Washington if Washington can't even get a handle on Kentucky and Tennessee? And if they can't get Kentucky and Tennessee under control, then they can forget about the Northwest. They'd never have a chance of getting control out there. Not while the East is still divided. That's why Kentucky and Tennessee and the Carolinas are so important. If Washington can't even get their own backyard cleaned up, they can forget about the Northwest. I think that's why Tambor was willing to bring in foreign troops. He doesn't care what anybody thinks--it's make-or-break time. The whole world is watching. If he can't get control east of the Mississippi River, then the federal government is finished, and everybody knows it."
"Well that's sure something to ponder," said Carson. "The end of the United States of America."
"Maybe America died a long time ago, and it just took us this long to realize it." Doug shouldered the reassembled rifle, aimed it at the ceiling of the cave, and sighted along its barrel. "Hell, we already lost the South-west without a fight. Yeah, I think the America you knew is long gone."
"That might be right. You know, you've got a lot of ideas, a lot of insight for a young man. Maybe someday you could write a book about all of this."
"I've thought about it." He propped the rifle against a crate behind him, within easy reach. "Did you ever hear of a book called The Black Swan?"
"You ever read about chaos theory?"
"Sure, a little."
"It's related to that. Risk, randomness, fractal geometry--it's sort of where mathematics meets philosophy. Anyway, a black swan event is something nobody thinks is possible, like a black swan in nature. All swans are white, right? That was a certified known scientific fact forever--until they found black swans in Australia. You can't even imagine a real black swan, until it hits you between the eyes. Planes taking down buildings on 9-11, that was a black swan. The constitutional convention coming out of nowhere?that was a black swan. The global financial collapse, that was one too. After they happen, everybody has an explanation, but never before. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but foresight is blind. The twin earthquakes sure as hell were black swans. All the experts said that a big Midwest earthquake should happen only about every five hundred years. They said that like it meant we had another three hundred years to go, counting from the last big New Madrid quakes. Like earthquakes follow human schedules. So much for experts!
"Hell," said Doug, warming to his subject, "we got attacked by a whole damn flock of black swans, and the experts didn't see a single one of them coming. Nobody believed any of this could happen. But it did! When it comes to predicting these off-the-bell-curve events, the experts were all wrong, wrong, wrong. Speaking of bell curves, some people call these black swan things 'fat tails.' That means a big fat bulge out on the skinny edge of the bell curve, where things should be astronomically rare. Fat tail events happen all the time out in the real world, but the experts can never see them before they hit, because they don't fit their probability models."
"Like the 'hundred-year floods' that happen twenty years apart," said Carson.
"Exactly. I read The Black Swan back at the University of Maryland for a statistics course I was taking. I'd love to read it again someday. When I read it back in college, it seemed kind of far out. Not anymore. I'm a big believer in black swans now. What you can't see can kill you. What you can't even imagine can kill you--or wreck your country. You think that just because your country has been chugging along pretty well for two hundred years, it'll keep on going forever, nice and easy. Like some kind of American birthright, or natural law. But black swans are out there--even if you can't see them, or predict them. And they can change everything."
"Doug, you have got to write a book about this."
"Maybe I will. But who's going to read it?"
"Thanks. I'll start tonight. Or today, or whatever time it is."
Carson checked his watch. "It's half past noon."
"It never changes in here. It's easy to get disoriented and lose track of time."
"You were telling me how you dropped out of college and got drafted. So, how did you wind up in Tennessee with Boone Vikersun?" Phil Carson understood that this might be a sensitive topic if the young man was still supposed to be serving on active duty in the Army.