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Here’s the July 5, 2013 installment of ToddzRoadNotes on WordPress. I’m a paratransit in Northern California, and littler bits of my driving life can be found @ToddzRoadNotes on Twitter

Post begins 7/4 On the Reno strip–

My rendezvous with the other paratransit van was at the Denny’s in Corte Madera. My sole passenger was friendly, weathered, and ambulatory. The driver that got him this far gave me the bad news: we were going to Fernley, 40 miles east of Reno instead of Reno itself. Good thing I pleaded for and received a hotel room on the Reno strip.

It only took a few minutes to determine that my guy was a talker, and wasn’t overly concerned if I was listening carefully or not. Every landmark was a cue to an anecdote on another era; he lived over there, knew someone here, used to tend bar there. Even large businesses and/or factories were part of his travelog.

Between the road noise, clanging lift, and the ever-present a/c on another 100-degree day, he was very hard to hear. But there was an expectation of participation, so every once in a while I’d catch a phrase and throw in my own contribution which would be quickly overwhelmed. Still, that was just fine. He was happy, and I could still keep most of my focus on the road.

Despite the BART strike, traffic was moderate going over the bridge to Richmond Parkway and connecting to 80. With cruise control set at the speed limit, I was the slowest vehicle around. Sometimes I was in the middle lane because the slow lane was too bumpy, and I was swarmed by speeders on a regular basis. Going past Travis AFB the reputation for renegades was fulfilled, with at least three cars doing 90 or more as they streaked by.

The high clouds beyond Sacramento stayed pink for a long time, and there was a big lumpy cloud to our west rimmed in gold. I caught sight of a sun ray, and its maker was hung in one of the cloud’s crannies, projecting an amber line through the plains with grey to its right. I pointed it out and my guy was impressed for a moment, then continued his rambling dissertation.

Traffic through Sacramento was mostly a breeze, and into the foothills I was still on cruise control. At the far side of Auburn I saw the sign for a Sizzler, and realized a steak would be a great way to use up my per diem. When we got there my guy was quick to pounce on a woman to ask for a cigaret. He explained that he had been in the hospital for two weeks and would really like a puff. To her the logic was counter-intuitive, considering that it was heart surgery that kept him in the VA’s Fort Miley for so long and he was pushing 80. While she relented, I came back with the bad news that they were closed.

My guy flicked out the glowing ember, stowed his prize, and climbed back on board. Just down the frontage road we came across a restaurant with a bar. As I turned in there was a banner right before me: “Prime Rib $15.95.”

It got better. The kitchen had just closed but the bartender went back and talked them into one last steak for the night. After a momentary chat with the folks at the bar, I hit the bathroom. When I emerged my steak was already there. And it was glorious. Same with the mashed potatoes and string beans. Me and my taste buds couldn’t have asked for a better respite. My guy stayed outside while the van stayed open for him. He said he wanted air, but he really was looking for matches. He found someone with a pack, and they talked until I emerged. With a brisk shake of a new friend’s hand, he again flicked off the ember and preserved his stub.

Back on the road, traffic had picked up. Now after 10 p.m., there was always somebody in my mirrors. Being the night of July 3rd, the four-day weekend had begun. Pickups held bikes, motorcycles, kayaks, tents, and coolers. Before the summit I noted only two times when my mirrors were momentarily empty, going around a hillside or over a crest. And past the summit the skies revealed a forthcoming delight: lightning.

At first it wasn’t widespread, lighting up specific clouds beyond the hills. Then as we traversed the last few miles of California in the narrow canyon leading to Verdi, all the ridges were exposed in momentary contrast.

But before that show picked up steam, I had to deal with stubborn pride. A car came up behind, approaching slowly on the narrow four-lane road with just concrete between directions. He had his high beams on. After he passed, I honked at him and flashed my lights. Dude. Be nice.

No chance. He later got stuck behind some trucks in the slow lane, too preoccupied to pass, apparently. The brights were still on as I passed him. Eventually he remembered what the second lane was for and came up behind me again. And again I tooted and flashed at his aging BMW. Nothing.

I wondered what was going on in his head. High beams apparently were his statement to the world. I’m superior. I don’t give a fuck about you, deal with it.

With every flashed beams before or behind him, his resolve must be maintained. It was like giving in to low beams would be as taboo as noticing a guy’s butt. Impervious, he continued into the distance, darkening everyone’s days with unnecessary brilliance.

But he soon was a fading memory. What seemed like a dozen cars coming up on my left were actually a dozen bikers lined up two by two. On the first bike both the guy and girl were in shorts. Still in the seventies at midnight, that wasn’t a bad thing. It was perfect. Except perhaps when the bugs hit her knees.

Just past Verdi, there was lightning over Reno. One flash took place in a mushroom-shaped cloud, looking like a filament. I got gas at the Keystone exit and kept my eyes peeled east while the gallons clicked off. Nothing. But once back on the road the show returned in earnest.

We passed Mustang, prior home of the Mustang Ranch of dubious legend, and collectively noticed that the lightning was clearly closer. It always seemed just one ridge away. I tried to focus on the road with one eye toward where the next flash would originate, but most of the time I guessed wrong and only saw the flash, not the bolt. There were some fantastic exceptions, though, including one where both of us reacted in vociferous awe. Straight ahead there was this big black cloud like a meatball in the sky while the entire sky went yellowish white behind it. The distant clouds made the perfect backdrop as the lightning bolt came in from the left, was obscured by the dark cloud, then crackled out the other side towards the valley floor.

Another blast of light provided a full 180-degree panorama, giving me silhouettes of hills out my window, the windshield, and the full-length passenger door.

As we got to Fernley, the sky show continued as we crept through his sleepy town. I knew that the one cop on duty would probably be parked near with radar protecting the main drag. My guy pointed out the landmarks and the one bar in town not in a casino. It was dark, like most things on a Wednesday after midnight.

He invited me in to see his place: a tiny, relatively new duplex with a living room smaller than some shoe closets. He was a racing fan, with a big Mark Martin felt mural in his work room. Dangling from the ceiling were a couple of airplanes he had made out of Coke cans. Intact ones comprised the fuselage, with cut and flattened ones making up the tail and wings. His most prized one, was a Baron von Richtoffen-era triplane. He said he could fetch $100 for one like that.

After parting ways and taking to my van, I scanned for lightning but it was now further north. On the way back to Reno I stopped one last time to turn off the lights, see the stars, then focus east for my last glimpse of lightning for what may be months.

Back at Reno on the main drag, preparations for the Thursday parade were already in place. Getting my vehicle parked out of harm’s way was problematic, but successfully executed in time for me to roll into bed on the 9th floor of the Eldorado well after 2.

Morning gave me sporadic sleep, yet by starting to write this I finally committed to consciousness. The casino’s buffet was sumptuous, with bbq pork and portobello mushroom ravioli proving most memorable.

The journey back was uneventful yet stunning, with big dark clouds all piled over themselves in threatening ways. The full-length plexiglass door for passenger entry was like a vertical picture window over six feet tall. I could glance over and see cloud formations and gnarled trees emerging from cracks in boulders.

Almost and hour after my visit to the rest stop at the crest beyond Donner Lake, I found that I had a stowaway. He first appeared perched on the top of my steering wheel. Thinking he was a pincher bug I flicked him forward towards the base of the windshield. Within seconds he was back near the edge of the dashboard, glaring at me with beedie little termite eyes. His world focused on the aforementioned gnarled trees before he flew into my van at the rest stop. And now he was apparently peeved that my dashboard was not edible. Far more perplexing, no doubt, was his experiencing of lateral g-forces while seemingly stationary. I was literally rocking his world. While I kept driving, gliding through the downhill corners, he stayed put for a few minutes before walking a few paces and reassessing. Then he decided to engage me in a staring contest, pointing right at me. I was busy driving, but I wanted to compete when I could.

Once he considered himself the victor he turned and strutted a few paces again. He was in a conundrum. A perplexed pest. A diminutive critter in a quandary.

Or perhaps there was some sort of fellowship in play. My bud the bug. Like a tiny black lab with too many feet. But no. He seemed to be getting insistent. So I pulled over at the next offramp and attempted to scoot him through the open door with a sheet of paper. But instead he flew up, glanced off my face, and disappeared behind my seat, thereby committing the next phase of his life to our vehicle.

I wonder if he’d like seat belts or the nylon wheelchair securement straps. If the van is still around Friday, maybe I’ll throw in a few twigs just in case.

The industrial revolution brought us our current model for capitalism, and it has served us relatively well for over a century. Yes, the system has had its flaws, yet somehow we have always managed to recover.

But the parameters have changed for the 21st century. From Reagonomics through the Bush era we’ve received a near lethal dose of the worst aspects of capitalism. The current level of corporate power would make even robber barons jealous. And finally America has woken up to this. Between the Occupy movement and the recent elections, the rumblings towards fixing a broken model have grown louder and gone more mainstream.

The problem with capitalism as it now stands is that large multinationals have a disproportionate influence on politics, media, the economy, the environment, and the middle class. Through their lobbyists and other tools of influence, they have slanted the tax, anti-trust, and environmental laws further in their favor, creating a class of super-wealthy where the top 1% in America hold 65% of all wealth.

Throughout time, massive income disparity between the haves and have-nots has been at the core of how civilizations collapse. Our current corporatist tendencies push us towards that brink; it’s a downward spiral that is hard to break.

This is how runaway capitalism can be our downfall, and its a hard rut to crawl out of. Since a corporation’s key goal is to maximize profits, CEOs and board members have a fiduciary responsibility to game the system through lobbyists who carve out exemptions and deductions in the tax codes.

But what if we find a way to use the forces of each CEO’s own greed to help benefit society rather than leech from it? What if tax rates vary dramatically dependent on how well a corporation treats its employees, its physical neighbors, the environment, and society as a whole through the quality of its products or services?

Sounds good, you may be thinking. But how do we get there?

The idea I’m putting out there is my model for socio-capitalism where we remake the tax code so that companies that have the most benevolent “social footprint” can get their tax rates down to 14%, while those that retain business as usual have their taxes max out at 38%. What determines which end of the spectrum they fall on is the SPI, the  Social Partner Index, which attempts to quantify and balance out the factors that lead to a corporation being a force for good not a force for greed.  The parameters that lead to a high score are:

  • fair wages for workers, middle management
  • good working conditions in US and in overseas manufacturing plants
  • worker retention, percentage of employees with benefits
  • declining percentage of jobs overseas
  • business practices in regards to fair competition
  • ecological footprint
  • footprint of their physical home office on their community
  • track record of the quality of their product or services
  • integrity and honesty in advertising

These parameters will be weighted in importance as well as over time.

Bonus points are given for:

  • high quality day care
  • job sharing without reductions in benefits for either party
  • moving manufacturing jobs back to the US
  • charitable aid in their home office community
  • paying some or all taxes that were avoided through offshore tax havens

Points are taken away for:

  • lobbying history if they have achieved a tax or monopoly advantage through corruption
  • superPAC contribution history with greater weight given the more deceptive the messaging used
  • dodging taxes through offshore tax havens
  • records of discrimination and/or sexual abuse
  • buying off and burying competing technologies

Bear in mind that all these parameters are not only judged in current time for a corporation, but also in their business practices throughout the decades. But a corporation’s dark past has a half-life. If the CEO and all board members get the boot, part of a company’s legacy can be excluded from the SPI right away. Over time less and less of its malevolent past will drag down the numbers as new evidence of change is realized. In this format the slate can be wiped clean in a linear fashion over four years – but no sooner. The ticking clock will provide additional incentive.

Still, a CEO may just decide that it’s not worth the effort to make America a better place. His company will make less money, but he’ll keep on doing just fine. This is where his greed comes into play, though:  corporate charters will be rewritten so the company’s SPI and the maximum CEO pay are directly proportional.

Those are the tools. Here are the parameters on how we can apply these policies in a transition towards socio-capitalism:

  • No businesses with an annual gross of less than $400 million are subject to these rules
  • The Society Partner Index (SPI) is created to rate how detrimental a mega-corporation’s influence is. The parameters are judged by impartial panels both inside and outside the industry, as well as by consumers doing direct business with them.
  • The tax rates of a corporation are tied directly to their SPI, AS ARE THE MAXIMUM SALARIES OF THEIR CEOs and BOARD MEMBERS.
  • Use this tax and compensation index. If a corporation has an SPI among the bottom 40% within their industry, the corporation pays a 38% tax rate and the CEO’s salary is capped at $8 million. From that level to the top 30%, a corporation’s tax rate is 32% and CEO salary is capped at $14 million. From the top 30 to the top 10%, the tax rate is 27% and the CEO maxes out at $20 million. If their SPI is within that top ten percent, their tax rate is 22% and CEO pay can reach a max of $28 million. And if they have the best SPI within their industry, their tax rate is 14%, and the CEO salary can max out at $40 million. It’s harnessing greed for good.

Do you see how greed will drive a race to the top instead of a race to the bottom? Wages, benefits, and the middle class will be strengthened. Politicians that embrace this new path will take control, and the largest American corporations will strive to become the best they can be. And being that their competitive practices will be under scrutiny with financial ramifications, small and mid-range businesses will be able to thrive, eroding inherent monopolies. Families will see a more secure future, and overseas America will again embody a model society to be admired.

Now there’s a lot that will need to be fleshed out, and opposition to overcome, in realizing this vision. And it will take a Democratically controlled House to start the wheels in motion. But let’s start the dialog and the planning now, because this end game might be what today’s college kids eventually see as the path to maximizing the implementation of their dreams.

America has heard us through Occupations. They now know they are part of the 99%. Now it’s time to show them WHY. And we can detail all the GOP travesties that got us here through miniprotesting’s unique brand of curbside activism.

Miniprotests are made up of three small groups of four spread out over three consecutive street corners. Each group within this “protest string” has someone in its center holding a 30″ x 40″ main sign at waist level. The three folks around each central miniprotester hold traditional signs overhead. That way the focus of passing motorists will be on the three main signs at eye level which provide a running message like the old Berma Shave rural roadside ads. This format allows a few seconds (or minutes if traffic is really bad) for folks to digest each part of the message before they see the next.

See more details on miniprotesting at:

http://miniprotests.com

Here’s a sample main sign inscription set:

Corner #1:  Seen Many Jobs Created by Billionaire Tax Breaks?

Corner #2:  GOP “Job Creators” Myth Just Empty Rhetoric, Slogan to Justify Inequity

Corner #3:  See Through the Republican Facade. GOP = Greedy One Percent

Most Occupations have dozens of signs that can support these main signs, or any other miniprotesting main sign sets you may want to produce. What’s important here is the METHOD, which can fit any MESSAGE you want to convey.

So how does this work in the context of an Occupation? Miniprotests can be set up as SATELLITE SUPPORT of an ongoing Occupation, or as a way of extending its messaging and goals after the tents have been forced down. As long as an Occupation’s assembly still exists, either in a park or online, the infrastructure is still in place to take full advantage of this activism tool.

First, a Miniprotesting Committee is formed during an Occupation’s assembly. Members of this committee will contact other committee heads to see what issues they’d like to highlight in future miniprotests. The Miniprotesting Committee would be responsible for the messaging, locations and timing of miniprotests, and organizing signups either onsite or through Google Groups or Docs.

Then members of the MC can create the miniprotesting main sign inscription sets for each cause among the other committees. The fonts need to be as large possible, in Arial spaced 1.5 apart, three or four lines per sign. Have the margins expanded out to the full width possible. Then email them to a FedEx Kinko’s and have them print them out on their 36″-wide roll paper to the full width of the paper, generally about 400% of the original. The 30″ x 40″ foam core white signs are available at Staples in convenient packs of three. Costs can come from the Occupy general fund or by $2 donations from each participant the first time the signs are used, then a buck thereafter. Save all inscriptions for future use; roll them up and keep them dry. You can rotate through different messages on different days, swapping signs throughout locations.

Now comes one of the biggest advantages of miniprotests:  With groups of about four per corner no permits or other special arrangements need to be made. There can be no justification for police intervention of any kind. Cops can’t play their hand if you don’t deal them any cards.

And now employ the sheer numbers of an Occupation to this model. Miniprotesting can present A CONTINUAL PRESENCE ALONG COMMUTE ROUTES to bridges, freeways, and tunnels because with 300 people you can man 25 SEPARATE LOCATIONS.

Spreading information that will bring down Republican power is essential to Phase 2 of the Occupy movement. Regardless of all demands and causes, the only way to make things move in the desired direction is to eliminate any possible GOP obstruction. That means our PRIME OBJECTIVE is to CREATE A SUPERMAJORITY in both the HOUSE and SENATE. The resulting progressive wave will also steer Obama’s second term more in our direction. So this is how we achieve this through targeted miniprotests:

-Expose lies, hypocrisy, and corporate ties of each state’s GOP candidates. This must be in state as well as federal offices because GOP control of state legislations is out to cripple unions and stifle the vote

-Continue to taint the GOP brand as a whole, showing how all the GOP legislation and deregulation created much of our debt and most of our economic troubles

-Target state officials in charge of voting process to DEMAND that they tell how many voting machines will be at each precinct 60 days in advance to prevent the long lines

-In states where new voter ID laws have been enacted, make sure everyone is aware of what they need to have on them when they vote. This will also serve as an indictment of GOP voter disenfranchisement.

-Remind Democratic voters that withholding votes for Obama, or worse just staying home, is just SELFISH. Personal indignation or dissatisfaction with Obama’s performance CANNOT INTERFERE WITH THE SUCCESS OF ALL DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES. Every Democratic vote is needed, from state assembly down to every city council.

-To give true conservatives a means to identify with the 99% mantra, differentiate between them and the CORPservatives who harness tea party indignation as fuel against Democratic leadership. Their 1% agenda is easy to see, so we will expose every proposal they make linked to who makes out best. We will harpoon their only weapon: unquestioned flawed rhetoric. True conservatives will see that they never enter into the picture in GOP economic plans. We will put all the dots so close together that these duped conservatives can’t help but connect them. And when they realize just how much they’ve been played, the GOP in its current form will implode, and all the money supporting it will be fruitless.

These are the specific things that miniprotesting can achieve if we harness enough numbers and make protest strings a common and informative sight every afternoon. And it needs to start now, as an effective evolution of the Occupy movement. Phase 2 may not get the media’s attention, but it has the power and the numbers to get everyone else’s.

The Occupy movement in most towns has already achieved their primary goal:  draw media attention to showcase their power of numbers and the might of their convictions.

But these occupations have huge potential to do even more, and they’ve got the organizational structure and protest signs to manifest this. What if they added the Socratic method to their messaging, presenting stats and evidence to support their assertions? Rather than present a stationary, amorphous mob, what if they were to station small groups on consecutive street corners along ALL different outbound commute arteries? Now they wouldn’t be relying on media to get their point across, they’d be delivering it in well-defined terms directly to motorists bogged down in traffic leading to every freeway or bridge onramp.

Occupiers, this is how the concept of miniprotesting can drastically expand the scope of your causes, and add the power to convince to your messaging arsenal. Here’s how miniprotesting works in a nutshell:

Miniprotests are made up of three small groups of four spread out over three consecutive street corners. Each group within this protest string has someone in its center holding a 30″ x 40″ main sign at waist level. The three folks around the central miniprotester hold traditional signs overhead. That way the focus of passing motorists will be on the three main signs at eye level which provide a running message like the old Berma Shave rural roadside ads. This format allows a few seconds (or minutes if traffic is really bad) for folks to digest each part of the message before they see the next.

See more details at:

http://miniprotests.com

So here is a miniprotesting main sign inscription set that could give many factions of the Occupy movement a voice on the streets. It also unifies all causes under the umbrella of the Fair America Platform. It would look like this:

The main sign for corner #1:

Occupiers Support the Fair America Platform

Tax Fairness:  Restore Fair Taxation of Millionaires

End Tax Free Offshore Loopholes for B of A, Exxon/Mobil

Job Fairness:  Restore Unions, Eliminate Tax Breaks for Offshoring

The folks behind the person holding this central sign could have overhead signs saying things like, “Support ‘1000 Families’ Top Tax Tier” and “GOP Union Busting Stomping On Middle Class” and “GOP Betrayed American Workers With Offshoring Surge.” Of course, there are likely to be many signs on topic made up by Occupiers already. But since 120 can produce ten completely separate protest strings leading to commute bottlenecks all over town, those folks will have choices as to where they want to go. All miniprotests can have the same main signs, or you can have each with a different topic. And with the latter you can rotate messages by location and save printing costs.

Another couple of signs can be shown anywhere, regardless of topic:  “A Fair America. What’s Un-American About That?” and “The 99% Just Want a Fair America.”

The main sign for corner #2:

Occupiers Support the Fair America Platform

Fair Elections:  Paper Ballots Hand Counted, Public Campaign Funding Only

Fair Representation: Overturn Citizen’s United, Curb Lobbying Excesses

Fair Business Practices:  Restore Oversight Over Industry and Wall St.

There should be no problem rustling up signs to complement these themes.

Corner #3:

What’s Un-American About

Asking for a Fair America?

Those That Fight a Fair America

Are Pandering to Corporate Titans, Billionaires

Now bear in mind that these signs take a few seconds to read, so the choices for protest string locations should culminate right at onramps. They can also have spurs where duplicates of the first and second signs can be along both north and south approaches, with sign #3 being the hub for both on one corner. And in rural towns, miniprotests should be spread across corners with three consecutive stop signs.

Another thing about using miniprotests in tandem with Occupy events is that it lowers the threshold for people who want to participate but can’t spare the time or are not wild about sleeping outdoors. And because each group is just four people, no permits are required and police have no legal justification for interfering.

Occupy groups can temporarily expand their numbers in this manner by promoting the miniprotest locations while being specific about the causes at each corner along each protest string.

See more about the Fair America Platform, and make suggestions to modify it if you like, at:

https://progtodd.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/create-the-fair-america-party-as-a-place-where-democrats-and-disgruntled-republicans-can-share-common-ground/

Please note that the URL reflects the Fair America Party that I originally proposed. I’ve backed off that stance, looking to instead promote a Fair America Platform that Democrats and logical Republicans can stand behind.

Let’s say that you’re an Occupier and you think this idea has merit. Where do you take it from here? Well the first step is to propose this idea to the Occupy event’s on-site assembly (often happening several nights a week) and ask that a committee be formed on site to handle the logistics. When the Miniprotesting Committee meets, either volunteer to be its spokesperson or aid the person who is voted into that role.

Any miniprotest can be put together in about an hour. This way if Rush or Boehner or Cain throws out a blatant lie, you can disprove it that afternoon with main sign inscription sets showing stats to shred their fabrications and throw light on WHY and for whom they lied.

The flow goes like this:

  1. Type your  main sign inscriptions into your computer, expanding your margins to the full width of the document in portrait mode. They should be in Arial, with lines spaced about 1.5 apart. The less text for each individual sign, the larger the font can be.
  2. Determine the best locations for your protest strings based on traffic patterns, proximity to mass transit, and number of participants
  3. Email your main signs as a single document to your local FedEx Kinko’s and have them print them out on their 36” roll paper. They should expand the original image to the largest size possible to fit the width of the paper, generally around 400% of the original.
  4. Go to Staples for the 30” x 40” foam core signboard conveniently sold in packs of three. Bring your pocket knife so you can cut two rectangular hand holds at the top of each.
  5. At Kinko’s trim your three signs on their wide cutters and affix the inscriptions using Scotch tape
  6. Meet up with your fellow miniprotesters at the location where the final signs are to be. Disperse main signs, getting someone’s phone number within each group. Also have somebody with a video camera across the street near the center of your protest string to capture any confrontations or happy motorists on the same page.

If your Occupy group is fairly small, you can enlist volunteers through tweets, emails, local message board posts, Meetups if you have an official one in your locale, or Occupytogether.org. The more locally based the better, though.

So now Occupiers have a new tool to expand their voices beyond a city block. More specific topics can be addressed on different days. The miniprotesting format can also be used for other focused actions in town, shaming a politician and his followers prior to a town hall meeting or standing along all inbound arteries to the home offices of a tax-dodging multinational corporation.

The Staples and FedEx Kinko’s costs can be added to your website’s calls for support along with food and toiletries. You’re already there. Now you can do more with your time, people, and passion.

And I will do everything I can to help the process. Please contact me, Todd, through the miniprotests.com website via the About Us tab. Also on miniprotests.com you’ll see a vast array of miniprotesting main sign inscription sets and how to concoct your own to support your own slogans.

The Occupy movements are all peaceful, and the miniprotesting theme mirrors that by avoiding abusive language. The miniprotesting motto is: On the Streets WE ARE HOPE. Please take your opportunity to embody that and feel the momentum as it grows day by day.

For five years now I’ve been trying to get my miniprotesting idea off the ground. And this weekend, thanks to the kind folks at Democracy for America and Rebuild the Dream, it has to some degree. The concept earned me one of their 30 American Dream Scholarships, getting me into the Take Back the American Dream Conference in Washington, DC and paying some of my travel costs. And in a bit I’ll share my daily impressions of the experience as the American Dream movement was launched in earnest.

Miniprotesting is a simple concept. Spread out a dozen people in three groups of four along three consecutive street corners. In the center of each group is someone holding a 30” x 40” sign at waist level while the other miniprotesters hold their signs overhead in the tradition method. The three signs make a running message like the Berma Shave rural roadside ads of old, allowing for use of the Socratic method and setting up slogans that will stick. More message from less people I like to say.

It would look like this to motorists queuing up for freeway and bridge onramps during the evening commute:

Corner #1:  True Conservatives Should Be Appalled by Today’s CORPservative Agenda

Corner #2:  GOP Willing to Sacrifice Medicare to Preserve Oil Subsidies, Offshore Tax Havens

Corner #3:  Republicans, Take Back Your Party From the Pious With a Corporate Bias or Vote Democratic

You’ll note that in this instance I’m trying to change the playing field, putting conservatives on our side against the tea party zealots in charge on their side of the aisle.

Most of the scholarship winners received hundreds of votes to earn their spots, while others got their ticket through the merits of their ideas that were voted on. I clearly came from the latter category, being the only one to have precisely zero votes of support. I guess my personal networking came up a bit short. And in my defense I maintain that miniprotesting is kind of hard to grasp in a few lines. But somebody did, and my wondrous week is proof of that.

Once I got the news of my scholarship I dropped everything and made plans to fly east from the Bay Area.

And after three days of being within the eye of the progressive hurricane just now being unleashed, I come away emboldened with hope on both national and personal levels. I’ve been inspired by some of the most creative and impassioned minds in progressive politics. And I’ve finally gotten a sense of relief that my quest to advance the concept of miniprotesting may not be as Quixotic as I have always feared.

I made a z-fold brochure on miniprotesting and was able to hand it to some of the biggest players in shaping our future, and in most cases say a few sentences about the notion to hopefully spark enough interest to get them to read it when they weren’t as harried. I connected with Jim Dean and Arshad Hasan, chair and executive director respectively with Democracy for America; Tim Carpenter, national director of Progressive Democrats for America; Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee; Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steel Workers union; and progressive radio host Thom Hartmann. And although I didn’t speak to him personally, I was able to give a brochure to one of the handlers for the conference host Van Jones, creator of Rebuild the Dream, as she and Van scurried out to the Capitol Hill rally we were bused to after things wound down at the DC Hilton.

I’ve also made direct contact with the local decision makers in incredibly important locales:  Jerry Clark, chair of the DC chapter of DFA; and Jeff Kravat, chair of the MoveOn chapter in Madison, Wisc. With the former I hope to help create miniprotests that radiate out from the inbound arteries to Capitol Hill, showing evidence of their lies and hypocrisy to Republicans in power on their inbound commute. Just maybe they’ll get the sense that they’ll be, as the miniprotesting main signs will say, FTRs:  Final Term Republicans, if they don’t break from the GOP hard right party line.

With Jeff in Wisconsin I hope to create miniprotesting main sign inscription sets that fan the flames in the quest to recall Governor Scott Walker. With revolving main sign sets exposing different aspects of Walker’s stomping of the middle class in his state, enough truth will become common knowledge to end that ALEC drone’s career next spring.

Again, I want to thank DFA and Rebuild the Dream for getting me here, and Kaili Lamb with DFA for her help with the scholarship winners and personally for helping me get a chance to speak before the DC DFA members last night. I hope, in the words of Bogie, that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the DC DFA folks. And many thanks to my fellow scholarship winners who added a large component of fun to my experience and opened my eyes to a lot of what they’re fighting for themselves.

And now, on with the show:

Day 1:  Van Jones delivered an inspiring keynote speech to get things rolling that made us think about the road ahead and how progressive momentum has led our country to the greatness it embodies. He helped us grasp the challenges ahead in facing the lockstep voices of the tea party puppet masters. He shared the idea that our movement has no heroic figure guiding us, that we make our path collectively. And to that end, he brought the heads of 25 organizations on stage that embrace the American Dream movement.

Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Clinton, captivated us with his passion and his humor. Lizz Winstead and Elon James White gave us a dose of funny in the afternoon and capped the evening with a hilarious Laughing Liberally performance. I went to one of the workshops about resurrecting US manufacturing hosted by United Steelworkers international president Leo Gerard.

Day 2:  Bernie Sanders was speaking in a small conference room and I arrived late. Every eye was transfixed. Being tall, I easily wedged myself into a spot where I could see. He is one of our most valuable progressive heroes, a true independent with no party protocols to adhere to. You want truth, Bernie is not going to sidestep it.Ohio state senator Nina Turner rocked the hundreds in the International Ballroom with her impassioned oration on the fight to overturn Senate Bill 5 which chopped the collective bargaining rights of all state employees including police and firefighters. They collected 1.3 million signatures to get a referendum on the ballot this November (they only needed 250,000), and Ohio voters can take this law off the books by the power of the ballot box. I wish Wisconsin had similar laws. Turner closed with something her grandmother told her as a young girl.”You need three things in life: a wishbone, a jawbone, and a backbone,” she said to the delight of all. The jawbone was for asking questions and pressing for answers. She brought the house down.
I also had to have a little backbone on the day, facing one of my fears of being interviewed on camera. All the scholarship winners were asked a few questions and asked to give a shout out to the brave souls of Occupy Wall Street. It went far better than I had feared, and although I got off track a few times I never fumbled for words significantly.
That night 15 of the winners got together with a pair of our scholarship hosts intending to dine in the Dupont Circle area close to the Hilton. But instead we opted for getting to go food independently and then sitting on the steps of the fountain in the heart of Dupont Circle. We finally got to know each other, find out what we thought and where we were all from. Many were from locales where progressive voices are rare, and expressed true relief in being able to talk so candidly among so many people.
Day 3:  The finale.My day started with a media workshop featuring former Air America brethren Thom Hartmann and Sam Seder, as well as Randi Rhodes’ occasional guest host Nicole Sandler. They gave us a fantastic insider’s perspective on the nuts and bolts of programming, the obstacles to overcoming right wing domination on the airwaves, and how radio and web broadcasting feed off each other.
Keith Ellison and a host of others highlighted the closing ceremonies at the main ballroom leading up to Van Jones bringing down the curtain. Once again, Van found a way to give us fresh perspective on the job ahead. Then we were bused to the Capitol and had a Jobs Not Cuts rally on a lawn there. Intermittent sound problems made us wonder whether Karl Rove was on the mixing board. There were loads of dignitaries and average folks that took the podium. We experienced a grandmother’s tears, an SF rapper’s churning treatise, and a registered nurse’s sobering look at the health care system as it stands.
Lastly I went over to the office of my House representative Lynn Woolsey and left her a note before hitting both the House and Senate galleries in the Capitol. Although the House was almost empty, reps. Jan Schakowsky and Henry Waxman were talking about an amendment to a bill listing the dangerous findings of mercury in a particular type of factory output. They spoke of brain and cognitive damage to children exposed to these levels of mercury en vitro. The Republican sandwiched in between them said a bunch of watered down BS about all the steps the mercury has to go through: it goes from the air to the ground water to bugs and stuff to the fish that eat them, and only a few of them get caught and eaten by us. What’s the big deal? Let’s see his newlywed daughter eat some of that fish just to prove a point. Think that will happen?

So with the conference done, I’ll be joining the October 2011 organization’s occupation of Freedom Plaza in a protest to bring all soldiers and contractors back from Iraq and Afghanistan. And I’ll be back with them tomorrow, too.

It’s been an incredible week so far, and I’ve still got two days to go. I hope to connect with the DC organizers of PDA and MoveOn, thanks to KeshLadduwahetty of the DC chapter of DFA. I’ve got more shouting and much, much more walking to do.
One thing I do know is that if we could turn all the passion I’m seeing into kilowatts, we’d overload the national grid.

Although it may not be a word, using “profitize” instead of “privatize” nails the true intentions of the GOP in just three syllables. Through legislation they are trying to inject a layer of profit into part of government they can, doling it off to the “pirate sector.”

ALL PROGRESSIVE TALK SHOW HOSTS NEED TO POPULARIZE THESE TERMS. The Lenz/Rove corporatist spin machine has cost our country so much merely by choosing precise words for followers to parrot. Now it’s our turn. But our attack will be different, because rather than deflect, refute, or ignore the truth, our words will be carefully chosen to accurately reflect the truth. These words will ring true and enhance the power of the concept we are trying to convey.

I’ve been trying to get words and concepts into the progressive dialog for a decade. I wish “Humpty Dubya” had caught on. I tried to take on the blind, bumper sticker patriotism in the early part of the Iraq war by trying to bring focus to Bush and Cheney’s lies with “Support the TRUTH.” I wrote a song that ultimately pinpointed Bush’s true agenda: “No CEO Left Behind.” Now it’s time to recharge our progressive base with clever words for their rallying cries, and give them tangible new ways to deliver them with the curbside activism of miniprotesting. Details on the concept, intent, and uses of miniprotesting can be found at:

http://miniprotests.com

Luckily, some of the old phrases still have some shelf life such as

–using the term FTR as in “final term Repulican” as a label to place on GOP lawmakers when they lie, mislead, show their corporatist enslavement, or just venture into wackadoodle land. FTR should be a brand on Republicans who never stray from voting party lines, ignoring their conscience and constituents. We need to remind them that they’ve stayed that course too long, and in their next election they’ll be sucked down the drain in the GOP WHIRLPOOL OF LIES.

–Nero cons. A perfect mental image for the GOP agenda

–Republo-fascists. Although Democrats are not guilt-free in this, the primary feeding frenzy at the corporate trough has been among Republicans. Their outsourcing, deregulating, union shredding, tax dodging, propagandizing ways would’ve made Mussolini proud.

Rephrasing the argument in our favor is just the beginning. We also need to find ways to get conservatives to ask themselves questions where their own answers will lead them to validating our agenda. We will put the GOP into the dumpster if we can get Donny Dittohead to ponder:

–Just who is the GOP looking out for, CEOs or me?

–How many lies will it take for me to question my party’s motives, integrity, and sincerity? Am I reaching my tipping point?

–Are the actions and legislation of Republicans truly reflecting the Christian values I hold in my own life?

–With their blatant hypocrisy, why do Republicans operate as if they think I’m too dumb to notice?

which leads to the logical conclusion of:

–If they don’t respect my intelligence, and my unflappable support is taken for granted, aren’t I merely being used?

Now to set the stage so these questions can rise in the minds of conservative voters, you have to put them in the context of an issue, vote, or statement. There are thousands to choose from of course, but it’s best to take their rallying cries such as big government, tax cuts, and social programs and use them against them. And use the Socratic method on them such as:

–“You know that Exxon/Mobile paid no income tax on $42 billion in profits last year because they have an offshore mailing address. In December, 2010, during the lame duck session of Congress the Democrats tried to push through legislation to close that loophole but the Republicans filibustered it. Collecting these tax revenues seems only fair, really, and aren’t Republicans trying to find ways to reduce our deficit? Why would they strike down that opportunity?”

–“There’s a Supreme Court justice who failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars of his wife’s income for at least the last six years. He checked the box on his tax returns that said, “Spouse has no independent income.” Do you think you’d be able to get away with that? It’s Justice Thomas, and his wife has received six figure payments from conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation. He amended all the tax returns the day after this story broke, and paid all the back taxes. Sounds like the actions of a guilty man, doesn’t it? Not only that, but because of Thomas’ vote on the Citizen’s United case allowing for corporate personhood in the context of campaign donations, the entities that Mrs. Thomas worked with directly benefited. Shouldn’t that be cause for a justice to recuse himself? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? It seems like not declaring this income is a way of shielding that conflict of interest link, right?”

There’s so much truth out there, and almost all of it is on our side. We can’t wait for pivotal meltdowns by Rush or Beck, we have to take control of the Word Wars now on our own. Let these ideas be part of that process.

Next week’s GOP debate will see the debut of a ninth candidate who could prove stiff competition to the Republicans vying for the party’s presidential nomination. In a surprise move, Big Bird has thrown his sizable hat into the ring, and he should become an immediate frontrunner on the basis of his huge advantage in favorable approval ratings.

With his towering stature, Romney is already at a loss to figure out how he can go nose to nose with him. With Big Bird’s charming good looks, Backmann is terrified at losing her modest edge in visual appeal. And with the newcomer’s affable demeanor, Cain’s only chance for success, his folksy appeal, will be overshadowed.

In perceived intelligence, Big Bird fits in roughly in the middle of the field. But with his straightforward albeit simplistic delivery, Gingrich is worried that his meandering, overreaching spins will lose their impact when compared to his new foe.

All eight GOP presidential hopefuls have much to fear when the ninth podium is added next week. Big Bird always keeps his cool, totally unflappable. He’s so much more likable than the current eight.

The big question for Big Bird is how can he land the Republican vote without an undercurrent of hate, which has been the driving force behind conservative dogma for so long. Clearly he is the best to embody the late, great Ronald Reagan, but despite all the recent GOP praise over the iconic president it’s hard to say whether the Republican rank and file are ready to return to that style of leadership. Hate and derision have been the main tools of the tea party surge, and virtually every candidate has made sure that his or her patriotism is based on that.

Of course, President Obama will be overjoyed to see the newest potential challenger steal the spotlight. Perry will be clearly overmatched, and the luster will fade quickly for the current frontrunner.

Another factor with Big Bird is that he will be recognized as a strong proponent of education, and vilifying that vocation in his presence will be hard for anyone behind a podium. That exposes another danger the new candidate brings: logic. There is no greater diffuser of disjointed rhetoric. If logic catches on, most of what the other eight say will have the staying power of dandelions before a fire hose. Although the GOP base, particularly in tea party circles, may be scared or unsettled by proven logic, it could be an unforeseen weapon if presented by the right candidate. Imagine the befuddlement of Rove and Luntz if logic would become something that the current brood of candidates must instill within their talking points.

Next week the GOP will know that there’s a new sheriff in town, and their days of playing loose with the truth will be numbered. And the new guy has no weak spots. Without genitalia, there can be none of the traditional Republican illicit cavorting to expose. There are no embarrassing clips of unpopular positions on issues to highlight in TV ads. Their only hope is to best him on stage and only Romney and Paul have the tools to do that. But they can’t be too harsh on him, because all the big guy has to do is let his big feathered head drop to his chest like a sad puppy and he’ll add the sympathy vote to his skyrocketing popularity.

Rest assured, the GOP frontrunners won’t take this new rival lightly. Still, there are rumors of yet another candidate in the wings, being readied for political battle by the big-oil Koch brothers if they see their influence compromised. Although there may be a potential problem with questions of his citizenship, the billionaires are ready to throw the Tasmanian Devil’s hat into the ring. And that’s a good place for it, because he could never keep it on his head anyway. Taz has the perfect demeanor and decorum for today’s Republican party, because rabidity is so en vogue. Although the Koch brothers have their tentacles on most of the field already, if Big Bird makes as big a splash as they fear, Taz will be their ace in the hole.