A Second Line for Red (aka Christoper Vogts)

Red (aka Christopher Vogts) 2006Red was a guy whose life overlapped with ours for a period in the late 2000’s. In the gang of activists we hung out with at the time, he was the energetic bike freak with the fiery red beard.

As a student at UW-La Crosse, he helped start a program that reclaimed and rebuilt discarded and abandoned bicycles. While helping us with the last Spokes’n’folks parade in 2006, he connected us with the eight-foot trailer that eventually became ours.

He delivered the trailer with a double-decker bike he had recently built, and took a little time to ride it around in the alley behind purplearth world headquarters.

In March 2010 he hosted us at Nottingham Co-op during one of our visits to Madison. He was happily working at a local bike shop, and the last time we saw him was when he walked with us to the bus stop, carrying our bikes in a cart he built from recycled bike parts.

Since then, Red continued to work in that same bike shop, and embarked on frequent cross-country bike tours. It was on one of these tours that his life ended. On his way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, Red was hit by a van on a highway in Mississippi and he died at the scene.

Being 150 miles from Madison, we couldn’t get there for the memorial (like Red, we don’t have a car), but we thought we’d share the video above, the images below, and links to his obit and a story done by a Madison TV station.

What’s Wrong with Traffic Engineering

They say a picture can tell a thousand words, but this one graphic encapsulates my thoughts on traffic engineering better than I could articulate in many thousands of words.

 A short history of traffic engineering

From copenhagenize.com, hat tip to Tom Vanderbilt

Scott Walker Must be Fired for Fraud

One week before he was elected governor, Scott Walker told the editorial board of the Oshkosh Northwestern that he was willing to work with unions and to listen to any ideas they had to save money. In general, Walker presented himself as a reasonable and collegial manager.

After the election, he told a billionaire donor of his plans to bust public employee unions as part of a “divide and conquer” strategy. This governor turned out to be the polar opposite of what he advertised himself to be. We all have friends, neighbors and family members who were directly hurt by Walker’s divisive and mean-spirited agenda.

For those who say that recalls should be reserved for cases of criminal behavior, I answer with one word: Fraud. Just as a worker would be fired for lying on a resume, the people of Wisconsin must fire Scott Walker for the frauds he committed to get elected.

Walker’s rich out-of-state cronies are dumping planeloads of money into our airwaves, mailboxes, and telephones to deliver their next round of lies. Voters must not be fooled by these expensive packages of deception, but I trust we are smart enough to recognize that gold-plated bullslop is still bullslop.

The people of Wisconsin made a major collective mistake in November 2010. Those who regret voting for Walker (or not voting at all) in that election can redeem themselves on June 5 by electing Tom Barrett as governor and Mahlon Mitchell as lieutenant governor.

“Creating Jobs” is the Wrong Reason

There’s an illogical argument consistently used to support big projects. I hear it in support of projects I’m against, but I’m equally uncomfortable with its use in favor of projects I support. It’s the argument that a project will “create jobs.”

Any endeavor must be evaluated based on whether the result will enhance our lives and improve our world. Once we decide to do something, then we find the workers to complete the project. I’m not denying that many people need more work (I’m one of those people). But at times like these we must ask, “What is the best way to deploy this idle workforce?”

Let’s look at an extreme example of the “create jobs” argument: War creates jobs. There are jobs building tanks, planes, guns, bullets and bombs; and jobs operating the machinery and firing the guns. But the end result is that a lot of the stuff we built gets blown up, and a large part of our population comes home emotionally and physically crippled (if  at all). “Creating jobs” is not a reason to start a war.

Before we blindly “create jobs”, we should make sure the product of those jobs will make our world a better place. Then we can offer our citizens work that is worthy of their efforts, and that produces results they can point to with pride and accomplishment and say, “I helped build that.”

How Much is Enough? The Case for a Maximum Wage

We keep reading about corporate big-wigs, banksters, and other assorted riff-raff who collect annual salaries in the hundreds of millions of dollars. $100 million/year is $2 million/week, $400,000/day, or $50,000/hour. At that wage, I could work for an hour and take the next year or two off, or I could work for a week and retire for life on $100K/year ($2 mil at 5%, do the math).

Two questions: 1) How can any one person deserve that much money? 2) What can one possibly do with that much money? Does a $10 million bankster crash the economy only one-tenth as hard as a $100 million bankster? If the $10 million CEO gets a raise to $100 million, does his life instantly become ten times as awesome? I submit that the answer to both those questions is “no.”

One doesn’t need to spend much time reading gossip columns or celebrity biographies to know that the wealthy harbor the same pain and struggles that the rest of us do (and in many cases, far more so). So more money does not make life more awesome.

At the other end of the income spectrum, a little bit of money makes a big difference. It means bills get paid, creditors back off, kids get fed, houses get fixed, and life gets much more awesome. Looking farther up the ladder, houses get nicer, and people buy lots of stuff.

But at a certain point, the house is so big you only use a corner of it, they don’t make cars more expensive than the ones you already have, and you’ve already bought anything you would ever want, so what’s the point of making more money?

We have a minimum wage because to ask someone to work for a wage at which it’s impossible to make a living is oppressive. We need a maximum wage because for an individual to demand more wealth than he/she can possibly use is greedy.

So what should be the maximum wage? And how do we define and enforce it?

Back in the 1950’s, we had a 91% tax rate on annual income over $3.2 million (in today’s dollars). History (and people like my parents) remember this as a prosperous time. Most people don’t like paying taxes, so if rich people made “too much” money they would avoid taxes by paying their workers higher wages, investing in more equipment for their businesses, donating money to charities, and generally feeding that extra money back into their communities until their income dropped out of the top bracket.

Since then, short-sighted corporate stooges have taken over government and dramatically cut taxes on these rich people. So now instead of sharing the excess wealth with their communities, they are hoarding it in tax shelters and offshore accounts. Instead of hiring more people for better wages, they are closing domestic factories and replacing them with cheap contract labor in the third world.

So we can implement a maximum wage by setting a 99% tax rate for all income above that defined level. And by all income, I mean all income: interest, capital gains, rent, inheritances… everything must be taxed as regular income.

I propose that the maximum wage be tied to the minimum wage. Right now the minimum wage is $7.50/hour. (Set aside the issue that this is a pathetic wage. It should be much higher… $10-15/hour would be a good start.) So the formula could be, “The annual maximum wage is one million times the hourly minimum wage.” That way, the maximum wage would be $7.5 million/year, and it could only be raised by raising the minimum wage. The rich don’t get a raise unless the poor get the same raise (in percentage terms).

Excessive income above the maximum wage will go to 1) charities, 2) reinvestment in businesses and higher wages for employees, or 3) taxes that the government can use to hire people (at decent wages) to build stuff. Either way, the money is “in play” in the community doing good things, rather than gathering dust in a vault in the Cayman Islands.

They’re Not Bongos

I’ve heard many commentators refer to the “bongo drums” at the various Occupy Wall Street actions, and it kind of annoys me, mainly because it’s inaccurate. The term is mainly used to belittle and ridicule the occupations, but I’ve heard it used by people on “our side” who should know better. The most appropriate term to use would be “hand drums.”

Many years ago, I built a website for a maker of hand drums. (I won’t link to his site, as I was never fully paid for it, but that’s another story.) In the process I learned a lot about hand drums, and what all the variations of hand drums are properly called.

The most common drum you’ll find in public drum circles is the conga. Check out this picture from the Washington Post web site…

At the Wall Street Occupation in New York, drummers play congas and large tom-toms. (Image from Washington Post)

In this picture, we see (from right to left) a red conga, a blue conga, a snare drum behind it, a blue floor tom (another “kit” drum), a red conga, a tan conga, and an improvised steel drum. No bongos.

These women and their djembe drums were at an occupy rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (photo by a right-wing blogger)

This picture was posted for ridicule by a right-wing blogger from South Carolina who infiltrated the local occupy rally to gather fodder for his mean-spirited rants. He prefaced this picture with, “they even had bongos.”

No, they’re djembes. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

THIS is a set of bongos.

Bongos are indoor drums. They are small… far too small to be heard in the midst of dozens of congas, djembes, floor toms, snares, and hundreds of dancing and howling revellers; so they are rare in large public gatherings of drummers.

A bongo player struggles to be heard at a march in New York. (photo by Scott Lynch, "Scoboco" on Flickr)

The only place I could find a picture of a bongo player at Occupy Wall Street was from somebody’s Flickr stream, and this guy looks like he’s working really hard to be heard above the ambient noise of downtown Manhattan.

The Evolution of Revolution

Establishing and maintaining an activist encampment – whether to blockade a nuclear power plant or to occupy a state capital or a city park – is a major logistical undertaking. The Wall Street occupiers learned a lot about doing this from the Wisconsin capital occupiers of last winter, who in turn represent a major progression from the anti-nuclear actions of a generation ago.

In the fall of 1981, I participated in a two-week “blockade” of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on the coast of central California. Nearly 2000 people were arrested during this action, and I was two of them. Occupy Wall Street reminds me of many of the things we did at Diablo that worked, and I also see the OWS crowd improving the things that we didn’t do that well.

The improvement I’m most impressed with relates to communication.

At Diablo, there came a time when money and energy were running out and we had to find a way to end the action and go home. A proposal was floated to declare the beginning of a “Phase 2” of the blockade, and a discussion followed to define what that meant. The consensus process we used gave every individual veto power over any proposal, so we started hearing things like, “We will block any statement that contains the word ‘end’.”

Words that anyone disapproved of were removed and/or replaced. Strong language got weak and ambiguous. A reasonable and well-thought-out statement got watered down into a bland mush that offended nobody and excited nobody. And it burned through hours of our time.

OWS did something right in the way it composed and approved its declaration.* It’s well-written and strongly worded, which can be nearly impossible when writing by committee. I can see the markings of a committee in the list of grievances, but something has improved in the process to keep the well-intentioned saboteurs from muddying the text.

On behalf of the veterans of the Diablo blockade, I will take credit for one innovation in meeting management displayed at OWS: the jiggling of fingers in the air as a substitute for applause. I saw this introduced at the Diablo encampment as the size of the meetings started getting larger. A speaker would say something, and many people would cheer or applaud in agreement. This made it difficult for everyone to hear the rest of what the speaker had to say, and it would disrupt the rhythm and the flow of the meeting.

So someone suggested that instead of cheering, we should wave our hands above our heads to signal our approval and agreement. A “cheer” could erupt without drowning out the speaker we’d be cheering.

It may have been something other activists were doing before. But it shows that at the very least, such actions are networking events. Activists representing a wide range of causes, constituencies and age groups have lots of time to hang out with each other and exchange ideas to solve problems.

Each action gets more organized, and new best practices evolve from this stock pot of activism.

* My favorite declaration came from a blogger at the occupation, which concisely and explicitly covered the most important points. It’s brief enough to quote here in full:

We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.