Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “March, 2011”

Hope Springs From The Youth

Last week I attended a meeting held by One Voice, a group made up of Palestinians and Israelis who are demanding an end to the violence and a sustainable, peaceful solution. One Voice is different from most dialogue groups in as much as they do not focus on dialogue with the other side, but with their own constituents.


“One Voice is an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward a two-state solution.”

One Voice began on the university campuses and is still primarily propelled by students. What amazes me and gives me so much hope is that there are many individuals involved whose lives have been impacted by violence and yet have chosen a path of peace.


The following video is a great 5-minute introduction to the movement. To steal one of One Voice’s sayings: Do you have 5 minutes to help end the conflict?

Today, more than ever, there is hope that the conflict will end. It is a hope based upon the millennial generation standing up and saying enough is enough. As one eloquent Palestinian, Bashar Shwaiki, told me: We are simply not willing to suffer the way our parents did. It is time to create a new narrative.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

 

Exciting News!

My novel, Unwanted Heroes, just reached the Quarter Final stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It’s down to the last 250 chasing a book contract with Penguin. I received two strong reviews from their experts’ panel and have another month to sweat the next stage!


Thank you to all my friends in the Berkeley Writers Group who helped me hone the final manuscript over the past year.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Does George Will have Glen Beck Envy?

George Will must think he’s losing readership share to Glen Beck. He has evidently decided that he needs to go deeper into conspiracy-theory-land to try to win his readers back. In his column in the March 7, 2011 issue of Newsweek titled, “High Speed to Insolvency: Why Liberals Love Trains”, George says, “…progressivism’s aim is the modification of other people’s behavior.” and “the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.” Wow.

Part of me wants to say, “Oh my gosh! George Will has found us out! We progressives will have to look up from our evil plans and think of a way to go deeper undercover while pretending to care about the future of the human race as a cover up!” But of course, sarcasm lands like a belly flop on the ears of a man who uses “word-of-the-day” toilet paper.

So, George (aka Pokey), let me see if I can help you out with a couple of things while keeping this on a level that you and your pal Gumby can understand. There are two types of individualism in America – real and fake. Progressives want real freedom and real individualism, while laissez-faire capitalists want fake. Real individualism is in thought, expression, love, and other highfalutin’ concepts like these. Fake individualism is whether you drive a Chevy or a Volkswagen, whether you like the Steelers or the Packers, or whether you watch Friends or Desperate Housewives on T.V. These are individual choices, it’s true, but they represent individuality only at the most superficial level.

The freedom your kind wants is the freedom to dominate: the freedom to take full advantage of the fact that your great-grandfather bought stock in Standard Oil way back when or maybe the Union Pacific Railroad, whereas my grandfather came over from Italy, just before World War I, without a dollar in his pocket.

Progressives want the next generation and those that follow to have the luxury of individualism as well – not to be chained to a desk for sixty hours a week nor to be afraid to go outside because the air could kill a person. You see, George, individualism is closely related to freedom, and real freedom can be curtailed by fake freedom. Your freedom to make selfish, childish decisions like driving a giant SUV to the video store that’s 1/8 of a mile away on a sunny but pleasantly cool day interferes with your own grandchildren’s freedom to breathe outside without coughing.

All that being said, I actually don’t like the high-speed rail plan either – but for sensible reasons – no conspiracies necessary. High-speed rail is not an urgent need in our society as it does not solve any current problems. What’s needed is a lot more and a lot better LOCAL public transportation. And, contrary to George Will’s Beckish rantings, this will mean MORE choices open to individuals, not less. George, like-minded pseudo-intellectuals, and overgrown children in general will still be free to pay 4, 5, or maybe even 10 dollars per gallon for gasoline, but those who would choose otherwise and would choose to try to provide a livable (and enjoyable) world for their grandkids will be able to do so.

Every day, individuals make choices between short-term and long-term preferences. Those of us who are blessed with common sense (most of America, I hope) make sacrifices today so that we may live longer, provide for our children, have some hope of future financial security. For example, most fathers might really like to buy a brand new Corvette but realize that, if they do so, their kids may not get to go to college or might not even have shoes to wear next month. As a society, we would do well to follow a similar program. Invest in things like public transportation now – suffer less from high gas prices, deteriorating roads, productivity-killing traffic, and the effects of pollution later. Trains get MORE efficient the more people use them. Can the same be said of cars? So maybe George is right. Progressives do want to change other people’s behavior – we want them to act like responsible adults who can see further ahead than their next purchase at the department store.

You see, George, it’s like this: Your freedom to spit on someone is in direct conflict with that person’s freedom and right not to be spat upon. I conclude from this that freedoms should be prioritized. For example, I fully support, without hesitation, your freedom to write ridiculous nonsense and to publish it as you are able. As is often said, in America, you have the right to be wrong. I believe this because I realize that my individual preference not to hear the blather of a mentally and morally deficient snob pales in comparison to my preference to live in a society that values and protects free speech. Likewise, I prefer to live in a world where my tiny nieces and nephews have a good chance at a healthy, secure future over a world where my own generation indulges consumptive gluttony.

Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Palestine next?

With the world’s eyes focused on Libya, one string of events last week went under the radar. Led primarily by students, peaceful demonstrations were held throughout the West Bank. Most exciting, they began in Gaza, where mainly young people demanded that Fatah and Hamas stop the internal war and join together to build a state for Palestinians.

Last Week's Unity Demonstrations

Hamas violently seized control of Gaza, publicly executing and murdering Fatah employees and civilians. Fatah, in return, has cracked down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank. The violence and denial of basic human rights for those who support openly one side or the other, is bad enough.

But it has repercussions beyond their own border. Israelis, even the most left-wing, admit that they cannot imagine negotiating a final settlement with one side without the agreement of the other. Any comprehensive peace agreement would include an implicit agreement to cease violence and the destruction of the other people. With both countries so small,  everything is of strategic significance. The stability of a Palestinian government is vital to any validity of a peace agreement. Not everyone in Israel agrees with this, however.

Last Week's Unity Demonstrations

 

The world should pay more attention, offer more encouragement, and help bring about the stability of a Palestinian government. It is probably the biggest obstruction to final negotiations. The Palestinian youth should be praised for their resilience and their vision. It is encouraging to know that true peace partners are out there on the streets.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Socially Responsible Investing – Not Everyone is in Favor

Sean Williams understands about unethical business. He worked in the world of  jewelry business, where apparently “endless ethical quandaries that arise between gemstone suppliers and a demanding public.”

Such conflicts included child labor and rebel militia and governments using black-market stones to pay for their weapons and armies. Though there are ways to do ethical business in the gem world, it is littered by beauracracy and red tape.

While he supports people wanting to do what is ethically right, he does not believe you should exclude investing in a company just because they fail to reach a vague set of standards that determine what’s right or wrong ethically.

What happens when you discard these socially responsible investing principle? Williams’ answer is clear – You profit!

This is from his article. For the full text click here.

“I’m not saying you’ll profit on every trade in what I’ll call “sin stocks,” but by simply including them in your field of investment choices you’ve broadened your scope of understanding of the business landscape and given yourself other avenues by which to boost your portfolio.

Since the barrier to entry in these industries is so high, due to the stringent laws that govern these industries, sin stocks often have considerable pricing power. Because of this, they can often provide a nice hedge against prolonged economic downturns.

Perusing sectors usually cast aside by social responsible investors, you can unearth some truly solid growth stories. After carefully searching through these sin stocks, I’ve uncovered two that present tempting valuations while offering solid long-term outlooks.”

Williams has a point. If you need to make money fast (and many of us are playing catch up after the economic hurricane of the past few years), then SRI doesn’t match up in simple returns to many of what Williams calls the “sin stocks.”

He may very well be right. The question is, who is responsible for sustainable economies. We have seen that big business can’t do it, and the government won’t do it. Perhaps we need to stop investing for tomorrow  and begin investing for our children’s future.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

Socially Responsible Investing – The Case Against

Over the last couple of days I have been promoting Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). I thought to write a post sharing the case against. Obviously the big investors and most small investors do not promote SRI, so I wanted to find out why.

Unfortunately it has not been easy. There were several articles and videos that hint about a lower return on investing from such strategies, but little more.

I wonder why this is? Is there a unsaid assumption that it is okay to turn a blind eye in the name of profit? I find this incredibly disturbing. It is the same principle for those who tut and shake their heads at poverty in parts of Asia and Africa, and yet are happy to profit from their cheap labor and sweatshops and wear jeans and running shoes that were manufactured there.

There is now a call for forcing major investing companies to commit a certain percentage of their capital to SRI. This is an interesting discussion from South Africa.

Also check this interview between some investing heavyweights from around the world.

Have you seen or heard people arguing against SRI, or advising against it? If it is such a clear-cut issue, why are only a very few people investing this way? And why are we allowing it to be swept under the carpet?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

Socially Responsible Investing – Some Reading Material

Yesterday, I began a series on Socially Responsible Investing. Whenever I encounter a new topic, I look for books to provide a basic level of information. This is, I realize very different from the millennials with whom I work. They worship at the keyboards of the Goddess Google and pick up an initial picture with amazing ease. If you are considering investing and want to consider companies that live up to a level of responsible business principles, here are a few suggestions.

I generally love the For Dummies books. They give you a clear foundation for whatever topic they chose. There is no need to read in chronological order and the information is very clear. Socially Responsible Investing for Dummies, more than anything else, gave me the confidence to take a first step and begin investing.

The second book I used is Green Investing. This book profiles about 100 companies with an environmental emphasis. I used this book to decide on 12 companies that I was going to focus on. I did my due diligence by checking websites with more recent news or commentary, but the book gave me somewhere to start.

If you do decide to try investing in socially conscious companies, these are solid books to begin with. There is so much information out there that it can be daunting. The volatility of the market as we have witnessed is scary and, as most investors write on their site, you should not be exposing money that you cannot afford to lose. However, if you decide to invest, this is investing in the future. For many of these companies, without serious investment, they will not be able to research and market their products and we will remain with products that are not sustainable. If we are to move the economy on, it will be done by the grassroots decisions of millions of people who care.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

 

Socially Responsible Investing – 1

In my novel, The Accidental Activist, there is a scene when the protagonist upset by the sheer power of the multinational glares at commuters on the train and “silently challenges their portfolios.”

This scene led me to begin researching socially responsible investing. Can those of us with disposable income make a difference through the ways we invest? Are we culpurable for the environmental damage and human rights abuses of companies from whom we enjoy dividends?

Over the next few days I want to examine this idea. Here is a short kick-off, a short introduction from Stephen Whipp, who brings 30 years of experience with him.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

The Future of Blogging

There have recently been a few articles suggesting that the blogosphere is in decline. Perhaps it is part of the five-minute attention span that seems to be evolving – been there, done that – a desire to master something, even if only superficially, and then move on.

An article in the New York Times by Verne G. Kopytoff (02/20/11) recently suggested as much citing statistics illustrating that the younger generation is moving on to Twitter and embracing the ever-expanding capability of Facebook.

At a recent meeting of bloggers, one experienced person explained how there are about 250-300 million blogs out there and how we need to strive to break into the top 0.5% of rankings. My first reactions was: Wow! I’m competing with 300 million others for your attention, never mind all the other media platforms that we turn to – websites, Twitter, e-groups, Facebook, etc.

Then I thought about it. Many blogs are set up and then discarded when the writer discovers that only his mother is really interested in what he ate yesterday, or that it is actually hard work to consistently provide content and implant all the links, tags etc. Then again, many blogs were the offshoots for future blogs. Left Coast Voices is my second blog. That means I am responsible for at least 1 of the 300 million blogs out there.

I don’t believe that blogging is the right medium for everyone. Furthermore, I don’t see it competing with Twitter or Facebook as they are so very different in content. Actually, most mediums leverage Facebook to get the word out about whatever else they are doing. There is an automatic thread from this blog that feeds onto my Facebook page.

Blogs are more active than most websites (I know there are exceptions), but I see my website as the place people go to research me and my books. My blog is a daily offering of news, organizations and people who I feel it is important to promote. Occasionally it is about my successes and failures, just so my mother knows what’s going on.

As such, I think blogs are here to stay. I think the shrinking statistics that Mr. Kopytoff offered in his NY Times article only offer so much information. Anyone can create a blog, but only a few will be disciplined/motivated/consistent enough to continue blogging.

And it is okay for someone to discover that Facebook or Twitter offers a better platform for whatever they are trying to achieve. It is legitimate for high-school students to experiment with blogging and then give it up . I salute them for trying.


I believe we are still in the early days of social network platforms. New ideas will emerge and millions will experiment with them. Only a small percentage will continue to exploit and develop them. As long as we don’t put too much credence in statistics, I am fine with this.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

Unions, a Necessary Evil

The public employee union situation in Wisconsin (and now Ohio and elsewhere) got me to thinking about the reasons that unions came into existence in the first place. Before the advent of labor unions in America, typical working conditions at factories, mills, and many agricultural operations were very harsh: twelve-hour work days, six- and sometimes seven-day work weeks, extremely dangerous workplaces with frequent serious injuries and even deaths, and all this for wages that kept most workers in or near poverty. The situation was the same for women and children, except that these groups received much lower wages.

Many large employers in remote locations were themselves the only providers of housing, food and supplies, and shower facilities – all priced such that workers would actually fall deeper and deeper in debt to the company even as they continued to work. This amounted to slavery, but the workers had no alternative as there have always been more workers than jobs.

So why are things different now? It’s because labor unions formed, battled with employers, their often brutal “henchmen”, and sometimes governments, went on strike, and demanded changes in employer policies and in the law. It’s because of labor unions that child labor is illegal. Because of unions, most people work 40 hours per week and get paid extra for overtime and work in conditions many times safer.

Of course, once any entity becomes powerful, it starts to make unreasonable demands on the system. Once gains were made, the unions had to justify their collection of dues from the workers. So, union organizers regularly fired up the members to demand higher and higher pensions and things like “job security”, which brought inefficiencies to the workplace and raised long-term operating costs for employers.

The working conditions of the past would probably never fly these days, but one thing would return without unions with no doubt – downward pressure on wages and salaries. And make no mistake, when union workers’ wages fall, non-union wages will fall as well.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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