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 “April, 2011”

The Orange: A Woman’s Issue

Last night millions of Jews and their friends sat around the Passover Seder table. At the center of the table is a Seder plate. Jewish tradition is very particular about what one puts on the plate

However, Judaism has survived (I know there are many who I’m about to annoy) because even our traditions have evolved. In the 1980’s, a certain famous Israeli Orthodox rabbi was asked what he thought of women becoming rabbis. His response was that there was as much chance of this happening as an orange appearing on a Passover Seder plate.


An Orange on the Seder Plate

Since then, the orange has become a symbol of woman’s rights and equality within the progressive Jewish religion. The rabbi of my congregation is a woman and I work in an organization that embraces women rabbis, many of whom serve as role models and sources of inspiration for me.

The orange has made our world a richer place…and don’t get me started on the benefits of Vitamin C!

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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).

The Non Kosher Passover Plate

I couldn’t resist this great article/initiative from Paul Greenberg in the New York Times today. He put an oyster on his Seder plate. Now Jewish social activists often add a symbol for their cause to the ceremonial plate. But oysters are considered trief (not kosher) and Jews who observe our dietary laws do not eat seafood.

This is what makes the notion so radical and outrageous, except the rage is directed at the oil spill in the Gulf Coast (exactly a year ago) and the astonishing news that BP are continuing to economically thrive, while leaving a community absolutely devastated.

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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).

Why Should Some People Pay More Taxes than Others? (part 1)

Lately, I’ve been hearing, over and over, about how those with more wealth “can afford to pay their fair share.” It’s as if there could be no motivation except “doing what’s right.” Well, I think it goes beyond that. There are solid reasons for our graduated tax system, and solid reasons that the wealthy and corporations should pay more than a middle class wage-earner.

We rightly think of taking what you haven’t paid for from a store as stealing. We also say that, buying something cheap gets you an inferior product – “You get what you pay for.” These two elements add up to this imperative: Pay for what you get. What I’m talking about here are the goods and services that taxes pay for: public roads, police, fire protection, education, and many others. We all benefit from these, but those with more wealth, property, or who own a business get more of the benefits than do wage-earners.

Let’s take the example of a small, privately-owned company that manufactures a product. Let’s also assume that this is an old fashioned company whose work is still performed by human beings rather than robots.

If the company makes a profit, (tricky accounting notwithstanding) then it essentially makes a profit from each of the individual activities that go into its products – at least on average. What this means is that, by definition, the work of an employee who is paid $50,000 per year earns the company some amount more than $50,000 per year. Otherwise, there would be little point in employing that person. Let’s drill down and examine this employee more closely.

The employee lives in a residential community that is some distance from the company. So, the employee has to drive to work, as there is no convenient public transportation option for the trip. The trip is made in the employee’s private car, but on public roads and, as we know, roads cost money. The road that the employee takes to work is paid for by taxes and, ostensibly, provides benefits to those who pay the taxes.

So let’s look at who gets the benefits from the road. The employee’s benefit comes in the ability to get to a paying job. But the work that the employee does at the company also benefits the owner – in an amount that exceeds the employee’s pay. Thus, whatever benefit the employee derives from the ability to drive to work on the road, the owner also derives some benefit from the very same trip because it allows an employee to come to work and produce.

The road enables the employee to do the work that makes $50,000 per year, which makes a profit for the owner. The owner get his or her own benefit from driving on the road, plus a significant benefit from the road use of each employee. So shouldn’t the owner pay a larger portion of the cost to build and maintain the road?

I’ll continue this analysis in part 2.

-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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Why This Night Is Different

Tonight, Jews all over the world will sit around the dinner table and participate in a ritual thousands of years old. Two weeks ago, I joined a number of Jewish colleagues to question what is Jewish peoplehood. One answer is that it is the sharing of a collective memory. There is perhaps nothing as powerful to illustrate this as the Passover Seder (the ceremony). We have been doing this for a few thousand years and, hopefully will continue for a few thousand more.

Passover commemorates the exodus from Egypt of the Israelite slave nation. It is essentially a celebration of freedom. This year has been different. Many peoples, in the Middle East, are seeking their freedom. Some have paid for it with their lives, others have seen their homes and neighborhoods destroyed. What is so awesome is that many are trying to realize their freedom through non-violent methods.

Some will succeed, others won’t this time. When the Israelites were freed, it still took 40 years to create our peoplehood. Casting off the chains of our oppressors is one thing, but it is what we do with this freedom that defines who we really are.

At the Passover Table tonight, let us lift a fifth glass of wine for the people in the world who have freed themselves, or who are trying to free themselves. Let us offer up a prayer for their futures, that we may create a world where human rights and freedom are the only options.

And let us toast freedom for all – Le’chaim!


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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).

Two Landmarks This Week

Earlier this week , I posted my 300th blog post. The overall goal is to reach 1,000 and reach 500 by the end of the year. In the last few weeks, blog hits and comments have noticeably risen, and my colleague and mentor, Lloyd Lofthouse,  for this, saw a big jump between the 300-400 mark.

In addition, Left Coast Voices broke into the top 1 million ranked blogs (there are 400 million) and this went quicker than we anticipated. It is important to set clear and measureable goals. I feel this is what separates those serious authors from the hobbyists. 

I am interested to hear from authors who focus on blogging to sell their books:

1) What were your goals for the year/month/…

2) At what point  in your blog and online development did you begin to see consistent sales rise?

 

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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).

The Audacity of Leadership

I once ripped the audio version of The Audacity of Hope by one Barack Obama (the publicity campaigns that some authors will go to ensure book sales!). I have never bothered erasing it. At the gym, armed with my iPod shuffle,  I might be pounding the treadmill to the beat of Alanis Morissette one moment and then the next focusing on President Obama’s rich voice. Beyond inspiring messages, a chapter of his book can take up several minutes of exercise time – a serious consideration to help shed the pounds.

Now I really got into his Presidential election and I suspect I wasn’t the only one since a few people voted for him. Yesterday, while listening to his book I heard something like: we need to create a new political model that goes beyond the bi-partisanship and with focused cooperation will bring more effective legislation (these are my words, I know you said it better, Mr. President).


I want to share that, while I am still a big supporter, I have become frustrated with the Democrats (when they held the house and senate), playing too nice to the Republicans. I think this has been an influence of the President, but has yielded little reciprocation – in fact we saw the birth of the Tea Party and the rise of some very scary characters.

While getting down on POTUS, I then saw this bumper sticker today and it made me rethink.

Maybe it is not so audacious to still hope…

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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).

Fresh Produce for the Homeless

Some time ago I wrote about Spiral Gardens, a community garden in Berkeley that donates produce and profit from its stand to a low-income housing group nearby.

While speaking at a panel about Jews and Social Justice last month, a woman from the audience who is a member of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco told us about that Jewish community’s involvement in the Free Farm Stand.

The goals of The Free Farm Stand include:

•help make locally grown, fresh and nutritious organic produce accessible to all, especially those families and individuals on low-incomes and tight budgets.

•help empower people who have the space to grow their own food and become more self-reliant.

•promote good nutrition and health

In addition to growing as much produce as possible, they also have a framework to harvest and collect produce from gardens in the Mission District. They also receive surplus from the local farmer’s market which they can distribute to homeless and low income populations.

If you are interested in volunteering, please call Lauren at Produce to the People: producetothepeople@gmail.com or by phone at 415-828-9733

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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/

 

Empty Shelves

Whenever I enter the house of someone who I have just met, I look for defining features. What books are on their shelves? What CD’s do they listen to? What art is on their walls?

I recently visited two long-time friends. They are book-people and bookcases adorn every room. Books spill out onto the floor, a pile sits in the bathroom, and their garage, where I have crashed at various times of my life, has precarious towers of crumple covered books. Their walls are also covered in pictures. They are ‘stuff’ people.

Both these people are tech savvy. Their music has long been stored on iPods and there are hardly any audio footprints around the house except for iPod docking stations. But on this visit I was confronted by two paper bags full of books and piles of others sorted on their dinning room table.

“We are in the middle of a project,” one offers apologetically.

“We have almost everything digital now,” the iPad partner offered with the confidence unmoved by the appearance of the iPad 2 within a couple of months since he first brandished his new toy in my house.


A few days later I picked up my youngest son from a play date with a friend whose parents I had not met. Their house was the opposite to my friends: quite empty in comparison. There was a solitary bookcase, stored asthetically with art books sorted by size, and a few modern eye-catching pictures adorned the walls of cafes and jazz musicians.

What did I think of these people? What was my first impression and what were my frames of reference? I had few books to scan, no CD’s and little in the way of art.


It was tough. I had no choice. I had to resort to conversation. In a world of texting and tweeting, of Facebook profiles and LinkedIn status, will the empty shelves provide the last frontier of face-to-face communication?

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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).

The Great Deception

Who benefits from the childish playground feuds between the Republicans and the Democrats? While the two major political parties are busily spitting on each other and promoting their agenda like a Kardashian C-List entertainer, Big Business is quietly getting away with murder. Have our political leaders become so blind, they can’t see what Big Business is doing?

No, they know exactly what’s going on, it’s by design. It’s a deceptive puppet show. Our elected officials are willing marionettes controlled by corporate puppeteers, just like a junky is a willing slave to their dealer.

But why would Big Business produce such a show and finance politicians? One word – deception.

“All warfare is based on deception”, Sun Tzu, The Art of War.  Just like a magician uses a distracting hand motion to set up a trick, corporations steer their funded politicians into polarizing issues to create a media frenzy. While we’re all watching the show, the real action is taking place behind Washington’s closed doors. And don’t forget, your favorite media network or newspaper is probably a subsidiary of some big multinational corporation.

Let’s take a closer look at this deception by focusing on America’s largest company, General Electric. The top corporate tax rate is 35%, yet G.E. paid zero taxes in 2010 on $5.1B profits for its US operation and claimed a $3.2B tax credit. How is this possible? G.E. assembled a large tax department headed by a former Treasury official, and staffed by personnel from the IRS and Congressional tax-writing committees.

It’s been reported that General Electrics’ lawyers and lobbyists were deeply involved in rewriting portions of the corporate tax code that were signed into law by George W. Bush in 2004. When certain tax loopholes were set to expire in 2008, G.E. successfully persuaded Rep Rangel to keep them and shortly thereafter, G.E. announced a $30M donation to NY schools with $11M going to Mr. Rangel’s district. Of course G.E. says their tax benefits are good for American jobs, but they’ve reduced their US workforce by 20% since 2002.

By receiving great incentive to invest their money offshore, we are now facing, as a nation, one of the most jobless futures of the last eighty years.  We won’t hear it in the media – Big Business now pulls most political strings, and controls most “news” outlets – but soon we may be taxed so multinational corporations can receive subsidies to create jobs here in the US.

In other words, we’ll be paying to get our own jobs back.

–Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

What’s In A Name (an author’s name)?

This post caught me by surprised. I am used to hearing of the successes of such authors as J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking, that I thought this was another example. Daryl Sedore is another struggling writer, trying to crack the social media combination to fame and fortune. He, however, found another route: he changed his name. He posted 10 novels on various e-book sites such as Amazon and Smashwords and then went to work on his blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts, all of which registered high in rank, followers and every metric except book sales.

So he tried something extremely brave in my opinion. He took his books down and no one asked where they were. He realized that he was directing all his media messages to other writers.So he changed the covers, (thanks to his very talented wife, Brenda), added new blurbs,  and re-uploaded his books.
He also used a new author name. And the results were amazing.

As Daryl Sedore, he sold just 200 books over 5 months. As Jonas Saul he sold 350 books in the first six weeks.

Now I have to admit to being intrigued? I suspect that part of the increase in his sales are the beautiful book covers. “Never judge a book by it’s cover” should be ignored by anyone hoping to sell books (theirs or someone else’s). The title of the book is also critical, no argument here.

But the question lingers: Do we pick up a book because of the name of the author? What do you think?

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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).

 

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