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 “September, 2011”

Steve Jobs 2

Following on from last Friday’s post, I have been wondering how much a company can really be sustainable if it leans so heavily on its CEO. The way some people talked about Steve Jobs stepping down at Apple had me worried that my iPod and MacBook would self destruct in five seconds.

But there are certain companies where the CEO seems to take on legendary proportions. Apple is of them, but there is also Walmart, Microsoft and most recently Starbucks.  Howard Shultz wrote the book on building a company based on values and a dynamic business model. He literally wrote the book – Pour Your Heart Into It.

A Great Read.

When Howard Shultz left Starbucks the company experienced its first downfall. I’m not sure this is attributed to his departure, it is hard to spend $4 on a cup of coffee when you lose your job and your house is foreclosed, but tellingly, Shultz was lured back and Starbucks repositioned. I am sure this is all recorded in the uber-CEO’s latest book, Onward, and I will review it soon as it rises up to the top of my To Read book pile.

I  wonder if it shouldn’t be a benchmark of a good CEO that s/he brings through a line of highly trained personnel from which one could be groomed as a successor? Was it a failure of Howard Shultz that  he had to make a comeback? I wonder whether the mood within Apple was as preoccupied as it was played out in the media.

And this brings me to another top-heavy organization – the government. At the risk of endangering my desire to become a US citizen, I wonder whether there isn’t too much emphasis on the President for governance and policy. Shouldn’t there be a bigger emphasis and accountability on those who sit on the House and Senate to fix our problems and lead us forward?

Perhaps we learn from the successful company models in restructuring our governments.

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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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Killer Cantaloupe

When will we learn that a centralized food system not only is environmentally disastrous but it also kills people? I blogged about an E. coli breakout in June, poisonous strawberry production earlier this month and now in late September, I’m writing about an outbreak of killer cantaloupe.

Killer Cantaloupe…it sounds like a bad title for a 1950’s era B-horror movie. Unfortunately, this Listeria-laced deadly fruit is scary and real. To date, up to 16 people have died and close to 100 are seriously ill. The incubation period for Listeria can take as long as 70 days so it is forecasted that many more people will become sick and potentially die. So far, 18 states are affected by the cantaloupe that came from one farm in Colorado.

It’s amazing that we continue to endorse a food system where one farm can make so many people sick across the country. We have choices. We can buy food from locally grown sources.

Let’s briefly review the benefits of local food:

1)      It is healthier because it tends to be organic and free of fuel-based fertilizers and pesticide.

2)      It is harvested when rip and sold within 24 hours so it’s more flavorful and has more nutrients. Factory farmed produce is picked weeks in advance and then ripened with ethylene gas before being sold.

3)      Locally grown food (as with all locally manufactured products) employs more people and improves local economies.

4)      It is environmentally friendlier than factory produced food. Factory farms are energy intensive, use chemicals and goods are transported up to 1500 miles creating a large carbon footprint. The run-off from factory farms acidifies waterways and negatively impacts the eco-system. In addition, these big farms inefficiently use water and create soil erosion.

I sound like a broken record because this subject comes up a lot in my posts. But it is important, especially now that the frequency of food borne illness is increasing. This doesn’t need to happen. We have choices and all we need to do is think before we buy.

Save your life, your family, the planet and neighborhood jobs by buying locally produced goods.

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled 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.

Happy New Year

Tonight Jews all over the world will come together to welcome in our new year – Rosh Hashanah. People seem to dig out all kinds of ritual and traditions. My new experience is only four year old but already part of our Jewish Student Center tradition.

We will meet for dinner and then some students will go to the various synagogues who have generously offered them free tickets for services. Others will stay with me at the Hillel House for an alternative ceremony to welcome in the new year with a discussion, a chance to blow the Ram’s Horn (the shofar) and to set goals and aspirations for the new year.

Like Michelle Citrin, I love Rosh Hashanah

Wishing all my Jewish friends a Shana Tova, and to everyone a year of health, happiness and peace.

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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).

Obama Must Lose… to a Progressive

I’ve been “masterdebating” (debating with myself) on this one for several months, but it has to be said… it has to be done. President Obama has to lose – to a real progressive. I don’t mean just lose the primary – but lose California in 2012 and thereby lose the general presidential election.

Blasphemy! If that were to happen, the Republican candidate would win the national election and we would have a Republican president! Yes, I say with head hung low, that is exactly what needs to happen.

Wow. Has Rossi finally really lost it? What kind of craziness is this? I’ll tell you what kind of craziness: it’s a “queen sacrifice.” In the game of chess, a player sometimes has the opportunity to set up this bait-trap-kill strategy. The idea is to sacrifice (allow the other player to capture) the queen, the most powerful weapon on the board, and through this sacrifice, weaken the other player’s positioning and move in for the win: checkmate.

But the reasons for this go way beyond strategy. It’s true that the Republicans, and certainly the Tea Party, want to put the U.S. on a direct path into economic and social hell. They want unfettered corporate control, while the government only serves to control our behavior, words, and even thoughts, while ostensibly protecting us from outside threats. As opposed to the shortest route, President Obama has us on the scenic route to hell. He’s delayed, diverted, and shown us some dying flowers and falling trees along the way, but we are most certainly headed toward the same end.

Why? Because President Obama, while being accused of socialism and worse, has led our economy in the same-ol’ neoclassical direction. The same direction that got us into the current incarnation of a long-term, structural disaster. Obama has done everything to put a band-aid on the economy that got us here – the economy of doom. He’s done everything to build it back up, to make this jalopy run so it can take us off that cliff that was apparently the goal.

And I think it should be obvious by now to almost anyone that as the economy goes, so go the rights of the working class. The “bad” economy (really it’s great – if you’re already a billionaire) has been used as an excuse to make pensions disappear, to take health-care away from workers, to force us to accept lower pay and longer hours.

But my point is that what we have been calling a “good” economy is really not so good. Our “free market” economy (let me be the first to say that a free market not only does not exist, but CANNOT exist) is basically designed to suck money toward the top and out of the rest of us. In addition, the needs of our grow, grow, grow economy have justified our continued destruction of our planet and its resources – both its sources and sinks. Not only will this make life very difficult for coming generations, it’s already having a strong effect.

For all these reasons, we must abandon false hope. We also must accept that, in order to weaken the grip of conservative marketing double-speak, things have to get worse before they have any chance of getting better. The only way I can see forward is for the Republicans to really take over, and drive us off that cliff. Then and only then will the deluded masses see the truth. When unemployment hits 30, 35, or even 40%, people will start to see. When all pensions are gone, released in corporate bankruptcies, the people will start to see. When the brown skies of the seventies and eighties return, the people will start to see.

Besides, I’m really starting to think the Republicans WANT to lose in 2012. I’m not saying that Republican voters want to lose, but the strategists at the center of the party do. They know that the economy is going to get worse and worse (for most of us, anyway) and they want to be able to blame a Democratic president.

So who then? Who should we vote for to send a strong statement that we want a real progressive? Dennis Kucinich.

While he’s no perfect superhero, Kucinich is the one true nationally recognized progressive.

So how is this different from what happened with Ralph Nader in 2000? That certainly didn’t have a good result, did it? First of all, that election was different. The lines weren’t so clearly drawn between Al Gore and George Bush. Many accused them of sounding too alike. And Nader (as the candidate for the Green Party) was only a third uncharismatic candidate in the race.

At the time, the Green Party had told its members that Democrats and Republicans were essentially the same. That didn’t ring true in most people’s ears at the time. Now, we have seen President Obama seduced by our nation’s “leading” economists – convinced that free-market, free-trade growth is the answer. It now seems that the Green Party is right. They turned out to have been wrong in 2000, but they’re right now. While Obama and the Republican candidates trade barbs and insults, we are floating (precariously) on two different streams, but emptying into the same ocean.

I know Obama has tried, a handful of times, to do some actual good, as with health-care, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is under the spell of an economics that has proven itself a failure.

Let me be clear, Dennis Kucinich absolutely will not win the presidential election of 2012. But if Kucinich were to grab enough of the vote in California and maybe a few other states, Obama would lose, and it would be clear and obvious that he had lost because he had coddled the illusory “swing voters” that everyone believes are slightly right of center.

So, assuming he won’t appear on the final ballot, write in Dennis Kucinich. This would mean that the Democrats would HAVE to start paying attention to progressives. I want a Democratic candidate to run on the slogan: “People before profits.” And then I want that candidate to keep that promise.

-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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San Francisco Military

Last week, the 18-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy officially ended. Gay servicemen and women can now serve openly in the US military. I have served in a combat unit and know the intense pressure that creates a sense of camaraderie and a strong bond between soldiers. The idea that one of the men in my unit had to hide a part of his identity (there weren’t women in our unit) from us is truly astonishing. The additional pressure that it must have put on these brave men and women is incomprehensible.

It is believed that more than 13,000 men and women were kicked out of the armed forces when it was discovered they were gay.

I would like to pay tribute to 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, a 25-year-old active-duty Air Force officer, who is a gay rights activist, and risked his career to see this achieved. Seefried, highlighted in a New York Times article, made contact with and organized about 4,000 gay members of the military who were in hiding and worked hard to overturn the policy. He did this using a pseudonym, J. D Smith, which he can now discard. 

Photo by Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

Seefried, who was harassed and outed when an officer discovered he was gay, and then was ‘temporary removed’ from his job, created a organization called OutServe, He took the courageous step of speaking publicly at the State University of New York at Oswego.

All Seefried sought was :“When I go to a Christmas party, I can actually bring the person I’m in a relationship with. And that’s a huge relief.”

Now he has that. He should have had it a long time ago, but better late than never.

 Why the title? Elaine Donnelly, a longtime opponent of allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces, commented that “as of Tuesday the commander in chief will own the San Francisco military he has created.”

I have long thought that San Francisco should follow the Berkeley initiative from the 60’s and declare independence! I would be proud to have these fine men and women in our army, and I am proud to have them in the US army. There are only two words that we should be saying to them: Thank You!

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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).

Goodbye Harry Potter

Dear Harry,

It’s been a while and I know that it’s my turn. We saw each other back in July and I knew in my heart (and also because J. K. Rowlings sounded pretty adamant) that this would be the last time we meet. I know there is an extravagant theme park somewhere, but I’m only a few hours on the I-5 from Disneyland, and for a family on a single income, it might as well be the last stop on the Hogwarts Express.

I actually began to make notes for a sequel, a story of you ten years down the line, but you’re not my genre and just one minute of the ensuing lawsuit will probably cost more than the entrance to your theme park. And if I am honest, and I think you always knew this in your heart, that you were – well – just not my genre.

I write political fiction, holding the torch for some political injustice and you just cut right to the chase of right and wrong, of the battle between friendship and greed. We were never meant to last. But still, Harry, I need to thank you.

In a world of senseless video games, three-minute You Tube song videos, 140 letter tweets, and texting abbreviations, you made 500-page tomes not only popular, but a rite-of-passage. In twenty years time when my nest is empty (I know it will happen a lot quicker than that, you don’t have to remind me!) and I look back at my happy little family, I will remember:

– lying on the big bed reading the stories to my boys.

– the wonder of seeing my oldest learn to read and read faster and faster as he held the latest book in his hand.

– seeing my youngest struggle through two pages of Harry Potter 1 when it was way above his reading level and sighing when he saw that there are still another 318 pages.

– the excitement building up to the release of a new book or movie (I think these were the only books we bought new and in hardcover).

– the annual family Potterfest – several days of TV dinners watching the movies and then snuggling on the love seat in pj’s to keep watching ’cause dinner can only be so many courses.

– the discussions about good and evil, romance, and death.

So this is the end, Harry, the final letter. I don’t expect a reply. You always delivered in the past, but I got the message as I sat in the movie theater this summer. It’s over. We had a good run, learned a lot together, laughed, loved and cried and, well, we’ll always have the memories, Harry. I’ll think of you every time I look at the bookshelf.

And do thank Joanne when you next see her. I guess without her we would never have met.

Your Friend,

Alon

p.s.  there are many magical moments in parenting, Harry, without the use of a wand (though sometimes I rather fancy it might help!).

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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).

Steve Jobs For President

I tuned into NPR on my commute the other day and for a moment thought that Steve Jobs had passed away. Thankfully, he was ‘just’ stepping down from his position of CEO of Apple Computers to focus on health issues. But judging by the comments of the experts…

Firstly, I wish Steve Jobs well. At the young age of 56 and with the resources at his disposal, I hope he kicks it. He is a good man, a family man, but I think his greatest assets in facing his new challenge are the assets that brought him success at Apple.

Steve Jobs is a visionary: mac, iPod, iPad, iPhone, do I need to go on? But he also has the ability to take these ideas and put them into a framework of excellence. Finally, he has the tenacity, discipline and perhaps single-mindedness to take the product from idea to poplar product.

My blog post title is, of course, flippant. But are these not the qualities we need to bring the US (and the world?) into a sustainable model for the 21st Century? Shouldn’t we demand of our political system the same qualities?

A 21st Century political mode should not be about power base or how much money you can raise. We need more people with the qualities of Steve Jobs in government. Did Steve Jobs thrive because of the rivalry with Bill Gates?

What is interesting, is that despite the tough competition, both Gates and Jobs succeeded, while also our society forward. You can’t say the same for our politicians. Their intransigence and lack of vision is just dragging all of us down.

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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).

13,609 Dead and Counting

Tuesday, September 20th 2011, thirty-five bodies were dumped beneath an underpass during rush hour traffic in a Mexican coastal city.  War on Drugs Update –  the Mexican death total for 2011 now stands at 13,644.

(picture from Getty Images)

Are we, citizens of the U.S., in anyway responsible for the deaths of so many people south of our border? Is our forty year war on drugs really working? Has the prohibition of anything desired by man ever been successful? The short answers: YES, NO and NO (respectively).

When a significant number of people want something, someone or some entity will provide it. The majority will go to a legal source. If a legal source is not available, they will go to an illegal source. If there are buyers, there will be suppliers. It is that simple.

So here’s the real question. Are responsible businesses practicing lawful commerce better suited to sell drugs or are criminal gangs that make up their own rules enforced by death and violence a better choice? When the U.S. started prohibition of alcohol in the early 1900s, drinking did not stop but criminal activity, violence and death increased dramatically. These negative elements went away once alcohol was made legal again.

The War on Drugs has cost the U.S. tax payers $1 trillion and the percentage of people that use drugs has not decreased; all the usage statistics are virtually the same. What has increased are the number of deaths at the hands criminals and the prison population of non-violent drug users. This Nixon-era policy has failed because you cannot stop the will of the people. Again, if a significant number of people want something they will eventually get it, legal or not.

(Mexican Drug War Death Map, WM Consulting)

Approximately 11,000 people die in the U.S. annually from illegal drugs, over 100,000 people die from prescription medication and alcohol is linked to 75,000 deaths per year. Perhaps the war is focusing on the wrong drugs.

Our War on Drugs is a crime enabler that results in the death of 10,000 to 20,000 Mexicans annually and who knows how many people elsewhere. If we eliminate the prohibition of drugs, the western hemisphere would be a safer place for all Americans – Canadians, Chileans and all of us in between.

Stop the insanity. History proves prohibition does not work. Say no to violence, no to criminals and no to enslavement by voting No on Prohibition.

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled 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.

Death and Taxes

I love Amazon.com. I realize the damage it has done to bricks and mortar stores, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to buying most of my books here. I also sell most of my books here. I love my Kindle and…

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - fallen hero?

I really want Amazon.om to be one of the good guys. But they are not. Amazon.com doesn’t want to collect sales tax. By avoiding this, they not only deny our country valuable resources,  but have in this instance an unfair advantage on their competitors. I believe in a free Internet, but not that free.
I’m sad, because the Seattle-based company is now acting like a multinational corporation and you know how I feel about them. It has  spent $5.25 million to help add a measure to the June 2012 ballot that repeals the law forcing online retailers to collect sales tax. Newly released campaign filings show that Amazon made a $2.25 million campaign contribution on Aug. 2010. That’s on top of $3 million the online retailer contributed to the initiative in July.
The campaign to reapeal this law is led by an organization called “More Jobs Not Taxes.” Their spokesperson, Ned Wigglesworth acknowledged Amazon’s second multimillion-dollar contribution in as many months. He claims it is needed “to cover costs associated with the first phase of the campaign.” Wigglesworth said his committee was working with a “growing coalition of taxpayer groups, consumers, small businesses” to overturn the new online sales tax law — although so far state records show Amazon to be its only contributor.
Brick-and-mortar businesses have responded by preparing to form the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, which says on its website that it is “funded by and advocates on behalf of employers who believe there must be a fair and balanced approach concerning the sales tax collection system.” Here is where it gets juicy. The group’s critics say it is simply a front for Walmart. Until (and if) Amazon’s initiative qualifies for the ballot, the Alliance for Main Street Fairness will organize a formal political committee. Since it hasn’t yet done so, we are unable to discover who make up the major financial backers.
Walmart and Amazon fighting it out – and me siding with Walmart. Now that is bizarre.

No More Heroes Anymore.

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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).

CPUC: Thanks for Protecting Us

This past Wednesday (September 14, 2011) I had the “priveledge” of attending a portion of a meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC. The meeting ran all day and was for the express purpose of addressing “opt out” options for the people who don’t want the new “smart meter” installed at their home.

I attended as part of a coalition of angry citizens, which included Joshua Hart, director of stopsmartmeters.org. To our dismay (but not our surprise) the meeting was limited in its scope to simple issues. The presiding administrator, Judge Amy Yip-Kikugawa, refused to hear any question about the overarching issue – whether smart meters are actually a good idea or if they damage human health – and stuck very strictly to the opt-out agenda.

The meeting itself represented a concession by several utilities to address the “small” segment of the population who had objected to smart meters. The “fact” that the objectors are such a small group is what justified the outrageous statement by the representative from, I believe it was San Diego Power and Gas, to say that these people would have the freedom to “opt out” of the smart meter – if they were willing to pay for it’s removal and any extra cost incurred in the process of having the old-fashioned meter read by an actual person. The representatives from the other companies present, PG&E, SCE, and several more, were quick to agree.

In case your brain just dropped out on the floor, this would mean that you would have to pay to have your smart meter removed and replaced by the good old mechanical type (or a “non-radio” digital model) and then pay to have your meter read so that they could figure out how much to charge you for electricity. Yeah. And the power companies were adament that this was IF people were allowed to opt out, which they were opposed to in the first place.

This logic is possible in a magic fairy land where only a few people (the lunatic fringe) object to smart meters. But why, when there is so much evidence that exposure to levels of microwave radiation such as the smart meters emit, are there so few objectors?

Let me tell you how they (PG&E and many other corporations in many other situations) maintain the image of the opposition as the lunatic fringe…

They start out by simply rolling out a new product, in this case a microwave-producing electricity meter but it could be a lawn chemical, a material for baby bottles, or something else. Then, when a few little questions are asked about the health effects of this product, they whip out there handy-dandy, pre-prepared marketing-department-created misinformation sheet.

The timing here is important. The product is already “out there,” and there have been no news reports of people dropping dead. So when people get naturally curious, they’re all too ready to swallow the dismissal of health concerns. This curiosity/satisfaction pattern is important because it sets up a feeling in the populace that everything is just fine.

That good feeling is what allows the critical phase: the discrediting of the small handful of people that actually does some investigating into the health effects of the new product. Everyone else has been curious, and has been satisfied – mostly because their own laziness and trusting tendencies prevented them from doing any real research.

So now it’s easy to say that the dissenters are just a handful of psychosomatic worriers. This image then makes the group unattractive, preventing others from joining for fear of looking like lunatics themselves.

Judge Yip-Kikugawa is an administrative judge employed by the CPUC. Throughout the proceedings, her remarks, commands, vocal quality, and body language all told me that she was stuck. As she made expressly clear, the smart meters were coming, and there would not even be any discussion of stopping them. I got the impression that she understood the situation perfectly: If we were to actually discuss the things that should have been discussed before the smart meter plan went through, the CPUC would look exactly like what they are – a bunch of bungling, bumbling dupes who bought the party (power provider and smart meter manufacturer) line without hardly a question.

They believed it, for example, when they were told that a signal would only be sent from the smart meter back to the company 4 times per day, and that the signal was “1/1000 as strong as a cell phone.” The truth is that the meters send out a signal (to the company or to each other, as part of the “network”) hundreds of times per day on average. And the strength of those signals is incredibly variable, in some cases hundreds of times STRONGER than a cell phone.

But none of that matter now. The decision has been made and, no matter that it was based on falsities, it will not be revisited.

And the power company reps went on to use their marketing-department words and phrases like, “freedom of choice” ad nauseum. They seemed to believe that telling us that we have freedom of choice will make the fact easier to swallow that we really don’t.

The entire meeting can be seen here.

 -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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