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”

From Stabbing to Soccer

Tomorrow is September 20th, a day billed with controversy as the Palestinians seek a statehood via the United Nations. Those in favor recognize that the Palestinians need a state of their own and are frustrated by the lack of negotiations with Israel. Those against say that a sustainable solution has to come from negotiations between the two sides.

It all looks very depressing as both sides dig in and intransigence seems the order of the day. Perhaps it is best to focus on those organizations that are trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in dialog and the creation of relationships. I have already written about One Voice, still one of the most outstanding examples in my opinion.

So it was encouraging to see this article by Dan Goldberg about co-founder and director of the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue, Sulaiman Khatib who went to Australia with Tami Hay, director of the Sport Department of Israel’s Peres Center for Peace. They  led a team of 24 Israelis and Palestinians in a unique bridge-building exercise: to compete in an international competition of Australian-rules football. We shall leave  the intricacies of the game, a mix of soccer, rugby, with Gaelic roots, for another time.

Twenty-four Israelis and Palestinians came together as a "Peace Team" to play Australian-rules football. (Jonathan Davis)

Khatib has an amazing personal story. He was born in the West Bank near Jerusalem, and grew up “throwing stones and preparing Molotov cocktails” at the Israeli army.

In 1986, at the age of just 14, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for stabbing an Israeli soldier. While in prison, Khatib was exposed to the writings of the Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. He learned both Hebrew and English and studied history, in particular other conflicts around the world. This provided Khatib with the basis for what became his philosophy.

“I believe there is no military solution to the conflict,” Khatib, 39, said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with JTA while still in Melbourne. “I believe nonviolence is the best way for our struggle, for our freedom and for peace on both sides.”

For the story of how the team came together and became a cooperative group, I would suggest reading the article. The Palestinians who participated were admonished and even threatened, with many seeing them as collaborators. The bravery of these people should be applauded.

One Palestinian participant said: “Many people I know are opposed to my participation in activities with the Israeli side. They do not believe that it can improve the situation or lead to peace. I try to portray the positive things as much as possible.”

Nimrod Vromen, an Israeli player, told one media agency: “For me it’s easy. For the Palestinians, they actually have their lives threatened playing in this team.”

Tanya Oziel, Executive Director of the Australian branch of the Peres Center for Peace, knew there would be massive hurdles when she conceived of the idea of a joint team in 2007. A Sephardic Jew with Iraqi origins, Oziel knew that the Peres Center already had an Israeli-Palestinian soccer team, so she adapted the idea for Australian football and first brought a joint team to Australia in 2008.

“I think because of the power of the story and the impossibility of the story it actually gave me more motivation to make it happen,” Oziel said.

Some of the Palestinian team members are still worried about a backlash once they return home, but Sulaiman Khatib hopes his life experience will help his friends and himself weather such opposition.

“I’ve been in an Israeli jail for 10 years. I do things I believe in and I’m ready to risk my life,” he said. “So I’m not really worried about me.”

During a week when all eyes are on the United Nations, it helps to know that seeds of real peace are still being sown in the Middle East and the real heroes don’t make meaningless speeches but follow a dream. Sulaiman Khatib and his team are heroes.

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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).

Accidental Activist on Smashwords

The Accidental Activist is now available from Smashwords. I am excited about this as Smashwords is a very interesting organization. Its founder and CEO, Mark Coker, was an early visionary of the ebook revolution and recognized that with the constant technological explosion, there was room for a form of ebook that would fit any electronic format. Smashwords elegantly called their technology the Meatgrinder. I love the irony of this. One of the biggest wastes of the tree book industry is the returns policy that many large publishers offer which results in millions of books being printed, distributed, returned and pulped. Greenhouse effect, anyone?

I believe Smashwords uses more cutting edge technology.

On Sunday, Smashwords reached an interesting landmark. They have now produced an astonishing three billion words with over 70,000 books. To put it another way: “…in the last four months we averaged 8.3 million words a day. This works out to about 350,000 words per hour, 5,700 words per minute or almost 100 words per second. Can you hear the keyboards clicking?”

Yes, I can. And all this in less than four years. Smashwords have other attributes. They allow the author/publisher to set the price, and offer vouchers with discounts. They helped sponsor a program where authors offered ebooks for free to US servicemen and women serving in combat zone. I participated in Operation Ebook Drop and gave away more than 100 books during this period.

Mark Coker is a tireless crusader for the Ebook industry and you can see from his articles, countless speeches and panel appearances that he is passionate about his work and his vision.

Mark Coker often speaks in the Bay Area

I love my kindle, but i must admit that I found a flaw. As Smashwords reached it’s 3 billion word landmark, my kindle screen came up blank. I concede – this has never happened with any tree book that I’ve read. Now where is that warranty?

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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).

Medcaid 2

Following on from yesterday’s post, I am struggling to understand how individuals have been denied the right to sue the state that they pay taxes to. It seems a gross obstruction to personal freedom.However, the Justice Department has backed the State of California agreeing that the individual cannot sue, while also admitting that Federal law clearly states that Medicaid rates be “sufficient to enlist enough providers.” In other words, there should be no discrimination of resources or access to treatment between the beneficiaries of Medicaid and everyone else in their state. Only what happens when that is precisely what is happening?


“California has been accepting more than $20 billion in federal Medicaid funds per year in exchange for its promise, among other things, to ensure that needy patients had access to health care,” Democratic chiefs wrote in their brief, “California has failed to adhere to its obligations.”

What they are fighting for is the right of the patient or the medical providers to challenge in court any violation of federal law. The response of the Justice Department is that federal health officials have “exclusive responsibility” to enforce the standards set and can punish a state by withholding Medicaid resources from any state found wanting.

The question is whether they would. One former federal health official told the Supreme Court that the DHHS was not able to enforce this stating it was “logistically, practically, legally and politically unfeasible.” The reason being that the DHHS does not have either the staff, money or political clout to do this.

The supporters of the right to sue have all been endorsed and supported by the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, civil rights groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Judicial enforcement is the only viable means to remedy states’ noncompliance with the Medicaid Act,” the A.M.A. said.

True protection can only come in the courts

In the true story behind my novel, The Accidental Activist, the British Government was ultimately found guilty of not protecting the citizen from a multinational corporation. In the US, the struggle is similar, except we are seeking protection from our own elected government and its agencies. The President, I feel, should understand this better than most.

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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).

Misguided Medicaid Law 1

My daily commute involves picking up people from the Casual Car Pool and driving from the East Bay to San Francisco, enabling them to get a free ride (though many offer me $1 towards the toll) and for me to use the car pool lane and pay a lower toll.

Most times we sit in silence and listen to NPR, but occasionally I strike gold. When the gentleman in the passenger seat tutted at a report about President Obama and Medicaid, I discovered that he is a lawyer and actually preparing a case to go before the Supreme Court. He sent me a New York Times article on the topic.

Medicaid - helping those who need it most

I find it hard to believe that President Obama could possibly be an obstacle to low-income people receiving health care. But when it is the Democratic leaders of Congress told the Supreme Court on Monday that President Obama was pursuing a misguided interpretation of federal Medicaid law, it raises an eyebrow.

The case  focuses around the right of Medicaid beneficiaries to file suit and challenge cuts being made to Medicaid around the country on a state level when such cuts hurt their right to care.The Obama administration does not accept this right to sue claiming it “would undermine the effectiveness of Medicaid.” There is also a myriad of court precedents that allow people to sue to block state actions that are inconsistent with federal law.

The politicians behind the brief include many of our top West Coast Democrats, including Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, an architect of Medicaid; Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader; Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader; and Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the chairman of the Finance Committee.

“The issue, of immense importance to poor people and states, comes to the Supreme Court in a set of cases consolidated under the name Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California, No. 09-958. The court plans to hear oral arguments in October, with a decision expected by the spring. The original plaintiffs in the case, Medicaid beneficiaries and providers, say they were harmed by California’s decision to cut payment rates that were already among the lowest in the country.

Children are one of the largest recipients of Medicaid.

The federal Medicaid law does not explicitly allow such suits. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said beneficiaries and providers could sue under the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which makes federal law “the supreme law of the land.”

More than 55 million people use Medicaid, which is often the fastest-growing item in many state budgets. It provides health  coverage to the most vulnerable groups in our society including children, people with disabilities and nursing home residents.

The problem is exacerbated because many states, desperate to make cuts, have reduced the payment rates to doctors who take in Medicaid patients. This has led to the doctors, dentists, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes and other providers often refusing to take these patients and Medicaid patients are finding it increasingly difficult to find the medical services that they need. The government is involved because they reimburse the state for between 50%-75% of the costs.

The question is: what accountability is there for the citizen (other than the ballot box, I suppose) if we are denied legal recourse? In fact, is there a place in a democracy for the government to tell its citizens who they can and cannot sue? And what does this say about our President?

Please Vote Today. Click Here

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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).

September is Locovore Month

There is a lot going on in September, some of it heavy, some of it fun. 9/11 stands out this year of course. It is also back to school for children and students and sometimes there is a feeling that we spent most of the summer on snooze and now it is back to top gear. For the Jewish People, this is a time of preparation as we approach our New Year and soon after, Yom Kippur, which while known as a day of atonement, is actually the conclusion of a month of self-analysis (who can atone for all their sins in one day?).

Community Supported Agriculture

But I also discovered something else about September. It is Locovore (also spelled Locavore) Month. The Urban Dictionary defines Locavores as people who eat food that is grown locally. Food grown in your region not only results in fresher and tastier foods, but also reduces pollution, keeps dollars in the community and has fewer food safety risks.

So I thought I would brainstorm a few simple ways we could celebrate Locovore Month:

1) Consider joining one of your local Community Supported Agriculture programs, where you receive a box of veggies weekly from a local farm. I wrote about this model a few month back.

2) Go to a Farmers Market. Yes I am often critical of these because they seem so pricey, but you do make a connection with your local farmers.

Farmers Markets - making connections

3) Host a potluck and have all your friends bring dishes that include food grown in your area (allowing local microbrewery products is acceptable in my opinion).

4) Support a local community garden. One with a social justice message (as well as an ecological one) is Spiral Gardens in Berkeley. You can volunteer and get dirt between your finger nails or stop by at their stall on Tuesdays. I wrote about Spiral Gardens here.

I believe there is considerable merit in the Locovore philosophy. I am not sure that total adoption is the right way, given that there are clear advantages to having access to very healthy produce grown in climates different to our own, but becoming more aware of our local farmers and supporting ourselves with what grows in our region is a sound value.

Finally, a left coast perspective: I discovered in my research that the Locovre movement gives credit for its creation to Santa Cruz and San Jose. How’s that for some local pride!

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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).

Bill McKibben and the Durable Future

The other night I attended an interview of Authors Bill McKibben and Paul Hawken. I had just finished Bill McKibben’s excellent book, “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future,” and was anxious to meet him and hear what he had to say. I had not read anything by Paul Hawken and he sounded interesting, but I’ll concentrate on McKibben’s work here.

Bill McKibben has written several books, but what he talked about in the interview was pretty much what was in Deep Economy. Mostly, McKibben advocates for smaller scale, more local economies and against globalization. His arguments take several forms.

As can be seen in many books of this general class, McKibben points out the waste involved (fuel, carbon output, etc) in global transport of food and other goods. In fact he talks about food quite a bit and gives many points to boost local farmers’ markets. He talks about something that is known to students of sustainability, but not the general public: that large, so-called “factory” farms actually produce considerably LESS food than smaller farms tended to closely by individual farmers with smaller-scale machinery. This is largely due to intimate knowledge of the variations in the land and to the ability to “intercrop,” or to plant one crop alongside or maybe in the shade of another. Large-scale machine farming makes both of these impractical.

But what is unique (or at least uncommon) about McKibben’s perspective is his attention to the social costs of globalization and the benefits of returning to local economies. He points out how our mobile economy has led to less socialization among neighbors, and people in general.

I can’t do it justice here, but Deep Economy is well worth reading. There’s a lot more to it but it’s not too difficult. Don’t be put off by the title, it’s written for non-economists. Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org (focused on climate change and actually doing something about it) which is organizing a huge, worldwide day of action called “Moving Planet” on Saturday, September 24th. Go to the website www.moving-planet.org and find out what’s happening near you.

-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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Nine Eleven – One Positive Outcome

For over four years the Berkeley Writers Group has been meeting weekly under the organization of Meetup.com, an organization dedicated to simply helping bring people together. It is a service I use without much thought. They make my organizational tasks simpler, end of story. But last week I discovered that this is not the case when I read a rare letter from Scott Heiferman, the Meetup Co-Founder.  I am printing it in full as the only way to truly do it justice. Over to you, Scott.

Fellow Meetuppers,

I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.

Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I hoped they wouldn’t bother me.

When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.

A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and grow local communities?

We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make people distrust one another.

A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months after 9/11.

Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups, Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of  100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one thing.

Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s powerful stuff.

It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks to everyone who shows up. Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11.

9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to  strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new community together!!!!

The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started with these Meetups.

Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City
September 2011

Berkeley Writer's Group - 5 years with Meetup.

Thank you Scott and your team. Creating powerful, thriving community is the greatest action we can take to thwart the terrorists, in whatever form they come.

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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).

Nine Eleven

It’s been 10 years since…I had planned to write about the terrible treatment of 9/11 responders who are not receiving the help they need, but somehow it doesn’t seem the time. This is a day to remember those who died at the hands of people who would deny us our freedom. and reaffirm our fight against terrorism.

Our failure to meet the medical needs is a national disgrace, but I will write about this another time. Here is a beautiful tribute to what happened that day, ten years ago.

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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).

Turning Fifty – A Personal Post

This week, Mrs Blogs received her invitation to join the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). While she has no intention of retiring just yet, this does signify that tomorrow she will celebrate her 50th birthday. A landmark, and one quite surreal when you don’t look or act middle-aged, let alone as a retiree. I still remember like it was yesterday when we…

When I share my prolificity at book signings and author’s panels, people ask how I manage to write, maintain a full time job and be an involved and committed father. My usual answer is that sleep is overrated and I have a very understanding wife.

Katherine Lanpher has her own take on turning 50.

Even our President has something to say:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PegIGAZEZ5E

But I just want to share how lucky I am to be with a partner who is so supportive, so optimistic, so unique. It makes everything in life possible.

Happy 50th, Boobie.

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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).

Israeli Kibbutz Goes 100% Solar

An Israeli solar technology company, Zenith Solar, is about to take a kibbutz (an intentional community) and produce solar energy to satisfy all the kibbutz’s electricity. Kibbutz Yavne is in the south of Israel and enjoys long seasons of sunshine. It is a community of about 250 families.

Zenith Solar is introducing technology that can  can transform 75 percent of the sunlight it absorbs into electricity and hot water at a cost of 8.6 cents per kilowatt hour. In comparison, most solar panels that generate electricity from sunlight do so with less than 15% efficiency, and cost more than double.

Most significant, the company claims that in peak conditions, their technology will provide energy that is competative to costs of traditional fossil fuels. In fact, given the additional costs that we know are necessary for environmental and health damage, this makes Zenith Solar technology the cheaper option and with no negative impact on the environment.

The commercial pilot stands on a half-acre plot at the edge of the kibbutz and will serve as a model for further solar farms that will hopefully be adapted for bigger urban concentrations as well as cheap small units for private homeowners.

Here is a short video on the project.

Please Vote Today. Click Here

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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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