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 “October, 2011”

Trick or Oppression?

I have loved Halloween ever since I  came to America seven years ago. Yes, yes, I know it’s commercial, sugar and additives heavy, and, of course, the denigration of the customs and culture of a downtrodden religion.

But I love how everyone can throw on a costume for a few hours, get all excited and friendly … even the kids who usually view everything through 3-D or a small multi-pixeled screen. Perhaps it’s living in Berkeley (I have no experience outside of cold, awkward England), but when whole streets get into the swing together, something very special happens, if only for an evening.

But under the sweets and costumes, there is a beautiful religious celebration from a religion that the three major religions, when they couldn’t stamp it out, embraced and added their own cultural context. Any festival in any of our modern religions that has a harvest or seasonal aspect was probably once a Pagan festival.

My first novel, A Gardener’s Tale, illustrated the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. It follows two years in the lives of a village and the stranger who comes into their community. As the villagers fear for the breakdown of their community, they discover an ancient path that brings them together.

It is happening today more than ever. How many of us really know our neighbors and those living across the road? My neighborhood began a community initiative to get to know each other after a woman was attacked by a man who tried to steal her handbag. As she screamed for help, there was a spontaneous outpour of people from their houses. Out of nowhere, that street became a community.

We need Halloweens to bind us together rather than crimes. With so much conflict in the world focused around religion, perhaps we also need the gentler, older religions. Mother Earth certainly does.

So here’s to candy and spontaneous celebration. Happy Samhain, everyone.

Note: An e-book of A Gardener’s Tale will be released in November 2011 on Kindle for $2.99

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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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All I Want For Xmas Is To Reform Congress

Warren Buffet recently offered a great perspective regarding the debt ceiling:

“I could end the deficit in five minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971…before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land…all because of
public pressure.”

Warren Buffet

Given the connections created through the Internet, it shouldn’t take long for everyone in the US to read and get behind this concept.

*Congressional Reform Act of 2011*

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

2.  Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should
serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

What this act would suggest is that congressmen and women are part of our society, not above it. How can they manage a health plan, pension or social security, when they do not participate in the model? How can you understand the fear and uncertainty regarding the job market when you sign on to a gravy train?

Probably a great guy to hang with in a cafe

My favorite line is: Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. It is an honor to be entrusted by the people with such responsibility. It is time Congress acknowledged and respected this honor.

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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).

 

Occupy Anagrams – Roger Ingalls

The authorities in Oakland violently broke up the Occupy Protest and a handful of people got hurt, one seriously. Anger is everywhere. People are scared.

It’s been a troublesome day so let’s take a breath and not think about it for a few hours. Instead, let’s laugh at some Occupy Movement anagrams.

What is an anagram? It is a rearrangement of the letters of one word or phrase to form another word or phrase. A very simple example is rearranging the letters of “Evil” to get “Vile”.

Anagram: “Occupy Wall Street” becomes “Replace Slutty Cow”. Slutty Cow is a euphemism for politicians that prostitute themselves for corporate money. The Occupy Wall Street movement wants to replace the slutty cow.

Anagram: “Wall Street” becomes “Well Set Rat”. Well Set Rat is a euphemism for Wall Street fat cats that use tax payer bail out money to pay themselves big bonuses. They are well set.

Anagram: “Bank of America” becomes “Croak A Mean Fib”. Something a bank CEO does during a Congressional Hearing. They tell lies.

Anagram: “Bank of America” becomes “Fake Brain Coma”. Something bank executives do during a Congressional Hearing. Similar to pleading the fifth or using Reagan’s Iran Contra excuse, “I don’t recall”. They fake a temporary brain coma.

Anagram: “Bank of America” becomes “Mafia Con Break”. Mafia Con Break is a euphemism for a bank executive’s vacation.

Anagram: “Wells Fargo Bank” becomes “Grown Fake Balls”. Wall Street bankers know Congress won’t come after them for unethical business practices because elected politicians have grown fake balls.

Anagram: “Wells Fargo Bank” becomes “Legal Barf Wonks”. Legal Barf Wonks are corporate lawyers employed to keep bank executives out of prison.

Anagram: “Chase Bank” becomes “Bean Shack”. A Bean Shack is a place to store money.

Anagram: “Chase Bank” becomes “Bane Hacks”. The bane hacks on Wall Street destroyed the economy with reckless behavior.

Anagram: “Hedge Fund Manager” becomes “Greed-Fanged Human”. No explanation needed!

Anagram: “Bank Bailouts” becomes “Satan Bio-bulk”. Bio-bulk is a euphemism for feces.

Satanic poop is probably a good stopping point. I hope these anagrams made you chuckle at least once.

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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.

Oakland Oppression – Unanticipated 500th Post

I realize that this is a second post in one day. I always anticipated a celebratory post for Left Coast Voice’s 500th post. Maybe a nostalgic look back on the last two years that this blog has existed.

But I am listening to live reporting from the Occupy Wall Street protests in Oakland. There is something ironic that a country who is trying to architect democracy and freedom in the Middle East and Africa, cannot tolerate the assembly of their own citizens to express discontent.

Freedom of expression is integral to democracy. We all applauded a Chinese student who stood in front of the tanks Beijing‘s Tienanmen Square and other peaceful demonstrations, not least what has been coined the Arab Spring.

Whatever the legalities of lawful assembly in Oakland, and I am no lawyer, when the police open fire with rubber bullets and gas on children and people in wheelchairs, the machine is truly broken. People coming together to demonstrate remains a powerful expression of communal freedom.

Whether you agree or disagree with the protestors, and the 99% message is pretty clear, the right of people to organize, whether they are Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party activists, is an integral part of a democracy.

At a time when the US is working so hard to influence nations around the world who have thrown off the chains of their oppressors to choose the road of democracy, what is the message that they are hearing from Oakland?

As one man just said on the radio – my faith is just shattered right now. Hoping that Left Coast Voice’s 1,000th  post will be of a more hopeful world.

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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).

Learning From Steve Jobs

There has been a lot written about Steve Jobs since he passed away and while I read many articles at first, I seem to just flip through them now. But one article that I not only read, but returned to, was written by Carmine Gallo, I feel there is a lot in here for me to learn.

I want to give Carmine’s bio here as I do lean heavily on his article. The list is his, any comments are mine. Carmine is a communications coach, a popular keynote speaker and author of several books including The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. His latest is The Power of Foursquare (McGraw-Hill, 2011).

1. Do what you love.  Carmine offers two quotes here from Jobs.

“People with passion can change the world for the better.”

“I’d get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about.”

I consider myself very lucky in this respect. The only time that I have ever held a position I didn’t enjoy was temporary and for a specific purpose (earning money quickly to fund travel in my younger days). But more importantly, I love writing novels that highlight social injustices and, yes, I hope that maybe my novels might just contribute to a better world.

2. Put a dent in the universe. I love the quote that Carmine provides. Apparently, Steve Jobs once asked then-Pepsi President, John Sculley, “Do you want to spend your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?”

This is all about having a vision that can make a difference. Is it really enough to have a solid product like Pepsi, a lucrative career that benefited no one but yourself?

A friend recently asked me why I don’t write thrillers or romance models. His hypothesis was if I kill more characters and add more sex, I would sell a lot more books. While he is probably correct and my bank account would appreciate the change, I love what I write. I truly get passionate about the social injustice issue or the characters that I create. I could write “Pepsi novels,” but it just wouldn’t be me.

Still Learning From The Master

3. Make connections. Jobs believed in a broad life experience: to travel, read, learn from everyone and everything. Then return to your vision and use these experiences to achieve what you are setting out to do. In Judaism we are taught that wherever we wander (and Jews sure wander) we should immediately seek out a teacher. Today, with the explosion of social media, we are all connected to everyone. But do we take the time to listen enough to learn from each other.

4. Say no to 1,000 things. Carmine recalls how when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he cut 340 products from the company, leaving them to focus on only 10. In doing this, he focused only on those products that could fulfill the vision that he had for Apple.

5. Create insanely different experiences. Everything about Apple is different. Everything is unique and clearly part of a carefully engineered brand. Just think of the experience, sensory and practical, of entering an Apple store. It is simply entering a different world. We look forward to going to the store in a way that we don’t experience with any other company.

6. Master the message. This is absolutely crucial. You must be able to communicate your message clearly, quickly and in a way that inspires the person/people who are listening to ask more questions, or to want to act/react in the way you want. If the response to my telling someone that I write political fiction is a request to pass the cheese, then I need to reconsider my message (though I might want to pass the cheese first).

7. Sell dreams, not products. I think this is an important concept and one that we are prone to forget in the hectic day-to-day. How often do we get bogged down in the small details of our books, or products, or political platforms, and forget why we are doing this.

Finally, Carmine leaves us with the pearl of Jobs’ ethos, and I will leave you with this.

“See genius in your craziness, believe in yourself, believe in your vision, and be constantly prepared to defend those ideas.”

Steve Jobs passed away last month, but his lessons will stay with us for many  years, and may well help us create a better world: one built on the concept of excellence.

Thank you Steve.

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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).

What Do “Occupiers” Want?

The “Occupy” movement that was born with Occupy Wall Street on September 17, 2011 has forced us to face our worst fears – we (the people) now have to actually define what we want and how things should change.

This is no easy task. The temptation is to be exhaustively comprehensive like the U.S. Green Party. Here on this blog, Roger Ingalls posted 8 demands, but I can hardly imagine the leader of a protest calling to the crowd, “What do we want?” and the crowd responding, “Create a nationalized commercial bank to fund small businesses based on the prime lending rate plus overhead costs!” Roger later boiled it down (and I’m only making fun of him a little because he’s a very intelligent guy with a sense of humor) to: “Get the money out.”

While I agree with both of Roger’s posts, in one he was very specific, and in one he reduced it all to a catchy (if right on the money) slogan. In my opinion, what’s needed, for now, is sort of in between these two – a set of general policies that are clear.

As opposed to the avalanche of a platform that the Green Party has created, I myself would propose a set of policies that open up our government to voices of the people. This would differ from what the Green Party has done in that it would not say how things should be (with a few exceptions) but rather open up discussion to topics that are not allowed in our current, corporate-controlled media and government.

It’s so great that people like Roger Ingalls and members of the Green Party are working with such rigor. But I think the first step is one that is being accomplished by the Occupy movement right now – free speech.

We have not been allowed to question capitalism up until now. We have not been allowed to question its juggernautical march toward pure laissez-faire. Now, these discussions are taking place out in the open – even in Washington.

I have my own policy ideas too. But for now I want to think and listen. For the first time in my life I feel as though I can go downtown and talk about my ideas and hear those of other people. The Occupy movement IS a success, but we have to realize that we are still in phase 1. Let’s talk. Let’s share our ideas. Let’s lead by example and be tolerant and really listen to each other.

It is true that to accomplish real dialog on any kind of significant scale we will have to greatly reduce the influence of money on politics and on the media. And it is true that we will soon need much more than dialog. And in phase 2 we will need to lay out policies that represent the ideals of those of us that have the audacity to think that human-beings are more important than corporations. The specifics of how this would work are important. But let’s not jump phase 1 just because the pressure is on – from those who would have us fail.

-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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Starving Writer

Yahoo’s Financially Fit Website recently ran a number of articles about people living on very little income. One particular story grabbed my attention.

” … we tracked down Joseph Fonseca, a writer currently living in Seattle who supports himself on $20,000 a year. Fonseca, 28, authored a first-person piece in the Washington Post over the weekend describing his “10 cities, 10 years” project, in which he moves every year and starts over in a new town. An aspiring novelist, he plans to eventually write a book about his quest.”

Joseph Fonseca - seriously committed to getting published

Most of the article deals with how he budgets and lives on such little money. You can catch that part here. But what struck me is how far we are willing to go to realize our dreams of becoming authors. I rarely go to bed before midnight and am up by 6.30 in the morning. I realize that I am extremely blessed to have a loving family and a job that inspires me, so please don’t take this the wrong way. but the drive to write and get my books out to the world is immense. Outside of work and family, I have little tolerance for anything that take my time away from writing.

I was recently told by a well-known agent that, while he liked my work and me personally, he would not work with me because I am not willing to make my ambition of being a widely-read author my only goal. I protested that I have a family and a meaning job, to which he agreed that these were all very important, but that is not what he requires of his authors. He, I realize now, would prefer me to be the starving author like Mr. Fonseca.

I hold on to my dream and will realize it while balancing my responsibilities to family and work. I will burn the clock and continue to set and pursue the goals I seek to make it work. I keep telling myself that it is good to be multifaceted. But I would love to have a beer with a guy like Joseph Fonseca, especially when he writes sentences like this:

“To retire requires having a career to retire from. My ambition is to be a writer, and I’d love to be writing into my old age, to be like Vonnegut and write until the day I die. “

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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).

John Putnam – California Writer

In this last post commemorating  California Writers Week, I want to introduce my friend and local author, John Putnam. John and I have been friends and writing buddies for over four years, meeting weekly at the Berkeley Writers Group. He has written two novels about the Gold Rush. In our critique groups, I would often begin my feedback about his work with the words – This isn’t my genre…

But John’s writing is captivating. He has exposed me to the majestic scenes of Gold Country, sending my family twice on camping trips to Northern California, and his characters seem to follow me around. John’s novels are not just for Westerns enthusiasts, they are for anyone who loves realistic and resilient characters, and anyone who loves an everyday hero. Over to you, John:

JOHN PUTNAM – I Loved My Dad.

John Putnam - Berkeley Author

I loved my Dad.

We spent hours together when I was young, trampling through the woods. He was an experienced outdoorsman and a crack shot. I tagged along behind carrying the same beat up old air rifle he had learned to shoot with, but I couldn’t hit the side of the barn.

We went to the lake a lot and rode around in the boat he built in the basement, either fishing or water skiing. Dad could lift that boat into the back of his 1951 Chevy pick-up all by himself, it fit exactly, no trailer required. It was the most amazing boat I’ve ever seen. Sometimes he let me drive, both the boat and the truck. I was on top of the world.

He was a calligrapher. He could reproduce with a pen or brush any letter in any size or font that you can find today on your computer and do it absolutely perfectly, an artist with letters. Today it’s a lost art.

And all too soon he was gone. I miss him a ton.

Years later I started writing books. I picked a time and place for my novels where men still walked through pristine forests and where the waterways, and the steam and sailboats that plied them, were immensely important. I write about the California gold rush.

But writing is not an easy job. It’s hard, lonely work. Like my Dad’s calligraphy every word must be perfect. Writers need the help, companionship and support of other writers. And so did I.

That’s when I met Alon.

Just like me, Alon needed feedback on his novels and had started a group of like-minded people who still get together regularly and share their work. Over the years we’ve all grown into much better writers, thanks to Alon.

Now don’t get me wrong, Alon doesn’t remind me of my Dad at all. Well, maybe they are about the same height and I’m not counting the deep desire of each of them to shape their words as perfectly as can be, although in a much different way, but, like with my Dad so long ago, Alon is leading the way through the dark and confusing forest of the book world and I’m stumbling along behind.

When he asked me to write something for California Writers Week I was flattered. “Remember, my blog is pretty political,” he warned me.

 I knew he was thinking of my books, the first one happens at the very start of the gold rush. There were few towns and politics was primitive. In Hangtown Creek when a woman flees from a sadistic drunk only the men who have come to love her can help her.

Warning: Side Effects include camping trips in NorCal and gold fever.

 But things changed real fast in California and along with the honest, hard working miners came gamblers, crooks, and every corrupt politician in need of a new job. “Hey,” I said. “Politics in the gold rush was something you wouldn’t believe, except it really seems a lot like today. In 1851 all across California, and especially in San Francisco, people revolted against the corruption and took the law into their own hands. It was years before they straightened things out. I have a lot about it in my blog.”

 “That’s great,“ he said. “I’ll look forward to it.”

 I’ve met all kinds of folks in my life but I’m pretty sure that this would be a better world if more of them were like Alon and my Dad.

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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).

Kemble Scott – California Writer

I have already written about Kemble Scott and apologize (only slightly) that I am adapting a previous post. If we are celebrating California Writers Week and I am using this opportunity to focus on authors who write about San Francisco, then I think this post is even more relevant today.

SoMa stands for South of Market area. Riding on the riches of the dot com era, suddenly wealthy young people moved into fashionable lofts in a neighborhood that was known for the darker side of life. Many of the side streets are actually named after the prostitutes that frequented them.

SoMa remains an area of contrasts – one street boasting trendy clubs and organic grocery stores, while another is dark and used to sell drugs. Living and cruising the neighborhood are people who are pushing the limits of social norms, in terms of sexual practices and lifestyles and Kemble captures the atmosphere so well.

A different perspective on San Francisco

But Kemble is more than just your average author. If he has an ego from his gleaned success it was never on show when he addressed the California Writers Club. He took the opportunity to share with us his astonishing success as an ebook author and generously offered advice to other writers in a friendly and humble way. He shared his mistakes as well as his successes and I felt it was genuinely important to him to ensure that when someone asked a question that they got the best answer he could give. 

Since his novel, SoMa, was anything but mainstream, Kemble found it difficult to attract reviews. So he came up with this great idea to post short clips on You Tube of the different areas in San Francisco that the book explores. The 25,000 views of these clips helped create a following so when the book was launched it went straight into the Bestseller lists. Here is Chapter One. Be prepared – you will probably want to check chapter 2, 3 and so on.

Kemble often mentions his writers group helping to keep him real. When he told his group that people advertise in Craigslist’s Bay Area ‘roommate wanted’ section to meet prospective partners, two members of the group admitted that they had found their partners in this way.

SoMa can be hard reading. What keeps you involved is the knowledge that these fictional characters exist, and exist in our city. It is the story of desensitized people who are searching for emotion, and they need to seek this in ever increasingly challenging and dangerous ways. It recognizes that this generation is overloaded with choice, with communicating through screens multitasking and absorbing images and data.

Kemble has another similar novel that challenges our views of sexual practice. The Sower, like SoMa, is really well written, with characters that stay with you long after you finish the final pages. His writing also helps paint another layer in the many textures of the San Francisco tapestry.

Here is Kemble’s speech to Google employees.

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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).

Occupy Protest: Boiling It Down – Roger Ingalls

I’ve been chatting with friends about the Occupy Protests and our general view is that it’s been a positive event and we hope it turns into a long term movement. Like many interested citizens, our discussions hinge on questions such as, how long will it last, will it produce change, what is or should be the goal and can it succeed?

In some respects, it has already been a success. Unlike the Tea Party Movement which received promotional help from Fox News and was funded by corporate special interests, Occupy has gained momentum without main stream media or big money, proving it is truly a movement of real people. In addition, politicians are starting to talk and debate it, giving the movement legitimacy. Lastly, the top 1% (money earners) and corporate management are starting to hire security personnel out of fear. Instilling fear is a controversial issue but nonetheless, it gives a certain respect and recognition to the masses that can ultimately lead to change.

What is the goal? – this is the question my friends and I dwell on the most. Last week my post outlined eight demands but after further heated chats, we concluded this was too detailed and could be boiled down into one easily communicated message. Get the money out. Remove corporate and special interest money from all campaigns in all branches of government.

Once the favor-buying money has been removed, the balance of power will be restored and the rest is just details.

GET THE MONEY OUT!

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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.

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