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 “February, 2012”

A Prayer For Social Action

This is a poem/prayer that I want to share by Jack Riemer. It is as much a call for social action as a prayer. Whether we are believers or not, we each need to find what it takes for us to stand up and do something to make a better world.

A Prayer for Social Action

We cannot merely pray to God to end war;
For the world was made in such a way
That we must find our own path of peace
Within ourselves and with our neighbor.

We cannot merely pray to God to root out prejudice;
For we already have eyes
With which to see the good in all people
If we would only use them rightly.

We cannot merely pray to God to end starvation;
For we already have the resources
With which to feed the entire world
If we would only use them wisely.

We cannot merely pray to God to end despair;
For we already have the power
To clear away slums and to give hope
If we would only use our power justly.

We cannot merely pray to God to end disease:
For we already have great minds
With which to search out cures and healings
If we would only use them constructively.

Therefore we pray instead
For strength, determination, and will power,
To do instead of merely to pray
To become instead of merely to wish;
That our world may be safe,
And that our lives may be blessed.

Habitat For Humanity - people spending their Sundays helping give others a roof over their heads.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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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Is Republican Freedom Our Freedom?

A recent comment to one of my posts reminded me of one of the key differences between progressives and conservatives (or at least Republican conservatives) – freedom. Why is this a big difference? Does one side favor freedom while the other opposes it? Well, that’s what you might think, listening to Republicans talk.

With their words, both spoken and printed, Republicans often make the claim that their party is for “more freedom” while their opponents want “less freedom.”

But what types of freedom are favored by whom? Are all freedoms equal?

Republicans appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of one freedom, the freedom to make money without any encumbrance. So what if my factory pollutes the air? We have LOTS of air! So what if my restaurant chain serves slightly tainted meat? If people don’t like it, they won’t eat it!

The Republican Party is on a mission. It’s a mission with a cool, secret code name and everything: streamlining. They want to get those pesky regulations out of the way of corporate profits. They want “the market” to decide everything.

Meanwhile, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is trying to make it so that women have control over their own bodies. Even if that means having sex… uh oh… here it comes… hide the children… just for fun and not for the express purpose of bringing a child into the world.

Progressives want weird people like gays and blacks and organic food eaters to be treated like the human beings that they are so closely related to. They want people to be free to marry whoever they choose. They want people to be able to walk down the street without fear of being abused for having the wrong paint job. They want us to be able to live free of concerns of getting asthma from someone else’s profit-making coal burning. They want free speech to be a right of human beings, not corporations.

Republicans are strategically astute, though. They always say that things like streamlining are for the benefit of small businesses. And a small machine shop would become more profitable if it could just wash solvents down the drain. But Republican policies free up corporations so that they can eat small businesses for lunch. Look at what Wal-Mart has done to so-called “main street.”

It basically comes down to a simple choice: corporate freedom or people freedom. Seems easy to me.

-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.

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Call to Action – Basic Rights for Home Care Workers

There are approximately 1.7 million home care workers in the US. They are not entitled to earn the same federal labor protections that most workers take for granted. But this might all change in the next couple of days – and just five minutes of your time can make the difference.Two months ago, President Obama proposed proposed to change the rules, finally providing some measure of justice to home care workers who have long been exempted from minimum wage and overtime laws. UNTIL THE END OF FEBRUARY the U.S. Department of Labor is accepting public comments on the proposed change, which would correct part of a longstanding legacy of devaluing a job that is almost totally populated by women and African Americans.

The home care industry is a multi-billion dollar business and, not surprisingly, is mobilizing opposition using scare tactics, claiming that extending these protections to home care workers will kill jobs and leave elderly and disabled Americans without care. The facts, however say otherwise.

This proposed rule change is vital to helping make home care a more viable career. You can change history by taking a few minutes to participate in the public comment period.  We are asked to restrict comments to no more than 300 words and keep it personal.

Fact Sheet– debunking the opposition

Talking Points– why this rule change is so important

Sample Comments– use these as inspiration for your own comments

On-The-Go Flier– print out copies for people to write comments by hand

The Department of Labor, in the face of organized and well-funded opposition, needs to hear that there is widespread support in favor of this rule change. We don’t have money  to counter the negative feedback from the rule’s opponents, so we need to show huge numbers.

Please take a few minutes to leave your comment before the public comment period closes this week.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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).

PTSD Forever

I left my office late that damp, foggy San Francisco night. I drove my car onto Junipero Serra, a main street, and then pulled over. I needed to wipe the windows for safe visibility. As I worked my way round the back of the car, wheels screeched around the corner behind me. I crouched down low behind my car and my body tensed. Ready.

When I saw the joy riders speed past me, their music blaring, I leaped back into my car,  pulled out and followed them. They would stop at the traffic lights a half-mile away and I could ram my car into theirs. I would teach them a lesson they would never forget. I imagined the crunching sound from the impact of the two cars and the terror they would feel, similar to the terror that I had just felt.

I pulled up behind them, images of my wife and children instantly grounding me. I breathed heavily and scrambled for some familiar radio station as I followed them to the Daly City exit where I would turn off.

When I had served in the army, I drove plain-clothed deep into enemy territory. My role was to protect someone who received information. There were four guards: one entered with the person, the other three stood outside guarding the car and the entrance.

We were undercover, but wore our army boots and carried our distinct semi-automatic rifles. In short, we were sitting ducks for a sniper, or a drive by. When any car approached, either too slow or too fast, we would take defensive postures. When a car’s wheels screeched to accelerate as it approached, we hit the ground, in one well-practiced movement.

My hands remained clenched tightly around my Saab’s steering wheel for the whole 45-minute trip home to the East Bay. When I stepped through the door to our apartment in Berkeley, it was time for dinner, homework, stories from the schoolyard.

I had made it home today … only just.

But there are friends who were not so fortunate. They never made it home. They never got the opportunity to open the door to a loving, if somewhat crazy, family. It’s the difference between choosing to hit the gas or the brake.

As simple as that.

Alon Shalev’s next novel, Unwanted Heroes will be published later this year.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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).

Roger’s Random Rants

At the beginning of the year I promised to be less negative and focus on positive developments and ideas that benefit mankind and the environment. Well, I lasted two months…it’s time for some ranting.

The big debate this week is the corporate tax rate. Like clockwork, the Republicans want to reduce the rate for the big guys from 35% to 25% which I find utterly grotesque. But wait, we have President Obama who will apply some sanity in Washington, right? Oh yes, he is fighting really hard. He’s stepping up to the plate to take a swing for the American working-class with a big fat wet noodle. The President only wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 28%. I’ve been an Obama supporter but people, we are getting screwed.

Check out these three charts. The first one shows corporate taxes as a percentage of income for companies that reported profits. As we can see, the effective rate has been cut in half starting with the Reagan years (1981). They’re only paying slightly more than five percent today.

The second chart shows the rapid increase in the national debt thanks to the change in corporate tax rates, again starting in 1981 (Reaganomics-Era).

This last chart shows the growing wealth disparity between Middle America and the wealthy. Can you guess when this disparity starts? You got it! It starts in 1981 with the lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy.

The Conservatives are puking the same old story, “lower taxes for the rich and corporations will create jobs”. After thirty years of failure, it’s surprising that half the population still believes this economic vomit. Big business continued job outsourcing and, adjusted for inflation, Americans make less today than they did thirty years ago.

Let’s try a novel approach; instead of giving gifts to big business before they create jobs why don’t we let them earn it. Increase the tax rate to 50% and then give tax breaks based on year-over-year analysis of job creation. If they create more jobs in the US than overseas (on a percentage basis) they get a tax break. The more they create the bigger the break.

I don’t understand why more people don’t get Mad as Hell with these crazy conservative tax breaks. History has proven that the middle class must pick up the tab for breaks given to Corporate America.

How much more of an economic whipping are you willing to take?

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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.

Adele Serenades Newt Gingrich At The Grammys

In the interests of honest blogging, I feel that I should point out that this isn’t really Adelle singing, though maybe she would like to!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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).

Birth Control? Really? – Tom Rossi

As we approach another presidential election, I expect the usual re-animation of the battle between the pro-choice and pro-birth sides. This is pretty much business as usual, because it’s the single best way that Republican politicians have to convince people to vote against themselves and their own best interests.

I think the abortion issue pretty well splits the country, if not exactly in two. People who see this issue one way or the other seldom change their minds and we sit, locked into yet another eternal battle that will never be resolved, while the rest of the civilized world moves forward.

But just when you were getting bored with the pro-life, pro-birth battle, along comes something so surprising, so weird, so completely out of left field that your head spins around. A debate over… contraception.

Wow.

Part of the Republican Party (fortunately, it’s a small part, I think) is so incredibly out there on the religious right that they oppose birth control in any form. Unfortunately, this faction seems to be all that counts in choosing a candidate to represent their party in the November election.

This right wing of the right wing still wants people to simply abstain from sex if they don’t intend to have a child. These are the same people, I assume, that hold onto the belief that the president somehow sets some sort of national tone for behavior and culture.

The origins of the insertion of this “issue” into this year’s silly season are a little hard to sort out. It might appear that President Obama opened this can of eels himself with the policy he flew up the flagpole that would have required even religious institutions to provide birth control to patients who want it. He later changed the policy to circumvent the hornet’s nest he had kicked, but he had fanned the flames of the religious fire that smolders beneath this country.

But Rick Santorum (currently the only candidate “conservative” enough for the right wing of the right wing) had gone on record long ago in opposition to birth control. Well-versed in doubletalk, he implies that he separates his beliefs from his governmental function in that he has “supported” birth control, but in the same breath says he’s against it because it “harms women and harms society.”

In another development, there is a bill moving through the Virginia legislature (no guarantee that it will make it all the way) that would require women considering an abortion to have an ultrasound. In itself, that may not sound like such a bid deal, but most abortions happen in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy and, at such an early stage, what would be required to perform an ultrasound is the insertion of a probe (into the vagina) which then must be sort of “stirred around” in order to produce a recognizable image of the fetus.

Oddly enough, some women find the idea of the involuntary intrusion of an object into their private parts a little disturbing and are calling this “state-sanctioned rape.” These women actually have the nerve to object to the legal violation of their reproductive organs.

It’s now completely clear. The right wing of the right wing, and the part of the Republican party that seems to be controlling the whole for the time being, want to take away any illusion that women have about being in control of their own bodies. Women are baby factories – period.

This is one reason I agree with Robert Reich when he calls these right wing extremists “regressives.”

-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.

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Powerful Three Minute Video

I was so moved when I saw this short video by Jesus Colon while prepping to facilitate a social justice seminar. It is as relevant today as when the scene, so beautifully described, took place in 1955. Let me know what you think.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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).

Anytime, Anywhere

A writer’s life divides between three stages: creation (writing the book), editing (making it readable) and promoting (this might be looking for an agent, or social media, or even book signings).

When a writer has a number of books out, or with different publishers, or even in different genres, s/he rarely gets to focus on just one of these stages. Chances are, they are juggling between deadlines, commitments, and the drive to leave everything and do what they love best – write.

I’m in this situation right now, and like many of my colleagues, also have a demanding job and a wonderful family, the latter of which is, I am sensing, is fast becoming a passing opportunity as my sons grow up.

There was a recent article in The Writer Magazine wherein the writer suggested that for many people they needed a sense of ritual: a sacred place to write, certain music, etc. I am not like that. When I am creating the story, I can work anytime anywhere.

This theory was tested this week, as I have been on the road, spending most of my time in an intensive executive coaching program in Washington ‘DC (hence the blog focus on the President this week).

I wrote on an airplane with a disgruntled baby next to me, jet-lagged in a hotel room and sitting in freezing cold coffee shops. I wrote before I went to bed and when I got up. It is a tribute to the engaging workshops that I participated in that I didn’t have the urge to whip out my laptop and disappear into the world of elves, dwarfs and magic.

The ironic part of all this is that I hadn’t planned to start writing until later in the spring. I am working hard on utilizing Author Salon as a platform to market my epic fantasy novels and had expected Unwanted Heroes to come out at some point in the spring/summer.

But when the urges grab you, when the creative juices begin flowing, when the characters call out for resolution to their predicaments, an author can’t help but answer their call.

It’s all part of the wonderful world of writing.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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).

Save the P – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen the price of food lately?

Many of us now know that food prices are tied to natural gas and oil. Oil is used to make pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer is made from natural gas. Since World War II, most of our food has been grown with manmade chemicals. As fossil fuel prices rise, so does the price of food. Even meat rises because the animals are fed grains grown with synthetic chemicals.

What’s not often discussed is another type of fertilized or macro-nutrient used in Industrial Agriculture. Phosphorus (P) is essential for plant growth but since the 1930s most of it was depleted from the soil. Under President FDR, government initiatives were put in place to mine ancient phosphorus-rich marine deposits. The P is processed into a usable form and then spread across the fields.

P problem solved, right? Wrong! Just like oil, the well is starting to run dry. The known minable phosphorus deposits will be depleted within the next 35 years. Consequently, the price of phosphorus has recently jumped over 400% adding more cost to food.

Fortunately, P is a reusable resource if recovered. Industrial Agriculture uses a spread to waste process so valuable resources are not reclaimed. Instead, pesticides and fertilizers, including phosphorus, get washed into water ways damaging ecosystems and creating dead zones. This seventy year old method of growing food is productive but extreme wasteful and is becoming economically obsolete. Unfortunately, it is being propped up by big money chemical companies and politicians for hire.

There is a bright side if we look far enough into the future. Eventually, industrial spread to waste agriculture will cost more than sustainable organic farming and high-tech agriculture, such as aquaponics.

Until then, grow your own or buy organic!

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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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