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 “March, 2012”

Back to New Orleans

I arrived in the US in 2005, just 103 days before Hurricane Katrina struck landfall. I left my family in the beautiful manicured suburbia of Ventura, California, and rode the greyhound north to seek my fame and fortune in San Francisco. I had 100 days to find a job that would support a family of four in the expensive Bay Area, and then find a house for us to live in.

I’m still waiting for the fame, but fortune shone on me that summer. While my job will never make me rich financially, it feeds my family and my soul. I have the good fortune to work with Jewish college students, helping them find their individual path in the world and enriching their Jewish campus experience.

Fortune did not shine on others during the summer of 2005, and as  I settled my family into our little apartment in Berkeley, we watched in horror as New Orleans was ripped apart. “Where is this happening? Is this Africa? India?” my then 6-year-old son asked. “America,” I replied. He looked at me wide-eyed. “Our America?”

His America had so far been the beach, beautiful parks and elegantly manicured lawns. “Yes,” I replied and reached for a map to show him.

Another scene – this time of the New Orleans Superdome packed with people. “Daddy, why are all the black people trapped?” my son had asked. “Why aren’t we doing anything about it? Why aren’t we helping?”

I silently promised him and myself then that we would do something about it.

Why aren’t we doing anything about it? Those words haunted me as I began my new job as a Hillel director working on the San Francisco campuses.

There is nothing as I work with Jewish students that gives me more satisfaction than recruiting and taking them to New Orleans to volunteer to help rebuild the city and the community. This will be my 6th trip and it never gets old. We not only help physically, but we show we care and that we have not forgotten.

Most importantly perhaps, we bear witness. And maybe, seeds are sown in these students not to accept social apathy and irresponsibility. Social Justice is a central tenant, an obligation, of Judaism – I want my students to experience the responsibility.

On Sunday, I will take 20 students, who will give up their spring break to help the crescent city. Over the next week, I want to share some of the experiences of our group, of groups I have taken in past years, and of the people we meet. Some of these will be posts from past years in case there is no time as this week can get so intense.

A couple of years ago when I went to pick up my son from school after just having returned from such a trip, the teacher stopped me. “He has been telling us all week of the work you do on the Gulf Coast. He is very proud of what you do.”

I thought back to August/September 2005 and the promise I had made to both of us. Seven years have passed, but the struggle of New Orleans goes on, and it is the struggle of American society’s claim to be one nation.

I don’t want the next generation – the millennials – to make the same mistakes that we made. Or my sons, if I can help it. Maybe by being a role model, by each of us doing something, we can change the world – one person at a time.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

The United Police State of America – Roger Ingalls

I want everyday hard working citizens to take five minutes from their crazy worker-bee routine to just stop and think about what is going on around them. I know it’s hard. We want to come home from another day of insanity, drink a glass of wine and just numb our brains for a few satisfying minutes before the chaotic next day rears its ugly head.

picture from pbs.com

We have to think, we have to engage our brains…for the sake of future generations. The days of “it’s all about me me me” are over! We must ascend to a higher state of social responsibility, it’s our duty…it’s our time.

I didn’t want this post to sound too preachy or get too long so I’ll get to the point. Please think about and become familiar with the following issues:

 1)      In many states and local city governments, it is now illegal for you to video tape police activities. No more Rodney King type videos.

2)      As of last Thursday, thanks to Congress and the President, it is now a Federal offense to cause a disturbance during some political events (H.R. 347). The right to assemble and protest, as guaranteed by the Constitution, is being minimized.

3)      The precedent has now been set allowing the President to assassinate you (an American citizen) if you are deemed a potential threat – your arrest or trial with guilty verdict is not necessary for execution.

4)      If you are alleged or considered a terrorist, you can be locked away for life, without official charge or trial (habeas corpus suspended).

5)      Political momentum is building to disallow a woman to control what is done to her own body.

6)      City governments are creating laws without constitutional or historic “commons” consideration that limits use of public places for assembly and protest.

The pace to limit our basic rights is accelerating. Thomas Jefferson and other like-minded Founding Fathers fought hard to get a Bill of Rights included in the Constitution. Wouldn’t it be tragic to let it all slip away? Think about this small list above…there are many others not shown.

Turning a blind eye to the elimination of freedom is like putting shackles and chains on our children and telling them to get used to it.

————————————-

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.

Shimon Peres – Rhetorics of Peace

There were a lot of comments about my Rhetorics of Hate blog post and my overriding pessimism. It is a time to be jaded as peace talks take a back seat to what might be a war with Iran.

I have shared in the past that there are some wonderful organizations trying to bridge the gaps and bring about a sustainable peace, often at a very grassroots level. One Voice are an outstanding example.

The day after I wrote the Rhetorics of Hate, I had the opportunity to hear Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, who was visiting San Francisco. As I walked past the demonstrators, I wondered if they even knew who this man is and what he stands for – or is enough to be an Israeli in order to be the enemy. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mr. Peres was reaching out to make peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors, long before anyone else dared risk their political careers to pursue peace.

But Mr. Peres reminded us of what might be his greater contribution to the region. He said (these are my words) that peace in the region will be motivated not by ideology or territorial compromise, but by poverty. With the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Middle East under 25 and, with an increasing number of them having access to the Internet, this is truer today that when Mr. Peres outlined his vision for a New Middle East.

Fifteen year ago, a long time if measured not by history but technology, Mr. Peres pointed out that the Middle East has the resources and technology to become the center of the world economy. Once the 99% (definitely my words now!) realize this, they will demand that their governments broker the necessary accords to allow for an economic entity to be established that will change the balance of wealth on the planet, and allow the people of the Middle East to share a quality of life that they have every right to demand of their leaders.

Speaking in San Francisco last week, Mr. Peres said that peace in the Middle East will be created from the mind not by the military. Possibly the most effective way that we can create that momentum is to get his book, The New Middle East, into as many hands as possible.

To do this we need to harness the technological advances that Mr. Peres spoke of, because the drums of war are pounding again, and they are getting louder.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Why Can’t We Get Off Oil?

Last Thursday, Roger Ingalls wrote a post about two ideas, one general and one specific. The specific idea was about using farm subsidies to develop “algaculture” in order to move us toward freedom from foreign oil. Good idea. But the general idea is much more important – that of changing and prioritizing how our government works (including things like agricultural subsidies) to adapt to an evolving set of realities.

As I was reading Roger’s post, I suddenly thought, “Why isn’t this already happening?” The answer is simple: Power.

It’s easy to see that money largely controls politics, but the situation runs deeper than that. Our politics are controlled by cemented-in power structures – not just any money, but the money and power that have been in the same, willing hands long enough to build structures of self-protection.

What this means is that our government is influenced most not by solid logic, but by entities protecting their own interests. This is the reason that big oil and big coal oppose solar and other renewable energy development with such fervor.

A long time ago, I promised Alon (the main author of this blog) that I would explain why oil companies are looking forward with copious amounts of drool to the day when oil is really scarce. Scarcity of a commodity which is “necessary” or at least very difficult to substitute for makes the price go up.

You might think that sure, the price goes up, but there’s less oil to sell, so it sort of evens out. But the oil companies know that, if alternatives aren’t developed, when oil gets scarce they will have the world by the you-know-whats. They will be able to spend much less on producing oil (and gasoline and everything else that comes from it) while charging absolutely incredible prices – prices that will support unimaginable profits.

People often point to the relative inefficiency of alternative energy sources at the present moment. Right now, much more energy is available from a dollar’s worth of fossil fuel than from any renewable source. This is because of the relative inefficiency of present technology in converting solar, or wind, etc. into usable electricity, in addition to the investment needed to make the conversion possible at all.

But it will be unbelievably expensive to build wind turbine towers, for example, when oil costs $500 per barrel. If we don’t do a lot of the “heavy lifting” now, while powering the development of alternatives and the experimentation that must precede it with “cheap” oil, we will soon be at the mercy (or lack thereof) of the oil companies. 

So, is Roger right? I don’t know if even Roger knows just how right Roger is. Algaculture is by no means the complete solution to our energy problems, but what Roger has brought up here is the very future of civilization. Think I’m exaggerating? As of just about today, the world’s population is hitting 7 Billion people, over half of which live in urban settings (82% in the U.S.). Our food supply chains are usually located far from population centers and require huge amounts of energy for transport, not to mention many other aspects of production.

This means that the prices of foods will skyrocket, even while the real earnings of the middle (and lower) class fall. I’m not sure what that world will look like if this trend is realized, but you can bet it won’t be pretty.

It’s not just about the cool prospect of not bowing to Saudi Arabia anymore. No. It’s about the cool prospect that our kids might be able to eat in 50 years. Above all, we need to cut down our ridiculously wasteful energy usage, but we also need to make investments in the energy sources that will still be around when the oil gets scarce.

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

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.

___________________________________________________________________________

Move On – Super PAC?

I’ve been a big fan of MoveOn.org since the last Presidential election. I smiled every time I sat in my car behind one of their bumper stickers and, being from the Bay Area and having a long commute, I probably smiled a lot.

I have also been a critic of Super PACs and voiced my disappointment at the establishment of an Obama Super PACPriorities USA Action – so you will excuse me when I realized that MoveOn.org may well be defined as a PAC. It probably wasn’t envisioned as such (or at least not with the baggage the Super PACs now carry. From their Wiki Page:

“MoveOn started in 1998 as an e-mail group, MoveOn.org, created by software entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the married cofounders of Berkeley Systems. They started by passing around a petition asking Congress to “censure President Clinton and move on”, as opposed to impeaching him. The petition, passed around by word of mouth, was extremely successful; ultimately, they had half a million signatures.[9] The couple went on to start similar campaigns calling for arms inspections rather than an invasion of Iraq, reinstatement of lower limits on arsenic and mercury pollution, and campaign finance reform.”

Joan Blades and Wes Boyd - Founders of MoveOn.org

MoveOn doesn’t have the feel of a Super PAC. They have harnessed email, Facebook, and Meetup forums. It has an Action Forum that allows members to decide and promote progressive causes.

MoveOn has divided into two legally separate entities: one is educational and advocates for national issues (MoveOn Civic Action), while the other is a more traditional PAC, raising millions of dollars for Democratic candidates.

There is nothing wrong, illegal, or immoral with what MoveOn.org is doing. But those bumper stickers just don’t make me smile anymore. I wish for a simpler time, when politicians won elections with scintillating rhetoric, inspiring vision, and a strategy to make the world a better place for all.

But then, that doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Israel Apartheid Week – Rhetorics of Hate

It came and went. Israel Apartheid Week on our university campus. They waved their flags, we waved ours. They chanted, we chanted. They held their signs up and we tried to hold ours higher.

It was so depressing.

Been there, done that, year after year. And as I stood watching, I realized that the language is becoming more extreme with each passing year. A woman recited an emotional poem shouting into the microphone: “I hate you. I hate you, I hate you.”

Why is the language and tactics becoming more extreme?

I would like to tell you that the hard-liners (from both sides) are entrenching themselves as a last throw against the onslaught of the peace process. You would then like to tell me that I am delusional, while subtly putting that almost-empty whiskey bottle away.

Perhaps, on the other hand, it is frustration at the intransigence of the leaders involved and the lack of any kind of serious peace talks.

But the reality is sadly that many no longer believe that a peaceful, negotiated settlement is possible. It is frustrating and dis-empowering. Time passes, another war looms. More people will die and, when the smoke clears, well we will be back where we started, having learned nothing.

So maybe it is just easier to brandish our signs and our flags at each other. We know what to expect. We know it won’t matter. A little chanting can even be therapeutic. And maybe it will help us forget that people are suffering, living in fear, and waiting for a better future.

Except that with each day passing, we move that much closer to war.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Algaculture: Farming Worth Subsidizing

Last week I blogged about farm subsidies and how they limit variety, make people fat and destroy the free-market economy. It wasn’t a very popular post so I assume most people don’t care to dig into the complexities of this subject. However, it is a very important issue so I’m going to discuss it again but with the focus of how I believe our tax dollars should be spent.

Instead of subsidizing grains, corn and other carbohydrate crops that get over-processed into unhealthy foods, we should fund farming methods that can efficiently turn plant life into alternative fuels. And I’m not talking about the inefficient use of corn to make ethanol which is a crazy waste of food and energy.

We should subsidize algaculture or algae farming. More than 50% of algae’s composition – by weight – is lipid oil which burns cleaner and more efficiently than fossil fuel based petroleum. Once the oil is removed from the algae, the leftovers can be turned into fertilizer and feedstock for animals.

To eliminate our reliance on imported oil, we would need approximately 50 million acres of algae farming compared to billions of acres of corn to produce ethanol. Algae is a much better crop choice for making alternative liquid fuels.

Can you imagine all the problems we could solve by using our farm subsidies wisely? We could eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. We would no longer have to fight wars in the Middle East. There would be a new farming community with massive job creation as well as support industries to refine algae oils. In addition, there would be less unhealthy products in our food system because high fructose corn syrup and grain-fed beef would no longer be priced below true market value.

I encourage you to learn more about farm subsidies and algae bio-fuels. We could have a healthier, greener and safer society by changing how we spend our tax dollars.

————————————-

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.

Community Investing

I was proud to participate in Bank Transfer Day and I know I am not alone. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) announced that between the end of September and beginning of November, $4.5 billion dollars were deposited in new accounts in the credit unions.

650,000 people moved their money into credit unions during this time and as the late Senator Everett Dirksen said: “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

There is a vital lesson here: we can control what we do with our money, and our money can have an effect when we band together. 99% of the population is a lot of people – over 300 million to be sure. This action remains for me the most exciting chapter in the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement and should stand as a model for how we can change the economic environment.

I want to share with you a user-friendly guide to community investing that has been put together by my friends over at the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the Jewish Funds for Social Justice.

I have not been moved to close more ports or participate in endless demonstrations. I have visited Occupy sites in the Bay Area, but not felt a part of what was happening. This is who I am, not a criticism of those participating. But actions such as Bank Transfer Day have been a very powerful experience. I am not sure how far the movement can go in an election year. We need to focus on ensuring that the candidates from the party that most represents our values.

They should receive 99% of our votes – a game changer.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Who is in the Top 1%? Don’t ask the New York Times – Tom Rossi

I’ve now heard an obvious piece of propaganda used by several journalistic organizations, including the New York Times and ABC television News. It has to do with who it is that’s being asked by the rest of us to pay their fair share of taxes.

What is the propaganda? The phrase, “high wage-earners.” The news media has chosen, without any apparent logic, to use this phrase repeatedly.

This, to me, serves as even more evidence that the media is not biased toward the left, as is often claimed, but largely toward the rich and powerful.

The purpose, as near as I can tell, is to kill the fair tax movement (not the official name or anything) by making it appear that those who are being “picked on” are doctors, accountants, engineers, and so forth. Baloney. The “1%” DOES NOT refer to the top 1% of wage-earners at all. It refers to those in the top 1% of net worth. They earn money by owning things. Their earnings are from stock transactions, and real estate and other investments – mostly what are categorized as capital gains.

Think your doctor can afford this?

The same authors of the original NYTimes article that raised too many eyebrows made a weak attempt at reconciliation with their readers, but they spent a lot of print basically defending their position and feigning concession while diverting attention from their shortcomings that it didn’t accomplish much.

So let’s settle, once and for all, who is “rich” and who is not. Here’s a quick test:

Call your U.S. Senator’s office in Washington, D.C. Tell whoever answers your name and ask to speak to the senator right away.

If the senator picks up the phone, you are rich. If not, you are not rich.

OK, I’m exaggerating… a little. The point is that the people that should be paying their fair share are not “wage-earners.” They are powerful forces that can bend our actual government to their liking, if they are so inclined. It was the efforts of a very large subset of this group that brought about the policies that led to the current state of imbalance.

Pointing to the top 1% of salaries is willfully dishonest. It distracts and robs credibility from the real issue.

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

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.

___________________________________________________________________________

 

A Lesson From The West Wing

I don’t want this election to about the Bible or any other topic that doesn’t get our nation back on its feet. As the Republicans candidates fall over themselves to win the primary in a holier-than-thou competition, perhaps we need to turn to a source that has guided us through many White House crises.

Enjoy…

——————————————————————————————————

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).

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: