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 “December, 2012”

Fiscal Cliff: Elephant in the Room – Roger Ingalls

With all this hyped-out talk about the Fiscal Cliff, raising taxes, cutting Social Security and Medicare, why isn’t anyone talking about the obvious?

Yes, we need to let the temporary tax cuts given to the rich during the George W. Bush administration expire as originally promised almost a decade ago. And we need to cut some spending in the right areas.

Defense Spending

Defense spending is the elephant in the room. All the politicians are ignoring the obvious. The military budget has tripled since 2002 and is the significant contributor to the debt. Social Security and Medicare are not the evil entitlements as promoted by the Conservatives.

I do not believe defense spending will be reduced to appropriate levels. In time, many politicians get appointed to the boards of defense contractors and they also receive campaign contributions from organizations associated with them. It’s not in the best interests of our elected officials to reduce defense spending.

We all know the world is not going to end if Washington does not come to a Fiscal Cliff agreement by the end of the year. It’s just political rhetoric meant to draw our attention away from the real problems.

Lighting A Candle For Freedom

Tonight Jews around the world will light the third candle of Chanukah. For a description of the festival please click on the link. The purpose of this blog is to focus on the theme rather than the ritual. But what I found fascinating is that American Jewry identify and celebrate Chanukah more than any other Jewish festival by a huge margin. The statistics buck the doom-and-gloom fears of assimilation and I believe there is a good reason for this. Chanukah is the Jewish festival of freedom. And freedom, while something the Jewish people have often struggled for, is a universal theme.

This year, I would like to dedicate Chanukah (not that I own any dedicating rights!) to the Egyptian people, who after demonstrating so bravely to overthrow a dictator, find themselves in Tahrir Square again only a year later. Freedom is worth fighting for … and coming back to fight for it again.

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Tahrir Square this past Friday.

The fact that many religions have a festive holiday deep in the winter is another bond that binds us. Here is my offering to kick off the festive season. It is one of a series of cool, hip Jewish songs for different festivals by a great, rising star.

Michelle Citrin has an amazing voice, an amazing personality and deserves so much more success. So please check out her music here.

Happy Chanukah to All People – Let’s all light the way to freedom.
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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

Shopping for the Holidays? Beware the Attack of the Fanboys! – Tom Rossi

People have come to depend somewhat heavily on online reviews of products to help them make shopping choices. Whether it’s a gift or something needed or wanted for ourselves, online reviews can help us to avoid products that are poorly designed or manufactured.

They can also help us to determine whether a product or type of product will do for us what we need it to do. Will this blender crush that dirty chunk of ice that forms under my cars fenders in the winter? Will this electric shaver work on my back? Can this hair dryer double as a hot glue gun? Can i use this vacuum cleaner to enlarge my… well, you get the idea.

Websites like Amazon.com have lots of ratings that customers have posted. Some of these are painstakingly detailed. Some people seem to have lots of free time and use it constructively, maybe in hopes that someone like me won’t buy a Yugo or something. And in addition to the long and detailed reviews, some are concise and to-the-point. These can be almost as informative.

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But then come the spoilers. These come in several forms. One is the fake review: “This is the perfect thing for young couples just starting out!” or, “This book was written by a liberal and I’m sure it has liberal ideas. Therefore I’m giving it one star out of five, even though I haven’t read the book myself.”

But the most dreaded, evil entity, lurking in the reviews, is the “fanboy.” Fanboy (not the cartoon character) is a pop-culture word, and there’s no reason not to suppose a fanboy might be female, but that’s the term. Fanboys cruise Amazon and other sites, looking for negative reviews of some product or brand they are in love with. Then they rate the review, itself, as “not helpful”. It seems these little gremlins probably have multiple accounts, so that they can rate a review as “not helpful” enough times as to make it kind of disappear, especially on sites that have the highest-rated reviews at the top of the list.

Fanboys also write inane, negative comments in response to reviews, ridiculing the original reviewer. They ridicule, write five-star reviews of things that aren’t that great, write negative reviews of competing products, and generally confound the process any way they can. Some fanboys might actually be employees of a company and trying to improve its image, but it probably doesn’t work.

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“Free market” freaks tell us that, without “interference” from government safety or quality regulations, the capitalist market would solve issues of poor quality because, if something isn’t good, people will stop buying it. How is that theory supposed to work with so much dishonesty out there? Fanboys engage in the sabotage of free speech. They use lies and tricks to get people to like (or seem to like) what they like or to buy their company’s products.

What motivates this behavior? In the case of the company employee, it’s pretty obvious. But when it’s a true fanboy, who is simply in love with his Dell laptop, or his Easy-Bake oven, something else is happening.

For some people, it’s very important that their tastes and choices are validated by others. I had a roommate once who recommended a movie for the three of us who shared an apartment in college. He thought this movie was just the best thing ever, and it was, in fact, very good. But just because we knew how easy it would be to irritate our friend, the other roommate and I just said, “Meh. It was OK.”

“Just OK?!?!?! What are you, crazy?!?!?” He practically tore his hair out because we, apparently, didn’t like the movie as much as he did. And I’ve had people try to talk me into changing my taste in food, women, cars, music, you name it, and all so that they can feel validated by my agreement. Likewise I’ve received many approving, sometimes even admiring looks from people I happened to share similar tastes with, in one area or another.

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These feelings are not abnormal, but I’ll say this to the fanboys out there: Grow up! The fact that I like Guinness and you like Coors Light doesn’t make one of us better than the other… Well… yes it does. Bad example. But you get the point. Taste is taste. Let people have their own, and let people communicate honestly about things, so that they can make informed choices for themselves.

-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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PTSD – Never Leaves You

This is an old blog post, but the subject is very much on my mind with the release of Unwanted Heroes.

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, needing 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 instantly crouched down low behind my car and my whole body tensed. I was ready. I could feel my heart thumping.

When I saw the joy riders speed past me, their music blaring, I leaped back into my car,  pulled out and followed them. I think my wheels actually screeched. 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 could clearly imagine 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 three guards: one entered with the person, the other two 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, 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, kid’s homework, and to hear stories from the schoolyard.

I had made it home today …  but 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.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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 World is Your Facebook – Roger Ingalls

This afternoon I received an interesting email from a friend that contained a PowerPoint presentation showing facts about the world. It proportionally represented the entire population on Earth as if we were only a village containing one hundred people. It made the numbers more comprehensible.

Facebook World

Let’s do something similar and bring the facts even closer to home by making the world our Facebook page. I’d like you to imagine that the only people in existence are also your Facebook friends. The average user has 130 friends. You may have more, or less, but let’s represent the entire human race relative to the average Facebook user. We have demographically shrunk the world proportionally.

Your world, your Facebook:

1)      You have friended all 130 people on Earth.

2)      You are friends with 67 women and 63 men.

3)      Seventy-four (74) of your friends are Asian, 27 are European, 18 are from the Americas (north, central and south), and 10 are from Africa.

4)      You have 43 Christian, 29 Muslim, 18 Hindu, 9 Buddhist and 1 Jewish friend.

5)      While worshipping their God, 60 of your friends live in fear of assault or death.

6)      Fourteen (14) of your friends are gay.

7)      You have 8 very rich friends that control 60% of the world’s wealth.

8)      Poverty hurts 104 of your friends.

9)      Sixty-five (65) of your friends are hungry or malnourished.

10)   Ninety-one (91) of your friends cannot read or write.

11)   One of your friends is giving birth.

12)   One of your friends is about to die.

13)   Only one of your friends has a college degree.

14)   Only one of your friends has a computer.

15)   If you have clothes on your back, sleep with a roof over your head and have food in the fridge, you live better than 98 of your friends.

Proportionally shrinking the entire population down to the size of the average Facebook user’s friendship-reach, did make it easier for me to rationalize the true state of the world. It was a good mental exercise.

I’m fortunate and should be more thankful.

The Demons of War are Persistent – Guest Post by A. W. Schade Pt. 2

This is part two of an article. The first can be found here.

I have taken on a cause through writing stories, such as this one, to reach out to young and senior Veterans to break the stigma of PTSD, and seek assistance.  Today is different from previous wars, and help and medical acknowledgement of PTSD has come a long way. 

Please ‘Take Action’ on the following suggestions; from one old warrior to others of all ages:

  • Break through the stigma of PTSD and get medical or peer-to-peer assistance now – PTSD is real!
  • Unless you are in a high-risk job, you will probably not experience the adrenaline rush and finality of your decisions as you did in combat. For me, I lived playing business games – never finding the ultimate adrenaline rush again. It is a void within me that I feel often.
  • The longer you wait for treatment, the harder it will be to handle the demons. They do not go away and can lay dormant in your soul for decades.
  • Understand it is never too late in your life to begin looking forward and achieving new objectives.
  • If you do not want to speak about PTSD with your family or friends, then hand them a brochure from the VA that explains what to look for, and why you need their support. You do not have to go into detail about the tragedies of war, but without your loved ones understanding your internal battle your thoughts can lead to divorce, loss of family relationships, destitution, or one of the rising suicide tragedies – a terrible waste of a hero.
  • Silence and solitude is not the answer! If you have PTSD you may not be able to beat it alone.
  • If you are concerned about your military or civilian job, seek help from peer resources. They have experienced what you have been through, and will help keep you living in the present, instead of the constantly looking over your shoulder to past atrocities.
  • Or call a person in a peer support group anonymously. They will not know you, but will talk for as long as you wish.
  • You cannot explain the horrors of war to someone, except maybe a PTSD psychologist, that has not experienced it – so don’t try. Seek those who peers who can help make a difference!
  • Get up off your ass and take a serious look into yourself! Accept the fact that if you have continuous nightmares, flashbacks, depression, bursts of anger, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, you have PTSD. If so, talk to someone who can help.
  • There is financial and medical assistance through the VA; which may help you avoid living a life of destitution.

Finally, let your ego and macho image go. There are too many individuals and groups today wanting to help you [A list of many of these support groups are listed on this site], or you may find yourself alone and bitter for a lifetime. The demons are not going away, but with help, you can learn to fight them and win one battle at a time.

Semper Fi!

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

Hatchets vs. Scalpels – Tom Rossi

Isn’t it a good idea to reduce the size of government? Well, I need to lose some weight. Maybe I’ll cut of an arm or a leg.

Think I’m exaggerating? The Republican dream is worse than cutting off your arm to lose weight. It’s more like cutting out half your liver, one of your lungs, and most of your small intestine. Half your brain must already have been cut out if you think this is a good idea.

Republicans want to cut the bread and butter of the majority of America’s citizens. They want to cut education, social services of many kinds, including services to disabled people, public safety, public transportation, food inspection, and environmental regulation. Some of these are actual sources of many people’s livelihoods, and others protect lives or livelihoods.

But worst of all, and so obviously, politically stupid as to amount to political suicide, is that Republicans want to cut Social Security (and/or privatize it) and Medicare. This would stab a large, jagged, rusty sword into the hearts of Republicans chief constituency: our growing population of those near or past the so-called “retirement age.”

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This group has largely supported the Republican party over the past several decades based on social issues: opposition to abortion, gay rights, etc. And, to some degree, this constituency has gone along with the ideas of personal responsibility, as opposed to having a government safety net to keep you from falling down the elevator shaft if you make the wrong choices. But cutting the sources of income and health-care for the top third of our demographic might be just the shock that would shake these voters loose.

It would be done on the promise that the United States would return to general prosperity if we just set free the incentives of huge, almost tax-free profits, while eliminating those annoying health, safety, and environmental regulations that are surely what are holding our economy back. The idea must be that the children of this age bracket would become so wealthy, with their shiny new corporate jobs that they would be able to buy houses, groceries, and box CD sets of the Beach Boys for their parents.

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Even if the theory were to magically work out, there would be a long lag time between dropping tax rates on the wealthy (even more), deregulating, and any theoretical benefits to the middle class. That lag time would be years, at a minimum. But, really, it would be eternal.

Let’s get real. If incomes are cut and/or costs for things like health care were to go up, a thing economists call “aggregate demand” would fall. In plain English, that means that people would have less available money to buy things. If they buy less, profits go down, not up. That means, according to conventional thinking, that they would hire fewer people, and maybe fire a few. That means that if you’re counting on sonny boy (or, uh, daughtery girl?) to finance your retirement, he’d have to prioritize that over replacing his kids’ shoes at least once a year.

There is certainly waste in our government which could and should be sought out and reduced as much as possible. But this ideology of cutting down the forests with machetes will do much more harm than good. We have been going down that path, farther and farther, for the past 40 years… and things have gotten worse or stayed flat for the middle class, while the very wealthy have raked in the cash and the improvements in standard of living.

We have to return to a reasonable balance in our country. Cutting off a limb is no way to achieve balance.

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-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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The Demons of War are Persistent – Guest Post by A. W. Schade Pt. 1

Forty years have passed since my deployment as a combat Marine to Vietnam. But only several years since I acknowledged my inability to continue suppressing the demons alone. Like many veterans, the “Demons” have haunted me through nightmares, altered personas, and hidden fears. Even as many veterans manage the demons’ onslaught successfully, millions survive in destitution, finding solitude and social disconnection. Scores consider themselves cowards, should they concede to the demons’ hold? Countless live in denial and loneliness, protecting their warrior’s pride. The most vulnerable— tormented by guilt and feeling forever alone — too often choose to “end” their lives.  —A.W. Schade, USMC 1965/69

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As friends and family gather to celebrate another joyful holiday, I am often melancholy, reminded by vivid memories of lost friendships and battlefield carnage that erratically seeps from a vulnerable partition of my mind. This partition is a cerebral hiding place I concocted, decades before, mechanisms to survive in society. I unwittingly clutch at a profound loneliness as I avoid searching for memories of my youthful years. If I dare to gaze into my past, I must transcend through a cloak of darkness weaved to restrain the demons from so many years before.

My pledge to God, Country, and Marine Corps was more than forty years ago. As a young, unproven warrior, I consented to the ancient rules of war. At eighteen, like many others, I was immersed in the ageless stench of death and carnage, in the mountains and jungles of Vietnam. However, my journey began much earlier, on a sixty-mile bus ride with other nervous teenagers, to New York City’s legendary Induction Center at 39 White Hall Street.

We went through lines of examinations and stood around for hours, recognizing one another’s bare asses before we could learn each other’s names. We did not realize so many of us would remain together in squads and fire teams, building deep-seeded bonds of friendships along our journey. Our initial ‘shock’ indoctrination began immediately at Parris Island; intimidating Drill Instructors scrambled our disoriented butts off the bus, organized us into a semblance of a formation, and herded us to the barracks for a night of hell! Anxiety, second-guessing our decision to join, and apprehension was our welcoming. Following what we thought would be sleep (but was actually a nap), we awoke in awe to explosive clamor, as the DIs banged on tin garbage can lids next to our bunks, yelling ‘get up you maggots.’ Even the largest recruits trembled.

 

We remained maggots for the next few weeks and began intense physical and mental training, slowly recognizing the importance of “the team” instead of “the individual.” In less than sixteen weeks we were proud United States Marines. It was a short celebration though, as we loaded our gear and headed, in order, to Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton, Okinawa and then the Philippines, where we continued to enhance our stealth and killing skills, before executing these talents on the already blood-soaked fields of Vietnam.

We argued and fought amongst ourselves as brothers often do. Still, we never lost sight of the bonds we shared: We were United States Marines with an indisputable commitment to “always cover each other’s back.” Crammed into the bowels of Navy Carrier Ships, we slept in hammocks with no more than three inches from your brother’s butt above you. The sailors laughed as these self-proclaimed “bad-ass Marines” transformed into the wimpy “Helmet Brigade.” We vomited into our skull buckets for days on our way to Okinawa, where we would engage in counter guerrilla warfare training. Aware that we were going to Vietnam, we partied hard in every port. The first of our battles were slug fests in distant bar-room brawls.

Conversely, our minds were opened to the poverty and living conditions of these famous islands in the Pacific. Their reputations preceded them, but stories about the war in Japan—John Wayne movies—were not what we found. Instead, we found overpopulated, dirty cities; we were barraged constantly by poor children seeking any morsel of food. In the fields, families lived in thatched huts with no electricity or sanitary conditions. While training I experienced the horror of being chased by a two ton water buffalo (with only blanks in my rifle). Moments before, this same beast was led around by a ring in its nose by a five-year old boy. Worse than the chasing was hearing the laughter of brother Marines watching me run at full speed, trying to find something to climb.  In the tree, I felt as though I was losing the “macho” in Marine, and we were still thousands of miles from Vietnam.

In confidence, we spoke as brothers about our fears, hardships growing-up, family, girl friends, times of humiliation, prejudice, and what we planned to do in our lifetime once our tour of duty in Vietnam was over. We knew each other’s thoughts and spoke as though we would all return home alive, never considering the thought of death or defeat. We had not learned that lesson, yet. Moreover, we dreamed of going home as respected American warriors who defended democracy in a remote foreign land, standing proud, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and experiencing life, as none of our friends at home would understand. Our country had called and we answered.

We transferred to a converted WWII aircraft carrier that carried helicopters and Marines instead of jet planes. We were to traverse the coast of Vietnam and deploy by helicopter into combat zones from the Demilitarized Zone, the imaginary line separating North and South Vietnam, to the provinces and cities of Chu Lai and Da Nang. Then further South, to the outer fringes of Vietnam’s largest city, which was, at that time, Saigon.

Within sight of land, we heard the roar of artillery, mortars and the familiar crackling of small-arms fire. These were sounds we were accustomed to because of months of preparing ourselves for battle. However, for the first time, we understood the sounds were not from playing war games. Someone was likely dead. Anxiety, adrenaline highs, and fear of the unknown swirled within my mind. Was I prepared? Could I kill another man? Would another man kill me? From that point forward, death was part of my life. We would eventually load into helicopters, descending into confrontations ambivalent, yet assured we were young, invincible warriors. We were convinced the South Vietnamese people needed us; many of them did. Thus, our mission was simple: save the innocent and banish the enemy to Hell!

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 This story is continued in its entirety at www.awschade.com. On Friday, Art will share some practical solutions.

AW Schade; a USMC 1965/69, Vietnam Veteran, retired corporate executive and author of the award winning book, “Looking for God within the Kingdom of Religious Confusion.” A captivating, comparative, and enlightening tale that seeks to comprehend the doctrines and discord between and within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Secularism. What the seeker discovers, transforms his life forever!]  Amazon:  Paperback & Kindle  http://amzn.to/JFxPyK   B&N Paperback & Nook http://bit.ly/JFy5On 

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted HeroesThe Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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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