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 “January, 2013”

The Gun Problem: Keeping It Simple – Roger Ingalls

Hand Gun Assault Rifle

Gun Suicides

Gun Murders

Little Crosses

This is the problem

Closing note: Since the 27 deaths at Sandy Hook elementary school forty-nine days ago, more than 1400 peopled have been killed in the US with handguns (28 deaths per day for 49 straight days). A lot of energy, money and politicking is getting spent on the relatively insignificant issue of assault weapon deaths while the real problem of handgun killings is ignored. Sadly, political and media sound-biting wins the day. Please spread the truth, maybe we can focus attention on the real issue.

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It Takes An Unarmed Village

Kudos to President Obama. While everyone else is just talking (or blogging) about gun control, he decided to get the ball rolling with a package that overflows with common sense.

A month after we witnessed yet another horrific massacre, Obama challenged a cowering Congress to pass universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

imgres-3Fighting words or not, he knows that a deeply divided Congress is an integral partner to pass the most necessary and effective measures for preventing more mass shootings.

“To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act,” Obama said. “And Congress must act soon.”

Already those brave souls in Congress are burning the midnight candle forcing the NRA to send rational leaders to participate in the debate and selling their shares in the pork industry, fearlessly risking their seats by taking on the special interest groups that put so many of them there in the first place.

Okay I apologize. You probably read that paragraph twice, rubbed your eyes, and vowed to  ditch the decaf and return to caffeinated coffee.

Immediately, the NRA was up in arms: ” “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed Obama’s measures as “an executive power grab.”

imgres“He paid lip service to our fundamental constitutional rights,” Priebus said of the president, “but took actions that disregard the Second Amendment and the legislative process.”

It seems to me that one of two things need to happen and they both require acts of courage by huge numbers of people.

The first is a mass movement of people who are willing to make this the focus of attention until the mid terms. I doubt this is sustainable. There are too many other issues that effect our pockets and we are simply too attention deficit and the media are too deft at facilitating this. 

The second involves an (unarmed) uprising within the NRA. I have already written about the NRA historically leading gun reform policy. The only way this is going to happen is if the moderate majority of NRA members make a stand:

I realize this hope contains too flaws: there might not be  a moderate majority and, even if there is, it might be too intimidated to stand up to the extremists. Secondly, it renders my blog title inaccurate.

As the President said: “Behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any commonsense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever, The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different, that this time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.”

Here is something we can each do TODAY. Find a friend who is a member of the NRA and take them out for coffee. Invite them to raise their voice – make this about background checks and automatic weapons. Reassure them that the gun they feel they need to protect their family is not threatened.

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President Obama is not going to succeed alone. He needs his friends and he needs the moderate majority of the American people. 

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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).

You Are Too Stupid – by Tom Rossi

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent, despite all the threats of terrorism and economic disaster, despite the cries of socialism, fascism, and even communism, you still re-elected Barrack Hussein Obama. For this reason, the Republican party has decided that what is needed is to simply take away your voting rights.

Ho hum, you say? “Wake up, Tom! Republicans have been trying to disenfranchise African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and other groups for years, if not centuries!” Well, yes… there is that. Let’s not go into a long history, but just give a quick review before we talk about the Republican party’s inspired new ideas (don’t you wish we had a convention on sarcasm in text, like it always appears in some ugly color, like baby-shit yellow?).

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Republicans have sponsored and in many cases put through bills in almost every state requiring state-issued, photo IDs to be presented by voters. This may sound simple, but many voters (many of the poorest voters) face considerable difficulties in getting those IDs. Besides, actual voter fraud hardly exists. They have sent out letters to legal immigrants – naturalized citizens – that they and/or their families will be deported if they attempt to vote. They sent out letters claiming that people can vote by phone… the day after the election. Several Republican Secretaries of State have adjusted voting hours and polling-place personnel levels in order to cause hours-long waits to vote in poor or just Democratic-leaning precincts. My hands are getting tired from typing – so I hope you get the picture.

But now, ladies and gentlemen, comes the main event. An idea, a proposition, more evil than Scarpia, more conniving than Iago, more heartless than Dick Cheney… Because you, my friends, are just too stupid… too stupid to vote for who you’ve been instructed (at great effort, I might add), the power to choose your president will be taken away. Not completely, mind you. But just enough to tip the balance, and to make sure that there are no more Romney-style humiliations.

Here’s the ingenious plan: Even while most Americans want to do away with the electoral college and elect the president directly by popular vote, the Republican leadership in several key. “swing” states want to take the electoral college much further. They want to use the gerrymandered congressional districts, within their borders, to determine the winner of the state’s electoral votes.

If these rules had been in place before the 2012 election, Romney would have won the presidency, despite having lost the popular vote, 47% to Obama’s 51%, a difference of about 5 million votes.

The inescapable conclusion from all this is that the Republican party (I’m not talking about ALL Republican voters, but the party’s leadership) hates democracy. And while it’s true that the Democratic party also works to change the balance of who votes in America, they work to get more people to vote, not less. That actually (and obviously) increases democracy.

This picture may have been faked, but I think it captures some real sentiment out there.

This picture may have been faked, but I think it captures some real sentiment out there.

To my many, many Republican readers out there, I ask: Will you sacrifice democracy in order to get your way? I sincerely believe that the answer will, from most, actual Republican voters, be “No!” You can’t love America and hate democracy. That would be the ultimate hypocrisy.

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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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Castles of Glass – Linkin Park

There are many mediums to promote causes. When I recently spoke to a group about Unwanted Heroes – a novel that highlights the plight of war veterans and homelessness – a gray-haired man came up to me, patted my arm and said: “It is a story that must be told.”

He doesn’t read fiction, only non-fiction, but I appreciated his support. He probably isn’t a fan of Linkin Park – a rock band that incorporates a fair amount of rap – but I hope he would appreciate this beautiful song and video.

If you are not into loud music, turn the volume down so you can just hear it while it accompanies the video.

Not the happiest way to enter the weekend, but as the old man said about Unwanted Heroes: It is a story that must be told.

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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).

 

Time for Healthcare Insurers to Compete – Roger Ingalls

It’s that time of the year again for us micro-business owners. We need to renew medical insurance policies for our employees and just like clockwork the price goes up another 10%. The increases are illogical and completely counter to everything we’ve learned about capitalism.

When it comes to the insurance or financial industry, if any Conservative or Libertarian thinks the American Economic System is a free market, they’re either a fool or extremely gullible. What we have now is an Oligarchy; a few large insurance companies loosely coordinating policies and pricing. There is no longer true competition in this or any other financial industry.

The big healthcare insurers are publicly traded companies and, therefore, are managed by Wall Street. This means they must meet two critical criteria to stay within the good graces of for profit investors: 1) increase year over year revenue and 2) maintain or increase year over year profit margin. In today’s economic climate and in a real free market, this would be impossible for insurance companies. But yet, they continue to set profit records and growth. How is this possible? Simple…we don’t have a free market. Just to clarify, this has nothing to do with Obamacare; it’s deregulation of industry going back to the early 1980s and accelerated in the early 2000s.

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Let’s look at this more closely. Because of the Great Recession, many Americans are unable to continue buying their healthcare coverage so, today; fewer people actually have health insurance. This means insurance companies have fewer customers now than they did last year or even the year before. Fewer customers usually mean lower revenue but somehow they miraculously managed to increase year over year revenue and profit. To appease Wall Street, insurers just simple charged their customers more. Without a free market, we, as consumers, have no choice.

You may be thinking there are four or five big insurance companies so we do have a choice, right? No, we don’t. These few companies are unable to differentiate themselves because they are publicly traded and must cozy up to investor wishes by not straying from profit and growth path. This is why insurance prices from company to company don’t really vary. One may offer lower monthly premiums but the copays are higher and at the end of the day (or year), it all comes out to about the same.

There’s only one way to infuse a dose of competition into this industry and that is by allowing the public, of all ages, to buy into Medicare. This is truly a different type of offering to the consumer and would provide real competition for the insurance companies. Make these companies fight for customers by offering value.

Let’s bring back a free market economy, let’s have a little competition.

Scapegoat Hunter

Even if you aren’t a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, there occasionally comes an episode that is much more serious than usual. Stewart, and his team, know when there is a need for a more cutting-edge episode and, when dealing with the outcry for a debate on gun control, he hit the mark on January 8, 2013.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/tue-january-8-2013-stanley-mcchrystal?xrs=share_copy

You know he hit the mark because of the furor that it stirred up. It is a touch ironic that it takes a comedian to create a debate. It is easy to claim that he showed us the extremists, but these were the heads of the NRA and national TV figures who reach millions each day.

imgres-7But it occurred to me that there must be a large group of gun-carrying people, who are not paranoid that they might need to overthrow the government, and who are not planning to go out and shoot one or many people. There must be a significant number of NRA members who have a gun in their house which they envisage using to defend their family should someone break in.

Where are they? Why are they not speaking up? Is there a fear-factor within the NRA that you can lose your membership, your gun license, or that you might be outright intimidated by the extremists?

No one should have a problem with gun debate. This is a democracy: we all talk, we all listen. No? What is the issue with opening a debate over automatic weapons? What is wrong with looking to how mentally unstable people get their gun license?

imgres-6None of the decisions that might come out of such a rational national debate will affect the average American of good standing and their genuinely perceived need for a gun in their home.

It was interesting that national hero, General Stanley McChrystal, was the Daily Show guest that night. Stewart could not resist asking the general and his answers were so articulate.

imgres-5“You can give the single individual the ability to do extraordinary damage – I just don’t think you can give everyone that ability.”

I want to believe that there are very few members of the NRA who believe a man should be able to walk into a public area and shoot off 30 rounds in 27 seconds, as happened in Aurora. 

Would the rational majority of the NRA please stand up – unless they are the ones feeling intimidated.

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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).

Will Obama Walk the Walk? – Tom Rossi

In now two-term President Obama’s inauguration speech today, he certainly “talked the talk” of a progressive, but will he “walk the walk?”

In some ways, he certainly already has. He ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” he came out in support of marriage rights for all, he appointed two women to the Supreme Court, he finally ended the war in Iraq, and a few other things.

But President Obama has been quite conservative on some big issues. He’s, if anything, increased the country’s war activities, used pilotless drones to assassinate people from the sky, increased spying activities on our own citizens, raided state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries, deported many more aliens than Bush, refused to even consider meaningful legal action against the robber barons that screwed the middle class and our whole economy, and kept merrily in place the same economic voodoo shamans that President Bush had… the same people who enabled the robber barons in the first place.

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And all this while supposedly being a communist. Wow!

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What I can’t help but wonder is, if Obama is a progressive, why has he hidden it so well, during his first term? I know the conventional thinking – he had to stay near the so-called “center” (which is far to the right of the center, even 15 years ago) in order to have a good shot at re-election. But why? What if he hadn’t been re-elected? Then we would have gone from center-right to far-right… and that means that every one of us except the 1% would have lost.

In addition, Obama now has just four years to accomplish anything, and most of the efforts and attention will be on what should properly be called “gun-mass-murder control” (not “gun control”). We have seen not one hint of consideration, by Obama, to the fact that our present economic pathway is still the same one that led to the current depression.

And it is a depression. Recessions are, by definition, short-term blips – speed bumps, really, in the path of our economic progress. Depressions mean long-term unemployment and long-term troughs in things like the housing market. We’ve had millions of people unemployed for a period of more than a year. That’s a depression.

We need a fundamental realignment of our capitalism away from concentrated profits and diffuse risks to stability and full employment. This is not “wanting ‘stuff’ from the government,” it’s wanting the government to stop working against the people. We’ve heard lots of talk about helping the middle class. Let’s see some real action.

Will the real Obama please stand up?

-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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Inauguration Day – Four More Years

It was a tough election, tougher than most outsiders realize. There was a point when I just couldn’t listen to righteous left-wingers who were sitting back drinking their decafs and stating why they couldn’t possibly support President Obama and bringing up all the promises that he wasn’t able to fulfill.

There is a particular radio station that infuriated me. Sitting in their plush studio they rolled out every possible so-called liberal, who were watching from the touchline, their hands deep in their pockets. Every time I got into my wife’s car, I turned the radio off before putting my seatbelt on.

They were woefully irresponsible. They left Obama to stand alone in the gladiator arena for too long.

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There was a point when I would rather speak to an NRA card carrier in a swing state than some family and friends about politics.

I’m not under any illusion that Barack Obama was less than perfect in his first four years. Neither is he. I’m also not under any illusion that many of the activists who helped put him there were seriously missing at the mid-terms and for much of the past campaign – I’ll raise my hand and admit to being one of them.

However, Monday is Inauguration Day and we begin a new chapter. Four more years to put right the terrible damage inflicted by a war-hungry and greedy minority.

Remember this?

Let’s not sit back and make the same mistake again. Game On!

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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).

 

 

Christmas Tree Graveyard – Roger Ingalls

Driving to work today, I passed a usually vacant lot and noticed it was full of Christmas trees. I stared at it for a moment and then realized it was a temporary drop site for discarded trees that were destine for the wood chipper at the local recycling center. It was a sad sight.

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Thirty million living trees get cut down, displayed for a few weeks and then shredded into little pieces, all with a 30 day timeframe. When you really think about it, it’s a crazy wasteful tradition. A carbon eating, oxygen producing living thing is obliterated for a commercial holiday and it happens 30 million times a year, every year!

Trees are grown just for this purpose but it still seems so destructive and wasteful. It’s an energy intensive process no matter how you look at it: fuel for the machinery to prepare the ground to plant the tree, energy to actually plant the tree, natural gas to make fertilizer to grow the tree, gas to trim and then cut the tree down, fuel to transport the tree to market, gas to get the tree home, electricity to light the tree, gas to dump the tree and finally energy to grind the tree up. Wasteful.

Maybe this isn’t a big issue but all those half brown, half green trees haphazardly thrown all over the vacant lot appeared obscenely disrespectful to life itself. Perhaps a big company in need of a public relation makeover, like Walmart, could start a new tradition where they rent out living Christmas trees that can be returned after the holidays. The trees can then be planted or reused the following year.

Or maybe I shouldn’t look around when I’m driving and just ignore the craziness.

Back to Gun Control – Now

I have to admit that I feel a bit intimidated writing this post. The truth is that I started to write it shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My blog posts on gun control have elicited the most virulent responses, primarily from people who didn’t even bother to read the posts. 

But, as I watched the tragedy unfold on twitter, those who immediately ran to man the barricades shocked me. Most of us were just trying to glean information, to come to terms with what I hope we all see as a pointless and heart-wrenching tragedy.

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My first response to these tweets was that this was not the time: not for those who were inevitably going to call for gun control or those who would defend it. So I held off. In reality, I didn’t feel I could write something rational then either.

I am proud that there are NRA members who, while they disagreed with my previous posts, respected that I was not taking an extremist stand, and joined the debate. These are the rational members of the NRA and they have a voice that the rest of us need to empower so that others will allow them to be heard.

But we need to have the debate and it cannot be held under the shadow of a tragedy. In the same vein, we need to establish parameters for the debate. There are a number of points I wish to make:

1. Historically, the NRA was governed by brave leaders who saw a need for gun control and took the initiative to ensure their members were well represented in policy decisions. As such, they were often a rational and productive voice from within the organization. We need brave leaders in the NRA today. 

2. I recognize the inherent need that many men and women feels to be able to defend themselves and their families. I believe this can be recognized and, as such, relieve much of the anxiety around gun control debates.

3. This debate should focus on automatic firearms (a weapon that will continue to fire bullets as long as the trigger is pressed and there is ammunition in the magazine). It would allay the fears of people who feel the need for a weapon in their house.

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There is room to prevent a person holding a gun that can deliver the carnage we saw in the last few tragedies. It is a beginning and part of a controllable process.

Let’s not wait for the next tragedy to debate whether we should debate gun control. Let’s do it now and come to the table in an environment of listening and willingness to compromise.

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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).

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