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 category “Left Coast Politics”

Voter ID Laws: A ‘Solution’ to the ‘Problem’ of Democracy

(Guest post by John Byrne Barry)

Last week, a federal judge in Wichita gave the green light to laws in Kansas and Arizona that will require proof of citizenship to vote in state and local elections, a move likely to spread to other states controlled by Republicans.

This is another example of a “solution” to a non-existent problem—there is little evidence of in-person voter fraud or non-citizens voting.

The “problem” that the Republicans want to “solve” is democracy—the constitutional right of every citizen to vote. These voter ID rules will make it harder for the poor, minorities, and students—citizens more likely to vote for Democrats—to register and vote. That’s exactly their intention.

Defenders of these rules say it’s no big deal—“Americans uncomplainingly present identification for getting on airplanes and numerous other things,” (New York Times 3.20.14) What they don’t say is that the poorest of our citizens never fly. And many do not have picture IDs. Or access to their birth certificates.

I’m no expert on voter suppression, but I did a learn a great deal about it researching for my recent novel, Bones in the Wash: Politics is Tough. Family is Tougher, which is set during the 2008 presidential campaign in New Mexico. Here’s a passage from the book.

Image“You look at the news and what people talk about and you get the impression that the nitty-gritty of politics is the people running, their characters, their positions on the issues, and of course, that’s partly true. But underneath that is this whole business of setting rules, like who can vote and when, and the Republican are evil genius and meta on that front. I hate it that I actually admire what they did even as I despise it. If they can manipulate the rules so it’s harder for the poor and young and old and disabled to vote, then they have an advantage no matter how weak their candidate is.”

That’s a fictional person speaking, not a real one. Sierra León, one of the novel’s protagonists. Here’s more from her:

“When we call them on it, they say, oh, it’s partisan attacks. That’s what’s so infuriating about politics. There’s no impartial referee, like at debate club in high school, some thoughtful observer who says, well, you may have received more votes here, but you broke the rules, so we’re going to have to subtract points. The right does whatever it wants, rules be damned. Well, that isn’t quite true. They do try to change the rules, but when they can’t, they break them.”

I made the characters up, and the story, but not voter suppression. That is, unfortunately, real and growing. Here’s the Center for American Progress:

The right to vote is under attack all across our country. Conservative legislators are introducing and passing legislation that creates new barriers for those registering to vote, shortens the early voting period, imposes new requirements for already-registered voters, and rigs the Electoral College in select states. Conservatives fabricate reasons to enact these laws—voter fraud is exceedingly rare—in their efforts to disenfranchise as many potential voters among certain groups, such as college students, low-income voters, and minorities, as possible. Rather than modernizing our democracy to ensure that all citizens have access to the ballot box, these laws hinder voting rights in a manner not seen since the era of Jim Crow laws enacted in the South to disenfranchise blacks after Reconstruction in the late 1800s.

The rapid growth of these Voter ID laws and bills is no accident. The American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, funded by the Koch brothers, WalMart, and their ilk, have written a model bill and have been shopping it around, especially to those Republican-controlled states.

The gist of the bills is simple enough—people need picture IDs in order to vote. Now for your average middle-class person who travels, who has a drivers license and credit cards, this may not seem like much of a hurdle. But according to the Brennan Center for Justice, upwards of 20 millions Americans have no picture ID. And it’s no surprise those people are disproportionately poor, old, young, and minority. Fortunately, most states do not require photo IDs.

It’s not that voter fraud has never happens, but it’s extremely rare. Most cases turn out to be clerical errors. The Bush administration searched high and low to find cases to prosecute and came up with fewer than 100 charged defendants in three years.

What the right has succeeded in doing, however, is repeating these voter fraud accusations enough, through Fox News and the like, that a large number of people think it’s real. Enough so that ACORN, an organization that advocated for poor people and registered voters, got run out of business in 2010. But, according to a PPP poll two years later, after the 2012 election, 49 percent of Republicans said ACORN stole the election for President Obama. (Forty-nine percent of Republicans think thing that doesn’t exist stole election for Obama)

Voter suppression takes a variety of forms:

  • Voter registration restrictions: In Florida, a new law added complicated filing mandates for groups like the League of Women Voters to operate voter registrations drives—they have to submit completed forms within 48 hours or face hefty fines.

  • Reduced early voting: Despite its infamous long lines on Election Day, Ohio cut its early voting from 35 days to 11, including banning voting on the Sunday preceding the election, when black churches have historically rallied their congregations to the voting booths.

  • Residency restrictions: In Maine, the Secretary of State challenged the registrations of college students from out of state.

These voter suppression attempts are happening in concert with the arguably more nefarious campaign to portray government as bad, explicitly implying that that it doesn’t matter what you do or who you vote for. Unfortunately, there is some truth to that, but it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hey, the government is broken, it can’t do anything. Oh, and pay no attention to the men behind the curtain who are hacking at the government with picks and axes.

(My intention in Bones in the Wash was to highlight the increasingly common attempts by the Republicans to make it harder for people to vote, but it’s less a political tract than a family novel, full of crazy parents, insensitive boyfriends, demanding girlfriends. A murder investigation, too.)

Read more about voter suppression here. Read the first three chapters of Bones in the Wash here.

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A Meaningful Christmas

I will never forget Band Aid, an initiative of British and Irish (and later US) music artists who came together to form the ultimate supergroup in 1984. Best of all for me, it was founded on the energy of bad boy Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia by releasing the record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” for the Christmas market that year.

Geldof became infamous for swearing on stage whenever the rate of donations began to drop. Phil Collins performed first on stage at the UK concert and then boarded a Concord plane, flew to New York, and played there. Okay, it was cool at the time to an idealistic 20-year-old (and passionate Genesis fan).  

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” surpassed the hopes of the producers to become the Christmas number one on that release. Two subsequent re-recordings of the song to raise further money for charity also topped the charts.

– the live version.

– the recording

Here are all the artists wishing you a Happy New Year – back at you people. It was an amazing moment when people of privilege and fame made a stand. 

The struggle still goes on, the hunger and poverty a shame on humanity. But to return to my Jewish roots: “It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.

Happy Holidays to all humanity.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Bikers Against Child Abuse

Something amazing, powerful and a bit scary in this group, but you have to admire what they are doing.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

My Hero Died Yesterday

I can’t really think of anything that can truly reflect how I am feeling as I write this.

I spent the day yesterday embroiled in a political rollercoaster of hope and despair, discussion and vitriol, hugs and finger-pointing. I work with students at SF State where the relationship between Jewish and Palestinian students is so often strained and where many of us try desperately to lift ourselves from the accusations and blame to the listening and reaching out.

At some point in the afternoon, I mentioned to a frustrated group of students that it is possible for two peoples who have such a history of conflict to put it behind them if they truly desire peace. It has happened, I said, in South Africa, in our lifetime, under the visionary leadership of Nelson Mandela.

There was nodding, but then one student looked at me, sensing that I did not know: “He just passed away,” she said quietly, and I needed a moment to compose myself. I knew such news was to be expected, had been preparing myself for months, but it nonetheless knocked the wind out of me.

I REMEMBER as a 10 year-old, I had a sticker on my pencil-case – Free Nelson Mandela – his incarceration was the first political campaign I took on. A teacher told me that I should not have a political sticker in the classroom and then seemed to relent and told me I could keep it if I told the class what the sticker represented. I remember standing before my class, but not what I said. Still I guess it was my first political speech.

I REMEMBER when I demonstrated as a teenager in front of the South African Embassy in London (late 1970’s, early 1980’s) and was taken by police when I stood on the embassy steps.  I was half proud of myself, half fearing what my parents would say if/when they found out.

I REMEMBER crying with joy as I watched his release and heard his first speech as a free man.

I REMEMBER watching in wonder as he became the first black President of South Africa and made his inaugural speech.

Whatever else happens, in the many conflicts around the world, in the conflict I am embroiled in, when we need to open our mouths and speak up, we should all take a step back and wonder: What would Madiba say?

I REMEMBER Nelson Mandela and I pledge: I WILL NEVER FORGET his lessons.

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Finally, here is a great 13-minute video of his life with some amazing footage:

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Shi Tao Released

I have kept quiet about this for a few months to respect the desire of the victim/hero for privacy.

For the last three years, I have dedicated one of my Freedom Hanukkah posts to Shi Tao who was jailed for 10 years for leaking information about Chinese government restrictions to the west, via Yahoo who gave that information to the government to use as evidence in his trial. Here is a 30-second explanation from Amnesty International.

Tao was convicted when he tried to lift the reporting restrictions from coverage of the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre where the army opened fire on unarmed civilians. The Chinese government claimed that 241 people were killed in the demonstration and subsequent crack-down. Human Rights groups claimed thousands were killed.

If your memories of the uprising have become blurry, perhaps this amazing footage will jog your memory. It is an unforgettable moment in  history.

Yahoo aside, and they really should be put aside for this, Shi Tao became a symbol of writers who are persecuted for wanted freedom and struggle to bring down censorship. Shi Tao  is a member of Independent Chinese PEN Center, which advocates for freedom of speech and in 2007 won the Golden Pen for Freedom Award.

130908022939-shi-tao-golden-pen-award-story-top 

Shi Tao is now released and at home, after serving time for almost eight years. He is recuperating and not giving interviews, perhaps a condition for his early release. While we must respect his wish for privacy, now is a good time to celebrate, during the festival of freedom, that for those living in darkness, there is always hope.

You are not Jewish Mr. Tao, but Happy Hanukkah anyway.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

Left-Right Nihilism – Tom Rossi

There’s something in the way politics is discussed on TV, online, and even in person with many people that I find really aggravating. It’s the “left-right” thing.

A little too vague? which left-right thing, Tom??? You’re right. There are thousands of ways that could be taken, but I think this is the Emperor of them all. What I’m talking about is the way that the positioning of a person or an issue on the left-right spectrum completely dominates not only any political discussion on the matter, but that it seems to have taken over many people’s (and the entire media’s) thinking on the person or issue.

People often seem to care not about the workings of an issue, nor the meaning of a politician’s position on an issue, but only where they are told the issue or the person falls on the left-right spectrum.

Sometimes there are direct contradictions in people’s opinions, based on this left-right weirdness. A case in point is Elizabeth Warren. Many conservatives, like most liberals, want Wall Street masterminds held accountable, that is they want them to face criminal charges, for the decisions and actions that led to the decimation of the U.S. economy that started to become apparent in 2007. And yet, even though that is exactly Elizabeth Warren’s mission on this Earth, conservatives show little except hatred for her.

This is because the now well-known conservative “echo-chamber” tells its followers, over and over, that Elizabeth Warren is a “liberal”, and therefore worthy of contempt. The reason that the conservative power structure wants people to have this opinion is clear – they are really afraid of her. That’s okay, but what bothers me is that people are so willing to buy into this line of thinking.

This phenomenon is certainly not limited to the United States, either. Some woman actually phoned in a message of support for the “Crack-Smoking Mayor of Toronto”, Rob Ford, essentially excusing him for whatever he had done because he “deals with those liberals on the city council”. Yikes.

The same kind of thinking leads people to think that Sarah Palin should be president. These people only care that she’s conservative and they don’t care that she’s hardly educated and shows many signs of being an epsilon minus, semi-moron. But then, I suppose it’s not all that different from people supporting Hillary Clinton because they want “a” woman to be president. I wonder if those people would vote for Palin if she ended up being the only woman in the race?

Back to Elizabeth Warren… She is one of my heroes, and I’m not sure why it would be any different for anyone who isn’t the CEO of a Wall Street investment/banking firm. She’s not a hero for what she’s accomplished; she’s a hero for what she fights for. At least find out what she stands for before you go trashing her. Please.

Automatic, robotic thinking won’t get this country anywhere but into a permanent state of recession/depression. These days, there’s no excuse for failing to even do a quick internet search and here’s a hint… you have to go beyond your favorite, partisan site. Find out what the person actually says. Find out what’s actually at stake with an issue. Think. Please.

-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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Your Letter Counts!

This post has been inspired by some great news I received about someone imprisoned by his oppressive government. I can’t wait to share the news, but have been asked to wait.

Often you feel powerless when a government arrests a person seeking freedom, democracy, education for women (or even the right to drive). It might be a tribe or people denied clean water or medicine, or any one of a thousand values that we take for granted every day.

We throw up our arms and give in. We get burnt out and buried in the stress of our own lives. But what if we each took 20 minutes a week or a month and wrote a letter to a political prisoner. Would it work?

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When I was a teenager, I lost my political virginity campaigning to free Nelson Mandela and Anatoly Sharansky. I wrote letters, asked people to sign petitions, and went to demonstrations. Neither of these great men are free because of an English teenager’s attempts, but maybe I was a snowflake in the avalanche.

Bu Dongwei thinks so. He believes it worked for him. If nothing else take 2mins 21sec and listen to his story.

And Morgan Freeman agrees.

Amnesty International offers a list of prisoners and there are other organizations like PEN who advocate for writers who are jailed for standing up for freedom of speech in their own countries.

So how about it? Let’s all commit to just one letter a week/month. Put it in your calendar and let’s make a start.  

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More athttp://www.alonshalev.com and onTwitter (@elfwriter).

A Stunning Tribute to Steve Jobs and his Philosophy

What makes this tribute to Steve Jobs so engaging is that Guy Kawasaki, who worked for him over two periods of time, had just heard the night before that Jobs had passed away. For a guy who meticulously plans his presentations, Kawasaki is almost winging it. 

imagesThere are two kinds of people who frequent this blog: social activists and writers. Everything here is relevant to both. Think on it.

I decided to post this on a Friday because it is over an hour long. There is a visual accompaniment, but this can be listened to as you drive or fold laundry.

If you are on a first or second date, make a good meal, open a fine bottle of wine, light the candles … and save this for another day. But don’t pass it up.

Have a great weekend,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Not Ready for Hillary, and Other Basic Laws of Nature – Tom Rossi

It’s been a while since I copycatted one of Roger’s ideas. So here we go with a collection of mini-rants on things that seem obvious to me…

I’m not ready for Hillary. I know her people went through a lot of trouble to come up with that cute little piece of wit, but Hillary Clinton is a hawk and she’s also an unquestioning believer in the brand of economics that lead to disaster and is basically a system of justification for chasmic separation between the “haves” and have-nots.” Being a hawk, she is pro-war. That means that she has supported war as a “solution” where it was not even close to appropriate.

Ready for Hillary bumper stickers

I’m going to come into disagreement with a lot of liberals on this one, and maybe even some of my co-writers, here, but I just don’t get it. Hillary is your standard issue politician, unremarkable in any way whatsoever. People can’t tell me why they support Hillary, only that they do. People have told me that they are “fans” of Hillary. Yuck. Before the 2008 election, other people told me they were “fans” of Sarah Palin. That statement kept me awake at night for weeks.

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And why? Why, why, why, can you not buy a can of soup anymore that doesn’t have celery in it? I hate celery! I know some people like it, but it takes over the taste of a soup like putting a bunch of garlic in there would. Leave it out, people! It’s basically a cheap filler that makes it seem like there’s something other than broth in the soup. I’d rather have broth.

Another thing: It seems that, lately, the amount of time that television shows of all types spend at commercial has finally equaled the airtime of the show, itself. I’m at the point where I keep a list of things I see in commercials just so I can avoid those products.commimage I’m sick of hearing how my life will be a big dance party if I buy a friggin’ Toyota or how cool and macho I’ll be if I buy a Pontiac or what a unique individual I would be if I bought an Infinity. Is anybody really still stupid enough to think that their car defines or changes who they are? Really???? Save some money, go on a vacation to someplace cool. The end.

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And why do I keep seeing Dick Cheney on television?!?!? The GOP must pay TV stations directly to give us fake “stories” about his fake heart. The GOP doesn’t realize that, if you look really closely, you can see the spots where he shaves down the horns, every day. But hey, keep it up. He is about as effective a spokesman as Sarah Palin was. He’s so thoroughly un-charismatic that people naturally want to think the opposite of whatever he says. Keep it 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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The Ivy League Class Conundrum

I work on the university campus scene. Whatever your thoughts about the millennials, I love working with them. Seeing a flower blossom, discovering a rare diamond in the rough…you get it. They question, debate, and they are incredibly incisive in their analysis. 

images-4Occasionally the finished product walks into the student center. They are not just a straight-A student, but articulate, active, and charismatic. There is one such student right now who caught my eye with her presence and intelligence.

She had just returned from a national conference and was telling a group that gathered around her how inspired she felt. I caught her, a little while later, alone, with a frown on her face and after a few moments of cajoling she began to talk.

She had met a young man studying at Harvard and they had immediately hit it off. She discovered they were studying the same major, had exactly the same grades, and seemed in many ways to be very similar.

She began to grill him, trying to discover why an Ivy League school would take him and not her. The difference between them soon became apparent. His resume, in her words, was loaded. He had spent every summer in impressive internships, captained or initiated a variety of high school student groups or initiatives. He told her that he had stressed to balance his schoolwork and drive to have grades to reach a school like Harvard, together with all this extra-curriculum activity. She had been very impressed with him.

This young woman is the eldest daughter of a single mother. She had worked every summer since the ninth grade, contributing to the family’s limited financial resources. Her hard-working mother put in extra hours to make ends meet and did not want her high school daughter working during school-time instead of studying. But, as her mother worked long hours, the daughter needed to pick up her siblings, make them dinner, help them with their homework, and generally take care of them. 

images-3She would love to have experienced the internships that her new Harvard friend had done. She would have been proud to participate in the kind of high school activity that he had. But it was just not possible. Circumstances dictated that she took care of her family and she did this with understanding and good grace.

I salute this young woman’s drive to excel through education. I salute her mother, who sacrificed herself for a vision that her children would have an easier life than she did, using education as a vehicle to success.

I just wish Harvard and the Ivy League schools would do the same.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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