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

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Occupy Movement Endorsed by Washington – Roger Ingalls

After listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, I couldn’t stop smiling. Similarly, I grinned during the last few months of the presidential election. The Occupy Movement is routinely portrayed by mainstream media and conservatives as a failure; however, reviewing the political chatter during the recent elections and the President’s speech on Tuesday, the Occupy influence is front and center.

Prior to the Occupy Movement, there was no media or political focus on the destruction of the middleclass, tax breaks for the wealthy, tax loopholes for corporations or the disparity between the 1%ers and 99%ers. The movement brought attention to all these topics and they were the main sound bites throughout the entire election season. Fast forward to Tuesday and a significant portion of the President’s time was dedicated to Occupy topics: 1) rebuilding the middleclass, 2) increasing wages for many Americans, 3) returning a fair tax burden to the wealthy and big business, 4) closing tax loopholes for corporations and 5) stopping corporate off-shore cash hoarding.

Poll-favoring-raising-taxes-on-rich

When comparing the Tea Party and Occupy Movements, the latter has been much more beneficial to Middle America. The Tea Party has done nothing but create gridlock in Washington, slowing economic recovery. They’ve also placed political handcuffs on Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner. He’s ineffective because the fanatical right is holding the larger conservative party hostage. Even though the Occupy Movement hasn’t received due credit, its original talking points are on the tongues of politicians today. In addition, a fairer tax burden was realized in January when taxes were increased on the wealthy; an original Occupy demand.

The media is no longer discussing the Occupy Movement but Washington’s politicians are endorsing it through action and sound bites.

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Game On. Go Vote!

Today there are no fancy views, no links, no cool pics. Today there are no excuses for dithering – if you are undecided (really undecided) then you simply haven’t been paying attention ­– or you are denying something to yourself that only you can fathom.

Decide. This is too important a moment to pass up.

Breaking News: Left Coast Voices endorses Barack Obama! Actually, if this is breaking news to you, then you haven’t been paying attention to this blog!

I can understand the top 1%. They are voting for what best represents their interest and most people will do that. It is a rare individual who will put his/her country first and vote for the other guy because, in their heart, they know this country (and maybe the world) needs such a candidate. I want to declare my admiration for those 1%-ers who vote for President Obama.

But beyond the 1%, I am somewhat mystified why the choice isn’t clear. Mitt Romney is a proud Republican, so is Paul Ryan. They were members of a government that sent this country into massive debt and economic hemorrhage. That they have the audacity to use statistics on President Obama’s first day in office as a mark of measurement for the President is incredulous. That they don’t see it as a mark of shame is scary. That the media and social commentators aren’t calling them out for this is either pathetic or really scary.

The suggestion that eight years of Republican greed and irresponsibility can be fixed in a day, a week, or a month, is stupid and insulting to the intelligence of the populace. That it has taken four years to stop the hemorrhage and institute a measure of stability is an illustration of the gravity of Republican mis-governance.

Barack Obama not only saved the car industry, but also galvanized it to enter the 21st Century and compete with Toyota and Honda. This must be a model for how we govern. He is bringing us out of two wars that are financially bankrupting us, and laying the foundation for new financial and economic sustainability that will be appreciated by our children if not us. More than anything else: we owe it to our children to repair the damage. Let the sins of the fathers (and mothers), stay with the fathers.

Some are frustrated at the pace, at the emphasis, or the inability to create comprehensive policy in, for example, health care. But huge steps have been taken. If you are on the left and even contemplating not voting, or casting your vote for a candidate who, while genuine in their beliefs, are irrelevant to what we, the American people, have deemed a two-horse race, then you are not taking responsibility.

I am frustrated at the Obama campaign for not speaking out consistently at Governor Romney’s inability to provide a clear and understandable policy. His running mate, the ‘numbers man,’ has consistently and condescendingly told us that he has crunched the numbers but can’t share them with us because they are too complicated and time-consuming.

Mr. Ryan – the voter is your consumer and your boss. You owe us an explanation in a language we understand or you run the risk that either: WE DON’T BELIEVE YOU or WE THINK YOU ARE HIDING THE TRUTH – or possibly both.

Four More Years – in a world of instant gratification, this has almost become a curse. But the American people, fueled by Republican greed and public apathy, have allowed us to dig ourselves a deep hole. It is going to take time to fill the hole and cement a firm foundation.

Barack Obama has taken on this responsibility. His campaign would have been more effective if he had played the sugar daddy and promised to wave his magic wand and deliver vague and impossible dreams. But he is too principled for that – a rare trait in politics.

The reality is that we need four more years to continue the recovery and repair the damage. We probably need more than that, in truth, but we need to embrace consistency, rather than chase the magic bullet.

President Obama hasn’t been perfect, but he took office in a deep depression and he has remained a consistent and responsible leader. He deserves the opportunity to continue advancing everything he has built and he needs us to be honest partners, not only today, but for the next four years.

Tomorrow, he needs your endorsement. Your country needs you – GO VOTE!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel 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).

Fast Track to Hell: Paul Ryan – Roger Ingalls

I’m from the great state of Wisconsin and proud of it. It’s the home of the Green Bay Packers; the football team that’s won almost twice as many world championships than any other team. It’s a team owned by the community while all other teams are private hobby organizations for fat-cat Wall Street insiders. There’s something sweet about a community team that’s more successful than the bankers’ dream teams.

Wisconsin is also known as the home of Harley Davidson, historic development center for electrical power tools and machining, an original leader in electron-beam microscopy, super computers and, of course, organized labor. It is even rumored that a thousand years ago the Knights Templar buried the Holy Grail somewhere in the Dairy State between the Virgin apex of Green Bay and the Kensington Stone in Minnesota. This is why Wisconsin is often referred to as God’s Country.

Wisconsin does have its embarrassments: Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein and four out of the last twelve gun related mass murders (in the last twenty years) have been committed in the state. However, the biggest embarrassment was republican Senator Joe McCarthy who was responsible for massive civil rights violations during the 1950s. Current Governor Scott Walker is a rights violator too but is considered a pantywaist by comparison to McCarthy.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has selected Paul Ryan (republican representative for WI 1st congressional district) as his running mate for the 2012 election. Paul Ryan goes beyond embarrassment for the state; he is pure evil. He is an agent for Wall Street and is pushing an agenda that continues the transfer of middleclass wealth into the hands of the one-percenters. Here are a few of his ideas:

1)      Privatize Social Security – he wants to turn your social security money over to the same bankers and Wall Street companies that crashed the world-wide economy in 2008 and stole the common man’s wealth and gave it to the 1% fat-cats.

2)      Eliminate Medicare for those who earned it – he wants to give us a partial coupon and then make us buy healthcare plans from Wall Street backed insurance companies. For profit insurance companies don’t care about people’s health, they care about making money for their shareholders. The only competition Wall Street’s insurance companies have is Medicare. All insurance companies offer essentially the same coverage so there really isn’t a free market choice other than Medicare. Once Medicare is gone, the people will be powerless and under the thumb of for profit-only Wall Street. Under his plan, getting the medicine and treatment we need will be a bigger fight than we have now.

It’s my opinion that Paul Ryan is pure evil and is trying to fast track the American middleclass into a hellish existence for the benefit of his Wall Street backers. Why does he have to come from my state of Wisconsin? I guess in a Biblical sense, the Antichrist must originate from God’s Country.

List of Shame: The 1%’ers Who Dodge Taxes

Let me be clear from the start: this post is not about all those who occupy (excuse the pun) the top 1% of our nation in terms of wealth. This is about those who pay taxes annually to the tune of $1. There are many who worked hard to amass their wealth and are incredibly philanthropic. As the director of a non-profit, I have been honored with many opportunities to meet and work with such people.

These generous people are propelled by a moral code and take a meaningful portion of their money and time to promote social justice issues, to support those in our society who need help – the elderly, the poor, the homeless etc., and provide cultural and educational opportunities that might not be business-viable without such support. This article is NOT about them. I am sure they pay their taxes, understanding that the services they receive – an army to defend them, a police force, fire and emergency response force, the roads they drive on, the street lights…do I need to go on?

But unfortunately there are those billionaires who seem to take pride out of not paying their taxes. These people manage to show a salary of $1. They include such individuals as Eric Schmidt and Larry Page (both Google), Steve Jobs (Apple) from 1997 until his death last year, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Meg Whitman (Hewlett-Packard). And apparently, recently wed and start-up-turned-public Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is about to join this shameful club.

Ironically, these ‘poor’ folk might actually be eligible to receive the kind of government aid that is available for low-income populations. If they keep their personal income under $13,000 they would be able to apply for an Earned Income Tax Credit. While I am sure they won’t collect on this, I hope they appreciate that the taxpayers provide this safety net, but they probably won’t.

There are many ways to ensure that you can live the lifestyle of the super-rich, amass wealth, and not pay taxes. One of these, for example is to hold multiple home equity loans, which is (I think) borrowing money against the values of many of your homes and property. This is debt and therefore not taxable, but it is money for them to jet around and live the life they want. In a country where good folk are losing their homes (their only homes) to foreclosure, isn’t this ironic? There are many other ways and I am not the person to expound on them.

Let us assume that one day the Zukerbergs decide to purchase an island in the Caribbean. Most people who show an income of $1 might be more inclined to buy food, clothes, medical insurance etc., but someone with significant net worth need only cash in a few shares (Facebook anyone?) to make the purchase. For sure, he might have to pay 15% capital gains taxes, but ain’t life a bitch.

To be perfectly clear (once again), I do not resent these people their wealth. I have a deep respect for the philanthropists that I have a relationship with. But I believe in paying taxes and I want everyone who can afford it to pay their share and pay it with grace.

Those billionaires who take pride out of cheating (yes, cheating) our society out of their taxes are screwing not only those of us who pay taxes today, but also failing to help prevent the nation accumulate debt that our children will be saddled with.

For some reason, what hurts even more, is that these people are paying more money for financial advice that helps them avoid tax exposure than I earn in a year…before I pay my taxes.

I work hard for my salary and pay my taxes as I should. I have a right to be angry.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

A Spirited Discussion: Occupy May 2012 – Roger Ingalls

Spring is in the air and so is the Occupy Movement. I had a great online discussion today with a couple of people and even with the realization that we had differing opinions, it was a comforting experience. It confirmed that people from all walks of life are still engaged, angry and it gave me confidence that the movement is still relevant.

 Here’s is the conversation.

Karen: “Watching the news and can’t believe the occupiers are throwing things at people and breaking things, I can’t believe how many police are out to try and contain them… Maybe if they were given the bill to pay for the extra police instead of my tax dollars having to pay for it they would think twice about it? Come on people, lets move on and quit bothering all the people who are trying to make a living!!”

Debbie: “I agree. No meaningful message gets out with violence and destruction.”

Roger: “Hmmm….should I comment? As initially reported, no violence until police arrived.”

Karen: “Roger, are you saying the police provoked these people into being violent or that they had no intention of vandalizing or being violent until the police showed up? The thing that gets me is that these people will go and smash in windows and “protest”, and wear masks so nobody knows who they are – if you are not planning on vandalizing or being an idiot you shouldn’t have to hide behind a mask. Maybe it’s just me…if you want to take over a building, do it the right way, not by throwing pipes and whatever else off the roof in a random manner not caring who or where it lands on. This whole thing has turned into mass chaos and destruction. Why was it necessary to mash in windows to small businesses two nights ago? What was the occupying and then the shop owner has to pay to replace their windows and cleanup – it’s bullshit?”

Karen: “Not all of that was directed at you, Roger, I was just asking you the question and then started ranting cause I find it so frustrating. I saw on the news this morning that some people who worked in downtown Oakland had a hard time getting home yesterday and I just don’t get it.”

Roger: “I think 90% of the Occupy folks are true protesters and then there are the other 10% that just use the movement as an excuse to be violent and break crap. Many of the bad 10% wait ’til the police show up so they can challenge them.”

Roger: “But…it is also Constitutionally illegal for the police to break up a non-violent protest on government or “commons” property. So many police forces yesterday were in violation of Federal Law. incidentally, many Bostonians in 1773 didn’t “get it” when the Sons of Liberty tossed the tea into the harbor but they are considered heroes today!

Roger: “I’m not offended, Karen, It’s good to vent!”

Debbie: “I am frustrated as a 99er because the message we are trying to get out is so important, the system is broken and no one in power will deal with it because corruption and greed are so wide-spread. But that small portion of protesters who start trouble by destroying things are destroying the damn message. Ergg!!”

Roger: “Hang in there Debbie, you can’t hold back the will of the people forever. Unfortunately, violence is part of the process and it will get worse before true change occurs. I hope I’m wrong but history proves that changes in the power structure don’t happen until those in power feel the wrath of the people. Again, I hope I’m wrong!”

Roger: “Karen, Debbie, great subject and discussion!”

Hope Seedling, picture from robcubbon.com

After a winter of hibernation, the seeds of discontent and change are coming back to life.

A Tip of the Hat to some 1%-ers

Two weeks ago, Warren Buffett who has gone on record as saying that he feels the top 1% are not being taxed enough, issued a challenge in a Time Magazine interview. Buffett pledged to match any voluntary contributions made by Republican members of Congress, aimed at reducing the deficit. He even offered to go three for one with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Warren Buffett - a man of principle.

Rep. Scott Rigell, a Republican representing Virginia, wrote a letter to Buffett, letting him know that he makes it a regular practice to donate 15% of his Congressional salary “to pay down the debt.” That amounted to $23,103.33 in 2011 and about $26,100 in 2012.

Mr. Buffett is keeping good to his word and will write a check to the US Treasury for just over $49,000 to match Scott Rigell’s voluntary contributions for both years.

In a letter to Rep. Rigell released by Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett writes he’s “particularly impressed that you took this action before my challenge.”

Rigell reciprocated in the lovefest by saying: “Though we differ on tax policy, as fellow Americans and businessmen I know that we share this common bond: a deep concern over the state and trajectory of our country’s finances.”

A Worthy Adversary

Mr. Buffett then went on to challenge Republicans and Democrats to spark an intramural war of contributions. Whilst I won’t hold my breath on this, I do want to honor both Mr. Buffett and Rep. Rigell, who have set an example to the rest of the 1%. Gentlemen, as a member of the 99%, I appreciate it.

If there isn’t enough good vibes going around with this story, Rep. Rigell in his letter to Mr. Buffett, offered to provide paperwork showing his contribution. Mr. Buffett responded: “Your word is good with me.”

Gosh, stories like this are so depressing. They fill you with hope until you open the newspaper in the morning. Such a long way to fall.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Redefining the U.S. Government – Roger Ingalls

Picture from theviewspaper.net

How would an honest educator define the current U.S. form of government to a body of students? This is the question I’ve asked myself while trying to fall asleep, night after night. The key word in the above question is “honest”.

The U.S. is no longer a true democracy or republic. Our government has latently morphed over the past 30 years into a dual-form system. It’s similar to the Constitutional Monarchy found in the United Kingdom except the power and ceremonial aspects are reversed.

In a modern Constitutional Monarchy, the democratically elected politicians are the true governing body (Parliament, Congress, President, Prime Minister…) and the Monarchy or Royal Family act as ceremonial figures.

In the current U.S. form of government, elected officials are a ceremonial by-product of a ritual balloting process that provides no positive impact on the voting public. Casting a vote is now just a feel-good public ceremony that pays homage to the concept of democracy.

Unlike the United Kingdom, a group-Monarchy or, more accurately, Plutarchy is the real governing power in the United States. Elected politicians are controlled by the wealthy for the wealthy. They’re influenced and financed through campaign contributions by famous and influential individuals, CEOs, corporations, financial institutions and Wall Street players. Essentially, politicians are personal policy generators for the wealthy few.

Accurately defining our current form of government: Pseudo-Democratic Plutarchy is a form of government in which power effectively rests with the wealthy via financial control over political candidates and propaganda means (Main Stream Media). The wealthy finance their desired group of candidates which effectively pre-selects favorable agents. The final selection is left to the voting public in a ceremonial pageant resembling a democratic election.

Pseudo-Democratic Plutarchy: A product of conservative deregulation.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Bank Transfer Day

A friend of mine was frustrated with the General Strike on Wednesday in Oakland and with the Occupy Wall Street in general. While a member of the 99% and sympathetic to the cause, she had just heard from a worker at the Port of Oakland, who is paid hourly and worried that he lost a day’s income that he needs to feed his family.

From Star Wars to General Strike.  – Thank you to Oakland Mofo for the beautiful photo. 

We are hurting the very people we are supposed to be fighting for, she said (these are my words). Do you really think we hurt the 1% at the ports? She went on to complain that it is frustrating that there is no clear agenda and no clear tactics that will hurt those we are challenging to change their selfish and greedy practices.

She is right. I think I argued with her and probably lost because I knew she is right (Don’t tell her I wrote this!). I reminded her about the post that my colleague Tom Rossi wrote with a clear list of demands, but I had to concede about tactics.

But today, we can do something…and I mean today. As part of the Occupy Wall Street campaign there is a call for people to move their money from for-profit financial institutions to credit unions. So far, almost 80,000 people have made the commitment on Facebook to “send a clear message that conscious consumers won’t support companies with unethical business practices.”

Patelco – my credit union

 

More than $4.5 billion have been moved into new savings accounts in credit unions according to CUNA. 80% of credit unions  are recording significant member growth since the campaign began at the end of September, which was a reaction to the debit card fees that have since been dropped. 

Skeptics say that even if the entire 80,000 were to move their money, this would represent less than 1% of just Bank of America’s customers. There is an estimated $7.5 trillion in banks, including loans and savings. B of A has 57 million customers.

However, there is potential here to make Wall Street listen, even if not to bring it to its knees. The rescinding of the debit card charges is a good lesson. Even when chasing the most profit, a company, even one the size of B of A has to listen to its clients.

And what if every one of those 80,000 who signed up persuaded 5 of their friends. 400,000 people could transfer $30 million. November 5th was the date set for protestors to complete their transfers because the organizers wanted to create a measurable impact. I regret not writing on this earlier. But even if you cannot get out today and transfer your money, or want to research deeper, the banks will take notice if more people continue to protest by moving money into the people-friendly (and people-owned) credit unions. 

Thought the organizers of Bank Transfer Day want to distance themselves from Occupy Wall Street, history (and even in a year’s time) just might record Bank Transfer Day as the most effective measure to come out of this time period. It might also be a turning point in the utilization of the Internet to make strategic strikes and to conduct dissent away from demonstrations, something which is often regarded by people as intimidating.

And perhaps in a year, my friend and I might look back on this period of time together as one of change and one of pride.

 

 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

Elwin Cotman – Performing in Oakland and SF

Elwin Cotman is a member of the Berkeley Writer’s Circle and I want to promote two performances this weekend. Elwin describes himself as “a writer of fantasy fiction. I am the author of “The Jack Daniels Sessions EP.” I am as old as the movie “Purple Rain.”

Elwin Cotman

That description sums up Elwin’s style. You are listening to something flowing and literary, then suddenly laughing out loud. He is more than just an author giving a reading, he is a performer. For more on Elwin, check out his blog (gotta love the blog title).

The Jack Daniels Sessions

His two shows this weekend are:

5/27, 9pm – Cafe International Open Mic, 508 Haight Street, San Francisco
5/29, 7pm -Musick Box Co-op, 3404 Market Street,Oakland.
For those of you not living in the Bay Area, here are more tour dates:
+ Sat, 5/28, 4pm: Santa Clara, CA – Baycon Science Fiction Convention
+ Sat, 5/28, 7:00pm: Santa Cruz, CA – SubRosa community space
+ Tue, 5/31, 9:00pm: Redding, CA – House Reading/Show! at Gary Piazza’s – 1336 Tehama St
+ Thur, 6/2, 7:00pm: Portland, OR – 1,000 Words Reading at The Waypost
+ Fri, 6/3, 7:00pm: Vancouver, OR – The Space Art Collective
+ Sat, 6/4, 7:00pm: Portland, OR – Red and Black Cafe
+ Tue, 6/7, 7:30pm: Boise, ID – Hyde Park Books
+ Thur, 6/9, 7:00pm: Seattle, WA – University Bookstore
+ Fri, 6/10, 3:00pm: Olympia, WA – Last Word Books
Good luck, Elwin.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).


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