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 tag “Afghanistan”

48 Hours After Veteran’s Day

Two days have passed since Veteran’s Day. It is a well-meaning attempt to show those who put their lives at risk to defend our freedom that we care and appreciate their sacrifice. Perhaps it moves a few, most likely those who have better adjusted to their past and control their present. But for those still fighting a war inside their heads, those who struggle because of a physical wound, who are denied the benefits and help they deserve, it might just be another day full of hollow rhetoric.

We are a society that believes in the need to defend itself, that we must be the biggest, best armed, and one of the better trained. We define this concept of defense in our own way. One key strategy is that we keep the field of conflict far away from mainland America. Whether you agree or not, it defines the 1st and 2nd World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. We fought our enemies far away from here. As a Brit whose father fought the Germans, and whose mother carries the scars of the Blitz, I can understand that. Hitler was on our doorstep even if he never crossed the English Channel.

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I can live with this principle and am willing to pay my share of the bill for financing our defense (taxes). But this social contract, which is held with those who serves, demands that we take care of them when they return and cannot smoothly reabsorb into society.

I have written a number of times about this embarrassing and inexplicable injustice, both in this blog and in my novel, Unwanted Heroes. In Israel, a country that lives under a far greater (proportionally) financial commitment to pay for its military, everyone serves in the army. This fact is probably why it is a given that a soldier, wounded inside or out, will receive whatever help s/he needs. It is, quite frankly, not an issue, and this is probably why I was so shocked when I came to live in the US and found homeless war veterans on too many street corners.

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A country that refuses to take care of those citizens, who have most earned that care, cannot be expected to build a moral and principled society. If we give our young people the message that it becomes everyone for themselves, then that is how they will behave. The consequences are fewer taxes gathered, more crime (street and white-collar), and a general erosion in respect and self-respect.

Our soldiers must be held up as the first line of defense for a society that is under attack…from itself. I don’t believe, in this technological age, that there is any rational explanation why a veteran must wait up to two years and more for their claims to be dealt with.

It is the result of a selfish society that doesn’t care, and has become numb to the needs of anyone outside of their social circle. We are failing our soldiers and failing the millennial generation who are watching, learning and judging.

We reap what we sow and we need to become responsible farmers before it is too late. It is 48 hours after Veteran’s Day and time is running out.

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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+

The Veterans Must Be Cared For

In my series of individual actions that will have a profound impact on our society, I have covered energy, universal health care, and gun control. Whether you agree or not, these are all legitimate topics. The next might not be, but I want to advocate that it is.

We are a society that believes in the need to defend itself, that we must be the biggest, best armed, and one of the better trained. We define this concept of defense in our own way.

One aspect is that we keep the field of conflict far away from mainland America. Whether you agree or not, it defines the 1st and 2nd World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. We fought our enemies far away from here. As a Brit whose father fought the Germans, and whose mother carried the scars of the Blitz, I can understand that.

imgresI can live with this principle and am willing to pay my share of the bill for financing our defense. But this social contract, which is held with those who serves, demands that we take care of them when they return from risking their lives for our freedom.

I have written a number of times about this embarrassing and inexplicable injustice, both in this blog and in my novel, Unwanted Heroes. In Israel, a country that lives under a far greater (proportionally) financial commitment to pay for its military, everyone serves in the army. This fact is probably why it is a given that a soldier, wounded inside or out, will receive whatever help s/he needs. It is, quite frankly, not an issue, and this is probably why I was so shocked when I came to live in the US.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18A society that cannot take care of those citizens, who have most earned that care, cannot be expected to build a moral and principled society. If we give our young people the message that it becomes everyone for themselves, then tat is how they will take it. The consequences are fewer taxes gathered, more crime, and a general decay in respect and self-respect.

Our soldiers must be held up as the first line of defense for a society that is under attack…from itself. I don’t believe, in this technological age, that there is any rational explanation why a veteran must wait up to two years and more for their claims to be dealt with.

It is the result of a selfish society that doesn’t care, and has become numb to the needs of anyone outside of their social circle. We are failing our soldiers and failing the younger generation who are watching, learning and judging.

We reap what we sow and we need to become responsible farmers before it is too late.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both 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 on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Reflections of Heroes – Joshua P. Smith

Alon’s Introduction: I met Joshua P. Smith through the epic fantasy network. Joshua is the author of the upcoming Aelathia Chronicles.  He is currently completing the first novel, Weaving and Musings of Essencers.  You can follow him at www.aelathianovels.com and at https://twitter.com/AelathiaNovels or contact him at aelathiajpsmith@gmail.com.

He wrote the following article last week. I had planed for it to follow my own 9/11 tribute. Reading Joshua’s post, I can’t help feeling the greatest way we can honor the heroes of 9/11 is to emulate their bravery and sense of honor, and apply it to our own lives. Thank you, Joshua.

 Reflections of Heroes – Joshua P. Smith

Heroes aren’t just found in books. We learned that lesson twelve years ago after terrorists struck the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, hijacking airplanes to cause mass casualties and creating a day that none of us will ever forget.

It was the heroes as well as the victims who stood out to us, like the emergency responders who rushed into crumbling towers to guide survivors out. Or the men and women on Flight 93 that realized the terrorist’s intent for their airplane, and fought back — a horrific sacrifice that saved untold lives and helped change the fate of America and other countries.

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Heroes. Every day we can see them, police officers, firemen, doctors and nurses, EMTS, our military men and women. It seems in a time of tragedy that we really focus on the people who stand out, who sacrifice to make a difference. Why?

I believe there’s something inherent in human nature that drives us to look for the remarkable, for people to be our role models. Heroes are people we long to emulate but sometimes are afraid to. Though we identify with the person “standing in the gap” to help those who cannot help themselves, we often throw up barriers to our ability to step up. We give excuses thinking that someone else will do the job, why should we step forward? Passivity can be worse than manacles connected to an iron ball at our feet. So, when we see someone doing something remarkable, out-of-the-ordinary, we cheer for them. We applaud and laud their work—because they broke a cycle of passivity, they remained cool under pressure, they sacrificed something so utterly dear to themselves that they earned the right to be heroes.

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What if more of us were to emulate them? What if we faced our fears, whether in the office or in church, in the factory or classroom as they face them on the field of action every day? What if we consistently decided to make not just the right decisions, but the good and just ones? What if we stood up to corruption, to evil, to injustice?  What if we deterred the bully? What if we helped someone in need? What if we sacrificed an hour or two of our time to help someone with a problem, or cook dinner for a sick neighbor? What if we learned to control our anger and seek peaceful resolutions to our familial strife, marital discord, and disagreements between friends? What if we decided to put others’ needs ahead of our own?

Wouldn’t that make us, in some small way, a hero too? We don’t need the lights, the cameras. We don’t need a parade. Sometimes we’ll never know if what we did had lasting impact on those we helped, but we can only hope. We can hope in some small way that we were a hero, and that someone else may want to emulate something from us, some small piece of good, so they can become a hero too. Consider how the world would change if each one of us decided, that for the good of humanity, we decided to make the right decisions, the good decisions, the self-sacrificing decisions. The type of action or situation where risk is high, where obstacles are threatening, where victory isn’t wholly certain, and fear is great.

If you’re in a situation like that, and it may be nothing like 9/11 or Iraq or Afghanistan, consider your options. Consider your decisions. The whole world may not be watching you, but someone is, even if it’s one single child.

Today, I’m thinking about heroes. Let’s join their ranks. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

9/11 Lest We Forget

They say that time heals. It doesn’t. It simply numbs.  Along with time, the killing of bin Laden, the winding down of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq (at least from an American perspective), the rituals that we all recognize by now, there seems to be a certain nonchalance creeping in.  

But it is not, and will never, become just another memorial day:  not for the thousands of people who lost someone dear to then, not to the 9/11 responders who ran into the fire to try to rescue the people trapped inside.

As we remember those who died at the hands of people who would deny us our freedom and reaffirm our fight against terrorism, we need to ensure that we provide comfort and aid to those left behind. I doubt there is anything substantial that we can offer a spouse, parent or child who will miss their family member for the rest of their lives, but at a minimum, we must ensure that they do not lack financially for their loss. This is something concrete that we can offer.

The terrible treatment of 9/11 responders who had to wait to receive the help they needed, is a shame on all of us, a national disgrace. I know that since last year, steps have been taken, but until every responder is receiving the help they need, physically, psychologically, and financially, we should not rest. It is no different from the war veterans who are waiting for their country to stand good on its promises.

There was something very poignant in the togetherness that we all felt after the attack. In the smoldering ashes were the potential for a society to bind together. We did for a few days, but like the smoke, it dissipated. I mourn this as well.

Once again, I will leave it to Bruce offer a fitting tribute.

Time doesn’t heal. It only numbs. If you were a victim in any way, tell those around you. If you were not a victim, you still have role to play – to listen, to hug, to be there – for those who will relive that terrible day for the rest of their lives. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

Crossing The Line

I realize that this post is not going to sit well with the audience of Left Coast Voices, and Roger, who already pointed towards the fact that big business is probably salivating at the prospect of making big bucks from another war, presents a scary scenario of those most motivated to crank up the war machine.

I get it and I am pretty sure he is right. But I am not sure that is reason enough to prevent intervention to not step in and stop the Syrian dictatorship from using chemical weapons again on anyone.

In the 1990’s I walked around with a gas mask in Tel Aviv, sealed up a room, participated in the drills, and sat in a shelter wondering if my family and friends were alright – if the missiles landing around us were regular scud missiles or tipped with chemicals.

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As a soldier, I trained with gas mask and in gas released scenarios. I will never forget the labored breathing and the sweat that gathered on the gas mask making it so difficult to see. I remember the sarcastic jokes – no wonder Darth Vader turned to the dark side!

I am not even sure I believe in the – It’s an internal matter, we shouldn’t get involved – excuse. Countries are very artificial entities, especially those carved out by colonialist interests. But people are human beings, whether Syrians, Afghans, Africans or Tibetans. The only thing that seems to differentiate is who sits in a country with oil.

With regard to Syria, I’m not even convinced that the line was not crossed long before the chemical attack.

But I’m also astounded at the United Nations. How we find ourselves in a situation whereby the world movement refuses to do anything but shake its head and wag a finger is beyond me. If the world expects America to police the world, a frightening prospect, why are we pumping money into the United Nations? If the US were to pull out, would the United Nations even exist?

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Brett D. Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom claims that “the U.S. is currently assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and more than 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget” – source. If chemical warfare is a red line that has been crossed why is the US not giving 22% of a UN coalition?

Finally, the fact that President Obama felt he needed more than one man (namely himself) to makes the decision whether the US would strike Syria should not be construed as weakness … rather it is DEMOCRACY. I’m not sure how many 2nd-term presidents would take such a step. I doubt many and I support the President and his decision.

I care less for countries and more for the people who live in them. No one should have to live through a war, whether internal or not. If we truly treasure our freedom, we must understand that we are never free while others are not.

At what point in a war has a country (or faction) crossed the line? Probably when the first bullet is fired. What is clear: once you have fired chemical weapons, you are way past the line and must be stopped.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

Can I Order some Democracy, Please? – Tom Rossi

Once in a while, we hear, in the news, about a strange, mysterious concept  known as “gerrymandering.” This is the practice whereby politicians make changes to the geographical shapes of political districts in order to give themselves and/or their political party more power. It’s done on an opportunistic basis by whichever party has power in a certain state at the moment and has no shame whatsoever.

However, in recent years the Republican Party has definitely taken the lead. The Dems are certainly not innocent, but they’ve taken a back seat to the recent flood of Republican gerrymandering.

How might it be possible to make more districts elect Republicans even if a majority of voters are Democrats? Here’s how:

First, identify geographic areas where Dems and Reps are concentrated. In other words, find areas that are not divided somewhat evenly, but where voting for one party is clearly dominant. Usually, this is as simple as separating the rich areas from the middle-class and poor neighborhoods. Then, draw new district borders, no matter how convoluted, around the desired areas, and voila’, you have cemented your power for the foreseeable future.

The Great State of Simplificatia

The Great State of Simplificatia

In the deliberately oversimplified diagram above (which is both a schematic and a fake map), you can see how gerrymandering works. The larger blue area (or population) votes Democrat, and the red area votes Republican. But if the Republicans set the districts, they can form one district that contains most of the Democrats, while the other two districts have a Republican majority. This means that, from this imaginary state with three congressional districts and a Democratic majority, one of the representatives that will be sent to Congress will be a Democrat, while two will be Republicans.

Due to various factors, people more often elect Republicans at the local level. This has to do with people’s (incorrect) perceptions about job creation, for one thing, but also the fact that many Democrats tend only to come out and vote in the “big” elections, for President of the United States, for example.

As a result, Republicans often end up in key positions of power from which they can control periodic redistricting. Of course, this phenomenon can and has taken place the other way ’round, but this is the dominant trend lately.

And it can be incredibly ugly on a real map:

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A single district in Maryland

What’s really politically beautiful (in reality, ugly) about this is that it provides the opportunity to whine about Democrats’ “making their seats safe,” even while, as I demonstrated in the diagram above, what’s really happening is the snatching of a seat by the Republicans.

For a much more detailed analysis of this problem, please read Sam Wang’s brilliant pieces: “Gerrymanders, Part 1: Busting the both-sides-do-it myth“, and “Part 2: How many voters were disenfranchised?” One conclusion that Wang reaches (with some good math and statistics) is that ten times as many Democrats have been disenfranchised as Republicans.

If it weren’t for this, Democrats would very likely hold the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. That would mean that talk of austerity measures would die, as would talk of privatizing Social Security.

It would also mean that something might be done to prepare for climate change (that is already upon us) and maybe some steps would even be taken to minimize the amount and pace of climate change.

And get this… If Democrats really controlled the government, there would be less spending.

As Sam Wang suggests, gerrymandering disenfranchises voters. That means a hole in our democracy, and that’s unacceptable, whichever party benefits. With so much talk of “bringing democracy” to Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, and other countries, many are now saying, “Let’s bring democracy to the United States first.

Video: Stephen Colbert: Win, Lose, or Redraw

-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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When Does A Whistleblower Cross The Line?

I’m feeling rather confused about whistle blowing. The premise of The Accidental Activist was the abuse by large multinational corporations of individuals and their rights. My politics are generally left-wing – I’m sure you haven’t noticed from this blog – and I feel I should be siding with those who purport for freedom from surveillance, but when it comes to national security, my politics shift…sometimes dramatically.

The question for me with regards to the actions of both Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon revolves around three questions:

1.  Was US national security breached?

2.  Were men and women risking their lives for our protection compromised?

3.  Will our ability to utilize various systems of intelligence be closed to us because those willing to help us cannot trust our government agencies to control the information and sources?

imgres-1If any of the above leads to the death of one innocent individual, much less the failure to prevent a terrorist attack, then the actions of Manning and Snowdon are inexcusable. It is, I believe, not clear whether Snowdon crossed this line.

The definition of whistleblower is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. 

The image portrays a hero/ine who is willing to stand up when they see an injustice, knowing that they might face repercussions from that oft-powerful business or organization. In fact, the US Government put laws in place to protect whistleblowers, as early as 1863 to expose suppliers who were fraudulent during the Civil War. The Act even goes so far as to offer incentives such as a percentage of any money recovered or damages won in court. The act also protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

whistleblower-cliffIt all sounds great until we get to issues of national security. I suspect we will never know the extent of many of these secrets or the implications. I read that, after Mannings’ leaks, an entire ring of Afghan informers and their families were taken out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Beyond the upheaval of those families, US forces were left more exposed to potential and life-threatening ambushes. How desperate must someone be to step in as an informer under those circumstances?

I have no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a lot of bad stuff to protect our freedom. I am sure they bend the rules and sometimes cross the lines. But the reality is that it is a rough world out there and when you enter the realm of religious or political extremism, and face up against people willing to kill thousands of people in an indiscriminate fashion, then you have to decide what values you prioritize, and I put the lives of freedom-loving people first.

For several months I boarded public buses in Israel knowing that there were daily attempts to blow up these buses. I did it, not because I was a hero, but because I had no choice.

images-4I treasure freedom and democracy and I believe that all who choose to live in such a society have the right to do so, without fear. If the price is that someone occasionally taps my communications because I have a foreign name, I can live with it.

Note to NSA: 80% of the websites I go into refer to Arsenal – they are my soccer team back in the UK and have no connections to munitions. When I comment that we need someone who can shoot straight, I mean with an inflated round piece of leather. I hope I have saved you considerable time with this revelation.

A final question to Edward Snowdon: If you leaked all this information in the name of democracy and freedom, because you feared America was becoming a surveillance state, why did you flee to a Chinese colony, where security cameras abound and people regularly checked for what they read, surf and write?

If you have any free time while in China, perhaps you could speak out to help free Shi Tao – he was, I guess, also a whistleblower 

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

The Invisibility of My Disability – Tom Rossi

I don’t usually like to use these blog posts to whine about my own situation. I much prefer to use this opportunity to try to campaign for better lives for us all. But lots of people are in a situation similar to mine, including many of the soldiers coming back from the Oil Wars.

The spectrum of the conditions that can be called “disabilities” is broad and includes completely different classes. Some disabilities are readily visible, like a missing arm or being confined to a wheelchair. But some are what are called “invisible disabilities.”

In the case of an invisible disability, the disabled person might appear to be perfectly OK. Their disabilities are somehow hidden from view – possibly mental, or a physical problem with their brains, or a problem with the function of another organ like the heart or liver. It could also be some combination of these types of conditions (brain and mental problems often go hand in hand), or something I haven’t listed.

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My problem is a screwed up brain. And while some of you might think that it’s obvious, from reading my blog posts, that I have a bad brain, most people who see or even are acquainted with me don’t realize it. I look and, for the most part, seem “normal.”

I was 29 years old when my brain just decided (without consulting me) to start bleeding, deep inside my skull. In fact, it was almost at the center, so far from my skull that the doctors told me, again and again, that it just couldn’t have been the result of a big hit while I was playing hockey, which seemed like the logical explanation. Anyway, I had not been hit in a game for at least a couple of weeks when this happened, and at the time I was only playing in an amateur league where you’re actually pretty likely to finish the game with your armpits still on opposite sides of your body.

I recovered from that first hemorrhage surprisingly easily (thanks to a highly skilled surgeon) but it happened again, 2 1/2 years later. It was this second operation that left me in pretty bad shape, for a while, with the main, ongoing problem being mental fatigue.

So much in life depends on making the right choices and setting priorities reasonably well. And these are exactly the kinds of things that became difficult for me along with concentrating on anything difficult for a length of time. And while every person who has has what is termed an “Acquired Brain Injury” experiences different symptoms, this is very common. The pressure of the consequences of our choices just overwhelms us, sometimes.

And of course, there’s the head pain. I use the more general term “pain,” rather than “headache,” because it can take many forms. After the second of my two major brain surgeries, my head hurt for two years. It wasn’t drastic, sharp pain, but a dull, fuzzy feeling that just became my “new normal” for that time. I’ve met several people, since then, that say they are in pain every day from their brain injury. Most of these people told me this with a smile. I think this was, in part, due to the fact that they had adapted, as I have, and in part due to their happiness to talk to someone like me… someone who had been there.

Now, I can sometimes go several days without my head hurting, but then there might be a week when the pain is hard to shake. I just never know what the coming day will be like.

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When people meet me, they usually see nothing “wrong” with me. But sometimes, if someone talks to me for a while, I may still look OK, but inside I might be struggling to stay with them in the conversation. Or I might think of a question, or a response to something the other person has brought up, but then have to fight through the mud of my own mind to think of it when the moment arrives when I could vocalize these thoughts.

I have to consider commuting very carefully when calculating whether or not I could take a particular job or participate in an activity. If I have to drive for an hour, I probably won’t be able to get through four hours of work. In fact, there aren’t too many jobs I could take in which I would be able to work an eight-hour day.

This is how an invisible disability is different from a visible disability: It’s even more difficult to know how to make up for it. Don’t get me wrong… I don’t think I’d trade situations with someone who has had his or her leg blown off by a car-bomb in Iraq. But that kind of injury has been relatively well-understood for a long time. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) more and more buildings have wheelchair ramps and accessible bathrooms, for example.

But what accommodations do you make for someone who has a dark, painful fog on his or her brain? How do you help a college student that, even though in possession of the intelligence and ability, can’t write a paper in the time allotted, before the semester ends because that student can only work for a limited time before his or her brain says, “Time to rest! And if you don’t listen to me, I’m going to shut down!”?

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Debi Palmer, founder of the non-profit Brain Injury Connection in the Bay Area of California, says that people think of us as either, “lazy, crazy, or stupid.” In my experience, people don’t usually say anything like that, but you can often see those thoughts turning behind their faces. Some think of us as the now infamous “47%,” the “takers” of society. And why wouldn’t they think those things? As I’ve said, we often appear to be just fine.

In fact, those of us with some sort of conscience, ambition, or inner critic question ourselves every day. We wonder how much of our “disability” is real and how much is based on the fear of feeling the helplessness that we felt when our condition was at its worst. That fear can, in itself, be debilitating. It’s really a form of PTSD.

Let me promise you something. NOBODY in their right mind would EVER want to fake PTSD or any kind of mental disability. The life of a disabled person is no picnic. It’s not at all easy to get help in any form, much less money. I have never received one dime of support from the government – not in the 16 years since my first brain hemorrhage. I’m extremely lucky though, because my parents have been able to help keep me from becoming homeless. Many aren’t so lucky.

I would give anything to get my brain back. I’d give anything to be able to work hard for 50 or 60 hours per week on the things I’m passionate about, even if I only earned minimum wage. I’m sure many people in my situation feel the same way.

Those of us with an invisible disability are not lazy, crazy, or stupid. Our world has been changed in a way not that different from someone who has lost an arm or a leg. The fact that most people don’t have the same deficits means that we often can’t keep up… not with the pace of life that’s demanded by our peers, or by our own expectations.

But like the people with visible disabilities, we constantly strive to figure out ways to deal with our new lives.

-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 Drums of War are Beating… Again – Tom Rossi

Are you tired of dancing to the same old beat? You should be. That’s because, after the drums of war are beaten, you’re next.

We once followed the drumbeat to Iraq. First we had the now infamous WMD, Weapons of Mass Destruction. Then we had, “Saddam Hussein is a really mean guy who gassed his own people.” Then… of forget it. You know the story. There’s no point in repeating it here. But the war in Iraq, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” cost the United States somewhere between one and two trillion dollars, depending on whose estimate you believe.

Then the drums told us that Osama Bin Laden was hiding in the mountains in Afghanistan… so we took the war machine there (while still knee deep in blood, theirs and ours, in Iraq), supposedly to bring Bin Laden to justice. This was the country that had whipped the Soviet Union after a ten year, brutal invasion. And remember… the Soviets were right across the border and didn’t have to ship their forces halfway around the world.

Bin Laden wasn’t there.

What did we learn? I mean, We, the people of the United States, not the war mongers. We learned that there is always a justification, and that justification will probably turn out to be false.

We are now being told that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and North Korea is improving their already-existing nuclear capability. These things might even be true. Hmmm… I remember a justification for the nuclear buildup of the Cold War that said something about, “mutually assured destruction.” Hmmm… It seems to me that the leaders of Iran and North Korea would have to know that the destruction would be about 99 to 1 in our favor.

But the military-industrial-congressional complex want us to be afraid. That way we will keep shoveling money into their pockets. This while the same people want to do away with social security, public education, the Affordable Care and Patient Protection act, etc. These things return value to the majority of the people, instead of enriching the super-minority.

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We have gone light-years past “defense.” Remember when the Department of Defense was called the Department of War? That was a lot more honest. Now, the war-investors who profit from both killing and simply preparing to kill (W.E.B. DuBois said: “The cause of war is preparation for war.”) are drooling like Pavlov’s dogs. “Another war’s about to start! Maybe two! Yay!”

But we won’t hear any of that on TV, or in the papers. What we’ll hear is macho talk about America’s “strength,” and scary talk about how easy it could be for scary people out there to hurt us. Inconsistent you say? So what?

What we’ll hear is about how the leaders of these countries are “craaaaazy.” “Why, they’d lob a nuke our way even knowing they’ll lose! Just to make a point! Or even to martyr themselves! We have to get them before they get us!!!”

To question this line of BS will be “unpatriotic.” You have to be for a “stronger” America, otherwise you’re for a “weaker” America. When will we be strong enough? Silly question. It’s like asking a bodybuilder when he’ll have enough muscle. “Dude, if I can just build up my gastrocs a little bit more, I’ll be golden.”

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So, the bugle call will sound, and the “patriots” among us will answer without question. But what I love about my country is exactly that: the ability and the will to question, and to learn. I have only one hope for our future…

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We won’t get fooled again.

Peace.

-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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A Place At The Table – David Waksberg

Tonight is one of the most powerful nights in the Jewish year. The Passover Seder is traditionally seen as a family event. David Waksberg, CEO of  Jewish LearningWorks, offers a beautiful, universal perspective.

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God created humans, Elie Wiesel suggests, because God loves stories.

At no time do we tell more stories than at the Passover Seder, and above all, the story of the Exodus, the master narrative of the Jewish people.

All of us are commanded to participate in the telling. Everyone who tells the story is praised. And each of us is commanded to make the story our own – as if we ourselves came out of Egypt. In making the story our own, each of us is invited to make OUR story part of the master story, to fit our unique puzzle piece into the great jigsaw puzzle of the Jewish people.

There is a place at the Seder table for all of us. No wonder more Jews gather for a Passover Seder than for any other Jewish activity. 

 “Let all who hunger come and eat,” we say. Everyone is welcome.

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Never before have so many Jewish leaders voiced the desire to “reduce barriers to participation” in Jewish life. And yet, so many feel left out, as if their puzzle piece can’t fit. Jews with learning differences that are not accommodated in schools; LGBT Jews who don’t feel welcomed in some institutions; multi-racial families, told they don’t “look Jewish;” interfaith families, seeking inclusion.

And the list goes on – Sephardi and Ashkenazi, observant and secular, Russian, Israeli…so many ways we can divide ourselves and so many ways we’ve found to feel alienated, uncomfortable, “other” in Jewish settings.

Most everyone means well, one parent told me, “but good intentions are not enough.” If we wish to reduce barriers to engagement, we need to let go of the notion that Jews must look or sound or act in accordance with a set of images we grew up with.

Jewish peoplehood does not mean we are all the same. It means that across a wide spectrum of diverse culture, language, ethnicity, politics, sexual orientation, physical abilities, and yes, even beliefs, we share a common bond. How wonderful, and how much richer is that bond for the diversity that informs it?  Jewish comes in many flavors and until we truly understand, celebrate and institutionalize it, those barriers to participation won’t come down. 

Next week, the multi-hued mélange that makes up the Jewish people will gather around Seder tables around the world to celebrate our story of liberation and redemption. The Seder exemplifies our diversity, both in the story we tell and in the multiple ways we tell it. At our Seder table, an array of customs and practices – melodies from Poland, Lithuania and Turkey, customs from Iraq, Afghanistan, and North America, recipes from Syria, Spain, and the Bronx – coalesce around a common theme, story, and set of rituals and symbols.

Twelve tribes left Egypt. Twelve tribes remained, and, paradoxically, one people emerged. 

Not every Israelite left Egypt. But all were invited to make the trip.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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