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 “millionaires”

$10 a Gallon

Before the vacation, I suggested in a post, Changing The World, focusing on 10 actions that will make significant and sustainable change in our world.  Here is my first attempt.

I was walking with a friend down a main street in 2005 and asked him whether we would ever have true peace and what it would take. We passed under the price sign for a gas station, which was showing that gas prices had just gone above $2/ gallon and everyone was shocked.

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My friend shocked me when he replied that America would only be safe when we begin paying $10/gallon at the pumps. Now you should know three things:

  1. My friend is very smart.
  2. My friend is an environmentalist.
  3. We were much closer to 9/11 than we are now.

I fill a gas tank six times a month: so with prices above four dollars I am not a happy driver. The number on my monthly budget spreadsheet has ballooned. So why am I advocating for $10/gallon?

First, the only reason I am not focusing on public transportation is that for many it is not relevant. We need to get around during our workday. We need to avoid looking disheveled and sweaty – I love the bike-share initiatives popping up all over the place – but they are simply not practical for many. Neither do I have the time to coordinate a car share schedule, much as I admire the idea. So I am stuck with needing a car near me.

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I understand when we use certain technologies because there is no alternative. But there is an alternative now. The growth of hybrid cars, the electric car and other alternatives are all becoming common place. One of the most positive outcomes of the reinvention of the American car industry is the move towards gas-efficient cars. The Japanese, we all acknowledge, are years ahead of us.

But what if we truly laid a foundation for electric car by converting gas stations into recharging docks and, instead of one lane for hybrid cars during rush hour, it was the opposite? What if we taxed heavily the import and domestic production of non-electric cars?

And what if we raised gas to $10/gallon?

images-2My motivation is two-fold. I believe much of our foreign policy is designed to protect our domestic energy needs. Wars are fought and countries supported with foreign aid because many are in oil-rich regions. We ignore terrible human rights abuse in these and other oil-rich countries. The connection between global terror and oil are clear and our dependency makes us vulnerable.

The second reason is simply that the earth cannot sustain the effects of our oil dependency. In a sense, it is already taking steps to prevent us destroying it as supply dries up and the environmental impact, both of global warming and regional disasters, become greater.

What makes this so frustrating is that the alternative technologies are out there and I am left with the feeling that they are being held back. Why? Because a lot of people still stand to make a lot of money.

I do not care to prioritize the millionaires of today over the abilities of my children and grandchildren to live in a sustainable and healthy environment.

Government can turn this around with three easy steps:

1) Tax conventional cars (both domestic and imported).

2) Invest in a structure to sustain electric and other energy efficient cars

3) Raise gas prices to $10 – it may well go a long way to financing the change.

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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 ouhis website.

Microloans – Uniting The Religious Right and the Community-focused Left

As the Presidential debate heats up, we are faced with either depressing mudslinging or polarization. This is not the season to seek genuine debate or even compromising solutions. We must take sides, man the barricades and ensure our side wins.

It really is so depressing. Perhaps if anyone dared to suggest something original or engage in genuine dialogue that might facilitate a path to lift this ailing country, I might get excited. My sports-DNA will probably allow it to kick in sometime in October, but for now, as the fog swirls outside my office in “sunny” San Francisco, I feel only that we are indulging ourselves so that we can forget what is happening in reality. To do this at a Giants game, at the 49-ers or Warriors for an evening is fine. We all need a break.

But this electoral juggernaut, that is serving only the media and bumper sticker producers, is insulting to those who are suffering from the very incompetence of those who were paid, are paid, to ensure our welfare and civil society. And though the faces might change, the same ties and dress suits will be back.

There are no one silver-bullet solutions. I know this. But we should be seeking solutions that will kick-start our economy. A weak USA is not good for its people, for the free world, or for those who live in oppressed regimes. We have to get our house in order so that we can help others.

I read and failed to bookmark an article about why the creation of small businesses is a pre-requisite for an economy to grow. It was full of statistics and I failed to understand much of its content. But I want to accept that the premise is correct. Small businesses are an asset for the middle class who often serves as the entrepreneurs, the working class who bear the brunt of unemployment and the rich who can seek investment opportunities.

It sounds like a win:win, a no-brainer. In fact, we have models that allow small businesses to open in the poorest countries in the world.

I have written in the past about KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. These are essentially loans, though the donors often reinvest the money back into Kiva. Here is a quick overview of how it works. For example, investing just $25 can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring.

Why can we not use this model widely in the US? I met a business in New Orleans that had been financed in part by microloans and is now a flourishing restaurant. Why can we not create a wider framework wherein people can invest micro sums that will be repaid as the businesses establish themselves.

Wouldn’t this attract the left, who love grassroots community action – Occupy Microloans anyone? The religious right can gain a few spiritual points above by heeding to the words of our teachers. In my own faith, a learned Jewish medieval scholar, Maimonides, created a pyramid of different levels of giving. Providing someone with a skill and a means to support themselves and their family is considered the highest form of giving in Judaism.

The banks have failed us. It is difficult today to buy a house or attract capital for a business unless you are already a millionaire. Perhaps it is time for the people to turn off our campaign-driven TV’s and take matters into our own hands. Perhaps if we believe in each other enough to invest in each other, we will also stop believing in the meaningless promises of those seeking political office.

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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).

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