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 “NPR”

Morsi and Obama: A Tale of Two Presidents

I recently drove past a demonstration outside the Federal building in Los Angeles. A red stoplight had my car idling next to maybe fifty Egyptians and their allies. They were supportive of the army’s ouster of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their signs showed their anger with President Obama who has called on the army to honor the democratic process. 

I have to admit that I am very torn here. The Egyptians did hold a democratic election. Sure, it might have been flawed with voter fraud, intimidation and other dirty tricks, and this should be condemned, but it was probably no worse than most other countries. Egypt has only just begun to walk the path of democracy. There will be bumps along the way. 

imagesOn the other hand, Morsi has done little to address the major problems facing Egypt such as poverty and the terrible violence on the streets, in particular directed at women, who are then shamed publicly after being raped and beaten. NPR have reported that more than 100 women who were at the demonstrations were attacked and many raped in public. 

President Morsi leads the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular Muslim organization that threatens all who fear religious extremisms and desire to live in a secular country.

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The fundamental question is whether the people (in this case led by the military) can justifiably remove a democratically elected leader if he is not doing his job. President Obama has weighed in and emphatically said no.

I understand his belief that only the democratic process can remove a leader. I think those who suggest that he is supporting a Muslim movement because of his past are being absurd and demeaning.

Many of us are frustrated that countries in Africa, Europe, and most recently in Syria, can destroy and massacre its people, without outside intervention. We draw red lines that are already baffling to the victims and then move those lines when it suits us.

I am not happy with religious extremism in any religion. I am deeply uncomfortable when a religious movement takes control of a country (in any way) and encroaches on the rights of those who do not follow that religion or are not as religious. 

But I am also uncomfortable with our government intervening with the internal affairs of other countries up to a point. I believe the United Nations (I know – I am referring to a fictitious effective organization) should set red lines and intervene when any government crosses that line.

Democracy is important and I believe I would take up arms to protect it. But a democratic government must protect its citizens and allow them to live in freedom, without intimidation or fear.

images-2President Morsi was democratically elected but he failed his people. And this is why he must be replaced. President Obama, who I unequivocally support, should make this distinction. Perhaps there is simply too much gray for us even to get involved.

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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.

 

50 Years of Jazz Despite Everything

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band have seen it all – war, segregation, hurricanes – they may have closed the band down, but in the name of jazz and New Orleans, they rose each time stronger than ever. There is something about New Orleans resilience that keeps me coming back every year since Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild something that must not be lost. 

So it is that we are celebrating a half century of one of jazz’s landmark institutions. Last month, NPR paid tribute to the band and I want to add my admiration for their talent, freedom of expression, and their resilience. Good music can’t be kept down. You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to appreciate the fusion of talent and energy when this band is on stage.

Big jazz bands are not necessarily the choice of music of the younger generations, but I have seen my sons join me at the screen and admire the vibrancy they saw before them. There is nothing technological, no slick videos or lyrics, which attract my boys and their friends, but they can understand what I feel. They are touched. Seeds are sowed. Jazz will live on. So will The Preservation Hall Band. Below is a short but wonderful tribute.

Happy 50th Anniversary.

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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).

First Presidential Debate

Tonight is the first presidential debate.  I feel somewhat ashamed to say that I am excited. It is hype. There are strict rules, two very intelligent men have been prepping for sometime with teams of equally very intelligent professionals. 

I love sports, most sports, and it doesn’t take me long to get absorbed in a game on TV. Both teams or adversaries train and prepare for their specific opponent and we don’t know what the outcome will be, who will win, and what unexpected tactic or moment of brilliance will lead to the winning goal, points or knock out.

When you look at it objectively (and of course none of us do), this is one big show for the floating voter. I have mixed feelings regarding the floating voter, the undecided, and the independents. 

On the one hand I admire people who insist on analyzing policies or the integrity of a candidate, but are they really floating? A recent NPR clip interviewed several young independents, and after a few questions, declared them to be democrats. A friend who was listening with me commented wryly: “That’s obvious. These are thinking people.”

Having said that, I can understand why someone might change their vote because their circumstances have changed. A Republican supporter might have suffered from losing their savings, their house, or their job, without any hope of recuperating their losses, and consider the democratic agenda to be more reflective of their circumstances. A democratic voter might have come into considerable money, found God, or just set themselves up as a small businessperson, and figure the Republican agenda will help them.

Just to be clear, there are religious liberals and democratic entrepreneurs, and I am sure people who suffered from the Republicans irresponsible fiscal policies but stay Republican because of their values. 

If the candidates and their parties are not offering anything new, why are people undecided? We have spent a long time analyzing their policies, backgrounds, comments, and actions. And does it matter who wins the White House if the balance of Congress makes everything a stalemate anyway?

I have nothing to fall back on than sports and entertainment. This is what I would love to see happen:

Popcorn, anyone?

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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).

Convention Season – The Mirror Never Lies

I have already admitted to being a recovering addict of West Wing. One of the side effects of this unfortunate illness is a consistent belief that our political leaders are intelligent and always strive to tell the truth as they see it. Congressman Todd Akin managed to dispel the first and promote the second with disturbing ease last week.

I’m watching snippets of the Republican Convention and I am struck by the desire to sell an illusion that is flawed at its base. I have lived in the US for seven years now and in that short time have come to love the country and absorb a deep respect for the values and decency that most of us share. I am excited by the freedom, the democracy, the ability to make change. But I am under no illusion that America is perfect, that it is No. 1 in the world (basketball aside), or that it is God’s own country.

Do the Republicans really believe that they are serving in the best interest of the nation by perpetuating the illusion that we are No. 1? And by the way, I have heard the same mantras from the other side. On NPR this morning, a panel analysed how Governor Romney distorted truths in his speech last night.

It’s so depressing. The best thing any leader can do is grab our nation by the shoulders and force us to take a good hard look in the mirror. Unfortunately, winning votes by inflating delusional egos is more of a priority. 

The hype – over the top.

Jeff Daniels and Aaron Sorkin did exactly this in this scene from The Newsroom. Apparently, honesty does not rock the ratings. (Warning: There is explicit language in the clip).

America can be great – if indeed that is our goal. But first, we must take a good hard look in the mirror and understand who is looking back at us and how we got to be where we are. The fatal flaw of our democracy is that it is built on blaming others, not admitting what needs to be fixed.

One convention down, one to go. I will wait for a moment of honesty. To quote one of the special guests at the convention: Go on – make my day.

“He’s not there, Clint. You know that, right?”

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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).

Denying The Denial in Durban – Neil Goldberg (Guest Blogger)

You would think that when high level delegations from 200 countries, as well as thousands of civic organizations (NGOs), and countless scientists descend on a conference to inform, discuss, propose and negotiate factors widely believed to be a threat to human existence, it would be newsworthy. Thousands of people gathering to build social and intellectual networks so that they can be prepared with proposals for solutions – in policy, funding, infrastructure, technology and programs to deal with the threat.

Such a gathering is in fact going on at this very moment at the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa,   and has been for over a week. The shocker is, I can barely find mention of it anywhere in the MSM (main stream media), let alone screaming from banner leading headlines as I would expect it to be.

After all, whether one agrees that global warming is human caused or not, even most rabid right wingers and deniers are coming around to accept the evidence that the earth is in fact warming up. And to such a degree that it appear almost inevitable that it will cause major disruptions in the world economy and possibly an epochal shift in human culture.

I’ve been looking around for coverage, and finding very little. Certainly no screaming headlines in the vein “LARGEST THREAT TO HUMAN SURVIVAL SINCE NOAH RODE OUT THE FLOOD”. or, “OOPS”.

Not a single mention in my Yahoo newsfeed, which includes an AP feed (10 stories), NPR (5 stories), USA Today (5 stories), SFGate (5 stories) and The (British) Guardian (8 stories). And when I clicked through to the home pages of each of these venerable media outlets, I found – you guessed it, not a single mention of the conference. Not a single mention of global warming. Not a single tear jerking human interest profile of people struggling and winning against adversity. Not a single hero story. Not a single story about the massive amounts of money to be made on climate change generated business opportunities.

Of course there is room for stories of earth shattering import like “With His Past an Issue, Gingrich Spars and Parries” (NPR), and “Megachurch’s Future Uncertain After Pastor Leaves” (AP) and “Cain Accuser Bialek Say She Feels Vindicated” in the “Nation and World” headlines on USA Today. It’s such a busy newsday that important discussion about the imminent upending of human society just can’t make the cut.

I did a Google search for “Coverage of  climate conference, Durban”. Top item is an Adword (paid advertisement) for “Knowledge.Allianz.com”, the blog site of a major insurance company with extensive coverage on things like “Climate”, “Energy”, Mobility”, “Microfinance”, etc. But not a major journalistic organization.

Second was a piece called “What can Durban Climate Conference Achieve?” from ABC Online (their blog); a piece from Reuters India, one from Environment and Energy Publishing and another from a Canadian blog site called rabble.ca – News For the Rest of Us.

The first major news forum represented in my search is a story from LA Times who are reporting on…oh wait a minute. They’re reporting on what NPR previously reported in a story titled “NPR reports Kyoto Protocol in trouble in Durban”. I guess LA Times didn’t see fit to actually send their own reporter to Durban. What I particularly love about this story is in the opening paragraph, which sort it all:

“You may have noticed that news coverage of the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, has been minimal, at best, and that’s clearly because -– just like in Copenhagen last year -– there has been almost no mention of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was put in place to set reduction targets for important greenhouse gases. Without a big, juicy target, the conference lacks the drama to merit mention on even the eco-blogs.”

So there you have it. Not worth reporting on because nothing is happening there. But I would guess, nothing much is happening there because by now, everybody believes the issue has gone away due to, well, lack of attention in the main stream media.

How DO you spell D-E-N-I-A-L!

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Neil Goldberg developed his political perspective growing up in apartheid South Africa which he left in 1982 when it seemed that democratic change was impossible. He is a designer of a wide array of products, environments and services. This experience has taught him that the limitations of imagination are the only thing standing in the way of just about any problem. Since becoming a father 12 year ago he has become convinced that a loving heart is the ultimate spur to imagination.

Steve Jobs For President

I tuned into NPR on my commute the other day and for a moment thought that Steve Jobs had passed away. Thankfully, he was ‘just’ stepping down from his position of CEO of Apple Computers to focus on health issues. But judging by the comments of the experts…

Firstly, I wish Steve Jobs well. At the young age of 56 and with the resources at his disposal, I hope he kicks it. He is a good man, a family man, but I think his greatest assets in facing his new challenge are the assets that brought him success at Apple.

Steve Jobs is a visionary: mac, iPod, iPad, iPhone, do I need to go on? But he also has the ability to take these ideas and put them into a framework of excellence. Finally, he has the tenacity, discipline and perhaps single-mindedness to take the product from idea to poplar product.

My blog post title is, of course, flippant. But are these not the qualities we need to bring the US (and the world?) into a sustainable model for the 21st Century? Shouldn’t we demand of our political system the same qualities?

A 21st Century political mode should not be about power base or how much money you can raise. We need more people with the qualities of Steve Jobs in government. Did Steve Jobs thrive because of the rivalry with Bill Gates?

What is interesting, is that despite the tough competition, both Gates and Jobs succeeded, while also our society forward. You can’t say the same for our politicians. Their intransigence and lack of vision is just dragging all of us down.

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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).

Medcaid 2

Following on from yesterday’s post, I am struggling to understand how individuals have been denied the right to sue the state that they pay taxes to. It seems a gross obstruction to personal freedom.However, the Justice Department has backed the State of California agreeing that the individual cannot sue, while also admitting that Federal law clearly states that Medicaid rates be “sufficient to enlist enough providers.” In other words, there should be no discrimination of resources or access to treatment between the beneficiaries of Medicaid and everyone else in their state. Only what happens when that is precisely what is happening?


“California has been accepting more than $20 billion in federal Medicaid funds per year in exchange for its promise, among other things, to ensure that needy patients had access to health care,” Democratic chiefs wrote in their brief, “California has failed to adhere to its obligations.”

What they are fighting for is the right of the patient or the medical providers to challenge in court any violation of federal law. The response of the Justice Department is that federal health officials have “exclusive responsibility” to enforce the standards set and can punish a state by withholding Medicaid resources from any state found wanting.

The question is whether they would. One former federal health official told the Supreme Court that the DHHS was not able to enforce this stating it was “logistically, practically, legally and politically unfeasible.” The reason being that the DHHS does not have either the staff, money or political clout to do this.

The supporters of the right to sue have all been endorsed and supported by the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, civil rights groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Judicial enforcement is the only viable means to remedy states’ noncompliance with the Medicaid Act,” the A.M.A. said.

True protection can only come in the courts

In the true story behind my novel, The Accidental Activist, the British Government was ultimately found guilty of not protecting the citizen from a multinational corporation. In the US, the struggle is similar, except we are seeking protection from our own elected government and its agencies. The President, I feel, should understand this better than most.

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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).

Misguided Medicaid Law 1

My daily commute involves picking up people from the Casual Car Pool and driving from the East Bay to San Francisco, enabling them to get a free ride (though many offer me $1 towards the toll) and for me to use the car pool lane and pay a lower toll.

Most times we sit in silence and listen to NPR, but occasionally I strike gold. When the gentleman in the passenger seat tutted at a report about President Obama and Medicaid, I discovered that he is a lawyer and actually preparing a case to go before the Supreme Court. He sent me a New York Times article on the topic.

Medicaid - helping those who need it most

I find it hard to believe that President Obama could possibly be an obstacle to low-income people receiving health care. But when it is the Democratic leaders of Congress told the Supreme Court on Monday that President Obama was pursuing a misguided interpretation of federal Medicaid law, it raises an eyebrow.

The case  focuses around the right of Medicaid beneficiaries to file suit and challenge cuts being made to Medicaid around the country on a state level when such cuts hurt their right to care.The Obama administration does not accept this right to sue claiming it “would undermine the effectiveness of Medicaid.” There is also a myriad of court precedents that allow people to sue to block state actions that are inconsistent with federal law.

The politicians behind the brief include many of our top West Coast Democrats, including Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, an architect of Medicaid; Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader; Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader; and Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the chairman of the Finance Committee.

“The issue, of immense importance to poor people and states, comes to the Supreme Court in a set of cases consolidated under the name Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California, No. 09-958. The court plans to hear oral arguments in October, with a decision expected by the spring. The original plaintiffs in the case, Medicaid beneficiaries and providers, say they were harmed by California’s decision to cut payment rates that were already among the lowest in the country.

Children are one of the largest recipients of Medicaid.

The federal Medicaid law does not explicitly allow such suits. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said beneficiaries and providers could sue under the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which makes federal law “the supreme law of the land.”

More than 55 million people use Medicaid, which is often the fastest-growing item in many state budgets. It provides health  coverage to the most vulnerable groups in our society including children, people with disabilities and nursing home residents.

The problem is exacerbated because many states, desperate to make cuts, have reduced the payment rates to doctors who take in Medicaid patients. This has led to the doctors, dentists, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes and other providers often refusing to take these patients and Medicaid patients are finding it increasingly difficult to find the medical services that they need. The government is involved because they reimburse the state for between 50%-75% of the costs.

The question is: what accountability is there for the citizen (other than the ballot box, I suppose) if we are denied legal recourse? In fact, is there a place in a democracy for the government to tell its citizens who they can and cannot sue? And what does this say about our President?

Please Vote Today. Click Here

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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).

When Fiction Can Help Us Better Understand The World

It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Amir and Hassan are still with me and I pay more attention when Afghanistan is mentioned, as it is too often unfortunately in our news.

But this is my point. Those of us who even bother these days to listen to the news on the radio, watch it on TV, or open a newspaper (paper or on-line), quickly become desensitized to a topic that is consistently appearing, especially if it is something that either we know little about from the beginning, or that little impact on our personal everyday life.

Afghanistan for me, prior to the war was a vague mountainous region where some tribes seemed able to prevent the powerful Soviet army from conquering it. That was about it.

Now, having read The Kite Runner, my ears perk up when the news mentions Afghanistan. I know what a Hazara is. I understand the NPR reporter’s language when he recounted how different ethnic groups were responding to the election.

This was all made possible for me by reading a fictional account of the land, history, people and culture. I am going to assume that Khaled Hosseini is painting a fairly accurate picture of Afghan society as he sees it. I cannot assume more.

But fiction can play an important part in providing understanding and awareness of what is taking place in the world. Perhaps it can also help provide a desire to demand and work for a sustainable future for, in this case, Afghanistan.

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

Breach of Faith

There is so much surrounding Hurricane Katrina that is irrelevant and distracting. When you go into You Tube there is an absurd amount about President Bush, Kanye West, Mayor Nagin, and the natural phenomenon – the hurricane.

So I want to share a book that I feel gets to the core of the issues, primarily what happened after the hurricane hit, without sanding over who shared responsibility for the disaster. Breach of Faith is a straight forward observation from a man who cares and a man who cuts to the chase.

Not that Jed Horne allows President Bush, the Army Corps, or Global Warming a “Get out of jail free” card. But it is clear that his beloved state is more important than writing a bestseller.

Here is a brief overview of a few books on the topic from All Things Considered on National Public Radio.

Whatever you choose to read, to listen, to watch, it is important that we bear witness, that we understand what happened here and what our respective roles were.

It can never be allowed to happen again.

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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