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 “police”

My Hero Died Yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rape is a Crime. So is Silence.

Disclaimer: I am writing about a topic I know nothing about. I am a man. I have never forced myself upon a woman, never been forced, and it is a topic that I feel no one is talking about. I live in the progressive San Francisco Bay Area and I am experiencing a wave of shock at the three incidents I have heard about recently.

This is America…California…San Francisco…and it feels like I am living in a primitive or totalitarian society.

All three incidents (as much as I was told) involved women who reached a point where during the attack they went still, played dead, from fear that they could not stand more physical abuse and pain, or maybe for fear of their lives. They tried to mentally detach, to distance themselves from what was being done to them.

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As far as I understand, this desperate survival act, compromised their ability to have the criminals who did this to them brought to justice. The fact that the physical evidence could have been from just having ‘rough (consensual) sex’ means that they are not believed that they were raped, and are often treated as sluts, liars, or unstable.

The fact that the women I spoke with were apprehensive about reporting the crime to the police is a terrible reflection of our police force. Why are they having to report this to a man, in a uniform, who symbolizes ‘power-over’? Do we not have enough women in the police force that it is standard procedure for a woman police officer to interview the (female) victim?

So this is a man’s world. Maybe, but here is California we are blessed with some amazing women in leadership. Where the fuck is Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and the other strong women leaders I look up to and admire? In my work, and the activism part of my life, I meet such incredibly strong, empowered women. Why the silence? Where are the men in power who have the responsibility to protect all citizens?

When I first came to California, a gay friend was explaining the fight to crush DOMA here. He said something like: It has to start here. California is a start-up nation, not only in hi-tech, but in social policy. If it can be done anywhere, California must lead the way to change.

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That a person must walk around for the rest of his/her life with this crime eating away inside, constantly in a  state of hyper-vigilance, being a painful reminder every time someone close tries to be intimate with them, is a life sentence.

Bringing the rapist to justice will never erase what they did to the victim, but it might go some way to closure. At least there is not that haunting feeling that the assailant is still walking free.

If we are to suggest that America has any claim to moral and social leadership, if we are to preach freedom to the world, then we must eradicate this criminal act and the damaging silence that surrounds it.  

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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, Ashbar – 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).

Intent to Kill vs. Shoot to Kill – Tom Rossi

There seem to have been a lot of police shootings in the last few years. I’ve been wordering about this. It seems that, if a cop feels he has to shoot at a suspect, the cop most often aims for the chest and pulls the trigger multiple times. Sometimes multiple cops pull their triggers multiple times.

This is fine in the cases in which it’s called for – and armed suspect has killed someone (or a few someones) and there has been a “hot pursuit,” where the suspect is cornered and desperate. In these cases, letting him escape could easily prove fatal for innocent bystanders, or for the very cops in pursuit.

But there have also been shootings where it was unknown whether the suspect was armed. The cops, lately, always say, “He was reaching for his waistband,” or something like that. In these cases, the cops have thought (assuming they told the truth about the reaching) that the suspect was going for a gun. It’s a split-second decision, with lives at stake. And I think we all probably have a “better safe than sorry” reflex built into our brains that activates in these situations.

What I don’t understand is why the police, in these types of cases, shoot to kill. It’s well publicized that cops are trained only to draw their weapons when they intend to kill the suspect. But I think the meaning of this has been lost.

The “only if you intend to kill” imperative was, I think, implemented because guns are dangerous – even in the hands of a well-trained police officer. It would be foolhardy to pull a gun in a situation where you were sure you didn’t want the suspect to die. Shooting a person and hoping they won’t die is a fool’s bet.

The message to young cops is: don’t pull your gun unless it’s okay that the suspect dies. But the intent of that “rule” is not that, once your gun is out, you should shoot to kill. It’s there to make the officer realize that, if you shoot someone, there is a good chance they will die, so don’t take shooting someone lightly, nor even un-holstering your gun.

But once that gun is out, there is nothing – no rule, no imperative, that says: “You must now kill this person, and make absolutely sure he or she is dead.”

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An example where shooting to kill was unnecessary and uncalled-for came all too soon after Johannes Mehserle was given a light slap on the hand by the court for killing Oscar Grant – a time of turmoil for the city of Oakland, California. Derrick Jones, who was unarmed, was shot while running from the police and “reaching for his waistband several times.” (my emphasis) I guess the cops put up with him reaching for his waistband a few times, but then it was just one too many.

The police shot Jones at least five times in the chest and abdominal area, later making a kind of “better safe than sorry” argument. But why? Why couldn’t they have shot him in the leg, and taken one extra second to assess the danger that Jones might have a gun? This seems a reasonable course of action given the circumstances.

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Police officers point out that they are under incredible stress in these situations. But the police are trained for this and they get practice in the real world, especially in a city know for gang violence. Cops are supposed to be the ones to keep cool heads when everyone else is screaming and panicking.

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By and large, cops are brave individuals who perform a great service to our communities. But sometimes, a cop can let emotions rule his or her actions, just like the average citizen might. I think the policy that a cop shouldn’t pull his or her gun unless there is an intent to kill the suspect should be further explained and explored while cadets are in training. It seems like a policy with solid motivation but somewhat poor execution – with dire consequences at times.

-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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Meet Lincoln Plair – Guest Post by Norman Weekes

I met a great kid earlier this week. His name is Lincoln Plair, a twenty year old from Richmond.

He’s the same age as my son. He works at Pogo Park, a non-profit in Richmond dedicated to rebuilding and restoring playgrounds for children.  He’s real popular and his personality attracts friends young, old, white, Latino, Filipinos and any type of human you can think of.  He was recently hired at Pogo Park after a year of volunteer service at the Elm Park play lot in Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood.

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This is the perfect job for Lincoln because he loves working in his community. He loves the people of Richmond and it gives him the flexibility to be nearby to help his ailing father. This is good news in a place and time where good news doesn’t come easy.  Growing up he mostly remembers the good times with family and friends and the look back and laugh memories. Like the times his cousin would tattle to his Mom just to see him get a whupping, or the playful flirtations with real and would be girl friends, some more serious than others. While courting one of his paramours he helped her fall in love with the Lord and she now dedicates her life to making the community more peaceful through music and community activism.  One cousin always thought he was too soft for Richmond, a tough town where non-violence seems like the road less traveled.  She begged him to toughen up, take a harder line even with his own family if necessary. Lincoln would stand his ground saying, “I’m not trying to fight my own family.”

You don’t hear a lot about the 99% like Lincoln in Richmond’s Iron Triangle – the toughest hood in one of the toughest cities in our country. Young people like Lincoln who graduate high school, say no to the drug industrial complex and simultaneously avoid police and gangs while trying to climb up the ladder one rung at a time.

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Regretfully I met Lincoln through the stories of family and friends at his funeral.  He’s the grandson of one of the deacons in my church. On a Monday afternoon this March Lincoln was shot and killed while washing a car. Witnesses at the scene say he saved two little children from the spray of gunfire. The community was shocked by this senseless murder. 

One of his friends said when you hear about something like this it’s often expected and not a surprise. But this one was a shocker. Lincoln was not involved with the wrong crowd, not someone with known “affiliations”.  He was not a usual suspect.  At the funeral his family called for peace in the streets, for an end to the killing. His sister pleaded for no retaliation because Lincoln wouldn’t want that.

There was coverage of his murder because of the senseless nature of the crime and the quality of the victim. Documentary filmmaker Mariel Waloff  took footage during the funeral. The film will tell of the struggle to make positive change in Richmond. Lincoln’s positive life spread love and hope in twenty short years. One can only wonder how much better off we all would be if he’d have just another twenty.

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On Sunday after church Lincoln’s grandfather walked up and handed me a thank you card. A feeling of unease came over me.  It felt all backwards. I should have had a thank you card for him for the opportunity to meet Lincoln Plair.

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Norm Weekes lives in the East Bay and volunteers with non-profits working in social justice and digital literacy. He is a volunteer at The Mentoring Center and Oakland Digital.

Stop and Frisk: Evidence of Class Warfare – Tom Rossi

It’s come down to this: the end of, “innocent until proven guilty.” That principle is not in the U.S. constitution. However, it’s been the policy that has guided law enforcement in this country for decades.

“Stop and frisk” is a practice whereby the police can stop someone in the street for no other reason than he or she “looks suspicious.” It doesn’t matter if a crime has been committed nearby. It doesn’t matter if the person matches the description of an alleged perpetrator. He or she can be stopped and given a body search simply due to his or her appearance.

Who will they stop? Will it be white men in suits, walking into bank’s corporate offices? Well, that hasn’t happened, so far. So far (and this is what the policy is designed for) the people who have been stopped have been people of very little means – people in poor neighborhoods wearing inexpensive clothing.

In 2011, the New York city police stopped people 685,724 times. Many of those were repeats, as some people got stopped multiple times. Of that number, 88 percent were innocent – in other words not carrying any weapons, drugs, nor rhinoceros tusks. Only 9 percent of the total were caucasians, even though causasians were almost twice as likely as other groups to be found carrying a weapon.

Stop and frisk is a policy that betrays the classism and racism of the security hawks, and it’s spreading. San Francisco is now considering making “stop and frisk” policy. Several other cities are either considering it or have implemented it at least to some degree.

Let me be clear. When I say it’s the end of “innocent until proven guilty,” I’m not talking about jail or prison. That goes on, too, but what I’m talking about is the violation of people’s rights to personal self and privacy.

I’m also talking about the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the differences between the two groups’ experiences of “our” country and democracy. Stop and frisk seems another way to separate those who are valued in our society from those who are unwanted.

The danger, and what allows these policies to take hold, is that “normal,” middle-class, working people will think, “Oh, that won’t affect me. I don’t look suspicious and I don’t hang out in bad neighborhoods.” But in this, winner-take-all economy, so many lines are being blurred. The once-affluent wear out their clothes because they can’t afford new ones. They live in places they would not have considered before. They drive old cars.

But somehow the people who have managed to keep their jobs still have their attitude that, “That won’t happen to me.” As a result, they aren’t too concerned, and feel that the benefits of increased security outweigh the costs – whatever they may be.

I say the costs of an unjust society are much higher than the, “How does this affect me?” paradigm can measure. More and more of us lose power in this society every day. The Citizens United case in the Supreme Court has accelerated this phenomenon.

Take a stand against injustice, now. When the injustice comes into your house, it may be too late.

-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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Back to Gun Control … Inevitably

I waited to post this one out of respect for the victims though I wrote it over that terrible weekend. My thoughts go out to those who lost loved ones in the theatre shooting in Colorado. I cannot imagine what you are experiencing and I won’t pretend to.

I also feel kind of foolish and guilty, and I am sure that I am not the only one. When do we take on the issue of gun control? After a tragedy. After innocent people doing something that we all do regularly and are horrifically struck down. But once the victims are buried and their survivors have vented, we move on.

Until the next time…

Last time I broached the topic of gun control, I was told by several people that it is fundamentally an American issue and that, try as I do to be as American, it is impossible for an ‘outsider’ to understand how deeply this cuts into Uncle Sam’s psyche.

America is the land of the free. We all agree on this, right? We all want a government that takes care of big issues such as law and order, and defense of the realm. We simply don’t agree where to draw the line and who foots the bill.

Having the right to bear arms is for many the symbol of freedom. For me, the issue is not so clear-cut. I have sympathy with the woman who shot a man who was breaking down her front door and clearly threatening to rape her and kill her baby. So did the 911-dispatcher when she realized no one was going to get to the woman’s aid in time. I imagine that anyone who heard the tapes of the phone call understand this scenario.

To have the ability to defend herself, this woman needed to be able to legally able to buy a gun and ammunition. If this is the mission of the NRA and its supporters, it sounds reasonable.

But this is a long way away from the ability to purchase, in full view of traceable data, stacks of guns, ammunition, and explosives. There is a line that must be drawn not just between who has the right to purchase a gun and who doesn’t, but what they are allowed to possess. It should only be enough to defend yourself and your family against an assailant.

There is a colleague in my writers group who has written a post-apocalyptical novel based in the Bay Area. I am not familiar with the genre, but the story has stuck with me. This is in part because the story is taking place in my backyard, but it is also that my friend has researched his weapons and doesn’t spare us the graphics.

As he lists the various stockpiles that the good and bad guys amass, I realize that this is based upon the premise that there are enough people out there (in our backyards) who are amassing arsenals of weapons.

Would putting limits on how many weapons a person can have really impinge upon our freedom? Would America no longer be free if the bad guys packed less weaponry than our own police?

And what kind of freedom do we really have when we are too scared to go to the movies…and watch a superhero battle crime?

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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).

 

Throw away society – including people. By Rhondajo Boomington

Throw Away Society – People Included

Marie Joseph, a 36 year old Massachusetts woman, accompanied a neighbor’s child to a public pool this past Sunday. She slipped and drowned by 2pm that afternoon – and lay at the bottom of the pool for two days. During those two days, the pool remained open.  As usual, people swam and frolicked. And two city inspectors came by to inspect the pool, noticing the cloudy water, but did nothing. Marie’s body floated to the top of the pool on Tuesday evening, where it was discovered by kids, who had jumped over the pool fence after hours.

The child who accompanied Marie to the pool immediately went to the lifeguard on Sunday afternoon. Told the lifeguard that Marie slipped at the slide, went under the water and never resurfaced. The lifeguard took no action. The child tried to locate her, but was not successful.

Evidently the deep end of the pool was cloudy, and so the lifeguard chose not to follow up on this reported drowning. That night, Marie’s cell phone was found at the pool and the police were notified. But no one had reported Marie missing. So nothing happened – until two days later when she floated to the surface.

This tragic death should never have occurred. And various explanations will surely be unearthed now that every investigator in town finally cares about Marie.

Through the multifaceted lens of tragedy, the one image that screams out above the rest for me is one of class, poverty, privilege and race.

Certainly we liberal, educated, caring people would never have allowed something like this to happen in our neighborhood.

But my point is, something like this would not have happened in our neighborhood.

The water in the pool was so cloudy that no one could see at all through the water at the deep end. But their pool remained open, business as usual. We would never have stood for our children swimming in such water.

And, if we were to report a drowning and get no response from a lifeguard – we would raise a ruckus. Call 9-1-1 and the police ourselves. We have the freedom to do that because of the privilege to which we have become accustomed.

A few years ago, I regularly attended a largely African-American church in Oakland for about a year. During that time, I became acutely aware of the differing messages that my white, Berkeley neighborhood kids were getting versus those of the church kids. The parents taught the neighborhood kids certain lessons, ensuring that they would have tools to be successful in their world. The kids learned that their opinions matter. That  respectfully and forcefully asserting their rights gives them the power to change their corner of the world.

In contrast, the focus for the kids at church (particularly males) was how avoid being unjustly jailed. (And yes, many church members knew of numerous cases where relatives had been unjustly jailed). Adults taught the kids that being quiet, even if it was clear the authorities were wrong, was the way to avoid jail. The kids learned that increasing power in their corner of the world occurs by remaining silent enough to avert  bringing attention to themselves. Only then can they have the opportunity to receive an education, to remain free, marry and raise families.

So – if the child of Marie’s neighbor learned those same lessons, this story makes more sense. The child told the lifeguard that Marie had gone to the bottom of the pool and not resurfaced. The lifeguard ignored him. If it had been you or I – we would have raised a ruckus and made sure the authorities were called. Perhaps this boy feared that raising a ruckus would only land him in juvenile detention.

With this explanation, Marie’s story makes more sense. But makes it even more tragic than meets the eye.

Should police have more tasers? -Tom Rossi

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there is renewed discussion about Tasers. Police departments, including BART police, are contemplating making Tasers standard equipment for officers. Of course, this has re-opened the incident that never really closed – the shooting of Oscar Grant by  BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle.

The following is a re-posting of what I wrote following the sentencing of former officer Mehserle. It once again seems relevant.

Oscar Grant: Overkill

The shooting of Oscar Grant was the result of the de-facto policy of many police officers: the practice of using so-called non-lethal force as a form of punishment. If you believe that officer Mehserle did in fact pull his firearm by mistake, then that is an admission that he intended to taser a suspect that had already been subdued and was clearly complying.

Grant may not have been in compliance all along (although he was certainly not violent), but the minute the other officer put his knee on his neck, Grant put his arms and legs back into a submissive position. His body language said, “OK, you’re really hurting my neck, so I’m going to cooperate.” It was only then that officer Mehserle pulled his weapon. This was all clearly visible in several of the videos taken by bystanders. This can be seen here:

We have seen this repeated, although with lesser consequences, many times, thanks to citizen videos. Many police officers seem to have a nonchalant attitude when it comes to their tasers. But what would have been Mehserle’s sentence if he had actually tasered Grant, who then died of a heart attack? Under the law, this is an outcome that could be foreseen by a reasonable person – tasers cause a strong physiological reaction. Therefore, using a taser is an action that requires strong justification. And in fact, over 250 people have died in the United States from the Taser.

So, the issue would not have been whether or not the gun was used by accident, but WHY did Mehserle decide to use his taser under these conditions?

The job of a police officer is certainly one of the most difficult in modern society. Each day, an officer walks a thin, jagged line between levels of enforcement that are either too lax or overzealous. However, the function of the police is never to punish offenders, but to apprehend them using the least amount of force necessary.

The issue of the inappropriate use of force, whether lethal or non-lethal, has been overshadowed by the accident question and the race issue. But the more important question should be: Under what circumstances should the police use harmful or even potentially lethal force at all?

-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.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Tax Mysteries Uncovered – Part 3

This is the continuation of the discussion started in part 1 and continued in part 2 of how people benefit from the services paid for by taxes and the simple principle that the people who benefit the most should pay the most. I have called this a corollary to the well known saying: “You get what you pay for,” and turned that around to: “Pay for what you get.”

Let’s look at some very basic government services (paid for by taxes) that benefit individuals or individual families as well as businesses – police and fire protection.

Of these, fire protection is the simpler example. People with more money generally have bigger, nicer homes and personal property (furniture and so forth). In addition, some people own more than one piece of real property – a second home, a business, etc. These all need to be protected from fire and, therefore, they add to the tax burden.

Owning more or better things also means more that the police are called upon to protect from theft, vandalism, and other types of property crime. What’s more, you can be sure that the police will put a lot more effort into investigating a stolen Lamborghini than a stolen skateboard.

People with more and better property obviously have more at risk and more that needs protection. But in addition, protecting this property actually costs more per person, and therefore more per taxpayer. So if you have more to protect, shouldn’t you pay more for the protection?

The government has also, with tax dollars, subsidized power-generation projects such as hydroelectric dams. I, for one, wish they hadn’t done this, but again – the people who have benefited the most from these projects are the ones who have used the most power. Large homes and businesses use a lot more power than a middle-class, three-bedroom tract house.

Also, remember that what you buy, you buy from businesses that depend on all these services and infrastructures as well. Their use of public services lowers their costs and, ostensibly, lowers the price you pay them for whatever you buy. And the more you buy, the more you benefit.

Anyone who has enjoyed success in this country has done so on the framework of its infrastructures, its resources, its people, and all the myriad of pieces that have been put together (many on the back of government) in the past. The idea that someone has “made it” all on his or her own, is an idiotic, narcissistically romantic hallucination.

So stop whining, and pay for what you get.

-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.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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