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 “pollution”

The Many Faces of Terrorism – Tom Rossi

Terrorism is defined in Webster’s as, “The systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.” But Google provides the definition that is closer to the common, popular understanding that also seems to dominate our legal landscape: “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”

The term “terrorism” is now haphazardly applied to anyone and everything whose activities are disliked by those in power, either in governmental or corporate settings. As a result, the term itself is used as a form of terrorism against those who would dissent, including the brave souls who have exposed extreme animal cruelty at factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Meanwhile, things that might justifiably be called terrorism are ignored, or even praised and rewarded. To illustrate this point, let’s look at a disturbing contrast…

The now infamous Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, performed an act of classic terrorism. They set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring more than 250 – some seriously. They apparently did this as some sort of political statement that they were dissatisfied with America. What they hoped to accomplish I cannot imagine. Whatever their goal may have been, they most certainly (and predictably) failed.


After the Tsarnaevs were identified as the prime suspects, the city of Boston went to war, eventually “locking down” a huge area of the city and occupying it with all types of police vehicles, including some that resembled military tanks. The expense of this operation in democratic, financial, and economic terms, was immense.

As a result of an act committed by two inept, misguided clowns, we have given up even more of our freedom (both in the short and the long run), we have paid a large bill, and we have embarked on even more spending on security that will live on into the foreseeable future.

But what about the other, more insidious acts of terrorism that affect millions of Americans? What about the pollution of our drinking water and soil with substances that, among other impacts, have negative effects on fetal and child development? If a “terrorist” did that, if a person did it, it would be an outrage. There would be 24-hour television coverage for a week. There would be special logos and titles created by all the major news networks: “Terror at Your Kitchen Sink,” “Are You Safe in Your Own Home?” etc., etc., etc.


The truth is that the acts of terrorism I’m describing go on every day, have gone on for many years, and are rapidly accelerating. Under the guise (or justification) of increasing or cheapening our food supply or providing ever more cheap energy, untested (or sham-tested) chemicals have been dumped into our environment in incredible amounts. Weird and completely unnecessary chemical ingredients have also been added to our food, and toxic gases have been released into our air.

Regulations have been fought, tooth and nail, by the very terrorists committing these acts. We have been told, many times over, that regulating chemicals or even labeling our foods properly would raise prices or bring about shortages. The people of California were told that labeling genetically modified ingredients in processed foods would raise their grocery bills by $400 per year – a lie, but an effective lie.


How much does every American man, woman, and child pay each year for the “War on Terror?” It’s a difficult question to answer accurately, but a study from Brown University puts the figure at around $1,000 per year. That seems a conservative estimate. How much will our collective acts of terrorism cost in lost resources and lost health? That’s much more difficult, but you can bet it’s a whole lot more.

As a country, we are apparently more than willing to swallow almost limitless costs to fight one type of terrorism but downright intolerant of the very idea of stemming the type that can do far more damage to many more people. The Tsarnaev brothers certainly should have been pursued, caught, and punished (Tamerlan actually got killed trying to get away) for their cruel and idiotically pointless crime. Should we not also pursue and punish, as a society, what could be called “slow terrorism?”

It seems that if terrorists like the Tsarnaev brothers had been motivated by profit rather than making a political statement, instead of being hunted down like dogs, they would have been featured in business television shows and magazines. Maybe they would even have a commercial about how cool they are, narrated by a smart-looking woman in a white pants-suit.

-Tom Rossi


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.


Corina Vacco – Social Activist and YA Award Winning Novelist

I write because I believe fiction can be a vehicle for social change. I believe when the reader becomes emotionally engaged with a character, they too are moved to action. I met Corina Vacco when she joined the Berkeley Writer’s Group, and laughed at what I first thought, was a cool but whimsical YA novel with outrageous characters and wickedly sharp dialogue.

corina headshot

But Vacco uses her humor and excellent writing to fight for something she passionately believes in: our children deserve to grow up in a clean world as a foundation to each realizing his/her own potential. I can think of nothing more inspiring than empowering the next generation to action – and to do it reading and laughing is a powerful combination.

MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, an award winning YA novel will be released by Random House, on June 11 and has been called THE OUTSIDERS of our generation. Vacco calls it “my love letter to a cleaner world, and my hope is that it will raise awareness of the growing problem of toxic towns and the lingering effects decades-old pollution can have on our present-day environment.”

Read her inspiring story below and, if you live in the Bay Area, join me at her book launch at Books Inc., Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco at 7:00 PM on June 11 (appropriately situated opposite City Hall!).

Corina book cover


Culture shock ensued when the Coast Guard moved our family from the sun-kissed beaches of Miami to the cold, polluted city of Buffalo. It’s not easy to switch gears from palm trees to smokestacks, from saltwater air to the nostril-burning smell of a local asphalt plant, and this is especially true when you’re an environmental activist.

I had a cursory knowledge of Western New York’s pollution history. I knew of the Love Canal disaster—an elementary school and hundreds of homes were built atop 21,000 tons of toxic waste that later oozed into basements and triggered serious illness, along with forced evacuations. I also knew Rust Belt steel workers had unknowingly rolled uranium for the Manhattan Project during WWII, and that the corresponding uranium waste had ended up in landfills throughout the Buffalo-Niagara region. I was scared to live in such a place. Alright, perhaps a better word is terrified.

No sooner had I unpacked than I joined the fight against a contaminated landfill adjacent to a school and playground. Residents whose backyards blended into the landfill’s slopes had received official letters telling them not to eat vegetables out of their gardens. Unfortunately, the town meetings and public comment periods were nothing but thinly-veiled smack-downs of the residents who dared voice concerns. Panels of industry “scientists” and a smug, highly-decorated Army Corps of Engineers representative in full uniform stood at the front of the auditorium and admitted that yes, hundreds of contaminants were leaching into the local groundwater, but don’t you know each dangerous ingredient fell within acceptable limits? Of course, no one had even begun to test the effects of the entire cocktail of contaminants on each genetically-unique individual in the room, but it didn’t matter. The panel of “scientists” was absolutely certain there was no hazard, and a decision was made to leave the landfill alone. The residents, who obviously could not sell their homes, were told to go back to their lives and “just relax”.

I lived in Buffalo’s art district, far away from this plagued town and its infamous landfill. I should’ve been able to rest easy. But as it turns out, activists can never really rest easy. Not in this world. I was devastated when I heard the landfill would not be remediated.

One of my good friends lived a literal stone’s throw from the landfill and invited me on a toxic tour of her neighborhood. We visited defunct factories, a radioactive creek, and the boarded-up homes of Love Canal. She then introduced me to her husband, and they told stories about growing up amid such intense pollution. They recalled splashing in puddles the color of anti-freeze, riding their bikes down the landfill’s slopes, and breaking into contaminated factories. I was moved by these accounts, how a world so foreign to me, so repulsive, could be viewed with…nostalgia. They weren’t ashamed of their neighborhood. They didn’t want to flee. They wanted the pollution cleaned up so they could stay. Imagine that.

I wrote the first outline of MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN in my car, parked at the foot of an ominous, snow-covered landfill. There, with my window cracked so I could breathe the industrial air, I had long conversations with an angry boy who’d suddenly taken up residence inside my head. I asked him all sorts of questions: What is it like to live near one of the most poisonous landfills in the world? Why do you and your friends break into the abandoned factories when you know it’s dangerous? Are you furious about what happened to your father? And my protagonist said, “I have a story to tell you. It’s about revenge.”

MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN (Random House, June 2013) went on to win the Delacorte Prize for a First YA Novel, and has been called THE OUTSIDERS of our generation. It is my love letter to a cleaner world, and my hope is that it will raise awareness of the growing problem of toxic towns and the lingering effects decades-old pollution can have on our present-day environment. Please visit me at www.corinavacco.com.


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.

Pope Benedict XVI and Politics – Tom Rossi

It was just announced that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down, due to health concerns. And while he’s certainly no John Paul II, he’s a decent guy (although he didn’t resolve the molestation issue to anyone’s satisfaction, to say the least) and I hope he isn’t suffering too much from his arthritis and whatever other afflictions he may have. However, in thinking about his tenure as Pope, I couldn’t help but think about how involved in politics he and the Catholic Church have become (again) lately.


The Catholic Church was, for centuries, the beginning, the middle, and the end of the political story in Europe. But in more recent times, the church had actually settled in to look more like, well, a church. But during the term (as it turn out) with Pope Benedict XVI (formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) as the leader of the Church, politics have again come to the forefront, even if to a lesser degree than in the Middle Ages.

Of course,the Catholic Church is far from the only large, religious organization playing politics (while enjoying tax-exempt status) – the Southern Baptist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) are also well known in the political arena.


What these groups (and many others) share, is the desire to impose their brand of morality on others. For example, it’s not enough that Catholics and Southern Baptists and Mormons be prevented from entering into a same-sex marriage, they don’t want anyone in a same-sex marriage. These same groups often work for the suppression of science, also.

As I write this, as usual, I can’t help but think, “Well, how am I different?” I want people to follow certain rules of society. I want people to be polite and considerate. I want them to make tiny sacrifices in order to grease the wheels of a pleasant community. I’d sure like it if, when a driver sees a car in the next lane on the freeway put her turn signal on, he would let her merge into the lane unobstructed instead of speeding up to make it more difficult. I think I’ve uncovered the reason nobody uses their turn signal, anymore.

I’d also like it if, when someone goes through a door, he or she would make sure it’s not going to slam right in another person’s face. Life would be nicer if people were just nice to each other. And what if no country or group waged war on another? We could do away with the military altogether, and either keep our tax dollars or spend them on constructive things instead of things whose purpose is to blow up and disappear.Church-and-State

It would be great if owners of businesses paid their employees a fair, living wage instead of concentrating on making enough money to buy a new yacht. It would be great if nobody polluted our air and waterways in order to save the money it would take to clean up their messes the right way. It would be great if everyone just stopped whining and paid their fair share of the taxes that are needed (if sometimes abused) to keep our country running. It would be great if nobody littered the streets with their cigarette butts or Starbucks cups.

But these principles won’t really work (especially the war part) if only a part of the population adhere to them. It would be much better if everyone did.

So there it is.

I think my way is right or better, just like the various Christian groups think their impositions are perfectly reasonable, while the same phenomenon in Islamic nations is so terrible. But I wish people would ask themselves one thing before taking a political stand based on any kind of morality… Is this a principle that will improve our lives, or just some ancient custom that we superstitiously cling to as a proxy for actually understanding the world around us?

-Tom Rossi


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.


A Rude Intrusion

During our trip to New Orleans we had a day of storms that prevented us from working. We took advantage of the time, frustrating though it was, to visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Walking around the incredible displays, watching the otters, seals, penguins, sharks and albino alligator, I imagined sharing this with my boys and how much they would enjoy it. My frustration for not being able to work (we were extremely motivated having come all this way from San Francisco), coupled with seeing all these eager parents showing their kids some nature, while mine were thousands of miles away, began to rise.

My highlight!Since there was little point taking my frustration out on either the weather or these families, I needed to direct it on something else…I got my wish.

I was drawn to the section about the wetlands. On this trip, I have learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. For a great documentary on this, check out Hurricane on the Bayou. Had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

And in case you are wondering, we are still destroying the wetlands, as incredibly an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

Back to the aquarium and I discover that the wetlands and ocean ecosystem presentation is sponsored by several huge multinational oil corporations, including my old nemeses – British Petroleum – who famously tried their best to silence Left Coast Voices and others who weren’t impressed by their spewing oil into the Gulf Coast.

I browsed through their presentation that firmly told children how important the contribution of the oil companies are to the area, how they are courageously fighting pollution and ensuring the energy needs for the next generation.

There is a great Yiddish word – Chutzpah! It means audaciously outrageous – but chutzpah just says it better (for best results focus on the ch and bring up all the phlegm you can manage). This is the Jewish People’s gift to the world!

I cannot believe that BP and its friends would dare to put such an exhibit in New Orleans, when it has ruined the lives of many of the people who come to the aquarium – actually they probably don’t, since they most likely can’t afford to pay the admission into the place.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas claims to be an educational institution for primarily young people. So why does it allow the rich, multinational corporations to rewrite history on its premises? Doesn’t it understand the legitimacy it is giving the oil companies by allowing them to tell their story under their auspices?   

The answer is, of course, money. I am sure that BP paid more than 40 pieces of silver, but the value of the transaction hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. Planet Earth, however, has, and dangerously so.


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).

Is Republican Freedom Our Freedom?

A recent comment to one of my posts reminded me of one of the key differences between progressives and conservatives (or at least Republican conservatives) – freedom. Why is this a big difference? Does one side favor freedom while the other opposes it? Well, that’s what you might think, listening to Republicans talk.

With their words, both spoken and printed, Republicans often make the claim that their party is for “more freedom” while their opponents want “less freedom.”

But what types of freedom are favored by whom? Are all freedoms equal?

Republicans appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of one freedom, the freedom to make money without any encumbrance. So what if my factory pollutes the air? We have LOTS of air! So what if my restaurant chain serves slightly tainted meat? If people don’t like it, they won’t eat it!

The Republican Party is on a mission. It’s a mission with a cool, secret code name and everything: streamlining. They want to get those pesky regulations out of the way of corporate profits. They want “the market” to decide everything.

Meanwhile, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is trying to make it so that women have control over their own bodies. Even if that means having sex… uh oh… here it comes… hide the children… just for fun and not for the express purpose of bringing a child into the world.

Progressives want weird people like gays and blacks and organic food eaters to be treated like the human beings that they are so closely related to. They want people to be free to marry whoever they choose. They want people to be able to walk down the street without fear of being abused for having the wrong paint job. They want us to be able to live free of concerns of getting asthma from someone else’s profit-making coal burning. They want free speech to be a right of human beings, not corporations.

Republicans are strategically astute, though. They always say that things like streamlining are for the benefit of small businesses. And a small machine shop would become more profitable if it could just wash solvents down the drain. But Republican policies free up corporations so that they can eat small businesses for lunch. Look at what Wal-Mart has done to so-called “main street.”

It basically comes down to a simple choice: corporate freedom or people freedom. Seems easy to me.

-Tom Rossi


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.


Coal The Other Demon

“Somewhere in America a family will lose a loved one in the next hour as a result of pollution from coal-fired power plants.”

Wow! I saw this headline in an email from Greenpeace that my father-in-law sent me. You might remember that I spent several posts researching nuclear power, seeing this as the real energy demon. Now perhaps it is time to look at coal.

Below is the text and YouTube video that was in the email. I would love to hear what you think about it.

“Pollution from the coal industry isn’t just poisoning our communities. It’s polluting our political process as well. The millions of dollars they spend on lobbying and campaign contributions has allowed them to continue doing business as usual. But that’s changing.

Communities everywhere are standing up to the coal industry and doing what they have to do to keep their families safe and protect their air and water. And Greenpeace is supporting them.”

That’s why we created a new website — www.quitcoal.orgespecially for these activists and for anyone who is concerned about coal. Check out their stories and be one of the first people to see our new site by clicking on the video below.

We feel that this site can serve as a valuable resource by providing a platform for these activists to share their story and connect with other people in the movement and to highlight the work that is being done across the country to build a clean energy future.You’ll be hearing a lot more about the site in the future. Thanks for all you do.Quit Coal,Kelly Mitchell
Greenpeace Coal Campaigner

Please click here to vote.


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

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