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 “Sacramento”

New Author On The Block

My friend, John Byrne Barry has a novel coming out. John is a political activist and has channeled this passion into fiction. We bonded through a shared aspiration to help inspire people to act through affiliation with characters who fight for social justice. 

Perhaps you can join me at John’s book launch on Sunday at the Mo’Joe cafe in Berkeley – I can attest to the good coffee and healthy Middle Eastern food.   

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The 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+

Final Gun Post (for now)

I realize that I have become rather obsessed with the topic but I will try and make this the final post for a while. I have a feeling that I know on what social issue the next novel will focus.

Sifting through the material that I collected are five more excellent articles regarding gun control that have appeared in the Atlantic.

Light  Reading (not). Enjoy.

  • · The Story of a Gun (1993) Erik Larson traces the history of a particular gun that was used to commit a school shooting.
  • · The False Promise of Gun Control (1994) Daniel B. Polsby argues against gun control by pointing out that criminals will always be able to find guns, but honest people won’t be able to defend themselves if restrictions are tightened.

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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).

NRA Supported Gun Control Pt. 3 of 3

This is the final part of a series from last week based upon a great article from The Atlantic by Adam Winkler  The Secret History of Guns. In the previous post, we discussed how the NRA have taken roles in the past to support gun control policy.

There are other historical examples of the NRA supporting gun control. In the 1930’s, the NRA endorsed the National Firearms Act of 1934, aimed at stemming the distribution of “gangster guns” like semi-automatic and sawed-off shotguns.

The NRA was not a blond supporter, objecting to including handguns, for example, but supported what Frederick defined as “reasonable, sensible, and fair legislation.”

In the aftermath of the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 the NRA again supported gun control. The assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had purchased his gun from a mail-order advertisement in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine. The NRA’s Executive Vice President, Franklin Orth, testified: “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”

The NRA did not favor stricter proposals such as a national gun registration, but did support the Gun Control Act of 1968.

What we learn from this historically is that the NRA and Republicans in general, do not have to automatically fight every attempt at gun control.

The US Supreme Court in 2008 clearly defined the Second Amendment as guaranteeing the rights of the individual to bear arms. However, Justice Antonin Scalia, pulled on this past realism when he wrote: ” should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

While the Founders did impose their own form of gun control, no law of their design compares to Scalia’s list of Second Amendment exceptions. “They had no laws banning guns in sensitive places, or laws prohibiting the mentally ill from possessing guns, or laws requiring commercial gun dealers to be licensed. Such restrictions are products of the 20th century. Justice Scalia, in other words, embraced a living Constitution.”

Ironically, in this lies our hope for a consensus. If Justice Scalia sees the need for limitations, then he is only following a long line of conservative, responsible thinks that include leaders of the NRA, Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party, and maybe even the Founding Fathers.

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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).

 

Secrets of Gun Control 2 of 3

This is a continuance of Monday’s post based upon a great article from The Atlantic by Adam Winkler entitled The Secret History of Guns.

Hard-line gun-rights advocates portray even modest gun laws as infringements on that right and oppose widely popular proposals—such as background checks for all gun purchasers—on the ground that any gun-control measure, no matter how seemingly reasonable, puts us on the slippery slope toward total civilian disarmament.

From the other side of the street, those who advocate for gun control, claim that the Second Amendment was intended to insure a militia that could protect the people from interior or exterior threats.

We  will never know the intentions of those who wrote the constitution, but what is historically proven is that the Founding Fathers put into place gun laws and limitations that would probably see their NRA membership revoked today.

True, preventing slaves and free blacks access to arms was clearly to uphold a racist regime, or law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution, is hardly the kind of gun control that many of us seek. (I couldn’t find if women were allowed to carry arms, and if not then, when. Anyone know?).

What I also found interesting is that the Founders had their own version of “individual mandate” (and I thought you were being original, President Obama with your health-care-reform law). The Founding Fathers “actually  required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters—where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls.”

After a famous public altercation in February 1967 (in Oakland, Left Coasters) between a lawyer for the Black Panthers and a police officer, “Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.”

While the NRA is the clear leader against gun control it was not always so intransigent. In fact, throughout the 1920’s and 30’s the organization often led gun control legislative initiatives.

“The organization’s president at the time was Karl T. Frederick, a Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer known as “the best shot in America”—a title he earned by winning three gold medals in pistol-shooting at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games. As a special consultant to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Frederick helped draft the Uniform Firearms Act, a model of state-level gun-control legislation.”

This included:

1. No individual could carry concealed in public without a permit from the local police. Such a permit could only be received by a “suitable” person with a “proper reason for carrying” a firearm.

2. Gun dealers were required to report to law enforcement every sale of a handgun.

3. A two-day waiting period on handgun sales was to be strictly adhered to.

In 1934 Frederick stated that he did “not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” Milton A. Reckord, the organization’s executive vice president told a congressional committee that the NRA was “absolutely favorable to reasonable legislation.”

On Monday, we shall see how the NRA continued to be an active partner in the passage of gun control.

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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).

Gun Control Part One

In my numerous discussions about gun control over the past month, I have felt that the arguments have been emotional (though there is nothing wrong with this) and somewhat lacking in any historical perspective. I am frustrated by the extremism displayed on both sides. This series of posts on gun control is a reflection of my own lack of knowledge. I found a great article from The Atlantic by Adam Winkler. The Secret History of Guns is possibly the most comprehensive and lucid article I have read on the topic. I certainly learned a lot. All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, are his.

Adam Winkler is professor of constitutional law at UCLA law school. Much of this research can be found in his book:  Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

Winkler eloquently describes how the real struggle for modern gun control began:

“The eighth-grade students gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols.

The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.

Seale then turned to the others. “All right, brothers, come on. We’re going inside.” He opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.

It was May 2, 1967, and the Black Panthers’ invasion of the California statehouse launched the modern gun-rights movement.”

While this story is historically fascinating, it is the next part that really caught my attention. The Second Amendment, contrary to everything I have understood up until now, does not clearly state that the individual has a right to bear arms. It doesn’t discuss the right to walk around in public with a gun, or whether that gun can be loaded. In fact, to again quote Mr. Winkler: “The Second Amendment is maddeningly ambiguous.”

The actual wording is: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

 A well-regulated militia is a far cry from an individual concealing a weapon. Yet to many, and possibly through a well-orchestrated campaign by the NRA, this assures an individual the right to bear arms and outlaws most gun control.

What is particularly dangerous with this approach is the perception that any law, for example one that might prevent guns reaching the hands of terrorists, criminals, people with mental instability, is the beginning of a slippery path to disarming people.

I have already suggested that such extreme posturing (and on the other side, those who want a total ban on guns) has led to a chasm that we are going to have difficulty bridging. On Wednesday, we will see how often the gun lobby has been a partner in creating legislation.

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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).

High Speed Rail Funding Arrives. Has the Need Arrived?

Here in California, Governor Brown recently signed the first phase of High Speed Rail into reality. He likes HSR, but he was also in sort of a jam as California voters had previously (and only partially-informedly) approved a bond measure to raise billions of dollars specifically for this project. This money can’t legally be spent on anything else.

As fantasies go, HSR is pretty cool. France and Japan have enviable HSR systems that are really sexy. They look great, they zoom around majestically at impressive speeds, they lend an air of sophistication to their countries and governments, and they transport large numbers of people efficiently.

In addition, HSR would be more fuel efficient than air travel and it would break the strangle hold that the airlines currently have on us all. But is HSR a timely solution to our transportation problems?

Some people want to avoid this…

and this.

While pseudo-intellectuals like George Will rail against rail (especially but not exclusively the high-speed variety) for contrived and ridiculous reasons, there are better reasons – real reasons – that HSR is a solution whose time has not come. This first phase will run 130 miles, from Bakersfield to Madera (the proposed location of the states HSR maintenance facility) at a cost of $8billion.  

What we really need to spend money on is improving and expanding existing public transportation systems. The real jewels of Asian and European rail systems are their frequency, extensiveness, and efficiency – not just from a fuel standpoint, but from a transportation standpoint as well.

In and around Tokyo, for example, there is an extensive train system in addition to subways and buses. The trains take millions (yes millions) of people into the city from outlying communities each day. There are multiple tracks almost everywhere and, unlike the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART system, you can travel in several different directions from almost anywhere.

Tokyo’s passenger train system is almost all electric and very quiet. The trains resemble nice subways more than they do Amtrak trains. One of the best things about having multiple tracks is that it allows for express trains. These trains are the same as the other trains, they are not built for higher speeds. But they are much faster because they have limited stops and just sail right past many stations.

Because of this, these express trains get their passengers to their destinations much sooner. A passenger may have to transfer to another, local train to make it to a final destination, but it’s still much quicker than stopping at every station along the way.

Here’s another issue. Right now, Amtrak (America’s only real large-scale rail system) has large, conspicuous gaps in it’s travel coverage. For example, to travel on Amtrak from Fresno, California’s agriculture center, to Los Angeles requires that passengers get off of the train at Bakersfield and board a bus for the rest of the trip.

In addition, local light rail and bus systems are riddled with inadequacies, many of which are caused by limited funding and some of which are caused by less-than-optimal management. Part of the new funding is to make unspecified improvements in California’s existing rail systems, but the attention and the priority seem to be on HSR.

All of these systems could be improved tremendously for a lower cost than constructing one thin route for high speed rail between various locations. Also, these solutions apply to real problems today. What people need is help with their everyday commutes and business and errand trips. How many people really need to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 ½ hours? Many, many more people would benefit from the ability to get to work in under one hour.

High speed rail is a later phase in a mature public transportation system. Our system is far from mature and HSR is not the solution we need now.

-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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Left Coast Places: Spiral Gardens

Spiral Gardens is my local community garden. It is situated at the corner of Sacramento and Oregon Streets in Southwest Berkeley, on two blocks of public land at the end of a long-vacant former railroad right of way. It was founded in 1993 and is now officially incorporated as the Spiral Gardens Community Food Security Project, an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

There are five main projects. I have taken their description straight from the website.

* The Community Farm, behind the northwest corner of Oregon and Sacramento Streets, is our primary location for direct food production. At least half of the harvest goes to the low-income seniors in the adjacent housing complex, the rest is distributed among the volunteers who grow it.

* The Produce Stand provides fresh, mostly organic produce, from local regional family farms to the neighborhood at cost. It is located on the busy southwest corner Sacramento and Oregon Streets in front of the Nursery.

*The Community Harvest Project assists private homeowners and the community by harvesting excess fruit from backyard and community trees and distributing what would otherwise go to waste to people in need.

* The Nursery, located on the southwest corner of Sacramento and Oregon Streets, makes useful plants available at affordable prices. The nursery specializes in edible plants, culinary and medicinal herbs, California native and other habitat supporting plants (particularly butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds). All proceeds go to support the project.

The core volunteers are spread thin. Please check the website to see when people are invited to help out and then just drop in. People are very friendly, always willing to teach and chat. I don’t have my own garden for the first time in my life. Spiral Gardens gives me a lot more than I give back when I volunteer. And I love the fact that half the produce supports a low income seniors complex nearby. Giving back to the land, giving back to the community – what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon?
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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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