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 “Senate”

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).

Presidential Jabber – Roger Ingalls

The campaigning season is upon us and the air is abuzz with comedic babble. In this spirit, I’d like to share a few of my favorite political quotes; some witty and funny but others just ooze stupidity.

”You know nothing for sure…except the fact that you know nothing for sure.” —President John Kennedy

”If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” —Abraham Lincoln

”Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.” —Lyndon Johnson

”My fellow Americans. I’m pleased to announce that I’ve signed legislation outlawing the Soviet Union. We begin bombing in five minutes.”—Ronald Reagan

”I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.” —Ronald Reagan

”Once you leave the womb, conservatives don’t care about you until you reach military age. Then you’re just what they’re looking for.” —George Carlin

”Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.”—Groucho Marx

”My esteem in this country has gone up substantially. It is very nice now when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.”—President Jimmy Carter

”Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”—Ronald Reagan

”A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”—President Franklin Roosevelt

”Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”—Will Rogers

”I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix.”—Dan Quayle

”We do know of certain knowledge that he [Osama Bin Laden] is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead.” —former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

”Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” —President George W. Bush

”We know there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” —Donald Rumsfeld

”Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?” —George W. Bush

There’s a million of them; we could go on for days. Let’s close this out with a quote by Mark Twain that accurately describes todays Senators and House of Representatives, ”Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

Shaft Strikes Again – Norman Weekes

There are things we whisper to each other when white folk are not around.

Yes it’s true. When two or more Black folk stand by the water cooler we talk in-house. Most of it need not be shared. ‘They’ wouldn’t understand. It would take hours, maybe years of context to not be misunderstood. But at the risk of having my “Black Enough” card revoked, I’m going to share one of these secret communiques. For about two years now, ever since Obama started getting his ass kicked on every meaningful issue of concern to the Black community I’ve heard this or something like this:

After checking the room, looking over both shoulders one of my beloved – brothers or sisters will lean in and say  “Just wait until the second term. Then we’ll see the real Obama!”
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The hope is that unencumbered by re-election politics he’ll transform from Urkel to John Shaft. Maybe even Dolemite. Something other than what he’s already proven to be. The guy we wanted. Not the guy he is – Benson. I can hear the First Lady screaming “Benson! Oh no you didn’t!” Obama’s recent open mic gaff to Russian President Medvedev gave hope to the fantasy. Never mind he was referring to foreign policy and stating the obvious.

I understand the desire to believe that the conformity, reserve and caution is just an act until he’s free to be the real Obama. After all, we’ve done this everyday for hundreds of years. It’s a coping mechanism that has served us well in a persevering kind of way. At the same time we desperately want to believe Obama’s just waiting for the opportunity to “stick it to The Man” even if he is “The Man”.

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This theory ignores a cardinal rule of being Black in America. If you get in don’t f-it up for the next brother. The next Black president is alive today. Obama knows this. He may hope the next Black president is living in the White House today. If he is a Super Negro waiting to emerge, checks and balances will temper Obama’s second term. The Republican House and/or Senate along with conservative Supreme court justices who obviously sold their souls for eternal life will keep him in “check”. Wonder if Satan tried to return those souls after a quality check. Caveat emptor Beelzebub.

Second term Presidents rarely get wild and crazy in their second term. Nixon and Clinton were impeached and I’ve had the entire Bush 43 presidency erased from my memory. I don’t think his second term was very memorable but you can look it up.

In the final analysis the Obama we have is way better than any alternative. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it. As William DeVaughn reminds us: Be Thankful for What You Got.

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Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits and occasional political activist. 

 

Void the Senate – Roger Ingalls

Do we really need a Senate and a House of Representatives?  Considering the economic disparity between politicians and the masses (out of touch mindset), legislative gridlock, and general impotency of Congress, having two chambers may be a waste of resources.

picture from citizen.org

Refresher: We have 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 Senators. States with larger populations have more representatives. Each of the fifty states has two Senators. In theory, Reps champion the causes of their local constituents. If they don’t, the voting public can give them the boot quickly because the election cycle occurs every two years. Senators are elected for six years with the intent of focusing on the good of the nation as a whole. Elected for longer terms, they can make decisions without influence from short-term public opinion. The two-chamber system has inherent checks and balances because both the House of Reps and the Senate must pass a bill or resolution before it goes to the President for approval or veto.

The nation’s political system has changed considerably since the Founders defined it two-hundred years ago. Over time, State’s rights have given way to Federal control. Also with endless funds given to politicians from special interest groups, Super PACs and similar organizations, our elected officials have become agents for these large money giving entities. Since both chambers are working for the highest bidder and not representing the voting public nor watching over the health of the nation, it is now legitimate to examine the necessity of the two-chamber Congress. Do we need a Senate and a House of Representatives that panders to the same group?

Since both chambers are essentially doing the same thing (and not necessarily the right thing), it’s time to get rid of one of them. Let’s eliminate the Senate. Each Senator costs approximately $3.5 million when considering salary, staff and overhead expenses. By giving pink slips to all of them we could save $350 million. This is not a lot of money compared to the overall U.S.budget but they are now redundant dead weight so give them the axe.

Keeping the House and booting the Senate would give the voting public a fighting chance. The House Reps must, at least somewhat, consider the public’s opinion because the election cycle returns every two years. Also, with the Senate gone, State’s rights may come into play again and allow regional governing inline with the will of the people without retribution from the Federal government.

Obviously, this is a tongue-in-cheek post. Eliminating the Senate would require a Constitutional Amendment. A majority of Senate would have to vote to fire themselves and that isn’t going happen. But I do hope this post points out the monetized-ridiculousness and bastardization of our political system.

The two-chamber system no longer represents the people nor does it protect the nation as originally conceived and defined in the Constitution…it now only serves deep pocket interests.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

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).

Marshall Ganz

I ‘discovered’ Marshall Ganz when his work on ‘The Power of Story” formed the basis of the annual Hillel Institute, the professional conference. I wrote about this in an earlier post. Today, I want to focus on Professor Ganz and his own story.

Marshall Ganz

Ganz grew up on the West Coast, in Fresno and then Bakersfield. The first remarkable chapter in his life was when, as a child, his family went to post World War Two Germany, where his father, who was a rabbi, served as an army chaplain working with displaced persons. The impact of meeting Holocaust survivors had a powerful influence on the whole family and Ganz grew up learning about the dangers of racism and Antisemitism.

Ganz began his undergraduate degree at Harvard but left the year before he graduated in 1964 to volunteer for the Mississippi Summer Project, where he worked in a freedom house in McComb and helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. He also joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America and over the next decade and a half gained experience in union, community, issue, and political organizing and became Director of Organizing for the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA).

The Union of Farm Workers is smaller today, but its significance has not lessened.

He left the UFWA in the 1980’s and began to focus on political organizing for a number of candidates including Nancy Pelosi for Congress, Alan Cranston for Senate, Tom Bradley for governor, and governor Jerry Brown.

Twenty-eight years after leaving, Ganz returned to Harvard where he finished his undergraduate degree, received an MPA from the Kennedy School of Government in 1993 and a Ph.D. in Sociology in 2000.

Since completing his doctorate in 2000, he has been a lecturer in public policy, teaching courses on organizing, leadership, civic engagement, and community action research at the Kennedy School for Government

While preparing to facilitate the workshops at the Hillel Institute, I learned that Ganz offers a unique perspective on community organizing and activism. In contrast to institutional mass mobilization, Ganz stresses the need to tell the story/

He stresses the need for personal investment through what he defines as “the story of self.” Here the individual shares something of him/herself, something that offers a moral or insight to whatever the message is. This can then be fused with “the story of us,”which is essentially the party line or goal that the activist is trying to suggest. Finally, Ganz concludes that there must be a call to action, which he encapsulates in “the story of now.”

Activism Is About Telling the Story

Finally, Ganz stresses that the communication cannot be one-way, but must involve genuine listening to understand the other person’s perspective through their own personal narrative.

Ganz illustrates this through the famous three questions of Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Please click here to vote.

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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).

Oil Companies Disgrace, Public Apathy

You know from my novel, The Accidental Activist, that I have no love for the oil companies. You have probably seen infomercials, full page adverts and websites set up by the oil companies to tell us how green they are becoming and what worthwhile members of the community they are, as seen through the various philanthropic project that they donate to.

I’d like to share an email (a public one) I received from Jim Messina. Jim manages the Presidential Campaign for Obama ’12. I had started to paraphrase what he wrote, but I can’t do a better job than Jim:

“The CEOs from the five major oil companies — which together booked $36 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011 alone — went to the Senate on Thursday to try to justify the $4 billion in tax giveaways they’re receiving this year.

It’s a head-smackingly obvious example of how broken Washington is that there’s even a question about this. These companies don’t need and don’t deserve taxpayer money — especially with a budget deficit to close and gas prices at or near record highs.

Even worse is the fact that when the Senate tries to strip these oil company giveaways, it’s likely that a minority of senators will block a vote from happening. And even if the Senate manages to pass a bill eliminating the giveaways, there’s little chance it will be brought up for a vote in the House.

Here’s why: These five companies are expert manipulators of the money-for-influence game in Washington that the President is working to change. It’s simple math — they spent more than $145 million last year on nearly 800 lobbyists whose job is to defeat bills like this one. The $4 billion they’ll likely get to keep as a result represents a 2,700% return on their investment.

I’d like to be able to say with certainty that you can do something to help pass this bill, but the fact is that at this stage we may not be able to affect the outcome of next week’s vote.”

When we are cutting essential social services, when we are cutting education and health, when there are people unemployed and losing their houses – how do we let the oil companies and their politician puppies get away with it?

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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).

Millennials – Think of Rome & Go Vote!

I love the millennial generation. I work with students on the campuses of San Francisco and I revel in their confidence, their optimism, their drive for hands-on philanthropy. But if I have one complaint it is that they have become accustomed to instant gratification. They have an almost naive belief that if you play by the rules then the system will do the right thing.

Buoyed by promise of change and a sense of empowerment at having come of age to vote, these fine young people put a candidate in the White House who promoted the same values – the system can work if we believe in it.

What the candidate and his staff forgot to mention is that he was taking office after eight years of chronic mismanagement the repercussions of which had not yet finished wreaking their damage. The candidate and his party assumed that it was understood that it would take time to right the ship.

The millennials didn’t understand that. Neither did they understand how destructive an opposition can be (neither do most of us it should be noted). Remember how long it took to build Rome, and how the empire was destroyed by its own apathy.

The Obama administration can make the changes it promised, but it needs support in the House and Senate. It is ironic that he might lose this opportunity not because of those who oppose him, but because of the apathy of a generation who gave him the chance.

Rome was not rebuilt in a day and President Obama needs you to go to the polls. For the sake of the country, whatever your politics – go vote!
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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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