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 “socialism”

Hugo Chavez – Roger Ingalls

At 58, Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, is dead. How am I supposed to feel about this man? As a citizen of the USA, I’m expected to hate him because of his extreme socialism, reforms that nationalized many industries including foreign-owned businesses and railings against, what he called, US imperialism.

Hugo Chavez 2

When Chavez became Venezuela’s president in 1998, close to 60% of his nation’s people lived in poverty and 25% of them lived in extreme poverty. Now, 15 years later, only a little over a quarter of the country’s people are below the poverty line with less than 7% falling into the extreme range. In addition, he established free public education for citizens of all social status, providing grade school through doctorial level studies. To further improve quality of life, Chavez created a national health care system free to everyone. Increasing the standard of living for so many, in such a short period of time, is an amazing achievement.

Venezuela is blessed with having a valuable natural resource, oil. However, the vast majority of its people never benefited from this treasured commodity. The riches went to foreigners from other countries. To heal his impoverished nation, Chavez seized the oil industry within Venezuela’s borders and used the wealth for the good of the people. His nationalization of industry angered the US because we lost control of oil in this region.

In the US, we are taught to believe people like Hugo Chavez are bad because their political and economic agenda differs from ours. However, I’m finding it difficult to hate or think badly of a man – a politician – that fought so hard for the good of his people. I hope to someday witness a US politician that fights this hard for his constituency.

Creating Coalitions Pt. 1

An excellent article by Mark Bittman recently caught my attention.  While the Presidential elections and the circus that precedes it, captivates the media and offers us a measure of entertainment, the danger is that it is becoming more of a distraction.

 2011 was a pivotal year, whichever side of the fence you dwell. The Arab Spring, Tea Party and Occupy movements sent a clear message that the people have had enough and want change. Moreover, there is a wide understanding that coordinated, mass movements can effect change.

What is imperative now is to band together and organize so that the President and Congress take our claims seriously. The Republicans are tied up with their desperate attempts to find a candidate who is…well remotely Presidential.

The left, whether it be the green movement, the occupy movement, or the mainstay democratic party and trade union activists need to coordinate a clear rallying cry around those issues most critical tothe 99 percentand be ready in Mr. Bittman’s words “to garner enough political will and power to pressure the president and Congress to move resolutely on the issues that matter.”

This coalition will certainly include the environmental movement, the Occupy movement, the foreclosed homeowners movement, the indebted students movement, the food and health movement, or the unemployment movement, and I am sure there are others that I have missed.

Somehow, the plethora of movements worries me. Once you get individual leaders and proud movements there is inevitable competition for the microphone and the ear of the media. There needs to be a clear channel recognized by the President and government as a respected pulse of the people.

As Mr. Bittman says: “It doesn’t matter what you call the movements, or the people behind them. What matters is forcing the government to act in the interests of the sometimes-silent majority rather than its corporate paymasters.”

He also points to a recent Pew poll that found just about half of all young people now have a more positive view of “socialism” (whatever that is) than “capitalism” (we know what that is), as do nearly a third of all Americans.

How do we take this momentum and turn it into clear, measurable changes in policy? Mark Bittman lays out a course that I will present on Wednesday.

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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).

Cultural Death by Capitalism

Unbridled capitalism has turned the abundance of choice into a lack of variety.  When Henry Ford held the monopoly on ‘horseless buggies’ and as he adopted the assembly line in its infancy, he was quoted famously as saying that “Any customer can have any car painted any colour they want, as long as that colour is black!”  Thus began the way of life we know today.

Despite this beginning of mass production taking shape, we were still a country of independence and unique subcultures.  When I was a kid, my family would drive across the country to Wisconsin and back to California in our black Ford Galaxy 500.  To my parents, three younger sisters and me, every gas station, food joint and motel was unique.  Each state was different from the next.  Soda pops were regional, as were toppings on national classics like burgers and hot dogs.  Service stations reflected their locations with souvenirs, such as the Jackalope – native to Wyoming.  We knew when we crossed a state line simply by looking around us.

 

“As a child, we frequently drove from the Bay Area north to Grass Valleyalong Hwy 49.  Auburn was a treat to stop in because of the rich gold-mining history displayed all throughout the town.  My grandparents took us to a local café and candy shop.  I was in my early twenties when I took my first solo trip along that drive.  In just a few short years, the local SPD grocery chain had grown and now resembled every other chain store in the strip malls that now populated the once desolate highway.  Ruby’s Gifts had moved and was no longer the charming store it once had been.  The same fast-foods were now as readily available on every corner here as back home in suburbia.  The lusciously quiet tree-lined drive was overrun with the very places I longed to escape from.” *

Thanks to the likes of Sam Walton and James Cash Penney, big box businesses have taken over the same routes, highways and countrysides that are laid out before my wife and I as we make the long trek on a cross-country roadtrip back home to Wisconsin.  Where I once saw sloppy diners, roadside motels that had us peeking out the windows for Norman Bates, and “last chance stops” – now on our drive we see the bright, familiar lights of Walmart, Best Buy, fast food chains, Shells and Chevrons.  In the entire state of Nebraska the only pizza we could find was the cardboard served at Pizza Hut. 

We hear it all the time from Libertarians and Republicans:  “No control or restrictions for the rich and big businesses!  The free market gives us abundance and choice!”  The problem with this is it gives advantages to people and entities that already have the edge.  Big money wipes out unique products with cookie-cutter economies on an epic scale.  Everything is a tired blur of a handful of logos from coast to coast.  Few sights to see – even the truck stops have all been taken over by McDonald’s and Subway – gone are the all-night greasy spoons with grizzled old haulers hunched over their bowl of chili with a cracked, worn coffee cup glued to their dirty hands. 

“If half the employed population spent $50 at local, independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion dollars nationwide.  For every $100 spent in locally owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures.  If you spend that same amount at a national chain, only $43 stays local.  Spend it online and none of it stays at home.” – The 3/50 Project.

While Americans have fought against socialism, we have in fact, through our capitalist greed, ended up with nothing more than the variety of a communist government store. 

 – Roger Ingalls

* featuring guest blogger Kymberlie Ingalls, www.WriterOfTheStorm.com

photes by jackalope.org and shadetreemechanic.com

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