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 “UK”

The Power of the Internet – SignUp

I am intrigued with the potential of the Internet to mobilize grassroots activism. My novel, The Accidental Activist, is a fictitious account of the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s. The role of McSpotlight.org, the first interactive advocacy website, was integral in enabling two young activists to negotiate the maze of the British libel laws and take on one of the most famous law companies in the UK.

Twitter and Facebook were central tools utilized in the Arab Spring and China is putting considerable resources into controlling the Internet, at least within its borders. Shi Tzu, a journalist, found this out and languishes in jail.

Today, I walked past a few young people standing at the main thoroughfare at San Francisco State University, canvassing people to sign a petition supporting an environmental initiative. It was cold and I felt sorry for them. Despite their enthusiasm. students passed them by. I am sure it was not the issues, rather the desire to escape the cold and make it on time to class.

I thought there must be a better way to do it. Guess what? Apparently there is. Allow me to introduce you to SignOn.org. This is a new initiative that came to my attention when I wrote about Whole Foods and one of their (previous) Muslim employees.

The goal is to allow busy people to create and promote a petition. Though sponsored by the (thought of) left-wing organization Move On, the service is for any citizen to create a petition.

I want to applaud MoveOn for this initiative. It is efficient, time-saving and reaching people where they have discretionary time – on-line rather than on the street. Of course, there is always the loss of the human interaction as with all social media, but in terms of practicality and effectiveness, it seems like a great service.

And the fact that SignUp can be used by those with political views that do not fall in line with the MoveOn folks is also commendable. It elevates the core values of democracy and freedom of speech that we all talk about and forget often .

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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).

Robin Hood Politics Pt. 2

On Wednesday I discussed the Robin Hood Tax initiative where I praised those, especially the rich people who are embracing the idea.

I portrayed the Obama administration as being against, primarily out of fear that investors would go abroad with their money. The case is not so clearly defined. According to one administration official, there is actually support precisely to curb the risky activities that led the crises in the first place.

“The president is sympathetic to the goals that a financial transactions tax is trying to achieve and he is pushing for a financial crisis responsibility fee and closing other Wall Street loopholes as the best and most feasible way to achieve those goals,” the administration official said.

Labor unions and groups are supportive and organizing demonstrations in favor, They envisage the taxes levied to help finance job creation programs.

“The tax is a good idea because banks are where the money is. It’s the same reason Jesse James robbed banks,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, which recently held demonstrations at the offices of 60 members of Congress in support of the levy. “The thing about the financial transactions tax is it’s stunning how quickly people get it and how fast they embrace it.”

I got the impression that Bill Gates and President Sarkozy envisaged using the money to help development in the worst areas of poverty, which I assume mean in Africa and Asia. Other political leaders are probably imagining using this as revenue to help plug government deficits.

We should not forget that this is a tiny tax for the individual. The EEC proposed a tax of $10 for $10,000 worth of transactions throughout the European Union which could raise $77 billion a year just in Europe.

An American version of this bill (imposing a $3 tax  per $10,000 of transactions) might raise $350 billion over the next decade. Kudos for some rare bi-partisan cooperation to Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, and Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat.

Mr. DeFazio envisaged the tax could “raise money to invest in the real economy,” but even he and his partner are skeptical the Republican caucus in Washington would accept any form of new taxes.

The opposition is already gathering, citing a fear that people will slow their investment rates. Kenneth E. Bentsen Jr., executive vice president for public policy at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, released a statement saying:

“At a time when we face a slow economic recovery, such a tax will impede the efficiency of markets and impair depth and liquidity as well as raise costs to the issuers, pensions and investors who help drive economic growth,”

The British Chancellor of the Exchequers, George Osborne, called the proposed tax “economic suicide.” In this time of economic crisis, he said, the European Union “should be coming forward with new ideas to promote growth, not undermine it.”

Opposition on this side of the pond comes from Glenn Hubbard, past chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. He described the Robin Hood tax is a “monstrously bad idea.”

“Such a tax isn’t really going to get at the banks,” added Hubbard. “It’s going to hit the people who own the assets that are traded,” like investors.

If you think Hubbard is just crying from the political bleachers, think again. He is currently an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Ironically Britain, Hong Kong and Singapore (the latter two can be proud of the growth of their financial markets) all have such a tax in place.  In fact, and please don’t tell the Republicans, the US had imposed a tiny tax on stock trades between the years1914 – 1966. Socialists!

Finally, let’s remember why this tax is being proposed in the first place. There are too many people in this world who are starving, denied medicine and clean water, suffering from diseases that can be cured. And, as the British actor Bill Nighy, has described it, this is “a beautiful idea.”

“It would raise enough money to solve problems at home and overseas, and it could do it without hurting ordinary people,” Mr. Nighy said.

So simple. So true. So possible.

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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).

Robin Hood Politics Pt. 1

I grew up in England’s green and somewhat socialist land hearing stories and watching movies about one Robin Hood, who lived in Sherwood Forest and robbed from the despotic rich to give to the poor. When King Richard the Lionheart came home from the Crusades having either liberated or massacred everyone in the name of freedom (freedom to be a Christian), and forgave Robin, restoring him as a member of the English aristocracy and letting him marry the king’s niece. Trust me, the movies tell it much better.

Oh Kevin - your aim if not your accent was true!

However, Robin of Loxley’s name is now being associated with a new tax idea: a seemingly insignificant levy on trades in the financial markets which would take money from the banks (the despotic rich) and give to the world’s poor. This would apparently be a tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and similar financial tools of investment.

The reality is that most of this support stems from our anger and frustration at how the world economy collapsed without the rich taking a significant hit. Right now we would happily hang the bank and monetary institutions heads in the village square, or at least stick them in the stockades and throw rotten dividends and pink slips at them.

Sir Robin (who was originally a member of the landed class – the top 1%) has attracted an exciting band of merry men (and women): the leaders of France and Germany, the billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and George Soros, former Vice President Al Gore, the consumer activist Ralph Nader, Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now personally I am suspicious that the Pope would associate with Robin Hood, given the latter’s allegiance to the Church of England, but perhaps the Pope is being more strategic than his predecessors.

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who I began to trust when she got annoyed at President Bush trying to give her a public massage, told the German Parliament that “We all agree that a financial transaction tax would be the right signal to show that we have understood that financial markets have to contribute their share to the recovery of economies.”

The Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, has jumped enthusiastically into the foray by announcing his plans to impose such a tax as one part of a broad plan to fix his country’s ailing economy. He further invited other European countries to endorse the initiative.

Other European leaders seem are not so enthusiastic which seems a shame given that a number of analysts believe a broad agreement could create such a tax while keeping the financial markets (or rather those who are making tons of money from it) relatively calm. 

Simon Tilford, chief economist of the Center for European Reform in London claims that “There is some momentum behind this…If they keep the show on the road, they probably will attempt to run with this.”

As the Occupy Wall Street movement seems to wind down, I believe this can be a rallying cry with a practical, measurable outcome. I have written previously about my desire for the Occupy movement to become more strategic (see here and here). Members of the Occupy movement were already sporting bows and arrows, along with green and brown Robin Hood outfits (I used to have one, but would never wear the tights – part of my repressed British childhood, I guess) at the G20 Nations summit last month.

Frederic Nebinger/Getty Images -Demonstrators in Nice, France, last month urged the leaders of the Group of 20 nations to do more to help the poor.

At the summit, Bill Gates, who as we know is quite well off actually presented a plan similar to the goals of the Robin Hood movement, including a modest tax on trades of financial instruments that could generate $48 billion or more annually from the G-20 countries. I want to take this moment and, with the greatest respect, doff my green cap and feather to Mr. Gates. He is a member of the 1% who really cares.

Charles Dharapak/Associated Press – Bill Gates talked with Nicolas Sarkozy about a tax on trades of financial instruments.

His proposal garnered support from Ms. Merkel and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, There are, of course, those who oppose the tax initiative, not surprisingly from the rich and their minions in the seats of power of the UK and USA. Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, expressed serious reservations, saying “Britain would embrace it only if it were adopted globally.” This stems from a fear that if England was to adopt such a tax, investors would simply take their business from the London Stock Exchange and head elsewhere to countries who have not adopted this tax initiative.

This sentiment is supported here in the US by the Obama administration who fear that unless it is global, driving trading overseas would hurt pension funds and individual investors as well as financial institutions.

More on this on Friday.

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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).

 

Microloans in Israel

I have to say it is too tempting to pass up an article that involves Kiva, a micro loan agency that I have long admired and a window of hope  between Israel and its Arab population. I have written a number of posts about microloans and what they are, so I won’t go into it here.
Desmond Bradley first picked up on this partnership between the Koret Israel Economic Development Fund (KIEDF) and the San Francisco-based non-profit organization Kiva Microfunds. You can read his article here.

This is Kiva’s first venture into Israel, it works in over 50 countries with local microloan agencies, where you can donating as little as $25 via their website. What I love about their system is the way that you can track the progress of the person/business you are helping. But enough about Kiva. As I mentioned, you can read about the organization here.
Israel has struggled since its independence with regard to its Arab and Bedouin population. As in the US, there is also a growing gap between the rich and low-income populations. This program will target Arab, Bedouin and low income Israelis.
The Koret Israel Economic Development Fund (KIEDF) has already loaned more than $177 million to 464,000 entrepreneurs over the past six years. Since 1994, KIEDF has facilitated close to $206 million in financing to almost 8,000 small and micro businesses in Israel, creating more than 40,000 jobs in the process.
Kiva needed to be convinced that Israel was a suitable candidate as it is perceived as a developed economy.
KIEDF managing director Carl Kaplan said  “It took us a couple of years to convince them that not all of Israel is like that. We persuaded them that some sections of Israeli society – notably Arab and Bedouin women – are actually Third World. It’s not a political issue.”
Bedouin woman


“We’ve already facilitated 1,800 loans to Negev businesses, mainly run by women,” says Kaplan, This initiative is sponsored in teh US by California based American Friends of Koret Israel Economic Development Funds,  and in the UK by The Portland Trust, a foundation that promotes peace and stability between Palestinians and Israelis through economic development.

Desmond Bradley sums up micro-financing superbly as “a widely used tool for fighting poverty and empowering women worldwide. Small, family-owned businesses have proven critical to the economic viability of women with limited employment opportunities.”

All  this week we have heard how the US economy is stalled, how there is no growth, how unemployment is rising. Is there a lesson to be learned here? Is anyone in ‘DC thinking outside the box?

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).

London Riots 2

So yesterday’s article was a tad whimsical and here is a more serious  perspective. The question is who were the rioters and who is to blame.

Firstly, there is no excuse for vandalism and looting. There are laws and there are legitimate and more effective ways to express discontent. I almost stepped on a landmine speaking to a friend in the UK about this. In a time of economic distress, these actions have put a lot of good hard-working people either out of business or in more debt than they already face. Attacking the local ‘bobby,’ the policeman, with every intent of wounding him or her, is never justifiable.

For many, there are fingers being pointed to sheer greed and opportunism. The advertisers pound us with messages that we must have this electronic device and where these absurdly priced jeans or we are not cool is a terrible message to give a young, unemployed person, who is already suffering from low self-esteem and alienation.

The question is how to rein this in? The companies are just as desperate to sell their products to a public that can’t afford them. Business is business, but there is a larger price that all British taxpayers are going to pay for the millions of dollars of damage.

One of the owners of Big Green Bookshop, Simon Key, maintained that this was more about economics than pure consumer desire. “The people who were doing this were mainly going for phone shops, high fashion shops and HMV, looking for stuff that they could sell on,” he told The Financial Times.

Today, as the rioters spill into Britain’s courthouses, we’re gaining additional insight into who the young, enigmatic looters are and what motivated them to wreak havoc on England’s streets. The AP says that “the 1,000-plus people who have been arrested–some of whom are as young as eleven–share a deep sense of “alienation.” One 19-year-old looter who did not appear in court explains, “Nobody is doing nothing for us–not the politicians, not the cops, no one.” The AP adds that “the rage has appeared to cut across ethnic lines, with poverty as the main common denominator.” A BBC infographic today suggests the rioters are primarily young–anywhere from 15 to 24–and male.

An 11-year-old having his day in court - he was caught stealing a garbage bin. News.com.au

The New York Times points out that while the majority of those arrested are an “underclass of alienated young people, with no jobs and few prospects,” quite a few are affluent, middle-class, including “a graphic designer, a postal employee, a dental assistant, a teaching aide, and a forklift driver.”

Sky News highlighted a student from the University of Exeter and a daughter of a successful businessman. She reportedly stole $8,000-worth of goods from a Comet store (electronics). Sky also notes that many of these were first offenders.

I’ll finish with a story from The Guardian. When one looter saw a fellow looter reach for a hand-stitched wedding dress from a local fashion boutique, “an angry young black woman berated one of them. “You’re taking the piss, man. That woman hand-stitches everything, she’s built that shop up from nothing. It’s like stealing from your mum.”

Race, class, alienation – it is a sad lose-lose episode and one which leaves us all seeking a glimmer of optimism. One final thought – if most of these stolen items are going to find a market, will the same people who have criticized the looters have the principle not only to not purchase one of these bargains. Perhaps if the looters can discover that there is no market for stolen goods, they will think twice about taking this path in the future.

A final thought – why did this not spread to the continent? Why only in England? Any ideas?

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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).

May 1st – This Year More Than Ever

The workers fare better in times of economic growth and are most vulnerable during a recession. This is probably not anything new to us. Short-sighted business executives, when faced with a down-turn in the market immediately go for cost-cutting measures and in any organization, the biggest line item is labor.

This has not been a great year for the trade union movement. The assault by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) – I can’t think of another name for it – is stunning.What is even more difficult to understand is that many of these workers actually voted him into power. The US has never polarized along class lines as we have seen in the UK and other European countries. 

But then American politicians (and their aides of course) understand so well how to manipulate the media (which is only worried about ratings not content) and to avoid discussing the major issues. How were Republicans, just months after losing the Presidential election, able to get away with criticizing Obama for the ‘economic situation’?

So for those of you who wonder, here are 10 reasons why we need Trade Unions, courtesy of Union Solidarity:

10 REASONS TO JOIN A UNION

(there are more than 10 – just ask a union member)

1. People who belong to unions have better wages and conditions than non-union members: – Did you know that union members on average earn 15% more than non-union members!

2. Unionised workplaces have better health and safety conditions and are more likely to elect representatives who are then legally entitled to monitor health and safety at work.

3. Unions have a long and proud history of defending the rights of working women, part timers and casuals. It is much more difficult for employers to discriminate against women union members who are aware of their rights. Anti-discrimination laws, paid maternity leave and family leave was won by unions who continue to fight for improved conditions for part time and casual workers.

4. Overtime rates, annual leave, rostered days off, redundancy agreements, long service leave payments – these are all conditions fought for by unions. Employers do not just hand out entitlements.

5. Unions collectively and individually support education and training for employees and lobby for on-the-job training for members. The benefits flow onto everyone.

6. The Union movement has successfully lobbied state and federal governments for better laws to protect low paid workers such as outworkers.

7. People who are active in their unions learn heaps about their working environment and how it can be improved – they can help fellow workers and have fun at the same time.

8. In tough economic times, employers will try to cut jobs and increase productivity – it is unions who make sure that big companies don’t put profit before people.

9. Unions help to break down barriers in workplaces – they unite workers and create a community so workers don’t feel isolated and fearful of employers.

10. Unions are involved in important social and community issues. The environment, women’s movement, Aboriginal reconciliation, rebuilding East Timor and other overseas aid and rights for refugees are just some of the social justice issues unions become involved with.

I would like to add one more that I saw on a car bumper sticker:


Actually the one I saw said: God gave us the Sabbath, but the unions gave us the weekend!

Happy May 1st.

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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).

California Leadership: Real Health Care Reform

Is the adage, “As California goes, so goes the Nation” still true? Obviously, there’s a lot of truth in that saying, just look at these trends: anti-smoking laws, car emissions and mileage standards, civil rights and medical cannabis. These were considered radical in their day but are now widely accepted ideas. And don’t forget California’s pop culture: skateboarding, drag racing, valley girls, car-hops, and plastic boobs.

This year California will have the opportunity to spread her leadership wings again by passing Senate Bill 810, Single Payer Universal Health Care.

You may be asking: why do we need a State health care program when we just passed a Federal Health Care Reform package? Well, the Federal reform does have some good elements but it is a watered down piece of crap. By the time the conservatives and lobbyists got through with it, the insurance companies were laughing all the way to the bank. The old dog Republican leaders are still screaming repeal but that’s just positioning propaganda for the lemming followship. These leaders know it’s a sweet honey-hole for the ones that grease their palms.

Can California afford Single Payer Universal Health Care? The short answer is yes. The State is the seventh largest world economy.

Let’s compare the economic power of California with two countries that have great universal health care, Canada and the United Kingdom. California has 37 million people and a GDP of ~$2.0 Trillion. Canada has 34 million people and a GDP of ~$1.6 Trillion while the UK has 67 million people and a GDP of ~$2.3 Trillion. Revenue per capita for California, Canada and the UK is $54K, $46K and $37K respectively. These numbers easily show that California is, by far, richer than many countries that offer universal health care.

The United States is the only modern industrialized country that does not have universal health care. Compared to other countries, the US health care system is ranked 37th, pathetic considering we are the richest country is the world. Big Business should not be allowed to profit from healthcare insurance while having the power to also deny the protection. It’s like the fox guarding the hen house. For profit health insurance is a moronic notion.

Excessive “Hollywood antics” are now prevalent in politics but Californians are wise to this over-the-top acting. They are not fooled by Sarah Palin “death panel” rhetoric and understand that separating the financial component from the actual medical care is beneficial. Life, death and health decisions will be made by doctors and not by Wall Street’s paper-pushing financial executives.

California will lead the nation by passing SB 810.

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled 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.

Valentines Day – Most Romantic Song

It is thirty years since this song came out. Hazel O’Connor was part of the UK Punk music scene. Though I never spiked my hair, I loved the edgy pulse that ran through Punk culture. It was a good time to be growing up in London. Breaking Glass is an absolute classic album, as was the movie.

So, you are wondering, punk music + romantic Valentines Day = ? Just trust me, watch and listen. And if you can do that with someone special next to you, all the better.

And while I’m here, this is dedicated to my special Valentine – 15 years together and it just keeps on getting better.

If you can’t see the video, 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

Why Fiction?

While addressing a group about my novel, Oilspill dotcom, I apparently spent considerable time describing the McDonalds’ libel trial that transpired in London in the 1990’s, the court case upon which I had based my book.

I had been deeply inspired by the trial and meticulously researched ‘McLibel’ as it became known. My fictional timeline corresponded exactly with that of the real trial, motions in Oilspill paralleled those of the real court case, and even the more infamous quotes from the real-life witnesses found their way into the mouths of my characters.

I also allocated a fair part of my talk to the idea of writing for social justice, for a better world. This is a consistent theme of my books, and features heavily on my website – www.alonshalev.com – so it begged someone to ask the question: Why fiction?

My answer was not very impressive. I think I mumbled that John Vidal, a journalist for The Guardian in the UK, had done a great job of writing the definitive book on the case.

But there is more. I feel it is possible to reach more people and on a deeper level when they, we, read fiction. We open ourselves to the emotions of the characters, the smell of the place, the textures of color, food, or wine.

But most significantly, we seek to identify with the characters, particularly the protagonists, often aligning by gender. I have heard from women who were deeply affected by my character Suzie’s ideological drive for a better world, and men who can understand how Matt needed to find a way to defend his woman.

If we can create a bond between character and reader, we open the opportunity for the reader to create an environment in which to undergo a similar transformation in their own life, outside the realm of fiction.

I believe relationships are what drive people to step outside their safe space. I am skeptical that so many people were propelled to go and vote in an African-American democrat because of the policies he advocated. The debate over the health plan probably illustrates this. I believe people were able to relate to then-Senator Obama’s (and/or Michelle’s) drive for a better America, for change. And this is what motivated so many to head to the polls.

When we relate to a person we admire, whether in fact or fiction, we consider on some conscious or subconscious level whether we could emulate that person and make a similar, courageous decision.

And when that happens, the potential for a better world seems almost obtainable.

Have you ever been inspired by a book to take action? I’d like to hear what the inspirational book was.

Good Writing,

Alon

http://www.alonshalev.com/

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