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 “Washington”

Fiscal Cliff: Elephant in the Room – Roger Ingalls

With all this hyped-out talk about the Fiscal Cliff, raising taxes, cutting Social Security and Medicare, why isn’t anyone talking about the obvious?

Yes, we need to let the temporary tax cuts given to the rich during the George W. Bush administration expire as originally promised almost a decade ago. And we need to cut some spending in the right areas.

Defense Spending

Defense spending is the elephant in the room. All the politicians are ignoring the obvious. The military budget has tripled since 2002 and is the significant contributor to the debt. Social Security and Medicare are not the evil entitlements as promoted by the Conservatives.

I do not believe defense spending will be reduced to appropriate levels. In time, many politicians get appointed to the boards of defense contractors and they also receive campaign contributions from organizations associated with them. It’s not in the best interests of our elected officials to reduce defense spending.

We all know the world is not going to end if Washington does not come to a Fiscal Cliff agreement by the end of the year. It’s just political rhetoric meant to draw our attention away from the real problems.

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Fiscal Cliff: A Political Storm in a Water Glass – Roger Ingalls

“The fiscal cliff”, that’s a scary sounding phrase. If you say it real slow and low it sounds even more frightening. It’s amazing how pundits and mainstream media move from one political danger scene to the next like a well edited film with the whole thing directed by our politicians. Sound bites and scare tactics, it’s a coordinated attempt to boost ratings for media companies and make the suits in Washington look like they’re solving some country-killing crisis.

The election is over so now we’ve moving on to the next big thing…the fiscal cliff. I believe this is a big to-do about nothing. We’re led to believe that come January 2nd, 2013 the economy will collapse if some nebulous balance of debt reduction and tax revenue collection isn’t successfully negotiated by our dysfunctional politicians. Really! If we’re relying on this motley crew of brainiacs to solve our economic woes, the party’s already over.

Would it be so catastrophic if we reached the end of the year without an agreement? The temporary tax breaks set in place by the George W Bush administration would come to an end if agreement isn’t reached. Essentially, Federal taxes would roll back to the Clinton era rates. Is this so outrageous? The country’s economic condition during the Clinton administration was one of the best in U.S. history.

In addition, government spending would automatically get cut if agreement isn’t reached. The biggest reduction would be in defense spending but the cuts would not come close to levels during the Clinton era. During the George W presidency defense spending tripled and we have nothing to show for it. Rolling back military budgets to similar levels used during the Clinton presidency is not outrageous. Again, the country ran extremely well during this period.

Lastly, if we hit the so called fiscal cliff due to lack of political agreement, Medicaid and Social Security would stay intact.

If political deadlock in Washington returns us to the responsible tax rates and spending of the Clinton administration then I say yes to the fiscal cliff. The frenzied screams of a pending financial crisis is overblown.  I can’t see why this looming event is being called a potential catastrophe.

I say we call Washington’s bluff and tell them we don’t want agreement, give us the cliff.

Treading on States’ Rights – Roger Ingalls

The election is finally over and all the uber-conservative nut-jobs are freaking out. “We’re going off a financial cliff. Obama is a communist alien from Mars. Henny Penney, the sky is falling.”

Since the election, people in all fifty states have signed petitions to secede their individual states from the Union. Again, most of this is coming from the fanatical right crazy-folk but I do believe there is an important message here. The Federal government is unjustly stepping on States’ rights.

Our system of government was setup to allow people in different regions of the country live by majority beliefs appropriate for their corner of the world as long as it did not conflict with the Constitution. This makes sense. Governance that’s good for Alaska may not be good for Florida. In addition, people who live together start to think alike – generally speaking – so they may have values that differ from others that live thousands of miles away.

Here’s my point. The Federal government has been heavily encroaching on States’ rights for the past 40 years. What we see is a country turning more and more divided because we are being forced to act more uniformly when culturally we are very different from state to state. People in Mississippi should not be forced to live like Californians if the majority of them don’t want to. It’s my belief that there would be less anger, less fanatical polarization if people were allowed to govern in a regionally appropriate way when democratically selected.

The next year will be interesting. I’m a liberal and an Obama fan but his big failing is mouthing the belief in State’s rights but then acting completely and thoroughly opposite. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is good for the Feds to offer nationwide services as a competitive option to oligarchical industries, such as energy, banking and insurance since free market choices no longer exist. But it should be a choice. In this election, the people of Washington and Colorado voted to approve the legalization of recreational cannabis. Since 400 or so congressmen thought it was appropriate, in the 1970s, to broadly force their moral beliefs onto the entire nation and outlaw cannabis, it will be interesting to see how the President responds to the people’s choice in these two states.

If not in conflict with the Constitution, the will of the locals should be honored in a democracy. If not, let the secessions begin.

Focus On The Real Issue

What is it with the American press, politicians and the rest of us! Why are we able to discuss every aspect of an issue except the core problem or conflict. I am guilty too. On Monday, I chose to focus on Congressman Rush getting kicked out of the House and even turned to my most trusted source, John Stewart on the The Daily Show.

Congressman Bobby Rush in the House

Mr. Stewart actually isn’t as guilty as the rest of us. He makes his living though satire (and does it exceedingly well, I might add). He is permitted to comb any situation and find a humorous angle to highlight. The rest of us shouldn’t.

It sometimes needs a quality journalist or social commentator to remind us of this. Thank you, Gail Collins for reminding us. Her op-ed in the New York Times, More Guns Less Hoodies, was excellent, and though I am going to lift a few choice paragraphs, her article is worth reading right through.

This is not about the right to wear a hoodie. The hoodie is nothing more than a symbol for racial profiling. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum,” a hooded Congressman Rush stated before being served a double technical and sent for an early showers.

Ms. Collins: “This is pretty much par for the course. Whenever there is a terrible shooting incident somewhere in America, our politicians talk about everything except whether the tragedy could have been avoided if the gunman had not been allowed to carry a firearm.

“You would think that this would be a great time to address the question of handgun proliferation, but it has hardly come up in Washington at all. This is because most politicians are terrified of the National Rifle Association. Also, the small band of gun control advocates are busy with slightly less sweeping issues, such as their ongoing but still utterly futile effort to make it illegal to sell a weapon to anyone on the terror watch list.”

But there is little discussion about gun control. Ms. Collins has argued gun control in the past and admits to feeling jaded. Many people just accept that there are certain interest groups that are untouchable. They are so well funded, so well organized, that they are simply impervious.

Ms. Collins chooses to highlight the discussion on carrying guns legally between states. If you have a license in one state, you can take it into many others. Ms. Collins concedes that anyone can walk with his gun around Time Square and many other vulnerable sites packed with citizens. In a country that has instituted many laws curbing citizen’s rights in the name of Homeland Security, this is patently absurd.

I am new to the topic of gun law. There is something far deeper in the American psyche that I, as a relative outsider, am having trouble  grappling with. As left as my politics go, I am keenly aware of the danger of terrorism and willing to have some of my rights curbed for what is, ultimately, the protection of my family, community and myself. 

But this is the same reasoning that doesn’t want almost anyone to walk around thinking he has the right to take a life in anything but the clearest scenario of self defense. We have one police force. They are trained and clearly defined by uniform and procedures. They might not be perfect and we might want to demand improvements and more policemen and policewomen on the streets, but this is the nature of democracy.

No one has a right to walk around with a gun and play God. And everyone has a right to walk the streets without fear of fellow man or woman, regardless of a person’s gender, race, or sexual orientation. This is what makes America great, not the false fear that a gun on your hip makes for a safer society.

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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).

Occupying an Agenda

I have posted frequently about my excitement over the Occupy movement. The ‘uprising,’ if I may use such a term, is both a shift of consciousness and a call for grassroots action. I am proud of those who are creating micro communities on these sites and seeking an inclusive culture that allows for everyone present to feel involved and listened to. I am sorry that the mass media do not seem willing to give this aspect the attention it deserves.

Occupy SF

This is the crux of the movement. What mobilized people is the rising frustration that the vast majority of us are simple pawns in a game played with impunity by corrupt big business principles and a failed political system where those sent to Washington do not represent those who voted to send them (and those who didn’t), but rather represent those who paid for them to get voted in.

People need to feel listened to. They have a right to know that if they work hard, save for retirement, buy a house, and then they will receive a minimal social network. Their children will have a good education, their medical needs will be taken care of, law enforcement are there to protect them, and that they can retire with dignity. If you play by the rules and participate in the system, surely you have entitlement to basic human rights.

The rains are coming and it is unclear how the Occupy movement will cope with the coming winter. What most worries me is that, as far as I know, there is no strategic plan. It is unclear who is the leadership and we will revisit next week on this blog whether there should be an agenda.

Will people come out in the rain?

This past summer, ‘Tent Cities” were created in most major towns in Israel. There was a huge outpouring from a disenfranchised and disillusioned public (many of them under 40) with a myriad of social issues represented. Some were similar to here in the US, others more unique to Israel.

There are many similarities to Occupy. There was no recognized leadership because there was a desire not to exclude anyone and creating a power structure, however open and inclusive, runs the risk of marginalizing people. Furthermore, there was no central agenda, again because of a desire to promote different social injustices and issues, according to those who stepped up to join the Tent City. There were also clashes with police.

Israelis of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and religions came together for a summer.

When the summer ended, the groups slowly lost momentum. I am afraid that without a framework and platform, then it might not be able to sustain itself. I believe the Occupy system needs to decide one of two things:

i) To create an agenda – and they might do well to read Roger Ingall’s suggestions.

ii) Decide to create a leadership structure and strategic plan, or take the momentum into the Democratic Party.

More on this second aspect next 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).

Warren Buffet – Tax Cuts

A couple of weeks ago, Warren Buffet wrote an article in the New York Times that struck a cord. He begins:

“OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.”

Warren Buffet - very honest account.

The disparity of how much we all pay in taxes is incredibly annoying.  Again, Warren Buffet:

“Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.”

Class Wars

I agree with the Republicans. I don’t want to pay more taxes but i do want everyone to pay the same percentage. I fail to understand how so many people who define themselves as patriotic cannot see that they are hurting their country. The pride that people take, the money they throw at accountants to help them find every loophole, disgusts me.
The problem is that those who legislate for us tend to be a part of this higher income group, or rely on their donations to keep them in power, since it is money not actions that fuel this democracy. Warren Buffet acknowledges as much when he says: “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

The Majority Want Equal Responsibility

Who among the rich and the politicians would support paying the same percentage of taxes that I do? Probably only those who believe in their country and are patriotic. Sadly. wearing a flag pin on your jacket lapel is not enough.

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).

Merchants of Doubt

It’s numbingly cold outside. What does a frustrated activist need to do to stay warm? How about reading a book that’s going to get the blood coursing through the body, while remaining wrapped in a blanket on the sofa drinking hot chocolate?

Merchants of Doubt does just that. This is a book of highly educated and venerated scientists who fail to adhere to the need to improve society though research and hypothesis. It is a stunningly detailed account of how they have prostituted their knowledge to advance lies and myths that will ultimately harm the individual and society, all in the name of making money for themselves and the masters they serve.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway do a great job tracking eminent physicists and other scientists who are able to manipulate the truth. One stunning realization that I took from this is that their “truths” are perpetuated by harried journalist and opinionated bloggers. DON’T READ BLOGS! Here I said it – and you can believe me ’cause I blog everyday .

Seriously, this book has garnered tremendous respect. I think that it says a lot for their research when they unabashedly name names and have not found themselves in court. It might be a book to delve into from time-to-time rather than consumed in one sitting, but Oreskes and Conway have done us a great service. To quote Former Vice President, Al Gore:

“Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have demonstrated what many of us have long suspected: that the ‘debate’ over the climate crisis–and many other environmental issues–was manufactured by the same people who brought you ‘safe’ cigarettes.  Anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America should read this book.”

I think, Mr. Gore, that it is far beyond the democracy of the US. This inconvenient truth is a global issue.

Another book that illustrates this so clearly is Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley. While he does clearly state that this is a novel, he hits many of the points that Merchants of Doubt proves. He also has you laughing rather than seeking the next spaceship off of the planet.

“Buckley’s caricatures of Washington politics, corporate power plays, media spin control, Hollywood pretensions and the human foibles of self-delusion and denial are appallingly right on the money.” –San Francisco Chronicle.

See what I mean?
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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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