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 “women”

Morsi and Obama: A Tale of Two Presidents

I recently drove past a demonstration outside the Federal building in Los Angeles. A red stoplight had my car idling next to maybe fifty Egyptians and their allies. They were supportive of the army’s ouster of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their signs showed their anger with President Obama who has called on the army to honor the democratic process. 

I have to admit that I am very torn here. The Egyptians did hold a democratic election. Sure, it might have been flawed with voter fraud, intimidation and other dirty tricks, and this should be condemned, but it was probably no worse than most other countries. Egypt has only just begun to walk the path of democracy. There will be bumps along the way. 

imagesOn the other hand, Morsi has done little to address the major problems facing Egypt such as poverty and the terrible violence on the streets, in particular directed at women, who are then shamed publicly after being raped and beaten. NPR have reported that more than 100 women who were at the demonstrations were attacked and many raped in public. 

President Morsi leads the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular Muslim organization that threatens all who fear religious extremisms and desire to live in a secular country.

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The fundamental question is whether the people (in this case led by the military) can justifiably remove a democratically elected leader if he is not doing his job. President Obama has weighed in and emphatically said no.

I understand his belief that only the democratic process can remove a leader. I think those who suggest that he is supporting a Muslim movement because of his past are being absurd and demeaning.

Many of us are frustrated that countries in Africa, Europe, and most recently in Syria, can destroy and massacre its people, without outside intervention. We draw red lines that are already baffling to the victims and then move those lines when it suits us.

I am not happy with religious extremism in any religion. I am deeply uncomfortable when a religious movement takes control of a country (in any way) and encroaches on the rights of those who do not follow that religion or are not as religious. 

But I am also uncomfortable with our government intervening with the internal affairs of other countries up to a point. I believe the United Nations (I know – I am referring to a fictitious effective organization) should set red lines and intervene when any government crosses that line.

Democracy is important and I believe I would take up arms to protect it. But a democratic government must protect its citizens and allow them to live in freedom, without intimidation or fear.

images-2President Morsi was democratically elected but he failed his people. And this is why he must be replaced. President Obama, who I unequivocally support, should make this distinction. Perhaps there is simply too much gray for us even to get involved.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

From Someone More Qualified than Me – Tom Rossi

This week, I’ve decided to let my wife, Marianne, take my post once again. This is an email she wrote in the middle of the night, a week or so ago, when the weight of life landed on her mind at about 3am. She sent this out to several friends and family members. Their appreciative responses made us decide to share.

Here is Marianne’s email:

I feel compelled to write to you, all the women in my life, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a woman. In part, this is because I’ve become an aunt again, as many of you know. But it’s also because next week I’m having a lump removed. Don’t worry, it’s nothing serious! It’s a benign tumor, not breast cancer, but it has made me pause and think.

As women we are very good at taking care of other people. We are nurturing (which is why more of us should be leaders, taking care of the planet and its people). Sometimes I think we forget to take care of ourselves, and our lives become unbalanced. Sometimes our bodies have to remind us to take care of ourselves first. For me that means having alone time, soaking in a hot bath, reading a book, playing the piano, setting aside time for my creativity, my writing. For you it may be something different, but the important thing is to do something for yourself on a regular basis.

As women we tend to think that we’re not good enough, not perfect enough. The things we say to ourselves we’d never say to our children, our friends, or even our husbands! The fact is that we ARE good enough, and we are not perfect; nobody is (especially not our husbands so we might as well give up on trying to make them so!). Let’s have compassion for ourselves, even for that inner critic; after all, she’s just trying to keep us safe. Rather than being critical and judgmental of her, or any part of ourselves, let’s be kind and accepting, just as we are (hopefully!) with everyone around us.

I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this is that if part of being a woman is being nurturing, then let’s not forget to be nurturing to ourselves!

Love,

Marianne

Back to Tom:

I hope the women who read this will find it uplifting. The men might even find it so, as well.And by the way, I think my wife is way beyond “good enough!” She’s also a very good writer (yes, much better than me), which you will be able to confirm when she finishes the massive project she’s working on. In the meantime, you could read this:

self compassion2561542_o

-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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Are You Greedy Enough? – Tom Rossi

By now I have seen Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, on three different television programs, essentially trying to convince women to be more aggressive in their goal-setting. Sandberg and her interviewers seem to agree that there need to be more women in “leadership” positions, such as corporate CEOs.

I agree with parts of Sandberg’s message for women. For one thing, she points out that women are often not anxious to negotiate the best salary for themselves. I agree that the same work should pay the same, regardless of gender.

What concerns me is that she and her interviewers seem to agree, to take for granted in fact, that greed and/or megalomania are good. Not only are they good, but so obvious and desirable as a characteristic, that it’s hardly worth mentioning.

This was evident by the nature of the discussions during Sandberg’s interviews. In fact, the interviewers were quite careful to cover the angle that Sandberg might be saying that something is “wrong” with women, and that’s why there aren’t more of them leading major corporations. But of course, that’s exactly the point – that there’s something wrong.

A jaw-dropping moment came when Sandberg complained that only about half the percentage of women, as compared to men, want to become CEOs. Wow. Women don’t even know what they’re supposed to want! Get with it!

I can relate. I’m supposed to want a big house, with a three-car garage dominating and uglifying the facade. But I don’t. My wife and I would really like to, someday, be able to afford a decent condominium, maybe three or four flights off the ground, with an OK view, and not overlooking a freeway. We’re such losers.

At least my wife wants to be a successful author. But I basically want a part-time job, where I make a quiet contribution to environmental/economic policy, or something like that. I would love to be able to work in this area full time, but my damaged brain (come on… like you couldn’t tell?) makes that difficult. But even before my brain went bad on me, I just wanted to be a biology/ecology professor.

Docta say, I got dain bramage.

Docta say, I got dain bramage.

You see, my parents (I have four, thanks to the miracle of divorce and re-marriage) never instilled in me the desire to be a chipmunk. A chipmunk is greedy two different ways – in the short run, and in the long run. They pack their cheeks as full as they can with nuts and seeds that they find on the ground, then they hide as many loads as possible in various places in the forest. They never stop working. They never feel that they have enough.

The human chipmunks are the hoarders of society. And you are supposed to aspire to being like them. In fact, the chipmunks are completely certain that you ARE like them, you’re just not as good at being a chipmunk as they are.

Some of us, the non-chipmunks of the world, have non-megalomaniacal goals. A lot of these people, as it turns out, are women. I applaud those who see the world not as a field of competition, but as an organic substrate on which to create happiness and cooperation… and contentment. Even if a person is only watching out for his or her own family, these are much more admirable goals than being in charge of a huge, money-making operation.

It’s true that concentrations of wealth have yielded some benefits, things like MRI machines, for example. But, once again, these represent the exception, not the rule. Most of this concentration simply goes to toys (like yachts) and dominance of geopolitics through power.

I hereby give recognition to all those women (and men) who have chosen a path not acceptable to the chipmunks. No, there is nothing “wrong” with you. I wish you much success… in providing a decent life for your families, in trying to save up enough to enjoy a decent retirement, and in vying for the local bowling-league championship. We all have noble challenges in our own lives, and we don’t need to be told that we “should” want something bigger.

There are worthy goals that don’t involve outrageously lofty ambition, and sometimes those goals are right in front of us. Sometimes our noblest accomplishments are simply getting through our everyday challenges. Heck, my parents deserve a freakin’ medal for dealing with me through my teenage years. I wish I could pay them back someday, but I’m not a chipmunk, either.

-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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The World is Your Facebook – Roger Ingalls

This afternoon I received an interesting email from a friend that contained a PowerPoint presentation showing facts about the world. It proportionally represented the entire population on Earth as if we were only a village containing one hundred people. It made the numbers more comprehensible.

Facebook World

Let’s do something similar and bring the facts even closer to home by making the world our Facebook page. I’d like you to imagine that the only people in existence are also your Facebook friends. The average user has 130 friends. You may have more, or less, but let’s represent the entire human race relative to the average Facebook user. We have demographically shrunk the world proportionally.

Your world, your Facebook:

1)      You have friended all 130 people on Earth.

2)      You are friends with 67 women and 63 men.

3)      Seventy-four (74) of your friends are Asian, 27 are European, 18 are from the Americas (north, central and south), and 10 are from Africa.

4)      You have 43 Christian, 29 Muslim, 18 Hindu, 9 Buddhist and 1 Jewish friend.

5)      While worshipping their God, 60 of your friends live in fear of assault or death.

6)      Fourteen (14) of your friends are gay.

7)      You have 8 very rich friends that control 60% of the world’s wealth.

8)      Poverty hurts 104 of your friends.

9)      Sixty-five (65) of your friends are hungry or malnourished.

10)   Ninety-one (91) of your friends cannot read or write.

11)   One of your friends is giving birth.

12)   One of your friends is about to die.

13)   Only one of your friends has a college degree.

14)   Only one of your friends has a computer.

15)   If you have clothes on your back, sleep with a roof over your head and have food in the fridge, you live better than 98 of your friends.

Proportionally shrinking the entire population down to the size of the average Facebook user’s friendship-reach, did make it easier for me to rationalize the true state of the world. It was a good mental exercise.

I’m fortunate and should be more thankful.

Akin and the Women – Tom Rossi

Congressman Todd Akin (R. Missouri) has violated a sacred trust. For this he has been shunned by his own party.

Is the trust a healthy respect for women? Get serious. It’s the pinky-swear that Republicans take that they will never actually express (in public) their deep-seeded, voodoo superstitions and attitudes about women.

In case you’ve been living under a rock – and a big one – Todd Akin, last week, said: “…that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, uh, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” (his emphasis).

Wow. I actually thought that writing about this would be easy – there’s so much to work with… so much to be enraged about. But I find my head spinning with disbelief. Representative Akin a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He is on one of the most important legisative committees in this country on science, and he must have flunked high-school biology. Believe it or not, this is what offends me the most. But then there’s so much to choose from.

Another thing that bothers me is that what Akin and his braintrust appear to be saying, between the lines (not too well hidden), is that it’s OK for just a few women (rare?) to be forced to carry their rapists baby. Akin said that the rapist should be punished, not the “child.” Paul Ryan apparently agrees that rape is a “method of conception.” I wonder what their attitudes would be if they accepted the 100,000 (which could be a really low estimate) rapes that occur in the U.S. each year as “legitimate.”

It’s tempting to think that this ongoing fiasco represents an inherent misogyny in the Republican Party. It’s really more base and less dramatic than that. What women and “sympathetic men” (men with a heart and brain) don’t realize is that women are the production system for a resource – labor power.

Would you let your lawnmower stop cutting the grass because it felt violated by your hands on its handle? Would you let your car stop taking you to work because there had been no justice when someone dinged the door in a parking lot and the car was upset about it? Of course not.

Women produce the babies that will, according to Republican plans, not become educated unless they can afford it. They will, instead, get trained to do the work that big-time capitalists need done in factories or financial enterprises or private medical practices or picking strawberries. Women are the cotton gins of America. Or, more accurately, they are the inanimate machines that make other machines that make other, useful items.

Republican capitalists don’t hate their cotton gins. They need them to keep on plugging away. Don’t fret your loss of humanity, ladies. Welcome to the club of those who don’t really matter except for the job we perform and the value we add for someone richer (i.e. better) than us. I ruptured a disk in my back, once, working at a warehouse. That’s nothing compared to being forced to have a rapist’s baby, but the pain stays with me and reminds me of my position in this world.

-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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Call to Action – Basic Rights for Home Care Workers

There are approximately 1.7 million home care workers in the US. They are not entitled to earn the same federal labor protections that most workers take for granted. But this might all change in the next couple of days – and just five minutes of your time can make the difference.Two months ago, President Obama proposed proposed to change the rules, finally providing some measure of justice to home care workers who have long been exempted from minimum wage and overtime laws. UNTIL THE END OF FEBRUARY the U.S. Department of Labor is accepting public comments on the proposed change, which would correct part of a longstanding legacy of devaluing a job that is almost totally populated by women and African Americans.

The home care industry is a multi-billion dollar business and, not surprisingly, is mobilizing opposition using scare tactics, claiming that extending these protections to home care workers will kill jobs and leave elderly and disabled Americans without care. The facts, however say otherwise.

This proposed rule change is vital to helping make home care a more viable career. You can change history by taking a few minutes to participate in the public comment period.  We are asked to restrict comments to no more than 300 words and keep it personal.

Fact Sheet– debunking the opposition

Talking Points– why this rule change is so important

Sample Comments– use these as inspiration for your own comments

On-The-Go Flier– print out copies for people to write comments by hand

The Department of Labor, in the face of organized and well-funded opposition, needs to hear that there is widespread support in favor of this rule change. We don’t have money  to counter the negative feedback from the rule’s opponents, so we need to show huge numbers.

Please take a few minutes to leave your comment before the public comment period closes this week.

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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).

The Triumph of Fake Feminism

I’m gonna make some enemies with this one, but this has to be said.

Feminism…

has failed.

At least modern feminism has failed. It has been co-opted, diverted, lured and seduced by false goals – the goals that are deemed acceptable by our society… a society historically constrained by testosterone. It has been subverted by a race that essentially threw away the advances in thought brought to us over 2,000 years ago by the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in favor of that most masculine form of expression, war. A few early victories, such as gaining the right to vote, still stand as the only significant accomplishments for feminism as a movement.

There are many examples of women who have achieved success and status in America. But, in my opinion, most (no, not all) of these successful women have sold out. I say this because it seems that, to climb the corporate or the political ladder, what’s required of a woman is that she abandon the very qualities that makes hers the finer (again, in my opinion) gender.

The feminine qualities of nurturing, caring, empathy, the ability to not only see the other person’s point of view but to FEEL their feelings even if just for a second, the emotional intelligence, the talent for real, two-way communication, and the tendency to prefer cooperation over conflict seem all too often to be abandoned in the quest for status. Either that, or it’s just the women who least exhibit these qualities in the first place that are able to advance in our society.

Before I get 10,000 pieces of hate mail, I’m well aware that a human being is very complex. Both men and women share qualities that, for the sake of discussion, have been labeled as the exclusive domain of one or the other. These qualities overlap to varying degrees and there is no linear spectrum.

However, our political and business landscapes are largely penis measuring contests. Who’s toughest on crime? I am! Who wants to spend even more on our military? I do! Who’s got the most Leave-it-to-Beaver-like family values? I have! Who wants our company to make the most money at any expense? I do! Who’s the most greedy? I am! Who will sell out every principle of civilized conduct in order to advance “our” interests? I will!

What we’ve (men) said is essentially that we’ll allow you, as a woman, to rise up, but only if you act like a man, embrace masculine behavior, and lead with masculine policies.

We have not seen the rise of femininity or feminine traits in our society. Instead women have gained the right to “succeed” – if and when they act like men. Women who espouse the greed-is-good “philosophy” are allowed to join the man-created rat race to run on the hamster-wheel of materialism, faster and faster, until they die.

Most of the women who have succeeded in our society have done so only by masculine definitions of success. The images of successful women with which we are bombarded on TV and in the movies are of ass-kicking, gun-toting, tough, and sometimes ruthless “winners.” They prioritize money and power and status and they get those things and they let no one stand in their way.

Thankfully, there are notable exceptions to the masculine imperative. Some women have shown true strength in either defining their own goals and their own criteria for success, or in gradually doing their part in turning science or academic thought in new directions. Oprah Winfrey is one example. Oprah is not merely an entertainer; she’s a social-engineer who works to advance the positives of both the feminine and the masculine. Others include many of the women scientists and activists, some of whom I have been lucky enough to know personally, and others whose works I have read.

Women like Elinor Ostrom, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Vandana Shiva, Sandra Postel and Malin Falkenmark are great examples. The word “hero” get’s tossed around way to much in our country, but these women really are heroes – not to feminism, not to women, but to humanity. They are working to make the world a better place for everyone – men, women, children, and in some cases, animals too.

I make my criticisms with a great deal of sadness. I’m tired, disgusted and damaged by what the men with the biggest penises have done to our world. Certain masculine qualities – logic, rationality, courage, decisiveness, the ability to calculate risk and choose a course of action accordingly – would blend so well with the best feminine qualities if we weren’t all enslaved by violence and misguided competition.

I pray that one day this world will graduate from junior-high and enter a new, more advanced mode. If we start listening to the feminine, it could happen.

-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.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Banker to the Poor

In earlier posts, I shared a number of books on micro-lending. I want to share with you another important one I just finished. Banker to the Poor is authored by Dr. Muhammad Yunus who is seen by many as the first initiator of such a system.

Dr. Yunus is a professor of economics. He studied at the Vanderbilt University in the US before returning to Bangladesh and slipping into life as a professor. But in 1974, a famine ravaged the country, sending millions of rural Bangladeshi to the cities to beg on the streets.

“What good were all my complex theories when people were dying of starvation on the sidewalks and porches across from my lecture hall?…. Nothing in the economic theories I taught reflected the life around me.”

Dr. Yunus began to experiment with what we now know as micro-lending and lent $27 to 42 women who could buy bamboo to make and sell stools. This was the first step that a few years later saw the creation of the Grameen Bank. He created a system whereby loan recipients were grouped into cohorts of five. Only two of the five received their money up front. As soon as they were paying back their loans, the other three received theirs. Yunus sought to create more than individual business initiative, he sought to create a community of entrepeneurs who gave each other support. 97% of loan recepients repaid their loans.

Today the Grameen Bank is a $2.5 billion banking operation in Bangladesh. The micro-lending model has spread to over 50 countries worldwide, including the U.S. to Papua New Guinea, Norway to Nepal.

Dr.Yunus continues to  travel around the world spreading the belief that poverty can be eliminated: “…the poor, once economically empowered, are the most determined fighters in the battle to solve the population problem; end illiteracy; and live healthier, better lives. When policy makers finally realize that the poor are their partners, rather than bystanders or enemies, we will progress much faster that we do today.”

This book is a great read, particularly the first half, where Dr. Yunus shows his personal evolution into this idea as well as his life in the US as Bangladesh goes through its political upheaval. He shows a passionate love for his country and great courage in his willingness to offer the loans to women, who were held back by tradition and strict male domination.

In 2006, Dr. Yunis was recognized for his life’s work and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This could be seen as recognition not just an award for the work of a visionary, but recognition that there is a sustainable solution to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty. I’ve never met Dr. Yunis, but I bet he also sees it this way.

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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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