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 “left-wing”

When Does A Whistleblower Cross The Line?

I’m feeling rather confused about whistle blowing. The premise of The Accidental Activist was the abuse by large multinational corporations of individuals and their rights. My politics are generally left-wing – I’m sure you haven’t noticed from this blog – and I feel I should be siding with those who purport for freedom from surveillance, but when it comes to national security, my politics shift…sometimes dramatically.

The question for me with regards to the actions of both Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon revolves around three questions:

1.  Was US national security breached?

2.  Were men and women risking their lives for our protection compromised?

3.  Will our ability to utilize various systems of intelligence be closed to us because those willing to help us cannot trust our government agencies to control the information and sources?

imgres-1If any of the above leads to the death of one innocent individual, much less the failure to prevent a terrorist attack, then the actions of Manning and Snowdon are inexcusable. It is, I believe, not clear whether Snowdon crossed this line.

The definition of whistleblower is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. 

The image portrays a hero/ine who is willing to stand up when they see an injustice, knowing that they might face repercussions from that oft-powerful business or organization. In fact, the US Government put laws in place to protect whistleblowers, as early as 1863 to expose suppliers who were fraudulent during the Civil War. The Act even goes so far as to offer incentives such as a percentage of any money recovered or damages won in court. The act also protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

whistleblower-cliffIt all sounds great until we get to issues of national security. I suspect we will never know the extent of many of these secrets or the implications. I read that, after Mannings’ leaks, an entire ring of Afghan informers and their families were taken out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Beyond the upheaval of those families, US forces were left more exposed to potential and life-threatening ambushes. How desperate must someone be to step in as an informer under those circumstances?

I have no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a lot of bad stuff to protect our freedom. I am sure they bend the rules and sometimes cross the lines. But the reality is that it is a rough world out there and when you enter the realm of religious or political extremism, and face up against people willing to kill thousands of people in an indiscriminate fashion, then you have to decide what values you prioritize, and I put the lives of freedom-loving people first.

For several months I boarded public buses in Israel knowing that there were daily attempts to blow up these buses. I did it, not because I was a hero, but because I had no choice.

images-4I treasure freedom and democracy and I believe that all who choose to live in such a society have the right to do so, without fear. If the price is that someone occasionally taps my communications because I have a foreign name, I can live with it.

Note to NSA: 80% of the websites I go into refer to Arsenal – they are my soccer team back in the UK and have no connections to munitions. When I comment that we need someone who can shoot straight, I mean with an inflated round piece of leather. I hope I have saved you considerable time with this revelation.

A final question to Edward Snowdon: If you leaked all this information in the name of democracy and freedom, because you feared America was becoming a surveillance state, why did you flee to a Chinese colony, where security cameras abound and people regularly checked for what they read, surf and write?

If you have any free time while in China, perhaps you could speak out to help free Shi Tao – he was, I guess, also a whistleblower 


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.

The Left – Cohesion or Division?

Some recent controversy around my posts on feminism and flag day have served to re-focus my mind by reminding me of an important mission that remains not only unfinished, but largely untouched.

This mission is untouched because it is dangerous. Why is it dangerous? Because it involves the risk, the heavy risk, of turning one’s own “teammates” against him (or her). The team I’m talking about is known as: The American Left.

Why does the Left have so little power in the United States, when the Left (in its many forms) is so strong in other, “advanced” countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, Italy, Japan, and even (despite what we’ve been told by the media lately) Germany? Well, many have commented on the fact that the American left is splintered, un-cohesive, and disorganized. But I think it’s much worse than that… I think we are self-destructive – we undermine our own interests and our own “team.”

Few of us on the left are “team players”; not only does this team have no coach, but there’s no way it will ever accept a coach. In fact, all too often we do not accept each other as teammates. We want to play on a team made up of clones. You want the left to look just like you; I want it to look just like me; some guy standing on the corner at Haight and Ashbury wants it to look just like him, and so on.

Some people (men and women) think feminism is the most important thing and everyone should agree. Some think that it’s the environment. Some think it’s racism. Some think it’s nuclear (not nucular!) weapons, and so on and so on. Each of these (and many I didn’t mention) are very important. But none of them is, by itself, so important that the others should take a back seat or just “realize” that my issue is more important and more urgent than yours.

It’s true that I see an order of importance to some issues. The examples are not important here. What is important and urgent is that we play like a team. Let me tell you about another team – a team that had a coach, but still faced similar problems…

Herb Brooks was the coach of the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team. Before the competitions began, he faced many difficulties with the team, many off the ice – politics, divisiveness, questioning the mission and the methods, etc. He later said that he united his team – against him. He punished them with brutal physical drills. He toyed with their heads. He picked on popular players, even humiliating them at times in front of their teammates.

Why would a coach do such crazy things? Because that was all that was left. His team would never have believed in themselves enough to challenge Romania, much less the Soviet Union. And if they didn’t believe in themselves, they wouldn’t work together as a coherent team. Without team unity, they would not have accomplished anything. To be certain, making your team hate you is a technique that is only appropriate under the rarest of circumstances. Those circumstances may not apply to the American Left, but the lesson does.

As does another innovation that Brooks made: he hybridized two distinct styles, combining the best elements of the North American (at the time still pretty much completely Canadian) style hockey with the best of European style. He called it “American Hockey” and it was brilliant.

Before you get bored with my hockey stories, I’ll get to the point. This is exactly what liberalism, as a social/political movement, needs to do: combine our strengths and leave out our weaknesses. But just as importantly, we need to stop shunning those with the guts to challenge our assumptions and our dogmas (dogmae?). Herb Brooks turned the anger and resentment he deliberately generated into the seemingly impossible – a U.S. Gold medal in ice hockey and a defeat of the “unbeatable” Russians.

His crazy techniques built and focused the energy of his players. They united by fitting the pieces of the puzzle (players’ different talents and abilities) together and they showed the Russians something they hadn’t seen in years – a team with not only the skill, but the will to defeat them. They did this by making their differences into strengths.

Liberals also face an “unbeatable” opponent: the American corporatocracy.

We need a shift in our (the Left’s) internal criticism. Instead of picking each-other apart because of mismatches in our styles of liberalism, we should analyze our positions, our philosophies, and our principles for coherence and consistency. We should debate and play “devil’s advocate” in order to ferret out weaknesses in our ideas.

Our tendency to see problems is a good thing; that’s how we are so sure that our government and maybe our culture need improvement. But we turn that same microscope on our cohorts and colleagues – and often in ways that are far from constructive. We crush criticisms of our sacred cows – both from outside and from within. Some of us seem to wake up in the morning, go out and actively search for the day’s first sign of sexism, racism, or whatever “ism” we’ve chosen. With this mindset, it doesn’t take long. And if that first example comes from one of “us”, then we turn our fierce ire on that person. Reveling in our own superiority and purity.

In this process we often engage in intellectual cowardice by refusing to even discuss our positions, our snotty attitudes making it clear that our righteousness is so obvious that the other person must be an inferior idiot not to see – no, not to SHARE – our point of view. This is where cowardice turns to tyranny as we actively suppress the words of others who we deem as imperfect liberals.

This internally divisive practice does not help any of us to achieve our goals. Through these actions we become THEM – the haters of those with different thoughts, principles, or ways of living. I do not accept this as my creed. Although I may get snotty, defensive, offensive, and critical myself at times, I vow to work with my teammates to create a better world for all of us.

-Tom Rossi


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


Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Palestine next?

With the world’s eyes focused on Libya, one string of events last week went under the radar. Led primarily by students, peaceful demonstrations were held throughout the West Bank. Most exciting, they began in Gaza, where mainly young people demanded that Fatah and Hamas stop the internal war and join together to build a state for Palestinians.

Last Week's Unity Demonstrations

Hamas violently seized control of Gaza, publicly executing and murdering Fatah employees and civilians. Fatah, in return, has cracked down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank. The violence and denial of basic human rights for those who support openly one side or the other, is bad enough.

But it has repercussions beyond their own border. Israelis, even the most left-wing, admit that they cannot imagine negotiating a final settlement with one side without the agreement of the other. Any comprehensive peace agreement would include an implicit agreement to cease violence and the destruction of the other people. With both countries so small,  everything is of strategic significance. The stability of a Palestinian government is vital to any validity of a peace agreement. Not everyone in Israel agrees with this, however.

Last Week's Unity Demonstrations


The world should pay more attention, offer more encouragement, and help bring about the stability of a Palestinian government. It is probably the biggest obstruction to final negotiations. The Palestinian youth should be praised for their resilience and their vision. It is encouraging to know that true peace partners are out there on the streets.


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).

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