Live news from the Egytian left and workers’ movement

June 30, 2013 at 10:13 am (Egypt, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, Middle East, protest, solidarity, unions, workers)

Continually updated coverage from

The #EgyWorkers Daily

Egypt: joint statement – ‘together we will bring down the regime’

          Shared by       ArabSpringWorkerSoli

    – Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, the Permanent Congress of Workers in Alexandria, the Revolutionary Socialists, Rebel Movement, the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights Re…

Egypt: Mahalla workers join rebellion, reject privatisation plans

         Shared by       ArabSpringWorkerSoli – Pictures from Revolutionary Youth Coalition, Mahalla (via Facebook) Thousands of workers from the giant textile mill in Mahalla al-Kubra marched out of the factory in a protest in solidarity with t…

Opinion: Get ready for Egypt’s ‘second revolution’ –

         Shared by       ArabSpringWorkerSoli – Editor’s note: Cynthia Schneider is a professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University, dean at the School of Diplomacy at Dubrovnik International University and a senior nonresident…

Egypt: A revolution betrayed

         Shared by       ArabSpringWorkerSoli – Two years on from the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, democracy still eludes Egypt. Independent trade unions are supressed; street children are arrested and tortured; female protestors are at…

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Secrets and Lies

June 29, 2013 at 2:56 pm (film, Free Speech, politics, Rosie B, truth)

Front Row had an interesting interview last night with Alex Gibney who has directed the film We Steal Secrets: the Story of Wikileaks which will be released in the UK soon.

The link is here 1:36 on. Transcription of most of it below.

Interviewer:  The computer analyst Edward Snowden turned whistleblower  is believed to be holed up in the transit holding area in Moscow airport  evading espionage charges in the USA The unfolding story coincides with the release of the film We Steal Secrets, the new documentary from Oscar winning director Alex Gibney. His previous films include The Smartest Guys in the Room, which told the story of the collapse of the Enron corporation, Taxi to the Dark Side, which exposed torture by the US military and Silence in the House of God which about abuse within the Catholic Church. For his latest project Gibney set out to make a film which focussed not on the villains but someone he initially regarded as a hero, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, the organisation which is currently aiding Edward Snowden. With Assange himself currently hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy, the film includes interviews with hackers, activists and even the former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, Michael Hayden. . .  When I met director Alex Gibney I suggested that having made films about the abuses of power, he regarded Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a kindred spirit when he set out to make the film.

Gibney: Yes, that’s very much the case.  I think I was very impressed by the role that Julian’s organisation Wikileaks.- and it’s really Julian and a few other people. As somebody said in the film, I asked, is this Apple or IBM?  They said no, it’s a tiny gas station with a few very bright attendants.  That probably sums it up pretty well. But yeah, I was very sympathetic because what Julian was all about was exposing corruption,  exposing official lies,.

Interviewer: Stamping on the bastards, he says, doesn’t he?

Gibney: Crushing bastards. . . and Julian makes a joke about it. Somebody says, “Is that all it is about for you, crushing bastards?”  And he says, “”Well it depends on the bastards.”  That’s funny, but if you think about it really, the verb “Crushing”, if you take it seriously, is not such a pretty verb. And that sounds more like a powerful nation state than an idealistic person trying to make a difference by speaking truth to power.

Interviewer: Because it feels like he’s an heroic figure for the first half hour or so. And then we hear this phrase, he wants to crush the bastards. he wants to crush the bastards, and it sends a warning signal out there.  After that the narrative changes totally. What changed your perception of Julian Assange? Because in the end he is not a sympathetic character at all.

Gibney: I think in the end the mission of Wikileaks remains deeply sympathetic to me but he is a character I think who leaves his own mission behind, and that becomes deeply unsympathetic.. The aspect of the story that I didn’t really understand going in, in fact I assumed it was something different was the Swedish episode, the sex scandal that somehow between the Iraq war logs and the Afgham war logs suddenly Julian Assange is accused of rape in Sweden. and I thought from afar that this must be – the timing was too suspicious, it must be some kind of conspiracy. Well I dug deep into this and I’ve concluded that it was a personal matter. Why deal with a personal matter in this case then?  The reason is that Julian Assange, very intentionally and very cleverly, tried to make a personal matter part of the transparency agenda, to sort of say “no no no this is not a personal matter,” and all the people at Wikileaks were saying “You’ve got to go and deal with this yourself. Deal with it as a personal matter and leave Wikileaks out of it.”  He said, “Absolutely not.  What we’re going to do, is part of Wikileaks.” That’s the moment where he lost me, and it seems to me that Julian’s great fatal flaw is his unwillingness to be held to account. I think in some fundamental way maybe none of us really like to be held to account but he has a paranoia about being held to account, and so the idea that he would even be slapped on the hand for failing to take an HIV test struck him as so abhorrent that he concocted this huge conspiracy which then embroiled all his followers in the idea that the government of Sweden had become opposed to the transparency agenda.  That was a lie in my view and that turned me against what Julian Assange was doing.

There’s a great phrase in the film spoken by James Ball who worked for Wikileaks for a while and now works for the Guardian.

Interviewer: He looks about ten, actually, when he starts working for Julian Assange. He becomes the spokesman for Wikileaks.

Gibney; He becomes the spokesman. He’s on TV everywhere. It’s a great symbol for the organisation. Maybe a better symbol in a way than Assange because he looks so young and he looks so innocent. but there’s a phrase that he comes up with in the film – “Noble cause corruption”. It’s actually a phrase used by police departments who describe cops who plant joints on people , bad guys, who they can’t get any other way, the idea being that if you are a good guy, it’s okay for you to do bad things. .

Interviewer: To bend the truth.

Gibney: Well it’s a higher purpose to be served. And I think that was Julian’s view. So instead of speaking truth to power, Julian began to speak lies to power.

Interviewer: You make great play with this and the idea that as a young hacker he went under the pseudonym “Mendax”, part of a quote from Horace I think “splendide mendax” meaning “noble liar” and playing with that idea that it is okay to lie. So you’re saying that he is a liar?

Gibney: Yes. In a fundamental way I think Julian believes that it’s okay for him to lie so long as it is in the service of a higher truth and I think that’s a contradiction that is fundamentally untenable. .

Interviewer: You say you did your own investigations and you think there was absolutely no suggestion  whatsoever to say that that was a set up as his supporters were suggesting that it was a honey trap.

Gibney: I can find no evidence that that episode in Sweden was any kind of honey trap.

Interviewer: So this is a film about the internet, it’s about governments, about power, corruption, lies and war but at the heart of the story are two characters, Julian Assange and the far more tragic figure of Private Bradley Manning who is still in prison after dumping the data and he is a very conflicted character and you reveal that he is deeply uncomfortable with his own sexuality, uncomfortable with his role within the army and appalled by some of the things that he has seen.  Now of course you don’t get to interview him but we get a very intimate portrait of him through his email.

Gibney: On-line chats. On line chats with a man named Adrian Lamo, a Grade A hacker, who befriended Manning on line. And this is a really poignant episode because the other thing I thought this movie was about at the beginning was a leaking machine. This new device Wikileaks had, an electronic drop box that allows people to leak anonymously that neither the publisher nor the leaker know each other in any fundamental way and that they can therefore protect their anonymity. But Bradley Manning was in emotional distress. I think he leaked for political reasons akin to that of a whistle blower but he had a desperate need to tell somebody about what he had done. We never got to interview Bradley Manning but in a way I think for the film it is more interesting to see and reveal him through these chats.  Why? Because increasingly that’s how we’re all communicating. Girls and boys hook up and break up y’know via chats. We communicate the most intimate information over the internet on Facebook even though we know that everyone is spying on us.

Interviewer: You set out to make a film about the system but in the end you ‘remaking a film about people who are struggling. There’s a sense of human frailty and desperation really at the heart of all of these characters, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo who we see crying at the end. He’s very conflicted about how having in effect turned Bradley Manning in. And there’s a sense of desperation in the Julian Assange character even though he projects himself almost as a messianic character.  He refused to talk to you, Assange. He was asking for a million dollars for an interview?

Gibney: He said that the market rate for an interview with him was over a million dollars, but there’s no doubt he was asking for money.  I said, “I don’t pay for interviews.” I don’t., and he said, “Well, if you don’t pay for interviews, how about this then instead,” sort of like a scene out of Ed Wood. Why don’t you spy on all the other interview subjects and report back to me.” [Laughs] I found that actually a far more staggering suggestion from someone who is supposed to be so much about source protection that he wanted me to spy on the other people and give him intel  So there’s Julian now acting not as a transparency activist but a spy and  I was supposed to spy on behalf of Julian.

Interviewer: And the great irony is that you have a real spy there.  You have the former director of the CIA, and NSA, Michael Hayden, who gives the title of the film, We Steal Secrets. He’s proud of this. He says, “That’s what we do. There are secrets out there, this is our job, we steal secrets”. I mean the irony is, he is the spy who is apparently being more upfront and honest than the man who is supposedly revealing the corruption and the lies.

Gibney: That is correct.  And I titled the film We Steal Secrets because it sets this whole story in context. If governments are freely admitting, we steal secrets, and now you see it in the Snowden case, this is not so simple as to say, “Oh My God, Bradley Manning has leaked these secrets. Isn’t it terrible. He’s a traitor.” The key is to find the moral high ground and that’s not so easy to do.

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Asian Network’s Nihal on grooming

June 29, 2013 at 1:18 am (BBC, child abuse, conspiracy theories, drugs, Human rights, Islam, Jim D, men, misogyny, Pakistan, Racism, religion, sexism, thuggery)

Don’t even think about commenting on this issue without having listened to this!

Starts at 11.57

The BBC Asian Network bills the programme as follows:

Debate about grooming cases, live from Oxford

Nihal’s phone-in [in fact the phone-in is preceded by an hour’s debate from Oxford, which is the crucial part of the programme -JD] is coming live from the Cowley Road in Oxford where seven men groomed and sexually abused girls as young as eleven over a period of eight years. He will be getting reaction to the sentences given to the men and asking what lessons can be learnt from what has happened.

The issues up for debate are extremely sensitive – so much so that a lot of people from the area did not want to talk to us. Five of the seven men found guilty were of Pakistani origin and most of the people who BBC Asian Network has spoken to in the area either knew them – or knew someone who knew them.

Nihal asks – who is to blame for this terrible abuse, apart from the men themselves? Why were they able to get away with the abuse over an eight year period?

If the men were so well known in the community, why were their crimes not reported sooner? Is the fact that many of them came from the Pakistani community a relevant one? 

The main debate lasts for one hour and forty minutes, but it’s well worth putting the time aside for.  If you can’t do that, at least listen to the wise words of Julie Siddiqui of the Islamic Society of Britain, at about 30.20. This is only available for the next four days:

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Two kids interview Louis Armstrong

June 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, Sheer joy, song, Soul, United States)

If this doesn’t lift your spirits and brighten up your weekend, I don’t know what will.

Two middle aged men recall how, as young teenage would-be journalists in 1964, they got to interview Satch. And we can hear the recording of the great man talking about his “chops” and other crucial matters. I dedicate this to Comrade Dave Osler, who last weekend admitted to me that he now, at long last, finally “gets” Louis Armstrong…

H/t: Michael Steinman and his great ‘Jazz Lives’ blog.

NB: The best Louis Armstrong website, written by his Number One fan, researcher and historian Ricky Riccardi,   here.

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Was Eichmann’s evil ‘banal’?

June 27, 2013 at 11:56 pm (anti-semitism, cinema, fascism, film, genocide, Germany, history, intellectuals, Jim D, literature, philosophy, zionism)

Margot Lurie, writing in the present edition of the neo-con Standpoint magazine, doesn’t think much of Margarethe von Trotta’s new film about Hannah Arendt:

Von Trotta is eager to fight Arendt’s battles, but time and again shows that she is no more equipped to understand them than [Mary] McCarthy was. Especially clumsy is her attempt to correlate Arendt’s philosophy to a contemporary posture toward Israel. Despite von Trotta’s having Arendt refer to her Zionism as a “youthful folly”, the political picture has simply changed too much for an overlay of Arendtian acetate paper to mean anything.  

The Yad Vashem footage and Hannah Arendt are not the only film releases to explore Arendt’s legacy, or Eichmann’s. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Claude Lanzmann premiered his documentary The Last of the Unjust. More than three-and-a-half hours long, the film is a series of outtakes from Lanzmann’s monumental Shoah, all of them featuring Benjamin Murmelstein, a Nazi-appointed “Jewish Elder”, who speaks about the choices he had to make while running the Czechoslovakian concentration camp Theresienstadt; at one point, he describes himself as a “marionette that had to pull its own strings”. 

Murmelstein is a figure like those that Arendt implicated in Eichmann in Jerusalem, where she alleged that the co-operation of leaders of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) with the Nazis expedited their own annihilation. Murmelstein’s reflections make Arendt’s wholesale indictment of those in his position seem unjust. 

And so the Arendtian myth suffers a bit, on one end from Lanzmann’s repudiations and on the other from von Trotta’s anaemic boosterism. The best outcome would be a recalibration of her legacy, one acknowledging that her literary inclinations (nurtured by her friend Mary McCarthy) occasionally overtook her philosophical principles. 

Read the full article here.

I haven’t seen the film and so cannot comment upon whether Lurie’s criticism is fair. But I’m grateful to her for reminding us that we don’t have to take Arendt’s word for it regarding Eichman’s “banality” as supposedly demonstrated at his trial: we can see, and judge, for ourselves, thanks to the extraordinary and inevitably highly disturbing Yad Vashem footage:

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Julia Gillard v the neanderthals

June 27, 2013 at 5:48 pm (Australia, Jim D, misogyny, Pilger, reformism, sexism, women)

In most respects it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for deposed Aussie PM Julia Gillard. After all, she knifed Kevin Rudd in 2010, and now he’s returned the favour.

Above: opposition leader Abbott in front of semi-literate anti Gillard banners

It’s also true that, despite some minor progressive reforms on disability and education, her record was not one to inspire great enthusiasm from the radical left.

Nevertheless, her arrival as Australia’s first female prime minister was a milestone for gender equality, and it’s beyond doubt that sexism and misogyny played a big part in bringing her down.  She was subjected to personal comments, jokes and cartoons about her appearance and private life that no male politician would have been subjected to.

In a dignified valedictory speech, Gillard probably got it right when she said negative reaction to her gender “doesn’t explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing.”

Unfortunately, the right wing neanderthal Tony Abbott of the so-called “Liberal” opposition is the gainer from Labour’s civil war, and looks like winning the September elections with ease. Look at that picture of him (above) and note the banners. that he seems happy to be pictured standing in front of.

Gillard was not a great prime minister and certainly no great socialist. But (despite the bleatings of poor, mad Pilger) she deserves to be remembered for That Speech if for nothing else. If you missed it at the time, or just want to see and hear it again, here is that virtuoso performance:

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Left Unity and back-to-front politics

June 26, 2013 at 9:42 pm (elections, ex-SWP, fantasy, labour party, left, political groups, RMT, socialism, Socialist Party)

Left Unity

Comrade DK writes:

Ted:  Shouldn’t we wait until Eddie Van Halen joins the band before shooting the video?
Bill:  This video will make Eddie Van Halen want to join the band
There is an article (linked below) on the Left Unity website which sums up much of the back to front politics and fantasy that increasingly dominates it
The author asks whether the mass working class party should be formed by fusing with TUSC or can only be built separately at first and then TUSC and the RMT will join later.
There seems no doubt in the author’s mind that a mass party can be achieved. But then again if his definition of mass party doing well is a limited relationship with one medium sized union and getting 3-5% of the vote in the places it stands then it probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
The labour movement already has a 6 million trade unionists, the Labour Party has about 200,000 members and gets the vote of between 8 to 9 million voters at its lowest ebb. Surely the question the left needs to ask is what needs to be done to win over these masses to class struggle and the fight for working class power? Organisational questions flow from this. There is a debate to be had about how socialists use elections, how we achieve workers’ representation and the need for left unity.  But that debate is not being had by many members of Left Unity which presupposes the working class will flock to a tiny broad left party if they build it.
Dream on, comrades.

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Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland

June 25, 2013 at 2:22 pm (black culture, culture, Jim D, music, RIP, song, Soul, The blues)

 Bobby Bland (Robert Calvin Brooks), blues and soul singer, born 27 January 1930; died 23 June 2013

Above: ‘Stormy Monday’ (1962) with Wayne Bennett on guitar

Tony Russell writes (in the Graun):

Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, who has died aged 83, was among the great storytellers of blues and soul music. In songs such as I Pity the Fool, Cry Cry Cry and Who Will the Next Fool Be, he created tempestuous arias of love, betrayal and resignation, set against roiling, dramatic orchestrations, and left the listener drained but awed.

It was a skill that came gradually. His husky voice was gorgeous from the start, but as a young man he followed BB King – for a while literally, as his valet and chauffeur – and his singing took on a special character only after he began to study the recorded sermons of the Detroit preacher CL Franklin, Aretha’s father. “That’s where I got my squall from,” he recalled. That alchemy of blues and gospel cadences would create one of the most affecting voices in black music

Read the rest, here

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The Kilburn Manifesto

June 25, 2013 at 7:45 am (capitalism, capitalist crisis, democracy, economics, intellectuals, Jim D, left, socialism)

Valuable contribution to an essential debate…or the latest posturing from a discredited old ‘New Left’?

From ‘Soundings’:

After Neoliberalism?  The Kilburn Manifesto

Edited by Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin

Although the neoliberal economic settlement is unravelling, its  political underpinning remains largely unchallenged. Our manifesto calls into  question the neoliberal order itself, and argues that we need radical alternatives to its foundational assumptions.

After Neoliberalism: The Kilburn Manifesto

The manifesto will be published (free) in online instalments over the next 12 months.
Chapter 1 Framing statement After  neoliberalism: analysing the present Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey,  Michael Rustin

Chapter 2:      Vocabularies of the Economy Doreen Massey

Comment on the Kilburn manifesto
Next instalments Michael Rustin Relational welfare (June) Stuart Hall and Alan O’Shea Neoliberal common sense (July) Beatrix Campbell Feminism and the new patriarchy (August) Ben Little Generational politics (September)


Further comment introduced by Doreen Massey over at Open Democracy / Our Kingdom

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Snowden’s flight undermines his cause

June 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm (asylum, China, Civil liberties, Cuba, democracy, Jim D, Latin America, Russia, snooping)

Edward Snowden

Snowden: no Daniel Ellsberg

Opinion differs, even on the left (and I use the term in its broadest sense), as to the significance of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Francis Sedgemore reckons it’s a pretty big deal whereas Workers Liberty seems somewhat more sanguine.

But what most of us could agree on, at least until now, was that Snowden seemed to be a well-intentioned and quite brave individual, entirely worthy of our support.

But his decision to flee rather than face the consequences of his actions, has inevitably diminished his credibility. And worse, his apparent willingness to seek refuge in some of the most repressive states in the world, can only make things worse. The hand of the tyrant-lover and arch-hypocrite Assange  is obviously behind this, manipulating a second vulnerable, idealistic young man (poor Bradley Manning being the first).

Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon papers, has been unstinting in his support for Snowden, but the truth is that there’s a fundamental difference between the two: Ellsberg faced up to the consequences of his actions and stood before his accusers. Come to that, so has Bradley Manning. Snowden has slunk away (and yes, I know it’s easy for me to sound off from the safety of my comfy little home, but the point stands nonetheless).

James Bloodworth at Left Foot Forward and Tim Stanley at the Telegraph both make much the same point, Stanley concluding:

“It’s a tragedy that Snowden’s made this mistake because what he had to reveal about the US security state was very troubling. But while the message remains important, the messenger has been exposed as unworthy of it. Snowden’s totalitarian tour is an embarrassment to his cause.” 

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