Muhammad Ali: Revolutionary

Muhammad Ali, born on 17 January 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, is dead. An immense figure in social and political life as much as boxing, his death will undoubtedly be the leading story of all mainstream media outlets for days to come. Already, celebrators of his life are searching to find superlatives to describe a man known by most as simply 'the greatest'. For all the outpouring, one word is noticeably missing from the description of one of the most significant and iconic figures of the twentieth century: revolutionary.

Between hardcore boxing fans the debate will continue as to whether Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis or Rocky Marciano is truly the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Regardless of the outcome, in terms of thrilling the fans of the sport with his inimitable style in the ring and electrifying charisma outside, Ali is the undisputed champion. In his prime he presided over the strongest era in heavyweight boxing, beating all competitors, losing only to Ken Norton and Joe Frazier, losses which he later avenged. From winning his Olympic gold medal in 1960 to a series of brutal and punishing fights which would lead to him becoming a three-time world champion, Ali fought the strongest and won. He would describe his bout with Joe Frazier in 1975 as 'the closest thing to dying that I know'. His greatest fight however, was not against an opponent in the ring but against the establishment, racism and imperialism.

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Trump knocks Republicans out

Frankensteins monster

Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth, he vomits up reactionary sewage, yet he is still the most likely Republican presidential candidate. Liberals are appalled, shocked and have no idea how to respond except to vent their repulsion. The grandees of the Republican Party establishment are also appalled because they fear that Trump’s candour will cost them the presidency. Much is at stake: with Justice Scalia’s death in February, the Republicans lost one of the five conservatives who control the nine-judge Supreme Court. The Court is the final court of appeal and interpreter of the Constitution, so can have enormous power over the final effects of legislation. Justices are nominated by the President and have to be approved by the Senate, so whoever gets to appoint Scalia’s replacement will shape the court for a generation, determining the social programme of the United States with respect to abortion, civil rights, the relationship between church and state, gun control and many other social issues. If Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, the Republican leaderships fears that the conservative programme is doomed and a vital opportunity lost, since they believe he is either unelectable in the November general election or completely inappropriate to be President.

From reconstruction …

It has taken the Republican Party 150 years to transform the ‘Party of Lincoln’ into the filthy racist sewer Donald Trump wallows in. It was founded in 1854, bringing together Whigs and ‘Free Soilers’, a coalition of northern business, free white labour and independent farmers, opposed to the extension of slavery to the western states and territories where labour was free. Attitudes to slavery in the party ranged from simply maintaining the status quo, to full abolitionism. Lincoln was elected President in 1860, defeating a Democrat coalition. Seven (later joined by another four) of 15 slave states seceded from the Union, forming the Confederacy. With the Confederacy’s attack on Fort Sumter, the Civil War began. Secession led to the resignation of most Southern Congressmen and enabled the Republicans to pass their economic programme, including building the transcontinental railroad, introducing tariffs to protect northern industry and to secure higher wages for white workers, establishing a national banking system, the issue of fiat currency, and passing the Homestead Act which was intended to grant land to independent farmers rather than plantation owners.

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US economy: a moribund giant

In his last State of the Union address on 12 January 2016, President Obama claimed that ‘the United States of America, right now, has the strongest most durable economy in the world’; in its last report the US Federal Reserve Bank talked optimistically of ‘economic momentum’, ‘solid gains in household spending’ and ‘a strengthening economic recovery’. Yet a closer examination shows that this economic miracle is something entirely different. Steve Palmer reports.

US capitalism has had a difficult year. Despite all media talk of a ‘strong recovery’, there are critical indicators of stagnation. The inability to accumulate profitably was shown by the year-on-year decline, in the second and third quarters, of capital expenditure by the largest 500 non-financial corporations (the S&P 500 ex-fin). At the same time idle cash and short term investments amounted to $1.45 trillion, the second highest level in ten years. Capital expenditure has decreased almost 5% over the year.

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US interest rate dilemma

According to the mythology of capitalist economics, adjusting interest rates and the money supply can enable capitalist economies to negotiate their way successfully between maintaining full employment, ensuring a stable currency and controlling inflation. This is precisely the charter of the US Federal Reserve Bank, the US central bank. For the last seven years, the Fed has feverishly printed dollars, while keeping interest rates near zero, attempting to revive the US economy. Last December, with the US economy supposedly recovering, the Fed started talking about the need to ‘normalise’ monetary policy. Ever since, capitalist markets, companies and commentators have been asking: will they raise interest rates or won’t they? Now it finally seems likely that the Federal Open Market Committee will go ahead and raise rates at its meeting on 15-16 December 2015. Why should this tinkering with the capitalist economy be of any interest to us?

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California prisoners win victory against solitary confinement

On 1 September 2015 prisoners in California who had since 2011 been waging a sustained struggle against the oppressive and torturous use of solitary confinement won a significant victory, as a legal agreement was reached between prisoners and the state. Nicki Jameson reports.

In 2011 FRFI reported how on 1 July that year prisoners in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay prison, California began an indefinite hunger strike in protest at their prolonged detention in conditions of extreme sensory deprivation. By the following week, at least 6,600 prisoners in 13 prisons across the state had joined the protest. On 15 July the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) responded to pressure from the prisoners and their supporters by commencing negotiations, but these quickly broke down as it became clear that the CDCR was not interested in meeting any of the prisoners’ demands. 

On 26 September 2011, hundreds of SHU prisoners resumed hunger striking. As a result there were further negotiations, which again broke down, followed by further protests in July 2013. All the protests focused around Five Core Demands:

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