The US opioid epidemic

Opioid Map

The United States is in the midst of an escalating epidemic of opioid-related drug addiction and overdose-related deaths. Between 2000-2015, more than 500,000 mostly white working-class people, in small towns and rural communities, died prematurely from both illegal and legal opioid drug use. But legal prescription opioids now kill more people than both heroin and cocaine combined. The responsibility for this lies with criminal pharmaceutical companies which manufactured the opioids, bribed doctors to prescribe them, and, playing down the risks, pushed them onto the public in the pursuit of profit. There is no end of the epidemic in sight, and it is having devastating consequences.

 

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Immigrants attacked again in the US

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President Trump’s recent abusive remarks about El Salvador, Haiti and African states sharply brings home again the relation between nominally independent states and the imperialist powers in this neo-colonial ‘globalised’ world. On 8 January Trump announced the decision to end ‘temporary protected status’ (TPS) from July 2019 for 260,500 Salvadorans and 46,000 Haitians legally working in the US, so cutting off the flow of their remittances to El Salvador and Haiti, removing the central purpose for these workers’ migration to the US, and, ironically for US banks, the dollars that allow the countries to pay their international debts.

These moves ignore objections from the US Chamber of Commerce, representing companies who profit from this highly exploited labour. The Salvadorian labour force participation rate is 88%, 25 percentage points above the US average, and their unemployment rate is 5%. Salvadoran TPS holders have 45,000 mortgages.

 

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Trump and US Capitalism - Beyond the clowning

trump clowning

Clowns distract us and amuse us, whether in the circus, or in the White House. The liberal media are preoccupied with Trump’s tweets: whether stupid, ignorant, fascistic, they’re always unpredictable and good for gossip. But they cloud what is really going on. Behind the apparent chaos, discord, investigations and lies, a coherent plan is unfolding. Beyond the clowning and beyond the tweets, the US ruling class is undertaking a comprehensive remodelling of US capitalism, making it even more exploitative, aggressive and anti-people. Steve Palmer reports.

Trump has demanded that regulatory agencies delete two rules for every new one introduced. Incinerating protections for workers and consumers, the Trump administration is transferring even more power to finance capital, the chemical and pharmaceutical industry and fossil fuel companies by weakening regulation, changing legislation and modifying tax policy. A Regulatory Accountability Act is in process which will make it immeasurably easier for capitalists to gut, challenge and delay consumer and worker protections. Class action law suits against banks will be forced into arbitration – a much more favourable arena for the banks, since many of the arbitrators come from the industry. Agencies are increasingly populated by ex-lobbyists as ‘advisors’, who ensure that it is corporations, not working people who gain under Trump.

 

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US and North Korea: nuclear threat returns

North Korea nuclear missile threat Trump

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – North Korea) is demonised and its leader, Kim Jong-un, is abused by mainstream media around the world. People are being prepared to accept the possibility of all-out war against the DPRK. Given its relative economic decline, US imperialism intends to use its unrivalled military superiority to maintain its global hegemony. DPRK defiance cannot be tolerated. Its refusal to submit to the US results in its portrayal as dangerous. Since its formation in 1948 the DPRK has been under threat of annihilation. Historically and strategically, US confrontation with the DPRK leads to confrontation with China and Russia, with which DPRK shares borders. Trevor Rayne reports.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on 19 September, US President Trump threatened to ‘totally destroy’ the DPRK and then condemned Iran, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba. He brought Russia and China into target saying, ‘We must reject threats to sovereignty from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.’ This caricature of a cartoon villain was putting the world on notice.

 

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US athletes defy Trump’s racism

NFL Trump

In an unprecedented display of solidarity, over 200 National Football League players from most of its 32 teams knelt in protest during the national anthem before their games on 24 September. This collective act of defiance came after US President Donald Trump attacked NFL players who have protested against racist police brutality, the latest example of which came on 16 September when a police officer was acquitted of murdering 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in St Louis, Missouri. At a Republican rally in Huntsville, Alabama on 22 September, Trump said: ‘Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!”’

 

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Letter from a prison in Connecticut

prison Connecticut

Here in Connecticut, things have become very bad for prisoners serving lengthy sentences. Public attention has been focused on prisoners serving the shortest sentences, which, of course, makes sense in that one would hope to prepare those most imminently to be released to be given as many ‘tools’ as possible to give them the best shot at successful re-entry; but the public likely is not aware that the resources being directed to this newfound belief in rehabilitation are drawn directly from programmes and services that were directed at prisoners with lengthy sentences.

 

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Charlottesville: fighting white supremacists

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President Trump’s defence of white supremacists following the 11 August confrontation between racist neo-fascist groups and anti-fascists in Charlottesville, Virginia, continues to create divisions within the US ruling class. While Trump seeks to reassure his reactionary electoral base that he remains committed to their interests, major sections of the ruling class are horrified that his stance will merely stoke the fires of class opposition. They do not care about the daily racism experienced by people of colour: their concern is to restore conditions of profitability on the backs of the working class with the minimum of resistance. Amy Liu reports from Phoenix, Arizona.

 

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Charlottesville eyewitness: ‘Sticking together to battle white supremacy’

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Workers World Party comrade Taryn Fivek's eyewitness account from the counterprotest of the white supremacist march on Charlottesville, Virginia, on 12 August, which ended in the brutal murder of IWW comrade Heather Heyer (originally posted on workers.org).

Sent to scout ahead where people were forming up to march, my comrade Nate and I were consulting with a journalist we knew in the street. Suddenly there was a very loud noise, which I first thought was a bomb, followed by a lot of screaming. The noise turned out to be the sound of a car hitting bodies not more than 15 feet from us.

 

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US: Trump administration in chaos

us protest

Divisions in the US ruling class are becoming more open as the Trump administration faces the impossible task of dealing with the US’s position as a relatively declining imperialist power in an unending economic crisis. In a few weeks, Trump has managed to alienate sections of his own party, attacked his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and pushed White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer into resigning his post. He has isolated the US on climate change by withdrawing from the Paris Accord. He has criticised South Korea and China for steel dumping, and condemned the EU for protectionism. Organised working class resistance is needed. The recently-announced People’s Congress of Resistance is offering a way forward as a movement of principled opposition, and hopes to mobilise widespread support by the time it convenes in Washington in September.

 

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Free Leonard Peltier!

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June 1975: Two FBI agents enter Jumping Bull, Pine Ridge Reservation, to question a man over an alleged theft of a pair of boots. A fire fight breaks out which lasts 8-10 hours. Both agents are killed. Leonard Peltier, who was present at the scene, flees to Canada. The shootout sparks the biggest FBI manhunt known to date.

June 2017: Leonard Peltier is serving two consecutive life sentences for first degree murder of the two agents. He is 72 years old. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the European Parliament and Amnesty International have all said they consider him to be a political prisoner, who had an unfair trial, and have called for an urgent appeal.

Divide and rule

The Native American community in the 1970s was divided between those supporting the government-backed Bureau of Indian affairs (BIA) and the ‘traditionalists’, who opposed it. Established in 1824, the BIA provided contract and grant-based assistance for matters such as education, social services and infrastructure. Its critics maintain that it was funded with the specific purpose of destroying their language and land, and that its priority was assimilation. It is a misconception of reservation life to imagine that Indians can live easily on the money from the land lease agreements and the bleak reality of reservation life is one of absolute grinding poverty, with essentials such as petrol and bread completely unaffordable. I personally witnessed some of this devastation myself when I visited a Blackfoot reservation in the Rockies, writes Leah Jai-Persad.

 

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Trump, Russia, climate change and resistance

US anti trump protest

The spectre of Russia is haunting Donald Trump. Putin and Russia seem to be on a special pedestal – apparently above any criticism from Trump, while he lashes out at Mexicans, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, climate change ‘theorists’, the ‘mainstream press’, satirical TV shows, the US judiciary, the CIA, the FBI, Barack Obama, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and just about anybody else. Investigations by both the FBI and the US Congress into the Trump campaign and administration links with Russia are in progress. What is going on? Steve Palmer reports.

Before the Presidential election last year, there appeared to be evidence of attempts by Russia to influence the outcome. Before and after the election, key figures around Trump have taken part in meetings, disclosed and undisclosed, with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and other significant Russians. When he recently met with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and Ambassador Kislyak, Trump excluded the ‘mainstream’ US press, but allowed in a photographer from a Russian state news agency. Subsequent rumours claim that Trump gave highly classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak and described former FBI chief Comey, whom he had just fired, as a ‘real nut job’.

 

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Cuban Five speak about US prisons

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Gerardo Hernández (center) of the Cuban Five at Victorville prison in 2006, with fellow prisoners.

In December 2014, the remaining three of the five men known as the Cuban Five were released from their US prison sentences and returned as heroes to socialist Cuba. They had been imprisoned since 1998 on a range of spurious charges, following their arrests for espionage. The Five were indeed spies, but their mission was to protect Cuba by monitoring counter-revolutionary organisations in Miami, not to spy on the US government. Following their release they spoke to Pathfinder Press about their experiences; that discussion has been reproduced as the pamphlet ‘It’s the poor who face the savagery of the US “justice” system’ – the Cuban Five talk about their lives within the US working class.

 

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Trump continues racist anti-working class assault

So much Trump, so little space. The first two months of the Trump presidency have been nothing if not eventful. We’ll go through his achievements. Most spectacularly, his promised ban on Muslims entering the United States crashed, brought down by massive protests throughout the US, and by Federal judges who have ruled the ban unconstitutional. His revised ban, pruned of its more obviously discriminatory features such as exceptions for Christians, has now met the same legal fate, although this time the Trump administration has promised to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Trump’s plans to repeal ‘Obamacare’ – the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) – have met noisy demonstrations up and down the country. There are thousands of people who would be dead without the AHCA, and many, many more whose quality of life would be far worse. Republican lawmakers have found it impossible to craft legislation that would replace it without harming a significant slice of their constituents, and at lower cost than the AHCA. Trump was warned by Republicans in Congress that change could not come quickly, but he insisted that it go to a vote so he could shame moderate Republicans. The votes proved impossible to achieve and the Republican leadership pulled the bill. Unable to tweet his way out of this failure with ‘alternative facts’, Trump is loudly blaming the Democrats and liberal media. Sad!

 

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End prison slavery in Texas now! Part II: Class consciousness and international solidarity

'Open the Prison Gates' – Art: Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo TX 79107

FRFI are pleased to publish this guest article by Keith 'Malik' Washington, which was first published in San Francisco Bay View.

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington, chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement and deputy chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter (NABPP PC), Texas Region

'Largely missing from mainstream discourse on mass incarceration is the history of slave rebellions and revolts, revolutionary internationalism and Malcolm X, COINTELPRO and the BPP. Yet it is within this history that we find the tools for combating not only mass incarceration but also the monster of institutionalized racism that created it. We must understand mass incarceration as deeply tied to the legacy of slavery. This provides the intellectual grounding for the prison abolition movement and relates to human rights struggles that call for international solidarity.' – Nyle Fort, 'Insurgent Intellectual: Mumia Abu Jamal in the age of Mass Incarceration,' p.144, Socialism and Democracy, Volume 28, 2014, Issue 3

 

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Free all political prisoners still behind bars in the US

free all political prisoners

In a victory for campaigners in the US and worldwide, 539 prisoners were granted clemency by outgoing President Obama in January 2017, including notable political prisoners:

• Chelsea Manning, a US Army whistleblower. She was arrested in 2010 and convicted in 2013 for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, exposing the brutality of the Iraq war, and sentenced to 35 years in military prison. Manning is a trans woman, and was denied the right to live as her gender or even grow her hair until 2015. In 2016, after undergoing a five-day hunger strike she was granted a request for genital reassignment surgery, considered life saving by many transgender people. She will be released in May.

 

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The ‘Global Gag Rule’: a death sentence for women around the world

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President Trump’s reinstatement of the anti-abortion Mexico City Policy, dubbed the ‘global gag rule’, is a direct attack on the lives and health of women - primarily poor and black women - around the world. The policy, introduced by US President Reagan in 1984 and subsequently twice rescinded by Democrats and bought in again by Republicans, prevents US-funded overseas recipients from discussing abortion. Trump’s position on abortion has moved rapidly from a very limited ‘pro-choice’ stance to a deeply conservative position condemning abortion – he says he ‘hates’ it - and to public support for the reactionary, Christian, large and active ‘pro-life’ movement in the US, who are overwhelmingly his supporters. Trump’s latest incarnation of the gag rule, signed on 23 January, on his fourth day in office, is even more restrictive, reactionary and dangerous than has been seen before.

An attack on global health

US foreign aid has not been able to fund abortions directly since the 1973 Helms Amendment. The Mexico City Policy goes further, preventing international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from receiving US money if they offer abortion-related information, services or referrals. Spending from other donors cannot be used for this purpose, including in countries where abortion is legal. Trump’s additions to the rule mean that not only will the $620 million USAID money, set aside yearly for family planning, be withheld from organisations offering abortion counselling or referrals, now so will the estimated $9.5 billion for ‘global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies’.

 

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Trump in power - What is really going on?

Trump

A thick cloud of controversies swirled round Donald Trump as he took the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States at his inauguration as the country’s 45th President on 20 January. Quite apart from his racism, misogyny and Islamophobia, rumours circulate about his relationship with Russia and President Putin. On China, will his stance be the end of the ‘one China’ principle held by the US since 1979? His rants insisting on protectionism, his insulting attack on Civil Rights icon John Lewis, his decree that citizens of seven Muslim countries are banned from the US: all these and more raise more questions than answers. So what is really going on? Steve Palmer reports.

‘But what the hell? I’ll wing it and things will work out.’ – Trump

Donald Trump is not a politician, not even a businessman, but a salesman: he lives for ‘The Deal’. He is a lousy businessman, driving his companies into bankruptcy on six occasions. There is one, and only one product which matters to him: Donald Trump. ‘The show is “Trump” and performances are sold out everywhere,’ he says. All his pronouncements and tweets are fundamentally about promoting Brand Trump. In his book The Art of The Deal (p58), published in 1987, he writes: ‘The key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies … a little hyperbole never hurts. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, a very effective form of promotion.’ In short, in English, he is a liar.

 

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Protesters brave police brutality and freezing weather at Standing Rock

Standing Rock solidarity march in San Francisco November 2016
Standing Rock solidarity march in San Francisco, November 2016

FRFI is pleased to publish this guest article by Taryn Fivek from the Workers World Party in the US, where self-described water protectors – Native Americans and allied opponents of the planned Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens to poison water supplies and sacred native lands – have been staging a peaceful occupation since August to protect the indigenous reservation of Standing Rock in the state of North Dakota.

Since writing, despite growing international support for the protesters, police have stepped up repression by firing water cannon on protesters and their camps. Used in freezing temperatures, there are serious concerns that protesters could develop severe hypothermia as a result. Police have also fired flash bang grenades, rubber bullets, Long-Range Acoustic Devices and tear gas. Among many serious injuries, a 21-year-old woman from New York is likely to have what remains of her left arm amputated after being hit by a concussion grenade. The CEO of pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners has reportedly offered to reimburse the state for law enforcement costs which have spiralled to $10.9m. You can follow Taryn on Twitter at @fivek.

 

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Racist Trump elected as US president

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The election is over, the dust has cleared. Just as the Brexit referendum result shocked liberal commentators, so has the outcome of the US election. Polls, we were told, predicted a close but definite win for Hillary Clinton. There were even detailed analyses of the failings of the few ‘rogue polls’ which did predict a Trump win. Yet Trump defied the polls, and the immediate hopes of the US ruling class, to win the US Presidential general election. And so the ‘world’s greatest democracy’ is saddled with President Trump. Democrats are shell-shocked, seeming not to realise what has happened and why. Trump supporters are euphoric. Steve Palmer reports.

 

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Trexit: Trump wins US election

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Donald Trump has defied polls, and the immediate hopes of the US ruling class, to win the US Presidential general election. Democrats are shell-shocked, seeming not to realise what has happened and why. Trump supporters are euphoric. Steve Palmer reports.

Immediately prior to his victory the largely liberal media, the US ruling class and the markets were taking comfort from the last minute opinion polls, and, somewhat nervously but more confidently, were expecting a Clinton victory. Clinton was their favoured candidate because she was bought and paid for by Wall Street, and, despite her verbal claims to the contrary, represented business-as-usual. She had a superior ‘ground game’ – the get-out-the-vote machine on the ground – or so they thought. At least the rules of the game would have been clear, the policies would have been pretty-much-more-of-the-same and her election would have represented relative stability and predictability. By contrast, Donald Trump has made extravagant promises to his supporters, railing against free trade, the Washington political machine (‘We’re going to drain the swamp’), Wall Street and oppressed sections of US society. Exactly what policies he will actually pursue once sworn-in in January, is a complete unknown. Combined with his animation of dissident sections of the US working class, and his mercurial temperament, this unpredictability deeply scares finance capital in the immediate short term. This was reflected in the immediate reaction of global financial markets in the US and around the world which have totally cratered.

 

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US prisoners demand an end to prison slavery

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On 9 September, prisoners across the US marked the 45th anniversary of the historic Attica prison uprising in 1971 by commencing a series of strikes and actions which is continuing as we go to press. Nicki Jameson reports.

This wave of protest is the most widespread expression of discontent and resistance to hit the US prison system since the 1970s; however the mainstream press has been largely silent about it. Alternative news website The Intercept, one of the few news sources to report on the strike, described the prisoners’ demands as follows:

‘...inmates are protesting a wide range of issues: from harsh parole systems and three-strike laws to the lack of educational services, medical neglect, and overcrowding. But the issue that has unified protesters is that of prison labor – a $2 billion a year industry that employs nearly 900,000 prisoners while paying them a few cents an hour in some states, and nothing at all in others. In addition to work for private companies, prisoners also cook, clean, and work on maintenance and construction in the prisons themselves.’

 

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US presidential election farce drags on

tump and hilary

The primary elections are over, the party conventions have finished. Now the two main contenders, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are facing off in the Presidential race proper, leading up to election day in November. Steve Palmer reports.

Cynics often repeat the jibe that the US ‘has the finest democracy money can buy’. Both candidates are buying big. By the end of August, Clinton had raised $795m while Trump had raised $403.1m, and the cycle of fundraisers continues apace, lubricating the election process, squeezing out third-party candidates and buying influence with the future President.

Both candidates are millionaires individually, yet, hypocritically, both claim to be defending US workers’ jobs and wages, though Clinton has long supported and promoted globalisation and Trump has a history of exploiting cheap labour and opposing labour organising in his hotel chain.

 

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US election woes

Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton

Nothing is working out the way the US ruling class hoped for the 2016 Presidential elections. Early last year it expected that Hillary Clinton would already be the Democratic candidate, while Governor Jeb Bush or Senator Marco Rubio would be well on the way to receiving the nomination of the Republican Party. Today, that plan lies tattered and all hell has broken loose, with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump receiving massive popular endorsements and scaring the daylights out of the ruling class.

The trouble began a year ago. On 26 May 2015 Sanders announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination; on 16 June Trump announced he was standing for the Republican nomination. They were initially dismissed by the ruling class and its lackeys with contempt. But then people began voting for them – in large numbers. Contempt turned to concern, then consternation, then condemnation, then fear. Trump is feared because he has whipped up a racist mob and threatens to sweep away the cosy political games the ruling class plays. Sanders is feared because he has a social democratic programme of civil rights, free education and healthcare, which US imperialism can’t afford without threatening its profits.

 

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Prisoners’ work strike in Alabama

On 1 May, International Workers’ Day, a month-long prison labour strike began across the US state of Alabama. Stating ‘We will no longer contribute to our own oppression’, leaders of the Free Alabama Movement, a national movement against mass incarceration and prison slavery, have been organising for this state-wide prison work stoppage since 2015.

The strike began at Alabama’s Holman, Staton and Elmore Correctional Facilities, with St Clair’s and Donaldson Facilities following on 9 May. Prisoners announced that unless their demands were met they would refuse to leave their cells to perform the unpaid work which allows the prison to function. A statement on behalf of the striking prisoners said:

‘The Free Alabama Movement has chosen the non-violent and peaceful protest strategy of “shutdowns”/work stoppages to combat the multi-billion dollar Prison Industrial Complex that has incarcerated over two million people for the sole purpose of exploitation through free labour, private prisons, exorbitant fees, and more.

 

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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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Remember the MOVE massacre

13 May 2015 marked the 30th anniversary of an indelible and bloody day in US history – an event that shocked the world. GRACE UHURU reports.

The MOVE organisation was formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1972 by John Africa. It was a loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a back-to-nature lifestyle and preached against materialism and the injustices of the establishment.

On 13 May 1985, after years of police brutality against MOVE, the state police shot 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the MOVE house, before dropping a bomb on its roof. This horrific attack resulted in a blazing fire and ultimately the deaths of six adults and five children. Among the dead was John Africa. The only survivors of the bombing were Birdie Africa, aged 13, and Ramona Africa. Following the attack Ramona was hospitalised for a month with severe burns and taken into custody before being given a seven-year sentence for ‘inciting a riot’.

 

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Student loans: lessons from the US

Owe the bank £100, the old saying goes, and you have a problem; owe the bank £1 million and the bank has a problem. In the US almost 40 million people owe a total of $1.16 trillion in student loans. Since British capitalists have decided to follow their US counterparts onto the same slippery slope of financing higher education privately, it is worth having a closer look at the contradictions in this system.

Loans in the US

Student loan delinquencies are rising fast: loans more than 90 days delinquent are 4.3% of all consumer debt and 3.1% for mortgages: for student loans, the rate is 11.3% and increasing. When we take account of the fact that half of all these loans are in deferment, grace periods, or forbearance – in short, not in the repayment cycle – the delinquency rate more than doubles. With some putting it as high as 30%, it is clear there is a problem.

 

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