Gunshots in Arizona

FRFI 219 February / March 2011

It’s been an eventful couple of months in the United States. The attempted assassination in Tucson, Arizona, of US Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the murders of six other people, including a nine-year-old child and a Federal Judge, have inevitably forced their way onto the political agenda. US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.

The specific motives of the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, are unclear, but it seems, even to lay observers, that he has serious mental health issues. Although the bourgeois press hastened to describe this as ‘an isolated incident’, it wasn’t. The Sheriff of Puma County, Clarence Dupnik remarked:


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The mid-term elections and the Tea Party

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

The November mid-term elections in the US resulted in major gains for the Republican Party. This comes just two years after the country voted for Barack Obama and ‘Change we can believe in’. How did this come about? The right-wing ‘Tea Party’ has been at the centre of this shift. What does this mean and what are the prospects for US politics? US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.

The Democratic Party has lost its majority in the House of Representatives: from 255 of 435 seats, it has dropped to 190; in the Senate from 59 of 100 seats to 53. There is a high proportion of new faces: the Republicans have 85 new Representatives and 13 brand-new Senators. This is the worst defeat for any party for several decades. The fault is that of Obama and of the Democratic Party: they promised change and used youth, blacks and Latinos as an electoral battering ram to win a sweeping majority in Congress. Then they expanded the war in Afghanistan, continued the Guantanamo torture centre, bailed out the banks and the car companies but not the people, enacted hopeless healthcare legislation and failed to bring unemployment down. Along the way they quietly dropped their most enthusiastic supporters and many who were yearning for change.


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United States: recession over?

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

In September the US National Bureau for Economic Research declared that the recession was officially over, claiming that it ended in June 2009. To the capitalists, it must seem that way – their profits have soared. Yet although production has grown, its rate of growth has started to falter, declining in the first and second quarters of 2010. Some 15 months after the ‘end’ of the recession, the official unemployment rate is still at 9.6%, while estimates put the real rate of involuntarily unemployed at over 20%. What is really going on? How is this affecting the US working class? US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.


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Stop FBI Raids and Harassment on US Anti-War Activists

On 24 September, FBI agents took part in raids of the houses of anti-war and solidarity activists in states across the USA. Six houses in Chicago and Minneapolis were searched at 8:00 am central time, with agents of the “Joint Terrorism Task Force” serving grand jury subpoenas to activists in Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. Activists in a number of other US states have also been harassed and intimidated by agents as part of the same operation.


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Arizona – racist state

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

Arizona seems determined to break all records to become the most racist State in the Union. It has banned ethnic studies programs, is firing English teachers ‘with accents’ and has passed its own immigration law to harass Hispanics and expel undocumented migrants.

On 23 April, Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070, a draconian bill attacking the Hispanic community. One third of Arizona citizens are of Hispanic descent and it is estimated that 300,000 are undocumented, doing work that other Americans won’t do. The ‘Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act’ gives any law officer the right to investigate the immigration status of any person ‘where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States’. This can only be an invitation to racial profiling of Hispanics. What, apart from racist assumptions, can make any one suspect of being undocumented?


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Deepwater Horizon: an environmental disaster

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

On 20 April the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, 60 miles from the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and injuring at least a further 17, spewing out vast quantities of oil into the sea and causing an environmental disaster. Over a month later as we go to press, attempts to seal the oil leak have had no success. The amount of oil that has escaped is twice that from the Exxon Valdez tanker off the Alaskan coast in 1989, which polluted hundreds of miles of beaches and poisoned marine life for generations. Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, claimed that it was ‘relatively tiny’ compared to the ‘very big ocean’.


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US healthcare ‘reform’ one sick joke

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

With much ballyhoo, the Democrats have passed the ‘healthcare reform’ bill. In reality, the new Act has almost nothing to do with healthcare and everything to do with helping the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry and private hospitals bleed US workers dry. More than six months ago Business Week magazine told its readers: ‘much more of the battle than most people realise is already over. The likely victors are insurance giants such as UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, and WellPoint. The carriers have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill...the insurance industry will emerge more profitable ... insurance CEOs ought to be smiling.’


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American dream turns into nightmare

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

As the stock market rises higher and higher in value, as the media commentators chortle about ‘the recovery’ and the billionaire blood-sucking leeches of Wall Street gulp down  multi-million dollar bonuses, another America groans under the burden of the continuing economic crisis. For them, the majority, life is turning into a nightmare – one which is going to get worse.

Rich and poor

The gap between rich and poor is widening. In 2009 there were 1.41 million personal bankruptcy filings, up 32% from 2008 and 100% from 2007. Median credit card debt is 15% of a household’s annual income. Foreclosure filings are running at 300,000 per month. One in eight people in the US are now on Food Stamps. Recent tax data showed that between 1992 and 2007 for the 400 top income families, pre-tax income grew by 476% to a median of $345 million, while median household income rose by just 13.2% – to $50,233. A recent New York homeless count showed the number living on the streets had grown by 34% in a year. Unemployment remains high.


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Obama’s surge means more brutality for Afghan people

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

Imperialist propaganda claims that the massive build up of forces in Afghanistan will be underpinned by a new emphasis on nation building, reconstruction and winning local ‘hearts and minds’. The US military has even employed a team of anthropologists to help them negotiate Afghan culture. In December, a raid by US forces on the village of Changowlak was intended to illustrate this sensitive new approach. Some of the supposed insurgents captured were later released, to their families’ delight. The officer in charge, US Captain Terrell, then addressed the community. ‘We went to a lot of trouble to get this area, and now it belongs to you’ he said. ‘But you must tell us if you see the Taliban. If you put something on the ground and cover it up, we are going to shoot you. If we see you carrying a weapon, we will shoot you. These are the rules you must learn from now on.’ JIM CRAVEN reports.


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USAID: arm of US imperialism

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

On 4 September 1961, US Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act which established the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For the last half century, USAID has been working as a front organisation for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to channel and filter funding and strategic political support to groups and individuals that support the US agenda abroad. Under the pretext of ‘promoting democracy’ it has awarded grants to counter-revolutionary and right-wing terrorist groups to aid ‘regime change’ wherever US imperialist interests have been challenged, from Afghanistan to Cuba, Venezuela to Vietnam.


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Obama: one year on

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

Barack Obama has been President for a year. One year on, what are the results?

First, the US is still in Iraq, has expanded its war in Afghanistan and now looks set to occupy Haiti. His promise to close the Guantanamo Bay torture camp has been broken and the US intends to continue holding captives without trial and without giving them POW. status. Healthcare ‘reform’ has turned out to be a gift to the insurance industry. Economically, bank profits have soared, the stock market has risen by over 50% since March 2009 – yet for tens of millions of working-class Americans the supposed recovery is proving elusive.


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Close Guantánamo Torture Camp!

Pictures © Copyright Peter Marshall, 2010, all rights reserved.

On Monday 11 January 2010 the London Guantánamo Campaign held a demonstration outside the US Embassy in London to mark 8 years of the Guantánamo Bay torture camp. A vigil by protesters in orange jumpsuits and black hoods was followed by an hour of speeches demanding the closure of the camp and justice for all detainees.


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US economy: Rotten to the core

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

Superficially, the US economy looks as if it might be improving. The stock market has bounced up by over 30% this year, breaking through the 10,000 mark on the Dow Jones index. Indexes of this and that economic factor seem to show something positive – even if only to tell us that things are getting worse less fast. And everywhere in business circles and on the nightly news is the talk, talk, talk of recovery. STEVE PALMER reports.

Behind the scenes, the economy continues to rot away, tossing hundreds of thousands into a dustbin of unemployment, homelessness and poverty – and not just in the US. The contradictions of the US economy are preparing new financial bubbles in Asia and ‘emerging economies’, like Brazil. Fresh instability lies ahead.


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The US healthcare debate

FRFI 211 October / November 2009

Popular demand for healthcare reform was one of the reasons Barack Obama was elected President of the United States last year. Now the time has come to deliver on the promises – and it turns out something rather different from healthcare reform is going on. Anyone in Britain watching the US healthcare ‘debate’ might be forgiven for believing that US politics has become completely mentally unhinged. While the right wing certainly is using some very disturbed and ignorant people, that’s not the root of the problem. Far from the healthcare issue being a battle of sanity versus lunacy, or the people versus Capital, what is happening is largely an argument within the capitalist class.


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Stop imperialism's bloody war

"Nowhere in the world is so far away that it is not relevant to our security interests."

Robin Cook, Labour Foreign Secretary

The century that has seen more slaughter than any preceding it closes in a darkening atmosphere of tension and threat. The storm gathered over Yugoslavia threatens to discharge its accumulated force across the planet in the fight for resources, markets, profits and power. Barbarism cannot long be dressed in humanitarian' garb before naked self-interest, voracious and unrestrained, shows through.

This is the lesson of NATO's war on Yugoslavia. TREVOR RAYNE reports.


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One-way extradition to the USA

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

At the end of March David Blunkett paid a four-day visit to the US, during which time he signed a new extradition treaty, publicly described as having the purpose of ‘simplifying transatlantic extradition rules’.

In practice the new treaty means that a British citizen or resident wanted in the US can be extradited with no evidence needing to be produced of any case against him or her. The States can simply say ‘we want that person’, and he or she will be arrested and dispatched. To head off a possible outcry, Blunkett made clear that there would still be a block on sending British citizens to face the death penalty. What was not made clear, however, was that the new treaty is not two-way traffic. Due to constitutional protections, US citizens wanted in Britain will still have to have the case made out against them prior to extradition.


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Five detainees released from US concentration camps in Guantanamo Bay

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

Detention without trial has long been the hallmark of tyrannical regimes. In apartheid South Africa the regime detained and tortured thousands of black people, mostly young men, in periods when the challenge to white racist rule was most fierce. In Chile thousands of supporters of President Allende were detained and tortured by the military junta of General Pinochet following the 1973 coup. In Ireland in 1971, Republicans were rounded up by the British Army and sent to internment camps.

The accounts of inhuman treatment, degradation and torture are similar for all these events, regardless of the geography, varying only in the severity of the treatment. In South Africa, detainees were beaten, electrocuted, hung or thrown out of windows; in Chile the mechanics of torture were cruelly similar. In the north of Ireland, the detainees described how their heads were covered with black hoods; they were deprived of food, water and sleep; they were made to stand against walls with hands raised and legs apart for long periods, some were threatened with being thrown out of helicopters. On 9 March five Guantanamo Bay detainees were released. Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul, Terek Dergoul, and Jamal Al Harith were flown back to Britain; four of them were then questioned further by the police before they were released to tell the story of their two-year detention by the US in Guantanamo Bay concentration camps. They told the truth and it bore all the hallmarks of torture.


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Hellhole Guantanamo – outpost of imperialism

In April, Britain, along with the rest of the EU, supported a US-led motion at the UN Commission for Human Rights condemning Cuba for so called ‘human rights abuses’, yet refused to support Cuba’s motion demanding an investigation into the ‘flagrant, systemic human rights violations’ committed by the US in Guantanamo. We should not be surprised at Britain’s role – any investigation of Guantanamo would reveal the sordid complicity of the British Foreign Office and MI5 in the atrocities being committed there. The ‘deep, dark hole that is Guantanamo’, as constitutional rights expert Michael Ratner, described it, exposes the US administration and its allies as hypocrites, war criminals and torturers.

Guantanamo Bay, in eastern Cuba, has been occupied by the United States since 1903, in a deal between the US government and its then stooge Cuban President Estrada, granting use of the deep water bay to the US in perpetuity. In November 2001 US President Bush declared a military order authorising the unlimited secret detention of any non-citizens (swiftly extended to citizens) on the grounds of mere ‘suspicion’ of involvement in terrorism and trials without the right to legal representation, using secret evidence and to be held by military tribunals. Secret execution would be possible and no right of appeal to civilian courts would be allowed. Meanwhile, those captured in imperialism’s war on Afghanistan, or deemed in some way to be connected with Al Qaida – or, indeed, as it appeared, any Muslim randomly selected by US security forces – were designated ‘illegal combatants’, a semantic trick designed to strip them of any protection offered under international treaties for the protection of prisoners of war.


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Hell-hole Guantanamo Detainees on hunger strike

Up to 250 detainees in Guantanamo Bay have been on hunger strike on and off since August. These emaciated weak prisoners are still undergoing cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of their captors, and are being force-fed while their charges are invented and their recourse to legal advice blocked. Thomas Wilner, a lawyer who has visited the camps, reports cadaverous men who have lost over three stone in weight. They are traumatised and severely distressed. In mid-October there were 21 detainees in hospital, with 20 being force-fed. The US Department of Defense refuses to name them or tell their lawyers. Force-feeding involves deliberately inserting large tubes down the noses of restrained prisoners – the same tube is used for many different detainees.

In early November, the US Senate approved a proposal which will severely limit the chance of the detainees’ cases ever coming before US courts. In mid-November, UN representatives refused to visit Guantanamo Bay because the US authorities will not allow them access to the detainees in private.


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Imperialism’s global web of terror

11 January 2007 marked a shameful anniversary: it is five years since the first detainees, hooded and shackled, were transferred from Afghanistan to the US naval base at Guantanamo in occupied Cuba. They were the first of more than 750 to pass through what has been described by human rights lawyers and activists as ‘a US Devil’s Island’ and ‘the gulag of our times’. The US immediately designated the detainees ‘enemy combatants’ outside US jurisdiction, to whom the provisions of the Geneva Convention and the laws of habeas corpus did not apply. Five years on, the name Guantanamo is synonymous with the annihilation of human and legal rights.

In May 2006 the United Nations demanded the immediate closure of Guantanamo. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that military commissions (kangaroo courts set up to try the detainees) violate US and international law and that the Geneva Conventions do apply. But Guantanamo remains open for business and in December 2006, the US military started transferring its 400 remaining prisoners – at least four of them children – to its brand-new $30m concrete-and-steel high security facility, Camp 6. In November, President Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act, stripping US courts of jurisdiction to hear appeals from any foreign national held as an ‘enemy combatant’ in US custody anywhere in the world and authorising the President to establish new military commissions. The administration is also taking action to have all pending habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of the Guantanamo detainees thrown out.


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Imperialist crimes against humanity

On 20 February, a US Court of Appeal ruled that hundreds of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay concentration camp had no right to habeas corpus under the US Constitution, as ‘non-citizens held outside the sovereign territory of the US’.

On 13 March, a British court cleared the final two out of seven British soldiers charged with the abuse of nine Iraqi prisoners in Basra in 2003, which resulted in the death of one man. In February, four other soldiers were cleared due to lack of evidence.

These cases represent the triumph of barbarism over justice. Where once the US and Britain had to hide their war crimes, today they flaunt them, casually brushing aside international human rights legislation, including the Geneva Conventions, as an inconvenience. CAT WIENER reports.

Legal limbo

‘Cuba – not the United States – has sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay’, wrote Appeals Court Judge Raymond Randolph. In fact, the Platt Amendment of 1903 gives the US ‘complete jurisdiction and control’ over the territory. To all intents and purposes, Guantanamo Bay is part of the US. It is occupied territory. US federal law applies to all US personnel stationed there. Cuba has regularly denounced the illegality of the interrogation camp based on its land. Can the Cuban courts now demand the release of the detainees?


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Court victory for San Francisco 8

FRFI 210 August / September 2009

The San Francisco 8 are Black Panthers accused of the 1971 murder of a San Francisco police officer, one week after the murder of George Jackson in San Quentin Prison. Charges against the men were originally thrown out in 1975 when a judge ruled that their incriminating statements had been made under torture. In 2007, the eight were arrested, held in shackles and bail set at millions of dollars.

In July Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim were sentenced to probation and time served, after Herman agreed to plead to voluntary manslaughter and Jalil to conspiracy to voluntary manslaughter. All charges were then dropped on Richard Brown, Hank Jones, Harold Taylor, and Ray Boudreaux, with the prosecution admitting it had ‘insufficient evidence’ against them. Charges had already been dropped against Richard O'Neal last year. This leaves Francisco Torres as the last remaining defendant, who will appear in court on 10 August.


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US: Green shoots will become rotting weeds

FRFI 210 August / September 2009

Since Spring we have been hearing about the economic ‘green shoots’ sprouting forth, supposedly announcing an anticipated recovery. Yet, month after month, something seems to be just preventing them from turning into vigorous new growth. Sure, stock market prices have risen – but that’s just people guessing about and gambling on the future. What is really going on with the US economy? US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.


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The 1929 crash

FRFI 125 June/July 1995
‘Liquidate labour, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate’ - attributed to Andrew Mellon circa 1930, reputedly the richest man in the world.
The years of 1929 to 1933 saw the most devastating economic crisis in capitalist history. Millions of lives were pushed to the edge of an abyss, many were driven over. Through the ruin marched the forces that led to World War Two. TREVOR RAYNE examines the Great Crash of 1929, prelude to the Depression.


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United States: Capitalism rocks and rolls

Every month or so we get told that ‘we’re over the worst’ of the financial crisis, that we’re ‘turning the corner’. And as soon as we get round the corner, some bank sheepishly confesses how much they’ve lost. Here are the main write-downs since the last issue of FRFI:

• Citigroup – $8-11bn, up from $6.4bn in the third quarter.
• Merrill Lynch – $7.9bn.
• Morgan Stanley – $3.7bn in September and October alone.
• UBS – $3.4bn.
• Barclays – $2.7bn.
• Credit Suisse – $2bn.
• Wachovia (4th largest US bank) – $1.3bn.
• H&R Block – $1bn.

Other casualties include HSBC, which lost $3.4bn on its mortgage business and the $1.5bn Corina Fund, which was forced into liquidation. Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Company) lost $2bn and Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) lost $1.39bn. Between them, Freddie and Fannie own or securitize some 40% of the total $11.5 trillion US residential home mortgages.


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US – same illness, same medicine, same solution

The US central bank – the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) – has come up with programme after programme to try to fix the credit crisis by devising solutions to problems as they show up. Each has its own acronym. We’ve had the TAF, the PDFC, the ABCP MMMFLF, the TSLF, the MMIFF, CPFF, the TALF and the TARP. Now we’ve got PPIP, the ‘Public–Private Investment Programme’. This is the magic programme, the final solution, supposed to fix everything by removing what it calls ‘legacy assets’ from banks’ balance sheets once and for all, thereby strengthening the credit-worthiness of the banks and restarting lending.

What, you may ask, is a ‘legacy asset’? Family heirlooms? Valuable antiques? Nope. It is just a polite way of referring to a pile of poop, around $1,000bn, sitting on the banks’ balance sheet and masquerading as an asset – the mortgage-backed securities. At the moment, banks say these are worth around 80c per dollar, while realistic buyers are talking 20-30c per dollar.


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Bacardi: secret agent of US imperialism

FRFI 160 April / May 2001

Ron Bacardi: la guerra occulta by Hernando Calvo Ospina, Casa Editora Abril, Havana, 2000

Cuba Vive
Over the last two years, Rock around the Blockade has led a vibrant and successful campaign in Britain to expose the role played by Bacardi in attempting to undermine the Cuban Revolution. In September 1999, two months after launching the campaign with a demonstration that closed down Bacardi's British headquarters for the day, we attended a Eurosolidarity conference called by the British Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) with the aim of spreading the campaign to other countries. Incredibly, we found ourselves facing indifference and even censorship from the CSC – until the radical Colombian journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina silenced critics with a resounding defence of the importance of targeting Bacardi. Now his new book, Ron Bacardi: la guerra occulta [Bacardi's secret war], proves the point and provides new ammunition for those serious about the defence of Cuba.

Well-structured and very informative, Ospina's book exposes completely the absolutely central role that the Bacardi company plays in organising and financing Cuban counter-revolutionaries. At the end of it, one understands that without Bacardi, there would be no Cuban-American National Foundation and none of the utterly reactionary Miami-based Cuban exile movements that have so influenced US politics over the past decades. Not only does the book expose Bacardi's pivotal role in the opposition to Cuban socialism, it also shows how the company collaborated with the CIA to support counter-revolutionaries throughout Central America. The paradox is that for decades Bacardi has wielded enormous political influence with successive occupants of the White House, yet it is not even a US-owned company!


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State terrorism - 11 September – the backlash

FRFI 165 February / March 2002

11 September – the backlash

The USA Patriot Act, approved by Congress without debate and signed into law on 25 October, constitutes the most sweeping expansion of state powers to spy, search, restrict speech, arrest, incarcerate, interrogate, punish, deport, and withhold information the United States has ever seen, all unchecked by judicial review. In Britain the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act became law on 14 December. DALTON HILLIARD and NICKI JAMESON report.


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US racist dragnet

FRFI 166 April / May 2002

School children will one day read about the racist dragnet currently underway in the United States with the same shame and disgust with which we view the US government’s treatment of Japanese residents during World War Two. But that does little to help the victims. DALTON HILLIARD reports.

Cooked-up charges

Of the 1,200 Arabs and Muslims rounded up in the months after 11 September, at least 327 remain in custody. There may be more, but the US Justice Department has provided scant information, which includes neither the names of those held nor the place of detention. Most are kept in solitary confinement, without knowing the crime of which they are accused. Immigrant detainees have no right to court-appointed attorneys and most have been denied phone calls and visiting rights. In many cases, family members still do not know where or why their relatives have been detained.


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San Francisco: 'The anti-war movement is gathering strength'

FRFI 172 April / May 2003

The Californian economy is the fifth largest in the world and many military contractors operate in the state. Some 900 companies in the San Francisco Bay area supply $4bn worth of supplies and equipment to the US Defence Department. In addition, the Department of Energy’s contracts with local organisations total $2.3bn for nuclear weapons labs. Additionally, huge sums are being disbursed by the new Department of Homeland Security. Much of the new high-technology equipment being used in Iraq has been developed here.

Protest against oppression and defence of democracy are also rooted in the area. There is a long history of labour militancy, revolutionary protest and gay rights activism. The San Francisco labour movement was, until the 1970s, fiercely militant, led by the longshoremen - the dockers. Berkeley was the birthplace of the student free speech movement in the 1960s and is still known as the People’s Republic of Berkeley, while the revolutionary Black Panther movement was born in neighbouring Oakland. The whole area strongly opposed the Vietnam war. For over 50 years, the area has given support to the gay rights movement, particularly in the 1970s with the assassination of Supervisor Harvey Milk by an off-duty cop. A natural development has been AIDS activism. In short, the Bay area is probably the most progressive and politically active area in the US.


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US zealots prepare for world domination

FRFI 173 June / July 2003

‘Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.’
Michael Ledeen, holder of the ‘Freedom Chair’ at the American Enterprise Institute

‘At some point we may be the only ones left. That’s OK with me. We are America.’
George W Bush, President of the United States

The Iraq war is supposedly over, finished. In fact the opposite is true: the war has barely begun; Iraq was little more than a battle in a much bigger war, something far larger than Iraq, larger even than the Middle East. Iraq is the overture to a new world war. It is time for the left to get serious, because its opponents certainly are: deadly serious. James Woolsey, former head of the CIA describes the new war as ‘World War IV’:


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