Friday, 1 July 2016

REDEMPTION SONG Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties

Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties 

Mike Marqusee
Second edition 2005 

Muhammad Ali was viewed by the time of his death with great affection by the American establishment. 

Yet for several years in the 60s he was unchallenged as the most reviled figure in the history of American sports. Why this was the case is sharply analysed in this book by the late Mike Marqusee, a white American who permanently left the US in 1971 to live in England. 

Ali's important social and cultural impact would not have been possible if he had not been a truly great boxer. Fighting as Cassius Marcellus Clay, he won Gold for the USA at the 1960 Olympics before becoming World Heavyweight champion in 1964. 

He was then given a new Islamic name of Muhammad Ali by Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam that Ali had joined two years earlier. This great honour helped direct Ali away from Malcolm X, the man who had originally recognised his leadership qualities, and who was to be assassinated in the very month, February 1965, when the US upped its involvement in North Vietnam by launching its Rolling Thunder air war. By the time of the eventual ceasefire in the conflict eight years later, US planes had dropped three times the tonnage of bombs unloaded on all of Europe, Africa and Asia throughout World War II. 

The conflict in Vietnam was to be the first American war in which the mood amongst black people was oppositional. Previously it had largely been the case that black involvement was viewed as a way of pressing claims in times of peace for equality, long denied in a country built on racial segregation. In 1963, Malcolm X had become one of the best known black people to condemn America's meddling in Southeast Asia. 

In early 1966, a time when opposition to the war was still limited, Ali was told he had been drafted and would have to fight in Vietnam. In an era when revolutionary movements against colonialism were being constructed — and undermined by US imperialism - Ali replied: "Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” He made clear he was not going to fight even if it meant he went to prison. He was pilloried as sports commentator's rushed to claim he had been 'duped' and didn't understand what was taking place in Vietnam.  His forthcoming fight with Ernie Terrell in Chicago was ruled by the Illinois attorney general as illegal on grounds that he had not used his 'correct name' of Cassius Clay on the contract. Other possibles venues refused to host the fight.

When the US then moved to prosecute Ali for his public opposition to the war and the draft the boxer refused to surrender his beliefs, which were now inspiring many others to refuse to fight. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison but released on bail pending appeal. As he continued to fight his case in the courts, he was stripped of his titles for over three and a half years. It was a time when he was arguably, as asserted by Hugh McIlvanney, taking boxing into new territory and was at his physical peak. 

In 1971, Ali successfully overturned his conviction for draft evasion in 1971 and returned to the ring in what Marqusee describes as "a triumph over the system." Ali was to go on and defeat Joe Frazier in 1973, George Forman in the 'Rumble in the Jungle' in 1974 and Leon Spinks in 1978, thus becoming the only man to become World Heavyweight champion on three occasions. Ironically the Forman fight was bankrolled by dictator Joseph Mobutu who, with US support, had in 1960 overthrown the (only) democratically elected Congo President, Patrice Lumumba, who was subsequently assassinated. Prior to the fight, Ali, wistfully remarked, “I wish Lumumba was here to see me.” 

Marqusee shows how by the mid 70s, Ali was being embraced by the American establishment. This peaked in 1996 when, with support from advertisers, backstage lobbying by NBC Sports saw Ali chosen to light the torch at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia before a sell-out crowd of 83,000 people paying $600 a ticket. Ali's international standing amongst the masses was being cynically used by capitalists to sell the Games and its spinoff products. Ali had mellowed and his value to the American establishment thereafter was precisely because he had spectacularly defied them in the past, risking jail in the process. 

Nevertheless, as Marqusee notes: “Between 1964 and 1975, Muhammad Ali spoke to the world as a defiantly unofficial ambassador for a dissident America…….Ali’s real heroism lies in actions we can all emulate: in placing solidarity with human beings in remote lands above loyalty to any national government, in setting conscience before personal convenience.” 

This is a truly great book about a truly great man. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

Hurley Statue Fund bank account now set up


The bank account for the Charlie Hurley Statue Fund is now open and supporters can make donations to the:-

Nat West Bank
Sort code 600927
Account number 79605796

If possible please send an email to outlining your donation. 

Cheques, payable to Charlie Hurley Statue Fund, and cash can also be handed in or posted to Martin O’Neill, Sweet Home Alabama, 2 Fawcett Street, Sunderland SR1 1SJ. Receipts for all donations of, at least, £5 will be given. 

Plans are also being developed for registered collectors as well as public collection points and anyone donating, at least, £5 will be given a receipt. An announcement on this will follow shortly. 

Anyone who would like to discuss ideas they may have for fund raising should contact Tracey Hawkins (secretary) on 07736 464023 and, or 
Martin O’Neill on 07723 814983 and or Mark Metcalf (treasurer) on 07392 852561 & 


The next meeting of the Charlie Hurley Statue group will take place on Friday 17 June at 6.30pm at St Mary Church, 27 Bridge Street, Sunderland SR1 1TQ

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Local government in hands of City - exclusive

Expert warns councils not to sell their assets             From Big Issue North, 15-22 May 2016. 
A leading researcher has criticised new government regulations forcing local authorities to sell off their assets to pay for reorganisations. 
Joel Benjamin, a local government researcher, said the regulations are akin to “handing the keys to the future of local government to City consultants”. 
The regulations, introduced by the chancellor, George Osborne, last month, apply to local authorities that want to enact changes such as sharing management teams, collaborate formally with central government, free up land for economic use or invest in reforms to housing and children’s services. 
They also apply to fire and rescue authorities, and police and crime commissioners. 
Financial risk 
Any local authority that would have preferred to borrow to finance the revenue costs of such reforms, as in the past, is barred by the government from doing so. 
Instead they must sell off fixed assets, such as property, shares or bonds. 
Benjamin said: “Local authorities’ assets will disappear and could be, like in many cases, sold cheap whilst the short term receipts boost will be used to re-cast costly top-down reorganisations and spending on City consultants. I fear most local councillors and the electorate won’t understand until it is too late what’s happening. 
“Short term expenses will be buried under this policy by the government, which has already hit local authorities by encouraging PFI projects and blocking loans from the Public Works Loan Board in order to force local authorities to borrow money from the City at higher rates. 
“In the recent past, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has willingly obscured the cost of risky financial products such as Lender Option Borrower Option (LOBO) loans, enabling councils to use creative accounting methods to park toxic liabilities off balance sheet – accumulating significant financial risks to the UK public. 
“The DCLG is now handing the keys to the future of local government to City consultants like PWC and Capita, while the true costs of this reorganisation and outsourcing folly are kicked down the road.” 
The rules, which will apply for three years, require all authorities to make their initial strategy available online. Currently take-up appears to be slow and none of the nine authorities Big Issue North contacted could say when any strategy would be announced. 

A DCLG spokesperson disputed Benjamin’s claims and said: “Our reforms will incentivise councils to sell off surplus assets by allowing them to use the receipts to fund improvements in services local people want.”