Tag Archives: Muhammad Ali

MUHAMMAD ALI: the final goodbye to “The Greatest”

The coffin of late boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrives for a jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 9, 2016.   REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The coffin of late boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrives for a jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Nick Carey and Steve Bittenbender
June 10, 2016

Muhammad Ali trains at his retreat in Owigsburg, Pennsylvania, August 27, 1974 for his fight against George Foreman in Zaire. Action Images / MSI/File Photo

Muhammad Ali trains at his retreat in Owigsburg, Pennsylvania, August 27, 1974 for his fight against George Foreman in Zaire. Action Images / MSI/File Photo

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) – Fans chanting “Ali!” and throwing flowers lined the streets of Muhammad Ali’s hometown in Kentucky on June 10 for a funeral procession to celebrate the boxing champion who jolted America with his showmanship and won worldwide admiration as a man of principle.

Ali, a once-controversial convert to Islam who lost three years of his boxing career for refusing U.S. military service during the Vietnam War, died a week ago at age 74 as one of the most respected men in the United States.

Mourners travelled from across the United States and overseas to the city of Louisville to pay tribute to Ali. Many tossed flowers atop the hearse carrying his casket as part of an 18-car procession over 23 miles (37 km) in a farewell unlike any other in recent U.S. history.

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Thousands gathered in the streets and large crowds amassed at landmarks along the route such as his boyhood home in a traditionally African-American section of town and the Muhammad Ali Center, a museum in the city centre.

The procession was to end at a cemetery for a private burial beneath a headstone reading simply, “Ali.”

The hearse carrying the remains of Muhammad Ali leaves the A D Porter & Sons funeral home during the funeral procession for the three-time heavyweight boxing champion in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., June 10, 2016.   REUTERS/Adrees Latif

The hearse carrying the remains of Muhammad Ali leaves the A D Porter & Sons funeral home during the funeral procession for the three-time heavyweight boxing champion in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

“It was important for me to be here,” said Matt Alexander, 63, who travelled from Florida. “I cried like a baby when I heard he’d died. I just didn’t want to believe it because I wanted him to live forever.”

After the procession, thousands of people were expected to fill a sports arena for a memorial featuring eulogies by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal. Police said crowding along the procession route would delay the start of the memorial service, possibly by an hour to 3 p.m. (1900 GMT).

Jordan’s King Abdullah had been announced as one of the dignitaries due to attend the sports arena for the service. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who attended a Muslim funeral for Ali on Thursday, cut short his visit to Louisville and will not take part in Friday’s event as planned.

Pallbearers will include actor Will Smith, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing the title role in the 2001 film “Ali,” and former heavyweight champs Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.

“HE STOOD UP”

A fan uses a mobile phone to take pictures of late boxer Muhammad Ali's memorabilias of the 1970 bout with Joe Frazier, dubbed as "Thrilla in Manila" in Cubao Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines June 10, 2016.   REUTERS/Erik De Castro

A fan uses a mobile phone to take pictures of late boxer Muhammad Ali’s memorabilias of the 1970 bout with Joe Frazier, dubbed as “Thrilla in Manila” in Cubao Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Fans such as Cathy Oost, 61, a retired public school teacher who lives in Louisville, was one of several hundred people to gather under blue skies at the cemetery gates to pay their respects. She held a sign that read “Our Champ, Our Hero.”

Oost said she was struck by Ali’s speaking out for racial equality and his stance against the Vietnam War, plus his defence of Islam. Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion, also paved the way for black athletes to express themselves with flair and confidence, and gave U.S. Muslims a hero they could share with mainstream America.

“He stood up for his beliefs when it was unpopular and difficult to do so. We all need to do that more,” Oost said.

Bridget McKay, 45, also at the cemetery gates, said she felt drawn to witness history.

“He made me feel that it was OK to be myself, that I didn’t have to be anyone else,” she said.

After years of restoration to convert his childhood home into a museum, developers finally held a grand opening on May 1.

“They (Ali’s family) wanted to bring Muhammad here for one last visit but his health just wasn’t permitting it, unfortunately,” said co-owner George Bochetto, a former Pennsylvania boxing commissioner.

Visitors this week waited up to 90 minutes to tour the modest pink house, and police estimated 1,500 people lined the small residential street on Friday to see the man known as “The Greatest” come home one last time.

“This is where he started,” said former heavyweight boxer and actor Randall “Tex” Cobb. “He didn’t start in a gym. He didn’t start as Muhammad Ali. He started in this house right here.”

Willie B. Palmer, 75, said he graduated high school with Ali, who was training for the Olympics when he graduated Central High School in 1960.

Ali would train by jogging the bus route to the school.

“Sometimes he’d be there before the bus,” Palmer said.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bill Trott)

You might also wish to read:

What Muhammad Ali, conscientous-objector, taught me, by Penney Kome, Over Easy column

As a young teen studying at the Illinois School of Ballet, I didn’t follow sports much, which is probably why I didn’t recognize the big man right away.  The top of my head came to his elbow. My dad was 6’2″, but this guy was really big. A block away, it hit me: I’d just crossed paths with champion boxer Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali: Remembering when Clay/Ali bestrode the world, by Rod Mickleburgh

It’s been said many, many times, but it remains true. Never again will we see the likes of Muhammad Ali.

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Muhammad Ali: Remembering when Clay/Ali bestrode the world

Muhammad Ali trains at his retreat in Owigsburg, Pennsylvania, August 27, 1974 for his fight against George Foreman in Zaire. Action Images / MSI/File Photo

Muhammad Ali trains at his retreat in Owigsburg, Pennsylvania, August 27, 1974 for his fight against George Foreman in Zaire. Action Images / MSI/File Photo

By ROD MICKLEBURGH
May 18, 2016

A tough week for us sports fans of another generation. Losing two great heroes of our youth: Muhammad Ali, and now, Gordie Howe (he never changed his name to Gordon..). This is about the champ.

It’s been said many, many times, but it remains true. Never again will we see the likes of Muhammad Ali. “For all you kids out there”, it’s difficult to convey just how dominant a figure he was during those first 20 years he reigned as by far the most beloved and admired athlete in the world. Evidence of his unsurpassed skill and courage in the rink are easily found on YouTube. And most accounts written after Ali’s death relate in great detail his bold, in-your-face defiance of white America. He stuck it to “the man’, as few had before, with his loudly-proclaimed conversion to the radical Black Muslims, his name change from Cassius Clay to (gasp) Muhammad Ali, announced while standing beside Malcolm X (another gasp), and most of all, his willingness to go to jail rather than be sent to Vietnam to kill people “who never called me nigger”.

Still, it’s not really possible to capture just what it was like to actually experience those years, when Clay/Ali bestrode the world like the proverbial colossus. With his flashing fists, dancing feet and outrageous, versified braggadocio, he opened up the narrow, closed confines of boxing to the great beyond, as no one had before. The charged anticipation for every one of his big fights was unsurpassed. It was as if a cloak had been thrown over everything else going on, except for Ali’s showdowns against Sonny Liston, or Joe Frazier, or George Foreman. Everyone listened, watched on big pay-for-view screens, or followed round-by-round dispatches sent out by the wire services. Long before social media, we were a global Ali community.

Nor can one quantify the extent of outrage and villification that spewed down on Ali when he turned his back on everything American. Even those who loved him as a boxer were confused by his decision to join the Black Muslims, an extremist, black separatist group led by the shadowy Elijah Muhammad, who was a long way from Martin Luther King. Yet, with everything to lose, and it did cost him big, Ali stood up for his rights as a black man, loudly and unabashedly, and was hated for it. No wonder he feared for his life.

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The famous cover from Esquire.

It was only after he returned to the ring, three and a half years after his title was taken away for refusing induction into the armed forces, that sentiment began to soften. He was now admired, rather than loathed, for remaining true to his convictions, and for his renewed prowess in the ring. No longer able to float like a butterfly and sting like bee, he harnessed raw courage, tactical brilliance, and a frightening ability to take a punch that almost certainly contributed to the Parkinson’s Disease that finally silenced him to claim the heavyweight crown two more times. From the dusty villages of Africa, to the streets of Iraq, to the halls of presidents, he was celebrated and loved. It’s a lesser world without him, even reduced as he was over the years by the relentless scourge of his illness.

I saw Muhammad Ali, once. It was in Pyongyang in 1995, at the strangest event I’ve ever been at. For reasons known only to its alien-like leaders, the crackpot regime of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea staged a series of professional wrestling bouts before upwards of 150,000 bewildered North Koreans at the city’s massive public stadium. They called it the Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. Participants were all from the Japanese wrestling circuit. They included the usual gang of archetypal villains in evil, spiked costumes, tough-looking women with blue hair, Canadian Chris Benoit, the legendary Ric Flair and Antonio Inoki, the most famous grappler in Japan.

The matches took place in almost total silence, as spectators had no idea what to make of competitors slamming their opponents’ head into ring posts, jumping on them from the top of the ropes, or hurling them out of the ring and stomping on them. The only hook for the absurd event seemed to be a tenuous connection between North Korea and Antonio Inoki. His early mentor was Rikidozan, founder of professional wrestling in Japan, who happened to have been born in what became North Korea. That was enough for Rikidozan to qualify as a national hero and for the wacky poobahs of DPRK to stage an entire festival around the first showdown beween Ric Flair and Inoki. Most of the Beijing press corps, complete with cameras, microphones and tape recorders, were among the select group of “tourists” invited to attend.

Just when I thought Wrestling Night in Pyongyang couldn’t get any more bizarre, they announced the presence of Muhammad Ali. But of course. Wasn’t he the world’s greatest athlete, North Korea the world’s greatest country, and the Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace the world’s greatest festival? To the organizers, it made perfect sense. Besides, Ali had once fought Inoki, himself. In the most ridiculous match of all time, Inoki spent all 15 rounds on the mat trying to kick his opponent’s legs, while Ali threw a grand total of six punches. You can look it up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3vOssizwW4

Anyway, there was Ali, unmistakeable in the stands. The crowd applauded politely, not quite sure how to greet a representative of the “Yankee wolf”, as English phrase books in North Korea labeled the USA. The champ half stood up and gave a half wave. Even from far away, I was thrilled.

All of which is a long-winded introduction to something I wrote a couple of years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Ali first great victory, his upset over the feared Sonny Liston to give him his first heavyweight championship. Looking back, I still find it hard to believe someone as wonderful and outlandish as Muhammad Ali really existed. As my original blog confesses, however, I was one of Cassius Clay’s many early doubters, a belief that socked me right in the wallet. But I was so spurred by the magnitude of his triumph that I tried a bit of Clay doggerel, myself, for the school yearbook. May you survive it, and may Muhammad Ali be sitting on the right hand of the black God he worshipped. We will never forget him.

SONNY LISTON OWES ME BIG

Fifty years ago today, I turned on the radio, smug in the belief that this was going to be the easiest dollar I ever made. That brash, upstart, crazy Cassius Clay was finally going to get his long overdue comeuppance, his taunts and boasts rammed down that big throat of his by the meanest, scariest fighter who ever lived, Sonny “The Bear” Liston.

An ex-con whose baleful scare frightened even hardened sportswriters was violence personified in the ring, Liston had twice taken on the skilled, much-loved former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. Patterson didn’t make it past the first round in either fight, hammered early to the canvas both times by Liston’s murderous fists. Few fighters dared to face him, despite the big payday of a heavyweight championship match.

Not so, Cassius Clay (the “slave name” that he later changed to Muhammad Ali….you may have heard of him…). Just 22, with thefastest mouth in showbiz but a spotty  record of dispatching ho-hum opponents, Clay had the audacity to challenge the seemingly invincible  Liston.  Not only that, he openly and repeatedly taunted Liston, even yelling at him outside his house in the middle of the night. An even-keel Liston was frightening, enough. Now, the Louisville Lip had made him mad. Yikes.

Some worried Clay might not even survive the fight, and just about everyone expected Liston to pulverize him in short order. Everyone, that is, except my friend Gary Toporoski, a bit of a loud-mouth in his own right. (sorry, Gary…). “Topper” was completely convinced Cassius Clay really was “gonna whup that big ugly bear”.  Why? Well, it seems he had seen Cassius Clay’s guest appearance on a CFTO sports show, and Clay started the show by flicking an array of lightening jabs at the camera.  “He’s sooo fast,” said my enthralled Newmarket High School friend. “There’s no way Liston can beat him. He’s too slow.”

I told him he was nuts. We decided to bet on the fight, something I’d never done before. In fact, I was so confident Liston would prevail, I even gave Toporoski the going 7-1 odds. His dollar against my seven.  I had already decided to treat myself to a hamburger at the Newmarket Grill with my big winnings. Instead, of course, I ate crow.

With a heavy but wiser heart, I handed Gary seven smackers (a lot of money in them there daze) at school the next day. He only said “I told you so” about 84 times. I’ve never bet on a match since.

Months later, still stung, I burst forward into doggerel for the 1964 school yearbook. Move over, Longfellow.

THE INCREDIBLE UPSET

The Bear was ugly, mean and detested.

Only once in a fight had he been been bested.

The Louisville Lip had no more chance

To whip the Bear than the Premier of France.

 

But came that decisive night in Miami,

Cassisus Clay had some sort of whammy.

For he blasted the myth that the Bear was too strong.

He proved he could box, as well as talk long.

 

In the fifth, when not a thing could he see,

He displayed some footwork that baffled Sonny.

With a continual jab and by dancing around,

The man with the mouth survived that tough round.

The Bear was a Cub by the end of round six.

The fans in the Hall began to yell “Fix!”.

For he threw in the towel to the man he despised,

And Cassius Clay had our opinions revised.

 

He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.

His speed had conquered the ferocious Sonny.

Clay’s gift of the gab was far from the latest,

But who could deny that he was “the greatest”?

— Montana Worthlesswords (c’est moi)

Here’s the famous fight that made losers out of both Sonny Liston and me.

Copyright Rod Mickleburgh 2016

You might also wish to read:

The coffin of late boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrives for a jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The coffin of late boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrives for a jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

MUHAMMAD ALI: the final goodbye to “The Greatest,” by Nick Carey and Steve Bittenbender

Fans chanting “Ali!” and throwing flowers lined the streets of Muhammad Ali’s hometown in Kentucky on June 10 for a funeral procession to celebrate the boxing champion who jolted America with his showmanship and won worldwide admiration as a man of principle.

What Muhammad Ali, conscientous-objector, taught me, by Penney Kome, Over Easy column

As a young teen studying at the Illinois School of Ballet, I didn’t follow sports much, which is probably why I didn’t recognize the big man right away.  The top of my head came to his elbow. My dad was 6’2″, but this guy was really big. A block away, it hit me: I’d just crossed paths with champion boxer Muhammad Ali.

~~~

Rod Mickleburgh F&ORod Mickleburgh has been a journalist for more than 40 years, with stops just about everywhere, from Penticton to Paris to Peking. Managed a few awards and nominations along the way, but highlight was co-winning Canada’s Michener Award with my highly-esteemed Globe and Mail colleague, Andre Picard, for our coverage of Canada’s tainted blood scandal. Left the Globe, my reporting home for more than 22 years, in the summer of 2013. Have my name on two books: Rare Courage, containing first person-accounts from 20 veterans of World War Two, and The Art of the Impossible, a tale of the wild and wooly 39 months of British Columbia’s first New Democratic Party government led by Dave Barrett. Co-authored with Geoff Meggs, The Art of the Impossible won the Hubert Evans Prize for non-fiction at the 2013 British Columbia Book Awards. Currently investigating time management, without regular deadlines. Visit Rod Mickleburgh’s WordPress site, Mickleblog.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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What Muhammad Ali, conscientous-objector, taught me

Muhammad Ali in 1966. Photographer unknown, Dutch National Archives, The Hague

Muhammad Ali in 1966. Photographer unknown, Dutch National Archives, The Hague

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY 
June, 2016

As a young teen studying at the Illinois School of Ballet, I didn’t follow sports much, which is probably why I didn’t recognize the big man right away. He was standing on the outside sidewalk of Hyde Park’s new Harper Court shopping mall, looking out, streetward.

He was well dressed in slacks and a blazer, a light-skinned African American with closely cropped hair. I actually stood next to him for a moment, figuring out where I wanted to go next. The top of my head came to the bent elbow of his folded arms. My dad was 6’2″, but this guy was really big.

A block away, it hit me: I’d just crossed paths with one of Chicago’s most famous residents, champion boxer Muhammad Ali. Everyone knew he lived in Hyde Park, the first racially integrated Chicago neighbourhood. The Hyde Park Herald report said he’d been a guest at the Harper Court opening ceremonies.

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Half a dozen years later, I found we were standing on the same sidewalk again, metaphorically speaking, as I quoted Ali’s words in arguing with Scott (my boyfriend at the time) that we should resist too. Scott had dropped out of college and was eligible for the draft. But he trusted to luck to protect him.  And when he did get drafted, he took the step forward and entered the army.

Not so Muhammad Ali, the Heavyweight Champion of the World. He was supposed to be the toughest of tough men. He certainly won and kept his title in brutal prizefights. (One of the oldest known sports, boxing was hugely popular in the 1960s, maybe because it showed well on the early TVs.) Cassius Clay converted to Islam in 1964, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and embraced non-militarism.

“On April 28, 1967, Ali refused to be drafted and requested conscientious-objector status,” the New York Times reported. “He was immediately stripped of his title by boxing commissions around the country. Several months later he was convicted of draft evasion, a verdict he appealed. He did not fight again until he was almost 29, losing three and a half years of his athletic prime.”  Eventually, he did win back the Heavyweight title — twice.  He also won his right to CO status, at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Time after time Ali faced the cameras with an astute racial and class analysis of the Vietnam war:

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father…Shoot them for what?…How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

With broadcaster Howard Cossell’s help, Ali spent the three years he couldn’t do his fighting work, touring universities, talking about boxing and about why he refused to be drafted. He spoke openly about his conversion to Islam, and cited his faith as the reason for his war resistance.

He rebutted critics who compared his job to being in the army. “In boxing the goal is to win the fight,” he said. “In war, the object is to kill, kill, kill, kill, kill innocent people.” Although the army insisted he had only two choices, the army or jail, he said, “There is a third way, and that way is justice.”

He trusted the American legal system, even while he joked about breaking open his piggy bank for gas money to the next university. “I get $1,500 an appearance,” he said. “That’s good money.”  Exonerated, he received $4 million for his next championship fight.

“Muhammad Ali bridged a major divide when he refused induction into the armed forces,” writes Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America’s Future. “The civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s were often divided by race, kept apart by those who were afraid of losing hard-won gains and by cynics who knew that to divide is to conquer….After he was suspended from boxing, Ali spent three years speaking to college students and other groups of all races about both civil rights and Vietnam. When Dr. King came out against the war despite fierce opposition, he cited him, saying: “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all — lack and brown and poor — victims of the same system of oppression.”

Scott and I had reached the same conclusion — that the oppressive system was universal (worse for some than for others) and for us it was unbeatable, at least at that time. So after two rounds of boot camp, he deserted the army, and invited me to come to Canada with him.

By the time we split up three years later, I’d put down enough roots in Toronto to want to stay. And following Muhammad Ali’s lead, with a lifelong background in civil rights and anti-war work, I continued to promote peace and equality in my own way. I’ve met a lot of other U.S. immigrants with similar stories, especially women.

Of course, no one can compare to Muhammad Ali’s influence then or now. He was a giant figure who strode his own path and spoke his own truth.

“The number one greeting in my religion is ‘Peace,'” he said. That’s something Westerners still don’t understand about Islam. Now we live in a time when women wearing hijabs face attacks because ignorant people perceive them as threats (or easy targets). How ironic to reflect that Muhammad Ali, the man Sports Illustrated acclaimed as “Sportsman [Athlete] of the Twentieth Century,” was pilloried for preaching peace in the name of Allah.

 

Copyright Penney Kome 2016

Penney Kome moved to Canada on January 19, 1968, and immigrated a year later. She is writing a book about US women who moved to Canada during the Vietnam War era.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

The coffin of late boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrives for a jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 9, 2016.   REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The coffin of late boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrives for a jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Related stories on F&O about Muhammad Ali:

MUHAMMAD ALI: the final goodbye to “The Greatest,” by Nick Carey and Steve Bittenbender

Fans chanting “Ali!” and throwing flowers lined the streets of Muhammad Ali’s hometown in Kentucky on June 10 for a funeral procession to celebrate the boxing champion who jolted America with his showmanship and won worldwide admiration as a man of principle.

Muhammad Ali: Remembering when Clay/Ali bestrode the world, by Rod Mickleburgh

It’s been said many, many times, but it remains true. Never again will we see the likes of Muhammad Ali.

Read more F&O columns by Penney Kome

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Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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