Friday, August 17, 2012


I have no time for commentary.  I am spending all my hours trying to keep my dog with bone cancer comfortable for her last days, but I really needed to put something here and to remind myself that the world out there goes on.  It is Prison Friday and this is from Aljazeera, originally from IPS.

Solitary confinement: Torture chambers for black revolutionaries
An estimated 80,000 men, women and even children are being held in solitary confinement on any given day in US prisons.
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2012 18:04
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According to a report by Juan Mendez, prisoners should not be held in isolation for more than 15 days at a stretch [EPA]

"The torture technicians who developed the paradigm used in (prisons') 'control units' realised that they not only had to separate those with leadership qualities, but also break those individuals' minds and bodies and keep them separated until they are dead."  - 
Russell "Maroon" Shoats
Russell "Maroon" Shoats has been kept in solitary confinement in the state of Pennsylvania for 30 years after being elected president of the prison-approved Lifers' Association. He was initially convicted for his alleged role in an attack authorities claim was carried out by militant black activists on the Fairmont Park Police Station in Philadelphia that left a park sergeant dead.
Despite not having violated prison rules in more than two decades, state prison officials refuse to release him into the general prison population. 
Russell's family and supporters claim that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) has unlawfully altered the consequences of his criminal conviction, sentencing him to die in solitary confinement - a death imposed by decades of no-touch torture. 
The severity of the conditions he is subjected to and the extraordinary length of time they have been imposed for has sparked an international campaign to release him from solitary confinement - a campaign that has quickly attracted the support of leading human rights legal organisations, such as the Centre for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild. 
Less than two months after the campaign was formally launched with events in New York City and London, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, agreed to make an official inquiry into Shoats' 21 years of solitary confinement, sending a communication to the US State Department representative in Geneva, Switzerland. 
 Whistleblower 'isolated' in US jail
What the liberals won't tell you 
While the state of Pennsylvania has remained unmoved in this matter so far, some in the US government are finally catching on. Decades after rights activists first began to refer to the practice of solitary confinement as "torture", the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and human rights held a hearing on June 19 to "reassess" the fiscal, security and human costs of locking prisoners into tiny, windowless cells for 23 hours a day. 
Needless to say, the hearing echoed in a whisper what human rights defenders have been shouting for nearly an entire generation: that sensory deprivation, lack of social contact, a near total absence of zeitgebers and restricted access to all intellectual and emotional stimuli are an evil and unproductive combination.  
The hearing opened a spate of debate: with newspapers in Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Ohio and elsewhere seizing the occasion to denounce the practice as "torture" and call for a reversal of a 30-year trend that has shattered - at a minimum - tens of thousands of people's lives inside the vast US prison archipelago. 
But as happens with virtually all prison-related stories in the US mainstream media, the two most important words were left unprinted, unuttered: race and revolution. 
Any discussion on solitary confinement begins and ends with a number: a prisoner is kept in his or her cell 23 or 24 hours per day, allowed three showers every week and served three meals a day. According to a report by UN torture rapporteur Mendez, prisoners should not be held in isolation for more than 15 days at a stretch. But in the US, it is typical for hundreds of thousands of prisoners to pass in and out of solitary confinement for 30 or 60 days at a time each year. 
Human Rights Watch estimated that there were approximately 20,000 prisoners being held in Supermax prisons, which are entire facilities dedicated to solitary confinement or near-solitary. It is estimated that at least 80,000 men, women and even children are being held in solitary confinement on any given day in US jails and prisons. 
Unknown thousands have spent years and, in some cases, decades in such isolation, including more than 500 prisoners held in California's Pelican Bay state prison for ten years or more. 
Perhaps the most notorious case of all is that of the Angola 3, three Black Panthers who have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana for more than 100 years between the three of them. While Robert King was released after 29 years in solitary, his comrades - Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace - recently began their 40th years in solitary confinement, despite an ongoing lawsuit challenging their isolation and a growing international movement for their freedom that has been supported by Amnesty International. 
But all these numbers fail to mention what Robert Saleem Holbrook, who was sentenced to life without parole as a 16-year-old juvenile and has now spent the majority of his life behind bars, pointed out: "Given the control units' track record in driving men crazy, it is not surprising that the majority of prisoners sent into it are either politically conscious prisoners, prison lawyers, or rebellious young prisoners. It is this class of prisoners that occupies the control units in prison systems across the United States." 
Holbrook's observation is anything but surprising to those familiar with the routine violations of prisoners' human rights within US jails and prisons. The prison discipline study, a mass national survey assessing formal and informal punitive practices in US prisons conducted in 1989, concluded that "solitary confinement, loss of privileges, physical beatings" and other forms of deprivation and harassment were "common disciplinary practices" that were "rendered routinely, capriciously and brutally" in maximum-security US prisons. 
The study also noted receiving "hundreds of comments from prisoners" explaining that jailhouse lawyers who file grievances and lawsuits about abuse and poor conditions were the most frequently targeted. Black prisoners and the mentally ill were also targeted for especially harsh treatment. This "pattern of guard brutality" was "consistent with the vast and varied body of post-war literature, demonstrating that guard use of physical coercion is highly structured and deeply entrenched in the guard subculture". 
 Inside Story Americas:
Why are so many Americans 
in prison? 
Race and revolution 
But while broad patterns can be discerned, these are the numbers that are missing: how many of those in solitary confinement are black? How many are self-taught lawyers, educators or political activists? How many initiated hunger strikes, which have long been anathema to the prison administration? How many were caught up in the FBI-organised dragnet that hauled thousands of community leaders, activists and thinkers into the maws of the US "justice" system during the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s? 
Former Warden of United States Penitentiary Marion, the prototype of modern supermax-style solitary confinement, Ralph Arons, has stated: "The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in the society at large."  
One of these revolutionaries is Russell "Maroon" Shoats, the founder of the Black Unity Council, which later merged with the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. He was first jailed in early 1970.

Hailing from the gang-war-torn streets of West Philadelphia, Shoats escaped twice from prison system, first from Huntingdon state prison in September 1977 and then again in March 1980.
Shoats' escapes - the first of which lasted a full 27 days, despite a massive national search complete with helicopters, dogs and vigilante groups from predominantly white communities surrounding the prison - earned him the nickname "Maroon", in honour of slaves who broke away from plantations in Surinam, Guyana and later Jamaica, Brazil and other colonies and established sovereign communities on the outskirts of the white settler zones. 
Still, it was not until Shoats was elected president of the prison-approved Lifers' Organisation in 1982 - the closest thing to a union for inmates, through which they demanded basic rights such as proper visiting hours, access to legal documents and healthier food - that the prison system decided he was a "threat" to administrative stability and placed him in solitary confinement.
For the past 30 years, Maroon has been transferred from one "torture chamber" to another, where his best efforts to interact with his fellow prisoners or resurrect his old study sessions for the younger generation are thwarted at every turn. 
In 2006, the US had an incarceration rate for black males that was more than five-and-a-half times greater thanthat of South Africa at the end of the apartheid era in 1993. 
Yet most mainstream authorities on the prison system in the US - such as the eminent scholar Michelle Alexander, whose book The New Jim Crow suggests that the prison system is racially "biased" - do not come close to touching on the phenomenon of political prisoners, let alone on the inmates who take up the cudgels on behalf of their fellow detainees and attempt to carve out niches of justice in a massive chamber of terror. 
The discussion of solitary confinement as a violation of a basic human right comes five decades after Malcolm X first began to preach that black people in America should take their grievances not to the US Supreme Court, but to the United Nations, to appeal not for civil rights, as white bourgeois parlance would have it, but for basic human rights, as a colonised people. 
He argued not for "integration" into a system that had brutalised and enslaved "Africans in America" for years, but for an overhaul of that system and a transfer of power away from those who created and maintained it. Not master walking hand-in-hand with slave, but an end to mastery and slavery altogether. 
As a black revolutionary, Malcolm X's words were largely painted over by mainstream historians. But if the struggle to end inhumane treatment inside prisoners is to become anything more than a largely apolitical movement for so-called "civil rights", it must put two long-ignored points back on the agenda: race and revolution. 
Kanya D'Almeida is an editor for the Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency, currently based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. 
Bret Grote is an investigator with the Human Rights Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based prison abolitionist and prisoner rights organisation. 
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012



My greyhound friend Whitney's bone cancer has progressed and I need to spend more time with her now both to care for her as much as possible and to just be with her.  I probably won't be stopping SCISSION but there will be more days like today, when I just don't have the time or energy for it.  

Monday, August 13, 2012


They are pointing the finger of blame directly at the government of Robert Mugabe for the on going typhoid and health crisis in Zimbabwe. 

SW Radio Africa tells us, "Typhoid has been reported in Zimbabwe since last year and the worst affected have been the densely populated areas around Harare's centre, including Kuwadzana and Mufakose. That outbreak threatened to spread across the country, after cases were confirmed in Bindura, Mashonaland Central and Norton and Zvimba in Mashonaland West."  Other outbreaks of typhoid, dysentery and other diseases caused by poor water conditions have been reported since 2008 in Harare and elsewhere.  While the dilapidated water and sanitation systems are again being blamed for another round of water-borne diseases, the government is clearly responsible for the deterioration of the water system.

Along with disease there have been repeated interruptions in water services to thousands.Some areas are going   for weeks without water. People cannot bathe, wash, or are forced to drink untreated water enabling the spread of disease such as typhoid and cholera.  Says the Standard, "Without adequate water supplies, residents will troop back to the unprotected shallow wells and drains, putting themselves at risk of contracting water-borne diseases. Who wants another cholera outbreak?"  

City governments have been of little help and are in reality just another part of the problem.

The Empire cares even less then its local satrap.

This does not have to be.  There is money to take care of some of this, yet the government seems to think a new shopping center is more important then the health of its citizens.  Business is more important then life.

 Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party has attributed the typhoid outbreak to biological warfare and Western sanctions.  Few are buying this pass off.

SW Radio Africa reports:

Civil society groups have now banded together to pressure the higher levels
of government to do more, with a petition being handed Robert Mugabe, Prime
Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, as well as the ministries of Local Government,
Water Resources Development and Health and Child Welfare. The petition is
also addressed to the Mayors of Harare and Chitungwiza.

“We, the undersigned citizens and represented Civil Society Organisations,
do hereby petition the Government of Zimbabwe through the relevant
ministries and local authorities to immediately set up effective strategies
to address the recurring problems of the outbreak of the typhoid fever and
cholera in Zimbabwe,” read part of the petition.

Addressing a press conference in Harare on Wednesday Abel Chikomo, the
Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said they had so far
gathered 1,795 signatures from concerned Zimbabweans. The target is to
collect a million signatures.

Civil society has also demanded that the government immediately set up a
commission of inquiry to investigate the outbreaks throughout the country
and recommend solutions to end to the problem. The government is also being
pressured to come up with long term strategies that include a clear plan to
provide clean water, and to disperse necessary funds and technical

Me thinks it is going to take more than a petition.  

The following is from the Standard via All Africa.

Zimbabwe: Lack of Vision Has Led to Disease Outbreaks

Photo: IRIN
Residents walk past raw sewage.
It's sickening to know that people in Harare and Chitungwiza are once again eating their own faeces. This has resulted in another outbreak of typhoid which has seen the number of people affected rising to 220 in the past week alone with the addition of 30 more people in the capital and 26 others in its dormitory, Chitungwiza.

In most urban centres round the globe, water-borne diseases such typhoid and cholera have been eradicated completely. Water purification is no longer an issue in modern cities because the leadership of the municipalities and their national leaderships have gotten to know the importance of clean water and how it is vital to the survival not only of the people but also that of their own political careers.

Many analysts have looked into the reason why Zimbabwean cities find themselves in the situation they are in. Depending on which side of the political divide they come from, they blame foreigners on their situation while others blame the lack of vision on the part of those who have led the country since independence in 1980.

The establishment and those who thrive on its continuity blame the sanctions that have been imposed on the country by certain powerful countries saying the so-called sanctions have impacted negatively on the provision of social services such as water.

This might be a good scapegoat that might fool the general population most of the time, but the time seems to have come when it can no longer fool the people all the time.

A simple question may be asked: "What was the Zanu PF government's vision regarding the provision of water when it took over the reins of power 32 years ago?"

It was clear to everyone that the coming of independence would accelerate the rural urban drift, and that the country's industry would expand. Any government would have known that there would be imperatives that would go with this growth. As it turned out, the growth of the urban population, even in the early years of independence, was phenomenal; so was that of our manufacturing and mining industries. But there was no vision to match this growth especially regarding water infrastructure.

Shockingly, the water infrastructure we rely on today was put in place during the colonial days; in the 1950s to be specific.

For Harare, the implications are staggering; that was before the expansion of Chitungwiza from merely St Mary's township into the big sprawling town, now boasting a population of two million people, who make it the second largest municipality in the country, well ahead of the country's second city, Bulawayo.

That was also before the expansion of Norton and Ruwa. All in all, the infrastructure put together by the colonial regimes to cater for at most 200 000 people, is now forced to cater for nearly four million people living in Harare, Chitungwiza, Norton and Ruwa!

But the colonial regimes had a water master-plan not only for the whole nation but also for particular rural areas and urban settlements. This explains why even the Matabeleland-Zambezi water project was mooted as far back as 1912.

We have all heard of the Tokwe-Murkosi dam project that is still struggling to be completed and Harare's own Kunzwi dam project; these are projects that have been on the master-plan for donkey years. But what we have seen is the total lack of a complementary vision to complete these projects on the part of our leaders.

The projects only come when an election is around the corner, meaning they have become political footballs to be kicked around as a way to attract voters.

Now that we are eating our own dung and bearing the consequences, our political leadership is playing the blame game; sanctions did not stop our liberation government in the early days to do something about the inadequate water reticulation infrastructure; it did not stop our new government from constructing the dams that were already on the water master-plan. Our government did not see beyond the next election; it never had a long-term vision!

The long-term result has been that the water situation today should be declared a national disaster. Not one municipality is capable of providing adequate water to its citizens because most of the water treatment plants are old and need replacement, according to a recent study. To counter this our government has recommended that boreholes be sunk in areas affected by lack of potable water.

On the surface, that might be a viable option but it seems not to take into consideration the fact that underground water, like surface water, needs to be managed properly. One need only be reminded of the boreholes sunk at the University of Zimbabwe campus that are spewing contaminated water because the municipality has not managed the underground water suitably.

Interestingly, the fact that nothing is being done to improve the water infrastructure is not because there is no money floating around! It is not because the international community is not assisting as a result of sanctions; Unicef has been at the forefront of providing safe water and so have been all major countries of the European Union, who are most vilified for imposing sanctions!

One only has to look at where new investment from our friends in the East is going; it is going into the construction of shopping malls and hotels. Ironically, some of these hotels and shopping malls are being erected in areas that are at the heart of our water systems. This not only explains the shocking ignorance at the highest level of how water systems work, but also the absolute lack of vision among our governing elite.

The Gwebi River has its source at the wetland in Borrowdale where a US$100 million shopping mall is about to be constructed. The construction has got the nod from the Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development and also that of the Mayor of Harare, two intellectuals who should know better.

A hotel has also been constructed on another wetland; the powers that be have chosen to ignore these projects' impact on the water system.

Ironically, the shopping malls and the hotels being erected will need loads of clean water every day which they will not get because they sit on that water and also because they have stopped the natural cleansing of the water, for that is exactly what wetlands do.

The number of white elephants rising up around the country shows the misplaced priorities that our government is pursuing. What is more important for Harare today, a shopping mall or an efficient sewerage system?