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August 2011

Locked Up and Left Behind: Hurricane Irene and the Prisoners on New York’s Rikers Island

August 26, 2011

by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference this afternoon. Bloomberg annouced a host  of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter’s question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with more than a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.

 

New York City is surrounded by small islands and barrier beaches, and a glance at the city’s evacuation map reveals all of them to be in Zone A (already under a mandatory evacuation order) or Zone B–all, that is, save one. Rikers Island, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx, is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.

According to the New York City Department of Corrections’ own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island.

We were not able to reach anyone at the NYC DOC for comment–but the New York Times‘s City Room blog reported: “According to the city’s Department of Correction, no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists. Contingencies do exist for smaller-scale relocations from one facility to another.”

For a warning of what can happen to prisoners in a hurricane we need only look back at Katrina, and the horrific conditions endured by inmates at Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans. According to a report produced by the ACLU:

[A] culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm.

As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests …

Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.

source

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Ali Ferzat

[youtube http://youtu.be/_94oW6-oWVM?]

History Repeats Itself, With Mistakes of Iraq Rehearsed Afresh

With Gaddafi at large, a guerrilla war eroding the new powers is inevitable

By Robert Fisk

August 25, 2011 “The Independent” – –Doomed always to fight the last war, we are recommitting the same old sin in Libya.

Muammar Gaddafi vanishes after promising to fight to the death. Isn’t that just what Saddam Hussein did? And of course, when Saddam disappeared and US troops suffered the very first losses from the Iraqi insurgency in 2003, we were told – by the US proconsul Paul Bremer, the generals, diplomats and the decaying television “experts” – that the gunmen of the resistance were “die-hards”, “dead-enders” who didn’t realise that the war was over. And if Gaddafi and his egg-headed son remain at large – and if the violence does not end – how soon will we be introduced once more to the “dead-enders” who simply will not understand that the lads from Benghazi are in charge and that the war is over? Indeed, within 15 minutes – literally – of my writing the above words (2pm yesterday), a Sky News reporter had re-invented “die-hards” as a definition for Gaddafi’s men. See what I mean?

Needless to say, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds as far as the West is concerned. No one is disbanding the Libyan army and no one is officially debarring the Gaddafi-ites from a future role in their country. No one is going to make the same mistakes we made in Iraq. And no boots are on the ground. No walled-off, sealed-in Green Zone Western zombies are trying to run the future Libya. “It’s up to the Libyans,” has become the joyful refrain of every State Department/ Foreign Office/Quai d’Orsay factotum. Nothing to do with us!

But, of course, the massive presence of Western diplomats, oil-mogul representatives, highly paid Western mercenaries and shady British and French servicemen – all pretending to be “advisers” rather than participants – is the Benghazi Green Zone. There may (yet) be no walls around them but they are, in effect, governing Libya through the various Libyan heroes and scallywags who have set themselves up as local political masters. We can overlook the latters’ murder of their own commanding officer – for some reason, no one mentions the name of Abdul Fatah Younes any more, though he was liquidated in Benghazi only a month ago – but they can only survive by clinging to our Western umbilicals.

Of course, this war is not the same as our perverted invasion of Iraq. Saddam’s capture only provoked the resistance to infinitely more attacks on Western troops – because those who had declined to take part in the insurgency for fear that the Americans would put Saddam back in charge of Iraq now had no such inhibitions. But Gaddafi’s arrest along with Saif’s would undoubtedly hasten the end of pro-Gaddafi resistance to the rebels. The West’s real fear – right now, and this could change overnight – should be the possibility that the author of the Green Book has made it safely through to his old stomping ground in Sirte, where tribal loyalty might prove stronger than fear of a Nato-backed Libyan force.

Sirte, where Gaddafi, at the very start of his dictatorship, turned the region’s oil fields into the first big up-for-grabs international dividend for foreign investors after his 1969 revolution, is no Tikrit. It is the site of his first big African Union conference, scarcely 16 miles from the place of his own birth, a city and region that benefited hugely from his 41-year rule. Strabo, the Greek geographer, described how the dots of desert settlements due south of Sirte made Libya into a leopard skin. Gaddafi must have liked the metaphor. Almost 2,000 years later, Sirte was pretty much the hinge between the two Italian colonies of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

And in Sirte the “rebels” were defeated by the “loyalists” in this year’s six-month war; we shall soon, no doubt, have to swap these preposterous labels – when those who support the pro-Western Transitional National Council will have to be called loyalists, and pro-Gaddafi rebels turn into the “terrorists” who may attack our new Western-friendly Libyan administration. Either way, Sirte, whose inhabitants are now supposedly negotiating with Gaddafi’s enemies, may soon be among the most interesting cities in Libya.

So what is Gaddafi thinking now? Desperate, we believe him to be. But really? We have chosen many adjectives for him in the past: irascible, demented, deranged, magnetic, tireless, obdurate, bizarre, statesmanlike (Jack Straw’s description), cryptic, exotic, bizarre, mad, idiosyncratic and – most recently – tyrannical, murderous and savage. But in his skewed, shrewd view of the Libyan world, Gaddafi would do better to survive and live – to continue a civil-tribal conflict and thus consume the West’s new Libyan friends in the swamp of guerrilla warfare – and slowly sap the credibility of the new “transitional” power.

But the unpredictable nature of the Libyan war means that words rarely outlive their writing. Maybe Gaddafi hides in a basement tunnel beneath the Rixos Hotel – or lounges in one of Robert Mugabe’s villas. I doubt it. Just so long as no one tries to fight the war before this one.

source

Art is Greater than Filth

P U L S E

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Ali Farzat, the Arab world’s greatest cartoonist – in fact one of the very best and bravest creative voices in the Arab world – was bundled into a van by Syrian regime filth last night. Some hours later he was found bleeding at the side of the airport road. First reports suggest that his hands have been broken.

I’ve often used Ali’s cartoons to illustrate online pieces. His work has been the perfect choice – its tone is tragicomic; he never minimises the pain of the contemporary Arab situation even as he laughs at it. His pen, and his blessed hand, draw the catastrophes of dictatorship and occupation, of misogyny and class oppression, of bureacracy, hypocrisy and ignorance. Ali is a valuable friend of the Palestinian people: I hope those fools who still believe the Syrian thug regime is a ‘reistance regime’ will note this well.

I discovered Ali Ferzat when I lived in Damascus in the late 1990s. His work was published in state newspapers. He seemed to be one of the rare few – poet Muhammad al-Maghut and actor Yasser al-Azmeh were others – who were permitted to transgress the state’s taboos. When Bashaar inherited power in 2000, Ali was granted permission to start up his own satirical newspaper, ad-Domari (‘the Lamplighter’). A couple of years later the initiative fizzled out under the pressure of mounting censorship and intimidation. The episode was symptomatic of the deceptions of Bashaar’s early years.

A few months ago the body of Ibrahim al-Qashoush, a native of Hama who wrote a popular anti-regime song, was found in the Orontes river. Ibrahim’s vocal chords had been ripped from his throat. Now the shabeeha regime has broken Ali’s hands. But it won’t break the creativity or the will of the Syrian people.

Ali Farzat: the dreams of Syria

This most gifted of cartoonist, `Ali Farzat, was kidnapped by armed goons (Shabbihah) of the Syrian regime and severely beaten.  What do you call a lousy regime that is terrified of a talented cartoonist?  I have written extensively on this blog about this brilliant cartoonist.  I recommended a book published in the US containing some of his work.  I always credit Lisa Wedeen of the University of Chicago for introducing me to his work back in 1993.  He has a unique style and gifts.  During the short-lived, “Damascus Spring”, he produced a publication “Dumari”.  It did not last.  I still possess some of its issues.  Farzat has a website where some of work is displayed but it is now blocked.  This is Farzat in his hospital bed.  I woke up to the news and was most distressed.  The Ba`th Party in its history produced no talents and gifts: so I understand why they want to smash gifts and arts and talents.  This is a crucial moment for wavering progressive: a stance against the repressive regime is now badly needed.  No argument can be made in support of the regime.  And despite is verbal trickery, it does not fight Israel either.  It hides under the feet of Hizbullah hoping to reap the rewards of their fighting skills against Israel.  This is a regime that smashes hopes and dreams.  `Ali Farzat?  One of the best talents in Syria and the region?  Armed goons of the regime dare to damage his precious hands??  Which side are you on?  Ali Farzat or Bashshar Al-Asad?

Ali Ferzat

[youtube http://youtu.be/i5Mko4Yzmls?]

Ali Ferzat, Syria’s most loved cartoonist was beaten by mukhabarat and thrown out of a car. His most recent cartoon was of Qaddafi stopping in his Jeed to pick up Bashar al-Assad, who was hitching a ride. The cartoon and Ali’s site is no longer available on the internet….

Two opposing views of Syria’s economy. One claims Syria can tough out the economic hit for quite a bit longer. The other, by Carnegie, says no. Master Card in Syria is down. More top Syrians are sanctioned by the EU. Gulf Sands, the oil company partly owned by Rami Makhlouf is hit with more troubles and the West is chiseling away at the Syrian economy.

Gulf countries, in an apparent reversal of position, seem to be distancing themselves from the US effort to strangle Assad’s regime. Saudi arrested anti-Assad demonstrators and Qatar has backed away from its anti-Syria diplomacy as its leader heads for a visit to Iran.

Syria’s Opposition woes are cataloged by Reuters. Here is a photo of Ali Ferzat.

source

Victory in Tripoli

P U L S E

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

with 3 comments

After six months of struggle, the Libyan revolution has arrived (again) in Tripoli. There may still be a trick or two up the megalomaniac’s sleeve, but the news coming in at the moment suggests a precipitous collapse. Saif-ul-Islam al-Qaddafi has been arrested. The tyrant’s daughter Aisha’s house is under the revolutionaries’ control, as is the military base of the formerly feared Khamis Brigade. The brigade in charge of protecting Qaddafi himself has surrendered. (The foreign supporters of Qaddafi and his supposedly ‘loyal’ subjects must be feeling rather silly now). Inhabitants of Tripoli’s neighbourhoods are pouring into their streets to greet the revolutionary forces.

Much of the credit for this victory must go to the revolutionaries of Misrata and the Jebel Nafusa. While the Transitional Council in Benghazi was busy fighting itself, the people of Misrata fought their way out of Qaddafi’s siege and then liberated Zlitan. The fighters of the Jebel Nafusa broke the siege around their mountains and then liberated Zawiya – which has suffered so much – and moved towards the capital. Last night revolutionaries in Tripoli, who have been launching small-scale operations nightly for months, rose in Fashloom, Souq al-Juma’a and other areas. Today they were met by their comrades arriving from the west and east.

Of course, the controversial NATO-led intervention has also played a major role. Western policy has been clever on Libya, winning friends by helping the people when they asked for help. Credit must be given where credit is due, and the West will understandably have deep credit reserves in the new Libya.

This will be worrying for anyone who wishes to see the Arabs shake off imperialist influence, and the Transitional Council does not inspire confidence either. It’s largely made up of ex-Qaddafi officials and it’s been too willing to have NATO go beyond its mandate to protect civilians. Some form of neo-liberal pro-West semi-democracy seems likely in Libya, at first at least; in fact that may be the best case scenario. There is an immediate danger that the revolutionary forces will now split into competing militias and that chaos will follow.

A semi-democracy would still be a great improvement on Qaddafi’s capricious and sadistic dictatorship. I very much hope the revolution continues and deepens and that the Libyans won’t settle for ex-Qaddafi officials – but that’s up to them. At least we’re in a position tonight where we can hope for that. If there had been no intervention, we wouldn’t be in this position. An Arab intervention would have been incomparably better, but the Arabs aren’t there yet.

So many martyrs have fallen, including, a couple of days ago, the cousin of our brave reporter Nafissa Assed. But tonight, as we enter the last ten days of Ramadan, there is cause for celebration. We congratulate the Libyan people on their victory, and thank them for giving a boost to revolutionaries around the Arab world. We remember the tens of thousands of martyrs murdered by the dictatorship since 1969. Takbeeeeeer!

Tears of Gaza

Bashar el Assad’s speech 21/08/11

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