Mar 252010

The following is a two-pronged story from hell.  I am deeply disturbed that this is the first time I have heard of it, even though this gross miscarriage of justice began in 1993.  It is a story not only of the law gone amok but also a damning indictment of our prison system.

From the Free the Scott Sisters blog, we learn that:

In a trial fraught with legal malpractice and witness coercion, Mississippi Judge Marcus Gordon oversaw one of the most blatantly corrupt trials in history, culminating in the staggering over-sentencing of sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott to double-life each in an armed robbery where no one was murdered or harmed and the amount alleged to have been taken was a whopping $11.00.

On December 24, 1993, the Scott County Sheriff’s Department arrested the Scott sisters for armed robbery even though three young males, ranging from ages 14 to 18, confessed to committing the crime. Despite this, the corrupt Mississippi sheriff used coercion, threats, and harassment to compel them to turn state’s evidence against the Scott sisters due to a long-standing vendetta against a family member. The 14-year-old male would later testify that he did not read the statement and was pressured to sign a written statement prepared by the sheriff without an attorney being present.

As if that weren’t bad enough, these young women received incompetent legal representation at the lower court trial. Their attorneys, Firnist J. Alexander, Jr. and Gail Shaw-Pierson failed to interview and subpoena witnesses, only calling one witness when there were several. Incredibly, the jury never even heard any testimony from the alleged victims. The sisters were advised to not testify on their own behalf by their attorneys, Alexander and Shaw-Pierson, denying them the opportunity to speak for themselves.

In October of 1994, Jamie and Gladys Scott were sentenced to extraordinary double life terms each in prison, even though neither sister had prior convictions and there was no violence involved in these charges.

The four State’s witnesses provided conflicting testimony and one alleged accuser was not called to testify – he was not questioned or subpoenaed by defense attorneys Firnist J. Alexander, Jr. or Gail Shaw-Pierson. Witnesses admitted however, that reports prepared by the Sheriff, of their descriptions of the event contained no such claim. In other words, the sisters were not present. Jamie and Gladys Scott were not involved in the armed robbery and they did not conspire to plan such. Witnesses all testified that they were coerced and threatened by Deputy Sheriff Marvin Williams. Testimony also revealed that Marvin Williams prepared statements of the events from the night of December 24, 1994 BEFORE obtaining signatures and BEFORE the witnesses were brought into his office. In other words, the statements were not written by witnesses. Three affidavits exist – they all state that the Scott Sisters were not involved in this robbery. One affidavit is written by a trustee of the local jail, his account of the facts reveal that a wallet was located a few days after this alleged robbery and that wallet contained the photo ID of one of the alleged victims of the trumped up robbery and three twenty dollar bills. The trustee also reveals that there was NOT a robbery, he was also threatened to be sent to Parchman Penitentiary if he told the truth.

And according to James Ridgeway and Jean Casella,

On February 25, a small crowd gathered outside the state capitol in Jackson, Mississippi, to push for the release of sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott, who are serving two consecutive life sentences apiece for a 1993 armed robbery in which no one was injured and the take, by most accounts, was about $11. Supporters of the Scott sisters have long tried to draw attention to their case, as an extreme example of the distorted justice and Draconian sentencing policies that have overloaded prisons, crippled state budgets, and torn families apart across the United States. But in recent months, their cause has taken on a new urgency, because for Jamie Scott, an unwarranted life sentence may soon become a death sentence.

Jamie Scott, 38, is suffering from kidney failure. At the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Pearl, where Jamie and Gladys are incarcerated, medical services are provided by a private contractor called Wexford, which has been the subject of lawsuits and legislative investigations in several states over inadequate treatment of the inmates in its care. According to Jamie Scott’s family, in the six weeks since her condition became life-threatening, she has endured faulty or missed dialysis sessions, infections, and other complications. She has received no indication that a kidney transplant is being considered as an option, though her sister is a willing donor.

The Ridgeway and Casella piece goes on to examine Wexford’s sorry record and the Free the Scott Sisters has updates on the case here.

As I said, I am deeply disturbed that this story has been all but hidden all these years.  What it says about our justice system should make us all very uncomfortable, and I have no doubt that had these been white women, it would not be necessary to write this post.  Please, visit their blog and donate, sign the petition, cross-post the story and let’s raise a ruckus and get these women out of jail and back in the arms of their loving family, especially their mother Evelyn Rasco who is caring for Gladys and Jamie’s children and working tirelessly to free her daughters–she is truly the embodiment of fierce mothering.

You can also sign a petition on behalf of the Scott sisters here.

 March 25, 2010  Posted by on March 25, 2010 Comments Off on Free The Scott Sisters
Mar 252010

A few weeks ago I posted some interesting analysis from Steve Kass on the difference between death rates and survival rates when it comes to looking at breast cancer.  Last week ran an excellent piece debunking an ad that ran before the healthcare vote which mangled breast cancer statistics in a fear-mongering anti-reform pitch. Their reasoning also looks at the difference between survival and mortality rates:

As for breast cancer survival rates, early screening certainly improves those. What’s less clear is whether screening actually improves survival, versus improving the statistics we use to measure it. We’ve written about this a few times before — including in our analysis of a previous misleading ad featuring Walsh.

Walsh’s claim that survival rates for breast cancer are notably higher in the U.S. than in the E.U. is backed up by a study published in the medical journal Lancet, which showed five-year relative survival rates of 83.9 percent in the U.S. and 73.1 percent for the European average. Five-year relative survival rates show the number of cancer patients who are still alive five years after diagnosis, compared with how many people would be expected to be alive in a healthy population. That means that early detection will always improve the five-year relative survival rate — more patients will be alive five years after diagnosis if their cancer is caught early in its course, regardless of whether they ultimately die from the disease. Breast cancer mortality rates — the number of people who died from breast cancer within a given period — are remarkably similar in the U.S. and the U.K., which recommends mammograms every three years starting at age 50.

We talked to a number of experts for our previous article who said that mortality rates were a more accurate statistic for comparing disease outcomes of different countries. The USPSTF’s conclusion is that the improvement in breast cancer outcomes from yearly mammograms starting at age 40 doesn’t outweigh the potential harm associated with the test, mostly harm from potential false positives. Mortality rate comparisons back up that assessment, and survival rate comparisons don’t necessarily challenge it.

Point taken–statistics don’t lie, but the way they are manipulated can be dangerously misleading.

 March 25, 2010  Posted by on March 25, 2010 Comments Off on More On Breast Cancer Statistics
Mar 242010

As the following two items illustrate, rhetoric, statutes, reports and resolutions ad nauseam aside, women are still being systematically excluded from crucial discussions such as climate change and conflict resolution.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to appoint a 19-member, all-male high-level advisory group on Climate Change Financing (CCF) has triggered strong protests from women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) outraged by the composition of the panel.

The new panel was announced on Mar. 12 when the United Nations, ironically, concluded a two-week meeting on gender empowerment.

This despite the fact that,

Ban himself gave a speech last September underlining the importance of “an environment where women are the key decision makers on climate change, and play an equally central role in carrying out these decisions.”

“We must do more to give greater say to women in addressing the climate challenge,” he said at the time.

Explanation please?

According to Ban’s spokesperson Ari Gaitanis, a multitude of factors, such as nominations by governments, geographical representation and balance between developed and developing countries, influenced the decision-making.

Mentioning also the time constraint, Gaitanis admits that these factors precluded appropriate attention to the gender balance.

I have to say I honestly don’t think I have a crock big enough for that much excreta.

And then there is this from Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai regarding the prospects for peace in the Darfur region of Sudan:

(T)here is reason to be skeptical of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement for Darfur. Conflict in Darfur persists seven years on, with several failed attempts at peace. Many analysts noted that the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), signed by just the government and a single rebel faction, was dead before it was even concluded.

Under the leadership of Djibril Bassolé, the former foreign minister of Burkina Faso, the on-going peace talks in Doha must remedy the mistakes of the DPA to avoid another failure – namely ensuring the process is inclusive and consultative, rather than focusing on signatures in a quick time frame. The most notable and critical missing link are Sudanese women.

I don’t even know how to address this persistent issue of exclusion in a coherent, measured tone anymore. More than half the people in this world are women and our voices and lives should count accordingly. When the United Nations acts with such blatant misogyny, we do not have even the illusion of a framework for gender justice and I doubt anything short of radical woman-driven action will change that.

 March 24, 2010  Posted by on March 24, 2010 Comments Off on In The Never-Ending Exclusion Of Women Department
Mar 232010

Via the wonderfully titled article, “Solar Powered Grannies” we learn about this excellent project promoting women’s empowerment and human rights:

Bunker Roy operates his Barefoot College in India on the same principle, taking illiterate grandmothers and turning them into solar engineers. He won’t train men, and he won’t give certificates.

“Men are untrainable,” Roy told me when I interviewed him last December. “They’re impatient, they’re restless, they’re ambitious, and every one wants a certificate” because a certificate opens the door to a lucrative job in a city.

“Grandmothers are solid, sound, patient,” Roy continued. “They’re willing to learn slowly, and they are rooted in the village. They have no interest in going to a city.” The evidence of their knowledge is not a diploma, but their proven ability to do the work.

Solar electricity ends such horrors as childbirth by candlelight and long treks to carry stinky, smoky kerosene. With a cellphone and a solar panel, a woman has a business and an emergency communication system. With a solar panel and a laptop, the village has an educational system.

Barefoot College has trained women from villages all over Asia and Africa. In 2005, in the case of Afghanistan, Bunker Roy made a concession, allowing the husbands to come with the wives.

“Through sight and sound and sign language, in six months they became solar engineers,” he said. “They went back and solar-electrified the first villages ever in Afghanistan, five of them. To bring ten men and women from Afghanistan, train them for six months, buy 150 solar panels, transport them, insure them and install them in one year is the same cost as one UN consultant sitting for one year in Kabul.”

And the Afghan women were no longer subservient. Their husbands now worked beside them, and when one woman went to sit with the men, and was challenged, she said simply, “I am not a woman. I am an engineer.” When last heard from, the Afghan grandmothers were installing the first solar-powered water desalinization plants ever seen in Afghanistan.

Sounds like money much better spent than any Blackwater contract.  But then empowering women and ensuring their human rights was never why we went to Afghanistan in the first place…You can learn more about the program here.

 March 23, 2010  Posted by on March 23, 2010 1 Response »
Mar 222010

The following is cross-posted with the kind permission of the author, Toma Lynn Smith from her excellent blog, Social Justice Butterfly:

Lately something has been bothering me.  Naked women are everywhere, rather it be an owl’s eyes in a Hooters billboard (their breast shaped) or Nia Long appearing in a PETA magazine ad:

I understand that we live in a world surrounded in penises, from neckties to skyscrapers, but it so rare that men appear in the nude.  Or should I say resort to taking their clothes off to pay bills or because they seek fame (i.e. Levi Johnston: Sarah Palin’s daughter’s baby daddy).  So what is driving us to be naked in plainsight?

My only answer is patriarchy.  And of course, there is the “of your own freewill” argument.  Too many women seek the approval of men, even if that means losing a part of themselves.

Despite strides of women making just a little more money in the workplace over the years, a female stripper can make a lot more cash on a pole than she can typing away as a secretary.  In some cases, like a “call girl” in Las Vegas, can make more money in one week than what a recent college grad can make in the first year of post-graduate employment.

So what can be done about this?  First boys and men could stop buying Hustler and going to strip clubs and for girls and women to realize that they are more than just a server to men, what’s between your ears is just as important as the lumps on your chests and the “whateveryouwanttocallit” between your thighs.

Yes women have appeared nude for centuries in art, but like it “was then,” the degradation continues, leaving women and girls to believe that revealing their skin for cash or for boys/men’s satisfaction is OK and it is not.

 March 22, 2010  Posted by on March 22, 2010 Comments Off on Toma Lynn Smith: Why Do We Take Off Our Clothes