"Ties That Bind": Tales of Love and Gratitude from the Past Decade with StoryCorps Founder Dave Isay
In a Democracy Now! special, we look back at a decade of stories from the oral history project StoryCorps. The first StoryCorps recording booth opened in 2003 in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. Some 100,000 people have since recorded interviews with their loved ones in StoryCorps booths across the country. Their voices are recorded onto a CD for the storytellers and preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. We spend the hour with StoryCorps founder Dave Isay and play some of his favorite stories from the past decade, including many we’ve never aired before. We hear about Yelitza Castro, a housekeeper who cooks dinner for homeless people, and Ronald McNair, an African-American astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion. When he was nine years old, McNair refused to leave a racially segregated library, even after the librarian threatened to call the police. "It’s such a privilege to be able to tell these stories," Dave Isay says. "What I hope happens is ... that it kind of shakes you on the shoulder and just reminds you, through all the nonsense, this is what’s important, this is what’s really important." We also feature a special guest appearance from the children of P.S. 128 in New York City.
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the most popular firearm in the world, died Monday at the age of 94. The Kalashnikov assault rifle became one of the world’s most widely used weapons, with an estimated 100 million guns now spread worldwide. The relative simplicity of the Kalashnikov, or AK-47, made it cheap to produce, as well as reliable and easy to maintain. Kalashnikov designed his first machine gun in 1942 after suffering injuries as a tank commander for the Soviet Union’s Red Army during World War II. But it was only in 1947 after years of modification that the AK-47 was introduced for Soviet military service. In the early 1950s, the Kalashnikov became the standard weapon for Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries. The gun also proved popular with paramilitary groups. Although honored by the state, Kalashnikov made little money from his gun. He was often defensive about criticism that his invention had caused countless deaths around the world. We discuss the significance of the AK-47 and its maker with William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung’s latest book is "Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex."
Amidst revelations of a secret CIA program responsible for killing at least two dozen rebel leaders in Colombia, former guerrilla leader Gustavo Petro is facing a campaign for his ouster as mayor of Bogotá. Earlier this month, Colombia’s inspector general announced Petro would have to leave office over the alleged mismanagement of the capital’s rubbish collection service. However supporters say Petro has been the victim of a "right-wing coup," and tens of thousands have taken to the streets to support him. Petro and his supporters are now working to prevent his removal from being carried out. We go to Bogotá, where we are joined by Charlie Roberts, a member of the Colombia Human Rights Committee and board chair of the U.S. Office on Colombia.
Continuing our coverage of the startling new report that exposes how a secret CIA program in Colombia is responsible for killing at least two dozen rebel leaders, we’re joined by Mario Murillo, professor and chair of the Department of Radio, Television, Film at Hofstra University and co-director of the Center for Civic Engagement. Murillo has covered Colombia extensively and is the author of the book, "Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization."
A new report has exposed a secret CIA program in Colombia that has helped kill at least two dozen rebel leaders. According to The Washington Post, the program relies on key help from the National Security Agency and is funded through a multibillion-dollar black budget. It began under former President George W. Bush, but continues under President Obama. The program has crippled the FARC rebel group by targeting its leaders using bombs equipped with GPS guidance. Up until 2010, the CIA controlled the encryption keys that allowed the bombs to read GPS data. In one case, in 2008, the United States and Colombia discovered a FARC leader hiding in Ecuador. According to the report, "To conduct an airstrike meant a Colombian pilot flying a Colombian plane would hit the camp using a US-made bomb with a CIA-controlled brain." The attack killed the rebel leader and sparked a major flareup of tensions with Ecuador and Venezuela. The U.S. role in that attack had not previously been reported. We’re joined by the reporter who broke this story, Dana Priest of The Washington Post. Priest is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter whose work focuses on intelligence and counterterrorism.
- Ban Calls for Near Doubling of U.N. Peacekeepers in South Sudan
- Group: 87 Children Among Over 300 Killed in Aleppo Bombing
- 14 Killed, Dozens Wounded in Egypt Bombing
- Dozens Protest Jailing of Egyptian Activists
- Israel Frees Palestinian Hunger Striker
- Netanyahu Seeks U.S. Explanation over "Unacceptable" Spying
- Snowden: "Mission Accomplished" in Exposing NSA Surveillance
- Admin Extends Obamacare Deadline for Jan. 1st Coverage
- Judge Refuses to Stop Same-Sex Marriages in Utah
- Court Rules Ohio Can't Exclude LGBT Spouses from Death Certificates
- Ugandan Activists Vow Challenge to Anti-LGBT Law
- Freed Pussy Riot Members Call for Olympic Boycott
- Report: NYC Settles RNC Protest Claims
Even amidst a modest reduction in the U.S. prison population, the number of aging men and women expected to die behind bars has skyrocketed in a system ill prepared to handle them and still oriented toward mass incarceration. We speak about the problems facing aging prisoners with Mujahid Farid, who was released from a New York state prison in 2011 after serving 33 years. He is now lead organizer with RAPP, which stands for "Release Aging People in Prison." Their slogan is "If the risk is low, let them go." His campaign work is part of Soros Justice Fellowship and is housed at the Correctional Association of New York. We are also joined by Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors conditions in state prisons. "The parole board routinely denies people based on the nature of the offense, the one thing that no one can change, just like we can’t change our height or our eye color," Elijah notes. "We need to look at that and say, if someone presents a low risk to recidivate, then we should be releasing them from prison. We’re wasting precious taxpayer dollars incarcerating people, and it’s much more expensive to incarcerate people who are older." Watch Part 2 of this interview.
As people around the world mark the holiday season, often recognized as a time of compassion, we host a roundtable discussion about the growing number of aging political prisoners in the United States convicted in the 1960s and 1970s who are seeking compassionate release, clemency or a pardon. In some cases, they are simply asking to be released into general population after decades of solitary confinement. Many have poorly treated diseases such as diabetes, while at least one has terminal cancer. We are joined by Soffiyah Elijah, an attorney who has represented many political prisoners and successfully won the release Marilyn Buck in 2010 so she could live her final weeks in freedom before she died from cancer. Elijah also has a separate career as the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors conditions in state prisons. We also speak with Jihad Abdulmumit, national chairperson for the Jericho Movement; Juan Méndez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, who has found the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons can amount to cruel and unusual punishment; and Matt Meyer, longtime leader of the War Resisters League who previously served as coordinator of the international Nobel campaign for Puerto Rican political prisoners. He co-wrote the introduction to "Oscar López Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance" and is the editor of "Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners."
- Report: CIA Helped Kill Rebels in Colombia Through Secret Program
- South Sudan: U.S. Evacuates Hundreds amid Fears of Civil War
- Pussy Riot Members Released from Prison
- Ukraine: 100,000 Rally in Ongoing Call for President's Ouster
- Thailand: Protests Continue as Opposition Party Vows to Boycott Elections
- Egypt: 3 Top Activists Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison
- Iraq: 18 Solders Killed in Raid
- Syria: Air Attacks Kill 42 in Aleppo
- Obama: More Than 1 Million Have Selected Health Insurance
- Report: Past Failures Overlooked When Selecting Firm for Healthcare Website
- Same-Sex Couples Wed in Utah After Marriage Ban Lifted
- Domestic Workers Protest Indian Diplomat's Treatment of Housekeeper
- Canada Court Strikes Down Restrictions on Sex Work
- Mexican President Signs Bill Opening Oil Sector to Foreign Firms
- Bangladesh: 13 Charged for Deaths of Workers in Tazreen Factory Blaze
- Report: U.S. Buys Clothing from Suppliers with History of Abuse
- Colorado Teen Dies After School Shooting; 3 Killed in Chicago Shootings
Live from Prison: Jason Hernandez Thanks Obama for Commuting His Drug Sentence, Hopes "More to Come"
We speak with Jason Hernandez of McKinney, Texas, about his reaction to being one of the eight inmates whose sentences were commuted by President Obama on Thursday. "It’s a dream come true. I just hope this is the beginning of more to come," Hernandez says in a phone call from prison. He describes how he was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1998 for his role in a drug conspiracy starting when he was only 15 years old. Hernandez says he was with the prison warden when he heard the news and that he hopes President Obama and Congress will "decide to do more for the other individuals in here" who were sentenced under similarly harsh drug laws for nonviolent offenses.
In a major victory for prisoner rights advocates, President Obama has commuted the sentences of eight people he said were serving unfair sentences for drug crimes. Most of the six men and two women had been sentenced to life in prison for charges related to crack cocaine. All of them have already spent more than 15 years behind bars under what Obama called an "unfair system," where there was a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. That disparity was reduced by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, but it came too late for thousands of inmates. "This is huge news. This gives these people the opportunity to return to their families," says Jennifer Turner, human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union and author of the report, "A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses." Turner notes that Obama’s action is "an important first step" and calls on Congress to pass broader sentencing reform.
A court in Canada has ruled Ecuadorean farmers and fishermen can try to seize the assets of oil giant Chevron based on a 2011 decision in an Ecuadorean court found it liable for nearly three decades of soil and water pollution near oil wells, and said it had ruined the health and livelihoods of people living in nearby areas of the Amazon rainforest. Since then, the victims have been trying to collect some $18 billion in environmental damages. But Chevron has filed its own lawsuit that argues the verdict was won through fabrication of evidence and bribery. We speak with Paul Barrett of Bloomberg Businessweek about how oil corporations from Chevron to BP are fighting lawsuits brought against them by attacking the lawyers handling the cases.
Amidst international criticism of Russia’s human rights crackdown ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the country’s parliament has approved a mass amnesty for as many as 22,000 prisoners. The move is officially meant to mark the 20th anniversary of the passage of Russia’s post-Soviet constitution. Among the tens of thousands set to be released are the Arctic 30, members of Greenpeace who were arrested in September after trying to stop Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. "We’re glad it happened, but we’re still wondering why we need to be amnestied for something we didn’t do," says Peter Willcox, who was the captain of the Arctic Sunrise and has worked with Greenpeace for decades. "According to the World Court, we were arrested illegally on the high seas, illegally brought into Russia, and illegally detained." Willcox joins us from St. Petersburg, Russia, along with Dimitri Litvinov, a Russian-born U.S. and Swedish citizen who has worked with Greenpeace since 1989.
- Obama Commutes Sentences in 8 Crack Cocaine Cases
- Fresh Violence Erupts in CAR After Visit by U.S. Diplomat
- 34,000 Flee to U.N. Bases in South Sudan; Obama Sends U.S. Troops
- Egypt: 6 Arrested in Raid on Activist Group
- Ugandan Parliament Passes Anti-Gay Bill; India Asks Court to Review Ban on Gay Sex
- New Mexico Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage
- Pennsylvania Pastor Defrocked After Officiating Son's Same-Sex Wedding
- Senate Passes Sweeping Defense Bill
- BP Engineer Convicted of Deleting Messages to Obstruct Spill Probe
- Thousands March Against Free Trade, Austerity on 1st Day of EU Summit
- Obama Admin Deported 369,000 in 2013
Egypt’s top public prosecutor has announced charges against ousted President Mohamed Morsi for conspiring with foreign groups to commit terrorist acts and destabilize the country. The charges carry the death penalty. Morsi was charged along with 35 others, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top three leaders. This marks the latest escalation in the suppression of a movement that propelled Morsi to victory in last year’s presidential election only to be driven back underground after the army ousted him in July following mass protests. We are joined from Cairo by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent, and a fellow at The Nation Institute. His latest article is "Repression Deepens in Egypt: At first it was the Muslim Brotherhood. Now dozens of journalists, non-Islamist activists and students have been detained and beaten."
Veteran National Security Agency official Kirk Wiebe helped develop the data processing system ThinThread, which he believed could have potentially prevented the 9/11 attacks. But the NSA sidelined ThinThread instead of the problem-plagued experimental program Trailblazer, which cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Wiebe was among the NSA officials to face retaliation for blowing the whistle on Trailblazer. During his career, he received honors, including the NSA’s second-highest award, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the director of CIA’s Meritorious Unit Award, and a Letter of Commendation from the secretary of the Air Force. Wiebe joins us to tell his story and to respond to the White House-appointed panel to recommend NSA reforms. We also speak with Ben Wizner, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who is helping to coordinate Edward Snowden’s legal defense.
Vindication for Snowden? Obama Panel Backs Major Curbs on NSA Surveillance, Phone Record Data Mining
A White House-appointed task force has proposed a series of curbs on key National Security Agency surveillance operations exposed by Edward Snowden. On Thursday, the panel recommended the NSA halt its bulk collection of billions of U.S. phone call records, citing "potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty." The panel says telecommunications providers or a private third party should store the records instead. The panel also calls for banning the NSA from "undermining encryption" and criticizes its use of computer programming flaws to mount cyber-attacks. And it backs the creation of an independent review board to monitor government programs for potential violations of civil liberties. We discuss the panel’s findings with two guests: Ben Wizner, Snowden’s legal adviser and director of the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union; and Kirk Wiebe, a retired National Security Agency official who worked there for over 32 years. During his tenure, Wiebe was an NSA whistleblower on matters of privacy involving massive electronic surveillance.
- White House Panel Calls for Reform of NSA Surveillance
- Greenwald: NSA Seeks "Elimination of Individual Privacy Worldwide"
- U.N. Assembly Approves Landmark Privacy Resolution
- U.S. Releases 2 Sudanese Prisoners; Bill Would Free Up to Half of Remaining Guantánamo Detainees
- Senate Approves 2-Year Budget Deal Without Jobless Benefits
- Fed to Scale Back Monthly Bond Purchases
- South Sudan Violence Fears of Civil War
- Amnesty: Both Sides Committing War Crimes in CAR
- Russian Lawmakers Approve Mass Amnesty Bill; Pussy Riot Members Set for Release
- LGBT Athletes Among U.S. Delegates to Russia Olympics
- India Asks U.S. to Drop Charges Against Diplomat; Kerry Voices "Regret"
- Report: Widespread Abuses in Secret Prisons of Assad Regime, Islamist Rebels
The American Studies Association, a group representing thousands of U.S. scholars, voted to boycott Israeli universities on Sunday. Members backed the boycott by a ratio of more than 2-to-1, citing "the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students" and "the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights." The association’s vote to boycott follows a similar measure approved Monday by the leadership council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. In April, the Association for Asian American Studies also supported an academic boycott of Israel. Backlash against ASA’s boycott came quickly. William Jacobson, a clinical professor at Cornell Law School, says he now plans to challenge the group’s tax-exempt status. Others were more critical of the boycott approach itself. The largest professors’ group in the United States, the American Association of University Professors, said it opposed the boycott in part because it is largely symbolic. The resolution has no binding power, and no U.S. colleges or universities have signed on. We host a debate on the resolution with two guests: Cornell University Professor Eric Cheyfitz, who endorses a boycott of Israeli academic institutions; and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor Cary Nelson, who opposes the boycott.
To discuss the role of foreign powers fueling the ongoing conflict in Syria, we are joined by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent. "It is clearly a proxy war. This might have started off as a popular uprising in Syria, but by now it has four or five different conflicts wrapped into one," Cockburn explains. "You have an opposition, but an opposition that is fragmented and really proxies for foreign powers, notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey plays a role." He recently wrote the article, "Mass Murder in the Middle East Is Funded by Our Friends the Saudis: Everyone Knows Where al-Qaida Gets Its Money, But While the Violence is Sectarian, the West Does Nothing." Reporters Without Borders has just revealed at least 10 journalists and 35 citizen-journalists have been killed in Syria in 2013. In addition, another 49 journalists were abducted in Syria — more than the rest of the world combined. Reporters Without Borders blamed the spike in killings and kidnappings on jihadi groups.