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tv   Democracy Now  LINKTV  December 20, 2013 8:00am-9:01am PST

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12/20/13 12/20/13 [captioning made possible by democracy now!] >> from pacifica, this is democracy now! >> granted us amnesty, but all of this is tempered by the fact we were arrested for a crime we did not commit, detained for two months, and our biggest feeling is that it is about time something positive happen. tois russia grants amnesty
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thousands of prisoners, we will go to st. petersburg to speak with two of them. greenpeace activists who were arrested for trying to stop russian oil drilling in the arctic. then amazon justice. a court in canada rolls ecuadorian farmers and fishermen can try to seize the assets of oil giant chevron based on a 2011 decision that found the company liable for billions for oil pollution. the chevron has filed its own lawsuit argues the verdict was one through fabrication of evidence and bribery. >> nearly every single person who has been named as a defendant in chevron's rotella jory rico suit has loved ones, family members who died, who have contracted cancer, suffered from birth defects and other oil-related illness through chevron's. this lawsuit essentially rubs salt in their wins. >> we will speak with all barrett of bloomberg businessweek about how oil corporations from chevron to bp are fighting all suits brought against them by attacking
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lawyers handling the cases. then 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 them were sentenced to life in prison for charges related to crack cocaine. we will get reaction from the aclu's denver turner, author of the report, "a living death: life without parole for nonviolent offenses." all of that and more coming up. this is democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman. president obama has commuted the sentences of eight prisoners serving lengthy terms for crack cocaine offenses, saying they were "sentenced under an unfair system or go to a system included a 100 to one sentencing cap for crack and powder cocaine offenses, which was eased by reform law in 2011. all eight people who received commutations have served more than 15 years in prison, six had
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been sentenced to life. more after the headlines. in the central african republic, gunfire rang out in the capital today as christian fighters attacked muslim neighborhoods. the country has faced a spiraling sectarian crisis since muslim rebels ousted the christian-led government in march. amnesty international has warned both sides are committing war crimes. >> this is a situation where you have neighbors killing each other and we have people who knew each other for a long, long to not makeachetes more noise when killing. ,e came across a lot of issues mutilation of bodies, in fact, people were not only killing, you were killing and mutilating bodies. u.s. ambassador to the united nations was in central african republic thursday to meet with the country's leaders and condemn the killings. >> obviously, the central
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african republic does not have in place right now or has not yet pursued the kinds of investigation and the kind of accountability that is needed, but we stress those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable. that is a very important element of preventing future violence and cycles of violence. >> the united nations has violence in south sudan has seekd 34,000 people to refuge at its paces across the country, including the capital juba. violence erupted sunday when president salva kiir accuses former vice president of mounting a coup. on thursday, three u.n. peacekeepers from india were killed in an attack on a human compound. u.n. compound. >> the current situation in south sudan, our base was
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reports and we have that lives were lost. we don't have the details on that yet. of course, the secretary and i both condemn this attack in the strongest terms. >> president obama announced this week he sent 45 troops to south sudan to protest -- protect u.s. citizens and property. egypt's military backed government is continuing its crackdown on activists involved in the 2011 uprising against mubarak. early thursday, six people were arrested in a raid on an activist group that supports labor rights. hours later, his two sons and mice per minister with it of corruption charges. uganda's parliament has passed an anti-gay bill that imposes a sentence of life in prison for repeated homosexual acts and also makes it a crime not to report lgbt people. the bill, which was first proposed in 2009, has sparked global condemnation but received
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support from evangelicals in the united states. meanwhile, india's government has asked the supreme court to review its decision reinstating the ban on homosexual sex, saying it violates the principle of equality. states, new mexico has become the latest data legalize marriage equality after its highest court ruled that denying same-sex marriage licenses is unconstitutional. new mexico is the 17th state, along with washington, d.c., to legalize same-sex marriage. the ruling takes effect immediately. in pennsylvania, officials with the united methodist church have defrocked a pastor who officiated at his son's marriage to another man. frank schaefer has told officials he could not uphold church teachings that he viewed as biased. he responded to thursday's decision at a news conference. >> as you can tell, i am visibly shaken. i guess when i went into the hearing this morning with the
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board of ordained ministry, i was hopeful it would not come to what it has come to, my defrocked meant. anm a very positive person, optimist, you could say, i was look at the glass half full. i said to myself, i just can't see them take my credentials. i mean, what i did was an act of love. -- an act of love for my son. they did anyhow. >> the senate has passed a sweeping pentagon bill that keeps military sexual assault cases within the chain of command while adding some new protections for survivors. it also raises military pay by 1% and bars the transfer of guantánamo prisoners to the united states. democrat majority leader harry reid fell the senate will take up the issue of unemployment benefits in early january when he returns from break. jobless payments will expire for one .3 million people just three days after christmas.
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a former bp engineer has been convicted of obstruction of justice were deleting text messages about the 2010 oil spill in the gulf of mexico. could face up to 20 or some prison. he is the first person to be tried for the incident, which killed 11 workers and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in u.s. history. a new government study has linked the disaster to lung disease, hormonal problems, and other illnesses among dolphins in the region, many of whom are dying. in belgium, protesters opposed to austerity and so-called free trade shut down traffic in parts of brussels on the opening day of the european union summit on thursday. some 10,000 protesters took to the streets to oppose secretive negotiations for massive trade between the united states and europe, which they say would favor corporations and undermine protections from a from food safety to workers rights. the corporate europe observatory spoke at thursday's action. to block here today
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the eu summit where our so- called leaders are meeting to don'ture the two treaties go forward, to make sure there are voices here in the streets across society a listen to, but make sure we are not complicit in this. we are here to say, no, this will not happen and enough is enough. administrationa 369,000supported immigrants during the past fiscal year. that is a 10% decrease over last year's record of 410,000, marking the first time deportations have dropped during obama's tenure. marisa franco of the national day laborer organizing network said --
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and those are some of the headlines. this is democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman with juan gonzalez. >> welcome to all our listeners and viewers from around the country and around the world. we begin today in russia where president vladimir putin has signed a decree pardoning the country's former richest man. honest international has khodorkovsky al prisoner of conscience. he spent more than a decade behind bars after he fell into disfavor with putin. the release comes as the russian parliament voted wednesday to approve a mass amnesty for thousands more. up to 22,000 people are such eventually be freed under an
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initiative vladimir putin says is meant to mark the 20th anniversary of the passage of russia's post-soviet constitution. could it say he also hopes to deflect international criticism of his human rights crackdown ahead of the 2014 sochi winter games. >> among the tens of thousands to be released are members of the punk group pussy riot as well as the greenpeace activists from the arctic 30. one of the members said the fate of the arctic remained unchanged. >> we just hope it doesn't take too long for us to actually have our passports back and return back to our countries. we might have been given amnesty today, but there is no amnesty for the arctic. these companies need to be stopped. >> meanwhile, russian president vladimir putin suggested the greenpeace activists may have been acting at the behest of a foreign country in an attempt to undermine russia's develop an of arctic energy resources. putin did not name the country.
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as for the fact there covered by amnesty and as far as i know they are covered by it, we are not doing it for them. but if there covered, that is good. covered, that are is good. i think what has happened should be a lesson and we should turn to positive work in order to make noise. but in order to minimize empire mental risks, if such risks appear, we are ready for joint work including work with greenpeace. about the more amnesty, we go to st. petersburg, russia, where we are joined by two of the arctic 30 activists. peter wilcox was the captain of the arctic sunrise and has worked with greenpeace for decades. nov, a russianvi born u.s. and swedish citizen,
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and has worked with greenpeace and's 1989. respond to the amnesty you have received. >> we're glad it happened, but we're wondering why we should need amnesty for something we did not do. according to the world court, we were arrested illegally on the high seas and brought into russia and illegally detained. so we don't feel that we had anything to apologize for or that we need amnesty for. byand the suggestion president vladimir putin that you are acting at the behest of some foreign government question mark >> that seems like such a silly and stupid claim that i really don't need to respond to it. greenpeace books are open. we don't even accept corporate or government sponsorships of any kind. so such a claim is just ludicrous. >> dimitri litvinov, can you talk about what it is that you did, that your first charged for, and then how long were you held for the for your granted
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bail and then now of course the amnesty? arehat we did and what we charged for are two completely different things. we went out to the russian arctic in order [indiscernible] activities being carried out by the russian and foreign oil companies. it is a rush for the arctic shelf fight now. oil companies are rushing in their -- there. this has extreme conditions, very difficult navigation conditions, and where there is practically no infrastructure for cleanup in case -- or i should say when in oil spill will occur. heard earlier today, speaking about the gulf of mexico. we saw what happened in the gulf of mexico were even under the most favorable conditions, we
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saw very, very difficult results . if such a spill were to occur in the arctic and it would be absolutely catastrophic. the purpose of us sending a ship and going there earlier this year was in order to bring attention to the problem and to carry out peaceful, nonviolent protest, as we have been doing all around the arctic region. --mond, norway, alaska, etc. dreamland, norway, alaska, etc.. the charges brought against us to start with, the first one was of piracy. we were accused of takeover of a ship for personal gain. each one of the elements had nothing to do with what we did. there was no takeover. there were certainly no personal gain involved. we have spent altogether two months, some of us longer, and attention first in a prison, in a jail, in the north of russia,
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and then subsequently, two weeks in st. petersburg. released a little over three weeks ago. then we were kept -- i should say, in a much bigger and more comfortable cell, still detained in russia, but at least allowed to stay in hotel and talk to each other. >> dimitri, at the time you were jailed, your father wrote an op- ed piece in "the washington post" urging your release. it was titled "my son facing russian prison for a peaceful protest." can you tell us something about the history of your family and these run-ins with authorities because of political involvement? >> sure. i think that gutted a little
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wrong. it a little dad got wrong. my great-grandfather was one of the leading communist before the revolution and so he opposed the beingegime and ended up prosecuted for that. he subsequently became one of the closest collaborators of stalin and lenin, was actually a foreign minister under lenin. my grandfather was in prison for years and years during stalin's time. his fate was described in a number of books. and my father went on a protest demonstration against czechoslovakia in 1968 with six or seven other people. seven people got fairly harsh sentences and my father spent five years in siberia. my sister was born there, we went to school there. the first time i was ever
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arrested was in russia. askedndfather was what he felt about his grandson getting arrested. he said, well, third-generation getting arrested for doing a good thing. >> aitor wilcox. you go way back to the first greenpeace ship, the rainbow warrior. talk about what happened there. a third-ort of generation activists as well. .y grandfather and mother my grandfather lost his company because of leading a peace delegation to china in 1952. i started with greenpeace, working on boats for the environment in 1973. i joined greenpeace in 1981. i was on the first rainbow warrior when it was blown up by the french in new zealand in 1985.
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>> reflect, for people who don't know the history, talk about what french intelligence did. >> the french intelligence service was ordered b to stop rg piece from protesting the nuclear testing issues there. we had just come from the u.s. arsenal islands where thanks to the u.s. testing program, we had to move a group of about 350 islanders from there purposefully contaminated island to a slightly safer one. we went to new zealand to prepare to go to french colonies --nd the french decided french polynesia, and the french decided to dissipate us. they put a hole in the hull with a bomb in the second bomb went off about 45 seconds later and trapped our photographer in his cabin and killed him. he was the only crew member with two children, and his murder
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certain he ripped a hole in their lives that really has never been repaired. >> talk about what happened to you. while you have been granted amnesty, you were jailed. starting with peter, can you both describe your time in jail and where you go from here? >> well, when you're held in russia under investigation for a crime, it is called isolation. you are in one cell 23 hours a day. you supposedly have about an hour in an exercise cell, which is only slightly bigger than the one you're kept in. you are really isolated from all of your family, colleagues. it was a month before i was able to speak to my wife. it was all most a month before i was able to speak to my lawyer. you are in isolation. >> i can add to that. is one of, isolation
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the worst elements of being held in a prison. notphysical conditions were the main part of the problem. sure, it was crap food and very cold at night and only got 15 minutes of a shower per week, but i can live with that. the worst thing is the psychological pressure. i think what peter is talking about, the isolation, was one of the very strong limits of pressure that made life very hard. another one is the uncertainty. you don't know what is coming. you don't know how long you will be sitting there. on one hand, the rational part of your mind says, well, this is impossible, they can't lock 30 people for something they did not do for 10 to 15 years, which is what the first sentence we were looking at was.
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19 of them foreigners. it is not going to happen. but then you are in jail. >> you tell yourself that the first day. furiousee these very men in uniforms telling you furiously, we are convinced you're the most -- >> they claimed we were not really environmentalists. they claimed we had an armed attack. the first rule about a greenpeace demonstration is that it is nonviolent. the second rule is that is absolutely no property damage to the object of the action or demonstration. you do these things, and these are the kinds of things that prevent a reasonable prosecutor from even thinking of the word piracy. on the one hand, it seems so absurd and on the other hand, you're sitting in jail -- >> and there you are. >> facing 10 to 15 years. >> and you don't know when it is
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going to and. just this feeling of it is so unfair, so unjust. we did not do anything wrong that is anywhere near the kind of response we were getting. >> we did not do anything we had not done the year before. >> exactly. we met a lot of people in prison, cellmates, and most of them were in there for a crime or reasonably suspected for a crime. these were nice enough fellows, probably should've been treated more easily than they were or ever, but there was a crime committed. there was a reason they were locked up. i think those three pieces of psychological pressure, for me, was the hardest to deal with. the isolation, the uncertainty -- >> i want to ask about this decision of the russian government.
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as many as 20 thousand people amnesty. do you see this as a major shift in the increasing authoritarianism of the putin government or is this more of a public relations ploy in the run-up to the winter games, winter olympics? >> i don't claim to be in any sort of political analyst, so not even going to try to answer that question. i'm just very happy that we get to go home soon, even though there is a sour aftertaste that we should not have been arrested to start with. we should not be given amnesty, but given an apology and a metal. >> where still concerned about the fate of our four russian colleagues that have to live here and now they may have criminal records hanging over their heads. >> absolutely. as far as i understand, quite a number of those prisoners are
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qualified as political prisoners, but then there are also people who have just been arrested for a violent crime or other type of crime and this is an amnesty -- i understand, 20 anniversary of the russian constitution. look, after two months in prison, if people are being released, i'm glad for them. no matter what crime they committed. for them, personally, i am glad they don't have to be sitting in those conditions we were sitting in. >> win democracy now! was in warsaw, i had a chance to sit down with greenpeace executive director kumi naidoo, who was involved plaster's action. they did not get arrested. maybe they did not get arrested because he is the executive director involved with trying to stop arctic drilling by gazprom. energyed about how
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companies should respond to global warming concerns. >> we would say to all company energy leaders from gazprom to shell and exxon and all the rest, a greenpeace, when we look at you, we see you as an energy company. we cannot blame you 20 years ago or even say 15 years ago for building energy based on oil, coal, and gas. you need to understand the scientific content is completely clear now and even if the science was not clear, the last decade has seen more than a 10% increase in extreme weather events, the very events the sign to say that is how climate change will be looking at. so now you do not have an excuse. the facts are before you. and you need to understand that every cent you invest in new projects is an investment in the death of our children and their children and future generations. >> greenpeace executive director, kumi naidoo.
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where do you go from here? >> i guess the biggest feeling is we don't stop. turningstopping means over the planet to the oil companies and i'm not nearly willing to do that. for i started working environmental groups 40 years ago, i thought this was going to be a fairly easy problem to solve. kumi pointed out, i am for the future of my kids. stopping, quitting, doesn't even come close to being an option. >> dimitri litvinov? >> i can only echo what peter said. the fight will continue. we have no choice. >> that you both for being with us, dimitri litvinov, one of the arctic 30 activist, peter wilcox was captain of the greenpeace arctic sunrise ship.
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toay, russia granted amnesty 20,000 people, among them the arctic 30 post up 28 greenpeace artifice and to journalists who were covering them among many others. when we come back, we stick with the issue of drilling, but this time in the amazon. amazon justice. according canada rules they can try to seize the assets of oil a 2011hevron based on decision that found the company liable for billions for oil pollution. we will be back in a moment. ♪ [music break]
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>>this is democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman with juan
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gonzalez. we turn now to a major development in the landmark lawsuit filed by group of ecuadorian farmers and fishermen against chevron -- the world's third-largest oil company. in 2011, in a gregorian court found chevron 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 rain forest. since then, the victims of been trying to collect some $18 billion in farm and all damages. >> chevron has vowed never to comply with the judgment will stop in the case now before a federal court in new york, chevron argues the main american lawyer in the case, steven donziger, won the verdict after he gauged the judicial portion, fabrication of evidence, and bribery. working with the victims, spoke as ecuadorian villagers and their supporters rallied across from the courthouse in new york in october. >> yearly every single person
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who has been named as a defendant in chevron's retalix ray rico suit has loved ones, family members who have died, who have contracted cancer, suffered from to earth affects another oil-related illness due to chevron contamination. this lawsuit essentially rubs salt in their wins. >> as victims of chevron fight this case in the united states, and also tried to move forward on collecting damages from the company in canada. now the courts there have given the greenlight for the rain forced residents to attempt to seize chevron's assets in that country. >> this week a panel of judges noted a chevron spokesman had "were going to fight this until hell freezes out and then we'll fight it on the ice." in response, the judges wrote -- barrett,we go to paul
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assistant manager editor and senior writer a bloomberg businessweek. he has been following this closely and his book is due out next year. i'll come back to democracy now! talk about the significance of this decision. >> for the first time, the ecuadorian plaintiffs will be able to go before the judiciary, a third country, and say, we have a legitimate judgment in ecuador, multiple billions of dollars, and we believe it should be enforced and we want you, the judiciary of canada are respect the judiciary of ecuador and allow us to literally sees the operations of chevron in this country. >> what assets could be seized? >> we're talking about refineries, chevron's ownership and operations in western canada and the tar sands area and bank accounts -- any assets that could then be sold off an offset
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against this multibillion-dollar verdict in ecuador. >> the verdict in ecuador has gone up the entire chain of the court system in that country. in essence, what is the main claims of chevron about that verdict in particular? >> that is one. the other side, chevron says, while there may be victims of oil pollution in ecuador -- in fact if you go down there and have your eyes open, you can see there is a terminus problem of contamination -- chevron says, those are not our problems. this is not something that can be laid at our doorstep. in fact, the 2011 judgment against chevron, the company says, was the product of corruption, that you had outside american lawyers corroborating with ecuadorian lawyers and corrupt ecuadorian judges to put together what amounts to a sham. that is where we have the conflict. that is the argument you're going to hear the canadian
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courts. while the canadian say we will hear this argument, they have not said we will rule for the ecuadorians. chevron is arguing on the other side, this is all a sham. >> quickly give us the history of chevron in ecuador. >> the history begins with texaco in the 1960s in ecuador, invited into the country by the then military government of ecuador to exploit the oil reserves in the rain forest east of the andes. texaco was there for 25 odd years. texaco did what he was asked to do. this was not by dark of night american oil company comes in and takes all the profits out. this was done in close corporation with the ecuadorian government. the big problem was texaco left a big mess on the ground, waste oil pools, pollution, sprint waste oil on the roads to keep dust down. it looks like if you have an
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down there, what you might imagine the gulf coast of the united states look like in the 1920s except with rural ecuadorian poverty. 2001, chevron takes over texaco and inherits its legal problems, liabilities. a lawsuit has been filed in 1993 on behalf of the residents here in new york. that lawsuit was actually dismissed by the american courts on the assumption that the proper place for it to be played out was in ecuador. the lawsuit was restarted in ecuador in 2003 and the result of that lawsuit, some eight years later, was this huge victory for the ecuadorians. >> to the tune of -- >> initially, $18 billion plus. , theholding the verdict top court in a court or actually said the liability is legitimate , chevron must pay but they cut the verdict in half. isthis point, the liability 9.5 billion dollars.
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>> in terms of the likelihood -- the court case chevron is pursuing in the u.s., can you talk about that in the likelihood of success? >> this is chevron's counterpunch. the plaintiffs landed a big blow into ecuador and chevron said, we lost in ecuador and we're not going to pay, but we lost, and we're going to take you back to the united states where this started and we're going to approve the people on the other side are akin to gangsters. they use the u.s. anti- racketeering law enacted in 1970 to do with the mafia. >> so it is a rico suit. >> exactly. and we're going to show what you call a lawsuit was actually a conspiracy, a protection racket, a shakedown of the company. they put on evidence for six weeks -- i was there all most every day of this trial as for all kinds of much more famous people like sting and his wife and others -- federalnow with a
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judge here in new york and we are eagerly awaiting his ruling, which could come as early as january and he is going to say either chevron is correct or chevron is incorrect, and i think all the smart money is on his finding for chevron. i think chevron is going to walk away from this trial with a judgment from a u.s. court that says steven donziger and his ,lients were actually basically, a kid to criminals who shut down this big american company. beenu have also following bp. i was wondering if you could talk about what is happening with the legal cases with bp and what bp is doing because it seems to be following a certain pattern. >> it is throughout corporate america. a strategy is emerging on the part of major corporations, whereby when they are hit with big liability in court, they turn not so much to the merits
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of the case, but to the lawyers who have brought the case and try to ruin the lawyers. the companies would say we're doing this because the lawyers are all fees and crooks. the plaintiffs lawyers would say otherwise. but just this last week, bp has filed a massive fraud case against a plaintiffs lawyer in texas who is one of the most powerful and influential mass tort lawyers in this country, a big supporter as it happens of president obama, one of his main fell tens, and watts of thousands of crimes against bp in connection with the 2010 gulf of mexico oil spill. that is being fought in the courts. meanwhile, the p has said, watts is a fraud and more than half of , those peopleims don't even exist. >> they seem to have on the face of it some pretty good evidence that he cemented social security numbers for people whose names were not the same names as the
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so security numbers they represented, many were dead. >> as with the chevron case. wherever your loyalties are on the underlying merits, oil on the ground, oil and the water, as with the chevron case, the companies have come up with very troubling evidence of plaintiffs lawyers heading corners and basically using an instance to find the means approach to try and get -- hold the oil companies accountable. i think we would all agree that not all ends justify any means. if you're in a court of law, the evidence has to be real. >> i want to go back to the lawyer in the case in ecuador. there have been some problems between him and some of his clients as well? >> absolutely. this is a man, as he has proceeded through this case, has had fallings out with most of his allies and some of his clients. there are other groups of ecuadorians who have claimed he
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doesn't represent their interest, and filed their own lawsuit against him -- that is pending here in new york -- and meanwhile, some of his scientific advisors have disavowed their own work on his behalf. so this is a very troubling and confused situation. >> i want to stay with ecuador, the chevron case. a recently interviewed the foreign minister when he was here in new york and asked him about the pollution that chevron and texaco left behind. correa, a few days ago, went to an area where chevron-texaco was operating and he resident put his hand in the toxic waste pit that chevron- texaco left and raised his oil- stained hand up to show the world how chevron-texaco has
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,estroyed the ecuadorian amazon and did not use the cleanup methodology that was available mitigate or even avoid the environmental damage. >> you argue that chevron-texaco has not cleaned up the amazon that it polluted. why hasn't the ecuadorian government done more to clean it up over these decades that chevron-texaco is gone? wasn't texaco as a contractor for the petro ecuador? prior to thements current government did not take measures to clean up texaco's mess.
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at one point, officials of eco- petrol issue documents that said they had in fact cleanup. we know this is not the case. that is why ecuador has now begun to green up -- clean up , but now we have to put that on hold because, otherwise, the evidence of their pollution will no longer exist. be -- could could disappear if we continue with the cleanup. >> if you could respond to that. also you had an explosive into the with the ambassador to the united states. >> you asked the ecuadorian official one of the most
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important questions, which is, what is the priority here? is it to clean up the oil, which after all, was being drilled and produced on behalf of your country, not another country, but the vast majority of the revenue generated from that activity by texaco state in ecuador. some was put to good use building roads, electrifying small towns, and so forth. i don't think the government of ecuador really has a good answer. i think you saw that demonstrated. yes, someone else should have done it earlier and now we started to do it but we stopped doing it because of evidence -- look, if you have poor people who are living up to their ankles and oil, you clean up the oil and figure out the legalities and the liabilities later. you don't put it all on hold. in an interesting way, the ambassador to the united states took another small step forward and said in a more positive way, said come up i think we should be cleaning up the oil in the lawyers are telling us not to
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and we've got to figure out a political compromise, you got a way to get this done. i thought that was a partial statement. >> paul barrett, thank you for being here with us. we will have a link to your article. his latest book is called "glock: the rise of america's gun." we will be back in a moment. ♪ [music break]
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>>this is democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman with juan gonzalez. >> president obama has commuted the sentences of eight people he said were serving unfair sentences for drug crimes. as to 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
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more than 15 years behind bars. in a statement thursday, obama --ed >> the prisoners were sentenced under what obama called an unfair system, where there was a hundred to one sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. that disparity was reduced by the fair sentencing act of 2010, but he came too late for thousands of inmates. for more we're joined by jennifer turner, human rights researcher with the american civil liberties union. she wrote about several of the people who sentences were committed in her aclu report, "a living death: life without parole for nonviolent offenses." jennifer, welcome back to democracy now! tell us who got these commutations. >> there are eight people, six are americans were sentenced to die behind ours for nonviolent crack cocaine offenses, four our profile to my report including a young man who sentenced at 20
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for his involvement in a drug conspiracy street dealer for only one year when he was 17, served 20 years, half his life, and present. jason hernandez was sentenced to die in prison for five years of street dealing and texas, arrested when he was only 15. they've all been sentenced to unfair mandatory sentences that are excessive because of previous disparities that punish by cocaine offenses, one hundred times more seriously, than powder cocaine. this is huge news. this gives people the opportunity to return to their families, and some as soon as april. it is an important first step in achieving some kind of reform that would roll back the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that result in the sentences. the fact is, these eight people are not alone. there are thousands more from a 2000 people in the federal system, serving life without parole or nonviolent drug crimes and many more in prison were
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serving excessive mandatory minimum sentences for being left behind. come and see is not the answer for all -- come and see is not the answer for all of these thousands of people and caucus states to step up and pass bipartisan sentencing reform legislation that would at least give some hope to others and would roll back some of the really a logical sentencing laws that were passed in the 1980s and 1990s. >> were you surprised by the announcement of president obama and especially given the fact he has pardon so few people during his time in office? >> i was shocked. i was shocked. i've been talking up prisoners for the past year, six hundred 50 prisoners, who have been saying that have no hope of getting out and their only hope many of these cases was commutation from president obama. he weren't expecting this. president obama, as you said, has the worst record in history on commutations.
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only one from a woman who is dying from leukemia. we do not expect this. it is truly the best gift possible for these families for christmas. i spoke to reynolds winters met the day before he was sentenced and he was not especially hopeful but he is beyond overjoyed now that he will be returning home to his family and to his daughter with whom he is very close and the others feel the same way. >> president obama has pardon to fewer people than any president in history at this point in the administration. why were these eight people chosen? >> he chose these eight people to signal that something needs to be done about the nearly 9000 people who are still serving excessive mandatory sentences under the old crack-powder dispirited loss. 1980s,aws passed in the people were serving sentences 100 times more severe than those for powder cocaine. who weres people
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sentenced for five grams of crack cocaine, which is the weight of two pennies, receive the same mandatory sentences as those for 500 grams of powder cocaine. in 2010, commerce past the fair sentencing act, which reduce that 18 to one. at almost 9000 people were not helped i that legislation. they continued to stay behind bars, many for the rest of their lives, at the cost of millions of dollars by taxpayers puryear's. i hope this is the start of more , cases to come but also the passage of the smarter sentencing act which is now pending in congress is going to be taken up by the senate judiciary committee new year. that would allow those who have been left behind by this law to finally get their sentences reduced to something or someone more fair. >> i want to ask you about earlier this year, attorney general eric holder unveiled a major policy shift to help certain low-level drug offenders avoid harsh mandatory minimum
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prison sentences. in an address to the american bar association, he announced a review of racial sentencing disparities. >> today a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps to many americans and weakens too many communities. in many aspects of our criminal justice system, we exacerbate these problems rather than alleviate them. it is clear as we come together today that too many americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good, law- enforcement reason. >> is it your sense the president's decision today is part of this review that holder announced? >> it is part of really bipartisan support and realization across both sides of the political aisle that are one-size-fits-all mandatory sentences are not working. it is sent far too many people to prison for far too long as he just said on the tape.
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federal judges have been calling for reforms for years. finally the attorney general and the president has spoken out in the last year. but at this point, congress has to act. only congress can change these sentencing laws. last week alone, i know of three people that were sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent federal drug crimes. >> life without parole. >> just last week, for nonviolent drug crimes. those are just three people, there may be others. >> what about these folks who were freed by the president and raised, weitics have often get the people who have these long sentences life without parole are the ones who actually went to trial because they did not agree to a plea deal and often the kingpins are the ones who turn and agreed to cooperate and get lighter sentences? >> absolutely. stephanie george was sentenced to life without parole for drugs
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for ex-boyfriend stashed in her attic. he took responsibility for the drugs and found to be the leader of the conspiracy, but he has been out of prison for years because he cut a deal. she had no information to trade. she was not involved in any major way. aaron, whenlarence he was in college, he introduced a college classmate's brother to a drug dealer he knew in high school. the drugnimal role in conspiracy. i'm sorry, to drug deals, one of which did not take place, sentenced to die in prison because he had no information to trade. everyone else involved at a higher-level have all been released from prison. he fought the charges and went to trial and lost. because it was a mandatory sentence -- the judge said, i object to this case. i object to the sentence. a similar, we see unfair
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sentences because of the crack- powder dispirited. jason hernandez commuted yesterday, on the same day he was scheduled to die in prison and 21, the supplier was sentenced only 12 years in prison for the same amount of distributedcause he powder cocaine, not crack cocaine. jason was sentenced to die in prison because he was just bidding crack. >> the sentences that were commuted, they're not freed right away, but in the next months, that were commuted yesterday, were federal cases. what about the role of governors? >> great question. there are over 1000 people serving life without parole in the states. i really hope president obama's bishop on granting commutations yesterday will prompt governors to do a similar review and issue commutations on it grander level in the states. many hundreds of people will
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never be released from prison if the governors do not take action. as in the federal system, state spending on prisons has skyrocketed and governors need to address the cost of prison -- these long sentences if they're going to try to have enough money for education and other worthwhile efforts. >> jennifer turner am a it looks like we're just about to reach one of the people who sentences were commuted. do you see other commutations before the end of the year? >> i truly hope this is the first of many, but i don't know what to expect. as i said, president obama's record has been the worst of any modern president. he has denied many commendation petitions. even if he were to granted in a more broad manner, he will not address the many thousands of people. like we have jason
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hernandez on the phone right now. jason hernandez from mckinney, texas, sentenced to life in prison in 1998, serving life without parole since age 21 for his role in a drug conspiracy starting when he was only 15 the one of -- he was one of 8 prisoners who sentences were commuted by president obama thursday. welcome to democracy now! >> i am elated. it is a dream come true. this is the beginning of more to come. i'm happy for what was given to me by the president, and it is a bittersweet moment because there other individuals in here i believe who were more deserving than me, and they just did not believe something like this could happen. now they believe. i just hope the president and other lawmakers decide to do more for the individuals in here. my mother and father, when they visit me this christmas, my family, my son, they're going to
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be crying but it will be tears of joy. at the same time, i'll have to look at other individuals mothers and fathers and kids crying of visitation and their cries will be for sorrow. i am grateful for what the president has done, but i hope there is more to come. >> jason, if you could briefly tell us in terms of the particulars of your case, how you ended up there? >> well, i started selling joints and dime sacks on the corner. in 1992 at the age of 15, it was the thing to do. it was popular. in, youunity i grew up don't see selling drugs as wrong. it is what everybody does. when you are a kid, you follow the norm. that is what -- there's no excuse for my conduct. i hate to say i'm a product of my environment, but when you're a kid and growing up in an apartment like that, -- in an
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environment like that, there's a good chance that is what you will become. drugs -- not major amounts, but it was a conspiracy under the terms of the law, but not nothing you would figure he was he like on tv or nothing -ike a real network or cartel related or gang-related. it was just a group of friends that we grew up together and we sold drugs together. >> jason, where were you yesterday when you got the news? >> i was in the warden's office. i thought he was playing. i said, are you serious? can you check the computer because maybe it is a hoax or something. escapingbout the guys a few months ago in florida. i said, can we verify this? he said, yeah, you got a 20-year sentence, it is right here on the website. i cried. i'm still shaking.
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andason, congratulations, thank you for joining us. jason hernandez had his sentence commuted by president obama yesterday. he has been serving life without parole since age 21. [captioning made possible by democracy now!]
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