Truthout Stories Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:30:03 -0400 en-gb Legalized Torture: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Cruel Lethal Injections

In the Supreme Court's recent ruling to uphold the use of a controversial execution protocol in Oklahoma, both the majority's opinion and the dissent show that the government cannot morally decide when to engage in the state-sanctioned murder of its citizens.

Pharmacist Bandal Shakeel shows a supply of the prescription sedative midazolam at University of Washington's medical center in Seattle, Jan. 25, 2012. The Supreme Court ruled on June 29, 2015, against three death row inmates who had sought to bar the use of the execution drug they said risked causing excruciating pain. (Photo: Stuart Isett/The New York Times)Pharmacist Bandal Shakeel shows a supply of the prescription sedative midazolam at University of Washington's medical center in Seattle, January 25, 2012. The Supreme Court ruled on June 29, 2015, against three death row prisoners who had sought to bar the use of the execution drug they said risked causing excruciating pain. (Photo: Stuart Isett/The New York Times)

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The question of whether we, as a nation, should have the death penalty is often framed around whether or not a particular defendant deserves to die. As prominent scholars in this field have pointed out, the real question may be: Do we, as a society, deserve to kill? Does our collective commitment to equity, justice, accuracy and understanding allow for the imposition of the ultimate punishment for which there can be no margin of error? Or, instead, are we willing to tolerate a system that is inevitably influenced by race and poverty and cling to the archaic use of excess punishment and legalized vengeance instead of providing those in need with services and rehabilitation?  

In the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on June 29 to uphold the use of a questionable execution protocol in Oklahoma, virtually all of the justices in the majority and concurring opinions referenced the question of whether the defendant deserved to die (reaching varied conclusions). However, the Court's rendered opinion in Glossip v. Gross also makes clearer than ever before that we, as a society, do not deserve to kill.  

The issue in Glossip centers on the use of a relatively new protocol in executions: the administration of 500 milligrams of midazolam, a sedative, followed by a second and third drug intended to kill. The use of midazolam became necessary after drug companies refused to provide sodium thiopental and pentobarbital (chemicals previously used in lethal injection procedures) to correctional facilities seeking to use those chemicals in executions.

In Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona, three prisoners were visibly tortured to death with midazolam, as they gasped and writhed in apparent pain for between 10 minutes and two hours. The Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett was aborted midway through when it was clear that he was not dying in the manner envisioned by the state. This sparked renewed outcry in the continuing debate about whether it is possible to carry out executions in a manner consistent with the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment. Contending that midazolam would not reliably render them unable to feel pain, Oklahoma death row prisoners filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent scheduled and future executions.

Yet rather than confront the torturous nature in which these civilians were put to death, the majority and concurring opinions in the Glossip case blame death penalty abolitionists for the absence of the drugs that are (at least arguably) medically suitable for this purpose.  

The crux of the majority opinion is that because the death penalty is constitutional, there must be a constitutional way to carry it out, and because there must be a constitutional way to carry it out and the petitioners cannot offer another available option, this one is good enough.

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor argues in her pointed dissent, the majority's insistence on placing the burden of an adequate alternative on the petitioners leads to absurd and tragic consequences: "Petitioners contend that Oklahoma's current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment - the chemical equivalent of being burned alive ... But under the court's new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly trotted to death or actually burned at the stake."

Justice Stephen Breyer, also in dissent, asks whether, given what we now know, there can be any constitutional means to execute a human being.

Together with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer moves beyond the relatively narrow examination of the use of midazolam in executions, to all but conclude that regardless of the specific chemicals used, a civilized and enlightened society cannot engage in the legal murder of its citizens. Breyer bases his dissent on data pertaining to the exonerations of innocent individuals on death row, the psychological consequences of awaiting a state-sanctioned sentence of death, and the arbitrary nature in which the death penalty is often imposed. He also cites disparities in the implementation of the death penalty across racial, geographical and poverty lines.

The ultimate question - of whether we, as a society, deserve to render death as a punishment - is answered not only by the minority of justices who addressed it directly, but also by the troubling analysis of the majority. In ignoring virtually all of the deep moral questions that surround the death penalty, including the very basic question of whether states can subject their citizens to untested torture, the majority's flawed opinion underscores this fundamental point: Neither they nor we can morally decide whether and when to take the life of another in state-sanctioned executions.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Agricultural Runoff Is Poisoning the Gulf of Mexico, and More

Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

In today's On the News segment: The Hague District Court recently ruled that the Dutch government has a legal duty to cut carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020; a new document proves that TEPCO did not do everything in its power to protect the Fukushima nuclear power plant, even after it learned of the risks; agricultural runoff is poisoning the Gulf of Mexico; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of ... Science and Green News....

You need to know this. Corporate negligence is not unique to the United States. According to a recent article in The Guardian newspaper, TEPCO, the company that operated the Fukushima nuclear power plant, "knew of [the] need to protect against tsunami but did not act." A newly-revealed internal company document shows that the Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) company ignored a 2008 warning that the plant could be hit with a tsunami more than 15 meters high. And, this document proves that TEPCO did not do everything in their power to protect the plant, even after they learned of the risks. The 2011 tsunami that hit Fukushima led to the biggest nuclear accident since Chernobyl, and the world is still struggling to deal with that disaster. Now we learn that this ongoing nuclear catastrophe may have been avoidable. Since the incident in March of 2011, TEPCO executives have maintained that they were powerless to protect against a tsunami of such massive size. That 13-meter wave was almost exactly what TEPCO's internal document predicted, yet they never took the adequate precautions that same document suggested. Radiation leaks from Fukushima caused the evacuation of more than 150,000 people, many of whom have yet to return. That disaster led to the dumping of tens of thousands of gallons of highly-radioactive water into the ocean, and the nuclear contamination of the surrounding area. And, the effects of all that radiation will be felt for generations. This revelation shows that TEPCO could have minimized or prevented the damage from the 2011 tsunami, and it proves exactly why they shouldn't be trusted to deal with the clean up. This disaster is too big and too dangerous for a corporation to deal with alone, especially when we know that they can't be trusted to address risks. It's long-past time for the world to intervene at Fukushima, and to wake up to the facts that corporations will always cut corners, and nuclear energy will never be safe. No nukes!

Climate action is a human right. That's according to The Hague District Court's recent ruling which states that the Dutch government has a legal duty to cut carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020. That landmark ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Amsterdam-based environmental group called Urgenda Foundation. With the help of 600 Dutch citizens, that organization argued that their government's failure to reduce carbon emissions was a violation of international law. And, in what's being hailed as a precedent-setting victory, The Hague District Court agreed. They ruled, "The state must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment." Now that this case has been litigated successfully, activists and environmental groups in other nations are working to launch similar lawsuits. From Brazil to Australia to Ireland, we may soon see more legal challenges to the fossil fuel industry's destruction of our planet. Hopefully, we'll see more victorious rulings as well!

A high-fat, high-sugar diet may be bad for more than just your waistline. According to a recent study from Oregon State University, diets high in fat and sugar may disrupt gut bacteria and cause the loss of cognitive function. In fact, the researchers found a strong connection between high-sugar diets and the loss of so-called "cognitive flexibility," which is the ability to adjust and adapt to changing situations. Scientists tested their theory by studying mice that consumed different diets before facing a range of tests. In addition to finding that the mice performed better on a healthy diet, they found that the rodents' ability to adapt to changes decreased over time when they were fed a high-sugar diet. One of the study's authors said, "It's increasingly clear that our gut bacteria, or microbiota, can communicate with the brain." And, this study shows that sugar and fat disrupt that communication. While there may be more to learn about how this connection works, this science proves that a healthy mind depends on a health diet.

Agricultural run-off is poisoning the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrates and phosphorus from rivers flowing into the Gulf are choking off the oxygen to an area the size of Connecticut. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that this year's dead zone – which is the name for an area with oxygen levels too low to support life – will be about 5,400 square miles. In other words, our industrial farms are making a large part of the Gulf uninhabitable for marine life. Based on data from more than 3,000 real-time sensors, about 100,000 metric tons of nitrates and 18,000 metric tons of phosphorus farm run-off flowed in to the Gulf just in May of 2015. All that fertilizer creates huge algae blooms, which choke off the oxygen, and make it impossible for marine life to survive. Our oceans – including the Gulf – are the lifeblood of our planet, but we're doing a despicable job of protecting them. Whether it's oil spills or plastic or industrial farm waste, we need to keep our pollution out of the water.

And finally... Most humans show a preference for using a particular hand, but we're not the only species to do so. However, while most of us tend to be right-handed, it turns out that most kangaroos prefer to use their left. According to a new report in the journal Current Biology, our preference for one hand or another may vary from species to species. To test their theory, scientists observed four different species of marsupials – three types of kangaroo and one wallaby. They found that the wallaby and two of the kangaroo species all preferred their left hand, but the tree kangaroo, which walks on four legs, did not show a preference. They didn't expect to find any preference, as marsupials don't have a neural circuit that links to the left and right hemispheres of the brain like mammals do. So, they concluded that our preference for one hand or another is likely related to our ability to walk on two legs. But, you'll have to make up your own mind about whether kangaroos using their left paws means they're a bunch of creative geniuses.

And that's the way it is for the week of June 29, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science and Green News.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Supreme Court Tosses EPA Rules That Would Prevent Thousands of Asthma Cases

The Environmental Protection Agency's rules limiting the amount of toxic pollution power plants can spew into the air would prevent thousands of cases of asthma, birth defects and other health problems, especially in marginalized communities - but the Supreme Court has stopped the rules' implementation.

Air pollutionEPA rules limiting toxic air pollution emissions would have prevented thousands of cases of asthma, birth defects and other health problems. (Image: Air pollution via Shutterstock)Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

The Supreme Court's decision on Monday to throw out the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rules limiting dangerous pollutants from power plants was a big win for the energy industry - and a big loss for just about everybody else, especially anyone living near one of the nation's 600 power plants.

Power plants are the No. 1 source of the toxic mercury pollution that can be found in waterways and the bodies of fish and other wildlife in all 50 states. Mercury and other power plant pollutants are known to cause birth defects, developmental problems in children and respiratory illnesses like asthma, but the coal and utility industries have fought to block the EPA's efforts to reduce these dangerous emissions at every turn.

A decade after determining that reducing toxic air pollution from power plants was both "appropriate and necessary" under the Clean Air Act, the EPA issued final rules in 2011 and spent the next three years fending off attacks from the industry and its conservative allies in Congress, who were determined to block the Obama administration's environment and climate agenda. The rules finally went into effect in April, just two months before the high court nixed them in a 5-4 ruling.

The EPA rules would have required utility companies to either update aging and notoriously dirty power plants with pollution reduction technology or shut them down. The EPA estimates that air quality improvements for public health would be worth $37 to $90 billion a year, and wide-reaching impacts would be felt most in the disproportionately low-income neighborhoods and communities of color located near power facilities.

In his opinion for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the pro-industry plaintiffs that the EPA failed to account for the cost that such upgrades would have on the industry, an estimated $9.6 billion annually. He pointed out that the EPA's cost-benefit analysis included pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and particulate matter that are removed from smokestacks retrofitted with standard pollution controls but are not included in the EPA rules for mercury and other toxics.

Regardless of which pollutants are covered under the program, forcing utility companies to spend a little extra on removing them from the pollution stream would have translated into huge public health benefits and could have saved thousands of lives. Here's a rundown of how many cases of adverse health effects the EPA estimates the rules would have prevented each year:

premature death: 4,200-11,000 cases

chronic bronchitis: 2,800 cases

heart attacks: 4,700 cases

asthma attacks: 130,000 cases

hospital and emergency room visits: 5,700 visits

restricted activity days: 3,200,000 days

In addition, the EPA estimates that the rules would have prevented 540,000 sick days among workers annually.

Some utility companies had already begun installing pollution control technologies on their dirtiest plants or simply shutting them down in anticipation of the rules, but without any federal limits on toxics, the industry at large can continue spewing as much toxic pollution into the air as it wants.

Environmentalists are confident that the EPA will go back to the drawing board and issue a new set of regulations, but those would certainly face another round of challenges from the industry and its political allies.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Greece Heads for Default, Citizens Prepare to Vote in Pivotal Referendum on More Austerity

Tens of thousands of Greeks have protested against further austerity cuts ahead of a key referendum on a new European bailout. The demonstrations come as the country confirms it will not meet the deadline for a $1.8 billion loan repayment due by 6 p.m. Eastern time tonight, deepening Greece's fiscal crisis and threatening its exit from the eurozone. Greece will hold a vote this Sunday on whether to accept an austerity package of budget cuts and tax hikes in exchange for new loans. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has urged a "no" vote, calling the proposal a surrender. We go to Greece to speak with Costas Panayotakis, professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology at CUNY and author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Greece, where tens of thousands of Greeks protested Monday against further austerity cuts. The demonstrations come as the country confirms it will not meet the deadline for a $1.8 billion loan repayment due by 6:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight.

NIKO: [translated] We have come here today because we want to tell the government and the whole of Europe that the government must not back down. Austerity is destroying people. And this must end. The Greek people have suffered a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: The European Commission wants Greece to accept an austerity package in exchange for new loans that would help it avoid a default. But Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has refused to accept the bailout deal, calling it a, quote, "humiliation." Over the weekend, Tsipras announced a national referendum set for this Sunday on whether Greece should accept the terms of a new bailout. The European Central Bank followed by rejecting Greece’s request to extend an emergency loan program until after the vote. In response, Tsipras announced the closure of Greek banks and the stock market, as well as restrictions on bank transfers. During a nationally televised interview Monday night, Tsipras called the rejection of a loan extension "blackmail" and called for Greeks to vote no this Sunday.

PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: [translated] If the Greek people want to proceed with austerity measures in perpetuity, with austerity plans which will leave us unable to lift our heads, to have thousands of young people leaving for abroad, to have high unemployment rates and new programs and loans, if this is their choice, we will respect it, but we will not be the ones to carry it out. On the other hand, if we want to claim a new, dignified future for our country, then we will do that all together. People have power in their hands when they decide to use it.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel played down prospects of a breakthrough with Greece in the coming days, but said she would restart talks after Sunday’s referendum.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: [translated] This generous offer was our contribution towards a compromise, so it must be said that the will for a compromise on the Greek side was not there. We made clear today that if the Greek government seeks more talks after the referendum, we will of course not say no to such negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go directly to Greece, just outside Sparta, where we’re joined by Costas Panayotakis. He is a professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology at CUNY and author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Costas. Can you just describe what’s happening right now in Greece?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, there are capital controls, and the ATMs were closed yesterday, so there is a limit to how much money Greeks can withdraw—60 euros. But tourists can withdraw from foreign accounts, can withdraw, you know, as much as they have in their accounts. Beyond that, politically speaking, there is lots of tension, but the situation, even though it’s an unprecedented situation, it was very orderly. And it was remarkable, actually, on a day when, you know, a government closed down the banks, that there was a massive rally in support of the government, because people are very simply tired and exhausted and angry with austerity measures that have devastated Greek society. So, this is, you know, in a nutshell, some of the things that have been going on in the last few hours.

AMY GOODMAN: So, people are allowed—Greeks are allowed to take out 60 euros from the bank. That’s what? Like 67 U.S. dollars. What has been the response in the streets? I mean, you have a lot of developments here, with the referendum being called for Sunday, mass protests taking place.

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: I lost the connection.

AMY GOODMAN: What has been the response in the streets, Costas?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, I think it’s a mixed response. On the one hand, of course, there is anxiety and people, you know, going to the ATMs and trying to get money, and some degree of frustration. But there is also some understanding that the previous policies were not working. So, it’s a mixed response. The same people oftentimes have contradictory feelings. And, of course, there is also a divide within Greek society, with some people being in support of the government and its decisive stand, and others are being more critical.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain exactly what the referendum puts to the people of Greece Sunday?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah. There are two documents with the proposals of the Europeans regarding what should have been the measures adopted by the Greek government in order to get the latest installment of the loan that it would need to keep servicing its debt in the coming months. And this has very heavy, very harsh measures. The idea that Chancellor Merkel, as in your clip, suggested that this was a generous offer would seem like a cruel joke to all Greeks, even opponents of the government. We are talking about, you know, reducing pensions even further. We are talking about escalation of sales taxes. We’re talking about undermining the livelihood of people who have seen their living standards already decrease dramatically in the last five years.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, accused the Greek government of betraying efforts to broker a deal.

JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER: [translated] This isn’t a game of liar’s poker. There isn’t one winner and another one who loses. Either we are all winners or we are all losers. I am deeply distressed, saddened by the spectacle that Europe gave last Saturday. In a single night, the European conscience has taken a heavy blow. Goodwill has somewhat evaporated.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Costas, can you respond?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, I think there is a contradiction in his speech. He starts, as in this clip, to try to seem like he’s above this dispute and claiming he wants to bring the two sides together, but then, a few minutes later into the same speech, he basically attacked the Greek government as basically lying to Greek people as to what the terms were, and that even as—even foreign journalists, from Financial Times and elsewhere, pointed out that he was the one who was lying when he claimed that there was not a proposal to cut Greek pensions. So, I mean, there is an element of hypocrisy there. And we also have to keep in mind that Juncker was the prime minister of Luxembourg, which has been a tax haven that has systematically undercut the finances of other European nations, that’s, you know, mightily contributed to the debt crisis that now he claims to want to resolve.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras responded to critics who say Greece could be pushed out of the eurozone.

PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: [translated] The economic cost if the eurozone is dismantled, the cost of a country in default, which to the European Central Bank alone owes more than 120 billion euros, is enormous, and this won’t happen, in my view. My personal view is that their plan is not to push Greece out of the eurozone; their plan is to end hope that there can be a different kind of policy in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Costas Panayotakis, respond.

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah, I think—I think Syriza was a little over-optimistic, to begin with, as to the possibility of reversing austerity within the eurozone, and this has created difficulties for them. But I think it’s probably true that Chancellor Merkel, especially, and other leaders would not want to be responsible for the rupture of the eurozone, both for economic reasons that the prime minister mentioned but also for geopolitical reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does this mean for this experiment, for the whole Syriza movement that has arisen in Greece? What do you think is going to happen? And how would you evaluate the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, for a long time, Syriza had been making significant concessions to the eurozone’s austerity agenda. I mean, the final offer that the Greek side made, you know, had made significant concessions when compared to the platform of the party. I mean, this is—we are talking about a country that has over 25 percent unemployment, and yet the Greek government was willing to basically propose budget surpluses. I mean, this is a policy—this is not wild leftist. This is a policy well to the right of Keynesian economics. But unfortunately in the eurozone today, there is no real democracy, because basically Keynesianism is bound out of court, and basically what would be a policy that would appeal to the far right of the Republican Party in the U.S. is the only economic policy that is allowed by the eurozone, even though this policy is basically destroying European societies. And Greece is a good example of that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your book, Costas, is called Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy. What would you say is happening with Greece right now?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah, I mean, my book was a critique of neoclassical economics, which is based on the concept of scarcity and argues that basically the free market is the best way to make effective use of scarce resources. And what we’ve seen, of course, with the Greek crisis is a precise refutation of this claim. An economy where 25 percent of the labor force cannot find a job, even though they need to, they want—they would love to work, obviously, it’s not going to—it’s not an efficient economy. An economy where, you know, the most educated young people have to leave the country, after the country invested in their education, and go somewhere else is clearly not an efficient economy. So, even though my book was not specifically on Greece—it did mention Greece, but it was not just on Greece—I think Greece is a good example of how mythical the neoliberal claim is that free markets lead to efficient use of scarce resources.

AMY GOODMAN: If you might look through the crystal ball for us, Costas, in this last minute we have, what do you think will happen on Sunday? And ultimately, what’s going to happen in Greece?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, the first question is whether the referendum will happen on Sunday. I think the European response clearly makes it clear that they want to sabotage the very possibility of a referendum. And, you know, the situation is very, very much in flux. Things have been very orderly, as I said, which is—it is good for the government, and it increases the likelihood of, you know, a "no" vote. But it would be, of course, unwise to try to make a prediction.

And I think one of the factors that will play a role is that if there is a "yes" vote to these measures, Prime Minister Tsipras has said that he would not continue being prime minister, so that would add to economic disruption the possibility of political instability, because then you might need to have new elections. And then you might have a situation where Syriza wins again, because that’s what recent polls have shown. So, I think people who are concerned about economic disruption, or even political instability, may actually find out that—may actually realize that even if they feel frustrated, you know, a "yes" vote would not necessarily solve the problem as they perceive it.

AMY GOODMAN: Costas Panayotakis, I want to thank you for being with us, author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy, professor of sociology at New York City’s College of Technology at CUNY. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, another deadline looms. It’s in Iran. That’s where we’re going. Stay with us.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Historic Iran Nuclear Deal Hangs in the Balance as Talks Enter Final Round

Today marks the deadline for Iran and six world powers to reach a comprehensive agreement on curbing Iran's nuclear program. Iran has dispatched two top officials to Vienna in a last-minute push for a diplomatic breakthrough, but the talks will likely be extended. The outstanding differences include access to international inspectors and Iranian nuclear activity in the deal's final years. Negotiators are also trying to determine the timing of sanctions relief and the scope of Tehran's nuclear research. We are joined from Tehran by Reza Sayah, a journalist who has covered Iran for CNN International for the last seven years.


AMY GOODMAN: Today marks the deadline for Iran and six world powers to reach a comprehensive agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has dispatched two top officials to Vienna in a last-minute push for a diplomatic breakthrough. On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner expressed confidence a deal is within reach, but said negotiations may slip past today’s deadline.

MARK TONER: These talks—and it’s looking more likely now—could go beyond June 30th for a few days, if we need additional time to conclude, frankly, a strong, comprehensive agreement. And that’s still our attitude. You know, we’re still focused on getting the best agreement possible, the most comprehensive agreement possible, and if we have to work a little bit longer to do that, the team in Vienna, then they’ll do so, obviously. But nobody is talking about a long-term extension.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has returned to Iran to discuss a final negotiation position with Iran’s top leadership. Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif acknowledged gaps remain.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: I think it’s fair to say that we’re hopeful. We have a lot of hard work to do. There are some very tough issues. And I think we all look forward to getting down to the final effort here to see whether or not a deal is possible. I think—I think everybody would like to see an agreement, but we have to work through some difficult issues.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: I agree. I agree maybe not on the issues, but on the fact that we need to work really hard in order to be able to make progress and move forward. We are determined to do everything we can in order to be able to make this important milestone, but that depends on a lot of things, and we’re going to work on them and find out.

AMY GOODMAN: The outstanding differences include access to international inspectors and Iranian nuclear activity in the deal’s final years. Negotiators are also trying to determine the timing of sanctions relief and the scope of Tehran’s nuclear research.

For more, we go directly to Tehran, Iran, where we’re joined by Reza Sayah. He has covered Iran for CNN International for the past seven years. After his coverage of the 2009 anti-government protests, Iranian authorities denied him permission to work for two years. He later returned to Tehran to report on the ongoing nuclear talks, the 2013 presidential elections and last year’s signing of the interim nuclear deal. He also works with the Blossom Hill Foundation, which helps children impacted by war.

Reza Sayah, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about this deadline and what is happening in Iran.

REZA SAYAH: Well, the two sides are pushing to get a deal done, and the talks are reaching a crescendo. And you can sense it, because all the big names from all sides are now in Vienna. This morning, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, arrived there, reportedly saying that he has received the mandate from top officials to reach a deal. President Hassan Rouhani’s brother is there. The top nuclear official in Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, is there. And, of course, all the top diplomats from the P5+1, they’re there, as well.

It’s going to be very difficult to gauge where things stand throughout these two years in these negotiations. All sides have done a pretty remarkable job in keeping things under wraps. So I think in the next few days there’s going to be a lot of waiting, a lot of reporters waiting in Vienna. Here, much of the country is eagerly awaiting an outcome. And I think that’s going to be the case until the sides come out and make some sort of announcement. There have been a lot of vague comments. They seem to be optimistic that a deal is within reach, but they also point out that sticking points and obstacles remain.

AMY GOODMAN: What are those sticking points and obstacles, Reza?

REZA SAYAH: Well, the sticking points include the number and types of centrifuges. In the deal that was signed, the framework deal that was signed in April, Iran agreed to reduce its centrifuges from 19,000. It’s not clear if the West is pushing for an increased reduction or if Iran is pushing to keep more. Then you have the scope of the inspections. Iran has all along allowed the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities. And when the framework was agreed on, they agreed to what’s called an additional protocol, which gives the IAEA a higher authority for increased inspections. But the West, the U.S. has given indications that they want to inspect some military facilities, and Iran has said, you know, that’s a redline, that they’re not going to allow inspections in military facilities. Then you have research and development. The West wants to limit Iran’s research and development when it comes to the nuclear program. And finally, the pace of the sanctions. Iran insists that the sanctions should be lifted once the pen hits the paper and an agreement is signed. The West, the U.S. says it’s going to be a gradual lifting of the sanctions. The most likely scenario is that it will be a gradual lifting of the sanctions, but it still remains to be seen what the time frame is and how long that’s going to take. Obviously, Iran wants it to happen faster, and the U.S. doesn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Reza Sayah, can you talk about the main forces against it?

REZA SAYAH: Well, I think it’s important to point out that the main forces against this agreement are in the minority—namely, the Israeli government, who has continued to raise concerns about this deal; you have the Saudis with their—with their concern; and obviously you have the U.S. Congress. You know, I think last month they pushed through a bill that enables them to review this agreement once it’s signed. If the deal is signed before July 9th, Congress has 30 days to review it; if the deal is signed beyond the July 9th date, they have 60 days to sign. But it’s important to point out that other than these groups—the U.S. Congress, the Israeli government and the Saudi government—the majority of the world, and including the world powers, are for a negotiated agreement for Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program. However, these forces, as you say, against this deal, they have a lot of influence. They oftentimes dominate the media. And that’s what you’ll see if an agreement is signed. You’ll see the Israeli government, you’ll see U.S. Congress, you know, raising the alarm again. And it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

AMY GOODMAN: Reza Sayah, we are having a little trouble with your audio, so I want to thank you for being with us. Reza has covered Iran for CNN International for the last seven years. After his coverage of the 2009 anti-government protests, Iranian authorities denied him permission to work for two years, but then he later returned to Tehran, where he covered a number of the political developments there. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Where Are Mayors Opposing Police Militarization?

In cities across the United States, we have seen how the militarized mold of policing and the supply of armored vehicles, assault weapons and the like have resulted in police forces who no longer see their role as one of protecting and serving, but as an occupying army. These localized armies -- backed by racist laws, upheld by stagnant leadership and fueled by the war machine itself -- are battling it out to the death with the very civilians they swore to protect in our own streets. Confrontation with this war-ready mentality is a daily lived experience for black and brown citizens across the country, and the implications impact us all. It is incumbent to get weapons out of our streets, and take the necessary steps to change the current mentality and methods of police and civilian engagement. We must return to a state where law enforcement serves and protects the communities they are in, and we need the support of local leadership to do so.

In 2011, Mayor Kitty Piercy of Eugene, Oregon championed CODEPINK's "Bring Our War Dollars Home Resolution" at the US Conference of Mayors. Along with the fearless leadership of 20 other visionary leaders who co-sponsored the resolution, we celebrated its unanimous adoption. This resolution was the first anti-war resolution since the Vietnam War to address military spending, and called for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Months ago, as the snow began to melt and the #BlackSpring emerged, CODEPINK drafted a resolution calling for the demilitarization of local law enforcement, which included putting restrictions and regulations on the Department of Defense's 1033 program, and prioritizing the need for cultural sensitivity training. This resolution went out to a group of Mayors, set to attend the US Conference of Mayors, June 18th- 22nd 2015 in San Francisco, with hopes of gaining support and sponsorship. Most notably the resolution was sent to the Mayors' part of the standing committee roster for Criminal and Social Justice.

On May 18th 2015, President Obama announced a plan to ban certain military weapons from reaching the hands of local law enforcement, citing the feeling of "an occupying force" and subsequent tensions between police and communities of color. With the call to reform law enforcement at a local level echoing throughout communities nationwide, and the President announcing his own plan for reform -- surely some mayor stepped would step up to champion this resolution....

Not a single Mayor stepped up.

Locally elected officials hold the power to make a difference in our own communities. To neglect that opportunity means risking more lives for the sake of the status quo. We applaud and honor actions taken to call for an end to war on a global scale -- but who is there to call for an end to the wars carnage in our own streets?

Where are the mayors who stand for local peace?

According to the The Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services, since its inception in 1990 the 1033 Program has transferred more than $5.1 billion in property. Although some of the equipment was created in the military arena and, in many cases, was created for military use, law enforcement agencies have been able to repurpose the property for domestic law enforcement uses. Currently, "over 8,000 U.S. federal and state law enforcement agencies, from all 50 states and the U.S. territories participate in the program. A law enforcement agency is defined as a "government agency whose primary function is the enforcement of applicable federal, state, and local laws and whose compensated law enforcement officers have the powers of arrest and apprehension."

According to The Guardian, as of June 16, 2015 the number of people killed by law enforcement in the United States is 515-- that number reflects this year alone.

U.S. mayors need to look at the record, read the names, view the photos and videos and listen to their constituents who have experienced, or fear experiencing, the horror of having a loved one die in this way.

Illustrating the real-life pain and implications of the pernicious wedge that has been driven between the public and local law enforcement agencies is The Millions Mom March. This past Mother's Day, CODEPINK marched with a rally of dozens of grieving mothers, whose children were taken from them by police and racist vigilante violence. The rally to the Justice Department in D.C. demanded an end to racist and fatal police practices.

Mayors must show up for the powerful rallies remembering those killed by police; commit to ending these killings and other abuse; and promote peaceful methods of resolving conflict, dealing with the mentally ill, and supporting the rights of all -- no matter the race, color, sexual orientation or national origin. Mayors want to be proud of their cities. Ending police violence and abuse of city residents will go a long way toward making American cities places for genuine, not forced, civic pride.

In the words of Reverend Wanda Johnson, whose son Oscar Grant was unjustly killed by a policeman on a San Francisco, BART platform on January 1, 2009:

"We have had enough of police militarization and violence, which only perpetuates fear in our communities. We deserve to live in peace and we deserve justice for the crimes committed against our children."

The world is watching and acting; and grieving communities are waiting, desperately for change... for justice.

To our Mayors... where do you stand?

Opinion Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Global Governance ... Into the Future

Global governance is failing when we need it most. The paradox of our times is that, as global problems become more complex and threatening, our global institutions lose their force as organizing frameworks for inter-state cooperation. Starting from the Lorenzetti's painting "The Allegory of the Good and the Bad Government," David Held, Master of University College, Durham and Professor of Politics and International Relations at Durham University, explains what are the reasons for such gridlocks.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Thousands Kept in Solitary Confinement in Illinois Prisons

Click to open full-size in a new window. (Infographic by Sarah Turbin)Click to open full-size in a new window. (Infographic by Sarah Turbin)

A class action lawsuit filed this week on behalf of former and current inmates is challenging the widespread use of solitary confinement by the Illinois Department of Corrections.

A total of about 2,300 state prison inmates -- including about 15 percent of those housed in maximum security facilities -- are kept in solitary confinement, often for relatively minor offenses, said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People's Law Center, which filed the legal challenge with the law firm Winston & Strawn.  Solitary confinement is generally defined as 22 to 24 hours of isolation a day and can last years, he said. The United Nations considers isolation lasting 15 days or longer to be torture.

"I don't know anybody who spent more than a few months in solitary who doesn't come out quite damaged," Mills told the Reporter.

The suit is aimed at getting the state corrections department to implement the American Bar Association's standards on segregation, which limit how long individuals are held in solitary confinement and recommend that people living with mental illness not be subjected to the punishment.

The Illinois Department of Corrections declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Chicago Reporter is a non-profit investigative news organization that focuses on race, poverty and income inequality.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Right's Rights ]]> Art Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Billions Pledged for Nepal Reconstruction, but Still No Debt Relief

United Nations - A major donor conference in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, came to a close on Jun. 25 with foreign governments and aid agencies pledging three billion dollars in post-reconstruction funds to the struggling South Asian nation.

An estimated 8,600 people perished in the massive quake on Apr. 25 this year, and some 500,000 homes were destroyed, leaving one of the world's least developed countries (LDCs) to launch a wobbly emergency relief effort in the face of massive displacement and suffering.

Two months after the disaster, scores of people are still in need of humanitarian aid, shelter and medical supplies.

Speaking at the conference Thursday, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala assured donors that their funds would be used in an effective and transparent manner.

Rights groups have urged the government to focus on long-term rebuilding efforts rather than sinking all available monies into emergency relief.

In a statement released ahead of the conference, Bimal Gadal, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam in Nepal, warned of the impacts of unplanned reconstruction and stated, "The Nepalese people know their needs better than anyone and their voices must be heard when donors meet in Kathmandu. They have been through an ordeal, and now it is time to start rebuilding lives."

"This conference is a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future," he said.

"This can only happen if the government of Nepal is supported to create new jobs, build improved basic services like hospitals and clinics, and to ensure all new buildings are earthquake-resilient."

Despite a huge thrust from civil society organisations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that the country does not qualify for debt relief under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief (CCR) Trust, which recently awarded 100 million dollars in debt relief to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.

The Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, has been pushing for major development banks, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to ease debt payments from Nepal, one of the world's 38 low-income countries eligible for relief from the IMF's new fund.

According to Jubliee USA, "Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders, including 54 million dollars to the IMF and approximately three billion dollars to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

"According to the most recent World Bank numbers," said Jubilee USA in a statement, "Nepal paid 217 million dollars in debt in 2013, approximately 600,000 dollars in average daily debt payments, or more than 35 million dollars since the earthquake."

Considering that the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damages amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country's total economy – experts have expressed dismay that the country's creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

"This is troubling news," said Eric LeCompte, a United Nations debt expert and executive director of Jubilee USA Network. "Given the devastation in Nepal, it's hard to believe that the criteria was not met."

"This fund was created for situations just like this and debt relief in Nepal could make a significant difference," said LeCompte.‎ "Beyond the IMF, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who hold about three billion dollars of Nepal's debt have unfortunately not announced any debt relief plans yet."

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400