Democracy Now! - August 24, 2015

The 2016 presidential race is shaping up to be the most expensive political race in history. Experts predict as much as $10 billion could be spent by candidates, parties and outside groups on the campaign. A recent analysis by The New York Times shows fewer than 400 families are responsible for almost half the money raised to date. The vast majority of the $388 million raised so far has been channeled to super PACs which can accept unlimited donations in support of candidates. According to the Times, the political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign. That figure dwarfs how much the Republican National Committee and the party’s two congressional campaign committees spent in the 2012 election. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has a set a fundraising goal of $2.5 billion. Today we are joined by a law professor who is considering challenging Clinton in the Democratic primary. His platform is simple: Get money out of politics. Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig says that if he won the presidency, he would serve only as long as it takes to pass sweeping campaign finance reform. Then, he says, he would resign.

As members of Congress continue to debate the historic Iran nuclear deal ahead of next month’s vote, more attention is being paid to the three—possibly four—Americans imprisoned in Iran: Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Robert Levinson, whose whereabouts are in question. During a recent press conference, President Obama defended his decision not to tie the nuclear negotiations to the release of the hostages, saying it would have encouraged Iran to use hostages perhaps to get additional concessions from the United States. We speak to Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers imprisoned in Iran for more than a year in solitary confinement. She was captured, along with her two companions, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, in July 2009 while hiking near the unmarked Iran-Iraq border in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan during a week-long trip from her home in Damascus, Syria.

Since her 2010 release from an Iranian prison, Sarah Shourd’s work has focused largely on exposing and condemning the cruelty and overuse of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. She has just written a play about solitary confinement in the United States titled "Opening the Box." It was performed Thursday at an event hosted by the Fortune Society in New York City, before an audience of many who had been in solitary.

In a recent article for The Daily Beast, "Facebook Now a Place for Prisoners, Too," Sarah Shourd looked at the growing debate on prisoners using social media. Facebook has been accused of being too willing to delete profile pages of prisoners at the request of U.S. authorities. The company recently changed its policy after complaints from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups.

We turn now to Guatemala, where President Otto Pérez Molina is attempting to hold onto his office despite growing calls demanding for his resignation. The president has faced months of massive protests amid a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal in which importers paid bribes to Tax Authority officials to obtain discounts. Over the weekend, most of Pérez Molina’s Cabinet stepped down. The scandal has also led to the arrest of top officials, including Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who was arrested on Friday on corruption charges. On Saturday, crowds rallied outside the presidential palace chanting "Resign now!" and waving Guatemalan flags. On Sunday, the Roman Catholic Church joined in calling for the president’s resignation. Hours later, Otto Pérez Molina announced he would not resign. We go to Guatemala to speak with journalist and activist Allan Nairn about the current corruption scandal and Pérez Molina’s history as a U.S.-backed general implicated in the mass murder of indigenous Mayans during the country’s dirty war in the 1980s.

Amy Goodman Democracy Now! Facebook Guatemala Hiking Iran Lawrence Lessig Solitary Confinement

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