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Thousands Protest as Wisconsin GOP Advances Anti-Union Bill in State Senate

Wisconsin Republicans have pushed through Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union bill in the State Senate. After a three-week impasse that saw the state’s largest protests since the Vietnam War, Republicans split the measure in two, claiming no quorum is needed to pass the bill’s non-fiscal provisions. The legislation had been stalled since 14 Democratic senators fled Wisconsin three weeks ago to deny Republicans quorum. The approved legislation includes provisions that would strip most public employee workers of their right to collectively bargain. When word got out about the vote, thousands of workers, students and union supporters raced to the Capitol. Despite initial restrictions from police, an estimated 7,000 people managed to enter the building. Many remain inside after staying overnight. The Wisconsin State Assembly is expected to vote on the measure today.

Clashes Continue in Libya; Toll for East Estimated at 400

In Libya, forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi are locked in intense fighting with opposition forces for control of several cities and towns. The International Committee of the Red Cross says Libya has descended into civil war with increasing numbers of wounded civilians arriving in hospitals in eastern cities. At a hospital in Benghazi, a Libyan doctor said more than 400 people have been killed in the east.

Doctor: "A total more than 300, if we’re talking about a total, in Benghazi. And we have, according to the record of medical record in Al Bayda, Darnah, Al Marj and Tobruk, the total number is plus-minus 100 killed at the first time — I mean, since the 17th ’til the 20th of February. So the total number in the east of Libya, more than 400 now."

BBC News Crew Detained, Beaten by Libyan Forces

A BBC news crew has described being subjected to torture and a mock execution at the hands of Libyan government forces. Three journalists say they were held for 21 hours after being arrested at a checkpoint south of the city of Zawiyah on Monday. A crew member of Palestinian descent was singled out by a security officer and beaten severely. The reporters were caged and hooded. At one point they were forced to face a wall, and a man in plain clothes placed his gun on the necks of the detained journalists and fired two shots next to one reporter’s head. Camera operator Goktay Koraltan said they were detained along with other prisoners who had been tortured.

Goktay Koraltan: "I can’t describe how bad was it. They were, most of them, hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all swollen hands, broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming. There was a big operation going on there, and from second floor, I heard a lot of screaming. And I can’t describe. It was horrible, the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff."

Egyptian Protesters Attacked; ElBaradei Explores Presidential Bid

In Egypt, hundreds of pro-democracy protesters have been attacked in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Small groups armed with rocks and knives were seen assaulting demonstrators ahead of an Egyptian military effort to remove the last of the protesters who have remained in Tahrir since the uprising that toppled U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak last month. The attack comes one day after 13 people were killed and more than 140 wounded in sectarian clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians. In other news from Egypt, Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has announced he will run in upcoming presidential elections, but only on the condition of meaningful democratic reforms during the transition. ElBaradei returned to Egypt when the uprising broke out, after spending many years abroad.

Yemeni President Proposes Referendum on New Constitution

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has offered to put a new constitution to a referendum this year in the face of massive protests against his three-decade rule. Earlier today, Saleh said the proposed constitution would effectively establish constitutional government. Yemen’s opposition immediately rejected the offer, calling for ongoing demonstrations until Saleh steps down. Dozens of people were wounded and two people killed when Saleh’s forces opened fire on a rally in the capital, Sana’a, earlier this week.

Dalai Lama Steps Down as Tibet’s Political Leader

The Dalai Lama has announced he is stepping down this month as head of the Tibetan government in exile. Speaking from India, the 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner said while he will remain the spiritual leader, Tibet’s political leadership should be elected. The Dalai Lama’s departure will be formalized at a meeting of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile next week.

Illinois Abolishes Death Penalty

Illinois has become the first state to abolish the death penalty since 2009. On Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation ending capital punishment after two months of deliberation.

Gov. Pat Quinn: "It is impossible to create a perfect system, one that is free of all mistakes, free of all discrimination with respect to race or economic circumstance or geography. To have a consistent, perfect death penalty system, I have concluded, after looking at everything I’ve been given, that that’s impossible in our state. I think it’s the right and just thing to abolish the death penalty."

Quinn has commuted the death sentences of all 15 Illinois prisoners on death row, giving them life in prison with no chance of parole. Executions had been halted in Illinois since a January 2000 moratorium that followed revelations of the innocence of at least 20 death row prisoners.

NPR CEO Resigns Over Video Controversy

The head of National Public Radio has resigned amidst controversy created by the release of an undercover video. NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller stepped down one day after right-wing activist James O’Keefe released a video showing two people posing as Muslim donors meeting with two NPR executives. On the tape, one of the executives suggests the Tea Party is xenophobic and racist and that NPR would be better off without government funding. The executive, Ron Schiller—no relation to Vivian Schiller—has also resigned. The incident comes as NPR faces calls for massive funding cuts from Republicans and Tea Party supporters. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration backs continued funding for NPR and public broadcasting.

Jay Carney: "We do not support calls to eliminate funding for National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as is evidenced by our budget. We think they are worthwhile and important priorities, as our budget makes clear… Administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have supported public broadcasting in the past, and we think, in an era where tough choices have to be made, including the ones that this president laid out in his proposed 2012 budget, that there remains a need to support public broadcasting and NPR."

Loughner Pleads Not Guilty, Hearing Set for May

Arizona shooting suspect Jared Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges in the shooting rampage that killed six people and left 12 others wounded. The presiding judge has ordered a hearing in May to determine whether Loughner is mentally competent to stand trial.

Two-Thirds of States Have Cut Mental Health Services

A new report says two-thirds of states have cut mental health services over the last two years. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Arizona was tied for the third-largest cuts to mental health spending, at 23 percent.

Former U.S. Soldier Charged in Failed MLK Day Bombing

A former U.S. soldier has been arrested in connection with the failed bombing of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade march in Spokane, Washington, earlier this year. Kevin William Harpham could face life imprisonment on charges of attempting to use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device. The bomb was found in a backpack along the parade’s route. Investigators say it was equipped with a remote control detonator and shrapnel and positioned to direct its blast toward the marchers. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks hate groups, has identified Harpham as a one-time member of the white supremacist National Alliance.

House Panel Orders Legal Defense of DOMA

An influential House panel has voted to defend the anti-LGBT 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which denies federal recognition of gay marriage. The White House infuriated Republicans last month after announcing it would no longer defend the measure in two ongoing cases. The law is the last major federal statute to openly target gays and lesbians, following last year’s repeal of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, which bans openly gay people to serve in the military. In a 3-to-2 vote, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group directed the House General Counsel to defend DOMA in court.

Robert Scheer, City Limits Named Izzy Award Recipients

In media news, journalist and author Robert Scheer and the New York City-based magazine City Limits have been named the shared winners of the third annual Izzy Award for Special Achievement in Independent Media. The Izzy Award is named after legendary maverick journalist I.F. Stone, who launched I.F. Stone’s Weekly in 1953 and exposed government deception, McCarthyism and racial bigotry. The Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College in New York cited Scheer for being "a beacon of journalistic independence who exposes both major parties on issues foreign and domestic, while giving voice to the disenfranchised," and City Limits for providing "a model of in-depth urban journalism that examines systemic problems, challenges assumptions and points toward solutions."

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