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U.N. Backs Palestinian Bid for "Non-Member Observer State" Status

The United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to recognize the state of Palestine by upgrading its status to "non-member observer state." The historic vote saw 138 countries voting in favor of the Palestinian bid with just nine states, including the United States and Israel, voting no. Forty-one countries, including Britain and Germany, abstained. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke at the United Nations ahead of Thursday’s vote.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, the United Nations General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine."

Palestinians Rally to Celebrate New U.N. Status

Thousands of Palestinians celebrated the vote by taking to the streets to sing, dance and wave Palestinian flags in Gaza, Bethlehem and the West Bank city of Ramallah. The revelers said Palestine had won new legitimacy.

Bethlehem resident Hisham Al Kamel: "Today, in God’s will, we celebrate the victory of Palestine being, from now on, on the world map, a country like any other country."

Gaza resident Ahmad Khalil: "Today we are very proud, and we are waiting for the decision and the title for the world: 'Palestine.'"

Israel, U.S. Blast U.N. Resolution on Palestine

Thursday’s U.N. vote came despite staunch opposition from the United States and Israel, who threatened to withdraw funding from Palestinians amidst concerns they could use their new status to challenge Israel in international court. Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor condemned the resolution.

Ron Prosor: "The only way to achieve peace is through agreements that are reached by the parties and not through the U.N., resolutions that completely ignore Israel’s vital security and national interests. And because this resolution is so one-sided, it doesn’t advance peace. It pursues — it then pushes it backwards."

Besides Israel and the United States, the only other "no" votes on Palestine’s bid came from Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama. The resolution was seen as a diplomatic rebuke of the United States, which had pressured Palestinians to abandon it. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted the measure on Thursday.

Hillary Clinton: "The unfortunate and counterproductive resolution at the United Nations General Assembly that just passed, because it places further obstacles in the path to peace. We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace they both deserve: two states for two people, with a sovereign, viable, independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel."

Bradley Manning Describes Harrowing Prison Conditions in 1st Public Testimony Since 2010 Arrest

Accused U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning spoke publicly about his imprisonment for the first time since he was arrested for allegedly giving a trove of classified documents to WikiLeaks. During a pretrial hearing Thursday, Manning described the anxiety and confusion he felt while imprisoned in Kuwait after his arrest in 2010, saying: "I remember thinking, ’I’m going to die.’ I thought I was going to die in a cage." As part of his testimony, Manning entered a life-size representation of the six-by-eight-foot cell where he was later held at the Quantico military base in Virginia and recounted how he would tilt his head to see the reflection of a skylight through a gap in his cell door. Manning has offered to plead guilty to a subset of charges that could potentially carry a maximum prison term of 16 years.

Egypt: Protests Continue as Panel Approves Draft Constitution

Protests are continuing in Egypt against President Mohamed Morsi’s decision to grant himself sweeping powers as an Islamist panel has approved a draft of the country’s new constitution. The panel writing the constitution had been boycotted by Christians and secularists and had rushed to finish their work amidst mounting protests. Demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Thursday rejected the constitution and called for Morsi to step down.

Mohamed Magdy: "The government and Morsi should leave. The only and the first demand for revolutionaries is to topple Mohamed Morsi, because he does not achieve the demands and targets of the revolution. There is no freedom, justice or even bread. He has achieved nothing. The Interior Ministry is worse than it was before. The national security police are back to their old tasks (the same as under Hosni Mubarak)."

Egyptian President: Decree Granting New Powers Is Temporary

President Mohamed Morsi sought to reassure the Egyptian people by claiming his decree last week exempting his decisions from judicial oversight was not meant to be permanent. Morsi made the comments in a TV interview Thursday.

President Mohamed Morsi: "The constitutional decree — I say that this period will end immediately after the people vote on the constitution that the constituent assembly is now completing."

Syrian Internet Cut Nationwide for a Second Day

The ongoing conflict in Syria has entered the second day of an online blackout as Internet service and many phone connections have been wiped out across the country. The United States and multiple news outlets have pinned the outage on the Syrian government, sparking concerns they may be preparing for a major assault. Syria’s information minister blamed the blackout on "terrorists." The road to the Damascus airport reopened Friday after heavy fighting between government forces and rebel fighters cut off access and prompted the cancellation of flights.

Mexico: Environmentalist Who Challenged Drug Gangs Murdered in Ambush Despite Police Escort

In the latest violence out of Mexico, an environmental activist who took a stand against drug gangs has been murdered along with her 10-year-old son in the southern state of Guerrero. Juventina Villa was under police protection after receiving death threats when she withdrew to make a phone call and was ambushed by at least 30 attackers. Her seven-year-old daughter survived. Villa had challenged efforts by drug gangs to destroy forests in order to plant their crops. More than 20 members of her extended family, including her husband and two children, had already been murdered.

Peña Nieto Set to Assume Mexican Presidency

The death of Juventina Villa comes as Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto is due to be inaugurated Saturday. He has affirmed his support for the U.S.-backed war on drugs started under outgoing President Felipe Calderón. Tens of thousands have died since the drug war began in 2006.

Qatar Court Sentences Poet to Life in Prison

A court in Qatar has sentenced a poet to life in prison after accusing him of insulting the emir and trying to overthrow the government. Mohammad al-Ajami criticized regional rulers in his "Jasmine Poem," published after the Tunisian uprising last year, writing: "We are all Tunis in the face of the repressive elite." Ajami has been held in solitary confinement for a year. The sentencing comes as delegates from nearly 200 countries are gathered in Qatar for the United Nations climate change summit.

World’s Youth Call for Urgent Action at U.N. Climate Change Summit

Climate delegates are wrapping up the first of two weeks of talks in Qatar’s capital of Doha amidst mounting signs of global warming’s impact. The U.N. meteorological agency has unveiled a new report showing an area of Arctic sea ice larger than the United States melted this year over a six-month period. The agency said sea ice around the North Pole reached a record low because of climate change. While world leaders appear to have stalled over a possible extension of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, some of the toughest calls for change to emerge this week have been from the world’s youth. Youth activists called Friday for leaders to take drastic action immediately to prevent poorer countries from suffering the brunt of climate change. Michael Sandmel, a member of the International Youth Climate Movement, spoke in Doha earlier this week.

Michael Sandmel: "We make up half the world’s population, and frankly, we’re being screwed. We’re being denied a future by a lack of ambition, a lack of vision, and governments that are far too beholden to the interests of big fossil fuel companies, big coal companies, the banks that fund them."

Report: Gitmo Prisoner Adnan Latif Died of Overdose in Apparent Suicide

A U.S. military official says autopsy results show a Guantánamo Bay prisoner who died in September had taken an overdose of medication in an apparent suicide. Adnan Latif was a Yemeni national who had attempted suicide multiple times since his imprisonment a decade ago. He was at least the ninth foreign prisoner to die at Guantánamo since the United States began jailing foreigners there in 2002. Latif had remained at Guantánamo despite being cleared for release several times. An unnamed official told the Associated Press it was unclear how Latif had gathered enough medication to kill himself. Latif’s lawyer said he remains skeptical his death was a suicide. The finding of suicide in the Latif case was first reported by the website Truthout, followed by The New York Times.

Activist Who Defaced Anti-Muslim Subway Ad: "I’m Proud of What I Did"

An activist who attempted to spray-paint over an anti-Muslim advertisement in a New York City subway station appeared in court Thursday to face charges of criminal mischief. Mona Eltahawy was offered a plea deal over the September incident but chose to go to trial instead. She told The Guardian: "I actually look forward to standing trial, because I acted out of principle and I’m proud of what I did."

Jailed Activists Start Hunger Strike in Campaign Against Keystone XL Pipeline

Two activists have gone on hunger strike in jail as part of a campaign against the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands oil to Texas. Diane Wilson and Bob Lindsey Jr. are demanding that energy firm Valero divest from the Keystone XL project. The pair were arrested after locking themselves to trucks in a bid to block access to a Valero refinery in Houston, Texas.

NYC Fast-Food Workers Stage Historic Walkouts, Rallies to Demand Fair Pay, Union Rights

In New York City, fast-food workers walked off the job to hold a series of rallies and picket lines Thursday in what’s been called the largest series of worker actions ever to hit the country’s fast-food industry. Hundreds of workers at dozens of restaurants owned by McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and others went on strike and rallied in a bid for fair pay and union recognition. Organizers with the Fast Food Forward campaign are seeking an increased pay rate of $15 an hour, about double what the minimum-wage workers are making. Workers and their allies demanded a wage that would let them support their families.

KFC employee Pamela Waldron: "CEOs take home six-digit figures. Do you think they’re worrying about how we make — how we provide for our kids? No! Do they know how the store is run? It’s run day to day, day in, day out, by regular employees just like myself."

Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change: "We’re out here to send a message to McDonald’s, Burger King behind me, Yum! Brands and other fast-food restaurants all over the city that workers aren’t going to take it. And there’s a movement of workers to make sure that people can get $15 an hour and the right to unionize."

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