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U.S. Considers Unilateral Syrian Strike After U.K. Vote Against Use of Force

The Obama administration is considering launching unilateral air strikes against Syria after British lawmakers voted against the use of force. Pentagon officials said the Navy has moved a fifth destroyer into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The vote in Britain came after a heated debate over the intelligence surrounding the claims that the Syrian government launched a chemical weapons attack last week. This is opposition leader Ed Miliband questioning Prime Minister David Cameron.

Ed Miliband, British opposition leader: "There having been no motion passed by this House tonight, can the prime minister confirm to the House that he will not use the royal prerogative to order the U.K. to be part of military action — of military action, given the will of the House that has been expressed tonight, before there’s been another vote in this House of Commons."

David Cameron, British prime minister: "It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly."

Any U.S. military strike looks likely to be delayed at least until U.N. investigators report back after leaving Syria on Saturday. At the U.S. State Department, spokesperson Marie Harf said the United States will set its own timeline for action.

Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson: "The president will continue contemplating what decision to take in close consultation with our allies. I’m not going to go any further than that, except to say that we make our own decisions and our own timeline."

Antiwar Protesters Rally Against U.S. Military Action in Syria

Antiwar protesters gathered in New York City and Washington, D.C., last night calling for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Syria.

Samar, protester: "Please, leave us alone. It’s our own country. You have no right whatever to bomb it or to do anything. Go take care of your people here. Give them the money. They deserve it more than spending on the war over there for no reason. It’s another lie. Please leave us alone."

U.S. Intelligence "Black Budget" Tops $50 Billion

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden have revealed the CIA has mushroomed into the largest U.S. spy agency with a nearly $15 billion budget as it expands intelligence, cybersabotage and overseas covert operations. On Thursday, The Washington Post published details about the so-called black budget of the nation’s 16 spy agencies. Altogether the spy agencies requested nearly $53 billion last year. More than half the money was split between the CIA, the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office. The documents also reveal the NSA is paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to U.S. telephone and Internet companies for clandestine access to their communications networks. In addition, the black budget revealed that the United States has carried out counterintelligence operations against the governments of Israel and Pakistan, as well as Iran, Russia, China and Cuba.

U.S. Spy Satellites Played Key Role in Hunt for Bin Laden

The Washington Post also revealed the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden was guided from space by a fleet of satellites, which aimed dozens of separate receivers over Pakistan to collect a torrent of electronic and signals intelligence as the mission unfolded. Satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office performed over 387 "collects" of high-resolution and infrared images of the Abbottabad compound in the month prior to the raid.

Merrill Lynch to Pay $160 Million in Largest Racial Discrimination Settlement Ever

The brokerage firm Merrill Lynch has agreed to pay $160 million in the largest racial discrimination settlement ever. Eight years ago, a group of African-American financial advisers sued Merrill Lynch alleging their bosses segregated the workforce by steering African-American brokers into clerical positions and reassigning their accounts to white workers. More than 1,200 current and former Merrill Lynch employees could be eligible to take part in the settlement.

U.S. Allows States to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

The Obama administration said Thursday it will not sue to stop the states including Colorado and Washington from allowing recreational marijuana use. Voters in both states passed groundbreaking ballot measures last November to legalize the use of marijuana for adults.

Crackdown on Brotherhood and Journalists Continues

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has called for nationwide protests today after Friday prayers to protest the military-backed government that ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last month. On Thursday, Egyptian authorities arrested two more senior Brotherhood figures, including Mohamed el-Beltagy, a former member of Parliament and head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Meanwhile, the crackdown on journalists continues in Egypt. On Tuesday, authorities detained three journalists working with Al Jazeera. A total of five Al Jazeera employees are now being held by the Egyptian government.

IRS Extends Tax Benefits to Married Same-Sex Couples

The Obama administration announced Thursday all legally wed same-sex couples, no matter which state they live in, are entitled to the same U.S. federal tax benefits as married heterosexual couples. The ruling follows a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in June invalidating a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Banks Report Record $42 Billion Profit in Second Quarter

U.S. banks reported a record net income of $42 billion between April and June. At JPMorgan Chase, profits increased by 31 percent to $6.5 billion in the second quarter. That means the bank made on average more than $70 million a day during that period. Meanwhile, CNN Money reports the nation’s five biggest banks are on track to pay out $127 billion in total compensation, including at least $23 billion in bonuses, this year.

Fast-Food Workers Go On Strike in 60 Cities Demanding Living Wage

Fast-food workers went on strike in 60 U.S. cities in the largest protest of an almost year-long campaign to raise service sector wages at restaurants, including McDonald’s and Burger King. The striking workers say they want to unionize without retaliation in order to collectively bargain for a $15-an-hour "living wage," more than twice the federal minimum of $7.25. Longtime fast-food worker Shantel Walker went on strike in New York City.

Shantel Walker: "To tell you the truth, I’ve been in fast food since 1999 on and off, and it’s 2013. I had a couple of other jobs in between. But for the most part, no matter what job I get, it always starts back at $7.25. That’s — like they say, that’s state minimum wage, so it doesn’t matter where you work. That’s the whole irony of this whole situation. It’s not just fast food. It’s people in factories. It’s people in warehouses. It’s people all over. They’re not making money. Some people can’t even pay their rent. Some people live in shelters. I know some people that don’t even have homes to live in. They live in shelters, and they work every day. That’s what you call the working poor."

New York City Council Member Letitia James expressed support for the fast-food workers.

Letitia James: "Most of the individuals who work in fast-food restaurants, which is one of the growing — fastest-growing industries in the City of New York, it’s a race to the bottom. A significant number of them in retail and in the fast-food restaurants are women of color who look like me. And so, there is a feminization of poverty. It’s a term which describes most women who live below the poverty level who are struggling to make ends meet."

U.S. Seeks to Expand Military Presence in the Philippines

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel met with top Filipino officials Thursday, including President Benigno Aquino, to discuss expanding the U.S. military’s presence in the Philippines. The Obama administration has been negotiating a deal to allow U.S. forces to store equipment and supplies and to deploy, on a temporary basis, ships, planes and troops at several locations in the region. Filipino protesters condemned the U.S. military presence.

Fidel Fidabier, Movement for National Democracy: "Those troops are not welcome here. They are birds of prey. His arrival here signifies that the eagle has landed. The birds of prey have come, and it could mean another war, death and abuse."

According to local Filipino officials, the United States has been attempting to secure the use of an old airport to use as a drone base. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States is not seeking to build permanent bases in the Philippines which was a U.S. colony from 1898 to 1946.

Chuck Hagel, U.S. Secretary of Defense: "The United States does not seek permanent bases in the Philippines. That would represent a return to an outdated Cold War mentality. Instead, we are using a new model of military-to-military cooperation, befitting two great allies and friends, and looking to increase our rotational presence here, as we have done recently in Singapore and Australia."

Hagel’s visit to the Philippines comes just days after at least 60,000 people rallied in Manila in the largest protest ever against the Aquino government over government corruption.

Anti-Smoking Groups Criticize U.S. Stance on TPP Tobacco Negotiations

Negotiations over a major new global trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership have hit a snag after the Obama administration proposed allowing tobacco companies to challenge anti-smoking policies in participating countries. The position has been criticized by the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and other anti-smoking groups. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the U.S. proposal, saying it "would be a colossal public health mistake and potentially contribute to the deaths of tens of millions of people around the world." In recent years, the tobacco industry has used other trade and investment pacts to challenge anti-smoking measures in the United States, Australia, Uruguay, Ireland, Norway and Turkey.

30,000 March in Colombia to Support Small Farmers

In news from Colombia, about 30,000 people marched in Bogotá on Thursday in support of a 10-day protest by small farmers against privatization, trade deals and alleged neglect of rural areas. Farmers say they have been unable to compete with subsidized U.S. and European crops imported under so-called "free trade" deals.

Julio Roberto Gómez, union leader in Colombia: "The purpose of this protest is to express our deepest solidarity with the farmers movement in this national farming strike and demand that the national government immediately solve this problem. The situation is extremely serious, involving 12 million farmers, but it affects 47 million Colombians."

Report: Veterans Commit Suicide at Double Rate of Civilian Population

A new investigation by News21 has found U.S. veterans are killing themselves at more than double the rate of the civilian population. About 49,000 veterans took their own lives between 2005 and 2011. Nearly one in every five suicides nationally is a veteran, even though veterans make up only about 10 percent of the U.S. adult population.

Lawyer: Chelsea Manning is "Doing Very Well"

A lawyer for jailed Army Private Chelsea Manning, previously known as Bradley Manning, says the soldier is doing well at Fort Leavenworth. Attorney David Coombs talked to Manning on Wednesday for the first time since a military judge sentenced Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking classified material to WikiLeaks. One day after the sentencing, Manning announced plans to live as a woman under the name Chelsea Manning. Coombs said: "I am happy to report that she is doing very well ... and has already made several friends who accept her for who she is." Coombs went on to say: "I also told her about how most responsible media have elected to respect her wishes and refer to her by her new name. Chelsea was very happy to hear of these developments."

Protests in Montana After Teacher Sentenced to Just 30 Days for Raping Student

Protesters rallied outside a Montana courtroom calling for the resignation of a judge over his handling of a case involving a high school teacher who raped a 14-year-old student who later took her own life. Prosecutors had a sought a 20-year prison term for the teacher, but the judge, Todd Baugh, sentenced him to just 30 days in prison. During the sentencing, the judge said the 14-year-old student was "older than her chronological age" and that she was "as much in control of the situation" as the teacher.

Irish Writer Seamus Heaney, 74, Dies

The Irish writer Seamus Heaney, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, has died at the age of 74.

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