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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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House Speaker John Boehner has ruled out a vote on immigration reform before the end of the year and possibly until the next Congress. On Wednesday, Boehner said he would not allow talks with the Senate on a measure offering undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
House Speaker John Boehner: “The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House. And frankly, I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going into conference on the Senate bill.”
The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in June, but Boehner has refused to allow a vote in the House because it doesn’t have majority Republican support. His comments on Wednesday came hours after he told two young DREAM activists he would support immigration reform, after they confronted him in a Washington diner. With no vote this year, Congress could face a short window to pursue immigration reform in 2014 due to midterm elections.
The Obama administration has unveiled low enrollment figures for the first month of the troubled healthcare exchange rollout. Just more than 106,000 people signed up for insurance on the federal and state-run marketplaces. The White House had initially predicted first-month enrollment of more than 500,000. At a House committee hearing on Wednesday, administration officials said improvements to the federal healthcare website are continuing.
Todd Park, White House chief technology officer: “The website is getting better each week, as we work to improve its performance, its stability and its functionality. As a result, more and more individuals are successfully creating accounts, logging in and moving on to apply for coverage and shop for plans. We have much work still to do, but are making progress at a growing rate.”
Henry Chao, deputy CIO, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: “We underestimated the volume of users who would attempt to concurrently access the system at any one time initially in October, and we immediately addressed the capacity issues in the first few days and continue to actively work on further improving performance and creating a better user experience.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said the federal healthcare website poses dangers to users’ personal information. Issa’s comments drew a rebuke from Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Rep. Darrell Issa: “Hackers, in fact, may have already or may soon find those vulnerabilities. They may soon find your Social Security number or your sensitive information, because there was no integrated security testing before the launch.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings: “Now they are attempting to use the congressional oversight process to scare Americans away from the website by once again making unsupported assertions about the risks to their personal medical information.”
House Republicans have scheduled a Friday vote on a measure that would let Americans retain their existing health insurance without penalties. The move would override the cancellations of health plans that do not meet the higher standards of the Affordable Care Act. A number of House Democrats are threatening to vote with Republicans following criticism of President Obama for wrongly promising that many insurance holders can keep their current plans.
Aid has begun to reach some of the estimated 11 million people affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Aircraft from a massive U.S. carrier ship have joined the relief effort, bringing supplies to some of those left without clean water or food for nearly a week. The official death toll from the storm, one of the strongest in world history, stands at 2,357 but is expected to rise. Initial estimates said more than 10,000 people may have died. The Philippines health minister has warned it is unlikely all of the dead will be identified.
Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before Congress on Wednesday to urge a delay of new sanctions on Iran. Lawmakers from both parties have vowed to move ahead with a measure targeting Iranian oil exports, despite the recent progress in talks between Iran, the United States and five other world powers. Kerry said targeting Iran undermines negotiations.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Our hope is now that no new sanctions would be put in place, for the simple reason that if they are, it could be viewed as bad faith by our — by the people we’re negotiating with, it could destroy the ability to be able to get agreement, and it could actually wind up setting us back in a dialogue that’s taken 30 years to be able to achieve. We’re asking the Congress to give the diplomacy they sought a chance to be able to work.”
The Iran nuclear talks are due to resume in Geneva next week. As Kerry spoke, the Israeli government continued to lobby against what it called a “bad deal” with Iran. Israel says the West is preparing to ease up to 40 percent of the sanctions, saving Iran up to $20 billion. According to Reuters, Iran would be allowed to sell around $7 billion worth of oil, chemicals and gold and also be allowed to import $12.5 billion in food, medicine and other goods that are currently barred. Speaking to the Israeli Parliament, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened the possibility of military attack if the Iran deal goes through, saying: “I would go so far as to say that a bad deal could lead to the second, undesired option.”
The Palestinian Authority says its delegation of peace negotiators has resigned over continued Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank. U.S.-brokered talks resumed this year after a three-year lull. But Israel has continued to expand West Bank settlement homes, recently announcing plans for some 24,000 new units. Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli minister for strategic affairs, said his government has never hid its intention to keep building on Palestinian land.
Yuval Steinitz: “Prime Minster Netanyahu made it very clear that we are going to release some prisoners, but there is no freeze in the settlements. It’s not just theoretically. We will build in the settlements during the negotiation. I don’t suggest that this is kind of agreement, but let me be very accurate: This was clearly understood by all three sides — the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Americans.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now says he will re-evaluate the new permits so as not to distract from efforts to block a nuclear deal with Iran.
Three students were shot near a Pittsburgh high school on Wednesday just after classes ended for the day. None of the injuries are life threatening. Six people were taken in custody for questioning.
The union of 30,000 machinists in Washington state has rejected a contract proposal from the aerospace giant Boeing that called for major concessions in return for guaranteed jobs. Boeing had offered workers a $10,000 signing bonus for decades of work on its 777X aircraft in return for large cuts to workers’ pensions and health benefits. But on Wednesday, the union rejected the plan by a 67 percent margin. Boeing has previously threatened to move its 777X production out of state. In a bid to entice Boeing, Washington recently approved the largest corporate tax break by a state to a single corporation in U.S. history. Signed into law this week, the measure hands Boeing $8.7 billion worth of incentives through 2040 to build the 777X in Washington. The new package comes a decade after Washington gave Boeing more than $3.2 billion in incentives to build its 787 airplane in the state.
In Colombia, a Nestlé worker has been shot dead after his union received death threats from a right-wing paramilitary group. Oscar López was shot four times at a local bar by unknown gunmen over the weekend. He and other union workers had been on strike from a Nestlé factory as part of a struggle for union organizing rights. Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for union members. A recent report by a pair of U.S. lawmakers found 22 unionists were murdered for their organizing last year alone.
A new study from the American Civil Liberties Union has found that more than 3,200 people nationwide are serving life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses. Of those prisoners, 80 percent are behind bars for drug-related convictions. Sixty-five percent are African American, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino — evidence of what the ACLU calls “extreme racial disparities.” The crimes that led to life sentences include stealing gas from a truck, shoplifting, possessing a crack pipe, facilitating a $10 sale of marijuana, and attempting to cash a stolen check. Sixty-three percent are in federal prisons, and most were sentenced under mandatory minimum laws. The ACLU says keeping nonviolent offenders behind bars for life is costing taxpayers an additional $1.8 billion. The ACLU says: “In a humane society, we can hold people accountable for drug and property crimes without throwing away the key.”