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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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President Obama has reversed part of his signature healthcare law, allowing people to temporarily remain on plans that do not meet minimum standards. Obama made the change in response to mounting pressure after some consumers received cancellation notices despite vows they could keep their plans.
President Obama: “The bottom line is insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be canceled into 2014, and Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan.”
During his address, Obama admitted his administration had “fumbled” the rollout of the new law. The impact of the latest change remains unclear since insurance firms and state officials still may not allow people to keep the old policies.
President Obama has called on Congress to hold off on new sanctions against Iran as he and other world leaders attempt to reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Lawmakers from both parties have vowed to move ahead with a measure targeting Iranian oil exports, despite progress in recent talks. On Thursday, Obama asked Congress to wait.
President Obama: “If we’re serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there is no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective, and that brought them to the table in the first place. Now, if it turns out they can’t deliver, they can’t come to the table in a serious way and get this issue resolved, the sanctions can be ramped back up, and we’ve got that option.”
A United Nations inspection report showed Thursday that Iran has largely put the brakes on its nuclear expansion since President Hassan Rouhani was elected in the summer. Talks between Iran, the United States and five other world powers are due to resume in Geneva next week.
In Iraq, a series of explosions aimed at Shiite worshipers killed at least 41 people and injured more than 100 Thursday. The attacks targeted Shiites observing the religious ritual of Ashura. Violence in Iraq is currently at its highest level since 2008.
Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to head the Federal Reserve, faced questions at a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday. Yellen has been the Fed’s vice chair since 2010. She defended the Fed’s economic stimulus program, praised outgoing Chair Ben Bernanke and responded to questions from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren about the failure to regulate big banks.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Do you think that the Fed’s lack of attention to regulatory and supervisory responsibilities helped lead to the crash of 2008?”
Janet Yellen: “You know, I think in the aftermath of the crisis we’ve gone back and tried to look carefully at what we should have been done different — what we should have done differently, and there have been important lessons learned.”
A federal judge in Manhattan who oversaw a recent fraud trial against Bank of America has criticized the Obama administration for failing to prosecute a single high-level executive over the financial crisis. In a speech this week, Judge Jed Rakoff honed in on Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement that it is difficult to prosecute banks when it seems doing so could hurt the economy. Judge Rakoff said, “To a federal judge, who takes an oath to apply the law equally to rich and to poor, this excuse — sometimes labeled the 'too big to jail' excuse — is disturbing, frankly, in what it says about the department’s apparent disregard for equality under the law.” Judge Rakoff noted Holder was referring to the prosecution of institutions, adding that when it comes to prosecuting CEOs “the excuse becomes entirely irrelevant.” Last week, New York Federal Reserve president William Dudley also criticized the big banks, saying some have an “apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust.”
In the latest potential financial scandal, the United States is investigating the actions of a group of traders at the world’s largest banks. Nicknamed “the cartel,” the traders allegedly shared information in online chat rooms in a bid to manipulate the price of foreign currencies. Attorney General Eric Holder told The New York Times, “The manipulation we’ve seen so far may be just the tip of the iceberg.”
A former FBI agent has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for leaking secret information about a U.S. operation in Yemen that was published in an Associated Press report. The AP story sparked the mass collection of reporters’ phone records by the Obama administration in what the outlet’s president called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.” The leaker, Donald Sachtleben, was also sentenced to an additional eight years in prison for unrelated child pornography charges.
The second International Drone Summit is taking place this weekend in Washington, D.C. Relatives of those killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan and Yemen are gathering with drone critics from CodePink and other organizations. Among those traveling from Yemen is Faisal bin Ali Jaber, an engineer whose nephew and brother-in-law were killed in a drone strike. In a letter to President Obama, Jaber said his nephew was a policeman while his brother-in-law was an imam who preached against al-Qaeda. He wrote, “In his death you lost a potential ally — in fact, because word of the killing spread immediately through the region, I fear you have lost thousands.”
A new report finds the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy has yielded a conviction rate of just 3 percent. The report by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reviewed 2.4 million stops between 2009 and 2012. Overall, just 0.1 percent of those stops resulted in a conviction for a violent crime. U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional in August, but an appeals court stayed the ruling last month and removed her from the case. Newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to drop the city’s appeal of Scheindlin’s ruling.
The Philippines government says the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan has risen to 3,621 people. The United Nations initially said Thursday more than 4,000 had died, but later said it was reviewing that number. The precise toll is still unclear as decomposing corpses remain on the streets. In Tacloban on Thursday, scores of bodies were buried in a mass grave. A disaster official said the move was temporary.
Renato Romero: “Right now, what we’re doing is, this is a temporary collected mass grave. This is temporary because for all the cadavers here, you know, at the meantime, need to be buried to give them a decent burial and give them dignity, for the dead. It’s a temporary burial for future identification process.”
In the latest potent sign of global warming, an Antarctic iceberg the size of Singapore is heading out to sea after breaking off from a glacier in July. The iceberg could disrupt international shipping.
New figures show this year is on pace to be among the 10 warmest ever since record keeping began. Jeremiah Lengoasa of the World Meteorological Organization discussed the findings on the sidelines of the U.N. climate summit in Warsaw, Poland. He said a warming planet is fueling extreme weather.
Jeremiah Lengoasa: “The year 2013 is already on course to be among the top 10 warmest years since modern recordings began in 1850. We cannot at this stage attribute a single typhoon to climate change. What we do know of course is that climate change affects sea level and sea level rise. Secondly, climate change affects ocean surface temperatures. In this context, as you would know, these are fueled — these storms are fueled by warmer oceans over which they form and over which they pass.”
Democracy Now! will be broadcasting live all next week from Warsaw covering the U.N. climate change summit, known as COP 19.
While the U.N. climate summit continued in Warsaw Thursday, a village in western Poland was rocked by a gas pipeline explosion that ignited homes and killed at least two people. At least 13 others were injured. One witness said she thought the world was ending.
A gas pipeline explosion Thursday in North Texas prompted the evacuation of an entire town. Officials say workers accidentally drilled into the Chevron pipeline near the town of Milford. There were no reports of injuries. An enormous plume of black smoke and flames could be seen for miles.
Voters in the city of Broomfield, Colorado, have approved a ban on the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as fracking. Initial results showed the ban had failed, but officials now say it passed by 17 votes. All four Colorado cities with fracking bans on the November ballot have now approved them.
Prosecutors in Michigan are expected to announce today whether they will charge a white man who shot an unarmed African-American woman on his porch. Family members say 19-year-old Renisha McBride was seeking help after a car crash when she was killed by a shotgun blast to the face. A toxicology report released Thursday showed McBride had a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit to drive, but supporters say the results are irrelevant. They have called for toxicology results on the shooter, who claimed his gun accidentally fired at McBride.
Activist Jeremy Hammond is facing sentencing today after pleading guilty to a role in hacking the private intelligence firm Stratfor. Emails from Stratfor’s servers published by WikiLeaks showed the firm engaged in widespread spying on activists on behalf of corporations. Hammond faces up to 10 years in prison. He has already spent 18 months behind bars, some of it in solitary confinement.