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This week, Democracy Now! is celebrating our 22nd birthday. Since our first show in February 1996, our daily news hour has brought you fearless journalism and hard-hitting news you can trust--all without ads or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. In fact, if everyone reading this gave just $4, it would cover our operating expenses for the whole year. Right now, a generous donor will TRIPLE every donation, meaning your gift today will go three times as far. Pretty amazing, right? Please do your part. Take a moment to give right now for our 22nd birthday.
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New leaks from Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency is tracking the locations of cellphones worldwide on a massive scale. The Washington Post reports the NSA is gathering around five billion call records a day that show the whereabouts of cellphone users around the globe. The spying allows the NSA to track individuals’ movements, as well as their personal relationships. The records are fed into a database that monitors hundreds of millions of devices. The data is retrieved by tapping into the cable networks of mobile phones worldwide. Of all the NSA spying programs exposed by Snowden, The Washington Post says the mobile location tracking “in scale, scope and potential impact on privacy … may be unsurpassed.”
Fast-food workers are walking off the job in about 100 cities today in what organizers call their largest action to date. Today’s strikes and protests continue a campaign that began last year to call for a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.
The fast-food workers strike comes one day after President Obama delivered an address drawing attention to widening inequality in the United States. Speaking in a low-income neighborhood in Washington, Obama offered a rare presidential acknowledgment of class divisions in the United States.
President Obama: “The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race, and that gap is growing. So if we’re going to take on growing inequality and try to improve upward mobility for all people, we’ve got to move beyond the false notion that this is an issue exclusively of minority concern. And we have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts.”
In his remarks, Obama backed proposals including an increased minimum wage, more funding for early childhood education and comprehensive immigration reform.
A new study of 96 urban areas from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows U.S. cities are growing increasingly divided between rich and poor and less economically diverse. Another new report from the Hamilton Project says half of all U.S. families either live in poverty, are near poverty, or are one major setback in household income from being pushed into poverty.
At least 30 people have reportedly been killed in a suicide attack on Yemen’s Defense Ministry in the capital Sana’a. A gun battle erupted after a car bomber drove into the Yemeni government compound. It was one of the worst attacks to hit Sana’a in more than a year.
Vice President Joe Biden has wrapped up a visit to China with a spat over an air defense zone still unresolved. The United States recently flew two warplanes over the disputed East China Sea, defying a Chinese demand that it must be notified. The United States, Japan and several other governments have rejected China’s claim to an “air defense zone” over the area. China’s Foreign Ministry says it told Biden the government’s position is firm. Speaking to a group of U.S. corporate executives in China, Biden said the row has increased regional tensions. He added the United States has a major stake in the dispute because of its enduring status as a world power.
Vice President Joe Biden: “China’s recent and sudden announcement of the establishment of a new air defense identification zone has, to state the obvious, caused significant apprehension in the region. And I was very direct about our firm position and our expectations in my conversations with President Xi. The United States has a profound stake in what happens here, because we need and we are and we’ll remain a Pacific power diplomatically, economically and militarily. That’s just a statement of fact.”
Mexican authorities have ended a national health scare after recovering a truck carrying dangerous radioactive material. The truck held a sealed container of cobalt-60, a material used in radiotherapy. It was seized from a gas station near Mexico City while en route to a waste storage center. The cobalt-60 was found removed from its casing, meaning those who stole it are likely to die from exposure.
The United States has repatriated two Guantánamo Bay prisoners to Algeria against their will. According to the Miami Herald, the prisoners had asked to be released to other countries, saying they feared for their safety if returned to Algeria, which they fled in the 1990s. The two were held without charge at Guantánamo for more than a decade. Their departure brings the total number of prisoners at Guantánamo to 162. On Monday, the Pentagon said 15 of the captives remain on hunger strike and are eligible for controversial force-feedings.
A new study says the number of U.S. college students graduating with loan debt is on the rise. According to the Project on Student Debt, 71 percent of students graduated with debt last year, up from 68 percent in 2008. The average debt load was $29,400, an increase of 6 percent every year. African-American students were most likely to graduate with heavy debt, with almost one-third owing at least $30,000.
About 30 people held at an El Paso, Texas, immigration prison have staged a sit-in calling for their release. Democracy Now! spoke by phone with a detainee named Kumar who observed the protest.
Kumar: “They are from different countries. Some mostly are from India, and a few guys from Mexico, Salvador and Guatemala. They want release from the detention center. But suddenly, a few officers, they came there, and I think so they are afraid. So they broke this protest today.”
Kumar told Democracy Now! protesters planned to go on a hunger strike but changed their mind after guards threatened to put them in solitary confinement. Officials at the El Paso Processing Center have denied the protest occurred. Some demonstrators claim they have been held more than a year pending their deportation, while others say they are still being detained even though their asylum bids have been approved. The group DreamActivist has launched a petition calling for a full review of the facility.
Illinois has officially begun issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Undocumented drivers began taking their road tests this week after winning the right to obtain licenses earlier this year.
A Miami suburb is being sued for alleged police abuses and racial profiling. A group of plaintiffs in the predominantly black Miami Gardens has filed a federal civil rights case accusing police of unlawful searches and targeting of people of color. One of the plaintiffs, who is black, says he has been unlawfully stopped, searched or arrested 288 times since 2008, an average of roughly once a week over a four-year period.
A secretive group known for authoring and pushing through right-wing laws is preparing a new campaign against renewable energy and environmental regulation. According to The Guardian, the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, has prepared a number of model bills that include blocking President Obama from cutting emissions, slowing the Environmental Protection Agency, and weakening state policies promoting clean energy. One measure would charge homeowners fees for installing their own solar panels. The new energy bills follow ALEC’s sponsoring of at least 77 energy measures in 34 states last year.
The American Legislative Exchange Council is holding a major policy meeting in Washington through Friday. The meeting hosts corporate lobbyists who vote alongside state lawmakers on model legislation that is then introduced in legislatures nationwide. The Guardian also reports ALEC is struggling to re-enlist donors after an exodus prompted by its backing of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. “Stand Your Ground” initially helped shield George Zimmerman from prosecution for killing Trayvon Martin and was later used in instructions to the jury that acquitted him. According to The Guardian, ALEC has lost nearly 400 state legislators from its network over the past two years and more than 60 major corporate donors. The group is facing a funding shortfall for the first time after losing more than a third of its projected income.
Connecticut has released the 911 phone calls from the mass shooting at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary after losing a court challenge. State officials had argued the tapes would cause unnecessary suffering for the victims’ families, but lost their appeal last month. In one recording, a caller describes seeing the shooter.
Operator: “Newtown 911. What’s the location of your emergency?”
Caller: “Sandy Hook School. I think there’s somebody shooting in here, in Sandy Hook School.”
Operator: “OK, what makes you think that?”
Caller: “Because somebody’s got a gun. I caught a glimpse of somebody running down the hallway … They’re still running, they’re still shooting. Sandy Hook School please.”
The first anniversary of Newtown is next week. Congress has failed to pass a single piece of gun-control legislation in the past year.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has ruled out a presidential run in 2016. Warren had recently been the subject of growing speculation as a potential progressive challenger to Hillary Clinton, who is widely expected to seek the Democratic nomination. Warren has generated a wide following as a vocal proponent of Wall Street regulation and the key figure behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Warren vowed to serve out the remainder of her Senate term, through 2018. Supporters of a Warren candidacy note then-Senator Obama made the same pledge before changing his mind to run in 2008.