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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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Tens of thousands of West Virginia residents remain without tap water one week after a chemical spill in the Elk River. The state’s water ban has been lifted in stages over the past several days for about half the 300,000 residents in the affected areas. But that still leaves close to 150,000 without tap water for drinking, bathing or cooking. Dozens of people have been hospitalized with symptoms related to chemical exposure. Speaking to CNN, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey vowed a probe of the spill and the company behind it, Freedom Industries.
Patrick Morrisey: “The reality here is that no one could argue that the water supply shouldn’t be protected. And we had an absolute unmitigated disaster here for six days now, where people are without water. This is not only utterly unacceptable. It’s outrageous on every level. And I think whenever we’re engaging in a conversation about chemicals, we need to make sure that basic protections are put in place. Part of this review is about examining what protections were in place and what may need to be changed.”
The chemical storage facility in Charleston is just a mile upriver from the state’s largest water treatment plant. Inspectors had not visited since 1991. Freedom Industries has now moved its chemicals to a different site, but one that has previously been cited for multiple violations of safety rules. Like the Charleston site, the new facility 10 miles away in Nitro also has holes in its containment wall.
The Senate has failed to renew the jobless benefits that expired last month. Some 1.4 million Americans have lost their aid for long-term unemployment after Republicans refused to extend without an equal amount in spending cuts. Hope was stirred for a renewal last week after a handful of Republicans agreed to open debate. But a critical motion to advance the measure failed on Wednesday when it failed to win the required 60 votes.
The House has approved a new $1.1 trillion spending bill that would avoid a government shutdown at least through September. The bill passed with overwhelming support, signaling a potential end to the bipartisan dispute that forced the government’s two-week closure last year. In a defeat for the tea party, the bill would increase spending by $45 billion over the cuts that would have been forced by the sequester. But it preserves several key Republican demands, including increases for the military, the defunding of high-speed rail projects, and a ban on spending to hold Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the United States.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has appealed for international support amidst spiraling violence and a fight with militants. On Wednesday, Maliki said he will need the world’s help in a long campaign against Sunni fighters, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda group. Maliki’s warning came as 86 people were killed in attacks in Baghdad, Baquba and Mosul. Maliki has ruled out reconciliation talks and is pursuing an offensive against Sunni militants who have captured parts of Fallujah and Ramadi.
The Pentagon has opened a probe following the publication of graphic photographs appearing to show U.S. marines burning dead bodies in Iraq. The website TMZ says the images were taken in Fallujah in 2004. They show U.S. soldiers pouring gasoline on the bodies of victims described as slain Iraqi militants. Others show the bodies’ charred remains and a U.S. soldier posing next to a skull.
Egyptian voters have overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a two-day referendum. The military government reported a turnout of 55 percent in what many expect to pave the way for a presidential run by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Muslim Brotherhood had called for a boycott in protest of the coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi last year and the ensuing crackdown on his supporters.
The Justice Department is reportedly preparing a major expansion of its definition of racial profiling in order to curb the targeting of different groups. Under the new rules, federal agents will be barred from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation during the course of investigations. Profiling was banned under the Bush administration in 2003, but with exceptions for national security cases and also with a more limited definition. Critics say the exceptions have allowed for significant profiling of two key groups — Muslims in counterterrorism cases and Latinos in immigration ones. It is unclear, however, if the new rules will undo the national security exemption.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about the issue of buffer zones around abortion clinics. The case concerns a Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot protection area around a clinic’s entrance –- a distance that takes roughly seven seconds to walk. The law was enacted in 2007 following decades of intimidation, blockades and violence by anti-choice extremists, including a shooting rampage at two Boston-area clinics that killed two workers in 1994. Pro-choice advocates say the buffer zones are crucial to ensuring safe access to healthcare and guarding against harassment by anti-choice demonstrators who routinely gather outside clinics.
The U.S. Air Force unit responsible for overseeing the country’s nuclear missiles is facing a major cheating scandal amongst its ranks. At least 34 officers have lost their security clearances over allegations they helped each other cheat on a monthly proficiency exam last year. The entire force will also be subject to re-evaluations as a result. Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh announced the suspensions.
Gen. Mark Welsh: “Cheating or tolerating others who cheat runs counter to everything we believe in as a service. People at every level will be held accountable, if and where appropriate. We’ve decertified all 34 officers involved. They are restricted from missile crew duty. Their security clearances have been suspended. And the investigation into the level of their individual involvement will continue.”
The suspensions follow the firing of the head of the ICBM force, Air Force Major General Michael Carey, for intoxication and other inappropriate behavior while leading a delegation to nuclear security talks in Russia.
A new Senate report echoes previous findings that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was preventable. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed when militants overran their compound on September 11, 2012. The Senate Intelligence Committee faults the State Department for failing to bolster security in the face of warnings and for a communication breakdown with the CIA. On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf acknowledged the breakdown, but said there was no specific intelligence warning of an impending attack.
Marie Harf: “As we have repeatedly said, there was no specific threat indicating an attack was coming. Obviously, we’ve talked at length about the fact that we knew there were extremists and terrorists operating in Libya and in Benghazi. But again, we had no specific information indicating a threat — an attack was coming. You know, we can’t go back and look at the hypotheticals about what could have been prevented and what couldn’t have.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to release thousands of internal documents that detail its internal handling of child sexual abuse by clergy members. The documents will be turned over to victims’ attorneys as part of a settlement in scores of cases. Bishop Francis Kane of Chicago called the documents’ release a step toward healing past crimes, while victims’ advocate Barbara Dorris said they could help uncover predators who escaped punishment.
Bishop Francis Kane: “By offering these documents, we hope to heal all of those afflicted by this terrible, terrible crime. We hope that it will bring healing to the victims and their families and to all the good and dedicated people who serve the faithful of the Archdiocese every day.”
Barbara Dorris: “The community here needs to know where these predators are. Many of these predators have never been sued and therefore will not be on the list, and that leaves children in Chicago at risk.”
Attorneys for the victims say they expect to make the documents public next week.
Three people are dead after a shooting at a supermarket in Elkhart, Indiana. A young female store worker and a female shopper were killed before the gunman died in a firefight with police.
New York City has finalized a settlement to resolve dozens of lawsuits over the mass arrest of protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention. More than 1,800 people were detained during the RNC, many held in squalid conditions and for far longer than legally allowed. The $18 million settlement would end all pending lawsuits after a decade of legal wrangling and bring New York City’s total tab for RNC abuses to $34 million. It awaits final approval from a federal judge.