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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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The World Health Organization says it is focusing efforts on 15 African countries to prevent the spread of the growing Ebola outbreak from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The official toll in those countries surpassed 4,500 this week. Of the 15 at-risk countries, WHO global director Isabelle Nuttall said Mali and the Ivory Coast are the most vulnerable.
Dr. Isabelle Nuttall: “We have identified both Mali and Côte d’Ivoire as the two top priorities country. A team is being assembled to go there and do a real thorough assessment; but more than an assessment, it’s moving from an assessment into making sure that things are in place.”
On Thursday, Jamaica has become the latest country to impose a travel ban on passengers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
In the United States, President Obama continues to oppose a travel ban on travelers traveling from areas affected by the Ebola epidemic, but now says he will not rule one out. Obama spoke at the White House on Thursday night.
President Obama: “It is currently the judgment of all those who have been involved that a flat-out travel ban is not the best way to go. But we will continue to monitor this. I am asking these questions. And if in fact it turns out that I’m getting different answers, then I will share that with the American people, and we will not hesitate to do what’s necessary in order to maximize the chances that we avoid an outbreak here in the United States.”
In his comments, Obama also said he is considering the appointment of an Ebola “czar” to handle the overall U.S. response.
Concern around Ebola has grown nationwide following the infections of two Dallas nurses who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who died last week. On Thursday, the chief clinician at the nurses’ hospital, Dr. Daniel Varga of Texas Health Presbyterian, apologized to Congress for the mishandling of Duncan’s care.
Dr. Daniel Varga: “Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr. Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes. We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola, and we are deeply sorry.”
On Thursday, the first nurse to be infected at Texas Health Presbyterian, Nina Pham, was flown to Maryland for treatment at a National Institutes for Health facility. The second nurse, Amber Vinson, was transferred on Wednesday to Emory University in Atlanta, leaving no more Ebola patients in Dallas.
The U.S.-led coalition is in its third day of heavy strikes on Islamic State fighters around the Syrian town of Kobani. ISIS had been on the verge of seizing Kobani, but the Pentagon claims it’s slowed the offensive by killing “hundreds” of fighters. At a briefing in Washington, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S.-led bombings have used “precise targeting.”
Rear Admiral John Kirby: “U.S. forces conducted 14 airstrikes near the town of Kobani yesterday and today. Initial reports that we’re getting from Central Command indicate that those strikes successfully hit 19 ISIL buildings, two command posts, three fighting positions, three sniper positions, one staging location and one heavy machine gun — very precise targeting.”
According to the Associated Press, Syrian Kurds have asked the United States for the direct supply of weapons, saying that the airstrikes are not enough to stop the Islamic State’s advance. The Obama administration, meanwhile, says it continues to hold talks with Turkey on hosting U.S.-led forces at Turkish military bases. The White House was forced to walk back an initial claim last week that Turkey had authorized its bases for the coalition’s use. The talks come as the State Department has confirmed it has had contact for the first time with the main Kurdish political party in Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD. The PYD has close ties to the PKK, the Turkey-based militant Kurdish group that Turkish forces bombed earlier this week.
At least 36 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in a series of bombings in Shiite areas around the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Shiite leaders have blamed the attack on the Islamic State.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli forces have shot dead a Palestinian boy in the village of Beit Liqya. The victim, 13-year-old Bahaa Badr, was reportedly shot after a group of youths threw stones at Israeli forces who had entered near the Israeli separation wall that carves up the occupied West Bank. Israel says it responded with live fire against a “illegal riot.” According to Defense for Children International, Israeli troops and settlers have shot dead at least 10 children in the West Bank this year. That is on top of the more than 500 children killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza over the summer.
The U.N. General Assembly has elected Venezuela as among the five new nonpermanent members of the Security Council for 2015-2016. Venezuela’s bid drew 181 votes from the 193-member General Assembly. The Bush administration helped defeat Venezuela’s last bid for the Security Council in 2006 after then-President Hugo Chávez pledged to be “the voice of the South” and challenge American dominance. This time, the Obama administration did not say how it voted in the secret ballot. But in a statement, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said: “Unfortunately, Venezuela’s conduct at the U.N. has run counter to the spirit of the U.N. Charter and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter.” The Venezuelan government praised its winning bid as a “huge triumph” over a “malign campaign against our country.” The Council’s other new members are New Zealand, Spain, Angola and Malaysia.
New figures show claims for unemployment benefits have dropped to 264,000, a 14-year low. The official unemployment rate is at 5.9 percent.
The Obama administration has named a new acting head for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Vanita Gupta will take up the position after serving as legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, where she developed a reputation as a champion of human rights. Gupta will be appointed temporarily and formally nominated by the end of the year. She was tapped to replace President Obama’s initial choice, Debo Adegbile, who was forced to withdraw earlier this year. The Senate rejected Adegbile following a fight that focused almost solely on his role as part of an NAACP Legal Defense Fund team that successfully argued a trial judge’s jury instructions violated the rights of journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal in his conviction for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer.
In a new case of political retribution involving Mumia Abu-Jamal and constitutional rights, Pennsylvania lawmakers have approved a measure that critics say tramples free speech. The measure authorizes censoring the public addresses of prisoners or former offenders should judges agree that allowing them to speak would cause “mental anguish” to the victim. The measure was approved after Abu-Jamal delivered a pretaped commencement address for graduating students at Vermont’s Goddard College earlier this month. Abu-Jamal’s speech was opposed by Pennsylvania state officials as well as the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the police officer whom Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is expected to sign the measure into law. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has criticized the measure, calling it “overbroad and vague,” and unable to “pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment.”