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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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Islamic State militants have reportedly made advances in both Iraq and Syria despite an escalating U.S.-led bombing. In Iraq, militants are said to have seized control of the town of Heet in Anbar province. In Syria, militants have advanced on Kurdish towns near the Turkish border, forcing tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds to flee in recent days.
The United Nations says more than 1,100 Iraqis were killed in violence last month. The actual toll is far higher because it does not include deaths in areas controlled by the Islamic State. The United Nations says insurgents from the Islamic State have carried out mass executions, abducted women and girls as sex slaves, and used children as fighters. The United Nations also says airstrikes by the Iraqi government have caused “significant civilian deaths and injuries.”
In the Syrian city of Homs, at least 45 people, including 41 children, have died in twin blasts outside an elementary school. The blasts were apparently timed to coincide with the students leaving class for the day. The attack hit a neighborhood mostly inhabited by members of the Alawite sect that President Bashar al-Assad belongs to.
In Hong Kong, protest leaders have issued a midnight deadline for the city’s top official to resign or face the occupation of government buildings. Thousands of people remain in the streets in the fifth day of protests against China’s plan to select candidates in Hong Kong’s 2017 elections. The demonstrations mark the biggest challenge to China’s control of Hong Kong since it retook authority from Britain in 1997.
The head of the Secret Service has resigned after major lapses in the protection of President Obama and his family. Julia Pierson’s departure comes after an armed intruder made it inside the White House after scaling a fence, running across the lawn, and entering through an unlocked door. The Secret Service later admitted an armed security guard with a criminal record was allowed to ride in an elevator with President Obama in Atlanta earlier this month. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced Pierson’s resignation.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “Director Pierson offered her resignation today because she believed that it was in the best interest of the agency to which she has dedicated her career. The secretary agreed with that assessment. The president did, as well. Over the last several days, we have seen recent and accumulating reports raising questions about the performance of the agency, and the president concluded that new leadership of that agency was required.”
The White House says it was only informed of the elevator incident shortly before it was revealed in a news report this week. Pierson had initially been appointed after a 2012 scandal when a dozen Secret Service agents solicited prostitutes in Colombia.
A Florida jury has convicted Michael Dunn of first-degree murder for killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis in an argument over loud music at a gas station in Jacksonville. It was Dunn’s second trial after a jury deadlocked on the first-degree charge earlier this year. Dunn, who is white, shot at the vehicle carrying Davis and his friends 10 times. He then fled the scene, went to a hotel with his fiancée and ordered pizza. He never called the police. The first jury had convicted Dunn of three counts of attempted murder for shooting at Jordan Davis’ friends, who survived. After the new verdict on Wednesday, Davis’ mother, Lucy McBath, said the conviction marks a victory for all black victims of racial profiling.
Lucy McBath: “We are very grateful that justice has been served, justice not only for Jordan, but justice for Trayvon and justice for all the nameless faces and children and people that will never have a voice.”
Dunn faces up to life in prison without parole.
Health officials say up to 18 people may have been exposed to the Ebola virus carried by the first known patient diagnosed in the United States. On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said five children have been identified and are being monitored.
Gov. Rick Perry: “Today we learned that some school-age children have been identified as having had contact with the patient and are now being monitored at home for any signs of the disease. I know that parents are being extremely concerned about that development, but let me assure, these children have been identified, and they are being monitored, and the disease cannot be transmitted before having any symptoms.”
The patient, identified as Thomas Eric Duncan, apparently contracted the virus in Liberia when he escorted an Ebola victim to the hospital. After arriving in the United States, Duncan first visited a Dallas hospital last week, complaining of health issues. But he was sent home despite informing staff he was recently in Liberia.
President Obama has hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The meeting comes days after Netanyahu gave a U.N. General Assembly speech attempting to link the militant group Islamic State to Hamas, as well as liken it to Iran. In his comments, Obama said he hoped to revive stagnant U.S.-backed peace talks.
President Obama: “We have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed, as well. And so, we’ll discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza, but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Netanyahu’s visit comes just as Israel moved ahead with the building of new settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the takeover of around 25 Palestinian homes in the neighborhood of Silwan. Obama did not issue any public criticism but reportedly raised the issue with Netanyahu in private. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called Israel’s latest actions “very troubling.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “The United States is deeply concerned by reports that the Israeli government has moved forward with the planning process in the sensitive area — or in a sensitive area of East Jerusalem. This step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they were to proceed with tenders or construction in that area.”
In response to the White House, Netanyahu said: “It is better to know the material before deciding to take such a stance.” The news comes as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has confirmed he has submitted a proposal asking the U.N. Security Council to set a deadline of November 2016 for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied West Bank.
An estimated 35,000 walruses have gathered on a beach in northwest Alaska as their natural resting grounds vanish due to climate change. Walruses usually gather to rest on sea ice offshore. But as Earth warms, they have begun appearing on beaches in recent years. The discovery of 35,000 walruses marks the largest number ever recorded on land. The Federal Aviation Authority has re-routed flights to avoid scaring the walruses amidst fears of a massive and deadly stampede.
The Los Angeles City Council has given final approval to a minimum wage increase for workers at the city’s large hotels. The bill would increase pay to $15.37 an hour. Hotel industry trade groups vocally opposed the bill and are preparing a legal challenge if Mayor Eric Garcetti signs it into law.