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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 official death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has topped 5,000, with another 14,000 stricken with the disease. The World Health Organization says there are signs infections have slowed overall in Liberia and Guinea, while the outbreak in Sierra Leone is getting worse. U.N. envoy David Nabarro discussed the mixed picture.
David Nabarro: “The signs are that in parts of West Africa where the elements are put in place, where communities are fully involved in the response, there is a slowing of the outbreak, fewer cases appearing each week. And that’s, I think, a real source of inspiration. But there are other parts of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea where transmission is still fierce, where there are many new cases emerging each day.”
In the United States, the Obama administration went before Congress on Wednesday to seek approval for $6.2 billion in emergency funding to contain Ebola. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the United States is ramping up training of medical personnel.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell: “To date, more than a quarter of a million healthcare personnel have been trained by the CDC and the assistant secretary for preparedness and response — doctors, nurses, EMTs, fire departments. But we need to continue this training and make sure that the training is getting through.”
The Obama administration has endorsed a proposal that would give partial debt relief to the three countries worst hit by Ebola. In a statement, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the International Monetary Fund should forgive around $100 million in debt held by Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — about one third of the total they collectively owe.
A new report says the three Ebola-stricken countries have lost more money to corporate tax dodging than they spend on public health. According to ActionAid, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea “lost an estimated $287.6 million through corporate tax dodging in 2011 while spending just $237 million on healthcare. An African Union report earlier this year found tax dodging costs the continent up to $60 billion each year.
The family of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who became the only person to die of Ebola in the United States, has reached a settlement with the hospital that mishandled his care. Duncan, who was uninsured, was initially sent home from Dallas Presbyterian despite suffering from a high temperature and telling a nurse he had recently visited Liberia. Duncan’s nephew, Josephus Weeks, says a foundation will be established in his uncle’s name to support respect for African life and the promotion of better treatment.
Josephus Weeks: “This deal we reached is an outstanding deal, and we have a foundation that needs our support, and everyone here can do your part. Africa and Africans are not a virus. We made a mistake, and we lost one. But we can save a thousand. That’s my goal. I can never replace Thomas Eric Duncan, but what I can do is make sure that everything that happens from here makes it better for everybody else.”
The settlement in Dallas comes as nurses across the country have held a one-day strike to protest what they call the inadequate protection of health workers treating patients hospitalized over Ebola. National Nurses United says hospitals still lack proper equipment and protocols weeks after a pair of Dallas nurses contracted the disease from Thomas Eric Duncan. Wednesday’s protests included a rally outside Congress in Washington.
Evan Brost: “We know that Ebola has already reached our soil. We know other epidemics may reach our soil. So we want nurses to be protected. The best way to protect our community is to protect our nurses.”
The U.N. Security Council has met over the conflict in Ukraine following renewed violence threatening a two-month-old truce. The separatist stronghold of Donetsk has seen its heaviest shelling since pro-Russian rebels and the government in Kiev reached a ceasefire in September. NATO is accusing Russia of a major military escalation inside Ukraine, sending tanks, weaponry and combat troops across the border. Addressing the Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Russia is violating its commitments.
Samantha Power: “The question is what we, the international community, will seek to do to prevent yet another frozen conflict in Europe manufactured by Russia. The Minsk agreement was brokered under the auspices of the international community. As such, there must be consequences when Russia flouts the commitments it made and continues to destabilize its neighbor.”
The opposition-backed Free Syrian Army has rejected a U.N. proposal to halt fighting in the besieged city of Aleppo. The plan laid out by Staffan de Mistura would allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the potential launch of wider peace talks between the rebels and the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Speaking at the United Nations, de Mistura outlined some potential steps.
Staffan de Mistura: “The need for focusing on the real threat of terrorism, as defined by the resolution of the Security Council. Second is to reduce violence, and I’ll come back to that one. Three, through the reduction of violence, try to reach as many people as possible in Syria and outside Syria who have been suffering from this ongoing conflict, and through that, hopefully facilitate it and use it as a block in the direction, a building block, of a political solution.”
De Mistura says the regime of Bashar al-Assad has shown “constructive interest.” But speaking to Al Jazeera, a commander with the Free Syrian Army rejected the U.N. truce offer, saying it will only strengthen Assad. A truce in Aleppo between government forces and rebels could help thwart an advance by the Islamic State, which has already attacked nearby opposition areas.
Israel has approved a new round of illegal settlement construction in East Jerusalem. On Wednesday, the Israeli government authorized the building of some 200 new homes in the Arab neighborhood of Ramot. The move comes amidst continued unrest in Israel and the occupied West Bank over Jerusalem and its holy sites. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States is “deeply concerned” by the decision.
Jen Psaki: “We are deeply concerned by this decision, particularly given the tense situation in Jerusalem as well as the unequivocal and unanimous position of the United States and others in the international community opposing such construction in East Jerusalem. These decisions to expand construction have the potential to exacerbate this difficult situation on the ground, and they will not contribute to efforts to reduce the tensions.”
President Obama is in Burma today, the second stop of his Asia tour and his second trip to the country in two years. Obama’s three-day visit comes amidst a renewed crackdown by the ruling junta on journalists and dissidents, and continued repression of Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.
Six of the world’s largest banks have been fined a collective $4.3 billion for manipulating the foreign exchange market. HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS AG and Bank of America were found to be negligent in traders’ collusion around global currency. Martin Wheatley of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority unveiled the penalties.
Martin Wheatley: “The traders put their own interests ahead of their customers. They manipulated the market, or attempted to manipulate the market, and abused the trust, I think, of the public, and certainly us as regulators. The banks’ failures to establish adequate systems and controls are what allowed the traders to manipulate the fixed rates across the world’s largest currencies, and failings like this seriously undermine confidence in the market and undermine the attempts to genuinely reform banking culture.”
New figures show U.S. police forces were responsible for their highest number of shooting deaths in two decades. According to the FBI, police across the country fatally shot 461 people last year.
The news comes as the family of Michael Brown appears before a U.N. panel in Geneva investigating the U.S. record on torture. Brown family attorney Daryl Parks called for reforming U.S. law enforcement toward community policing.
Daryl Parks: “Our call today is that we ought to cry out and say that Michael Brown Jr. deserves justice, number one; number two, that Michael Brown Jr.'s life mattered — that's the call.; and number three, that there has to be something done as relates to policing in our country, a serious look at it. And I think that process is starting, and I want to encourage our government to make a stance that they continue to be very pro for proper community policing, and maybe a proper community police commission, to make sure that we have the proper things that take place in our communities.”
Meanwhile in Missouri, the grand jury in the Brown case will hear testimony today from the forensic pathologist who performed a private autopsy on the teenager’s body. The autopsy by Michael Baden found that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.
Two generic drug manufacturers have been subpoenaed in a federal probe into price hikes. The Justice Department is seeking information from the two firms on their interactions with competitors. Generic drugs have seen a major price jump over the past year. A medication for congestive heart failure, digoxin, now costs more than $1 per pill, up from just 11 cents two years ago. The price for an antibiotic brand went from $20 per bottle last fall to over $1,800 today. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has submitted questions to 14 pharmaceutical companies ahead of a Senate hearing on generic drug pricing next week.
The British group Reprieve has revealed the United States has made secret compensation payments to the families of two Yemeni civilians mistakenly killed in a drone strike. A relative of the victims, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, was given a bag containing $100,000 at a meeting with Yemeni officials. The United States made the payments despite never publicly confirming its responsibility for the killings nor issuing an apology.
The activist and former death row prisoner Darby Tillis has died of an apparent aneurysm at the age of 71. Tillis was sentenced to death in Illinois in 1979 for the murder of a hotdog stand employee. He was freed in 1987 after new evidence emerged, and 14 years later he became one of the first death row prisoners to be exonerated. On September 21, 2011, just hours before the execution of Troy Anthony Davis in Georgia, Tillis came on Democracy Now! and spoke about his commitment to abolishing the death penalty.
Darby Tillis: “But I was released from death row. I was not free of death row. I never will be free of death row.”
Amy Goodman: “What do you mean?”
Darby Tillis: “Death row lives in me. And this is why I’m here today. I will always continue, as long as there is a man anywhere on death row, to fight for the abolishment.”