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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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A federal appeals court in Ohio has dealt a blow to marriage equality in a move that’s expected to bring the issue before the Supreme Court. The appeals court upheld the right of four states — Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — to ban same-sex marriage. The decision is at odds with rulings issued by similar courts in favor of marriage equality, a split that will likely force the Supreme Court to take action. Last month, the Supreme Court rejected appeals from five states that sought to ban same-sex marriage, causing a cascading effect that saw same-sex marriage become legal in more than 30 states. In a statement responding to Thursday’s ruling, Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “We will be filing for Supreme Court review right away and hope that through this deeply disappointing ruling we will be able to bring a uniform rule of equality to the entire country.”
House Speaker John Boehner has warned President Obama against taking executive action on immigration, one day after Obama said he would act by the end of the year. Obama had previously delayed steps on immigration until after the midterm elections, which brought a wave of Republican triumphs on Tuesday. Speaking at his first news conference since the victory, Boehner threatened to withhold cooperation if Obama moves ahead.
House Speaker John Boehner: “I believe that if the president continues to act on his own, he is going to poison the well. When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”
Boehner also vowed to prioritize votes to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and repeal Obama’s signature healthcare law. House Republicans have already voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare.
U.S. airstrikes have reportedly hit a compound belonging to the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, one of the top groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The strikes came as the U.S. targeted the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. On Thursday, Ahrar al-Sham said the strikes destroyed one of its bases and killed civilians including children. An unnamed Pentagon official told The Wall Street Journal the group was not targeted intentionally. Speaking Thursday, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey compared the fight against the Islamic State in Syria to a Rubik’s Cube.
General Martin Dempsey: “North of Aleppo right now is just almost — it’s a Rubik’s Cube, frankly. And the more you try — it’s like the Heisenberg principle: Every time you touch it, it changes, and you have something new to consider. So, this is a case of staying true to the principle that we will over time defeat ISIL.”
A new probe finds the Pentagon has failed to act on claims by more than 600 U.S. servicemembers who have reported being exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003. The numbers came to light through an internal Pentagon review after a New York Times report last month found the Bush administration concealed the discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq that had been developed with U.S. support in the 1980s — and then denied medical care to the wounded U.S. soldiers involved. The initial report put the number of injured soldiers at 17, but the Pentagon’s own records now reveal that 629 servicemembers described suspected exposure to chemical agents on post-combat health surveys. According to the Times, after years of failing to properly track or treat the victims, the Pentagon will now launch outreach efforts, including a hotline.
The new secretary general of NATO has made a surprise visit to Afghanistan. Jens Stoltenberg vowed to continue NATO’s role in the country beyond this year’s pullout date.
Jens Stoltenberg: “Next year we will open a new chapter. The future Afghanistan will be in Afghan hands, but our support will continue. We will start a new mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. We will also continue our financial support and as President Ghani and I discussed, we want to further develop our long-term partnership with Afghanistan.”
Afghan troop deaths have increased this year, with more than 4,600 killed in 2014 alone — that’s more than twice the number of U.S. soldiers killed since the war began in 2001. An estimated 12,000 NATO troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond this year, most of them from the United States.
In Gaza, a wave of explosions has targeted homes and cars belonging to members of the Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. No casualties have been reported. The targets included a stage set for use in next week’s commemoration of former Palestinian president and Fatah leader Yasser Arafat. The memorial has sparked tensions between Fatah and rival Palestinian group Hamas. The bombings also come amidst rising tensions between Palestinians and Israelis. Earlier today, news agencies reported an Israeli settler had crashed into a wall after trying to run over a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank. That follows two alleged hit-and-runs by Palestinians on Wednesday. In one, the suspect was shot dead by police after killing a pedestrian; in the second, the man turned himself in after injuring three Israeli soldiers, saying the collision was an accident.
The International Criminal Court has declined to take action over Israel’s deadly 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, which killed 10 Turkish activists. Chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said no action would be taken, even though war crimes had likely been committed when Israeli commandos stormed the aid ship Mavi Marmara.
Fatou Bensouda: “I have determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes, under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, were committed on one of the vessels, the Mavi Marmara, when Israeli Defense Forces intercepted the flotilla on 31st of May, 2010. However, after carefully assessing all relevant considerations, I concluded that the potential case or cases likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of sufficient gravity to justify further action by the court.”
A new investigation has found more than 340 multinational corporations have avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes by obtaining secret deals in Luxembourg. The report was published by the Consortium of Investigative Journalists in collaboration with more than 80 reporters across 26 countries. The journalists obtained nearly 28,000 pages of confidential documents which reveal that some of the world’s largest companies, including Pepsi, IKEA, AIG, Coach and Deutsche Bank, have channeled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg — a small country in Western Europe known as a “magical fairyland” for corporate tax dodgers. Some firms have secured effective tax rates of less than 1 percent.
Sierra Leone is becoming a focal point of concern over the record outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The number of cases is continuing to rise there with nearly 1,200 new cases in the past three weeks alone, nearly triple the number in Liberia. Ebola treatment units across Sierra Leone only house about 400 beds.
President Obama has reportedly sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei outlining a mutual interest in opposing Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The Wall Street Journal reports the letter, sent last month, was also aimed at boosting efforts at a nuclear deal with Iran. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said U.S. policy toward Iran remains unchanged.
Josh Earnest: “The United States will not cooperate militarily with Iran in that effort. We won’t share intelligence with them. But their interest in this outcome is something that’s been widely commented upon and something that on a couple of occasions has been discussed on the sidelines of other conversations.”
Belgian police have fired tear gas and water cannons at more than 100,000 protesters who gathered to oppose austerity policies set out by the new government. The government, which took power earlier this month, plans to freeze wages, slash public services and raise the pension age.
Voters in the Spanish region of Catalonia are heading to the polls this Sunday for a symbolic vote on whether to secede from Spain. The vote is nonbinding, and Spain will not recognize it. Demonstrations in support of secession have brought hundreds of thousands of Catalans into the streets.
In the United States, protesters gathered in front of the White House and in over a dozen other cities across the country to call for the Obama administration to keep the Internet free and open. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported the administration is considering a “hybrid” plan on net neutrality that would expand government oversight of the relationship between corporate Internet service providers, or ISPs, like Comcast, and content companies like Netflix. But the plan would not extend such protections to the relationship between ISPs and users. Critics say the plan could still allow online censorship and discriminatory Internet “fastlanes.” Thursday’s protests were bolstered by a recent victory in Hungary, where mass protests successfully defeated a proposed tax on Internet use.
The FBI has admitted one of its agents impersonated an Associated Press reporter in order to catch a 15-year-old bomb suspect in Washington state. FBI Director James Comey acknowledged the move in a letter to The New York Times after last week’s revelations the FBI used a fake AP story in the case. Comey said the agent, posing as a reporter, sent the suspect a link to the fake article that contained software that revealed his location. AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said the revelation “doubles our concern and outrage, expressed earlier to Attorney General Eric Holder, about how the agency’s unacceptable tactics undermine AP and the vital distinction between the government and the press.”
The former head of prisons in Mississippi has been charged with orchestrating a massive corruption scheme that saw him take about $1 million in bribes in exchange for state contracts to private prison firms. A newly unsealed 49-count indictment accuses Christopher Epps of directing contracts to private firms with ties to a former state legislator. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center describes conditions at a prison operated by one such firm as hellish, calling it “an extremely dangerous facility operating in a perpetual state of crisis.”
A federal probe has found Princeton University violated the gender equality law Title IX by mishandling cases of sexual assault. In a rare move, the Department of Education found Princeton violated the law by imposing a standard of proof that favored accused assailants and by failing to promptly respond to complaints. Princeton will have to return some tuition to three impacted students and re-examine old cases dating back to 2011. More than 80 universities and colleges are currently under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault.
Students at Syracuse University in upstate New York have occupied the ground floor of the administration building to protest the school’s decisions to close a sexual assault resource center and cut funding for scholarships for people of color. The students have issued a range of demands, including greater transparency, improved mental health resources and more community participation in decisions.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a 90-year-old man is facing potential jail time for serving food to the homeless. Arnold Abbott, known as Chef Arnold, has been cited twice in the past week after a city ordinance went into effect that bans feeding the poor. He described one of his encounters with police to a local news station.
Arnold Abbott: “One of the police officers came over and said, 'Drop that plate, right now!' as though I was carrying a weapon. These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don’t have a roof over their head. And who could turn them away?”