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This week, Democracy Now! is celebrating our 22nd birthday. Since our first show in February 1996, our daily news hour has brought you fearless journalism and hard-hitting news you can trust--all without ads or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. In fact, if everyone reading this gave just $4, it would cover our operating expenses for the whole year. Right now, a generous donor will TRIPLE every donation, meaning your gift today will go three times as far. Pretty amazing, right? Please do your part. Take a moment to give right now for our 22nd birthday.
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President Obama has vetoed a Republican bill approving the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Obama says the measure unwisely bypasses a State Department review that will determine whether the project is in the national interest. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the veto should not be seen as a judgment on the pipeline’s merits.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “It circumvents a long-standing administrative process for evaluating whether or not infrastructure projects like this are in the best interest of the country. And it does not represent a specific position on the pipeline itself, it just merely says that the benefits and consequences of building that pipeline should be thoroughly evaluated by experts and through this administrative process that has existed for decades.”
The rejection of Keystone XL marks the third veto of Obama’s six years in office. Senate Republicans say they will try to override Obama’s veto, but they do not appear to have enough votes. We will have more on this story later in the broadcast.
The Department of Homeland Security has inched closer to a partial shutdown amidst a congressional stalemate over immigration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to allow a vote on a clean bill to fund DHS, after Democrats rejected four Republican bids to tie the funding to a repeal of Obama’s executive actions on immigration. But Senate Democrats want reassurance the House would pass the clean bill. Last month, the House passed a DHS funding bill that would have effectively reversed both Obama’s recent plan to spare millions of immigrants from deportation, and his 2012 policy allowing so-called DREAMers brought to the United States as children to remain here. If DHS runs out of money Friday, many Republican-backed policies would halt, including the employee screening system E-Verify and efforts to further militarize the border.
The Islamic State has reportedly kidnapped more than 100 males, including nine boys, near the Iraqi city of Tikrit. Most of the captives have relatives fighting the ISIS advance in Iraq, and their kidnapping is seen as a pressure tactic to stop the resistance. A new U.N. report says ISIS has “intentionally and systematically targeted” Iraq’s various ethnic groups and subjected them to “gross human rights abuses. The news comes one day after ISIS militants kidnapped an estimated 150 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria, including women and the elderly.
Eurozone finance ministers have formally approved a four-month extension of a financial rescue package for Greece. The new Syriza government in Athens sought the temporary deal as part of a bid to undo the austerity demands of its international bailout. In exchange, Greece committed to several reforms, including cracking down on corruption and tax evasion, and tightening public spending. European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis announced the deal’s approval.
Valdis Dombrovskis: “Basically, it was concluded that the reform program or list of reforms presented by new Greek government is sufficient enough to start or to be a good starting point for a successful completion of the program.”
The extension grants a temporary lifeline to Greece, but delays a longer-term standoff over its campaign pledge to reject the harshest austerity conditions imposed by creditors, which have caused massive unemployment and other hardships.
The truce in eastern Ukraine appears to be taking hold after more than a week of violence since it first took effect. Pro-Russian separatists have pulled their heavy weaponry from the front lines, a key demand under the ceasefire deal. The Ukrainian military says fighting has stopped, but that it is too early for a pullback of their own following the rebel offensive to take the city of Debaltseve last week. On Tuesday, a rebel leader said his side still aims to control the entire territory of the two separatist provinces, including the port of Mariupol, but to seek this through “negotiations with the Ukrainian side.”
In an appearance before Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of lying to his face about its military involvement in eastern Ukraine.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Russia is engaged in a rather remarkable period of the most overt and extensive propaganda exercise that I’ve seen since the very height of the Cold War. And they have been persisting in their misrepresentations, lies — whatever you want to call them — about their activities there to my face, to the face of others, on many different occasions.”
Top administration officials continue to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for an upcoming visit to the United States that seeks to undermine a nuclear deal with Iran. Speaking to PBS, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Netanyahu’s planned visit and speech to Congress has “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.” Speaking before Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Netanyahu’s stance without mentioning him by name.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “The policy is Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. And anybody running around right now jumping in to say, 'Well, we don't like the deal,’ or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is. And there is no deal yet. And I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce.”
The United States and Iran will resume talks next week in a bid to reach a deal before a March 31 deadline. A leaked cable discussed on Democracy Now! Tuesday shows Israel’s own intelligence agency, the Mossad, contradicted Netanyahu’s claims on Iran’s nuclear capability.
Newly revealed leaked cables show a number of foreign requests to South African intelligence to spy on activists, NGOs and politicians. According to Al Jazeera, one document shows South Korea sought out a “specific security assessment” of Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, a South African citizen. Naidoo called the disclosure chilling.
Kumi Naidoo: “Sadly, the assumption that we make, especially after the Edward Snowden leaks and the WikiLeaks information came out, that in fact we are heavily monitored and being under constant surveillance. But it’s one thing sort of assuming that it’s happening; it’s a little numbing and chilling to have it confirmed, as you are doing right now.”
The disclosure is among scores contained in cables leaked to Al Jazeera by a South African intelligence source. We will talk to Kumi Naidoo later in the broadcast.
The Chicago mayor’s race is headed to an April runoff after incumbent Rahm Emanuel failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote. Emanuel will face second-place finisher Jesús “Chuy” García, a county commissioner and former immigrant rights activist who has support from the Chicago Teachers Union and other labor and progressive groups. García received about 34 percent, far higher than expected. We will talk more about the election in today’s broadcast.
Chicago police have reportedly operated a secret compound for detentions and interrogations, often with abusive methods. According to The Guardian, detainees as young as 15 years old have been taken to a nondescript warehouse known as Homan Square. Some are calling it the domestic equivalent of a CIA “black site” overseas. Prisoners were denied access to their attorneys, beaten, and held for up to 24 hours without any official record of their detention. Brian Jacob Church, who was arrested during Chicago’s 2012 anti-NATO protests, said he was shackled to a bench for 17 hours without being read his Miranda rights.
Brian Jacob Church: “When they first arrested us, they took us to this building. We were never booked. We were never processed. I was in Homan Square for about 17 hours, handcuffed to a bench, before I was actually finally allowed to see an attorney.”
At least one victim was found unresponsive in an interrogation room and later pronounced dead. The Guardian says the detainees brought to the Homan site “are most often poor, black and brown.” Two former senior officials in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division have called on their colleagues to launch a probe.
The Justice Department has announced it will not charge George Zimmerman for the 2012 killing of unarmed African-American teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Martin was walking home from a convenience store carrying candy and juice when Zimmerman followed him, claiming he looked suspicious. After an altercation, Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest. Zimmerman’s acquittal galvanized the country on issues of race and bias in the criminal justice system. On Tuesday, federal officials said there is “insufficient evidence” to charge Zimmerman with violating Martin’s civil rights. In a statement, the Justice Department said: “Our decision does not condone the shooting that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and is based solely on the high legal standard applicable to these cases.” Thursday marks the third anniversary of Martin’s death.