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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 chair of the Federal Communications Commission has unveiled what he calls “the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the [agency].” FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has backed the regulation of Internet service like a public utility to uphold net neutrality, the principle of a free and open Internet. The plan will let the agency prevent Internet service providers like Comcast from blocking access to websites, slowing down content or providing paid fast lanes for Internet service. It would also extend such protections to Internet service on cellphones and tablets. Wheeler discussed the plan on PBS NewsHour.
Tom Wheeler: “What we’re doing is we’re taking the legal construct that once was used for phone companies and paring it back to modernize it so it specifically deals with this issue. So it’s not really utility regulation, but it is regulation to make sure that there is somebody watching out for the consumer, that, like you said, there’s no paid prioritization, there’s no blocking, there’s no throttling. And, most important, there will be ongoing rules, in perpetuity, so that there will be a yardstick to measure what’s fair for consumers.”
Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cellphone and cable industries, was not initially expected to take a strong stand on net neutrality. His proposal comes after the FCC received a record-setting number of comments — nearly four million, almost all in support of strong protections. Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts hailed the proposal.
Sen. Ed Markey: “Today is a day where consumers and innovators, entrepreneurs, anyone who counts on the Internet to connect to the world, is going to now be protected in the 21st century. Reclassifying broadband under Title II is a major victory for our economy, for our consumers and for free expression of ideas.”
The FCC will vote on Wheeler’s proposal on February 26.
The militant group Boko Haram appears to have conducted another massacre. A local source told Reuters news agency the militants killed more than 100 people in the Cameroonian town of Fotokol, murdering people inside their homes and a mosque. This comes as the Chadian government claims to have ousted Boko Haram from the Nigerian border town of Gamboru Ngala, which the militants have held for months.
In other news from West Africa, a medication has shown effectiveness in treating some patients with Ebola. The drug, favipiravir, appears to have cut the mortality rate in half for patients with low to moderate levels of the virus. The news comes as the World Health Organization has announced a rise in weekly cases of Ebola for the first time this year, with 124 new cases confirmed last week in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. About 9,000 people have died in the outbreak.
Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Ukraine for talks as the United States considers arming Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed rebels. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande are also traveling to Kiev today to float a new peace proposal before continuing on to Moscow Friday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The talks come as renewed fighting has killed more than 200 people in the past three weeks.
President Obama’s nominee to lead the Pentagon has voiced support for providing arms to Ukraine. During his confirmation hearing, Ashton Carter also said he would consider recommending changes to President Obama’s plan for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year. Carter has a long history at the Pentagon, where he once served as the chief arms buyer. In 2006, he backed a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if the country continued with plans for a missile test. On Wednesday, Carter was asked by New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte if he would resist pressure from the White House to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte: “I would ask you to tell us and to make a commitment to this committee that you will not succumb to any pressure by this administration to increase the pace of transfers from Guantánamo. Will you commit to that?”
Ashton Carter: “Absolutely, Senator.”
The U.S. diplomat leading historic talks with the Cuban government has rejected Cuba’s calls to return Guantánamo Bay. President Raúl Castro has said restoring Havana’s control of the bay is a prerequisite for normalizing ties with the United States, which has controlled the area of Cuba since 1903. But Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson said the Obama administration has refused to consider it.
Roberta Jacobson: “The issue of Guantánamo is not on the table in these conversations. I want to be clear that what we’re talking about right now is the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, which is only one first step in normalization. Obviously the Cuban government has raised Guantánamo. We are not interested in discussing that. We are not discussing that issue, or return of Guantánamo.”
A federal judge has given the Obama administration one week to explain why it has failed to comply with a court order to outline its justification for withholding more than 2,000 photographs showing the torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. For over a decade, the American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting for the release of the photographs, which are said to be more disturbing than the famous images of torture by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. In October, the judge ordered the government to outline, for each photograph, its reasons for keeping the images secret, but the government has not done so.
The prominent Palestinian activist and professor Sami Al-Arian has been deported from the United States. In one of the most controversial prosecutions of the post-9/11 era, Al-Arian was accused of ties to the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but a Florida jury failed to return a single guilty verdict on any of the 17 charges against him. After prosecutors refiled charges, Al-Arian chose jail time and deportation rather than face a second trial. For much of the three years following his arrest in 2003, Al-Arian was imprisoned in solitary confinement and reportedly abused by prison staff under conditions Amnesty International called “gratutiously punitive.” Wednesday night, Al-Arian told the news site The Intercept, “I came to the United States for freedom, but four decades later, I am leaving to gain my freedom.”
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has apologized for falsely claiming he was on a helicopter hit and forced down by fire from a rocket-propelled grenade during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Soldiers from the helicopter which was hit had publicly challenged Williams’ account, saying he was actually nowhere near the aircraft that came under fire. One posted, “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.” Williams apologized on his show Wednesday night.
Brian Williams: “I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft. We all landed after the ground fire incident and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the Iraq desert. This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and, by extension, our brave military men and women, veterans everywhere, those who have served while I did not. I hope they know they have my greatest respect, and also now my apology.”
Williams blamed the “fog of memory” for causing him to misremember the event. But he has made the claims before, including during an interview with David Letterman in 2013. Two days after the 2003 attack, Williams described it differently, saying, “the Chinook [helicopter] ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.” But NBC archives show a clip from that day titled “Target Iraq: Helicopter NBC’s Brian Williams Was Riding In Comes Under Fire.”
The health insurance company Anthem has reported what may be the largest data breach of a healthcare firm to date. Anthem says hackers managed to penetrate a database with up to 80 million customer records, accessing personal data like names, birthdays, addresses and income information.
In Indiana, a jury has convicted a woman of feticide and felony neglect following what she says was a miscarriage. Purvi Patel was convicted of taking drugs to induce an abortion, even though no drugs were found in her system. She says she miscarried and disposed of her dead fetus in a dumpster. A state pathologist used a scientifically contested “float test” to claim Patel’s fetus was born alive, while a defense expert said the fetus wasn’t viable. The charges appear mutually exclusive, since feticide applies to a fetus which dies in the womb, while felony neglect applies to live children. But Patel was convicted of both. She faces up to 70 years in prison. Reproductive health advocates say her case is part of an increasing criminalization of pregnant women.
A state lawmaker in Utah has apologized for publicly questioning whether sex with an unconscious spouse should be considered rape. Republican state Representative Brian Greene made the remarks Tuesday during a debate over a bill on consent.
Utah state Rep. Brian Greene: “Because it looks to me now like sex with an unconscious person is, by definition, rape. I hope this wouldn’t happen, but this opens the door to it. An individual has sex with their wife while she is unconscious, or he, you know, the other way around, if that’s possible — I don’t know — but a prosecutor could then charge that spouse with rape.”
State Rep. Greene issued an apology Wednesday, saying, “I abhor sexual assault under any circumstances, including within marriage.”
A new report finds the college completion gap between rich and poor in the United States has doubled over the past 40 years. The study by two educational research groups found that since 1970 the percentage of students from the wealthiest families who obtain a bachelor’s degree has risen dramatically, from 44 to 77 percent. But the percentage of the poorest students who obtain bachelor’s degrees has risen just three points over the same time period, to 9 percent. Federal Pell grants for students have not kept pace with rising tuition costs. The news comes as President Obama has proposed making two years of college free.