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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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Safety officials say an Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night was traveling at twice the authorized speed. The engineer applied the emergency brakes when the train hit 106 miles per hour just moments before the train went off its tracks. The locomotive and seven passenger cars derailed, with sections of the train so mangled people had to be rescued with the aid of hydraulic tools. Seven people were killed, and more than 200 were injured. After visiting the crash site, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the toll could have been worse.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter: “To see it in the daytime is almost indescribable. It is painful. And it is amazing, it is incredible, that so many people walked away from that scene last night. I saw people on this street behind us walking off of that train, and I don’t how that happened but for the grace of God.”
The engineer driving the Amtrak train has been identified as 32-year-old Brandon Bostian from New York. According to his attorney, Bostian has no recollection of the crash itself and “no explanation” for what happened.
Less than 24 hours after the crash, House Republicans voted to cut about a fifth of Amtrak’s budget. They also rebuked attempts to provide funding for an advanced speed-control technology that federal investigators said would have prevented the accident.
The House has overwhelmingly approved a measure that would rein in a key NSA surveillance tactic exposed by Edward Snowden. The USA FREEDOM Act calls for ending the bulk collection of telephone records by requiring the NSA to make specific requests to phone companies for a user’s data, rather than vacuuming up all the records at once. The vote comes just days after a federal appeals court found the bulk collection of phone records is illegal. The measure now goes to the Senate, where top Republicans are leading an effort to keep the bulk spying. Congress faces a June 1 deadline to reauthorize the phone records collection program before it expires.
The House has also approved a revised version of an anti-choice measure withdrawn by Republicans earlier this year following a loud outcry. The bill would ban most abortions after 20 weeks. Republican leaders dropped a requirement that rape and incest survivors seeking an exemption first report to police. But they instead imposed mandatory counseling or medical care for such women at least 48 hours before they have an abortion. Minors would have to report rape or incest to law enforcement or child protective services. In a statement, the Center for Reproductive Rights said the measure is “cruel and unconstitutional.”
In Afghanistan, at least 14 people have been killed after gunmen attacked a guesthouse in the capital Kabul. The attack at the Park Palace Hotel took place during a party for foreigners, and the dead include people from multiple countries, including a U.S. citizen, several people from India and Afghan civilians. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it had timed the attack to target “important people and Americans.”
The head of Burundi’s armed forces says an attempted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza has been thwarted. An army general has claimed to have ousted the president after more than two weeks of protests. Scores of people have died and thousands have fled their homes since unrest broke out over Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. On Wednesday, large celebrations erupted in the capital after the announcement of a coup. But the jovial scene was followed by heavy clashes between rival forces. Aides to President Nkurunziza have denounced the coup attempt as a “joke” and have vowed his return from a regional summit in Tanzania.
Dozens of people have died in a fire at a rubber slipper factory near the Philippine capital of Manila. At least 72 people have been reported dead, and the toll is expected to rise.
President Obama is hosting leaders and top officials from Gulf allies today in a summit at Camp David. The meeting was apparently convened to address the countries’ concerns over the nuclear deal with Iran. On Wednesday, President Obama welcomed the Saudi delegation at the White House.
President Obama: “This gives us an opportunity to discuss some of the bilateral issues, including the crisis in Yemen and how we can build on the ceasefire that’s been established to restore a process for an inclusive, legitimate government inside of Yemen, and it will also give us a chance to discuss some of the broader issues that will be the topic of the GCC-U.S. summit tomorrow.”
In an apparent snub tied to displeasure over the Iran deal, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is skipping today’s summit. The White House says it will announce new initiatives on integrating ballistic missile defense systems and increasing joint military exercises.
The Vatican will officially recognize the state of Palestine in a new treaty. The treaty concerns the Vatican’s interests in the Occupied Territories. Earlier drafts referred to the “Palestine Liberation Organization” rather than the “State of Palestine,” but the Vatican has referred to the state of Palestine in other contexts since at least 2012, when the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state.
Meanwhile, a ship has departed from Sweden in a bid to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The Marianne of Gothenburg is carrying medical equipment and solar panels as part of the third Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
Five of the world’s top banks are reportedly set to plead guilty to a number of fraud and antitrust charges in the United States. According to The New York Times, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and the Royal Bank of Scotland will together pay billions of dollars in fines and plead guilty to rigging the price of foreign currencies as early as next week. UBS is also expected to plead guilty to charges and pay a $500 million fine. The Justice Department is voiding a previous non-prosecution agreement with UBS over its apparent violations of the terms. The guilty pleas aren’t expected to impact the bank’s operations. The Times said the Securities and Exchange Commission will likely approve waivers that would let the banks “conduct business as usual despite being felons.”
The Port of Seattle has voted to seek the blockade of rigs used by the oil giant Shell for its planned drilling in the Arctic this summer. Shell has signed a lease to station its rigs in the Puget Sound while it drills for oil in the pristine and highly remote Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. On Tuesday, the Port of Seattle’s board called for a legal review of Shell’s plans and a temporary postponement of its docking. The move came after a wave of activism challenging Shell’s effort. In a move denounced by environmentalists, the Obama administration granted Shell conditional approval this week to begin its offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.
Josh Fox, director of “Gasland,” the documentary which exposed the harms of the fracking industry, has been arrested along with 20 other people after forming a human barricade at a natural gas storage facility in upstate New York. The action was part of a long-standing campaign against plans by Crestwood Midstream to expand gas storage in abandoned salt caverns at Seneca Lake, a drinking water source for 100,000 people.
The military has dropped punitive measures against a Guantánamo Bay nurse who last year became the first known prison official to refuse to force-feed hunger-striking detainees. The unidentified Navy medical officer faced potential disciplinary charges that could have led to a discharge and loss of benefits. But the Pentagon announced Wednesday it won’t take action.