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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 death toll from an Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia has risen to eight with all passengers now accounted for, after another body was discovered in the mangled wreckage. The news comes as The New York Times reports the train was already equipped with technology officials say would have prevented the crash, but the system was not yet active, due to budget shortfalls and other hurdles. Congress mandated the installation of positive train control technology in 2008 but failed to grant access to the wireless frequencies needed for it to work. That meant Amtrak was bogged down in negotiations with private corporations to gain use of the necessary airwaves. On Wednesday, just hours after the crash, House Republicans rebuffed attempts to fund the speed-control technology, and voted to cut a fifth of Amtrak’s budget. On Thursday, President Obama called for investment in infrastructure.
President Obama: “Until we know for certain what caused this tragedy, I just want to reiterate what I have already said, that we are a growing country with a growing economy. We need to invest in the infrastructure that keeps us that way, and not just when something bad happens, like a bridge collapse or a train derailment, but all the time. That’s what great nations do.”
Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman has said he expects positive train control technology to be in service in the Northeast Corridor by the end of the year. Video shows the train sped up as it approached a curve in the tracks. The engineer Brandon Bostian has agreed to be interviewed by investigators. His attorney has said he does not remember what happened.
Environmental groups are raising concerns about the proximity of the train derailment to tanker cars which may have been carrying crude oil or other explosive materials. Earthjustice has sued the Obama administration, calling its recently announced rules on so-called oil “bomb trains” inadequate, and citing the tank cars in Philadelphia, shown in photographs just yards from the crash. Officials say the tankers were empty at the time.
More than 700 migrants from Bangladesh and Burma have reportedly been rescued from a sinking boat off the coast of Indonesia while thousands remain adrift in the region. Indonesia and Malaysia have turned away vessels laden with starving and dehydrated migrants, many from Burma’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, who are not considered citizens in Burma and are effectively stateless. Between 6,000 and 20,000 people are believed to be at sea in the region, rejected by countries in what advocates call a deadly game of “ping-pong.”
In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza has returned from a trip to Tanzania and says his authorities have arrested three leaders of an attempted coup. An army general had claimed to have ousted the president after more than two weeks of deadly protests over his bid for a third term. But President Nkurunziza now appears to be back in control of the country.
In Iraq, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has launched a major assault on Ramadi in a bid to retake the key city from Iraqi security forces. Ramadi is just 70 miles west of Baghdad.
President Obama has wrapped up a Camp David summit of Gulf allies designed to allay concerns over a nuclear deal with Iran. Speaking after the summit, Obama vowed to use military force to defend Gulf allies from “external attack.”
President Obama: “We discussed the conflict in Syria. We discussed the situation in Yemen. We discussed countering violent extremism, and specifically what additional work we need to do with respect to Daish. And I was very explicit, as will be reflected in the joint statement that we released, that the United States will stand by our GCC partners against external attack and will deepen and extend the cooperation that we have when it comes to the many challenges that exist in the region.”
In what’s seen as a snub over displeasure with the Iran negotiations, King Salman of Saudi Arabia did not attend the meeting, nor did Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who opted instead to attend the Royal Windsor Horse Show.
Likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has said he would not have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq presided over by his brother, former President George W. Bush, reversing a stance he took just days earlier. Speaking at a town hall meeting in Tempe, Arizona, Bush said he would not have invaded if he had known former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not have “weapons of mass destruction.” His comments came three days after the airing of an interview where Bush told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly he would have authorized the war, despite that knowledge.
Megyn Kelly: “On the subject of Iraq, obviously very controversial, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”
Jeb Bush: “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
Jeb Bush spent the rest of the week trying to walk back those remarks, first saying he misunderstood the question, then refusing to respond to hypotheticals, and finally saying he “would not have gone into Iraq,” given what is known now. On Wednesday, in Reno, Nevada, Jeb Bush was confronted by Ivy Ziedrich, a 19-year-old college student, who argued today’s rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State resulted from his brother President George W. Bush’s decision to disband the Iraqi army. “Your brother created ISIS,” she said. Last week, Jeb Bush privately told a group of high-powered investors his brother is his top adviser on U.S.-Israel policy.
Former Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold has announced he is running to retake his Senate seat in 2016. Feingold lost the seat he held for 18 years to millionaire Republican Ron Johnson in 2010 after Johnson spent some $9 million of his own money on his campaign. Feingold, who was seen as one of the Senate’s most progressive members, is best known for working with Senator John McCain to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law to restrict money in politics.
In Chile, two students have been shot dead in the port city of Valparaiso amid mass protests demanding a greater voice in education reforms promised by President Michelle Bachelet. Chilean media reports the students were spraying graffiti and putting up posters when they were shot and killed by the property owner’s son. Police say they have arrested the alleged shooter, and Chile’s interior minister has denied police played any role in the killings. The protests are part of a years-long campaign to end the privatized education system imposed under the U.S.-backed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In the capital Santiago, organizers said 150,000 people took to the streets, while police fired water cannon at protesters.
A Shell oil rig bound for drilling in the Arctic has docked in Seattle, Washington. Dozens of activists staged an “unwelcome party,” paddling out in kayaks and bearing signs reading “sHell no.” Despite opposition by the city, Seattle has become a base for Shell’s supplying of oil rigs bound for remote and pristine Arctic waters. The Obama administration granted Shell conditional approval for Arctic drilling this week in a major blow to environmentalists, who warn the drilling will be catastrophic for the climate. The move comes as NASA has confirmed the first four months of this year were the warmest start to any year in recorded history.
A third-grade teacher in Orange, New Jersey, has been fired a month after she was suspended for letting her students write get-well cards to imprisoned journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Marilyn Zuniga said her students wanted to send letters to Abu-Jamal after she shared one of his quotations with them and later told them he was ill. Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer, but Amnesty International has said he was deprived of a fair trial. Zuniga’s firing comes after she received a wave of support from educators across the country — and from her own students, including eight-year-old Cashmere Jones.
Cashmere Jones: “She has been a great teacher to me and all the other classmates, and they all really want to see her again.”
Newly released video has revealed the dying moments of an African-American active-duty soldier who checked himself into the El Paso, Texas, county jail and died while in custody nearly three years ago. Sgt. James Brown reported to jail for a two-day sentence for driving while intoxicated. His family said Brown informed the jail he had a history of post-traumatic stress disorder after two combat tours in Iraq. Local news station KFOX14 said they fought all the way to the Texas attorney general to obtain video of the 2012 incident. The video shows something happened which caused Brown to bleed in his cell. When he refuses to speak with guards, a team in riot gear storms in and swarms on top of him, while he repeatedly says he can’t breathe and appears not to resist. His condition deteriorates, as he is carried to an infirmary, and has a mask placed over his face. Toward the end of the video, after Brown has said he can’t breathe at least 20 times, he is left naked in a cell, not blinking or responding, his breathing shallow. Attorneys say an ambulance was never called. Brown was eventually brought to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Authorities claim he died from natural causes after an autopsy report cited a “sickle cell crisis,” but his family says he died as a result of his treatment in jail. Their attorney, B.J. Crow, spoke to KFOX.
B.J. Crow: “When a 26-year-old active military person checks into jail for a court-imposed sentence on a Friday, and he leaves Sunday, you know, in a casket, something went horribly wrong there. … He was bleeding out the ears, the nose, the mouth. His kidneys shut down. His blood pressure dropped to a very dangerous level. And his liver shut down.”
James Brown’s family has filed a lawsuit against El Paso County saying his constitutional rights were violated.
And the legendary blues singer and guitarist B.B. King has died in Las Vegas, Nevada. The “King of the Blues” was 89 years old.