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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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Dozens of people were killed across Yemen on Wednesday in one of the worst days of fighting so far. The heaviest violence was seen in the southern port city of Aden, where around 40 civilians were killed trying to flee, and in the north, where Houthi sources claim a Saudi Arabian airstrike killed 35 civilians. Speaking during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry said the situation in Yemen is dire.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Yemen — shortages of food, shortages of fuel, shortages of medicine. The situation is getting more dire by the day.”
Kerry is expected to ask the Saudi Arabian government to agree to a humanitarian pause, saying he’s already received an “indication” the Houthis will sign on. In a joint statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders have criticized the Saudi-led coalition’s attacks on airports, saying they are “obstructing delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance and movement of humanitarian personnel.” The groups also say the coalition’s blockade of imports into Yemen “has made the daily lives of Yemenis unbearable.”
The mayor of Baltimore has asked the Justice Department to investigate the city’s police force in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the review should focus on whether police tactics violate civil rights and constitutional protections.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: “I’m asking the Department of Justice to investigate if our police department has engaged in a pattern or practice of stops, searches or arrests that violate the Fourth Amendment. I am asking that they investigate what systematic changes, or systemic changes, exist within our — excuse me, challenges exist within our police department that can contribute to excessive force and discriminatory policing. At the end of this process, I will hold those accountable if change is not made.”
Justice Department reviews of other police forces nationwide have led to consent decrees that mandate changes. Rawlings-Blake’s request came one day after Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Baltimore.
The Chicago City Council has approved a $5.5 million reparations fund for victims of police torture. Under the reign of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge from 1972 to 1991, more than 200 people, most of them African-American, were tortured with tactics including electric shocks and suffocation. The reparations package includes free city college tuition for victims and relatives, counseling services, a memorial to victims, inclusion of Burge’s actions in school curriculum, and a formal apology. A city councilmember and Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the move.
Unidentified: “Finally, finally, we have begun to acknowledge this horrible wrong. First of all, we finally settled the lawsuits that were brought by the victims, or many of the victims. And now we’ve done something that no other city in the United States has ever done.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel: “This is another step, but an essential step, in righting a wrong, removing a stain on the reputation of this great city and the people who make up this great city.”
A number of torture victims attended Wednesday’s council session. Burge served a short prison sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice before his release last year.
A North Dakota town was evacuated Wednesday following the derailment of a train carrying crude oil. About 40 residents were force to leave Heimdal as emergency crews responded to the fire. It was at least the sixth accident this year involving so-called “bomb trains” transporting crude oil through North American communities. It comes just days after federal regulators released long-awaited new standards for the trains, which environmentalists have criticized as insufficient.
French lawmakers have advanced a measure that would greatly increase government surveillance while minimizing judicial oversight. The legislation would let intelligence agencies tap phones and computers, install bugs in cars and homes, and monitor anyone associated with surveillance targets. Government agents would also be allowed to sift through bulk data similar to the NSA in the United States. The bill now goes to the French Senate, which is expected to vote in favor.
The German co-pilot accused of deliberately crashing a passenger plane into the French Alps reportedly practiced his suicide mission during a previous flight that same day. French authorities say Andreas Lubitz set the plane’s altitude to 100 feet while the captain had briefly left the cockpit. During the flight’s return leg, it’s believed Lubitz then locked the co-pilot out of the cockpit before crashing the plane intentionally, killing himself and all 149 others on board.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a deal to form a new coalition government just before a deadline was set to expire. The agreement leaves him in control of 61 Parliament seats, a bare majority of just one vote.
A new report says the number of internally displaced people worldwide has increased for the third straight year. The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center found a 14 percent increase in those forced to flee their homes inside their own countries. Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council unveiled the findings.
Jan Egeland: “2014, we have documented, was the worst year, certainly in my 35 years as a humanitarian worker. Thirty-eight million people are now the accumulated total of people internally displaced within their countries’ border.”
Syria accounted for the most displaced, 7.6 million internally and another four million refugees outside the country.
In Canada, the left-leaning New Democratic Party has won a historic victory in the traditionally conservative province of Alberta. Voters elected the NDP to a majority government of 53 seats, up from just four seats. The win ousts the Progressive Conservative party after more than four decades in power. Alberta has long been known as Canada’s most right-wing province. The incoming premier, Rachel Notley, celebrated her victory.
Rachel Notley: “I think we might have made a little bit of history tonight. Friends, I believe that change has finally come to Alberta.”
Notley has promised to review oversight of Alberta’s energy sector and the royalty payments of its corporations, which extract oil from the carbon-intensive tar sands. The NDP has also vowed to increase corporate tax rates, raise the minimum wage, and work cooperatively with the province’s indigenous communities. On a national level, the Alberta NDP is also expected to pressure the Canadian government to change its environmental policy, and will drop the province’s lobbying effort for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The financial giant Bank of America has announced it’s cutting off financing to companies involved in coal mining. Speaking at an annual shareholders meeting, corporate social responsibility executive Andrew Plepler said the firm will “reduce our credit exposure, over time, to the coal mining sector globally.” The move comes under a new policy that says: “As one of the world’s largest financial institutions, the bank has a responsibility to help mitigate climate change by leveraging our scale and resources to accelerate the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon society.” The change follows years of activism targeting Bank of America for its leading role in funding the coal industry, including the controversial practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. The Rainforest Action Network, which has led the activism campaign, said: “Today’s announcement from Bank of America truly represents a sea change: it acknowledges the responsibility that the financial sector bears for supporting and profiting from the fossil fuel industry and the climate chaos it has caused.”
An investigation by The Intercept has revealed new details about the case of a U.S. Army Green Beret who confessed during a job interview at the CIA to murdering an unarmed Afghan man and burying him. An Army memo details how in 2011 U.S. Army Major Mathew Golsteyn admitted he “captured and shot and buried a suspected IED bomb maker,” then “went back out with two others to cremate the body and dispose of the remains.” Army documents obtained by Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux show the military investigated the alleged killing and issued a letter of reprimand. After the Army concluded Golsteyn knowingly violated the laws of war, he was stripped of his military awards, but he remains in the military, and no criminal charges have been filed against him.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is seeking to raise the pay of the state’s fast-food workers. Writing in The New York Times, Cuomo says he will ask the state labor commissioner to convene a panel on increasing the fast-food industry’s minimum wage. The panel’s findings are expected in three months. In his article, Cuomo cited New York’s spending of $6,800 in public assistance per fast-food worker, the most in the country. His announcement comes just weeks after thousands of fast-food workers staged a national protest calling for a $15 minimum wage, their largest such action to date.