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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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House lawmakers in South Carolina have passed a measure to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol. The final vote was 94 to 20. South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley has vowed to quickly sign the bill into law. That will give the state 24 hours to take down the flag and move it to a museum. The vote came early this morning, almost exactly three weeks to the day after a white suspect who embraced the Confederate flag massacred nine African-American worshipers at a church bible study in Charleston. Among those to speak during a heated debate was Republican state Representative Jenny Horne.
Rep. Jenny Horne: “I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday! And if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday. And for the widow of Senator Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury!”
State Rep. Jenny Horne is a descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
A federal judge has dealt a blow to another symbol widely seen as racist. In a victory for Native American activists, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ordered the cancellation of federal trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins football team. The decision affirmed an earlier ruling by the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board which said the name is offensive to Native Americans. The decision does not force the team to change its name, but it could make it more difficult to legally guard the name and logo from use by third parties. The team has said it will appeal.
The number of Syrian refugees fleeing the turmoil in their home country has topped four million. The United Nations said more than 24,000 people crossed into Turkey from Syria last month alone. Within Syria, an estimated 7.6 million people have been displaced. António Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said, “This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation.”
Greece has formally requested a new bailout from European creditors. The plan would see Greece commit to tax and pension-related reforms in exchange for a three-year aid package. More specific details are expected today. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addressed the European Parliament Wednesday. He said Greeks are tired of being a “laboratory for testing austerity” and want a “viable agreement.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras: “We want a sustainable program, because we want to be in a position to repay the loans that we’ve accepted. And when we ask to reduce the debt, we are asking for that because we want to be able to pay this back. We don’t want to be forced time and time again to accept new loans to pay off the old ones.”
In London, anti-austerity protesters staged a die-in outside Parliament to protest welfare cuts and corporate tax breaks in the new Conservative budget. The People’s Assembly Against Austerity expressed solidarity with Greek voters who rejected austerity last weekend in a historic referendum. The protesters released black balloons to symbolize the deadly consequences of welfare cuts.
John Rees: “What we’ve done is to release black balloons and have a die-in to symbolize those people who we know have died directly as a consequence of austerity. The last estimates for this, which was two years ago, were that 10,000 people in this country had died from the direct effects of austerity.”
As they pressed Greece to accept austerity, members of the European Parliament also voted Wednesday to endorse a U.S.-European free-trade deal critics say would enrich corporations at the expense of the environment and public health. Denounced by critics as a “Corporate Bill of Rights,” the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is being negotiated in secret. One provision would establish a parallel legal system where corporations could sue governments over laws they claim threaten their profits.
Trading on the New York Stock Exchange was halted for hours Wednesday following what authorities say was a technical problem. A further spate of technical issues grounded United Airlines flights for nearly two hours and took down the Wall Street Journal homepage. Officials say the problems appear unrelated. They came amidst concern over economic turmoil in China, where stocks appear to have rebounded after steep losses.
FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees Wednesday in favor of government access to encrypted communications. Encryption refers to the scrambling of communications so they cannot be read without a key or password. Comey invoked the threat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State to justify possible government backdoors into encryption software. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Dianne Feinstein questioned Comey about concerns raised by tech companies.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “And let me ask you to respond. This is another quote from this same letter: 'Requiring technology that provides law enforcement access to information also risks undermining the security of all electronic communications and digitally stored information,' end quote. Would you comment on that? As I understand it, what you would be talking about is some kind of front-door key? Is that correct?”
FBI Director James Comey: “Again, my reaction to that comment is, maybe, and if that’s the case, well, then I guess we’re stuck.”
You can go to democracynow.org to see our interview with Bruce Schneier, one of 14 leading cryptographers and computer scientists who wrote a paper opposing government access to encrypted data.
U.S. lawmakers have launched a landmark push to turn back the record tide of anti-choice restrictions. California Congressmember Barbara Lee and pro-choice colleagues introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or EACH Woman Act. It would dismantle the nearly 40-year-old Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion, except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. California Congressmember Judy Chu was among those to support the EACH Woman Act at a news conference on Wednesday.
Rep. Judy Chu: “Nearly one in seven women of reproductive age is insured through Medicaid. Half of Medicaid enrollees are people of color. Three in 10 young women are eligible for Medicaid. We know that this attack on poor women is an attack on all women. By denying federal insurance coverage of abortion, Hyde puts this access out of reach for so many. We cannot sit back and watch the constitutional right of women deteriorate any further. We have been playing defense for far too long, and it’s time to change that strategy.”
We’ll speak with EACH Woman Act lead sponsor, California Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee, later in the broadcast.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has fired the city’s police commissioner in the wake of protests over the death of African-American resident Freddie Gray in police custody. Rawlings-Blake cited a recent crime rise and said criticism of Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had become a “distraction.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: “A key goal of my administration, a primarily focus, is on making Baltimore a safer place. I think it’s important that we understand that we cannot continue to debate the leadership of the department and think we’re going to see the progress that we want to see in the crime fight. And I think I would say the commissioner understands that.”
Protesters have called for the ouster of Police Commissioner Anthony Batts over his handling of the death of Freddie Gray, whose family said his spine was 80 percent severed at the neck when he died after being arrested and transported without a seat belt in a police van. Six officers involved have been criminally charged. On Wednesday, the Baltimore police union issued a review accusing Batts of ordering officers to allow looting and property destruction during an uprising over Gray’s death, which left 19 buildings burned.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, have pledged not to accept contributions from fossil fuel companies. The Nation magazine and 350.org called on candidates to sign a pledge not to solicit or accept donations “from any oil, gas or coal company.” Hillary Clinton and 14 Republican candidates contacted by The Nation editors have not replied.
And The Guardian reports a newly surfaced email shows oil giant ExxonMobil knew about climate change seven years before it became a public issue, but still spent millions of dollars to fund climate change denial for nearly 30 years. The email from Lenny Bernstein, Exxon’s former in-house climate expert, says the company first “got interested” in climate change in 1981. According to Greenpeace, Exxon spent more than $30 million on think tanks and researchers promoting climate change denial.