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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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President-elect Donald Trump has announced a handful of new Cabinet picks. On Tuesday, he named billionaire Steven Mnuchin to be treasury secretary. Mnuchin has deep ties on Wall Street, including working as a partner for Goldman Sachs, where his father also worked. Mnuchin’s hedge fund also played a role in the housing crisis, after it scooped up the failing California bank IndyMac in 2008. Under Mnuchin’s ownership, IndyMac foreclosed on 36,000 families, particularly elderly residents trapped in reverse mortgages. Mnuchin was accused of running a “foreclosure machine.” The bank, which was renamed OneWest, was also accused of racially discriminatory lending practices. In 2015, Mnuchin sold the bank for $3.4 billion—$1.8 billion more than he bought it for.
Trump has also reportedly picked billionaire private equity investor Wilbur Ross to be commerce secretary. Ross specializes in flipping bankrupt companies for profit, often buying the U.S. companies at low prices and then selling them to overseas investors. He and his companies have sometimes shipped jobs and factories overseas—practices Donald Trump has railed against.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has picked George W. Bush’s former labor secretary, Elaine Chao, to be transportation secretary. Chao is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan when she was eight years old. She’s been a fixture in Washington, D.C., for more than 20 years. Trump also named Seema Verma to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Verma has worked closely with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and her health policy firm helped design Indiana’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Trump has still not announced his pick for secretary of state, although he did dine with former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney Tuesday night in New York City. Other possible candidates for secretary of state include former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, retired General David Petraeus and former United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
Donald Trump also sparked controversy on Tuesday when he made two unconstitutional proposals in a single tweet, writing, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag–if they do, there must be consequences–perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” The Supreme Court has ruled twice that flag burning is protected under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has also ruled it’s unconstitutional to strip people of citizenship for most crimes, including desertion. In a 1958 ruling, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren wrote, “The deprivation of citizenship is not a weapon that the Government may use to express its displeasure at a citizen’s conduct, however reprehensible that conduct may be.”
Thousands of fast-food workers, home care and child care providers, janitors, airport workers and Uber drivers rallied in 340 cities across the United States Tuesday for a national day of action to demand a minimum wage of $15 a hour. In New York City, about two dozen people were arrested. This is Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union.
Héctor Figueroa: “After the outcome of this last election, it’s even more important that we raise our voices and we fight for our rights. It was economic. It was the rising income inequality that is striking hard on workers, that led to a very, very complicated election. And unless we address this problem, we are going to see our country suffer. So we’re here to say the time to give workers a raise is now, the time to win a union in the workplace is now, and we’re not going to stop until we win 15 and a union.”
In Texas, journalist and activist Barrett Brown has been released from federal prison after spending four years behind bars on charges related to the hacking of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, which exposed how the firm spied on activists on behalf of corporations. In 2014, he pleaded guilty to charges of transmitting threats, accessory to a cyber-attack and obstruction of justice. Supporters say Brown has been unfairly targeted for investigating the highly secretive world of private intelligence and military contractors. At one point, Brown faced 100 years in prison before pleading guilty to lesser charges. Earlier this year, Brown won the National Magazine Award for prison columns, for a series of columns he wrote for The Intercept.
In Kashmir, Indian officials say independence rebels attacked an Indian Army base Tuesday, killing at least seven Indian soldiers. Officials say at least three Kashmiri rebels were killed during the attack. The disputed territory has been rocked by protests since July, when Indian security forces killed a prominent Kashmiri independence leader. At least 80 Kashmiris have been killed by Indian security forces during the ongoing protests.
In Brazil, up to 10,000 people protested Tuesday against austerity ahead of a Senate vote in which lawmakers approved measures to impose a strict cap on federal spending. Leftist opposition lawmakers say the legislation will destroy education and health programs. The vote to approve the constitutional amendment is a victory for Brazilian President Michel Temer, who took power after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in a process she and others have called a coup.
A group of women from the Caravan of Central American Mothers of Missing Migrants are traversing Mexico in search of their children, who went missing as they attempted to cross the country to reach the United States. The International Crisis Group says tens of thousands of Central American migrants fleeing violence in their home countries go missing each year in Mexico. Caravan organizers say they’ve found at least 265 missing children over the 12 years they’ve been organizing the caravan. This is Anita Zelaya, from El Salvador, who has been looking for her son since 2002.
Anita Zelaya: “I am hopeful that I am going to find my son alive. There is so much injustice, and I, as a mother, am not OK with the fact that our children are massacred and victims of all that happens to them on the journey. I do not agree. We know that, sadly, Mexico, as the name of the caravan shows, is looking for life in paths of death. It is a journey of kidnappings, a route of muggings, a route of rape and, sadly, a route of extortions. Unfortunately, our children are still disappeared.”
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has approved two major pipelines: Kinder Morgan’s $5 billion Trans Mountain pipeline and the $7.5 billion Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. The Trans Mountain pipeline would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to a port in Vancouver. The Enbridge Line 3 pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta across the U.S.-Canadian border to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Both pipelines face massive resistance from Canadian First Nations, who held a ceremony Tuesday in which more First Nations signed on to a treaty declaring they will fight all new tar sands infrastructure. One hundred twelve Canadian First Nations and some U.S. Native American tribes, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and the White Earth Nation in Minnesota, have now signed the continent-wide “Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion.”
In Washington, D.C., former Vice President Al Gore has spoken out against another pipeline, the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, while speaking at The New York Times Global Leaders’ Collective conference.
Al Gore: “The massive investment in these pipeline infrastructure projects will be amortized over 50 to 75 years, and we need that capital to flow into renewables. This Standing Rock project is an atrocity. It is an absolute atrocity. And I wish that President Obama would step in before there is more violence out there against those—they call themselves water protectors. This is an embarrassment to our country. All those promises have been broken for so long. Using water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, that’s inhumane.”
This comes as the coral of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has experienced its worst die-off on record, as a result of warmer ocean water due to climate change. Scientists say bleaching has killed two-thirds of the coral on the 430-mile northern stretch in only nine months. This is Terry Hughes of the Australian Research Council.
Terry Hughes: “Well, we’ve seen now three bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. The first one was in 1998, the second in 2002, and the third one this most recent summer in 2016. This one is by far the most extreme. And we’ve seen three of these events now with just 1 degree of global warming. So, 2 degrees of global warming, which is the international target, is going to be a very challenging place for the Great Barrier Reef.”
In Tennessee, at least three people have died and hundreds of homes were destroyed after a wildfire tore through resort towns near the Great Smoky Mountains. As many as 14,000 people fled Monday and Tuesday as 90-mile-per-hour wind gusts pushed the fires into the towns. This is the mayor of Sevier County, Larry Waters.
Mayor Larry Waters: “We continue to learn devastating news about the magnitude of the losses that we are experiencing as a community in Sevier County. I have now been able to confirm the loss of three lives in Sevier County. We are deeply saddened by these losses, and we extend our prayers to the family—families of all of them. We do not have information to release at this time regarding identities, as we are awaiting notification of next of kin.”
This comes as, early this morning, a tornado killed three people after it tore through a mobile home park in Alabama and critically injured four children after hitting a daycare center.
In South Carolina, a judge is permitting Dylann Roof to represent himself at his own trial, which opened Monday in Charleston. Prosecutors say Roof opened fire at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, killing nine black worshipers, including the pastor, Clementa Pinckney. Roof, who is pleading not guilty, embraced white supremacist views and was shown in photographs posing with the Confederate flag and a pistol.
In Arizona, a 36-year-old Guatemalan woman has died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, after she suffered a series of seizures while being detained at the Eloy Detention Center. Raquel Hidalgo had been held at Eloy since November 13 after U.S. Border Patrol agents captured her as she tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. She died after being rushed to a nearby hospital Sunday. Since 2003, at least 15 people have died while confined at the for-profit Eloy Detention Center, which is run by Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, which recently changed its name to CoreCivic.
And former Black Panther Sundiata Acoli has been denied release by the New Jersey State Parole Board after more than four decades in prison. He first became eligible for parole in 1992 and turns 80 years old in January. Acoli was convicted of killing a state trooper during a 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike, along with fellow Panthers Zayd Malik Shakur, who was also killed, and Assata Shakur, who has said she was shot by police while she had both arms in the air. Assata Shakur later escaped to Cuba, where she has political asylum. Acoli is one of at least 15 former members of the Black Panther Party who are still in prison. His lawyers plan to appeal the decision.