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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 he will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has been one of the EPA’s fiercest critics and has led a legal effort to overturn parts of President Obama’s climate change policies, including his Clean Power Plan. Pruitt claimed the science of climate change is “far from settled.” He is also seen as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, The New York Times revealed that Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general had formed what the paper described as an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” with the nation’s top energy producers to fight Obama’s climate efforts. The Times also exposed Pruitt’s close ties to the Oklahoma firm Devon Energy. In 2014, Pruitt sent the EPA a letter accusing federal regulators of overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in Oklahoma. What Pruitt didn’t reveal was that the letter was secretly drafted by lawyers at Devon Energy. Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Pruitt’s record is not only that of being a climate change denier, but also someone who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to make this country more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels.” We’ll have more on Pruitt after headlines.
Donald Trump also announced he’s picked retired four-star Marine General John Kelly to be secretary of homeland security. Kelly was formerly the head of United States Southern Command, where he oversaw the military jail at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Margaret Huang, executive director for Amnesty International USA, said of Kelly, “We’re particularly concerned that while chief of U.S. Southern Command, Kelly oversaw Guantánamo during periods of extensive hunger strikes and forced-feeding that was unsafe and inhumane.” Kelly has repeatedly testified to Congress that the U.S.-Mexico border represents a threat to national security, leading many to worry he will escalate the militarization of the border and U.S. immigration policy overall. While the head of United States Southern Command, Kelly also promoted the Alliance for Prosperity, a program that provides hundreds of millions of dollars in police and military funding to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The program has been criticized by human rights activists and some Democratic lawmakers, who are calling for the suspension of this funding to Honduras until the country addresses its gross human rights violations. Kelly retired from the military in 2015. He’s the third general Trump has picked for top positions so far. The other two are retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn for national security adviser and retired Marine Corps General James Mattis for defense secretary.
Donald Trump attacked union leader Chuck Jones on Twitter on Wednesday, after Jones appeared on CNN criticizing Trump for breaking his promise to Carrier workers in Indiana. Last week, Trump appeared at the Carrier air conditioner plant in Indianapolis and boasted that he’d saved 1,100 jobs from being moved to Mexico. But Jones, who represents the workers, says Trump “lied his ass off.” Jones says Trump helped keep only 730 jobs in the U.S., not 1,100. In response to Jones’s criticism, Trump tweeted, “Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”
In Syria, government forces are continuing to seize control of parts of eastern Aleppo, as the U.S. and Russia are negotiating a potential deal to allow anti-government rebels to flee. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is slated to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry today. The rescue organization the White Helmets says 61 people died Wednesday amid shelling and airstrikes in rebel-held areas, as government forces seized control of Aleppo’s Old City. Medical doctors and other protesters gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Berlin Wednesday to denounce Russian and Syrian bombing in Aleppo.
Reinhard Jung-Hecker: “I am here to protest against the war crimes committed by Russia and Syria in Aleppo. We believe it’s outrageous that the world is watching how mass killings are taking place and no one says anything.”
In Indonesia, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake has killed more than 100 people after striking the northern tip of Sumatra island Wednesday while many residents were asleep. At least 700 more have been injured, and thousands have been displaced. Wednesday’s earthquake is the worst disaster to hit the region since 2004, when a tsunami killed more than 120,000 people in the province.
In the Philippines, the death toll from President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called war on drugs continues to rise. Police have killed at least 2,000 people, and vigilantes have killed at least 3,500 more, since Duterte took office this summer. Tens of thousands more have been arrested or turned themselves over to police out of fear they’d be killed. Human rights groups say many of those killed have been summarily shot and had nothing to do with the drug trade. On Wednesday, the White House condemned the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. But a recent BuzzFeed investigation reveals the U.S. State Department has continued to send millions of dollars in aid, as well as training and equipment, to the Philippine National Police. Meanwhile, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte gave an impression of his December 2 phone call with Donald Trump while speaking Wednesday. He imitated Trump praising Duterte and appealing for a closer relationship between the two men.
President Rodrigo Duterte: “'Oh, President Duterte, we should fix our bad relations. It needs a lot of—you know, you just said something good here, and you're doing great. I know what’s your worry about these Americans criticizing you. You are doing good. Go ahead. I had this problem in the border of Mexico and America and this goddamn [bleep] guy.’ So now the way he speaks makes me feel like a saint.”
That’s Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking in Tagalog, saying, “So now the way he speaks makes me feel like a saint,” in reference to Donald Trump.
In Yemen, thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Sana’a Tuesday to demand an end to the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing campaign, which has killed thousands of people since it began 19 months ago. A new Human Rights Watch report details how U.S.-supplied weapons were used in two recent Saudi-led airstrikes that killed several dozen civilians this fall. The attacks include a September 10 airstrike against a drilling site for water that killed more than 30 people, including three children. Remnants of U.S.-made weapons were found at the scene of this strike.
In Charleston, South Carolina, testimony has begun in the trial of Dylann Roof, who faces the death penalty. He’s accused of opening fire at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015, killing nine black worshipers, including the pastor, Clementa Pinckney. Roof embraced white supremacist views and was shown in photographs posing with the Confederate flag and a pistol. On Wednesday, the first witness in the trial, Felicia Sanders, says she watched as Roof pulled out a Glock .45-caliber handgun and began shooting, striking and wounding her son and killing her aunt. She says she took cover underneath a table with her 11-year-old granddaughter and tried to cover herself and the girl in other people’s blood so Roof would think they were already dead.
A new report has accused the U.S. Border Patrol agency of using the desert of the borderlands as a “weapon” that has led to the death or disappearances of tens of thousands of people since the 1990s. The report, issued by the groups No More Deaths and the Coalition of Human Rights, accuses Border Patrol of intentionally promoting deadly apprehension policies, such as chasing people into remote areas of the desert, that lead to migrants’ deaths or disappearances. This is Alicia Dinsmore of No More Deaths recounting one such story.
Alicia Dinsmore: “On the night of March 6, 2015, José Cesario Aguilar Esparza and his two nephews were crossing through the U.S.-Mexico borderlands in the desert southeast of Ajo, Arizona, when U.S. Border Patrol agents detected their group and began chasing them. During the chase, the three men became separated. Border Patrol agents arrested two of them, but José Cesario was unaccounted for. Later, it was discovered that he had fallen off a cliff, nearly 200 feet down, and died.”
The report says, “The known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the US–Mexico border zone marks one of the great historical crimes of our day.”
In Texas, two private detention centers continue to hold migrant women and children seeking asylum, even after a judge barred the state from licensing them as child care facilities. The state has appealed the ruling. For-profit private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic, formerly known as CCA, insist they are in compliance with federal standards. Immigration authorities say “operational activities continue without interruption.” But advocates reported that after the ruling on Friday, nearly 500 women and children were released with almost no advance notice to local shelters that usually handle dozens of people. They told Democracy Now! they expect another mass release in the coming days. Even with the releases, there are currently an estimated 600 women and children in the Karnes detention center and another 1,800 held at a detention camp in Dilley, both about an hour south of San Antonio.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency over its refusal to provide complete records of stops and detentions in Michigan. The entire state of Michigan is designated as part of Homeland Security’s 100-mile zone, meaning Border Patrol agents have wide powers to engage in warrantless stops. The ACLU of Michigan said, “It’s not reasonable to claim that the entire state of Michigan is a border zone. Border enforcement—and the powers that go with it—belongs at the border and not in our communities.”
In Washington, D.C., Minnesota state House Representative-elect Ilhan Omar says she was attacked by a cab driver, who called her ”ISIS” and threatened to rip off her hijab as she was leaving a policy training at the White House. Omar recently made history by being elected to be the nation’s first Somali-American lawmaker. She wrote on Facebook Wednesday that the attack was “the most hateful, derogatory, islamophobic, sexist taunts and threats I have ever experienced. … I am still shaken by this incident and can’t wrap my head around how bold [people] are becoming in displaying their hate towards Muslims.”
In Oregon, Portland’s City Council has voted to impose additional taxes on companies whose CEOs earn more than 100 times the median pay of their workers. The measure, which Portland officials say is the first in the nation, targets and penalizes companies that perpetuate income inequality. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said, “Income inequality is real, it is a national problem, and the federal government isn’t doing anything about it.”
And prominent Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh has won a new trial. Odeh was convicted of immigration fraud in 2014 and then sentenced to 18 months in prison and deportation from the United States for failing to disclose her conviction on bombing charges by an Israeli military court more than 40 years ago. Odeh says her conviction was obtained through weeks of torture and sexual assault in Israeli custody. She has lived in the United States for more than 20 years. Her supporters say she was targeted over her support for Palestinian liberation. Her new trial is slated to begin in Michigan in January.