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This week, Democracy Now! is celebrating our 22nd birthday. Since our first show in February 1996, our daily news hour has brought you fearless journalism and hard-hitting news you can trust--all without ads or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. In fact, if everyone reading this gave just $4, it would cover our operating expenses for the whole year. Right now, a generous donor will TRIPLE every donation, meaning your gift today will go three times as far. Pretty amazing, right? Please do your part. Take a moment to give right now for our 22nd birthday.
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President-elect Donald Trump has picked fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder to become the next secretary of labor. Puzder is the head of the company that franchises the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He is a longtime Republican donor who has been a vocal critic of raising the minimum wage, the Fight for 15 movement, expansion of overtime pay, paid sick leave and the Affordable Care Act. In 2012, Andrew Puzder made $4.4 million, nearly 300 times more than the average food worker. Kendall Fells of the Fight for 15 campaign said, “Puzder as labor secretary is like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of the treasury.” Puzder has also spoken in favor of having robots replace workers at fast-food restaurants. In an interview with Business Insider, Puzder said robots are “always polite, they always up-sell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” The Riverfront Times in St. Louis also reports that Puzder was accused of abusing his former wife multiple times. In one incident in 1986, his former wife said Puzder “attacked me, choked me, threw me to the floor, hit me in the head, pushed his knee into my chest, twisted my arm and dragged me on the floor, threw me against a wall, tried to stop my call to 911 and kicked me in the back.” We’ll have more on Andrew Puzder after headlines with Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 2 million workers in healthcare, public and property services.
Democratic lawmakers say they’ll try to block the appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. One unnamed EPA official has told The Guardian that Pruitt could be an “unprecedented disaster” for the environment and public health. Pruitt is 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. 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.” Click here to see our interview about Pruitt with May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, and Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
In New York City, a real estate agency has been using Donald Trump’s Secret Service protection—as a new “amenity” to advertise the apartments at Trump Tower. Politico reports that within a week after Donald Trump’s election, real estate agency Douglas Elliman sent out an email with the subject line “Fifth Avenue Buyers Interested in Secret Service Protection?” The email was advertising a $2.1 million condo in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
In Syria, the United Nations is warning that hundreds of men and boys may have gone missing after leaving rebel-held sections of Aleppo and crossing into government-held territory, amid the Syrian government’s ongoing air and ground offensive to retake the entire city of Aleppo. The offensive is seen as a major turning point in the war between anti-government rebels and the Syrian government, which began as a democratic popular uprising in 2011 and and has since descended into a devastating civil war. Tens of thousands of civilians have been fleeing rebel-held eastern Aleppo in recent days, as the Syrian government has seized control of at least 75 percent of the rebels’ territory. Meanwhile, today is the third anniversary of the kidnapping of prominent Syrian human rights lawyer and activist Razan Zaitouneh. She was abducted with three others on December 9, 2013, at the office of the Violations Documentation Center in Douma. She was a co-founder of the Local Coordination Committees and was targeted by both the government and by extremist groups for her activism. Before her abduction, she spoke many times on Democracy Now! about the 2011 popular democratic uprising in Syria and denounced the brutal crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the revolution. This is Zaitouneh speaking in December 2011.
Razan Zaitouneh: “Since the schools have started for this year, we witness daily protests. It’s not organized, actually. They just—the students finish their schools and go daily after the school and protest. They got arrested, beaten, punished in every harsh way. And recently, what is remarkable, that in Aleppo universities more and more student protest is taking place daily, which is very important because, until this moment, Aleppo wasn’t that involved in the movement, in general.”
Amy Goodman: “How is Bashar al-Assad maintaining his power right now? And what about the lack of Western media in Syria being able to really show the pictures of what’s going on?”
Razan Zaitouneh: “Only by killing. There is no—I think not another regime [inaudible] all this violence against its own people, only to remain its power.”
A new report by Amnesty International says an estimated half-million people have been forced from their homes amid a brutal government crackdown in majority-Kurdish regions in Turkey’s southeast. The report warns the widespread displacement and demolition of homes over the last year may amount to “collective punishment,” which is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. This comes amid a widening crackdown across Turkey against Kurds and pro-Kurdish activists, lawmakers and journalists. In November, the Turkish government fired 10,000 civil servants, ordered 15 mostly Kurdish news outlets to shut down and raided the offices and detained a dozen journalists from the award-winning Cumhuriyet newspaper on terrorism charges. Also in November, Turkish authorities arrested two leaders and at least 10 other lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, known as the HDP. The HDP is the third largest party in the Turkish Parliament.
South Korea’s Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to impeach President Park Geun-hye amid an ongoing corruption scandal. She’s faced widespread protests, including a demonstration in November when as many as 1 million people took to the streets of Seoul to demand her resignation over claims she helped a close friend embezzle up to $70 million. Protesters celebrated the news of her impeachment.
Choi Jae-hun: “I was hoping Parliament would pass the impeachment bill. I think this shows the public sentiment is accepted, and it worked out that way. I feel really proud that I am at the center of this historic moment, and I hope that the new government will reflect the will of the people, when it comes to the government’s affairs, not to let this happen again.”
There’s been speculation that outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon may become the next president of South Korea.
In Egypt, human rights groups are denouncing the arrest of prominent Egyptian feminist Azza Soliman, the founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance. Last week, she was prevented from leaving the country at Cairo’s airport. Then, on Wednesday, she was detained for unknown reasons by police at her home. Her arrest is part of an ongoing government crackdown against activists and journalists.
Scientists say giraffes are at risk of extinction. The number of giraffes worldwide has declined nearly 40 percent over the last 30 years. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature warns the species is facing a “silent extinction.” Their decline is part of an ongoing global mass extinction that scientists warn could lead to the disappearance of two-thirds of all wild animals on the planet by 2020 compared to 1970 population levels.
In Paris, authorities have made public transportation free for the third straight day today in efforts to combat the worst winter air pollution in Paris in a decade. Officials have also banned some cars from driving in efforts to limit emissions. These are two Parisians.
Parisian: “I try not to be in the street and to walk too much, I usually walk a lot, but I’ve decided to turn to public transport, such as the bus.”
Anne-Laure Poulet: “I have never been too affected by the pollution, until now. When others felt it, I didn’t. But for the past few days, I’ve had an unusual dry cough, which I can’t explain, a scratchy throat.”
Back in the United States, the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agents this year has topped 1,000 people. That’s according to an ongoing investigation by The Guardian called “The Counted,” which relies on local news stories and databases to track every single police killing in the U.S. The vast majority—more than 900 people—have been killed by police fire, although at least 20 have died after being tased by police, while 30 more have died in police custody. The three youngest victims of law enforcement agents this year were 10-year-old Nathan Roman, who was killed by his father, a police officer, who fatally shot both his son and his wife with his service gun in New York state; 12-year-old Ciara Meyer, shot dead by a Pennsylvania state constable serving an eviction order against her family; and 13-year-old Tyre King, shot dead while running away after officers allegedly mistook the boy’s BB gun for a real gun.
In a split vote Thursday night, the Supreme Court ruled 4 to 4 not to halt the execution of an Alabama man. Ronald Smith was convicted of killing a convenience store clerk. His execution comes after the jury in the case had recommended a life sentence, but a judge imposed capital punishment.
In North Dakota, police have arrested a man who was caught on camera Monday threatening water protectors fighting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Thirty-three-year-old Jesse McLain of Bismarck is facing two counts of “terrorizing,” after he and another man, both with their faces covered, surrounded a water protectors’ car at the Ramada Inn and began threatening them while preventing the car from leaving. This is a clip of the video shot by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member Dean Dedman Jr., also known as Shiye Bidziil, which has been viewed more than a million times.
Jesse McLain: “Take your protest [bleep] back home.”
Shiye Bidziil: “Let’s just go. Let’s go.”
Jesse McLain: “Yeah, go ahead. Turn your phone on.”
Shiye Bidziil: “Go. Let’s go.”
Jesse McLain: “Go ahead. Turn it on.”
Shiye Bidziil: “Go. Turn around.”
Jesse McLain: “All you [bleep] protesters, go home!”
Shiye Bidziil: “Go. I said go.”
Jesse McLain: “Us North Dakota people are going to [bleep] you up!”
Shiye Bidziil: “Go.”
Jesse McLain: “Every [bleep] one of you!”
Shiye Bidziil: “Matt, just go.”
Water Protector: “I can’t; they’ve blocked us in.”
Jesse McLain: “Every [bleep] one of you!”
Water Protector: “Hey, guys, seriously, we’ll get out of here.”
Jesse McLain: “We know who you are.”
Water Protector: “We’re going to go.”
That’s a Bismarck resident threatening Shiye Bidziil and another water protector. Meanwhile, Bidziil and two other indigenous media makers, including Myron Dewey of the outlet Digital Smoke Signals, were attacked last night by snow-mobilers and a truck, which tried to run their car off the road. Video they shot from the car shows the three men driving down a long icy stretch of road, when the snow mobilers appear to swerve in front of their car and then yell a string of expletives at them. Water protectors say these two incidents are part of an escalating wave of threats and harassment by white North Dakota residents against the Native water protectors fighting the pipeline.
In Cameroon, police have killed four anti-government demonstrators amid ongoing protests that began a month ago when teachers and lawyers demanded better working conditions. Reuters reports the police initially tried to disperse Thursday’s protest using tear gas and then began to shoot live ammunition into the crowd, killing at least four people.
And Saturday is Human Rights Day, observed each year on the anniversary of December 10, 1948, when the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the Philippines, family members of those who have died in extrajudicial killings amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s escalating so-called war on drugs appealed for justice at demonstrations ahead of Saturday’s commemoration. 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. 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 amid the wave of killings. This is the mother of an 18-year-old victim of the extrajudicial killings.
Grace Fonollera: “We are poor. They will not listen to us. It is pitiful if the poor are killed, because no matter how hard we try to explain, they will not listen to us. They judge us because we are poor, and the case will instantly be closed or dismissed.”