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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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In a historic announcement, the Justice Department has told the Bureau of Prisons to end the use of private prisons. In a memo released yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote that private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources … do not save substantially on costs [and] do not maintain the same level of safety and security.” This is former President Bill Clinton speaking earlier this year about the need for prison reform.
Bill Clinton: “We need prison reform. He will tell you. We overdid it in putting too many young, nonviolent offenders in jail for too long. Now, 90-plus percent of them are in state and local facilities, but the federal government can set an example. And this is something a lot of Republicans agree with. So, let these people out of jail, but give them education, training.”
That was Bill Clinton. Laws enacted during Clinton’s presidency increased the national prison population by more than 60 percent. The Justice Department’s directive will affect 13 federal prisons, but does not mean all federal agencies will necessarily stop using private companies for detentions. The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement also uses the private corrections industry and is not included in the order. We’ll have more on this announcement after headlines with investigative reporter Seth Freed Wessler, Democracy Now!’s Renée Feltz and journalist Shane Bauer, who went undercover for Mother Jones to work as a private prison guard and who himself was a hostage imprisoned by Iran for more than two years.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited parts of Louisiana devastated by historic floods this week and said the federal government will help for as long as it takes communities to recover. At least 13 people were killed, and more than 86,000 people have filed for federal assistance. Forty thousand homes have been damaged or destroyed. This is Johnson speaking in Baton Rouge.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson: “Our hearts are broken, but our faith is strong. The federal government is here. We have been here. We will be here as long as it takes to help this community recover.”
Thousands of people have returned to flood-hit homes as waters have receded. On Thursday, about 4,000 people were in shelters. The local paper, The Advocate, has criticized President Obama for continuing his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard amid the historic flooding, comparing his failure to visit the region to President George W. Bush’s failure to travel to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the editorial, The Advocate wrote: “We’ve seen this story before in Louisiana, and we don’t deserve a sequel.”
Meanwhile, in California, the Blue Cut fire is still raging near Los Angeles. Over the last two days, the fire has overtaken 36,000 acres and prompted the evacuation of 80,000 people. So far this year, California fires have killed eight people and destroyed hundreds of homes. The major thoroughfare Highway 138 remains closed.
In news from the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he “regrets” some of the remarks he has made. In recent weeks, Trump has attacked the Khan family, whose son was killed in Iraq, suggested supporters of the Second Amendment shoot Hillary Clinton, and been abandoned by a number of prominent Republicans as a result. This is Trump speaking yesterday in North Carolina.
Donald Trump: “Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words, or you say the wrong thing. I have done that. And, believe it or not, I regret it. And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”
The Clinton Foundation will stop accepting international donations if Hillary Clinton is elected president. Critics of Clinton allege the Clinton Foundation benefited inappropriately from her time as secretary of state. Former President Bill Clinton said he will also refrain from delivering paid speeches before the November election and will no longer give paid speeches if Hillary Clinton is elected president. Both Clintons have been criticized for their high speaking fees, and a discussion has begun about whether the Clinton Foundation should be closed if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
In news from the Olympics, Brazilian police have accused a group of U.S. Olympic swimmers of vandalism during an incident at gas station last weekend and say they are now considering whether to recommend charges against the four men, including gold medalist Ryan Lochte. The swimmers told authorities they were robbed by gunmen impersonating police officers in the early hours of Sunday as they returned in a taxi to the Athletes Village from a party in the city. However, after an investigation, Rio police said there had been no robbery. U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement, “We apologize to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal in the midst of what should rightly be a celebration of excellence.” This comes as the Olympic Games enters its final weekend in Rio. There have been a number of historic firsts for American athletes. For the first time ever, American women placed first, second and third in the 100-meter Olympic hurdles. The runners, Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin, are all African-American. The American Olympic gymnastics team has also made history. The so-called Final Five women’s gymnastics team concluded their run in Rio with a historic nine medals. They are most diverse gymnastics team ever to represent the United States. Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas are African-American. New Jersey-born Lauren Hernandez is of Puerto Rican descent. Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman are white. We’ll have more on the Olympics later in the broadcast with Dave Zirin.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused followers of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen of being involved in attacks by Kurdish militants that killed 10 people in the country’s southeast. Erdogan has already accused Gülen supporters of planning a failed military coup last month. But it is the first time he has linked the coup supporters to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, more commonly called the PKK. Turkey has fought a war against the PKK since the 1980s. Erdogan offered no evidence to back the claim, but called again on Thursday for the U.S. to extradite Gülen so he can stand trial in Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “There is no need for further delay. The developments in our country are going toward a different direction. A strategic partner should not make things difficult for its strategic partner. On the contrary, they should facilitate.”
That was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The State Department has said it is considering the extradition request.
In Yemen, Doctors Without Borders says it will withdraw staff from six hospitals in the north of the country after an airstrike by the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition hit one of the hospitals, killing 19. The attack on Monday was the fourth and deadliest on the group’s facilities in Yemen. Doctors Without Borders has said it provided the Saudis coordinates of their hospitals in order to avoid accidental strikes and that they are not satisfied with Saudi claims that the strikes are accidental. The group said local staff will continue to operate the hospitals. This is Doctors Without Borders legal director Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier.
Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier: “But it is devastating for the civilians, for the medical personnel and for our ability to maintain a medical capacity in countries that are affected by the war. And if civilians cannot be treated, they have no other choice than to flee. And no one wants to receive refugees, but still hospitals are bombed when they are full of maternal and child care. It’s a real nightmare.”
In Mexico, the country’s National Human Rights Commission has said federal police killed at least 22 people on a ranch last year before moving the bodies and planting guns to support the official account that the deaths happened in a gun battle. One police officer was killed in the confrontation, which took place in the state of Michoacán. Federal police have been implicated in other mass killings in the past two years. The government has said the dead were suspected members of a drug cartel. The commission said officers also tortured at least two suspects.
In Los Angeles, video has emerged of police choking 56-year-old African-American man Vachel Howard shortly before he died. The department has suppressed the release of the video. Howard died in an LAPD jail in 2012. The video shows the grandfather of seven handcuffed to a bench after having been strip-searched. Howard was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The video does not show how the altercation between Howard and officers began, but does show six officers pinning Howard to the ground before he died. It also shows them laughing as he lay motionless on the ground before medical help arrives. A coroner listed three causes of death for Howard: cocaine intoxication, heart disease and the chokehold used by officer Juan Romero. Romero was suspended for 22 days, but prosecutors decided not to press charges against him. In 2015, the city of Los Angeles agreed to pay Howard’s family nearly $3 million to settle a wrongful death claim.
In media news, the digital outlet Gawker will shut down next week. Gawker was ordered to pay $140 million in a lawsuit for publishing a sex tape of wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s lawsuit was financially backed by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who was outed as gay by a now-defunct Gawker blog.
And in North Dakota, indigenous activists gathered in the capital Bismarck Thursday to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. The activists also responded to recent claims by Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier that there have been reports of weapons at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp.
Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier: “It’s turning into an unlawful protest with some of the things that have been done and has been compromised up to this point. We have had incidents and reports of weapons, of pipe bombs, of some shots fired.”
At Thursday’s protest, activists denounced the sheriff’s claims, saying their actions were nonviolent and there were no weapons at the camp. This is Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth.
Tara Houska: “People are here to stand in prayer with love in their hearts, because this is our children, this is our children’s children. Water is life. Without water, we cannot exist. And everything that we’re doing is in peace. It is really just to protect. We are not protesters, we are protectors. I’ve seen a lot of prayers, a lot of—you know, there’s dancing, there’s singing. People are doing actions, direct actions, but at the same time, everything is peaceful. Everything that we’re doing is with one goal, and that’s to stop this pipeline from contaminating the river and harming an entire people and every single person that’s along it.”
More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the spirit camp. The protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline. This comes as, on Thursday, activists from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota reported experiencing traffic checkpoints manned by state and local police who stopped cars to look for tribal members planning to travel to North Dakota. Activists said more than 100 cars were stopped, and those suspected of heading toward the protest were turned back. Click here to see our interview with indigenous activists Winona LaDuke and Joye Braun.