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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 surprise announcement, President Trump tweeted Wednesday he would ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. Trump made the declaration on Twitter, writing, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.” Trump’s decision came despite his pledge at the Republican National Convention last year that he would “do everything in [his] power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.” The move set off protests outside the White House and at military recruitment centers around the country. This is Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Mara Keisling: “Well, it seems that what the president is saying is that he is going to fire 15,000 highly trained, motivated troops. It is a catastrophe for military readiness. It is, of course, a catastrophe for those 15,000 people who are just trying to serve their country. But it is just absurd that he would think to do this—and do it apparently without consulting the Pentagon.”
Trump’s announcement appeared to shock even the Pentagon, which has directed all questions about the order to the White House. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said he learned of the policy change from Trump’s tweet. It came after Defense Secretary James Mattis said last month he would give generals another six months to determine whether to allow trangender troops to enlist. This is a reporter questioning White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during a press conference on Wednesday.
Jonathan Karl: “What happens to transgender servicemembers now? Are they immediately thrown out of the military?”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together, as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully.”
A study by the RAND Corporation estimates gender reassignment treatments would cost the military between $2.5 million and $8.5 million annually—a minuscule fraction of the Pentagon’s $600 billion budget. By comparison, the total military spending on erectile dysfunction medicines amounts to 10 times as much annually. We’ll have more on Trump’s move to ban transgender people from the military after headlines.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate on Wednesday rejected legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, after seven Republican senators broke ranks to reject the bill in a 45-55 vote. The latest defeat came a day after Republicans failed in a bid to pass their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. With just eight hours left to debate healthcare, Senate leaders are now considering what’s being called a “skinny repeal,” which would eliminate the individual mandate and the employer mandate, that requires certain businesses to provide health insurance to employees. It would not touch the Medicaid program. Democrats blasted Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for keeping details of the skinny repeal secret. But on Wednesday night, the Congressional Budget Office offered its assessment of what Democrats said is a likely draft of the bill—finding it would increase the number of uninsured people by 16 million while increasing premiums by about 20 percent. The debate came amid massive protests on Capitol Hill and at lawmakers’ offices. A recent USA Today poll found just 12 percent of Americans supported the Senate version of the healthcare bill. We’ll have more on the fight over healthcare later in the broadcast.
President Trump has nominated former Republican Congressmember Pete Hoekstra as U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands. Hoekstra is a co-founder of the House Tea Party Caucus. He supports the death penalty, opposes abortion rights and has spoken out against marriage equality and LGBTQ rights.
In Yemen, the heads of the United Nations’ relief agencies pleaded Wednesday for a massive increase in humanitarian aid, as the number of cases of cholera in Yemen hit 400,000. U.N. leaders say the outbreak has increased the number of Yemenis in need of assistance to nearly 21 million. This is Peter Maurer, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Peter Maurer: “The overall situation is very dire and very catastrophic with regard to certain areas that I have mentioned, health situation in particular. If the ICRC, within two weeks, decides to double its program in Yemen, it’s an indication that the situation is very bad.”
The cholera outbreak comes as more than two years of U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing in Yemen has devastated the country’s health, water and sanitation systems.
Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that U.N. investigators blame the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led military coalition for a deadly attack on a Somali migrant boat off Yemen in March that killed 42 people and injured 32 others. Reuters cited a confidential U.N. report that found the attack violated international humanitarian law. It blamed a U.S.-made helicopter gunship operated by Saudi Arabia for the assault.
In Iraq, thousands of families from Mosul remain living in camps and unable to return to their homes, nearly a month after Iraq’s prime minister declared victory in the U.S.-backed offensive to reclaim the city from ISIS. At the Salamiya camp west of Mosul, residents complain of limited water supplies and sweltering heat. Those returning to Mosul say they face ongoing violence and unlivable conditions.
Saddam, displaced resident: “I can’t go back to my neighborhood because there is no water, no electricity, no services, nothing at all in my area. Our homes were destroyed. They were robbed. TVs, everything was stolen. We came here to this camp, and life here is very difficult.”
The Independent reports more than 40,000 civilians died in the nine-month battle to retake Mosul, with thousands of bodies still trapped under the rubble. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is calling on the Trump administration to cut off support to an Iraqi Army division, after it reported Wednesday that Iraqi troops trained by the U.S. allegedly executed several dozen prisoners in Mosul’s Old City.
The New York Times reports that President Trump is being pressured by a billionaire financier and a chemical executive to escalate the U.S. war in Afghanistan in a bid to exploit the country’s mineral wealth. The Times reports Trump discussed Afghanistan’s vast deposits of metals and rare earth elements with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and is reportedly considering sending an envoy to Afghanistan to meet with mining officials. A 2010 U.S. estimate found Afghanistan has mineral deposits worth nearly $1 trillion.
In France, human rights groups warn police are abusing migrants in the northern city of Calais, as they return to the site of a former camp known as “The Jungle” in the hopes of crossing into the United Kingdom. Bénédicte Jeannerod, the director of Human Rights Watch France, says police have routinely confiscated sleeping bags and clothing from migrants, while pepper-spraying them and confiscating food and water.
Bénédicte Jeannerod: “Police forces use pepper spray against migrants who are sleeping, or disrupt food distribution, against the food of the migrants, for example. This is a use of force which is unjustified. It is disproportionate and constitutes a violation of human rights and the protections that these people have a right to.”
Last November, French police dismantled the Calais refugee camp, scattering thousands of asylum seekers—many of them unaccompanied children seeking to reunite with relatives in the U.K.
Back in the United States, police in Minneapolis will be required to start recording video on their body cameras whenever they respond to emergency calls or interact with any victim, suspect or witness, under a new policy announced Wednesday by the city’s interim police chief.
Mederia Arradondo: “What good is a camera if it is not being used when it may be needed the most? From this day forward, in the Minneapolis Police Department, we want to add strength to our expectations. Body-worn cameras must be on.”
The change follows public outcry over the death of 40-year-old resident Justine Ruszczyk, who was shot in the abdomen by Officer Mohamed Noor on July 15 after she dialed 911 twice to report a possible sexual assault near her home. Neither Officer Noor nor his partner had activated their body cameras at the time of Ruszczyk’s killing.
In Austin, Texas, police arrested 15 immigrants’ rights activists Wednesday as they blocked an intersection near the state Capitol in a peaceful sit-in protest. The activists were calling on lawmakers to repeal SB 4, Texas’s harsh new anti-immigrant law. They also called on the Trump administration not to end the DACA program, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gives some immigrants permission to live, work and study in the U.S. Among those arrested were four DACA recipients who chanted “Undocumented, unafraid!” This is Juan Ortiz, an activist from El Paso and one of the 15 arrested.
Juan Ortiz: “Time is running out under this leadership. And we need to do whatever we can now, put whatever we can on the line, so that we can get people out of the shadows and into the light.”
The protests came as firefighters in El Paso, Texas, say they discovered the bodies of four migrants—including two children—who died attempting to cross the Rio Grande along the U.S.-Mexico border. The deaths came just days after 10 undocumented immigrants died from heat exposure and asphyxiation after they and dozens of others were crammed into the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer as part of their journey to enter the United States from Mexico. They were found in a Wal-Mart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas.
And in New York City, Pedro Hernandez, a Bronx teen who’s been held at the notorious Rikers Island jail while awaiting trial for a 2015 crime he says he did not commit, will be released on bail after the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group agreed to post $100,000. Hernandez is fighting charges that he fired a shot that injured another teen in 2015—even though the victim and eight other teens who witnessed the shooting say Hernandez is innocent. Hernandez has been in jail since July of 2016. His plight has drawn comparisons to the case of Kalief Browder, another Bronx teen, who committed suicide in 2015 at the age of 22 after being held at Rikers for nearly three years without trial for a crime he did not commit.