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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 Puerto Rico, hospitals report they’re at capacity and struggling to maintain operations—part of a growing humanitarian catastrophe more than a week after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The Pentagon says the majority of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals don’t have enough fuel to power electric generators, as the island’s entire electrical grid has collapsed. At San Jorge Children’s Hospital in San Juan, managers have repeatedly pleaded for diesel fuel as medical teams have faced blackouts of up to three hours. At the White House, a reporter asked President Trump Wednesday why he’s denied requests to waive shipping restrictions under the Jones Act, which would allow more food, water, fuel and medicine to reach the island.
Reporter: “On Puerto Rico, Mr. President, why not lift the Jones Act like you did in Texas and Florida?”
President Donald Trump: “Well, we’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”
The president’s comment came as members of Congress said the Trump administration is blocking their attempts to visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Washington Post reports that since Monday evening, the White House and Pentagon have denied lawmakers permission to use military aircraft to make the trips. Among those affected are at least 10 members of the House and Senate who were planning a trip for Friday.
On Capitol Hill, climate activists from Texas and Florida—two states hard hit by this year’s record hurricane season—occupied the offices of Senator Mitch McConnell Wednesday, denouncing McConnell’s track record of denying climate change. This is activist Nancy Metayer of the group New Florida Majority.
Nancy Metayer: “I have 150,000 petitions that uplift our message that climate change is real and 100 percent renewable energy is a must. I, a Florida resident, stand in solidarity with my Texas sisters and brothers, and the sisters from the Caribbean. We are not victims. We are resilient. And we deserve better.”
President Trump unveiled a tax plan Wednesday that would overwhelmingly favor corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while adding trillions of dollars to the national debt. The plan would end the estate tax on inherited wealth for the richest 0.2 percent of Americans and slash the top corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. It would also abolish the alternative minimum tax—a move that would also benefit the wealthiest Americans, including President Trump. A leaked 2005 tax return shows Trump paid nearly $37 million in federal income taxes that year—most of it due to the alternative minimum tax. Speaking in Indianapolis Wednesday, President Trump falsely stated his tax plan would favor low- and middle-class households.
President Donald Trump: “Our framework includes our explicit commitment that tax reform will protect low-income and middle-income households—not the wealthy and well-connected. They can call me all they want; it’s not going to help. I’m doing the right thing, and it’s not good for me. Believe me.”
According to Americans for Tax Fairness, Trump’s plan would provide a modest middle-class tax cut by doubling the standard deduction, but those gains might be largely offset by other changes to the tax code. The group says the plan would starve the federal budget of about $5 trillion in tax revenue over the next 10 years.
The Trump administration on Wednesday detailed plans to cap the number of refugees allowed annually into the U.S. at just 45,000—the lowest level in over three decades. The total is less than half of the 110,000 cap issued by President Obama in 2016. The decision comes as the Trump administration says it won’t extend an October 5 deadline for undocumented immigrants to apply for renewals of their DACA status under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals immigration program, which shields 800,000 young immigrants from deportation. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis blasted Trump’s decision to end the program next March, telling Justice Department lawyers, “This is a democracy, these people have thrived in America, and you can’t just come into court and espouse a position that is so heartless. … It’s unacceptable, quite frankly, to me, as a human being and as an American.”
In the Mediterranean, a Libyan coast guard vessel fired warning shots Wednesday at a humanitarian aid ship that was assisting migrants trying to cross from Libya to Italy, boarding the ship and demanding that the refugees on board be handed over. Members of the aid group Mission Lifeline say they refused to comply with the request, which came in international waters. Italy has largely financed, equipped and trained Libya’s coast guard in an effort to turn migrants back to Libya, where they face appalling conditions in migrant camps, as well as the threat of torture, sexual abuse and forced labor.
In northern Iraq, residents have voted overwhelmingly to form an independent Kurdish state. Results of the nonbinding referendum released Wednesday showed the measure passed by nearly 93 percent, with 3.3 million people voting. The independence bid is fiercely opposed by Turkey and Iran, which have spent decades suppressing Kurdish nationalism, and by Iraq’s central government. In Baghdad, the speaker of Iraq’s parliament asked Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send troops to Iraq’s Kurdish region.
Salim al-Jabouri: “The commander-in-chief of the armed forces should abide by adopting all legal and constitutional measures to maintain and protect Iraq’s unity and its people by issuing his orders to the security troops to redeploy in all disputed areas, including Kirkuk, as it was before June 10, 2014.”
Iraq’s government has also threatened to seize oil fields in Kurdish areas and is planning to end international flights to and from the region.
Spain’s government has ordered police to seize control of polling places and ballot boxes ahead of Sunday’s planned independence referendum in the country’s Catalonia region. On Thursday, Barcelona police sealed off a warehouse containing 10 million paper ballots. Independence activists say they’ve had election materials seized, and the Spanish government has shut down pro-independence websites in a move that’s drawn comparisons to the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Spain’s top prosecutor has said he won’t rule out the possible arrest of Catalonia’s regional president.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. military says a missile malfunction killed at least one civilian and left an unspecified number of others wounded, as the U.S. called in airstrikes following a Taliban rocket attack targeting the plane of U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The violence came just hours after Mattis arrived at Kabul international airport for a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Speaking to reporters, Mattis said the Trump administration will add to the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “I prefer not to go into the specific numbers right now. We are bringing in more Americans. There are also more coalition forces—non-Americans—who are coming in. I don’t want to tell the enemy exactly what we’re doing, but the whole point is to make certain that we have a compelling battlefield advantage over anything the Taliban tries to mass against your forces.”
In Uganda, Presidential Guards and Special Command soldiers forcibly ejected lawmakers from the chambers of Parliament when they tried to vote against a change to the country’s constitution that would let long-ruling President Yoweri Museveni run for re-election after age 75. After a fight broke out in the chambers, a Ugandan opposition MP was taken to the hospital. The proposal stirred widespread resistance and protests around the country. On Wednesday, the Uganda Communications Commission barred radio and television stations from broadcasting live coverage of any events that “are inciting the public.” Three journalists in the city of Lira were arrested as they covered protests there.
In Israel, the country’s military chief said Wednesday he’ll shave four months off an 18-month manslaughter sentence given to an Israeli soldier who was caught on video executing a wounded Palestinian man last year. IDF Sergeant Elor Azaria became a hero to many Israelis—with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joining calls for a pardon—despite video showing Azaria firing a single shot into the head of the Palestinian man, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, as he lay immobilized on the ground.
Meanwhile, the international police organization Interpol said Wednesday it will add the state of Palestine as a member nation. The move came despite fierce opposition from Israel and the United States. Palestinian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Omar Awadallah welcomed the move.
Omar Awadallah: “This is a great victory for Palestinian diplomacy, one that assures that the Palestinian national and political leadership are working to put Palestine on the International stage and to be a member of international organizations.”
In Bangladesh, aid groups say the number of Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled ethnic cleansing in neighboring Burma over the last month is nearing a half-million. On Wednesday, boats carrying hundreds of refugees arrived at Bangladesh’s coast. Refugees say they fled at night to avoid Burmese security forces and vigilantes, and traveled by boat to avoid landmines planted by the Burmese military along the border.
Nobi Hossain: “Our village is surrounded by Buddhist people. When we try to go out of the village, they want to kill us. That’s why we came at nighttime. We can go hidden from forest to forest and avoid the military.”
In West Africa, human rights groups say the government of Cameroon has forced at least 100,000 refugees to return to Nigeria, where they’ve fled violence between Nigeria’s Army and the Boko Haram insurgency. This is Gerry Simpson of Human Rights Watch.
Gerry Simpson: “In our report, we have found that the Cameroonian military has been aggressively intercepting and screening Nigerian asylum seekers as they reach remote border areas in Cameroon, torturing people, accusing them of being members of Boko Haram, including women being Boko Haram wives, otherwise assaulting them, making their lives miserable while they trap them in these remote border areas, and then violently deporting them back to Nigeria.”
At least 20,000 people have been killed in the 8-year-old conflict with Boko Haram, and the fighting has exacerbated a food shortage that the U.N. warns has millions of people still at risk of famine.
Back in the U.S., CBS says it will include the playing of the national anthem in its live coverage of tonight’s NFL match between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, as players from both teams are expected to demonstrate during the anthem by linking arms or taking a knee. The planned protests come after President Trump spent most of the last week attacking the racial justice protests led by African-American athletes. Among those joining the protest is Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews, whose brother was a U.S. marine who died in Afghanistan. Matthews spoke Tuesday with ESPN.
Rishard Matthews: “I plan to kneel until the president apologizes for the comments that he made, because I felt like those are very disrespectful comments that he made. The league is made up of, I think, either 70 percent or over 75—over 70 percent are African Americans, so the people that would be kneeling for this cause would be African Americans. And to keep it honest, he was calling a lot of us, and I feel that he was calling myself, an SOB. And that’s not OK, very disrespectful.”
And Hugh Hefner, creator of Playboy magazine, died Wednesday in his mansion at the age of 91. Hefner considered himself an advocate for free speech and sexual freedoms. But critics say he degraded women as objects. In a 1963 article, Gloria Steinem went undercover at a Playboy nightclub where waitresses dressed in skimpy bunny outfits, and exposed harsh hours, painful uniforms and crass customers. Another feminist critic challenged Hefner to “come out here with a cottontail attached to your rear end.”