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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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The New York Times reports that the Pentagon is proposing widening the permissible use of nuclear weapons to include responding to cyberattacks and other non-nuclear attacks to U.S. infrastructure. The Pentagon has already outlined this expanded nuclear strategy in a draft document sent to President Trump for approval. It comes amid a series of moves by the Pentagon and President Trump that have escalated the threat of nuclear war. The Wall Street Journal reports the Pentagon is planning to develop two new sea-based nuclear weapons. The New York Times also reported the Pentagon is conducting a series of war games to prepare for a potential war with North Korea. This is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warning Americans about the escalating threat of war with North Korea on Tuesday.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “With respect to whether Americans should be concerned about a war with North Korea, I think it’s—we all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation, as North Korea has continued to make significant advances in both its nuclear weapons, the lethality of those weapons, as demonstrated by their last thermonuclear test, as well as the continued progress they’ve made in their intercontinental ballistic missile systems. We have to recognize that that threat is growing. And if North Korea is not—does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they, themselves, will trigger an option.”
On Capitol Hill, the government is again facing the looming possibility of a shutdown, as lawmakers have yet to reach an agreement about immigration protections for 800,000 young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers. On Tuesday night, Republicans proposed yet another short-term funding stopgap in order to keep the government funded without resolving key legislative issues, including immigration and a children’s healthcare program called CHIP. A number of key Democratic senators say they will oppose any funding measures unless there is a resolution on DACA—that’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The legislative showdown comes as the fight over DACA is also playing out in the courts. On Tuesday, Trump’s Justice Department said it would ask the Supreme Court to immediately review a federal judge’s recent decision forcing the Trump administration to restart DACA, which Trump attempted to cancel late last year.
In more news on immigration, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was questioned Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which she denied that she heard President Trump refer to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as “shithole countries.” This is Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Sen. Cory Booker: “The commander-in-chief, in an Oval Office meeting, referring to people from African countries and Haitians with the most vile and vulgar language, that language festers. When ignorance and bigotry is allied with power, it is a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and your amnesia is complicity.”
During the hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also attempted to defend Trump’s racist comments that he wants more immigrants from countries like Norway. This is Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: “What does he mean when he says he wants more immigrants from Norway?”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: “I don’t believe he said that specifically. What he was saying was he was using Norway as an example of a country that is—what he was specifically referring to is the prime minister telling him that the people of Norway work very hard. And so, what he was referencing is, from a merit-based perspective, we’d like to have those with skills who can assimilate and contribute to the United States, moving away from country quotas and to an individual, merit-based system.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy: “Norway is a predominantly white country, isn’t it?”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: “I’m—I actually do not know that, sir, but I imagine that is the case.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy: “OK.”
Norway is over 90 percent white, one of the whitest countries in the world.
The New York Times reports special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed President Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon to testify before a grand jury as part of the ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 election. The Times reports this is the first known time Mueller’s team has used a grand jury subpoena for a member of Trump’s inner circle. On Tuesday, Bannon was also subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee, after he refused to answer a wide range of the committee’s questions during a hearing Tuesday. Even after the subpoena was issued, Bannon continued to refuse to answer questions, after his lawyers conferred with the White House. This is Democratic Congressmember Adam Schiff, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Adam Schiff: “There is, I think without a doubt, a great deal he could say with respect to many of the allegations and the comments that are attributed to him in the book 'Fire and Fury.' We also have a great many questions. But specifically, any communications that he had within the White House at the time the Trump Tower meeting was made public, obviously, is of deep interest to us. Whether he was ever given any instructions that he felt might hinder the Russia investigation is of deep interest to us.”
White House doctor Ronny Jackson said Tuesday President Trump is in good health and displayed a normal score on a cognitive exam, amid mounting questions about President Trump’s mental health. This is Dr. Jackson.
Dr. Ronny Jackson: “I had absolutely no concerns about his cognitive ability or his—you know, his neurological function. So, I was not going to do a cognitive exam. I had no intention of doing one. The reason that we did the cognitive assessment is, plain and simple, because the president asked me to do it. He came to me, and he said, 'Is there something we can do, a test or some type of screen that we can do, to assess my—you know, my cognitive ability?'”
However, mental health experts say the short, 15-minute cognitive screening test administered is not comprehensive, and many are still calling for a full neuropsychiatric evaluation.
The Senate moved Tuesday to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for another six years. The Senate voted 60 to 38 to overcome a procedural delay, despite calls by a group of lawmakers who first wanted to vote on a series of amendments that would have imposed more privacy protections. The law, known as Section 702, allows the U.S. government to collect communications—including emails, phone calls and text messages—from foreigners, including their communications with U.S. citizens. It can collect all this information without a warrant.
The Trump administration is withholding $65 million of funding for the U.N. humanitarian agency for Palestinians, known as the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. U.N. officials say the slashed funding will devastate its humanitarian programs. This comes as the Israeli military attacked a funeral procession in the West Bank, opening fire on the mourners during clashes after the funeral. The funeral was for 24-year-old Ahmad Salim, who was killed by Israeli troops on Monday.
The United Nations says at least 5,000 children in Yemen have been killed or maimed since March 2015, when the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened in the ongoing conflict, launching a massive bombing campaign and imposing a blockade that has created a widespread shortage of food, water and medicine in Yemen. The UNICEF report says another 400,000 children in Yemen are severely malnourished. The United States has supported Saudi Arabia in the ongoing war in Yemen by selling the Saudis billions of dollars’ worth of weapons and providing logistical military support, including critical mid-air refueling to Saudi coalition warplanes.
The Justice Department says it has arrested a former CIA agent who is suspected of working with China to systematically dismantle the United States’ spying operations there. The former officer is named Jerry Chun Shing Lee. In recent years, more than a dozen CIA informants have been killed or imprisoned by the Chinese government.
In more news on China, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has been sentenced to three months in prison for his role in organizing the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” protests in Hong Kong. This is Joshua Wong, speaking before his sentencing Wednesday.
Joshua Wong: “They can lock up our body, but they can’t lock up our mind. What we hope to do is, even if we need to face a prison sentencing, we will still continue to fight for democracy in the future. Thank you.”
In the Philippines, journalists and press freedom advocates are condemning Duterte’s government for trying to shut down the highly popular independent news outlet Rappler. On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s license to operate on the charges that the website is foreign-owned, even though the website is owned by Filipinos. This morning, the Philippines Justice Department authorized the opening of a criminal investigation into the website. Rappler and press freedom advocates say the website is being targeted for its critical reporting on Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and his devastating so-called drug war.
Back in the United States, the majority of the National Park Service Advisory Board has resigned in protest of the fact that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has not met with them even once since Trump took office one year ago. The board’s chairman, Tony Knowles, a former governor of Alaska, said, “The department showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science [when it comes to] the effect of climate change, protection of the ecosystems, education.” He was one of nine members of the 12-person panel who quit on Monday in protest.
In California, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy has been arrested by FBI agents and charged with running a drug trafficking scheme, which included allegedly hiring other cops to provide physical security for drug dealers. Deputy Kenneth Collins and three other men were arrested in the Tuesday morning sting.
And, in Michigan, female gymnasts who survived sexual assault and abuse by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar testified against him on the first day of his sentencing Tuesday. Nassar has already admitted to sexually abusing the athletes when they were children and adolescents, and then covering up the abuse by pretending it was part of a medical treatment.
Nearly 140 women have come forward to accuse Nassar of abuse, including exposing himself in front of them, rubbing his genitals against their bodies and penetrating their vaginas with his fingers. Among his accusers are Olympic gymnasts, including gold medalist Simone Biles.
The first woman to testify at Tuesday’s hearing was Kyle Stephens, who said Nassar began abusing her when she was only 6 years old. Another woman who testified at Tuesday’s hearing was Donna Markham, the mother of former gymnast Chelsea Markham, who was sexually abused by Nassar when she was only 10 years old. Chelsea went on to commit suicide in 2009.
Donna Markham: “In 2009, she took her own life, because she couldn’t deal with the pain anymore. It will be 10 years in March that I lost my baby. She was 23 years old. She would have been 33 now. And every day I miss her. Every day. And it all started with him. It all started with him and just became worse as the years went by, until she couldn’t deal with it anymore.”
Larry Nassar faces decades in prison on charges of sexually assaulting and abusing minors. He has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison after being convicted on child pornography charges in a separate case.