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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 Parkland, Florida, teachers and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to classes Wednesday for the first time since Valentine’s Day, when gunman Nikolas Cruz opened fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, killing 17 people and wounding 15 others. This is Stoneman Douglas student and shooting survivor Samuel Safaite.
Samuel Safaite: “Spanish class, my teacher was taking attendance, and she accidentally said Luke’s name while she was doing roll. And like a lot of people just started crying, because we all knew that he was gone.”
Last month’s massacre sparked an unprecedented youth movement, led by Stoneman Douglas High School students, who are mobilizing a nationwide rally against gun violence called “March for Our Lives” in Washington, D.C., on March 24.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, schools on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation were placed on lockdown Wednesday after a caller phoned in a threat of a mass shooting. The nearby Navajo Technical University also locked down for several hours. Elsewhere, in Dalton, Georgia, police arrested 53-year-old social studies teacher Jesse Randall Davidson after he barricaded himself alone inside a classroom and fired shots from a pistol as a principal tried to enter. This is Dalton Police spokesperson Bruce Frazier.
Bruce Frazier: “When the principal put a key in the door to try to unlock the classroom, Mr. Davidson apparently fired a shot from a handgun through an exterior window of the classroom. It did not appear that it was aimed at anybody. It obviously broke out the window. And at that point the school went into lockdown.”
At the White House, President Trump renewed his call Wednesday to arm teachers and other school employees with concealed firearms. But Trump also shocked members of his own Republican Party when he appeared to reverse course to support raising the age that a person can purchase a rifle from 18 to 21. Trump also called out Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House.
President Donald Trump: “It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait 'til I'm 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18. I don’t know. So I was just curious as to what you did in your bill.”
Sen. Pat Toomey: “We”—
President Donald Trump: “You don’t address it.”
Sen. Pat Toomey: “We didn’t address it, Mr. President. Look, I think the”—
President Donald Trump: “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA, right?”
Sen. Pat Toomey: “No, it’s not an issue. But…”
Trump’s proposal came as Walmart said Wednesday it will raise the minimum age to buy guns and ammunition at its stores to 21. The retailer also said it would remove items resembling assault-style rifles—like airsoft BB guns—from its online store. The move came as Dick’s Sporting Goods said it would stop selling all assault-style rifles at its Field & Stream stores and would similarly raise the minimum age of gun sales to 21. CEO Edward Stack said he expects backlash over the move, but added, “We don’t want to be a part of this story any longer.”
Alaskan Republican Congressmember Don Young is under fire over his recent comments that Jewish people would not have suffered the Holocaust if they’d been armed. This is Rep. Young in a recording aired this week by Alaska Public Media.
Rep. Don Young: “How many millions of people were shot and killed because they were unarmed? Fifty million in Russia, because their citizens weren’t armed. How many Jews were put into the ovens because they were unarmed?”
In a statement to The Washington Post, the Anti-Defamation League condemned Congressmember Young’s comments, saying, “It is mind-bending to suggest that personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews … could have stopped the totalitarian onslaught of Nazi Germany when the armies of Poland, France, Belgium and numerous other countries were overwhelmed by the Third Reich.”
In Syria, airstrikes and artillery fire continue to pound the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, as a daily 5-hour “humanitarian pause” brokered by Russia unraveled completely. U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mark Lowcock said Wednesday the deal failed to allow even a single vehicle to access the besieged region.
Mark Lowcock: So, if there’s been no humanitarian access since the resolution on Saturday, what has happened in the last few days? More bombing, more fighting, more death, more destruction, more maiming of women and children, more hunger, more misery—more, in other words, of the same.”
The fighting in Eastern Ghouta raged as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied reports that Syria’s military launched a chlorine gas attack on the suburb, calling it a “provocation” aimed at sabotaging the humanitarian pauses in fighting.
On Capitol Hill, three U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would force Congress to vote for the first time on whether to continue U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. The measure was introduced by Republican Mike Lee, Democrat Chris Murphy and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, who noted that the Constitution gives Congress—and not the president—the power to declare war. Sanders said the U.S. was contributing to a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “The United Nations emergency relief coordinator said that Yemen was on the brink of, quote, 'the largest famine the world has seen for many decades,' end-quote. So far, at least 10,000 civilians have died and over 40,000 have been wounded in the war, and 3 million people have been displaced. Many Americans are also not aware that U.S. forces have been actively involved in support of the Saudis in this war, providing intelligence and aerial refueling of planes, whose bombs have killed thousands of people and made this crisis far worse.”
In Honduras, police injured at least six demonstrators outside the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday as they protested a visit by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The protests came as Haley met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was inaugurated for a second term in January despite allegations of widespread voting fraud in the November 26 election.
Back in the United States, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks said Wednesday she’ll step down in the coming weeks. Hicks’s announcement came a day after she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee to answer questions about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. As part of her eight hours of testimony, Hicks told lawmakers she sometimes told “white lies” on behalf of Donald Trump—though she denied any of the lies were about Russia. Hicks is a 29-year-old former model who joined Trump’s campaign in 2016 without any experience in electoral politics. She was reportedly romantically involved with Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary who resigned last month after both of his ex-wives accused him of verbal and physical abuse.
The Washington Post reports that special counsel Mueller is looking at Donald Trump’s efforts last summer to oust Attorney General Jeff Sessions—in the latest sign the investigation is looking into whether the president may have committed the crime of obstruction of justice. Mueller is reportedly looking into a series of Twitter attacks Trump made on Sessions last July and August, and whether Trump was attempting to force Sessions out to replace him with an attorney general who would rein in the Russia investigation. The news came as Trump took to Twitter Wednesday to launch a fresh attack on Jeff Sessions, calling his decision to launch an internal affairs investigation into alleged surveillance abuses at the Justice Department ”DISGRACEFUL!” The Post also reports Trump now refers to Sessions derisively in private conversations as “Mister Magoo,” referring to the bumbling cartoon character.
President Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to new criminal charges brought by Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia investigation. Manafort faces dozens of charges in two separate indictments, including conspiracy, tax evasion, bank fraud, money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent even as he secretly worked as a lobbyist for Ukraine’s pro-Russia government. Last week, Manafort’s top aide, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty to charges and is now cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation.
The White House said Wednesday that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will retain his role as senior adviser, after he was reportedly stripped of interim security clearance allowing him to view top-secret documents. Kushner failed to report over 100 foreign contacts on his initial application for permanent security clearance, which he has since revised three times. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports Kushner’s real estate company received multimillion-dollar loans after he met with powerful financial executives at the White House. One loan, for $184 million, came from Apollo Global Management months after Kushner met with the company’s co-founder, Joshua Harris, and reportedly discussed giving him a job in the Trump administration. Another loan, for $325 million, came from Citigroup shortly after Kushner met the bank’s chief executive, Michael Corbat, at the White House.
Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is under fire, after his office agreed to spend $165,000 on furniture in its Washington, D.C., headquarters. Details of the purchases—which included a $31,000 dining set for Carson’s office—emerged this week, after a HUD whistleblower said she was demoted after she refused to exceed a $5,000 spending limit on office furniture. The purchases came as the Trump administration proposed slashing HUD’s budget by $6.8 billion, or about 14 percent.
In Britain, investigators with Scotland Yard said Wednesday they’ve opened another criminal investigation into disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The latest complaint, from a Westminster woman who says she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein in the mid-1990s, brings the total number of British women who’ve brought complaints against Weinstein to 10.
The head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun, is stepping down amid criticism over his handling of the case of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who was convicted of sexually abusing hundreds of women and girls. Blackmun’s resignation came after The Wall Street Journal reported he and the U.S. Olympic Committee failed to intervene in 2015 when they first heard allegations of Nassar’s sexual abuse—a full year before the crimes were reported publicly by The Indianapolis Star.
In West Virginia, public schools remain closed today, after the state’s teachers’ unions remained on strike over the high cost of health insurance. On Tuesday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice agreed to boost teacher salaries by 5 percent in the first year of a new contract, but the teachers say the deal isn’t enough to offset skyrocketing premiums in the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Some 20,000 teachers and 13,000 school staffers say they’ll remain on strike until they win a better agreement on healthcare.
In Argentina, convicted mass murderer Luciano Benjamín Menéndez has died in prison at the age of 90. Menéndez was a senior military commander nicknamed “The Hyena” during the U.S.-backed Argentine dictatorship of the 1970s and ’80s. In 2010, Menéndez was sentenced to 13 terms of life in prison for crimes including torture and murder at secret detention camps. Menéndez died without ever confessing what he did with the bodies of thousands of activists who were “disappeared” during the dictatorship.
In Bratislava, Slovakia, hundreds of people took the the streets to protest official corruption, following the murder of prominent investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his girlfriend last week. At the time of the murders, Kuciak was investigating tax fraud by people associated with Slovakia’s ruling party. His final story was headlined “Italian Mafia In Slovakia; Its Tentacles Reach as Far as Politics.” This is Slovak politician Igor Matovic, speaking at Wednesday’s protest.
Igor Matovic: “Ján Kuciak didn’t remain silent. He had the courage to speak out about powerful people in this state, and that’s why they’ve silenced him. They also want to silence us—politicians as well as journalists and you. They just want us to shut up and vote, shut up and vote.”
And in San Francisco, California, hundreds of protesters chanting “Shut down ICE!” marched on the offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday. The protesters blocked streets and locked themselves together to barricade doors at ICE’s building. The protests came on the heels of an ICE sweep that’s seen over 200 immigrants arrested by ICE in Northern California this year.