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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. This week Democracy Now! is celebrating our 23rd birthday. For over two decades, we've produced our daily news hour without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. Right now, in honor of Democracy Now!'s birthday, every donation we receive will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $30 today, Democracy Now! will get $60 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. Thank you! -Amy Goodman
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In a historic day of action, more than a million students from over 3,000 schools walked out of classes to protest gun violence on Wednesday. Walkouts occurred in all 50 states as well as some overseas. In Littleton, Colorado, hundreds walked out Columbine High School—site of a 1999 massacre that left 15 people dead. In Madison, Wisconsin, thousands of students walked out and marched on the state Capitol building, where they flooded the rotunda and chanted “We want Walker!” outside the office of Republican Governor Scott Walker, who has resisted calls for gun control. In Washington, D.C., protesters placed 14,000 shoes on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol—one pair for each of the estimated 7,000 children who’ve died of gunshot wounds since the Sandy Hook school massacre of 2012. Across the Mall, hundreds of D.C.-area students protested outside the White House, turning their backs on the building and sitting silently for 17 minutes—one minute for each person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida a month ago. This is 16-year-old Reem Arajai and 17-year-old Simone Hicks speaking at the protest.
Reem Arajai: “I hope that the president will step up, stop accepting money from the NRA, because if all of the deaths that have occurred aren’t enough to convince him, then I guess it just has to be us protesting right now.”
Simone Hicks: “If you can protect guns this much and don’t have the same regard for the people who are going to create your country in the future, then we’re in trouble. The kids are the future. If you’re not protecting the kids, then what’s left?”
The protests came as the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill authorizing $50 million in grants to schools for safety protocols and training. The bill does not contain any gun control measures, and Republican congressional leaders have signaled they don’t intend to bring any new gun bills to the floor.
Meanwhile, in Florida’s Broward County, a judge entered a not guilty plea Wednesday for 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who’s charged with murdering 17 people last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The judge entered the plea as Cruz bowed his head and remained silent throughout his arraignment. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.
In Northern California, three students were injured Tuesday when a teacher trained in the use of firearms accidentally fired a bullet from his gun in a classroom at Seaside High School, near Monterey. Dennis Alexander—who also serves as a city councilmember and a reserve police officer—was teaching a lesson on gun safety when his pistol discharged. The bullet struck the classroom’s ceiling, ejecting shrapnel that lodged in a 17-year-old’s neck; two other students were injured by falling debris. The incident came as President Trump and the NRA are pushing to arm teachers and school staff nationwide in the wake of the Parkland high school massacre.
Back on Capitol Hill, senators voted 67 to 31 in favor of a sweeping, bipartisan bill rolling back many of the reforms of the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010 in the wake of the financial collapse and Great Recession. The bill would exempt 25 of the nation’s 40 largest banks from being subject to heightened scrutiny by the Federal Reserve. The bill would also roll back the so-called Volcker Rule, which prohibits some banks from making risky bets with taxpayer-insured money. The bill would also loosen a requirement on some mortgage lenders that tracks whether they’re discriminating against minorities. Thirteen Democrats voted in favor of the bill, sending it to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Among the bill’s opponents was Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who proposed an alternative measure on Wednesday.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Today I introduced the Ending Too Big to Jail Act, which would help make sure that big bank executives are hauled out of their corner offices in handcuffs the next time they break the law. That would do more for America’s working families than anything in this bill, and I’m going to fight to help make it law.”
President Trump has named Larry Kudlow to replace Gary Cohn as head of the National Economic Council, a week after Cohn resigned in protest of Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Larry Kudlow is a syndicated columnist and radio host, and once served as chief economist at the investment firm Bear Stearns—before he was fired in 1995, when he entered rehab to treat a $100,000-a-month cocaine habit. Kudlow has repeatedly failed to forecast macroeconomic trends. In December of 2007, as the subprime mortgage market began to unravel, leading to the deepest recession since the 1930s, Kudlow wrote, “There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. … The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come.”
In Syria, human rights groups say as many as 50 civilians were killed Wednesday as a relentless assault by Russian and Syrian forces continued to pound the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. One local medic warned 5,000 people are at risk of annihilation. At the United Nations, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore warned 125,000 children remain trapped in Eastern Ghouta.
Kate Gilmore: “Those responsible for these war crimes and crimes against humanity are being identified. The chain of evidence is being preserved. Dossiers are being built up for their prosecution. And duly convened tribunals will hold them legally accountable for these crimes that, in malice, they continue to wage with scant regard for Syria’s children. But by allowing their cruelty to continue to violate the rights of Syria’s children, the international community, too, must confront the blood on its hands.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s military has encircled the northern Syrian city of Afrin, where the United Nations is warning of a growing humanitarian disaster. Residents of Afrin have had no access to clean drinking water for a week, after Turkish troops and their allies cut water supplies to the area. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to crush the Kurdish YPG militia, known as the People’s Protection Units, who control Afrin. Turkey’s offensive has sparked protests by Kurds around the world. On Tuesday, police in Paris used tear gas to drive back hundreds of Kurdish protesters and their allies as they demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy, where they accused the Trump administration of failing to prevent Turkish atrocities in Syria.
In Pakistan, a bomb detonated at a police checkpoint in Lahore on Wednesday, killing nine people and wounding at least 27 others. The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the blast, which came during a police shift change outside a religious festival attended by nearly 80,000 people.
At the United Nations, Britain and its allies condemned Russia Wednesday over its alleged poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last week. British Ambassador to the United Nations Julian Braithwaite told the U.N.’s Human Rights Council that a Russian military-grade nerve agent was to blame and that the Russian state was almost certainly behind the attack. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley blasted Russia, telling the Security Council that one member may have used chemical weapons on the sovereign soil of another member. Her comments came as President Trump has been reluctant to blame Russia for the alleged poisoning. Russia has denied it was behind the attack, calling the charges a “fairy tale.”
In Mexico, the attorney general says police have arrested the fourth of seven suspects in the disappearance of 43 students at the Ayotzinapa teacher training college in 2014. Authorities say 35-year-old Erick Uriel Sandoval Rodríguez was a hitman for a criminal cartel involved in the disappearances. The students went missing on September 26, 2014, after being attacked by local police. International experts say the Mexican military and federal police also played a role in the students’ disappearance.
In Brazil, prominent human rights activist and city councilmember Marielle Franco and her driver were shot dead as they drove through downtown Rio de Janeiro Wednesday. Police say two unknown assailants remain at large in the double murder, which also left Franco’s press officer injured. Franco was a black woman, and a member of the LGBTQ community from one of Rio’s poorest neighborhoods. In 2016, she was elected to the Rio City Council under the Socialism and Liberty Party. Franco was a longtime critic of Brazil’s police, who’ve been linked to hundreds of killings and thousands of incidents of brutality in Rio’s impoverished favela neighborhoods.
In China, government censors have ordered the internet scrubbed of all references to an incident that unfolded on live national television Tuesday at the National People’s Congress. During the meeting, Communist Party officials took pre-approved, “softball” questions from reporters. As one journalist asked a long-winded question about state asset supervision, a neighboring journalist rolled her eyes before turning away in disgust. The video was seen by millions and quickly went viral on Chinese social media—spawning memes and animated GIFs, before government censors ordered all references to the incident removed from online search results.
Back in the United States, Oklahoma’s attorney general said Wednesday the state will seek to put prisoners to death using asphyxiation by nitrogen gas. The proposal comes as Oklahoma has struggled to procure lethal injection drugs following a string of botched executions. In a statement, Dale Baich, an attorney for Oklahoma’s death row prisoners, said, “This method has never been used before and is experimental. … How can we trust Oklahoma to get this right when the state’s recent history reveals a culture of carelessness and mistakes in executions?”
In Albany, New York, a former senior aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo has been found guilty on three counts of corruption. Joseph Percoco was convicted of soliciting and accepting over $300,000 in bribes on behalf of executives from a pair of companies with state business. Governor Cuomo has said he wasn’t in charge of the contracts involved and that he had “no idea” about the alleged bribery and contract rigging laid out by prosecutors.
And in Pennsylvania, Democrat Conor Lamb has won an upset victory in Tuesday’s special election for the state’s 18th Congressional District. Lamb is a former prosecutor and Marine Corps captain who narrowly won a district Trump carried by 20 points during the 2016 election. This is Conor Lamb speaking Wednesday evening.
Rep.-elect Conor Lamb: “We followed what I learned in the Marines: Leave no one behind. … We went everywhere. We talked to everyone. We invited everyone in. And we found that there is public support for programs like Social Security and Medicare that’s nearly universal, because these programs are universal. They are America’s way of saying, 'We are all in this together.'”
Republican groups poured nearly $11 million into the race to try to avoid losing a district that Trump won easily in 2016. The race was widely seen as a bellwether on the 2018 midterm elections.