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Iraq’s crisis is deepening as Islamist militants have seized two more towns northeast of Baghdad. Over the past few days, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have seized several key cities including Mosul and Tikrit. Kurdish fighters have taken control of Kirkuk. Speaking Thursday, President Obama said he won’t rule out anything that might help the Iraqi government.
President Obama: “What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq is going to need more help. It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community. So my team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.”
The United Nations says Iraq’s refugee population has increased by nearly 800,000 amidst fighting this year.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has arrived in the United States following five years in Taliban captivity. The former prisoner of war landed in San Antonio, Texas, where he is expected to continue undergoing treatment for reintegration into society. The Daily Beast, meanwhile, has obtained letters sent by Bergdahl from captivity which could help explain why he walked away from his unit in 2009. “Clear minded understanding from leadership was lacking if not non-existent,” Bergdahl wrote in a 2013 letter to his family. “The conditions where [sic] bad and looked to be getting worce [sic] for the men that where actuly [sic] the ones risking thier [sic] lives from attack as well as aphgan ellaments [sic]. Please tell d.c. to wiat [sic] for all evadince [sic] to come in,” he wrote.
In Brazil, the 2014 World Cup has kicked off. On opening day Thursday, police in military-style gear fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters who gathered to condemn Brazil’s mass expenditures on the tournament. Clashes erupted in São Paulo near the stadium which hosted the opening game between Brazil and Croatia. Three workers died building the stadium. Protester Rafael Dolabella spoke while holding a poster of one of the deceased workers.
Rafael Dolabella: “The World Cup will be very good for a few people, for the corporations here in Brazil who are building these stadiums, for the corporations that sponsor FIFA, for FIFA itself. It will not be good for the people of Brazil, for the people who can’t, for example, fly from the airports that were built, … for the homeless people who are being violently repressed here in the center of São Paulo right now.”
In a victory for environmentalists in Chile, the government has rejected a massive hydroelectric dam project, following an eight-year activist campaign against it. The HidroAysén project would have involved building five dams on two rivers in the midst of the Patagonian wilderness, marking the largest energy endeavor in Chilean history. The Patagonia Defense Council called the project’s defeat “the greatest triumph of the environmental movement in Chile.”
In the United States, a federal appeals court has ruled law enforcement agencies must seek a court warrant to obtain the location data of U.S. cellphone users. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said warrantless tracking through cell tower locations marks a violation of privacy rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld warrantless cellular tracking last year, setting up a likely case before the Supreme Court.
A new report reveals the Obama administration is pressing local police departments to conceal information about powerful surveillance technology they are using to vacuum up cellphone data from entire neighborhoods. The Associated Press reports the administration has taken the unusual step of interfering in routine state public records requests and criminal trials to prevent information about the technology from getting out. The secrecy surrounds equipment like “Stingray” spy devices, which trick cellphones into transmitting a user’s location and identifying information to police.
The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been ordered to pay more than $6 million for the wrongful killing of a mentally ill resident in 2011. In a ruling this week, a district court judge found police were not acting in self-defense when they punched and shot Christopher Torres in his backyard. Torres, who had schizophrenia, was being served with an arrest warrant for aggravated assault. But the court said police failed to present the warrant, sparking a confrontation that led to Torres being shot dead. A recent Justice Department report found a pattern of excessive force in some 25 killings by Albuquerque police since 2010.
The Albuquerque police have also released new video from the scene of their fatal shooting of James Boyd, a homeless man with schizophrenia who was camping when police approached him in March. Earlier police footage showed Boyd apparently agreeing to surrender and turning away to pick up his belongings before officers fire a flashbang grenade, release a dog on him and open fire. In footage released Wednesday, Boyd can be heard saying he is afraid to descend because officers might shoot him; one reassures him they won’t. The police say they were unable to recover any footage from Officer Keith Sandy, the officer who reportedly fired at Boyd first.
In Berks County, Pennsylvania, a mother of seven has died in a jail cell while serving a two-day sentence over fees related to her children’s absence from school. Eileen DiNino, age 55, was jailed after failing to pay $2,000 in fines and court costs. The AP reports her file included a “laundry list of court fees for one case alone,” including charges like “postage.” Police say DiNino’s death was not suspicious, but the cause remains unknown. According to the Reading Eagle newspaper, more than 1,600 people have been jailed for truancy fines in Berks County alone since 2000 — two-thirds of them women.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has signed an anti-choice bill that could close up to four of the state’s five abortion clinics, including the sole clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The measure requires abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, a step that is often impossible for abortion providers, who may travel from out of state and often do not admit enough patients each year to meet hospital minimums. Similar measures have shut down more than a third of abortion clinics in Texas, threatened the last abortion clinic in Mississippi and sparked trials which recently ended in Alabama and Wisconsin.
The great actress, civil rights activist, poet Ruby Dee has died at the age of 91. Her career as a performer spanned seven decades, beginning in the 1940s. She blazed new ground as an African-American actress and took on roles with deep political resonance. In perhaps her best-known role, Ruby Dee starred alongside Sidney Poitier in both the Broadway production and 1961 film adaptation of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Along with her late husband, star actor Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee protested the Vietnam War and marched for civil rights alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. She and Davis were both emcees at the 1963 March on Washington and later starred together in Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing.” In 2011, Ruby Dee recited a poem for the late civil rights activist James Boggs at the Brecht Forum in New York.
Ruby Dee: “See, I don’t expect to win a prize for stoic control and dignity at mourning time. Death deserve tantrums. Beating back shocked indignation, kicks in the groin, stones, classified unacceptable, not to be tolerated, not to be wooed, not to be conspired with. Only then can music, dance, movies, plays, rap be about life. Only then can life be cherished and adored.”
Ruby Dee, the great actress and activist, died at home in New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday. She was 91.
The Broadway actress Audra McDonald paid homage to Ruby Dee as she made history this week at the Tony Awards. McDonald won best lead actress for her role as Billie Holiday in the production “Lady Day.” She’s the first actress to win six Tonys and the first to do so in four different categories of performance. She began her acceptance speech by thanking her late parents and concluded by honoring the legacy of other African-American women performers.
Audra McDonald: “I want to thank my mom and my dad up in heaven for disobeying the doctor’s orders and not medicating their hyperactive girl and finding out what she was into instead and pushing her into the theater. Thank you, Mom. … I want to thank all the shoulders of the strong and brave and courageous women that I’m standing on. I’m standing on Lena Horne’s shoulders, I’m standing on Maya Angelou’s shoulders, I’m standing on Diahann Carroll and Ruby Dee and, most of all, Billie Holiday. You deserved so much more than you were given when you were on this planet. This is for you, Billie! Thank you so much!”