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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. Today 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 tripled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $30 today, Democracy Now! will get $90 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 Turkey, a car bomb has killed at least 28 people and injured more than 60 in the capital Ankara on Wednesday. Twenty of those killed were Turkish military personnel. The Turkish deputy prime minister spoke out.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus: “We believe that both civilians and soldiers lost their lives in the attack. We will continue to give information to the people as the bodies are identified. Sixty-one citizens have been injured and are being treated in various hospitals.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Turkey has blamed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, but a PPK leader says the group was not behind the attack, and does not know who is responsible. Despite the fact that no one has claimed responsibility, Turkish warplanes began bombing northern Iraq within hours after the attack. Turkish authorities say the strikes are targeting PKK camps.
The White House is slated to announce today that President Obama will visit Cuba in the coming weeks. The trip would make President Obama the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly nine decades. This comes amid the normalization of relations between the two countries. Earlier this week, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement to restore regular U.S. commercial flights to Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years. The Obama administration has also approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than 50 years, allowing a company from Alabama to assemble tractors there.
Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to Mexico with a mass in the border city of Juárez, where he spoke out against the “humanitarian crisis” caused by U.S. immigration policies. He spoke near a cross erected in memory of the thousands of people who have died trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pope Francis: “A step, a path filled with terrible injustice, enslavement, kidnappings, extortion. Many of our brothers are the fruits of the business of human trafficking. We cannot deny a humanitarian crisis, which in recent years has seen the migration of millions of people.”
Pope Francis also criticized the role of capitalism in U.S. border policies, saying: “The flow of capital cannot decide the flow and life of people.”
In Texas, U.S. marshals have arrested a man over his federal student loan debt. The federal government has contracted student loan collections to private debt collectors, who have the ability to deploy U.S. marshals. Houston resident Paul Aker says that last Thursday seven armed U.S. marshals arrived at his home, arrested him and placed him in jail over what was initially a $1,500 student loan debt that has been outstanding since 1987. Paul Aker spoke to Fox 26.
Paul Aker: “They took me downtown to the federal court, where they put me in a four-by-four cell for about an hour. And then, an hour later, I was taken before a judge, surrounded by seven marshals.”
Isiah Carey: “For a payment agreement?”
Paul Aker: “For a payment agreement.”
Isiah Carey: “All of that for a payment agreement?”
Paul Aker: “Absolutely, absolutely. It was just totally mind-boggling. I just couldn’t believe that I’m standing before the court, with no rights read to me, no legal representation, and I’m being told that I owe $1,500, and just couldn’t believe it.”
The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed the arrest, saying the agency has been trying to collect the loan for the past three years. Approximately 40 million people in the United States currently have student loan debt.
A Yemeni journalist with the independent Yaman News outlet and the state-run Yemen TV station has been shot to death. Journalist Ahmed al-Shaibani was reporting on the fighting in the city of Taiz. A photographer who was reporting with al-Shaibani says he believes the journalist was purposefully targeted by pro-Houthi rebels. The two were in Taiz to report on a fire in a plastics factory that had been hit by a shell from pro-Houthi fighters. Meanwhile, also in Yemen, a drone strike killed three people in the southern city of Huta on Monday. The attack also badly damaged the offices of public water and telecommunications.
Two Los Angeles police officers have been charged with forcible rape and sexual assault of four women. Prosecutors say the attacks primarily occurred while the two officers, James Christopher Nichols and Luis Gustavo Valenzuela, were on duty. The four women had been arrested by the officers for drug-related crimes. The Los Angeles Police Department has been aware the officers may have been sexually assaulting women for nearly three years. Back in 2013, LAPD detectives sought a warrant to confiscate the men’s computers and phones. The warrant alleged that the officers repeatedly threatened women with jail in order to get them to enter an unmarked car the two drove while on duty. The warrant went on to accuse the two officers of driving the women to a secluded area, where they would demand sex. The Los Angeles Times wrote about these allegations against the two officers in 2013, yet it wasn’t until Tuesday that charges were filed against the two officers.
In New York City, a new report filed by a federal monitor appointed to oversee reforms to the New York City Police Department has found many officers have failed to comply with rules for stopping and questioning people on the street. In more than a quarter of cases, police failed to document their initial reason for stopping someone. Officers rarely documented stops that led to arrests. The monitor found, “Many appear not to understand what is expected of them.” A landmark 2013 ruling found the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional.
In Kentucky, Democratic state Representative Mary Lou Marzian has introduced a bill that would place significant restrictions on men with erectile dysfunction who are seeking treatments such as Viagra. The bill, introduced last week, would require men seeking erectile dysfunction treatments to first have two doctor visits, provide a signed consent letter from a current spouse and make a sworn statement that he will only use the drugs for sex with his current spouse. The bill would also make all unmarried men ineligible for the treatment. Representative Marzian, who is also a nurse, introduced the legislation after Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed a bill requiring women to consult a doctor at least 24 hours before an abortion. Marzian spoke to TV station WDRB.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian: “When we start invading people’s private lives and private medical decision, to me, it’s: What’s next? … In the Kentucky General Assembly, there are at least six or seven anti-choice bills filed to restrict access to women’s reproductive health. … I am appalled that the Kentucky General Assembly, which very few have any medical degrees, feel that it is important that they insert themselves between a woman and her physician.”
The number of hate groups rose considerably across the United States last year. A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found the number of hate groups rose 14 percent last year, bringing the total number of hate groups in the U.S. to nearly 900. The report found the number of Ku Klux Klan groups more than doubled. It also documented 34 anti-Muslim hate groups and 48 anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Report author Mark Potok pointed to the presidential election cycle as one of the primary reasons for a rising number of hate groups across the U.S., saying last year was marked by “hate speech in mainstream politics to an extent that we have not seen in decades. … White supremacist forums are awash with electoral joy, having dubbed Trump their 'Glorious Leader.'”
In Bolivia, six government workers have died of asphyxiation in a suburb of the capital La Paz, after city officials reportedly refused to let them leave a building in advance of a demonstration that ended with the municipal building being set on fire. City workers say they asked to leave before the demonstration arrived, but that the human resources director told them they had to remain inside the building. The demonstration was organized to protest of the conditions of local schools. Organizers say the building was set on fire after protesters dispersed and that infiltrators were to blame for the blaze.
In Libya, thousands took to the streets in the capital Tripoli on Wednesday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The uprising, known as the February 17 Revolution, ended with a 2011 U.S.-led military intervention that helped oust Gaddafi. Libya slid into conflict soon after. The country currently has two competing governments. In January, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he wants to begin taking “decisive military action” against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Libya.
Ahead of the Republican South Carolina primary on Saturday, candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are feuding over a Cruz campaign TV ad that accuses Trump of having been pro-choice in the past. The ad, airing in South Carolina, features a clip from a 1999 Trump interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In the interview, Trump says he is “pro-choice in every respect.” In response, the Trump campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Cruz campaign. Trump has also threatened to sue Cruz for defamation if the campaign continues to air the ad. A recent Bloomberg poll shows Trump with a 19-point lead over Cruz in South Carolina.
In more news from the campaign trail, the biggest labor federation in the United States, the AFL-CIO, says it is withholding an endorsement for an individual candidate, a move that’s being seen as a victory for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The AFL-CIO was expected to announce its endorsement next week, after a vote by the executive council at the annual winter meeting. But in an email, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the executive council will not be voting at the meeting, saying: “I have concluded that there is broad consensus for the AFL-CIO to remain neutral in the presidential primaries for the time being.” The AFL-CIO endorsement is by far the most significant labor endorsement for a presidential candidate. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has won the majority of labor endorsements to date, although National Nurses United has come out endorsing Bernie Sanders.
And in New York City, a protest against Beyoncé’s politically charged Super Bowl performance turned into a pro-Beyoncé, anti-racist demonstration Tuesday after Beyoncé’s supporters vastly outnumbered her opponents. The event outside the NFL headquarters was billed as a protest against “race-baiting” by Beyoncé, whose Super Bowl performance invoked the Black Panthers, Black LIves Matter and Malcolm X. But only about two or three people actually showed up to criticize Beyoncé, while dozens showed up to defend her. This is an exchange between a Beyoncé critic and two supporters.
Beyoncé supporter 1: “So can you go back to when you were telling us the political statement that Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance made?”
Beyoncé critic: “Yeah, it seemed—it came off—it just came across to me that there was a political statement, which—listen, which is fine. Everybody has that. But this is a football game. Let’s just keep it to a sports game.”
Beyoncé supporter 1: “But what was the political statement?”
Beyoncé supporter 2: “Have you seen it since?”
Beyoncé critic: “I’ve seen it on the news a couple of times.”
Beyoncé supporter 1: “You know it’s on YouTube.”
Beyoncé supporter 2: “Have you seen the entire performance?”
Beyoncé critic: “Start to finish? No, I didn’t see it, start to finish.”
Beyoncé supporter 2: “So then you cannot speak as to whether or not it was a political statement.”
Beyoncé critic: “OK, fair enough.”