Nation & World News

Ferguson Update: Holder Writes Op-Ed; City Calls For Nighttime Calm

By Dana Farrington on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 9:06 pm

Attorney General Eric Holder has made a pledge to Ferguson, Mo., where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer on Aug. 9.

“Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent,” he wrote in an op-ed for the St. Louis Dispatch. He added, “Long after the events of Aug. 9 have receded from the headlines, the Justice Department will continue to stand with this community.”

City leaders in the St. Louis suburb are calling for residents to “stay home at night, allow peace to settle in, and allow for the justice process to take its course.”

Here are a few other noteworthy developments today:

– There has been a shooting in the city of St. Louis, a few miles from Ferguson. A man with a knife was “acting erratically,” and was killed by police after not complying with orders, Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson said. The incident is apparently not connected to the protests, but shortly after the shooting a crowd gathered, chanting, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

– School has been canceled for the rest of the week, but NPR’s Elise Hu reports that Tuesday morning, “150 area teachers took part in some unusual professional development: picking up broken glass, water bottles and tear gas canisters from the street.”

– The Pentagon defended a program that gives local law enforcement agencies surplus military equipment, NPR’s Tom Bowman reports. The program, which dates back to 1988, has come under criticism because of what some have called the military-style police response in Ferguson. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the program has helped in counterdrug and other operations. He also said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has asked for more information on the program, though he has not ordered an official review.

What to watch for Tuesday night into Wednesday:

– Overnight protests and potential violence. Journalists are suiting up in riot gear:

– Attorney general will be in Ferguson.

– The Brown case will go before a grand jury. The Atlantic Wire has an overview of what to expect.

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Gov. Perry Gets Booked At Texas Courthouse After Indictment

By Dana Farrington on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Texas Gov. Rick Perry went to a courthouse to be booked after being indicted by an Austin grand jury on Friday for alleged abuse of power.

As we’ve reported, critics say Perry overstepped his authority by carrying out a threat to veto funding for a public corruption office. He had called on Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to step down after a drunken-driving charge, and said he would deny funding from the public corruption office. And that’s exactly what he did when she refused to resign.

Perry has been defiant all along, and reiterated his innocence in front of the courthouse Tuesday.

“I’m here today because I believe in the rule of law,” he said to a crowd of supporters. He added that what he did was “not only legal, but right.”

“I’m going to fight this injustice with every fiber of my being,” he said. “And we will prevail.”

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Torrential Rain Swamps Phoenix, Strands Drivers

By L. Carol Ritchie on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Monsoonal rainfall caused massive flash flooding in Phoenix on Tuesday, turning roads into raging torrents and stranding residents and drivers.

More than 5 inches of rain has fallen — 2 inches in one hour in some locations. Weather Underground recorded 1 inch in less than 15 minutes.

Rescuers took helicopters to collect residents from rooftops, including one dramatic effort to save two women from a home in Maricopa County, broadcast live by NBC News.

Thirteen miles of Interstate 17 had to close owing to the torrent. A north Phoenix high school had to relocate 12 classrooms when they started flooding, The Associated Press reported.

At one Phoenix intersection, 16 people in 10 cars had to be rescued when rushing water surged over the pavement. One video captured by ABC 15 shows a man on the roof of his inundated car as a firetruck approaches. He leaps to the truck just as the water starts to tip the car.

Some jaw-dropping statistics from Weather.com:

“Parts of northern Maricopa County had already topped 4 inches of rain as of late Tuesday morning. Rock Springs, officially a part of Black Canyon City, reported 5.56 inches of rain.

“Rain fell at the rate of 1.38 inches in 35 minutes near Beardsley on the city’s far northwest side, and 1.75 inches of rain fell in just 45 minutes in the north suburb of Peoria.

“These amounts are greater than the average rainfall for the entire month of August at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (1 inch). Phoenix typically picks up a quarter of its average yearly precipitation in the months of July and August combined.”

Adding to Tuesday’s weather excitement, parts of Arizona and Nevada were submerged by heavy rain.

In the Midwest, severe thunderstorm watches were in effect for parts of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.

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Man With A Knife Fatally Shot By Police In St. Louis, Officials Say

By Dana Farrington on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 8:07 pm

St. Louis Metropolitan Police shot and killed a man about 4 miles from the suburb of Ferguson, where people have been rallying since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer on Aug. 9.

The knife-wielding 23-year-old was “acting erratically,” Police Chief Sam Dotson said in a news conference. He said two officers drew their weapons and “gave verbal commands,” and that the man approached police “in a threatening manner with a knife in an overhand posture.”

Stephanie Lecci of St. Louis Public Radio says this appears to be an “isolated incident,” not connected to the protests in neighboring Ferguson.

Here’s a summary of the events, according to Dotson (and reported by Lecci on All Things Considered):

– Two calls were made: one by a convenience store owner who said a man had stolen items from his store and was then pacing up and down the street with a knife; another by a St. Louis alderwoman who described a man talking to himself, walking in the street, armed.

– Two officers responded to the calls, initially approaching the suspect without drawing their weapons.

– Then the suspect grabbed a knife from his waistband and told the officers, “Shoot me now. Kill me now.” The officers gave verbal warnings and drew their weapons when they saw the knife.

– The man did not comply with orders to drop the weapon and move back. When he came within 3 to 4 feet of one of the officers, both officers fired and killed the suspect.

Dotson defended the officers’ actions, saying they have a right to defend themselves and that 3 to 4 feet is within lethal range.

Lecci says witnesses are still being interviewed by police.

NewsChannel 5 in St. Louis says a crowd had gathered in the area “within an hour of the shooting … chanting ‘Hands up! Don’t shoot!’ ” It also reports:

“Alderman Antonio French told NewsChannel 5 he has talked to the community gathering at the scene and reminded them this isn’t Ferguson, and implored them not to act violently.”

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Ferguson Teachers Use Day Off As Opportunity For A Civics Lesson

By Elise Hu on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 9:06 pm

Chaos and unrest overnight have kept the National Guard in the suburban town of Ferguson, Mo., for a second day, and the local school district has canceled classes for the week. After two nights of violent clashes this week, neighboring Jennings School District is out of class, too.

So this morning, instead of being in the classroom, 150 area teachers took part in some unusual professional development: picking up broken glass, water bottles and tear gas canisters from the street.

“It says ‘Defense Technology’ on it,” says social studies teacher Arthur Vambaketes, showing off a busted canister from his trash bag.

The unrest in this St. Louis-area town straddles two school districts — Ferguson and Jennings. Jennings had already started school last week, but since some of the district’s schools border parts of a hub for nightly street clashes, officials called off classes early Tuesday morning and notified parents with phone calls and text messages.

“Our students have no buses in the district — we walk to school — so as a safety concern, our children come first,” says special education teacher Miya Moore.

Jennings is also a district where a majority of students live below the poverty line. So many Jennings kids rely on free and reduced lunch that, even though classes are canceled, the meals are not.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready.

“Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.”

Around town, young people are expressing themselves. Over the weekend, Jennings District student Leslie Adams, 12, decorated a handmade sign with pink glitter. It reads “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” a reference to Michael Brown, the slain teen whose still-unexplained killing at the hands of police started the unrest.

The nightly police clashes happen around the corner from where Adams and her friends play. “At first I was absolutely, absolutely scared,” she says. “But then, since I was watching the news, I understood that it was history that was going on.”

Social studies teacher Arthur Vambaketes says he’s going to be talking through this still-unfolding civic event with his students.

“I don’t know what the answers are,” he says. “There’s definitely a class issue here, just as much as there is a race issue. There has to be some kind of legislative action taken.”

The calls for action range widely in this community; demands for justice can mean so many things. Some locals want the county prosecutor replaced. Others call for the arrest of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.

For their part, the educators want to provide support during a difficult time.

“We like to tell kids we’re a lifeline. And that’s really the message that we’re giving today. We’re a lifeline. And everyone in this community is a lifeline,” superintendent Anderson says.

This school year is not starting out like the rest — but teachers hope some lasting lessons will come out of it.

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Think Tank Apologizes For ‘Unconscionable’ Tweet To Amnesty

By Dana Farrington on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Amnesty International and a Washington think tank have “kissed and made up” after a tweet posted Monday night from the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Amnesty to “suck it.”

CSIS called the tweet “unconscionable,” saying an intern thought he was using his personal account when he sent the response.

“The views expressed are abhorrent and appropriate action will be taken at CSIS to address the matter internally,” according to a statement on the organization’s website. It added that it was reviewing its “social media processes.”

After this statement and a tweeted apology by CSIS, Amnesty announced “@CSIS and @amnesty have kissed and made up.”

See the series of tweets below:

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3 Of Pope’s Family Members Die In Traffic Accident In Argentina

By Dana Farrington on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Three of Pope Francis’ family members have died in a traffic accident in Argentina. The wife of the pope’s nephew and her two young children were killed, and the pope’s nephew was “seriously injured,” according to Vatican Radio.

Pope Francis said he was “profoundly saddened” by the news and asked that “all those who share in his grief join him in prayer.”

NBC News, citing police in Cordoba, reports that the accident involved a cargo truck and a Chevy Spin. The network adds:

“The Chevy driver — Francis’ 35-year-old nephew, Emanuel Bergoglio — was in intensive care in an induced coma after suffering a variety of injuries including liver trauma and a fractured femur, according to police. Bergoglio’s wife, 36-year-old Carmona Valeria, and their eight-month-old son Jose died at the scene. Bergoglio’s two-year-old, Antonio, later died at the hospital, police added.”

Pope Francis recently traveled to South Korea, and on the flight back to Italy discussed the intervention in Iraq, saying that “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.”

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Brita Recalls Kids’ Water Bottles Over Risk Of Cutting

By Bill Chappell on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Some Brita water bottles made for children pose a possible danger due to lids that can break apart into pieces with sharp edges, says Brita, which has announced a safety recall. The bottles have white lids with fold-up straws and filters that sit inside the bottle.

“Brita has received 35 reports of lids breaking or cracking,” the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports. “No injuries have been reported.”

Despite the lack of injury reports, people who bought the bottles should return them to Brita for a refund, the company says.

Made of colored plastic, the 15-ounce bottles are hard-sided and feature cartoon characters SpongeBob SquarePants, Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, according to the CPSC’s advisory.

Since hitting the market in June of 2013, the bottles have been sold for $13-$19 by many stores, including Walmart and Target, and online at Amazon and other retailers. The bottles were made in Mexico.

The CPSC offers this guidance to those who bought the bottles: “Call Brita at (800) 926-2065 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or go to www.brita.com and click ‘Safety Recall’ for more information.”

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Castro’s Niece Casts Rare ‘No’ Vote In Parliament, Citing Gay Rights

By Bill Chappell on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Cuba’s parliament isn’t big on dissent. Most legislation that makes it to a vote is endorsed unanimously, as a matter of course. But Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro — and the niece of Fidel Castro — is making waves by voting “no” on a workers’ rights bill, saying it didn’t protect people with unconventional gender identities.

It seems that before the December 2013 vote was publicized recently in a Cuban blog, no one could recall anyone voting against a measure in Cuba’s legislature. Some say a dissenting vote has simply never happened in Havana.

“This is the first time, without a doubt,” historian and former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray tells The Associated Press, which says other experts shared that view.

The legislation in question was an update of Cuba’s expansive Labor Code, which notably included explicit protections based on sexual orientation. But Mariela Castro said that because it didn’t also specify protections for people based on their gender identity and HIV status, it was inconsistent with her beliefs.

Castro recently explained her vote to blogger Francisco Rodriguez, whom the AP describes as “a pro-government gay rights activist.” She also told Rodriquez that she sees a wider range of opinions being voiced in parliament (aka the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power).

“There have been advances in the way things are discussed, above all the way things are discussed at the grass-roots level, in workplaces, unions and party groupings,” she said, according to the AP’s translation. “I think we still need to perfect the democratic participation of the representatives within the Assembly.”

Castro has been a noted advocate for gay rights. In addition to her role in the legislature, she’s the director of Cuba’s CENESEX, the National Center for Sex Education.

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Poet Known As The ‘Lioness Of Iran’ Dies At 87

By Davar Ardalan on August 19th, 2014 | Last updated: August 19, 2014 at 5:06 pm

NPR senior producer Davar Ardalan spoke with Simin Behbahani in June 2009 and has this remembrance:

One of Iran’s most vocal and outspoken poets died this morning in Tehran at the age of 87. Known as the “Lioness of Iran,” Simin Behbahani reportedly had been in a coma for more than two weeks.

For millions of Iranians all over the world, Behbahani represented the invincible power of the Iranian psyche. Her words were piercing and fierce, lamenting on the lack of freedom of expression through the ages. For six decades, many Iranians found refuge in her poetry as a way to nurture their hunger for dialogue, peace, human rights and equality.

Farzaneh Milani, who teaches Persian literature and women’s studies at the University of Virginia, has been translating Behbahani’s work for decades. She has said that much of Iran’s history can be studied through Behbahani’s poems, as her words stir the mind and quench the thirst of those who can only whisper their laments away from the public eye. Milani confirmed Behbahani’s passing this morning: “Our dear Simin Khanum [lady], a woman I loved and a poet I admired, died this morning, even though her voice is undying.”

One of the most famous of Behbahani’s poems, “A Cup of Sin,” reflects on the paradox of fear and hope:

“My country, I will build you again, if need be, with bricks made from my life. I will build columns to support your roof, if need be, with my own bones. I will inhale again the perfume of flower favored by your youth. I will wash again the blood off your body with torrents of my tears.” (Milani and Kaveh Safa have been the primary translators of Behbahani’s work.)

Born July 20, 1927, in Tehran, Behbahani was Iran’s nightingale, publishing 19 books of poetry over the course of six decades. Her first book, Setar-e Shekasteh, which translates as Broken Lute, was published in 1951. She was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Although Behbahani had been barred from leaving Iran for the past four years or so, her words continued to permeate and enlighten beyond the borders of her homeland. In March 2011, President Obama recited one of her poems as part of a Persian New Year greeting to the Iranian people:

“I would like to close with a quote from the poet Simin Behbahani — a woman who has been banned from traveling beyond Iran, even though her words have moved the world: ‘Old, I may be, but, given the chance, I will learn. I will begin a second youth alongside my progeny. I will recite the Hadith of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life.’ ”

Behbahani’s death brings stillness to our eternity. I want her to keep singing.


We’ll leave you with a poem Behbahani wrote about turmoil in Iran in 2009.

Stop Throwing My Country To The Wind

If the flames of anger rise any higher in this land Your name on your tombstone will be covered with dirt.

You have become a babbling loudmouth. Your insolent ranting, something to joke about.

The lies you have found, you have woven together. The rope you have crafted, you will find around your neck.

Pride has swollen your head, your faith has grown blind. The elephant that falls will not rise.

Stop this extravagance, this reckless throwing of my country to the wind. The grim-faced rising cloud, will grovel at the swamp’s feet.

Stop this screaming, mayhem, and blood shed. Stop doing what makes God’s creatures mourn with tears.

My curses will not be upon you, as in their fulfillment. My enemies’ afflictions also cause me pain.

You may wish to have me burned , or decide to stone me. But in your hand match or stone will lose their power to harm me.

Simin Behbahani

June 2009

Translated by Kaveh Safa and Farzaneh Milani

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