After seizing Iraqi cities and towns, al-Qaida-inspired group vows to march on Baghdad
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Islamic militants who seized cities and towns vowed Thursday to march on Baghdad to settle old scores, joined by Saddam Hussein-era loyalists and other disaffected Sunnis capitalizing on the government’s political paralysis over the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability since the U.S. withdrawal.
Trumpeting their victory, the militants also declared they would impose Shariah law in Mosul and other areas they have captured.
In northern Iraq, Kurdish security forces moved to fill the power vacuum -- taking over an air base and other posts abandoned by the military in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk. The move further raised concern the country could end up partitioned into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish zones.
Three planeloads of Americans were being evacuated from a major Iraqi air base in Sunni territory north of Baghdad, U.S. officials said, and Germany urged its citizens to immediately leave parts of Iraq, including Baghdad.
President Barack Obama said Iraq will need more help from the United States, but he did not specify what it would be willing to provide. Senior U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name said Washington is considering whether to conduct drone missions in Iraq.
Iraq violence could throw world oil market out of balance, threaten 4 years of steady prices
NEW YORK (AP) -- The upheaval in Iraq could throw the world’s remarkably stable oil market out of balance, threatening a delicate equilibrium that has kept prices steady for much of the last four years.
Iraqi oil production is at risk because of the outbreak of violence involving militant groups who seized two cities this week and have pledged to march on Baghdad.
For now, the fighting is mostly in Iraq’s north, away from important oil-producing regions in the south. But the turmoil sent the price of Brent crude, the key international benchmark, up 2.8 percent Thursday to $113.02, its biggest gain since August.
More important, it raised questions about Iraq’s ability to continue to rebuild its oil infrastructure and increase production to meet rising global demand.
Global oil markets have been unusually steady since mid-2011. Dramatic changes in oil production around the globe have offset each other instead of wreaking havoc. That has helped keep world oil prices high enough to provide OPEC countries with robust income, but not so high that they scare customers away from buying more oil.
Study: U.S. teens spending less time smoking and drinking, more time texting behind the wheel
NEW YORK (AP) -- American teens are smoking less, drinking less and fighting less. But they’re texting behind the wheel and spending a lot of time on video games and computers, according to the government’s latest study of worrisome behavior.
Generally speaking, the news is good. Most forms of drug use, weapons use and risky sex have been going down since the government started doing the survey every two years in 1991. Teens are wearing bicycle helmets and seat belts more, too.
"Overall, young people have more healthy behaviors than they did 20 years ago," said Dr. Stephanie Zaza, who oversees the study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The results come from a study of 13,000 U.S. high school students last spring. Participation was voluntary and required parental permission, but responses were anonymous.
Highlights of the study, released Thursday:
U.S. officials: Bergdahl
to arrive in Texas Friday from Germany; automatic promotion stalled
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been recovering in Germany after five years as a Taliban captive, is returning to the United States on Friday, but he will not receive the promotion that would have been automatic had he still been held prisoner.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Thursday that Bergdahl had left Germany on board a U.S. military aircraft and was expected to arrive at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, early Friday morning.
A U.S. official, meanwhile, said the promotion list, which would have boosted Bergdahl to staff sergeant, was expected to be released this week and he would not be on it.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press last week that the promotion would no longer be automatic because Bergdahl is now free and any promotion would be based on routine duty requirements, such as proper levels of training and education as well as job performance.
The U.S. official said medical personnel had determined that Bergdahl was ready to move on to the third phase of his reintegration process, which would happen at Brooke. The official was not authorized to provide details about Bergdahl’s promotion by name and spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity.
U.S. pushing local police departments to keep quiet on cell-phone surveillance technology
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods, The Associated Press has learned.
Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment.
Federal involvement in local open records proceedings is unusual. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance and called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified federal surveillance programs.
One well-known type of this surveillance equipment is known as a Stingray, an innovative way for law enforcement to track cellphones used by suspects and gather evidence. The equipment tricks cellphones into identifying some of their owners’ account information, like a unique subscriber number, and transmitting data to police as if it were a phone company’s tower. That allows police to obtain cellphone information without having to ask for help from service providers, such as Verizon or AT&T, and can locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message.
But without more details about how the technology works and under what circumstances it’s used, it’s unclear whether the technology might violate a person’s constitutional rights or whether it’s a good investment of taxpayer dollars.
With fiesta of yellow shirts and puffs of tear gas,
Brazil World Cup begins
SAO PAULO (AP) -- "Tudo bem" -- all good -- as the Brazilians like to say.
With a nationwide wave of excitement but also wafts of tear gas, the country that sees itself as the artful soul of football but is deeply conflicted about spending billions of dollars on hosting its showcase tournament kicked off one of the most troubled World Cups ever. It started Thursday with the home team in an opening match in a stadium that was barely ready on time.
After a funky opening ceremony featuring J-Lo in low-cut sparkling green and dancers dressed as trees, Brazil’s beloved national team, the star-studded Selegco, embarked on the extremely serious business of conquering a sixth world title that could assuage much -- but not all -- the public anger about World Cup spending of $11.5 billion in a nation with tens of millions of poor.
Brazil’s first opponent was Croatia. The all-new Itaquerao stadium, which suffered chronic delays and worker deaths in its construction, was a sea of buttercup yellow, the color of the national team. Brazilian fans were crossing fingers and toes that this crop of stars will deliver not just victory but football as art, the "Jogo bonito" -- the beautiful game -- that was the hallmark of great Brazilian teams of the past.
Rallying support for plan to end fighting, Ukraine says 3 tanks cross from Russia
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine’s president rallied support Thursday for his plan to end fighting in the country’s east in phone calls with the Russian and German leaders, even as he condemned what Ukrainian officials called an incursion of armored vehicles from Russia.
The Ukrainian interior minister said three tanks crossed into Ukraine along with other armored vehicles from Russia and were attacked by military forces fighting pro-Moscow separatists. He did not directly accuse Moscow of sending the tanks, but said it showed Russia had failed to fulfill promises to tighten border controls.
Russia has denied sending troops or weapons to Ukraine, describing Russian citizens who have joined the armed separatists as volunteers. There was no independent confirmation that the tanks had come from Russia.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said if the military incursion was confirmed, it would be a "serious and disturbing escalation of the crisis in eastern Ukraine."
The reported incursion followed statements earlier Thursday by Russia’s foreign minister that the separatists were ready for a cease-fire but that Kiev had to initiate the process.
Ruby Dee’s legacy of activism and acting mourned
NEW YORK (AP) -- For Ruby Dee, acting and activism were not contradictory things. They were inseparable and they were intertwined.
The African-American actress who earned lead roles in movies and on Broadway also spent her entire life fighting against injustice, even emceeing the 1963 March on Washington and protesting apartheid in South Africa.
"We are image makers. Why can’t we image makers become peacemakers, too?" she asked after she and her husband Ossie Davis accepted the Screen Actors Guild Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2000.
That legacy of entertaining and pushing for change -- in addition to her epic love affair with Davis -- made Dee, who died at age 91 in her New Rochelle, New York, home on Wednesday night, a beloved figure in America and beyond. Broadway theaters will dim their lights in her honor Friday night.
As a sign of how influential Dee has been to generations of performers, she was thanked twice from the podium at this Sunday’s Tony Awards -- by six-time winner Audra McDonald and new Tony winner director Kenny Leon.
Amazon launches music streaming for Prime members with Sony, Warner
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Amazon’s newly announced music streaming service is yet another attempt by the company to move beyond e-commerce and infuse itself into the daily lives of Americans with an increasing number of offerings --including grocery delivery and streaming TV.
The announcement comes just days ahead of the expected unveiling of the company’s first smartphone.
Starting Thursday, Amazon.com Inc. will offer more than a million tracks for ad-free streaming and download to Kindle Fire tablets as well as to computers and the Amazon Music app for Apple and Android devices. The service, called Prime Music, is likely to be integrated with an Amazon smartphone expected to be previewed on Wednesday.
People who pay $99 a year for an Amazon Prime membership can listen to tens of thousands of albums from artists including Beyonce, The Lumineers and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for no extra cost. By adding music, Amazon is hoping to hook new customers and retain existing ones on its Prime free-shipping plan, which also allows subscribers to watch streams of movies and TV shows and gives Kindle owners a library of books they can borrow once a month.
But the service has far fewer songs than services like Spotify or Rhapsody, and no deal with top-ranked Universal Music Group. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said the service is not likely to make a big impact on Prime membership. He said Prime members are likely to already use other streaming services so there is not much of a reason to switch to Amazon’s service.
Shelter for migrant children at California naval base could fill up by next week
PORT HUENEME, Calif. (AP) -- Officials expect a temporary shelter on a California military base could fill up next week as Central American children who entered the country illegally are sent there amid a surge in border crossings.
During a tightly controlled tour of the facility Thursday at Naval Base Ventura County, a government official said the number of teens housed at the 42,000-square foot converted warehouse could more than triple to 575 by early next week.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, said he could not confirm the estimate as "the numbers change by the hour."
The shelter is one of three planned for military bases in California, Oklahoma and Texas following a spike in the number of children caught crossing the border, mostly from Central America. More than 47,000 children have been apprehended at the Mexican border since the start of the budget year in October.
At the California shelter, neatly made bunk beds and extra dining tables have been set up for the children. Dirt soccer fields were created for outdoor play, and many are excited to watch World Cup matches on television, a shelter supervisor said.