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HeadlinesApril 23, 2012

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George Zimmerman Released from Jail on $150,000 Bail

Apr 23, 2012

George Zimmerman was released early this morning from a Florida county jail on $150,000 bail. Zimmerman is the former neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder in the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman is expected to go into hiding but will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device that will allow authorities to track his movements. On Friday, Zimmerman apologized to Martin’s family during a courtroom appearance.

George Zimmerman: “I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not.”

Soon after Zimmerman spoke on Friday, a Florida judge agreed to let him out on $150,000 bail—far less than than $1 million bail requested by prosecutors. Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda argued for a higher bail.

Bernie de la Rionda: “The court should consider in terms of what he is facing. That is, life in prison. So it’s a felony, a life felony, and that obviously makes it different than what he was before, in terms of when he was out. He wasn’t charged with a crime, in terms of his flight risk. You also have the fact that it is an unarmed 17-year-old boy. I mean, the court has to consider the fact itself. This young man was minding his own business, was not committing a crime.”

Benjamin Crump, the lead attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family, criticized the judge’s decision.

Benjamin Crump: “Zimmerman’s parents only have to put up $15,000 and they get to be with their son. That’s 10 percent of the $150,000 bond. Sybrina and Tracy Martin would give their lives right now to get Trayvon back. And I think that’s what you saw in that courtroom today when Tracy Martin continually wept.”

U.S. to Impose Sanctions for Technology-Aided Human Rights Abuses

Apr 23, 2012

The Washington Post has revealed President Obama will issue an executive order today that will allow U.S. officials to impose sanctions against foreign nationals found to have used new technologies, from cellphone tracking to internet monitoring, to help carry out grave human rights abuses. Obama plans to make the speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. According to the Washington Post, part of the executive order reads: “The same GPS, satellite communications, mobile phone, and internet technology employed by democracy activists across the Middle East and North Africa is being used against them by the regimes in Syria and Iran.”

U.N. Security Council Agrees to Deploy 300 Observers to Syria

Apr 23, 2012

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously adopted a Russia-European resolution that authorizes an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers to Syria for three months to help bolster a fragile week-old ceasefire. The deployment depends on an assessment about compliance with a six-point peace deal mediated by envoy Kofi Annan. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the United States would not support renewal of the mandate after three months if the Syrian government did not abide by the peace deal.

Susan Rice: “If there is not a sustained cessation of violence, full freedom of movement for U.N. personnel and rapid, meaningful progress on other aspects, all other aspects, of the six-point plan, then we must all conclude that this mission has run its course. We will not wait 90 days to pursue measures against the Syrian government if it continues to violate its commitments or obstruct the monitors’ work.”

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin welcomed the resolution and said the apparent pessimism of the United States was “unhelpful.”

Vitaly Churkin: “We know, we are not naive, that still there are powerful forces who are not only questioning the strategy, but who actually would like to see the strategy fail, because they, as we heard today in the big room, they already have other plans which they entertain with regard to the situation in Syria. All this is unhelpful.”

Report: U.S. to Defend Afghanistan Until 2014

Apr 23, 2012

The United States has reportedly agreed to defend Afghanistan militarily for at least a decade after Afghans formally take control of their own security in 2014. On Sunday, Afghanistan and the United States agreed to a draft of a long-awaited Strategic Partnership Agreement. President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have said they hope to sign the agreement before the NATO summit in Chicago next month. In related news, CNN is reporting U.S. troops have fired into Pakistani territory at least four times in the last 10 months in cross-border skirmishes.

Anti-Government Bahraini Protester Dies as Demonstrations Continue

Apr 23, 2012

Formula One held its Grand Prix auto race in Bahrain Sunday amid large pro-democracy protests against the U.S.-backed Bahraini government. Activists said police used tear gas to stop demonstrations in several Shi’ite villages around Manama after the race. A team working for Britain’s Channel 4 Television was arrested, and their driver was reportedly assaulted by police. On Saturday, an activist named Salah Abbas Habib was killed, reportedly after being beaten by police. The Bahraini government has refused to release his body to his family.

Hadi al-Mousawi, Bahraini human rights activist: “They don’t want to hand over the body today, because there would have been two events: Formula One and funeral one. They don’t want the attention of the world diverted, because the turnout will be huge.”

Wal-Mart Faces Bribery Scandal in Mexico

Apr 23, 2012

Wal-Mart is facing a major bribery scandal that could find the company charged with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The New York Times has revealed Wal-Mart executives in Mexico paid out more than $24 million in bribes to obtain permits to build stores in the country, and then corporate executives in the United States attempted to cover up the bribes. According to the Times, current Wal-Mart chief executive Mike Duke and former CEO Lee Scott, who still sits on the company’s board, were among senior executives allegedly aware of the situation. No one from Wal-Mart notified U.S. or Mexican law enforcement officials until the Times began investigating the story.

ALEC’s Charity Status Challenged by Watchdog Group

Apr 23, 2012

The watchdog group, Common Cause, has filed an IRS complaint accusing the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, of masquerading as a public charity. ALEC has come under widespread public scrutiny for its role in pushing controversial measures through state legislatures, including voter ID laws seen as discriminatory toward people of color, as well as the “Stand Your Ground” gun laws. Bob Edgar of Common Cause said: “ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer.”

French Socialist Candidate Beats Sarkozy in First Round Vote

Apr 23, 2012

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has suffered a political setback after narrowly losing France’s first-round presidential election to Socialist candidate François Hollande. The far-right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front placed third with 18 percent of the vote. Hollande said the French vote is a reaction against austerity measures taken by Sarkozy.

François Hollande: “This is a gesture of confidence in the project that I presented to the French to rebuild our country with justice, to perfect finances, to find growth and jobs. I want to reduce debt, to protect our industries, to promote values of the Republic, to prepare the future and transition of energy.”

Sarkozy will now be forced to reach out to supporters of the far-right National Front in an effort to win the general election. Earlier today, he vowed to get tough on immigration and security.

Sudanese War Planes Bomb South Sudan Oil State

Apr 23, 2012

Sudanese war planes have reportedly launched a fresh bombing raid on Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich South Sudan border state of Unity. At least one child was killed. The attack comes as South Sudan’s army completes a pullout of the contested Heglig oil field seized from Sudan’s army on April 10. On Sunday, South Sudan accused Khartoum of air strikes against the departing troops. On Friday, President Obama recorded a videotaped message for the people in Sudan and South Sudan.

President Obama: “The government of Sudan must stop its military actions, including aerial bombardments. It must give aid workers the access they need to save lives, and it must end its support for armed groups inside the South. Likewise, the government of South Sudan must end its support for armed groups inside Sudan, and it must cease its military actions across the border.”

North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act Leads to Death Penalty Commutation

Apr 23, 2012

A North Carolina judge has commuted the death sentence of an African-American man convicted of the 1991 murder of a white teenager after finding that state prosecutors had deliberately excluded blacks from the jury. Marcus Robinson is among 150 death row prisoners in North Carolina challenging their sentences under the state’s Racial Justice Act. The law allows death row inmates to have their sentences reduced to life without parole if a judge determines that racial discrimination played a significant role in their sentencing.

United Nations to Probe Plight of Native Americans

Apr 23, 2012

The United Nations is launching its first-ever investigation into the plight of Native Americans living in the United States. James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, is expected to begin the probe today. In 2010, the United States signed the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

33 Anti-Drone Protesters Arrested Outside Hancock Air Field Base

Apr 23, 2012

Thirty-three activists were arrested Sunday outside Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in New York to protest the use of drones to carry out attacks in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq. Most of the activists were preemptively arrested two blocks from the base.

Study: Sunday Talk Shows Have Conservative, White, Male Skew

Apr 23, 2012

A new study by the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR, has found the television network Sunday morning news shows have a distinct conservative, white and male skew. During a recent eight-month period, 70 percent of partisan-affiliated guests given one-on-one interviews were Republican, 86 percent were male, and 92 percent were white.

Chuck Colson, Nixon’s Hatchet Man, Dies at 80

Apr 23, 2012

Chuck Colson has died at the age of 80. Known as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” Colson served more than seven months in prison for his role in a Watergate-related case. He later became a born-again Christian and pushed for federally funded faith-based programs.

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