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This week, Democracy Now! is celebrating our 22nd birthday. Since our first show in February 1996, our daily news hour has brought you fearless journalism and hard-hitting news you can trust--all without ads or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. In fact, if everyone reading this gave just $4, it would cover our operating expenses for the whole year. Right now, a generous donor will TRIPLE every donation, meaning your gift today will go three times as far. Pretty amazing, right? Please do your part. Take a moment to give right now for our 22nd birthday.
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Tension appears to be rapidly escalating between Sudan and South Sudan in a conflict over oil profits and territorial disputes. Earlier today, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said Khartoum had “declared war” on his country. Kiir made the comment during a visit to China. On Monday, Sudanese warplanes bombed a market in the capital of South Sudan’s oil-producing Unity State. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ruled out negotiations with South Sudan.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir: “There will be no negotiations with those people. Our talk with them will be through guns and ammunition because this is the only language they understand. They understand nothing except that. We came here to convey the Sudanese people’s thanks, to say thank you for this great victory, and you made Sudan a proud nation.”
Syrian activists say 54 civilians were killed across the country Monday as violence continues despite a U.N.-backed ceasefire and a unanimous vote by the United Nations Security Council over the weekend to send 300 observers to monitor the truce. Meanwhile, on Tuesday three Syrian intelligence officers were reportedly killed in Damascus.
The U.S. Justice Department has reportedly launched a criminal probe of Wal-Mart for allegations of systematic bribery in Mexico. An investigation by the New York Times found that Wal-Mart paid more than $24 million in bribes to win construction permits in Mexico. The company failed to report any of the information to law enforcement at the time. On Monday, David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesperson, responded to the report.
David Tovar: “Many of the alleged activities in the New York Times article are more than six years old. If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for. We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”
On Monday, the value of Wal-Mart’s stock fell 5 percent. In Mexico, legal analyst John Ackerman said the Wal-Mart scandal should encourage the nation’s presidential candidates to strengthen anti-corruption laws.
John Ackerman: “It’s hard for a candidate to take on a particular corporation, but I think the candidates can and should take this example as a reason to, in a broad-based manner, defend Mexican institutions and regulate not only international, but also national corporations. International corporations are not the only ones who pay bribes in Mexico; also national corporations do so, as well. And it’s important to separate the public and the private and really strengthen the regulatory strength of the state.”
President Obama spoke at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Monday and used the speech to announce new sanctions against Syria and Iran for using the internet and social media to target activists. The Obama administration said the sanctions will go after so-called “digital guns for hire.”
President Obama: “I’ve signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran, and those that abet them, for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence. These technologies should not empower — these technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them. And it’s one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come — the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people — and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny.”
In news from Capitol Hill, House lawmakers are expected to vote this week on a cyber-security bill that has faced widespread criticism for violating privacy rights online. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, would allow internet companies to hand over confidential customer records and communications to the National Security Agency and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In a letter on Monday, 18 Democratic House members expressed concerns about the bill’s broad and ambiguous language. They wrote that unless specific limitations were put in place, the bill “would, for the first time, grant non-civilian federal agencies, such as the National Security Agency, unfettered access to information about Americans’ internet activities and allow those agencies to use that information for virtually any purpose.” Nearly 750,000 people have signed an online petition to stop CISPA.
A Manhattan criminal court judge has ruled prosecutors can subpoena the Twitter records of an Occupy Wall Street protester. The judge also ruled the activist, Malcolm Harris, does not have legal standing to challenge a subpoena directed to Twitter. Harris was one of 700 people arrested during an Occupy-related protest on the Brooklyn Bridge in October. Harris’ lawyer, Martin Stolar, said the subpoena violates Harris’ privacy and free association rights.
The Pentagon has announced the formation of a new spy unit called the Defense Clandestine Service to focus on targets like Iran and China. The move is reportedly aimed at expanding the military’s espionage efforts beyond war zones. The Washington Post reports the main force behind the changes is Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. He is best known as one of the architects of the CIA’s program to arm Islamist militants to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s. The moves comes a week after Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn was named the new head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn has extensive experience in Special Operations and counterinsurgency fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a development in the Travon Martin case, the Sanford City Commission has rejected the resignation of embattled police chief Bill Lee. By a three-to-two vote, the commission decided not to accept Lee’s resignation even though it voted last month that it had no confidence in him. The Sanford Police Department has come under intense criticism for failing to arrest George Zimmerman on the night he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Two white brothers accused of beating an African-American teenager while patrolling a Baltimore neighborhood two years ago are seeking to postpone their trial after widespread comparisons between their case and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim, who are both white, have claimed they acted in self-defense when they beat a 15-year-old boy who was walking in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in November 2010. Documents quoted by the New York Times state the brothers pulled up next to the victim in a vehicle, surrounded him, threw him to the ground and hit him in the head with a hand-held radio. According to the victim, the driver yelled, “You don’t belong around here, get outta here!” The teenager was later treated for a broken wrist and a cut on his head. The Werdesheim brothers are facing multiple charges that could result in up to 13 years in prison.
The U.S. Supreme Court has turned away an appeal by Nigerians seeking to hold Chevron accountable for the 1998 murder of protesters in the Niger Delta. The action comes a week after the high court ruled that corporations cannot be sued under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act.
Oil giant Shell is being accused of dramatically underestimating the size of a 2008 oil spill in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. Shell’s official investigation says about 1,600 barrels of oil leaked out over a 72-day period. But a new independent assessment obtained by Amnesty International shows the spill was at least 60 times larger. Amnesty says between 103,000 and 311,000 barrels were spilled.
The newspaper USA Today says two staff members who reported on the Pentagon’s extensive propaganda campaigns have been facing a retaliatory propaganda campaign of their own. The paper says fake web addresses, Twitter and Facebook accounts were set up in the names of editor Ray Locker and reporter Tom Vanden Brook, whose bylines appeared on stories about the military’s so-called information operations program. According to USA Today, the program spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that have largely been found ineffective. Locker called the fake accounts “a clear attempt at intimidation that has failed.” A Pentagon spokesman denied any involvement.
A federal judge has sentenced the pharmaceutical giant Merck to pay a $321 million criminal fine for improperly marketing its Vioxx painkiller a decade ago. The pill was approved in 1999 as a painkiller, but Merck also illegally promoted Vioxx for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis before it was approved for that use. In a related settlement reached in November, Merck agreed to pay more than $600 million to the federal government for a wider range of alleged improprieties. In January, Democracy Now! spoke with Dr. Steven Nissen, one of the nation’s leading cardiologists. His research into Vioxx led to the drug being withdrawn due to fears of increased risk of heart disease and stroke after prolonged use.
Steven Nissen: “Vioxx was made by Merck. And that data was concealed from a manuscript that was published about the drug. We got access to the data through the FDA website, again, through an unusual source; published it; and there then ensued a three-year battle, public battle, that ultimately led to the withdrawal of the drug from the market completely, worldwide, in 2004.”
More than 100 supporters of the disability rights group ADAPT were arrested Monday on Capitol Hill. They were protesting proposed Medicaid cuts that ADAPT claims would force more sick and elderly people into nursing homes.
Chicago police arrested 10 people Monday night calling for the city to keep open several mental health clinics. The arrests occurred outside the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic, which is scheduled to close on April 30.
A referendum on the death penalty has been placed on the November ballot in California after more than 500,000 people signed petitions seeking the ballot measure. If passed, the measure would make California the 18th state in the nation without a death penalty. More than 700 people are on California’s death row.
Supporters of former death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal are planning to protest outside the U.S. Department of Justice today to demand Attorney General Eric Holder open a federal probe into Abu-Jamal’s case. In 1982, the radio journalist was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal has been held for more than 30 years, most of the time on death row. He was transferred to the general prison population earlier this January. Last year the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to choose death rather than a life sentence. Today marks Abu-Jamal’s 58th birthday.