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Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman Acquitted, Solving Little

George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter this weekend, as the jury ruled that he had acted within the requirements of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law when he shot unarmed Trayvon Martin. The prosecution was hindered by a spotty investigation by the police, unprepared witnesses and the burden of proving “ill will” in the second-degree murder charge. The case has caused widespread outrage, highlighting the racial inequity in convictions and the justice system as a whole. 

Media reports have emphasized the difficulty of overcoming self-defense claims. It should be noted, however, that when the races are reversed, self-defense is a far less insurmountable obstacle for the prosecution. As one protester said, speaking for African Americans across the country, “We are angry, scared and anxious.”

Thousands turned out nationwide to demand justice for Martin and activists have called on the Department of Justice to investigate the shooting as a civil rights case. While the federal government is considering pressing criminal civil rights charges, it would have to prove the shooting was unjustified and happened explicitly because Martin was black.

Islamist Leader Convicted of War Crimes in Bangladesh

The International Crimes Tribunal sentenced Ghulam Azam, spiritual head of Bangladesh’s Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami Party, to 90 years in prison for his role in Bangladesh’s war of independence with Pakistan. He was found guilty of 61 counts of crimes against humanity, including conspiracy, incitement, planning, abetment and failure to prevent killing.

Jamaat-e-Islami had sided with Pakistan, and Ghulam Azam played a role in setting up the militias who committed many of the 1971 war’s atrocities. Specifically, he has been described as the “mastermind” of the massacres of intellectuals that happened when it became clear Pakistan would lose the war.

Members of the Jamaat-e-Islami party (currently the democratic opposition party) took to the streets after the verdict was read, inciting deadly protests and clashes with the police.

Reid Moves to End Filibuster

During a speech at the Center for American Progress, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada said that Democratic Senators had rounded up the 51 votes needed to override the filibuster for executive branch nominations – without Vice President Joe Biden casting the tie-breaking vote. Under this so-called ‘nuclear option,’ the majority leader can put restrictions on the minority party’s ability to filibuster presidential nominees through a simple majority vote. Usually 67 votes are required to change Senate rules.

The announcement came after a week of failed negotiations and exasperation over Republican attempts to slow down the confirmation process for President Obama’s nominees, by introducing irrelevant amendments. Reid announced that there was only one way for Republican Senators to prevent the rule change – agree to a straight up-or-down vote on each of Obama’s seven nominees. The entire Senate is scheduled to cloister at 6pm on Monday.

Clashes With Two Separate Rebel Groups in Congo

At least 60,000 refugees from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have arrived in neighboring Uganda. The sudden refugee crisis is due to a surprise rebel attack by the Ugandan rebel group the Allied Democratic Forces on Kamango town, which left many dead. In the three days since, refugees have been streaming across the border, sheltering in schools and makeshift shelters in Uganda’s Bundibugyo district.

Today, the Congolese army announced that it had killed 120 of the M23 rebels, a separate group made up of Rwandan Tutsis and alleged to be supported by the Rwandan army. Fighting broke out when reinforcements arrived for the M23 and they launched an attack on government forces. Rwanda is accused of funding the M23 rebels after the Rwandan genocide to chase down the genocidaires (mostly Hutus) who had fled across the border into the DRC.

Researchers Sequence Genomes of 201 Microbes

While microbes thrive in almost every environment on Earth, from polar ice to the driest parts of the desert, little is known about them, as they are notoriously difficult to keep alive in a lab. A new genetic technology now allows scientists to sequence their genetic code without cultivating them in a lab.

The DNA of some of the 201 microbes is so different that a full 29 new branches need to be added to the microbial genetic tree. The findings will also help scientists study the features that allow microbes to live where no other life does and biological evolution on earth.


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