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Syrian President Speaks about Violence; Mubarak Sentenced to Life in Prison

Aired June 4, 2012 - 04:00:00   ET




GROUP: This is Mr. Bechsel`s (ph) study hall (inaudible) class (inaudible). Welcome to CNN Student News.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Off to you, Carl.


CARL AZUZ, HOST, CNN STUDENT NEWS: And we are off and running. A big thanks to Mr. Bechsel`s (ph) class for helping us kick off our last week of the school year. I am Carl Azuz, as you heard them say. Let`s go ahead and get to some of today`s headlines.

First up, Syria`s president says his government is the target of an international conspiracy. And many world leaders have accused Syrian government forces of carrying out a massacre against civilians recently.


AZUZ (voice-over): But in a speech yesterday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his government`s forces had nothing to do with it. He said, quote, "Even monsters do not do what we saw." Al-Assad blamed the violence on terrorists.


AZUZ: From the crisis in Syria, we`re heading to a country that went through a political revolution last year. We`re talking about Egypt. For nearly 30 years, that country was run by a man named Hosni Mubarak. The protest and an uprising forced Mubarak out of power. He was put on trial for ordering the killing of protesters during that revolution. He said he didn`t violate any laws.


AZUZ (voice-over): Mubarak, who`s wearing sunglasses here, was found guilty. Over the weekend, he and one of his former officials were sentenced to life in prison. That decision led to new protests. Some people were angry that Mubarak wasn`t given the death penalty. Others were upset that six other former officials were cleared of the same charges. Mubarak`s lawyer said he`s planning to appeal the verdict.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today`s Shoutout goes out to Mr. Runion`s social studies classes at Nome-Beltz Jr.-Sr. High School in Nome, Alaska.

What part of the U.S. government collects and releases the national unemployment rate? Here we go. Is it the Commerce Department, Treasury Department, Labor Department or Interior Department? You`ve got three seconds, go.

Unemployment information is collected by a division of the Labor Department. That`s your answer, and that`s your Shoutout.


AZUZ: The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the Labor Department, releases that unemployment information every month. Last Friday, the agency put out the new numbers for May, and most analysts agree the news is not good.


AZUZ (voice-over): The national unemployment rate went up from 8.1 percent in April to 8.2 percent in May. That is the first time that this rate has increased since last June, and the economy added jobs, but only 69,000 of them last month, when economists had predicted that the number would be closer to 150,000.

The news hit Wall Street hard. After the unemployment rate came out, the stock market took a dive. Any gains that had been made so far this year were all wiped out on Friday.


AZUZ: All right. Now when you hear us talk about something like the unemployment rate, this 8.2 percent figure, you might be wondering how the government comes up with these numbers. Tom Foreman is going to break it down for us right now.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like an economic heartbeat, the unemployment rate is one of the most closely watched indicators of the country`s financial health. So how exactly is it calculated?

Out of the more than 300 million people in America, when you take out the children, retired folks and others, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says about half of us have jobs, and another 13 million or so are unemployed.

That number does not come from the number of unemployment checks being issued, as many people imagine. Instead, every month since 1940, the federal government has conducted a survey of 50,000 to 60,000 households, asking people about their income, their race, their education and what kind of jobs they do or do not hold. Everyone over 16 is classified in one of three ways: employed, meaning that person has a job; unemployed, meaning he or she is available for work and looking for a job but cannot find one; or, three, out of the workforce, meaning this person is not seeking work. The Feds then take the math from that sample, apply it to the entire population and, voila, there is the unemployment rate.

But beyond that, critics complain there are basic flaws in this system. For example, if you stop actively seeking work, you`re no longer considered unemployed. That`s a problem, because in a really bad economy, a lot of folks might just give up looking for some period of time, even though they still want jobs. That could artificially lower the unemployment rate even as actual unemployment is as bad or worse than ever.

Another problem for the government, a job is a job is a job is a job. So if somebody loses a $100,000-a-year position and is now flipping burgers for minimum wage, he`s considered just as employed as he was before.


AZUZ: Our next report today is from Cynthia Lee with affiliate KABB in Texas. It`s about a high school graduation and specifically about two words written on the program for that graduation ceremony. The two words can have religious connotations, and one of this year`s graduates, the valedictorian, in fact, is an atheist. He doesn`t follow a religion; he doesn`t believe in God. And he wanted a change.

Not everyone agrees.


CYNTHIA LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stop anywhere in Poteet, and you`ll start hearing the talk of the town: religion taken out of graduation.

ESTER FAZ, POTEET RESIDENT: But they need to stop and remember nothing is given to us without our good Lord.

LEE (voice-over): It`s even on the front page of the local paper.

JEFF JACOBS, BUSINESS OWNER: I`m a Christian. I don`t think it should be taken out. But if that person feels that strongly about it, I think they have that right as an American to act that way.

LAUREN MARTINEZ, STUDENT: For it to be changed on us all of a sudden, I don`t feel like it`s right for anybody.

LEE (voice-over): The issue surrounds Poteet High School valedictorian, Mark Reyes, who is an atheist. Reyes says he`s not trying to be malicious, rather just uphold the Constitution.

MARK REYES, VALEDICTORIAN: We are all very different people and in order for us to survive in unison, we have to have something keeping order and that is the Constitution.

LEE (voice-over): Reyes recently filed a complaint with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, stating that Poteet ISD endorses prayer by having "invocation" and "benediction" within graduation ceremonies.

REYES: I know it`s been tradition, but tradition isn`t always right.

LEE (voice-over): The district has replaced the controversial words with "opening" and "closing remarks" to comply with the law. However, students giving speeches are legally allowed to make religious references.

ANDY CASTILLO, POTEET ISD SUPERINTENDENT: As times evolve, I think that we need to make sure that we are -- we honor those beliefs, we honor their rights with trying to remain true to tradition.

LEE: Superintendent Castillo says they are not taking any chances, especially since, he says, a neighboring school district just spent thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight the exact same issue last year --


LEE (voice-over): -- that district being Medina Valley. Officials there just wrapped up a year-long legal process. While Reyes is happy Poteet ISD has complied, he doesn`t want this issue to overshadow graduation day.

REYES: I have no problem if they talk about religion in their speeches or they make a reference to Jesus Christ or Allah. I don`t care. What I really do care about is the separation of church and state.


AZUZ: All right. If you`d like to comment on this story, we have the place for you to do it. We`re discussing it on our blog at We look forward to what you have to say, but there`s one rule we want you to follow on the blog: it`s first names only, please.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See if you can ID me. I was born in London in 1926. I`m head of state, but I don`t run my country`s government. Most people know me by my royal title, which I`ve had since I was 25 years old.

I`m Queen Elizabeth II, and I`ve been on the throne for 60 years.


AZUZ (voice-over): The United Kingdom is celebrating those 60 years with Queen Elizabeth`s Diamond Jubilee. The big part of that was yesterday`s pageant on the River Thames. Thousands of people came out to see the royal barge, as it carried members of the royal family down the river.

Other than Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne longer than any British monarch.


AZUZ: And finally today, if over the years you think you`ve come up with some pretty good excuses for missing school, listen to this one.


TYLER SULLIVAN, 11-YEAR-OLD STUDENT: Really? He`s going to really write me an excuse note?

Mr. Ackerman, please excuse Tyler. He was with me. Barack Obama.

And then I kind of want to brag at school and tell them, look at what I got.

AZUZ (voice-over): Well, whatever you think, that is one serious excuse, an executive excuse. Tyler Sullivan was absent last Friday because he went with his dad to see President Obama. Tyler actually met him, and that`s when the president realized Tyler was missing school to do it. So he grabbed an official White House pad, wrote out the absent note. Getting an official excuse from the president is one thing.


AZUZ: The big question that remains is whether Tyler`s teacher accepts it today.

Well, it`s time for us to excuse ourselves. We`re going to be absent for the next 23 hours and 50 minutes, but we will be back for more CNN Student News tomorrow. Hope to see you then.