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St. Louis Rams draft pick Michael Sam watches pregame festivities before the start of the South Dakota State-Missouri NCAA college football game on Saturday, in Columbia, Mo. Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, was released by the St. Louis Rams Saturday. (AP)

Michael Sam, First Openly Gay NFL Draft, Is Dropped By Rams

Aug 30, 2014

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Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted to an NFL team, has been released by the St. Louis Rams, the team has announced. writes:

"Sam's efforts to become the first openly gay player in NFL history came up just short in a competition against undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks.

"Westbrooks is one of nine defensive linemen to land a roster spot.

"Sam officially hit waivers Saturday at 4 p.m. ET when all NFL teams had to trim their rosters down to the league-mandated 53 players. From there, the other 31 teams will have 24 hours to put in a claim for Sam.

"According to one league source, the Rams would like to bring Sam back to their 10-man practice squad."

Sam, who played defensive end for Missouri in college, was picked 249th out of 256 in the May draft after coming out earlier in the year about his homosexuality.

When the player learned the news, ESPN cameras were rolling as Sam and his boyfriend embraced and kissed, sparking a social media firestorm from some who felt the display was inappropriate.

Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports, a sports news site that's dedicated to LBGT athletes, said in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered in May, that he didn't think that Sam's homosexuality would be a deciding factor, but he also suggested that the groundbreaking nature of the move would make it difficult for the Rams to drop him.

"[Everything's] going to be decided on his ability to help the team win, but I don't think the Rams became the first team ever to draft an openly gay player just to be the first team to cut an openly player," Zeigler told ATC host Melissa Block. "I think that probably somewhere in the back of somebody's head in the Rams organization is the idea that maybe we should find some way to keep him."

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A member of the Lesotho military looks on as he stands guard in front of an armed personnel carrier at the entrance of the army barracks in the capital Maseru on Saturday. Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has accused the army of staging a coup. (Reuters/Landov)

South Africa Condemns Apparent Coup In Lesotho

Aug 30, 2014

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South Africa has condemned an apparent coup in Lesotho, an independent kingdom within its borders where the army appears to have seized power, driving out the prime minister. Lesotho's defense forces, however, have denied a takeover.

Lesotho's military seized two police stations Saturday as gunfire rang out in the capital of the mountainous kingdom. The military justified the move by saying that police planned to arm factions at an upcoming demonstration in the capital, Maseru. An army spokesman denied a coup and said the army had returned to the barracks.

The Associated Press reports:

"Political tensions have been high in the tiny kingdom ... since June when there was a power struggle after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence."

"Early Saturday, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was forced to flee across the South African border to escape the violence."

"By all accounts the actions of the Lesotho defense force bear the hallmarks of a coup d'etat," South African Foreign Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela told reporters.

"We are calling on the commander of the armed forces to return to the barracks and allow the democratically elected government to return to its business," Monyela said.

"The situation in Lesotho is still unfolding. No one has claimed to take over government ... so we are monitoring that ... our interest is to see it resolved through peaceful means," Monyela was quoted by the AP as saying.

The news agency reports: "Thabane told South Africa's eNCA television that the military actions amounted to a coup. He said he did not give permission for the action and that something like this should not be happening in a democratic state. He is going to meet with South African officials, and expects South Africa to help his government restore law and order, he said."

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Smoke rises near a Syrian flag hoisted up a flagpole as a result of the fighting between Syrian rebels and the Syrian Army over the control of Quneitra crossing, on Saturday. The area is where dozens of U.N. peacekeepers had been under siege by Nusra Front fighters. (EPA/Landov)

U.N. Peacekeepers Rescued After Being Trapped By Syrian Militants

Aug 30, 2014

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Dozens of besieged United Nations peacekeepers were safely extracted after being surrounded for days on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

After rebels of the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers on Thursday, they laid siege to two encampments of Filipino peacekeepers totaling more than 70 soldiers.

The rebels demanded the Filipino soldiers, part of the U.N. mission known as UNDOF, surrender their weapons, but the peacekeepers refused.

"There was a firefight but I would like to assure everyone that our troops are safe at the moment," said Ramon Zagala, chief of the Philippines Armed Forces public affairs office. He did not give any more details.

"The U.N. peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering the position," a U.N. statement said. It said there were no reported casualties among the U.N. personnel.

It wasn't immediately clear which U.N. peacekeepers were involved in the firefight with Nusra Front fighters.

The Associated Press reports: "The gunbattle began early Saturday at the Rwihana base some 1.5 miles (2.3 kilometers) from Quneitra, where 40 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded by Nusra fighters who were ordering them to surrender, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Philippines' Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin gave a similar account but did not name the armed group."

The Irish Times quotes an unnamed military official as saying an Irish U.N. peacekeeping battalion, which is tasked with emergency responses, evacuated all the Filipino peacekeepers on Saturday morning.

The U.N. said in a statement that that the Fijian peacekeepers are, according to reliable sources, "safe and in good health."

UNDOF, with peacekeepers from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines, has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974 in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Reuters says.

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A miner after he was rescued at the El Comal gold and silver mine in Bonanza, Nicaragua, on Friday. A total of 26 were trapped after a collapse on Thursday. (AP)

Nicaraguan Miners Trapped After Collapse

Aug 30, 2014

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Rescue workers in Nicaragua were trying to reach four trapped miners in the gold and silver mine in the country's south-central city of Bonanza, after 22 others were freed.

The Associated Press quotes the country's first lady Rosario Murillo as saying 20 of the miners were rescued on Friday, in addition to two others who escaped a collapse on Thursday.

The AP says:

"Hundreds of relatives and fellow miners had gathered to pray outside the mine as rescuers lined up several ladders along a 200-foot long tunnel leading toward where the men were trapped. The mine cuts into the side of a mountain and then goes upward.

"Commander Javier Amaya of the rescue team said the rescue plan involved groups 'of five or 10 miners entering the mine on wooden ladders, tying themselves off and going in until they reach them.'"

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks to the media and supporters after he was booked on August 19 in Austin. Perry is charged with abuse of office and coercing a public official. (AP)

Rick Perry's Legal Trouble: The Line Between Influence And Coercion

Aug 30, 2014 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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The day he was booked, Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave a big smile for his mug shot — which was then printed up on t-shirts to demonstrate just what a farce he thought the indictment was. In a press conference, the scorn dripped from Perry's voice as he took up the sword — defender, not of himself, but of the state's constitution.

"We don't settle political differences with indictments in this country," he said. "It is outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state's constitution."

Perry has been pushing back hard against allegations he misused the power of his office. Texas's longest serving governor is indicted on charges he tried to coerce the Austin district attorney into resigning by threatening to veto part of her office's funding if she didn't.

Perry has fired up his base, but like it or not his future will be decided not in the court of public opinion but inside the Texas legal system. So after the initial week-long artillery volley, Tony Buzbee, Perry's lead lawyer, is taking a softer tone.

"I think we're taking it seriously, and we're going to defend it in court," Buzbee says. "We're going to be careful about not attempting to try the case in the press. But I think it raises very serious constitutional issues; it raises issues with regard to the constitutional right of the governor to veto legislation."

The case revolves around Perry's attempt to oust Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she had an embarrassing drunk-driving conviction. At the time, Lehmberg's Public Integrity Unit was in the middle of a corruption investigation involving a state agency near to Perry's heart.

The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas hands out billions of dollars in state grants to recruit cancer research and biotech companies to Texas. But the agency was accused of dolling out grants to companies whose owners were better known for giving campaign contributions to Perry and Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott.

That's why, when Perry said he'd veto the Public Integrity Unit's budget if Lehmberg didn't resign immediately, it raised a few eyebrows. After all, the governor would have picked her replacement.

As it played out, Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry vetoed her budget, and those actions brought the indictment — coercion of a public official.

But the governor's lawyer argues it doesn't matter what Perry threatened or when he threatened it. If he wants to veto the PIU's budget, he's allowed: It's an appropriation, and he's the governor.

"To suggest that if he says something before the veto vs. after it, that that's coercion, is criminalizing something that the governor is frankly required to do under the constitution," Buzbee says.

Where do you draw the line between permissible influence and illegal coercion of a public official? Is there one? Retired state district judge John Cruzeot believes there is a line and that Perry may have crossed it when he both made his veto threats to Lehmberg and then carried them out.

"For example, had he never said anything at all about her, about her DWI, and just vetoed that particular legislation for the funds, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation right now," Cruzeot says.

Cruzeot thinks Perry's threat raises the question of coercion, and that a Texas jury should hear the case.

But the case may never even get to trial, says Southern Methodist University criminal law professor Chris Jenks.

"I believe that a Texas court likely wants nothing to do with this case for a variety of reasons," Jenks says. "This case represents separation of powers issues. I do think there are both free speech and a constitutionally over-broad statute."

Earlier this week, lawyers for the governor filed a writ arguing the charges are unconstitutional and asking for them to be dismissed. A judge is expected to rule on that application in the next few weeks.

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