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Monday, November 19, 2012

Death Count Swells in Gaza as Conflict Continues

The death toll in Gaza rose to at least 105 today after six days of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said those deaths included 24 children and 10 women. Another 850 people were wounded as Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted 1,350 sites in the Gaza strip with airstrikes in response to the 848 rockets Palestinians launched into Israel, among which 546 have hit, claiming three lives last week, and 302 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The IDF hit a building in Gaza that housed news media outlets, blowing off the leg of one journalist. Israel warned that it stood ready to invade Gaza, but said it would prefer to find a diplomatic solution. A forum of nine Israeli ministers met this evening to discuss a truce plan presented by Egypt, stating that Palestinians must stop firing rockets at civilians. Hamas demanded  the end of the blockade on Gaza and assassinations.

Clumsy Obama Vows to Support Burma’s New Democracy

In the first visit of a sitting American President to Burma, Barack Obama vowed to support the nation’s transition to a more democratic system. He began his day by meeting with Burma’s reformist President Thein Sein, then with the leader of the opposition and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aun San Suu Kyi at her villa, where she was confined for almost two decades. Obama mispronounced her name twice and hailed her as an “icon of democracy” before kissing and embracing her in public, a major faux-pas in Buddhist cultures. At dinner, Obama called the country Myanmar, a nod to the former military junta which renamed it, as a “diplomatic courtesy.” The U.S. will continue to refer officially to the nation as Burma. “I have come to keep my promise and extend the hand of friendship,” Obama said in a speech at the University of Yagon. “The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished — they must be strengthened, they must become a shining north star for all this nation’s people.”

Ceasefire as Colombia Government Begins Peace Talks With Rebels

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced today a unilateral two-month ceasefire as peace talks with the government began in Cuba to seek an end to 50 years of guerrilla war. Meanwhile, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos refused to pause military operations. The talks will be held under strict secrecy, and their outcome will be crucial for the future of the nation, which has suffered from the loss of thousands of lives, massive displacements, and infrastructure damage. Colombia, Latin America’s fourth-largest economy, is now eager to open itself to foreign investment but needs to create a safe environment to attract investors, something that has been complicated by the repeated attacks of the rebels on mining and oil companies recently. The government estimates the guerrilla war cost Colombia one to two percent of economic growth each year.

Hostess, Bakers Union Agree to Mediation

Hostess Brands, the maker of Twinkies and Ho Hos, has agreed to begin mediation with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) after a three-week strike led the company to announce it would file for bankruptcy and lay off 18,000 people in 36 bakeries and 769 depots and stores across the nation. Hostess said it will meet with the union after requesting that 19 senior managers be paid $1.75 million in incentive bonuses, a deal deemed too sweet by U.S. Justice Department Trustee Tracy Hope Davis, who was assigned to the company. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain, of  the Southern District of New York, urged the two parties to avoid a long and expensive public hearing to liquidate the company. “My desire to do this is prompted primarily by the potential loss of over 18,000 jobs as well as my belief that there is a possibility to resolve this matter,” Drain said.

Science Learning Through Hip-Hop in New York City

An unlikely alliance between GZA, of the Wu-Tang Clan, and Christopher Emdin, assistant professor of science education at Columbia University, could open the world of science to African-American and Latino students. Their pilot project, which is due to begin next month, will allow students to rhyme and improvise to learn basic scientific concepts. The best rhymes will then appear on Rap Genius, the hip-hop lyrics site. GZA, who dropped out of school in the 10th grade, met Emdin during a radio show hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, discussing the disparities in science proficiency among different ethnic groups in the U.S. Only four percent of African-American high school seniors were proficient in sciences in 2009, compared with 27 percent of their white peers. Emdin wrote the book Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation.

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