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Israel Pounds Gaza Strip Amid Fears of a Ground Invasion

Israel is continuing to pound the Gaza Strip with air strikes amidst fears that Israel could soon launch a ground invasion into Gaza. At least 21 Palestinians have died in the most recent round of violence, while three Israelis died on Thursday. Israel said it launched 150 air strikes overnight, while Palestinians fired a dozen rockets into Israel. Among the casualties of Israeli violence was the 11-month-old son of a BBC Arabic journalist. An Associated Press photo showed Jihad Misharawi clutching the wrapped body of his baby, who was killed by an Israeli round that struck his home Wednesday.

U.S. Says Hamas is to Blame for Gaza Violence

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday: "There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel." Speaking later Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the onus was on Hamas to stop the violence.

Mark Toner: "Let me be very clear: The onus here is on Hamas. And, you know, as Jay Carney just said from the White House, it claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, but through its actions, it’s showing — it’s showing a far different agenda."

Israel has also continued to prepare for a potential ground invasion in Gaza by calling up thousands of army reservists. Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visited the Gaza Strip Friday in a show of solidarity amidst fragile hopes he might broker a truce.

BP Agrees to Pay $4.5 Billion for Deepwater Horizon Disaster

BP has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $4.5 billion to the government for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 people and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The payment includes $4 billion related to criminal charges, including $1.2 billion in criminal fines, as well as half-a-billion dollars in payments to securities regulators. Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday the settlement broke two records.

Eric Holder: BP has agreed to plead guilty to all 14 criminal charges, including responsibility for the deaths of 11 people and the events that led to an unprecedented environmental catastrophe. The company has also agreed to pay $4 billion in fines and in penalties. This marks both the largest single criminal fine, more than $1.25 billion, and the largest total criminal resolution, $4 billion dollars, in the history of the United States."

Critics say even the record payments are merely a fraction of BP’s profits and will not be enough to deter future disasters. Public Citizen called the deal "pathetic" and "a slap on the wrist," noting it would not prevent BP from continuing to receive lucrative government contracts and leases. Under the settlement, BP agreed to plead guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect in connection with the deaths of rig workers as well as a separate count for lying to Congress. Separately on Thursday, the government pursued charges against three BP employees for their role in the disaster. The top BP officers who were aboard the drill rig, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, were charged with manslaughter for their alleged negligence after, the government says, they became aware of multiple signs the well was unsafe. BP’s former vice president for exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, David Rainey, was charged with obstruction of Congress and making false statements about how quickly oil was gushing from the well.

Obama Pledges to Aid Storm Recovery During Visit to Hard-Hit New York

President Obama paid a visit to New York City on Thursday to survey the damage after Superstorm Sandy devastated the region two-and-a-half weeks ago. Thousands still remain without power as the storm’s death toll in the United States and Canada has climbed to 128. Speaking in the hard-hit borough of Staten Island, Obama pledged to help with both the short- and long-term recovery.

President Obama: "So there’s a lot of short-term, immediate stuff that has to be dealt with, and we are going to make sure that we stay here as long as people need that immediate help. That’s FEMA’s primary task. And we’ll be coordinating closely with state and local governments to make sure folks are getting the short-term help. But what we’ve also already heard is that there’s going to be some long-term rebuilding that’s required."

Lawmakers Calls for Preservation of Social Benefits Ahead of "Fiscal Cliff" Talks

Top congressional leaders are heading to the White House today to begin talks with President Obama on an agreement to avert the so-called fiscal cliff of tax cuts and spending hikes set to kick in at the end of the year. Obama has vowed to reject any extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as part of the deal, while Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell signaled Thursday he would oppose any attempt to raise taxes. Ahead of the talks, a group of lawmakers led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called for a deficit-reduction plan that would preserve benefits like Social Security. Sanders spoke during the press conference Thursday.

Bernie Sanders: "We’re going to send a loud message to the leadership in the House, in the Senate and President Obama: Do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid, do not cut. I do not often quote Ronald Reagan, but this is what Ronald Reagan said on October 7, 1984, Ronald Reagan, quote: 'Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. Social Security is totally funded by the payroll tax levied on employer and employee. If you reduce the outflow of Social Security, that money would not go into the general fund to reduce the deficit,' end of quote, Ronald Reagan."

Ron Paul Blasts U.S. Policy in Farewell Address

Texas congressmember and former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has given his farewell speech to the House of Representatives. In a more than 45-minute address Wednesday, Paul assessed his own legacy, blasted U.S. policy at home and abroad, and posed a series of questions.

Ron Paul: "Why can’t people understand that war always destroys wealth and liberty? Why is there so little concern for the executive order that gives the president authority to establish a 'kill list,' including American citizens, of those targeted for assassination? Why is patriotism thought to be blind loyalty to the government and the politicians who run it, rather than loyalty to the principles of liberty and support for the people? Real patriotism is a willingness to challenge the government when it’s wrong."

Rep. Ron Paul is retiring at the end of the year.

Report: U.S. Trained, Vetted and Supplied Honduran Unit Accused of Killing Teen

The Associated Press has revealed a unit of Honduran soldiers accused of killing a 15-year-old boy in May were trained, vetted and equipped by the U.S. government. Ebed Yanes was shot dead by soldiers who chased him when he drove through a military checkpoint on his father’s motorcycle. The Associated Press investigation details an alleged attempt by officers to cover up the killing. It turned out the truck used in the chase was supplied by the United States and the unit was vetted by the United States as free of corruption and human rights abuses. On Wednesday, a State Department official told the AP the United States may withhold as much as half of all aid to Honduras for this year out of concern over human rights violations.

Groups Submit Evidence on "Crimes Against Humanity" in Honduras to ICC

Two human rights groups say they have submitted evidence to the International Criminal Court regarding targeted killings and other human rights abuses that have taken place in Honduras since the 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights submitted information about the targeted killings of journalists, union leaders, land activists and human rights lawyers amidst what they say is a climate of rampant political persecution and impunity.

As Talks Open on U.S Role in Afghanistan, Report Finds Afghan Children Traumatized by War

A new report by Reuters has found the war in Afghanistan has had devastating psychological consequences on Afghan civilians, particularly children who have grown up amidst constant violence. One mental health worker at a hospital in Kabul said many children born around the time of the 2001 invasion suffer from nightmares, depression, anxiety and incontinence. The news comes as the United States opened talks Thursday with Afghanistan over its continued role in the country after most foreign troops withdraw in 2014.

Wal-Mart Bribery Probe Expands as Workers Plan Wave of Black Friday Protests

A bribery scandal involving the retail giant Wal-Mart could be widening from Mexico to multiple other countries, the company reported Thursday. The New York Times had previously revealed how Wal-Mart paid Mexican officials millions of dollars in bribes to win construction permits in Mexico. Now the company says it has uncovered enough evidence to merit bribery concerns about its business practices in China, India and Brazil. The news comes as hundreds of Wal-Mart workers walked off the job this week to protest low wages, poor benefits and alleged retaliation from management. Workers have promised a wave of strikes and protests next week culminating in a massive day of action on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

Spain Halts Evictions for Some Homeowners

The Spanish government has approved a two-year suspension of evictions for some of the neediest homeowners who are unable to pay their mortgages amidst an economic crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands lose their homes. Spain’s mortgage crisis was thrown into the spotlight after two recent eviction-related suicides. Spain’s finance minister outlined the terms Thursday. The measures came after a growing mass movement pressured the government to act. But activists said Thursday’s measures still fail to address the issue that Spain’s homeowners remain saddled with debt even after they lose their homes.

Ireland to Clarify Abortion Laws Amid Protests over Woman’s Death

In Ireland, thousands have taken to the streets in protest following the death of a woman who was denied access to abortion. Savita Halappanavar had begged doctors for an abortion after finding out she was already miscarrying her 17-week pregnancy. Doctors refused, reportedly telling her Ireland was "a Catholic country." The 31-year-old died from septic shock after doctors finally removed the fetus once its heartbeat had stopped. Ireland, which has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws, permits abortion if a woman’s life is at risk, but does not specify how severe the threat must be. The Irish government is now vowing to clarify the law. On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore called for the change before parliament.

Eamon Gilmore: "I have said very clearly that we need to bring legal clarity to this issue. We need to ensure that in this country that we do not have a doubt which arises in a hospital in a set of circumstances which puts a mother’s life at risk."


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