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Report: More Than 2,100 Gun Deaths in the U.S. Since Newtown Massacre

The number of gun deaths that have taken place in the United States since the December shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, has topped 2,100. The website Slate, along with the Twitter feed @GunDeaths, say they have documented 2,141 deaths in more than two months. That’s equivalent to more than 79 Newtown massacres. Meanwhile, a new analysis by USA Today has found more than 900 people died in mass shootings over the past seven years, most killed by people they knew. But those mass killings accounted for less than 1 percent of all gun-related homicides. Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told the newspaper, "Mass shootings ... are the tragedies that capture the public’s attention. But every day, 33 Americans are being killed, mostly with handguns, and distressingly often by a family member or intimate partner." In the latest violence making headlines, three people died after a shooting sparked a fiery crash in Las Vegas, Nevada, Thursday. Authorities say a Maserati collided with a taxi after the sports car driver was hit by shots fired from another vehicle. Among those killed was the rap artist Kenneth Cherry Jr., known as Kenny Clutch. On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden continued his push for lawmakers to take action on gun control with a speech in Danbury, Connecticut, where he met with families of the Newtown shooting victims.

Joe Biden: "I can imagine how we will be judged as a society if we do nothing. I can imagine that. I can predict that, what will be written of us, 20 and 30 years from now, if we don’t act. When I think about all the courage you’ve shown, it’s not too much to ask the political establishment in this country, the members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, state legislators, governors, to show some political courage, too."

India: 16 Killed in Hyderabad Bomb Blasts

India has suffered its worst bombing in more than a year after a series of blasts killed 16 people in the city of Hyderabad. The bombs were detonated close together in a crowded shopping area. Dozens of people were wounded. Officials there are reportedly probing whether a militant group known as the Indian Mujahideen is behind the attack. The government’s recent execution of an Islamist militant is seen as a possible motive.

Syria: More Than 80 Killed in Damascus Bombings

The Syrian capital of Damascus has seen one of its bloodiest days in nearly two years of fighting between government forces and rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. The death toll from a series of bomb blasts in the city Thursday has risen to at least 83 people, most of them civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60 of the victims died in a blast that apparently targeted the ruling Baath Party headquarters. More than 20 more were killed by three other car bombings in a northern district, most of them soldiers, according to the group. Hundreds of people were injured in the attacks. The United Nations announced Thursday that U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will continue attempting to broker peace in Syria, at least through the end of the year.

U.N. Rejects Haiti Cholera Compensation Claims

The United Nations has refused to pay compensation to victims of cholera in Haiti despite claims it is at fault for an epidemic that claimed nearly 8,000 lives. The cholera outbreak that sickened roughly 620,000 Haitians has been linked to U.N. peacekeepers who responded to Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. But the United Nations says it will not pay hundreds of millions of dollars sought by thousands of victims and family members. U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky made the announcement Thursday.

Martin Nesirky: "In November 2011, a claim for compensation was brought against the United Nations on behalf of victims of the cholera outbreak in Haiti. Today the United Nations advised the claimants’ representatives that the claims are not receivable, pursuant to Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. The secretary-general again expresses his profound sympathy for the terrible suffering caused by the cholera epidemic and calls on partners in Haiti and the international community to work together to ensure better health and a better future for the people of Haiti."

The lead lawyer for the cholera victims, Mario Joseph, responded to that announcement, saying: "It is disgraceful that the U.N. will not even consider compensating the thousands of families who have lost their children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters due to the U.N.’s wrongdoing."

Judge: Defense Lawyers Can Visit 9/11 Prisoners in Top-Secret Gitmo Facility

Lawyers defending five prisoners on trial for orchestrating the 9/11 terror attacks will now be allowed to visit their clients in a top-secret Guantánamo prison compound for the first time, a judge ruled Thursday. The suspects, including accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are jailed in Camp 7, a maximum-security facility reserved for those formerly held in secret CIA prisons overseas. All five of the men were held in such prisons abroad and reportedly tortured before arriving at Guantánamo in 2006. Defense lawyers had asked for permission to stay for two nights in cells next to their clients in order to witness conditions in Camp 7. Judge James Pohl rejected that request but said they can stay for up to 12 hours.

NATO Considers Maintaining Large Force of Afghan Troops

NATO leaders are reportedly considering a plan to continue funding an Afghan security force of 352,000 troops for another four years, reversing a previous plan to reduce Afghan troop levels at the end of 2014. The cost of funding the current number of Afghan security forces is roughly $6.5 billion per year; the bulk of it — $5.7 billion — is provided by the United States. A plan backed by NATO last year would have reduced the number of Afghan security forces by roughly a third, cutting the annual cost down by about $2 billion, at the end of next year. But NATO officials now appear to be wavering on that plan, saying funding at the current troop levels could continue after foreign combat troops leave. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said no decision has been made, but stressed the plan would be economically feasible.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "I feel confident that we will be able to finance Afghan security forces of that size. Right from the outset, we have set the goal to reach a level of 352,000 Afghan security forces, soldiers and police. And the international community has pledged to help financing that, because a security force of that size goes well beyond the financial capacity of the Afghan government."

Winter Storm Blasts Midwest, Moves Toward Northeast

In the United States, a powerful winter storm is moving northeast after blasting much of the country’s mid-section Thursday. Parts of Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas saw more than a foot of snow. Wichita, Kansas, saw its second-highest snowfall on record with more than 14 inches over two days.

NOAA: More Than Half of U.S. Still in Drought

In another sign of climate turmoil, government forecasters say drought is continuing in more than half of the country and is expected to persist or even deepen. More than two-thirds of the United States is currently classified under conditions ranging from abnormally dry to exceptional drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Russia: Balaclava-Wearing Professors Detained in Moscow on Anniversary of Pussy Riot Protest

Russian police detained two university professors who donned balaclavas inside Moscow’s main cathedral Thursday in honor of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot. Video footage shows the women laying flowers on the altar before having their masks yanked off by security. Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Pussy Riot’s protest inside Christ the Saviour Cathedral where they sang a "punk prayer" condemning Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Two members of the group are now serving two-year terms for the protest in remote penal colonies known for their harsh conditions. A third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on appeal. She spoke outside the church about the impact of their protest a year ago.

Yekaterina Samutsevich: "The situation in Russia has changed. First of all, a lot of people learned about this problem. Those people who earlier didn’t pay attention to social problems, problems with the Russian Orthodox Church, problems with Putin and Patriarch Kirill, they learned about these problems, saw the huge amount of information on the Internet and television. They saw the court process, saw how we sat in the 'aquarium' [glass defendants’ cage], saw how much injustice happened. Now many of them are critical of Putin and the state authorities, just because of that, because they see all of this injustice."

Judge in Hacker Jeremy Hammond Case Opts Not to Recuse Herself Despite Alleged Conflict

A judge presiding over the trial of accused hacker Jeremy Hammond has opted not to recuse herself from his case, despite claims she has a conflict of interest. Hammond’s attorneys had filed a motion for Judge Loretta Preska to step down, saying her husband was directly affected by the hack as a client of Stratfor — the private intelligence firm Hammond is accused of targeting. Hammond could face a life term for allegedly turning over millions of Stratfor emails to WikiLeaks. In a statement from solitary confinement this week, Hammond responded to the suicide last month of fellow Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz, who was weeks before a trial date for downloading a trove of articles from the nonprofit JSTOR. Jeremy Hammond wrote: "In a society supposedly based on principles of democracy and due process, Aaron’s efforts to liberate the internet ... make him a hero, not a criminal. ... This sad and angering chapter should serve as a wake up call for all of us to acknowledge the danger inherent in our criminal justice system." Newly obtained documents show how the FBI had closely monitored Aaron Swartz, collecting information from his social media profiles, tracking his blog posts, and at one point seeking to "locate Aaron Swartz, his vehicles, drivers license information and picture."

FAIR: Corporate Media Largely Ignored Historic D.C. Climate Rally

New research says corporate news outlets largely ignored Sunday’s massive climate change rally in Washington, D.C., which organizers had called the largest in U.S. history. Tens of thousands of people rallied against the Keystone XL oil pipeline and in favor of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting says none of the Sunday talk shows that day even mentioned the protest. ABC World News and CBS Evening News each gave it less than 50 words. While The Washington Post covered the protest, The New York Times limited its coverage to a business section story about the political implications of President Obama’s decision on whether to approve the pipeline. FAIR wrote: "When history looks back on how we responded to the climate change crisis, the fact that most of the corporate media missed [the protest’s] importance will be remembered."

4 Indicted for Deadly Salmonella Outbreak Stemming from Peanut Plant

The former owner of a Georgia peanut company and several of his employees have been indicted on felony charges over a salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened more than 700 in 2009. Federal prosecutors say the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly shipped contaminated peanut products around the country, sparking one of the deadliest salmonella outbreaks in U.S. history. Owner Stewart Parnell and three others are accused of misleading customers after lab tests found salmonella in the products. After being informed containers of peanut meal were covered in rat feces and dust, Parnell reportedly wrote: "Clean ‘em all up and ship them."

Study: 1/3 of U.S. Seafood Samples Are Mislabeled

A new study has found one-third of all seafood samples taken across the United States are fraudulently labeled. In some places, roughly half of samples were found to be a different type of fish than customers thought they were buying, according to the group Oceana, which tested more than 1,200 seafood samples. Certain types of fish were more commonly mislabeled than others. Out of 120 samples of red snapper, for example, only seven were labeled correctly. The group found fish species that are considered potentially risky for pregnant women and children because of their high mercury content were being sold to customers who ordered safer types of fish. Report author Kimberly Warner described the findings.

Kimberly Warner: "Some of the most troubling substitutions we found were for species that can really cause health problems. Our prime example was we found escolar substituted for something called white tuna, sold in sushi venues. Eighty-four percent of the white tuna was actually escolar, which is something that can cause acute and serious digestive effects if you eat more than just a couple of ounces."

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