Stuff YOU Should Know

Conflict in Gaza Escalates

Israelis and Palestinians are two peoples in the Middle East that have been in conflict for many years. On November 14, Israel launched an air attack against Hamas, the Palestinian political party that has ruled Gaza since 2007. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the reason for the air-strike was continuous cross-border violence and rocket fire by militant Palestinian groups. In response, the Hamas have fired back with 300 rockets.

The latest action, called Operation Pillar of Defense by the Israel Defense Forces, has two stated goals – to protect the Israeli people and to disable the terrorist network in Gaza. The Deputy Foreign Minister of Hamas in Palestine insists that Hamas was not the aggressor but that it would defend itself.  Since the United States is an ally of Israel, President Obama stated that Israel has a right to to defend itself, adding that it would be preferable if Israel did not escalate. As of November 18, a total of 102 persons have been killed and 850 wounded, including many civilian women, children and the elderly.

Dig Deeper There are likely to be many updates and attempts at a solution in the upcoming weeks and months. Go back through the history of this conflict and identify key moments, including both times of relative peace and escalated violence.

BP Slapped With Record Fine

The BP oil spill of 2010 was the second largest environmental disaster in history. On April 20, 2010, an explosion took place at the Deepwater Horizon, an off-shore drilling rig. Located in the Gulf of Mexico, the rig had been leased to the oil and gas company BP. The explosion killed eleven workers and released a gush of crude oil into the ocean that lasted three months. When the well was finally capped, experts put the final count at estimated 4.9 million gallons. The spill cause catastrophic damage to wildlife and the industries it supports like fishing, as well as losses in tourism.

A resulting federal court lawsuit wrapped up earlier this month. BP formally plead guilty to 14 counts of criminal activity – 11 counts of misconduct that lead to the deaths of workers on the rig, and three in violations of various acts or treaties. As part of the deal, the oil company will be required to pay penalties and fines totalling almost $4 billion, the largest criminal fine ever against a corporation. In addition to the sentences against the company, the Department of Justice also charged three executives with counts of manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, Clean Water act violations, and withholding information from Congress during their investigation. BP is not done with their legal problems. Several civil cases will begin soon to determine how much money in fines BP will have to pay for environmental damages.

Dig Deeper Investigate some other high-profile environmental court cases. What are the similarities of this case and what was the ultimate outcome? What laws or regulations may have been enacted as a direct of indirect result?

Celebrating Literary Excellence

Each year, the National Book Awards recognize the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Young People’s Literature. The 2012 winners were announced on November 14 at an annual event held in New York City. Louise Erdrich won the award in the fiction category for her novel The Round House. Set on a Native American reservation, the story centers around a thirteen-year-old boy who attempts to investigate an assault on his mother. The nonfiction prize went to Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Flowers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai City. The book follows the residents of a slum located in the shadow of luxury hotels in India. At 88 years old, David Ferry was the oldest winner this year. He earned an award in the poetry category with his collection of poems in Bewilderment. The children’s literature award went to William Alexander for Goblin Secrets, about a boy who escapes a home for stray children to go in search of his bother who has disappeared. Honorary prizes were awarded to New York Times chairman Arthur O. Sultzberger Jr. and novelist, Elmore Leonard.

The Awards, established in 1936, are voted on by separate panels of established writers in their given genre. There are five finalists in each category, who each receive a medal, $1000 and a citation. The winners receive a bronze sculpture and $10,000.

Dig Deeper Look up a complete list of this year’s winners and nominees. Look at last year’s winners as well as those of years past. How many titles have you heard of? Put one book on your personal reading list.

The Fate of the Twinkie

Hostess, the makers of iconic snack cakes such as Twinkie, Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and Sno Balls has closed its doors. The struggling company, which filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and again in January of this year, was unable to survive the financial effects of a recent union strike.  For several months, Hostess has been in dispute with the Teamsters (who represent the delivery workers) and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. The Teamsters finally reached a settlement, agreeing to a new contract with reduced wages and benefits. But the BCTGM would not settle and went on strike.

Hostess blames the union for being unreasonable in its demands and considers them responsible for the closing of 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers and 570 outlet stores, laying off approximately 18,500 employees right before Christmas. The union blames the company for its troubles, citing mismanagement and corporate greed, with at lease a dozen executives receiving pay hikes up to 80% last year. The company’s biggest creditor is the union’s pension fund and is owed $944.2 million.

Hostess, founded in 1932, also owns Wonder Bread, Merita, and Drake’s Cakes. The next steps will be liquidate its assets and try to find buyers for its most popular and profitable items. The Twinkie alone is said to have brought in $68 million last year. It is likely that Hostess will sell the name and recipe to another snack-maker willing to make the investment.

What Do You Think? Do you think Twinkie has the popularity to survive the loss of Hostess? Follow the story. See what others are saying on both sides of the issue. Whom do you agree with more?