10 things you need to know today: November 19, 2012

The Week

Obama makes a historic visit to Myanmar, the civilian toll rises in Gaza, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion

Israeli soldiers prepare an artillery emplacement overlooking Gaza on Nov. 19.

Israeli soldiers prepare an artillery emplacement overlooking Gaza on Nov. 19.

1. OBAMA MAKES HISTORIC MYANMAR VISIT
On Monday, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar, aiming to encourage the country, also known as Burma, to continue implementing democratic reforms and shake off the international isolation that came with decades of military rule. Obama met with both President Thein Sein, a former junta member who has presided over reforms since taking office in March 2011, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Obama, who has sent the first U.S. ambassador in 22 years to Myanmar and eased sanctions, said he had come to “extend the hand of friendship,” adding that “the flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished.” The visit comes as part of a three-day Southeast Asia trip aiming to demonstrate Obama’s commitment to the region in a bid to counter China’s rising influence. [New York Times]
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2. ISRAEL’S GAZA ASSAULT TAKES MOUNTING TOLL
Israel’s air strikes continued for a sixth day in the densely populated Gaza Strip on Monday, pushing the civilian toll to 91. After warning that it would step up strikes on the homes of suspected Hamas activists, Israel fired missiles on Sunday that destroyed a two-story house, killing 11 people, mostly women and children. Israel says its campaign is focused on hitting “terror sites” used by Islamist militants who have been firing rockets into Israel, and President Obama has backed Israel’s right to defend itself. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is traveling to neighboring Egypt, which is trying to broker a peace between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza. [Washington Post]
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3. GLOBAL STOCKS LIFTED BY FISCAL CLIFF TALKS
Stock markets rebounded around the world early Monday thanks partly to apparent progress made in talks between President Obama and congressional leaders on avoiding the fiscal cliff. There was a global sell-off last week as investors became increasingly worried that gridlock in Washington would prevent Congress from reaching a deficit reduction deal that would avert $600 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled to hit on Jan. 1, potentially sending the U.S. economy back into recession. But the mood shifted after congressional leaders left a Friday meeting at the White House expressing confidence they could reach an agreement. [Reuters]
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4. PETRAEUS HIRES LAWYER
Former CIA director General David Petraeus has hired a high-powered Washington lawyer, Robert Barnett, to help him map out a future following the exposure of his career-ending extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Barnett is best known for his work negotiating book deals for the nation’s biggest political stars, including President Obama and former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Politico reported that no Petraeus book is in the works, though. Petraeus, who testified Friday before congressional committees on the deadly Sept. 11 Benghazi attack, is under investigation by the CIA, the Justice Department, and Congress. [Reuters]
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5. ACTIVISTS PROTEST KEYSTONE PIPELINE
More than 3,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to urge President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Mitt Romney had vowed to approve construction of the 1,700-mile pipeline, saying it would be a huge job creator, but Obama has dismissed pressure from Republicans to rush the matter, saying the administration needed to take sufficient time to assess the potential for environmental damage and other problems from the pipeline, which would extend from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. [CNN]
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6. SOLDIER FACES CHARGES FOR IRAQ RAMPAGE
A U.S. soldier will face charges Monday for a 2009 shooting spree in Baghdad that killed five fellow U.S. servicemen. The arraignment hearing is a step toward a trial that could result in the death penalty. Sgt. John Russell is accused of five counts of premeditated murder in a case that military leaders said may have been triggered by combat stress. Russell’s lawyer has said his client could face execution “because the Army’s mental health system failed him.” [Reuters]
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7. ROMNEY LATINO SURROGATE REJECTS “GIFTS” CLAIM
One of Mitt Romney’s top Latino campaign surrogates, Carlos Gutierrez, expressed outrage on Sunday over the former GOP presidential candidate’s assertion that minorities voted for President Obama because he gave them “gifts,” such as health-care reform and college-loan interest forgiveness. “I was shocked. And frankly I don’t think that’s why Republicans lost the election,” Gutierrez told CNN. “I think we lost the election because the far right of this party has taken the party to a place that it doesn’t belong.”
[Huffington Post]
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8. WALMART COUNTERS BLACK FRIDAY STRIKE
In a rare move, Walmart has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in a bid to stop a union-backed group from staging protests against the company on Black Friday, the launch of the holiday shopping season and the discount chain’s busiest day of the year. The group, known as OUR Walmart, is planning to demand better pay and benefits for Walmart workers by staging demonstrations online and outside hundreds of Walmart stores. [New York Times]
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9. FINAL TWILIGHT FILM RULES BOX OFFICE
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 steamrolled the competition at the box office, grossing $141 million in its opening weekend. The fifth and final film in the wildly popular vampire franchise easily swept past Skyfall, which last week posted the best debut ever for a James Bond film. (Skyfall hauled in $41.5 million over the weekend). Breaking Dawn — Part 2 boasts the eighth highest-grossing opening ever, and the fourth highest of 2012, but it fell just short of New Moon‘s 2009 record ($143 million) for best Twilight opening weekend. [TV Guide]
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10. BIEBER RULES MUSIC AWARDS
Teen superstar Justin Bieber dominated Sunday night’s American Music Awards, winning favorite pop/rock artist and album awards as well as the ceremony’s top prize, artist of the year. The night’s most flashy performance came from Korean rapper PSY and MC Hammer, who teamed up to perform the South Korean pop star’s viral hit Gangnam Style. Still, the 18-year-old Bieber, who performed solo and with Nicki Minaj, came out the big winner. “I want to say this is for all the haters who thought I was just here for one or two years,” Bieber said. “I feel like I’m going to be here for a very long time.” [Associated Press]

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