Chatter: Palestine is a state, sort of




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Need to know:
The United Nations has, for the first time, recognized Palestine as a state.

It wasn't a tight vote. Nine countries voted against, led by Israel and the US; 138 voted in favor. Forty-one abstained.

There was applause at UN headquarters and parties on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – and some very sour looks from the American and Israeli delegations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the vote "meaningless" but, nonetheless, a violation of the Palestinians' agreements with Israel, while US Ambassador Susan Rice hastened to add that the decision "does not establish that Palestine is a state."

That it does not – but it could give the Palestinians some extra leverage in their efforts to secure one. The main practical significance of yesterday's result is that it opens the door to Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court and potentially, to Israel being put on trial for war crimes. And that certainly wouldn't be "meaningless."

Want to know:
After a marathon overnight session, Egypt's constituent assembly has approved its draft constitution. All 234 articles of it.

The draft contains some historic reforms, including limiting the length of time a president can stay in office (eight years) and introducing some civilian oversight of the military. However, it still defers to Islamic law as the guiding principal of legislation, it outlaws "insults" to Mohammed and other prophets, it allows civilians to be tried in military courts, and it doesn't state that women are equal to men.

It's been met with disappointment by Egypt's liberals, secularists and religious minorities, who complain that the draft only reflects the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. They accuse the assembly of rushing through the draft before they have a chance to challenge its authority to do so, and in the midst of protests over President Mohamed Morsi's new powers that, so he promises, will disappear with a new constitution.

First Morsi, then the public, must say whether they accept the latest draft. As GlobalPost's correspondent in Cairo says, for many Egyptians, it's an impossible choice.

Dull but important:
Lest America forget, the fiscal cliff is looming. The Republicans and Democrats are in deadlock over how to avoid a white-knuckle plunge into recession when Bush-era tax cuts expire and trillion-dollar spending cuts are automatically triggered, in just a few more weeks.

So now is exactly the time that the two parties really ought to be making a deal. Last night, though, the GOP rejected an opening bid from the White House and called it a step backward in the negotiations. (Wait... isn't a step backward exactly what you should take when you're on the edge of a cliff? Oh, never mind.)

It's not entirely surprising: President Barack Obama's proposal was essentially "How about we do it my way?", including increasing taxes by $1.6 trillion, spending $50 billion on infrastructure, and ending the need for congressional approval before raising the federal debt limit.

The White House says it's still confident there can be an agreement by Christmas. "To reach a deal, it has to look like there was a lot of fighting before the deal was reached," said one Democratic congressman. Yep, sure looks that way – now can they just do something already?

Just because:
Nigeria is in the middle of a gold rush
. It's not exactly California in 1849, but it might end the same way: with a precious few enriched, the rest, penniless.

Locals in remote Zamfara State, in the north of Nigeria, have always known about the gold here, but it's only in recent years that prices have been high enough to make it profitable for villagers to dig out what small amounts they can. Now their low-tech mining business is booming – but the federal government, which claims rights to all the country's mineral resources and has already sold many off to private companies, is under pressure to shut down the independent mines and clear the way for big corporations to strike it rich.

What's more, Zamfara's gold is locked in rocks that are infused with poisonous lead. That’s devastated the health of local children, killing hundreds. Their miner parents face an impossible choice: should they risk starving their children today, or expose them to toxins that could cripple or kill them tomorrow? GlobalPost reports from a place where it's hard to tell if gold is a blessing, or a curse.

Strange but true:
Today is the final day of Movember, when a million month-old mustaches will face the razor's chop. (Contribute to GlobalPost's cancer-fighting efforts here).

But while the amateurs are relishing the feel of fresh air on their upper lip once more, men in other parts of the world are doing everything in their power to keep it furry. In Turkey and the Middle East, an increasing number of men have been have been getting mustache implants to thicken and straighten their soup strainers.

The $7,000 procedure involves removing hair follicles from one part of the body and implanting them under the nose, resulting in a noticeably more luxuriant 'tache within six months. If you have to ask why a guy would pay $7,000 for that, you'll never understand (but apparently it's something to do with facial hair signifying age, wisdom and general manhood). Mustachtic.