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Thursday, November 29, 2012

U.N. General Assembly Approves Palestinian Statehood

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) overwhelmingly approved the upgrade of the Palestinians’ status to non-member state, from permanent observer entity, with 138 votes in favor, nine against, and 41 abstentions. Unlike the status of member state, which requires unanimous approval from the U.N. Security Council, non-member status required a simple majority at the UNGA. The new status grants the Palestinian people access to the International Criminal Court (ICC), making it possible for the body to investigate Israel for potential war crimes. Without the backing of the U.S. and Israel, the recognition of a Palestinian state is unlikely to make much of a difference on the ground, but experts argue that it will give the new nation more negotiating powers. The new status applies to all Palestinian territories, including Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, a militant organization rival to the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, and East Jerusalem. While Hamas criticized the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood, led by its leader Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas said it supported it, adding reconciliation talks would occur after the vote.

Leveson Proposes U.K. Regulator, Legislation to Oversee the Press

Lord Justice Leveson, the U.K. judge who led the inquiry into the practices of the press after the phone hacking scandal that caused the demise of 168-year-old newspaper News of the World, presented a report today identifying the ills that plague the industry and recommending ways to fix them. He proposed a mix of legislation and self-regulation, and urged politicians to increase transparency on their dealings with reporters, editors, or lobbyists for media companies. A new independent regulating body with a leadership that should not include members of the press should be in charge of enforcing standards established by the industry itself. Leveson also recommends to create new laws that would “enshrine” free speech much in the same way the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment does. The legislation would also guarantee that the new regulator functions efficiently, and would protect members of the press that adhere to high professional standards. Leveson concluded by saying he will not speak on the matter anymore, leaving it into the hands of politicians, who “must now decide who guards the guardians.” The report split the government into two camps. Prime Minister David Cameron said legislating would endanger the freedom of the press, while Deputy PM Nick Clegg sided with Leveson, arguing state-backed oversight is required.

Egypt Constituent Assembly Rushes Vote on Constitution

Egypt’s constituent assembly began to vote today on a draft for a new constitution. The vote, which has been boycotted by liberal members and opponents of the new regime led by President Mohamed Morsi, was scheduled early as an attempt to end violent protests that began last week in response to a decree that puts Morsi’s decisions beyond judicial oversight until a Constitution is approved. Some of the 234 articles in the draft are cause for concern, according to international observers and human rights organizations. Women are only referred to in the context of the family (as mothers and daughters) and their rights “would no longer be guaranteed,” said Egypt Source, a project of the Atlantic Council think tank. The draft is also riddled with contradictions. While freedom of belief and thought are protected by articles 43 and 45, article 44 prohibits insults to prophets. All three were approved. Article 2, which received unanimous support, establishes Sharia law as the main source for legislation, making this the first Egyptian constitution to adopt a religious doctrine for government. Yet article 219, which has not been voted on yet, establishes Sunni jurisprudence as a basis for the nation’s laws. Opponents have continued to demonstrate, staging a sit-in on Tahrir Square.

Syria: Blocked Airport, Internet Blackout

More fighting near Syria’s capital Damascus between regime loyalists and rebels blocked access to the city’s international airport, forcing airlines to cancel flights. Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and their opponents also blamed each other for an internet blackout and cut telephone lines, the worst communications outage since the civil war began 20 months ago. Renesys, an internet monitoring firm, said internet connectivity shut down at 12:26 p.m. local time, and had not been reestablished 10 hours later. Wired reports that research by SecDev Group, another internet monitoring company, shows disconnections began last week, peaking at over 2,000 on November 22. This is a major blow for rebels, who rely heavily on internet and telephone networks to share information and train each other for combat.

Controversy Over the Age of the Grand Canyon

A new study, published in the journal Science, shows evidence that the Grand Canyon may be as old as 70 million years, and formed before the time dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. Using a dating technique that measures radioactive decay of uranium and thorium atoms into helium atoms, the researchers gave basis to the controversial old-canyon hypothesis. It is more widely thought the Grand Canyon is only 6 million years old, and supporters of the young-canyon hypothesis have already found a series of problems with the highly-publicized study.

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