The skies are gray over Johannesburg, this morning.
Still thousands of South Africans and dozens of world leaders have started file into FNB Stadium in Soweto to pay tribute to the late Nelson Mandela.
"There is, of course, much music — some of it mournful and some of it joyful," NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from South Africa. "Either way South Africans are dancing and swaying, with their umbrellas up."
President Obama is one of the world leaders expected to deliver a speech.
Andrew Mlangeni, one of only three surviving co-accused at the Rivonia treason trial that sent Mr Mandela and his anti-apartheid colleagues to prison for 27 years, is also expected to speak.
We'll be live blogging throughout the service, so hit refresh to see the latest.
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians have agreed to a water-sharing pact that would see the construction of a desalination plant on the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea and bring "a long-awaited Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline one step closer to completion," according to Reuters.
The plant would be built on the Jordanian side of the Gulf and the resulting potable water would be shared between Jordan and Israel.
Alexander McPhail, the lead water and sanitation specialist in the World Bank's Water Practice division, tells The Jerusalem Post Monday that in return, "Israel will increase the annual releases of water from Lake Kinneret to Jordan and will also increase its sales of water to the Palestinian Authority."
"'It's like a swap,' McPhail told the Post, regarding the Israeli and Jordan portions of the agreement. 'Israel needs water in the south because they want to settle that part of their country. Jordan needs more water in the North.'"
Israel's Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom said in a statement that the pact includes building a 112-mile pipeline northward from Aqaba to the Dead Sea at an estimated cost of $300 million to $400 million.
"That study examined various plans to halt the shrinking of the Dead Sea, whose restorative powers have attracted visitors since biblical times. The lowest place on Earth has lost a third of its surface area from drought, agricultural diversion and pumping to extract minerals for fertilizers."
"'This is a breakthrough after years of difficulty and struggle,' Shalom said on Army Radio of a pipeline he estimated will take three years to build to the benefit of each side economically and environmentally."
Congress voted to renew a ban on plastic firearms that can skirt airport detectors, but Republican lawmakers blocked efforts to tighten the restrictions.
The Senate approved the measure by a voice vote hours before it would have expired at midnight. The House voted last week to renew the ban.
As The Associated Press reports:
"GOP senators rejected an effort by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain undetachable metal parts. Some plastic guns meet the letter of the current law with a metal piece that can be removed, making them a threat to be slipped past security screeners at schools, airports and elsewhere."
The Christian Science Monitor writes:
"Monday's vote to extend the prohibition on plastic guns for another decade responds to a growing threat from steadily improving 3-D printers that can produce such weapons. But gun control advocates seem sure to lose an effort to impose additional, tougher restrictions on plastic firearms — a harsh reminder of their failure to enact any new federal gun curbs in the year since 20 first-graders and six educators were murdered in Newtown, Conn."
According to the AP:
"The National Rifle Association, which has been instrumental in blocking gun restrictions, expressed no opposition to renewing the law. But the gun lobby said it would fight any expanded requirements, including Schumer's, 'that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights' to bear arms."
Time was when business-suited Santas would spend December roaming the corridors of Congress, bestowing all sorts of goodies upon their elected friends, prospective friends and staffers: baskets of food, bottles of booze, even high-priced tickets to sports events.
That last item is the kind of thing that sent uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison. It also brought the House of Representatives a new set of ethics rules — stern and often complex limits on accepting gifts.
And so every December, the House Ethics Committee sends out its "Holiday Guidance on the Gift Rule," an ethics memo known in Capitol Hill parlance as a pink sheet.
This pink sheet has seven pages of rules ("Generally, Members and supervisors may not accept gifts from their subordinates") and exceptions ("a common-sense exception" for voluntary gifts during the holidays).
Seven pages of rules — and one page with a poem. About congressional ethics rules.
It's the holiday season, so be of good cheer,
For soon there'll be recess and very few here.
So let us remind you, as gifts come your way,
Please check with Ethics so you don't go astray.
Onward the rhymes roll, for 18 more stanzas. "House Rule 25, clause 5 (a)(2)A)/ Defines the term "gift" very broadly, we'd say." And there's this warning:
But if the donor's a lobbyist in the Clerk's database,
Pick up the phone and call us post haste.
For the gift exceptions we've described up above,
May not apply though that gift you love.
It's a far cry from the days when the lobbyist for Samuel Colt — inventor of the Colt revolver — gave presentation guns to lawmakers and occasionally their children.
The poem ends with these two stanzas. In a less predatory lobbying environment than the Hill, they might seem superfluous:
You should feel to say no any time.
If something inside you says to decline,
You should do so, no worries - a gift's not a must.
Feel free to decline it or pay, no worries, no fuss.
In parting we send you our holiday greetings,
As you travel and have those constituent meetings.
Enjoy your holiday because there's no reason
The gift rules should ruin your holiday season.
House Ethics has now set a new standard for the Holiday Guidance pink sheet. Maybe next year in haiku?
Book lovers rejoice! Tis the season to curl up with a good read. If you're in need of some literary inspiration, here's a novel idea: let NPR's Book Concierge guide you through this year's best picks, cover by cover.