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Chatter: The sequester is coming

It looks like nothing will stop America's automatic budget cuts now, Turkey's prime minister causes a spat with Israel and the US, Wikileaker Bradley Manning maintains he's not a traitor, and Dennis Rodman is Kim Jong Un's "friend for life."
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NEED TO KNOW

Tick tock. There are now just hours to go before the dreaded sequester takes effect in the US, heralding automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in everything from education to defense. Democrats and Republicans each presented their own bill to avoid it; neither passed the Senate; and now most lawmakers aren't even in Washington, having skipped town early for the weekend. Have a great one, guys!

President Barack Obama is due to meet congressional leaders this morning for some eleventh-hour talks. Hopes, it's fair to say, are low. And it's not just the US that's got to worry: the International Monetary Fund says the cuts will likely drag down global growth, too.

"Offensive and wrong," "dark and mendacious" – that's what the US and Israel had to say about Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comparison between Zionism and fascism. Earlier this week, Erdogan told a UN forum that "as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity."

Washington has joined Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in condemning the remark, which comes right as Secretary of State John Kerry makes his way to Ankara. American officials say Kerry will make clear how "dismayed" the US was by Erdogan's comments when he meets him, later today.

Eight South African police officers have been suspended after they were allegedly caught on video dragging a man through the streets tied to the back of a van. The man, a taxi driver from Mozambique, died hours later.

President Jacob Zuma condemned the incident as "horrific." Rights groups say it was just one of many examples of police brutality in South Africa that has, so far, gone unchecked.

WANT TO KNOW

It's life or death for Hugo Chavez. His deputy says the Venezuelan president is "battling for his health, for his life," in some of the most candid comments yet on Chavez's long-running struggle with cancer.

The government has long avoided saying the worst, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if Venezuelans want to avoid thinking it: a recent poll said most people believe their leader will recover from his illness and return to active rule. If that really is the case, they could be in for a nasty surprise.

Whistleblower or traitor? Private First Class Bradley Manning has admitted illegally funneling thousands of classified US documents to Wikileaks, but denies that he did it to help America's enemies.

Manning yesterday pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, which are already substantial enough to earn him 20 years in prison. The most serious accusation, however – aiding the enemy – Manning refutes, maintaining that he  wanted simply to "spark a debate." Military prosecutors must now decide whether or not they believe him; if not, they may still seek to get him convicted of the gravest counts.

In Lebanon, kidnapping is a business and a lucrative one. Abduction for ransom is one of the few forms of economic activity to flourish in there, as the civil war in neighboring Syria cripples the tourism industry and erodes the authority of the state.

GlobalPost meets some of the people turning to Lebanon's new trade.

STRANGE BUT TRUE

Think of the two most unlikely friends you can imagine. Then think of two even less likely friends, times that by "impossible" and add a pinch of "no way," and you'll be somewhere close to the world's weirdest new BFFs: Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un.

Yep, Dennis "The Worm" Rodman and Kim "Outstanding Leader" Jong Un do everything you'd expect good pals to do: hang out, watch basketball, eat sushi, visit the embalmed bodies of Kim's dead father and grandfather... It's just two normal guys, doing normal guy stuff, in the middle of Pyongyang. Rodman, at the close of his "basketball diplomacy" mission to North Korea, even informed Kim that he has "a friend for life" in his slam-dunking, crazy-hat-wearing self.

Friendship, truly, knows no borders. Incidentally, neither does The Worm: he also managed to lose himself a chum this trip, by asking whether he'd see Psy – you know, of South Korea – during his time in the DPRK. Not there, not nowhere after that goof, buddy.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/chatter/chatter-the-sequester-coming