Experiments that claim to ‘cure’ homosexual rams spark anger

SCIENTISTS are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of “gay” sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans.

The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes.

It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the “straightening” procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch.

via The Times (Uk)

Saddam Hussein Executed

Saddam Hussein was hanged before the sun rose in Iraq early Saturday morning, just prior to 6am local time. Convicted in November of crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi’ite villagers from Dujail after a failed assassination bid in 1982, his conviction was upheld by an appeals court which mandated that he be hanged within 30 days.

Many Kurds seem disappointed that Hussein was executed for the Dujail killings, widely viewed as a test case for the larger, and more significant, Anfal genocide trial. That trial, which began in August, was chronicling, often in painful testimonies, the systematic killings of tens of thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons and poison gas. Hussein was scheduled to return to the courtroom Jan. 8. Not surprisingly, there are fears of increased sectarian strife between Sunni’s and Shiites in the wake of the former leader’s execution.

Also executed by hanging were Saddam Hussein’s half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and Iraq’s former chief judge Awad Hamed al-Bander – both of whom were also sentenced to death at the close of the same trial.

via Washington Post, NYTimes, BBC

With the dollar in trouble, the euro is poised to become the world’s favorite currency

Coming on the heels of announcements by Venezuela and Iran that they may ask buyers to pay for oil in euros rather than US dollars comes news that the value of euro notes in circulation is set exceed the value of circulating dollar notes, according to calculations by the Financial Times.

Yesterday, the United Arab Emirates anounced that it was switching 8% of the nation’s foreign exchange reserves from US dollars to Euros. According to the Bank for Internaional Settlements, the share of foreign-exchange deposits held in dollars by OPEC fell to a two-year low of 65% during the second quarter of 2006.

Perhaps more troubling is the announcement by China in November that it would look to diversify its foreign-exchange reserves, the largest in the word at $1trillion (US), away from the US dollar. China holds a large portion of US debt.

In August, Italy announced it was selling off a large portion of its dollar reserves and instead buying British pounds. Recently, the US dollar hit a 14-year low against the pound sterling. Indonesia is also moving towards the euro and away from the dollar.

maybe it’s time to buy some gold bars…

Euro notes cash in to overtake dollar‘ via Financial Times

Israeli settlement plan angers the US (among others)

The United States has criticised Israel’s decision to approve the construction of a new Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

In a rare rebuke of its close ally, the State Department said such a construction would violate the peace plan known as the roadmap.

Israel said 30 houses for former Gaza Strip settlers will be built in the Jordan Valley.

The 2003 roadmap calls for a complete halt to all settlement activity.

The EU condemned the Israeli settlement plan on Wednesday.

Story via BBC News

Report: Iran oil profits could dry up by 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iran is suffering a staggering decline in revenue from its oil exports, and if the trend continues income could disappear by 2015, a National Academy of Sciences analysis found.

Stern’s analysis, which appears in this week’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supports U.S. and European suspicions that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of international understandings.  But, Stern says, there could be merit to Iran’s assertion that it needs nuclear power for civilian purposes “as badly as it claims.”

He said oil production is declining and both gas and oil are being sold domestically at highly subsidized rates.

At the same time, Iran is neglecting to reinvest in its oil production.

peak oil?

Story via CNN.com

NASA working on plans for asteroid that will pass “close” to Earth in 2029

The 40 million ton asteroid named Apophis, the Greek name for the Egyptian god Apep, known as “the Destroyer” will come so close (22,000 miles)  in April 2029 that it will pass under many satellites and may destroy some.

Some scary excerpts from the article:

Astronomers fear that, although 2029 should pass without incident, coming so close to Earth might change Apophis’s 323-day orbit around the sun — during which it crosses the planet’s path twice — creating an even bigger risk in the future. A second close encounter is predicted for 2036.

Since Apophis was discovered Nasa scientists have been drawing up proposals for diverting it or any other asteroid that might present a threat. Nasa estimates that if it hit Earth it would release energy equivalent to the detonation of 880 megatons of TNT.

Story via The Times (UK)

Biden running for president; actively touting his plan for Iraq

Add Biden to your candidate ’08 pool…

Senator Biden NEW YORK (AP) – Democratic Sen. Joe Biden wants you to know he is running for president. Definitely. Unequivocally. Absolutely.

“I’m the only guy who will tell you honestly what I’m doing. The others won’t tell you, but I will,” Biden said, wrapping up a fundraising trip to New York before heading to New Hampshire, his ninth visit in just over a year. He’s also campaigned extensively through other early voting states, spending 17 days in Iowa, nine in South Carolina, and four in Nevada.

Considered one of his party’s most experienced spokesmen on international affairs, Biden will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next month. He plans immediately to convene a series of hearings on the Iraq War – a high visibility platform for him to showcase his expertise. He’s also been actively promoting a detailed plan for peace in Iraq that would divide the country along ethnic lines.

Story via Yahoo!News (AP)

Ethiopia enters Somali conflict

Ethiopia today pressed on with its offensive against Somali Islamists and threatened to seize the Somali capital, Mogadishu. At least two Ethiopian jets fired missiles on retreating Islamist forces, prompting the interim Somali government to claim a partial victory.

Ethiopian warplanes attacked the Mogadishu airport on Monday in a major escalation of fighting between the Ethiopian-backed Somali government and the Islamic Courts movement that in recent months has taken over much of the country. Ethiopia has become increasingly concerned over the Islamist challenge to the interim Somali government, especially after the Union of Islamic Courts issued a call for Muslim fighters around the world to join their “jihad” in Somalia.

The Somali conflict is also being increasingly seen as an Eritrea-Ethiopia proxy war, with Eritrea backing the Union of Islamic Courts and Ethiopia backing the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The Ethiopian air strikes raised concerns that the fighting in Somali could expand into a regional conflict. A new report by the NY-based Council on Foreign Relations, published before the Ethiopian strikes, echoes such sentiments and states that the conflict ‘has the potential to spread across borders into Kenya and Djibouti.’

via Washington Post, NYTimes, the Guardian (UK)

Russia Pressuring Neighbors with Gas prices

Russia is continuing to exert pressure over its neighbors with natural gas prices as it tries to bolster its influence and power in the region. After halting all gas supplies to the Ukraine last year, Russia has been accussed by many in the international community as using energy as a political weapon. Russia insists the new prices simply reflect market rates, and that the former Soviet republics cannot continue to expect subsidized prices.

Gazprom, Russia’s state natural gas monopoly, threatened neighboring Belarus on Monday over its refusal to agree to tough conditions on a price increase, saying its supplies could be at risk on Jan. 1. In exchange for a smaller price increase, Gazprom has proposed taking a major stake in Beltransgaz, the Belarusan transport network whose pipelines handle a significant part of Russia’s exports of gas to the rest of Europe.

On Friday, an hour after Gazprom thereatened to cut off supplies entirely, Georgia agreed to pay $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, almost double the current price. Georgia has until then refused to accept the demands, saying it was being punished for political reasons, and had announced that Azerbaijan would be its main gas supplier for 2007. Russia and Georgia have been in a diplomatic row since Georgia arrested four Russians for espionage in September, to which Russia responded with a blockade on the country, among other measures.

Now, Georgia is in the final stages of negotiations with Azerbaijan for a substantial amount of natural gas as it seeks to hedge against Russia by diversifying its energy suppliers. Azerbaijan, which is rich in oil but still imports gas from Russia, has also threatened to stop importing Russian gas as it accused Moscow of ‘Commerical Blackmail.’
via Washington Post, BBC News, Bloomberg

Iran Defiant in face of sanctions – enrichment to continue

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran has maintained its defiance of UN sanctions over its nuclear programme, declaring it was heading towards enriching uranium on an industrial scale and mulling a reduction of cooperation with the UN atomic watchdog.

The UN Security Council on Saturday imposed its first ever sanctions on Iran over its failure to heed calls to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can be used both to make nuclear fuel or a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, the Iranian parliament held the first session of debate on a bill that would require the government to reduce its cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog in retaliation for the sanctions move.

Story via Yahoo!News

Vietnam, LSD and Reds: US opens 25-year-old files on state secrets

Within those documents lie the most turbulent episodes of the 20th century: the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Vietnam war, the CIA’s unauthorised experiments with LSD and its internal thinking on a raft of investigations into coups and assassinations overseas, and the FBI’s hunt for communist sympathisers on US soil.

Story via The Guardian (UK)

[Ed. Note] For a great selection of declassified government documents, check out the National Security Archive

Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA): Klan member?

Some conservatives (the kind that have a white dunce cap and bedsheet in their closet) are enraged that Representative-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN), a Muslim, wants to take his private oath of office on a Koran and not a Christian bible. Really, who does this guy think he is?
Some background on the swearing-in procedure from the Philadelphia Tribune:

House members are sworn in en masse in the chamber, and no Bible or other religious document is used for the oath. However, several incoming House members use Bibles for their individual swearing-in, which is administered by the House speaker and takes place after the official group oath… According to the Library of Congress, Theodore Roosevelt became the first and only president to take an oath without a Bible in 1901. In 1961, John F. Kennedy took his oath on a Catholic ( Douay) version of the Bible. Several Jewish members of Congress have taken their oath on the Torah. Article VI of the Constitution specifies that “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Rep. Virgil Goode, a member of the GOP (of course), is so upset about this potential use of the Koran by Ellison, that he wrote a letter, which his office accidentally sent to the local chapter of the Sierra Club. After the letter was picked up by the press, Goode responded “I wrote the letter. I think it speaks for itself…” Some excerpts:

The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran

I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

Read the actual letter

via TPMmuckraker