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Associated Press/Photo by Kamran Jebreili

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Pro-baby," Jan. 30, 2010

Soaring & sinking

Never mind a real estate crash and crushing foreign debt. Dubai on Jan. 4 opened the world's tallest building-at 2,717 feet more than twice the height of the Empire State Building, and over 1,000 feet higher than its record-­setting predecessor, Taipei Financial Center. With the world's highest swimming pool and its highest mosque, along with views stretching more than 60 miles, the Burj Khalifa is likely to become a symbol of the Gulf emirate's decadence-and perhaps its last. Last month, neighboring Abu Dhabi gave Dubai $10 billion to stave off financial collapse.

Reservations

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni broke his silence over a looming anti-homosexuality bill that could make some homosexual activity in the African nation punishable by death. Musevini-expressing wariness about the bill gaining international condemnation-told members of the country's ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, that officials from the U.S., U.K., and Canada had all contacted him about one thing: Gays.

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The controversial bill-first introduced by parliament member David Bahati in October-increases the penalties for homosexuality, which is already illegal in Uganda. Bahati's legislation would impose the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," including cases of the offender being HIV-positive or raping a child. Other forms of homosexual conduct would carry a sentence of life in prison.

The New York Times reported that Ugandan officials wrote the legislation after a March conference on homosexuality conducted by three American evangelicals. All three evangelicals oppose homosexuality, but they say they never encouraged such severe penalties for the practice. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who has maintained close ties with relief ministries in Uganda, issued a statement condemning the bill and noting that the legislation could require pastors to report homosexuals to authorities if they seek counseling or help.

By mid-January the bill was scheduled for a February reading in the parliament, leaving international observers anxious to see if the bill might be revised or dropped altogether. - by Jamie Dean

Afghanistan

U.S. forces and CIA operatives continue to seek recovery and retribution from the Dec. 30 terrorist attack that killed seven CIA employees at a base in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. A Jordanian militant the CIA believed to be a double agent, and was recruited by both U.S. and Jordanian intelligence to divulge information on top al-Qaeda leaders (including the location of number-two Ayman al-Zawahiri) turned out to be a triple agent still posting jihadi instructions on al-Qaeda websites. He detonated an explosives belt once inside Forward Operating Base Chapman near Khost, just before he was searched. The killings included five top CIA officers with experience tracking Osama bin Laden that preceded 9/11 and represented the worst single incident against the intelligence agency since a bomb killed eight CIA officers in Beirut in 1983. Officers were so hopeful about the meeting they had informed both the White House and Langley that it was taking place. Instead, the U.S. intelligence community has suffered one of its worst setbacks in the terror war just as it is ramping up counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and in Yemen, where al-Qaeda operations are growing. President Obama will request a record $708 billion in defense spending from Congress next month, including additional funding for Pentagon and CIA operations in Yemen, where Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab received training.

Setting the record straight

Homerun titan Mark McGwire created the news, but in Fargo, N.D., it's Roger Maris everyone is thinking about. Hometown fans of the Yankee slugger, whose 37-year-old single-season record of 61 homers was broken by McGwire in 1998, now wait for the asterisk by Maris' name to be removed. Neither Maris nor McGwire has been admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame, pending McGwire's admitting on Jan. 11 what everyone had known: The Cardinals slugger had used steroids on and off for a decade. McGwire called Maris' widow before he broke the news. "He was apologizing to my mom, and he wanted to apologize to Dad and the kids," Maris' son Kevin told Sports Illustrated.

Taxing Wall Street

The government has received most of its money back from the banks involved in last year's Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), much of it with interest, but that isn't stopping the Obama administration from using TARP as a rationale for a special tax on the nation's largest banks.

Under the plan, the government would apply the tax to banks, insurance companies, and trading houses that have more than $50 billion in assets and received money under TARP. The goal: Raise between $90 billion and $120 billion for Uncle Sam over the next 10 years. The danger, say critics: It will syphon capital from banks just when the economy most needs them to have it. "How you are going to tax banks and expect them to lend more is frankly lunacy," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, told The Wall Street Journal.

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