Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Letting openly gay troops serve won't hurt military

Washington (CNN) -- Allowing openly gay or lesbian troops serve in the military would have little lasting impact on the U.S. armed forces, according to a long-awaited Pentagon review of the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Repealing the policy would have "some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention," the year-long study found, but the effects would not be long-lasting or widespread.

"The general lesson we take from ... transformational experiences in history is that in matters of personnel change within the military, predictions and surveys tend to overestimate negative consequences, and underestimate the U.S. military's ability to adapt and incorporate within it ranks the diversity that is reflective of American society at large," the report concluded.

President Barack Obama used the release of the report to urge the lame-duck Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives and pass a repeal of the Clinton-era law before the end of the year.

This report confirms that "by every measure -- from unit cohesion to recruitment and retention to family readiness -- we can transition to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security," Obama said in a written statement.

"Our troops and their families deserve the certainty that can only come when an act of Congress ends this discriminatory policy once and for all."

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also urged the Senate to act quickly, warning that the military doesn't want change imposed by "judicial fiat." Speaking at the Pentagon, he alluded to a recent string of court opinions calling the legal viability of the current policy into doubt.

A repeal forced by the courts would be the most damaging scenario imaginable, he said. Those who choose not to act legislatively "are rolling the dice" that "change won't be forced by the courts."

Both Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen back a repeal of the law.

There is, however, strong minority opposition to a change, particularly in the Marines and some combat arms specialist units, according to the chairs of the study, Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham.

As many as 40 to 60 percent of troops in those units were against changing the 17-year-old policy that lets gay and lesbian troops serve as long as their sexual orientation is secret.

Overall opposition throughout the military was about 30 percent -- roughly the same as it is in America as a whole, according to recent findings from CNN/Opinion Research Corp. and the Pew Forum.

Johnson told members of Congress on Tuesday that he thought "don't ask, don't tell" could be repealed even while the United States is at war, sources said.

More than nine out of 10 troops said their unit's ability to work with someone they thought was gay or lesbian was very good, good, or neither good nor bad.

The authors of the report say gay and lesbian troops would continue to be discreet about their personal lives, even with a repeal, based on observations of workplaces in civilian society.

"I think a lot of people think there is going to be this big 'outing' and people flaunting their gayness, but they forget that we're in the military," one service member said. "That stuff isn't supposed to be done during duty hours regardless if you're gay or straight."

Another service member said, "I don't feel that this is something I should have to disclose. Straight people don't have to disclose their orientation. I will just just be me. I will bring my family to family events. I will put family pictures on my desk. I am not going to go up to people and say, 'Hi, there, I'm gay.' "

One Special Forces operative -- a part of the military with overall higher resistance to the change -- said, "We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He's big, he's mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay."

The authors said they did hear a large number of religious and morally based objections to homosexuality.

"A large number of military chaplains believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination and that they are required by God to condemn it as such," the report notes.

But the report also points out that different moral values and religious convictions already exist inside the U.S. military and that while chaplains and others won't be required to change their personal views and beliefs, they must respect and serve others.

The report goes into detail over concerns that allowing gays to serve openly would create invasions of privacy and discomfort over sharing bathrooms or living facilities.

"We disagree and recommend against separate facilities," it concludes. "The creation of a third or possibly fourth category of bathroom facilities and living quarters, whether at bases or forward deployed areas, would be a logistical nightmare, expensive and impossible to administer."

"Separate facilities would in our view stigmatize gay and lesbian Service members in a manner reminiscent of 'separate but equal' facilities for blacks prior to the 1960's," the report states.

The report suggests not making gays and lesbians in the military a special class of military personnel, for diversity programs or complaint resolution.

"In a new environment in which gay and lesbian Service members can be open about their sexual orientation, we believe they will be accepted more readily if the military community understands that they are simply being permitted equal footing with everyone else," it says.

The report also says that men and women removed from the military under the current "don't ask" rules should be allowed to return, without the reason for their dismissal being considered as part of their application.

On the issue of benefits, the authors urge more study, including a full review of any policy change in a year. Even with a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," not all benefits would be available to gay service members and their partners because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The authors of the report point to military housing as one area of likely difficulty.

"We do not recommend at this time that military family housing be included in the benefits eligible for this member-designated approach. ... Military housing is a limited resource and complicated to administer and a system of member designation would create occasions for abuse and confusion," the report says.

The recommendations are based on surveys, focus groups and face-to-face meetings at bases around the world and even a carefully controlled effort to communicate anonymously with homosexuals serving in the military.

The Pentagon sent surveys to 400,000 troops and got about 115,000 responses. It sent separate questionnaires to 150,000 military spouses and got 44,000 back.

The Defense Department also set up a website for service members who wanted to comment. That effort elicited 72,000 responses.

And the Pentagon held meetings at 51 U.S. military bases around the world where 24,000 more troops discussed the issue.

Officials preparing the report also went to the service academies to hear from staff, faculty and students.

Social conservative activists, however, were quick to attack the report.

"The surveys did not ask whether respondents support repeal of the current law," said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council. "If most service members say that under a different policy, they would continue to attempt to do their job in a professional manner, that is only what we would expect. This does not mean that a new policy would not undermine the overall effectiveness of the force.

"If even a small percentage of our armed forces would choose not to re-enlist, or part of the public would choose not to serve in the first place, the impact on the military would be catastrophic," he argued.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, echoed Perkins' complaint, saying the authors of the survey "didn't ask the right questions" because it was "all about how you implement the repeal, not should it be repealed."

Graham also criticized the House's decision to pass a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" before the study was concluded.

"We spoke on the middle of a survey, which I think tainted the whole process," he said.

In October, Gates wrote in a letter to Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, that it was not part of the charter of the Pentagon's so-called working group to poll the troops on whether the "don't ask, don't tell" policy should be repealed.

"I do not believe that military policy decisions should -- on this or any other subject -- be subject to referendum of service members," Gates wrote.

His letter to McCain has not been released, but a Pentagon source confirmed the accuracy of the quote.

On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hear directly from Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Friday, it will hear from the top brass of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Outside the military, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of repealing the current law.

A Pew survey released Monday indicated that a majority of Americans say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces.

According to the poll, 58 percent of the public approves of allowing homosexuals to serve openly, with 27 percent saying they are opposed.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted earlier in November indicated that more than seven in 10 Americans said that people who are openly gay or lesbian should be allowed to serve in the military, with 23 percent opposed.

Despite public opinion on the side of repeal supporters, the heads of the four military branches have either directly opposed or been unenthusiastic about the policy change, at least until the Pentagon report was finished and released.

Marine Commandant James Amos has said that he opposes the change while the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan because of its potential negative effect on unit cohesion. He will be joined on the second day of hearings by another Marine, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright.

Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, has said he is on board with Gates in considering the effect of the repeal. But committee members may remind him of something he told them earlier.

"I do have serious concerns about the impact of the repeal of the law on a force that's fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight and a half years," Casey said this year.

Once the Armed Services Committee's hearings are over, the spotlight will turn to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. He will decide how the issue will move forward, whether to keep it part of the Defense Authorization Bill or whether to strip it off for a separate vote.

But the calendar could be the biggest factor weighing on whether the law is repealed or upheld. With just weeks left for this Congress with its significant Democratic majority, the leadership will need to decide whether it has the time, amid other priorities it wants considered, to mire the Senate in debate about "don't ask, don't tell."

A little CONSUMER information you may appreciate

Faster cellphones to bring a wave of new services and charges

If you think cellphone bills are complicated now, just wait.

Within weeks, some of the biggest wireless companies will offer super-fast Internet connections for cellphones that rival the speeds delivered to desktop computers. As competitors follow suit with their own juiced-up networks geared for the Web, consumers can expect a cornucopia of new services - along with new charges.

For now, consumers can buy flat-rate monthly data plans from most carriers. But Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are moving toward tiered pricing packages based on how much data a customer uses. All-you-can-eat plans are no longer available to AT&T's new customers, who must choose from a menu of data services.

"There are a variety of things you can do and a lot is on the table," said Peter Thonis, a spokesman for Verizon Communications. "You could be charged based on useage or by speed difference, or you could do both. There are no definitive answers here."

The Federal Communications Commission is trying to keep up, launching an effort to prevent mystery fees and confusing increases from appearing on cellphone bills. But the wave of changes is only beginning.

Cisco, which provides routers for wireless networks, is working with corporate clients such as Verizon to create even more options for consumers. Users could opt for "turbo charging" streaming video feeds to their smartphone for an extra fee. Just pay a little more for "gold service" compared with "bronze service" for data packages and speeds, said a Cisco official, who wasn't authorized to be identified speaking for the company.

Imagine bundles of television channels such as ESPN and Fox delivered on your iPad or other tablet for a few dollars extra. Add a few more dollars and get parental controls to block R-rated movies and World of Warcraft on your teen's Droid.

Heavy users of Facebook may be able to buy priority service for that application or spend a bit more to keep Twitter's Web site from failing during peak hours.

None of this is offered today, but Cisco says its partners are far along in implementing such new features.

All this, according to consumer groups and analysts, will lead to a labyrinth of fees and charges on cellphone bills that could make an accountant's head spin.

Consumer advocates say confusion is to the advantage of carriers.

"You have a population without true knowledge of how much they are consuming compared to carriers who have true knowledge of demand on their networks, and that assymetry leads to things like bill shock," said Sascha Meinrath, a director of the open technology initiative at the New America Foundation.

The FCC is considering rules that require carriers to text or call users when they approach their voice and data limits. The regulation is aimed at avoiding "bill shock."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that even though carriers say they let users know how many minutes of talking and megabytes of data they use, mystery fees continue to confound consumers. Verizon Wireless recently agreed to pay $25 million in a settlement with the FCC on false data charges for 15 million subscribers. The federal agency estimates about 30 million cellphone users have experienced bill shock from sudden increases.

And Genachowski doubts that most people know how much data is consumed by watching an episode of "Mad Men," a recipe for even more confusion in the new world of ever-more-powerful smartphones and tablets that act like computers.

"Most people still don't know what a megabyte is," Genachowski said in a speech introducing the regulatory proposal. "So it's hard to expect them to know when they have reached their limits."

In a recent survey, the research arm of investment house Sanford C. Bernstein found that consumers were not happy with the idea of usage-based pricing plans.

"They're generally ill-equipped for any estimation of their usage and they are ill-equipped to judge its implications," Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett wrote. "Given the option, the vast majority of respondents would stay with their unlimited plans."

Sprint Nextel was the first to offer mobile broadband services, known as fourth-generation wireless. It is offered in 62 markets and only in unlimited plans, though chief executive Dan Hesse said he is watching competitors with tiered data plans.

The nation's largest carriers say they need to manage traffic with various offerings to prevent congestion. They tout more options for users and say tiered prices are more fair to those who don't use their phones for Internet access as much as others.

For now, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile offer tiers of data packages and flat-rate plans. AT&T's customers can maintain their unlimited voice and data packages until the end of their contracts. Those customers will then have to choose from a menu of data plans.

"What we're trying to do is offer choice, and there will always be those that then say choices are too many. So you're darned if you do and darned if you don't," said John Walls, a spokesman for wireless industry trade group CTIA.

Cecilia Kang
Washington Post

WikiLeaks provides the truth Bush obscured (NO! GWB LIE? How is that possible!!!!)

Richard Cohen

Say what you want about WikiLeaks - and I don't much like what it has done - it nevertheless would be useful for its founder, Julian Assange, to follow George W. Bush as he lopes around the country, promoting his new book, "Decision Points." When, for instance, Bush attempts to justify the Iraq war by saying the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, Assange could reach into his bag of leaked U.S. government cables and cite Saudi King Abdullah's private observation that the war had given Iraq to Iran as a "gift on a golden platter."

Iraq now has a Shiite-dominated government and many senior officials who are ominously friendly with Iran. It was always American policy to use Saddam's Iraq to counterbalance Iran since it was really Iran that posed a danger to the region. That danger is now amply documented in the new WikiLeaks documents - including the revelation that North Korea has sold Iran missiles capable of reaching, say, Tel Aviv or, a minute or so later, Cairo.

To a certain extent, the leaked documents contain the rawest form of gossip. It is amusing to learn that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is psychologically gridlocked with all sorts of neurotic tics and will not travel without his Ukrainian nurse, described as a "voluptuous blonde." It is good to see that parody of a blowhard, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, characterized as being in the pocket of Russia's Vladimir Putin and fun to wonder, in a Scrooge McDuck moment, how Afghanistan's vice president was able to take $52 million in cash out of the country and get it through customs in the United Arab Emirates last year when you and I get stopped for having a small bottle of shampoo. Something's wrong here, I suspect.

The Arab world's alarm at the imminence of an Iranian bomb is on full display in the leaked documents - as is the Obama administration's methodical and effective attempts to isolate Tehran. Saudi Arabia's Abdullah implored Washington to "cut off the head of the snake" while there was still time, and the United Arab Emirates "agreed with [U.S. Gen. John P.] Abizaid that Iran's new President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad seemed unbalanced, crazy even."
Some months later the Emirates' defense chief, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, told Abizaid that the United States needed to take action against Iran "this year or next." If cables from Jordan and Egypt could be read, they would be no different. The (Sunni) Arab world loathes and fears Iran on sectarian grounds and also because it espouses a revolutionary doctrine of the sort that kings and dictators find disquieting.

This is the world George Bush left us. It exists everywhere but in his book, where facts are either omitted or rearranged so that the war in Iraq seems the product of pure reason. As my colleague, the indefatigably indefatigable Walter Pincus, has pointed out, Bush manages to bollix up both the chronology and the importance of the various inspections of Iraq's weapons systems so as to suggest that any other president given the same set of facts would have gone to war.
"I had tried to address the threat from Saddam Hussein without war," he writes. On that score, he is simply not credible.

The accumulating evidence at the time showed that Iraq lacked a nuclear weapons program and did not have biological weapons either. As for its chemical weapons program, while harder to ferret out, it not only no longer existed, but even if it had, it was insufficient reason to go to war. Poison gas has been around since the Second Battle of Ypres.
That was 1915. "The absence of WMD stockpiles did not change the fact that Saddam was a threat," Bush writes. Heads he wins, tails you lose.

Reading Bush's book, seeing him in his various TV appearances, I keep thinking of Menachem Begin, the late Israeli prime minister. In 1982, Begin took Israel to war in Lebanon.
It cost Israel as many as 675 dead, 4,000 wounded and its image as invincible on the battlefield. Begin took responsibility. He resigned and became a recluse, a depressed and beaten man.

I suggest no such course for Bush -- only that he read the WikiLeaks documents and, for the sake of history and the instruction it offers, reassess his vaunted decisions. His jejune approach to decision-making - know yourself but not necessarily the facts - is downright repellent. On the book's dust jacket, Bush is shown in a ranching outfit. A Peter Pan outfit would have been more fitting. Like him, Bush has never grown up.

GOP should take on Palin Joe Scarborough

Republicans have a problem. The most-talked-about figure in the GOP is a reality show star who cannot be elected. And yet the same leaders who fret that Sarah Palin could devastate their party in 2012 are too scared to say in public what they all complain about in private.

Enough. It’s time for the GOP to man up.

Everybody knows that Palin is a busy woman. The former half-term governor of Alaska stays so busy these days that one wonders how this mother of five manages to juggle her new reality show, follow her eldest daughter’s dancing career and launch her latest frenetic book tour while still finding the time to insult a slew of revered presidents and first ladies.

You’ve got to admit hers is a breathtaking high-wire act.

What man or mouse with a fully functioning human brain and a résumé as thin as Palin’s would flirt with a presidential run? It makes the political biography of Barack Obama look more like Winston Churchill’s, despite the fact that the 44th president breezed into the Oval Office as little more than a glorified state senator.

Still, Palin is undeterred, charging ahead maniacally while declaring her intention to run for the top office in the land if “nobody else will.” Adding audacity to this dopey dream is that Palin can’t stop herself from taking swings at Republican giants. In the past month alone, she has mocked Ronald Reagan’s credentials, dismissed George H.W. and Barbara Bush as arrogant “blue bloods” and blamed George W. Bush for wrecking the economy.

Wow. That’ll win ’em over in Iowa.

One can only guess what comes next on Palin’s bizarre road show. Maybe the publishing world’s favorite reality star can keep drawing attention and selling billions of books by spitting on John Wayne’s grave or “manning up” by shooting an American bald eagle.

Or how about this? Maybe Palin could show up on Fox News and build her weak résumé by tearing down Reagan’s.

Oh, wait. Been there, done that.

When Sean Hannity asked Palin whether being in a reality show diminished her standing to be president, the former half-term governor mocked Reagan’s biography, dismissing him as “an actor.”

Sounding like every left-wing politician and media elitist who ridiculed Reagan for decades, Palin sneered that she could be president if the actor from “Bedtime for Bonzo” managed to do so.

A longtime disciple of the Gipper’s, Peggy Noonan, dismissed the remark as “ignorant, even for Sarah Palin.” Noonan reported that Reagan loyalists were outraged that Palin would stoop to using the old left-wing jab. Reagan’s former speechwriter then used her Wall Street Journal column to strike back.

Noonan noted that Reagan walked into the White House as far more than an actor.

The 40th president first led a major American labor union through massive upheaval, toured factories for General Electric for eight years and was California’s governor for two full terms during the Golden State’s most momentous times. Reagan then challenged an incumbent president from his own party and reinvented American conservatism without the help of the GOP establishment or the conservative movement.

After Palin mocked Reagan’s credentials, the TLC reality show star took aim at the 41st president and his wife. Borrowing again from old left-wing attacks that Democrats used against GOP presidents, Palin channeled Ann Richards by bashing Bush and his wife as “blue bloods” who had wrecked America.

Palin was perturbed that a former president and his wife would dare to answer a question about whom they preferred for president in 2012. Perhaps her anger was understandable. After all, these disconnected “blue bloods” had nothing in their backgrounds that could ever make them understand “real America” like a former governor from Alaska who quit in the middle of her first term and then got rich.

Maybe Richards and Palin were right. Maybe poor George Herbert Walker Bush was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Indeed, he was so pampered growing up that on his 18th birthday, the young high school graduate enlisted in the armed forces. This spoiled teenager somehow managed to be the youngest pilot in the Navy when he received his wings, flying 58 combat missions over the Pacific during World War II. On Sept. 2, 1944, “Blue Blood” Bush almost lost his life after being shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire.

With his engine shattered and his plane on fire, Bush still refused to turn back, completing his mission by scoring several damaging hits on enemy targets. His plane crashed in the Pacific, where he waited for four hours in enemy waters until he was finally rescued. For his bravery and service to this country, Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, three air medals and the Presidential Unit Citation for bravery while in combat.

What a spoiled brat.

I suppose Palin’s harsh dismissal of this great man is more understandable after one reads her biography and realizes that, like Bush, she accomplished a great deal in her early 20s. Who wouldn’t agree that finishing third in the Miss Alaska beauty contest is every bit as treacherous as risking your life in military combat? Maybe the beauty contestant who would one day be a reality star and former governor didn’t win the Distinguished Flying Cross, but the half-termer was selected as Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants.

And now a point of personal privilege. I work hard every day to assume the best of Americans who engage in public service. But I am offended by Palin’s attempt to build herself up by tearing down great men like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Palin is not a stupid woman. But like the current president, she still does not know what she does not know. And she does know how to make millions of dollars, even if she embarrasses herself while doing it.

That reality hardly makes Palin unique, but this is one Republican who would prefer that the former half-term governor promote her reality shows and hawk her books without demeaning the reputations of Presidents Reagan and Bush. These great men dedicated their lives to public service and are too good to be fodder for her gaudy circus sideshow.

If Republicans want to embrace Palin as a cultural icon whose anti-intellectualism fulfills a base political need, then have at it. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy.

But if the party of Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio wants to return to the White House anytime soon, it’s time that Republican leaders started standing up and speaking the truth to Palin.

A guest columnist for POLITICO, Joe Scarborough hosts “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and represented Florida’s 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001.

Scientists Trick Cells Into Switching Identities (SY FI SCIENCE STUFF)

NEW YORK (AP) — Scientists are reporting early success at transforming one kind of specialized cell into another, a feat of biological alchemy that doctors may someday perform inside a patient's body to restore health.

So if a heart attack damages muscle tissue in the heart, for example, doctors may someday be able to get other cells in that organ to become muscle to help the heart pump.

That's a futuristic idea, but researchers are enthusiastic about the potential for the new direct-conversion approach.

"I think everyone believes this is really the future of so-called stem-cell biology," says John Gearhart of the University of Pennsylvania, one of many researchers pursuing this approach.

The concept is two steps beyond the familiar story of embryonic stem cells, versatile entities that can be coaxed to become cells of all types, like brain and blood. Scientists are learning to guide those transformations, which someday may provide transplant tissue for treating diseases like Parkinson's or diabetes.

It's still experimental. But at its root, it's really just harnessing and speeding up what happens in nature: a versatile but immature cell matures into a more specialized one.

The first step beyond that came in 2007, when researchers reversed the process. They got skin cells to revert to a state resembling embryonic stem cells. That opened the door to a two-part strategy: turn skin cells from a person into stem cells in the lab, and then run the clock forward to get whatever specialized cell you want for transplant.

The new direct-conversion approach avoids embryonic stem cells and the whole notion of returning to an early state. Why not just go directly from one specialized cell to another? It's like flying direct rather than scheduling a stopover.

Even short of researchers' dreams of fixing internal organs from within, Gearhart says direct conversion may offer some other advantages over more established ways of producing specialized cells. Using embryonic stem cells is proving to be inefficient and more difficult than expected, scientists say. For example, the heart muscle cells developed from them aren't fully mature, Gearhart noted.

And there's no satisfactory way yet to make mature insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, which might be useful for treating diabetes, says George Daley of Children's Hospital Boston and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

So direct conversion might offer a more efficient and faster way of getting the kinds of cells scientists want.

A glimpse of what might be possible through direct conversion emerged in 2008. Researchers got one kind of pancreatic cell to turn into another kind within living mice.

But far more dramatic changes have been reported in the past year in lab dishes, with scientists converting mouse skin cells into nerve cells and heart muscle cells. And just this month came success with human cells, turning skin cells into early stage blood cells.

The secret to these transformations is the fact that all cells of a person's body carry the same DNA code. But not all the genes are active at any one time. In fact, a cell's identity depends on its lineup of active genes. So, to convert a cell, scientists alter that combination by inserting chemical signals to activate particular genes.

"This is something that's really caught fire because it's an easy strategy to use," Gearhart said. "Everyone's out there trying their different combinations (of chemical signals) to see if they can succeed."

But success is not so easy. "There's a lot of experiments failing," Daley said. "A lot of people are just taking a trial-and-error approach, and that's fundamentally inefficient. And yet, it may create a breakthrough."

Even when the experiments work, there are plenty of questions to answer. Can this technique reliably produce transformed cells? Are these new cells normal? Or do they retain some hidden vestiges of their original identity that might cause trouble later on?

"When we make a duck look like a cat, it may look like a cat and meow, but whether it still has feathers is an issue," Daley said.

And ultimately: Would it be safe to transplant these cells into patients?

"We're a long way from showing safety and efficacy for any of these things," Gearhart said. "This stuff is all so new that we have a lot of work to do."

In any case, he and Daley said, scientists will still work with embryonic stem cells and the man-made versions first produced in 2007, called iPS cells. Those technologies clearly have places in various kinds of research, and it's not yet clear whether they or direct conversion will eventually prove best for manufacturing replacement cells for people.

That question, Daley said, "is way, way open."

Gov't Targets Web Sites Selling Counterfeit (INFO YOU MAY NEED TO KNOW)

Gov't Targets Web Sites Selling Counterfeit Goods

WASHINGTON (AP) — On one of the year's busiest Internet shopping days, federal law enforcement announced a crackdown that blocked 82 domain names of far-flung commercial websites to keep them from peddling counterfeit merchandise and illegal copies of music and software.

Nearly 100 million people shop on "Cyber Monday," a day when consumers return to work from the long Thanksgiving weekend. Many buy items online.

Counterfeiters are prowling the back alleys of the Internet, waiting to unload shoddy presents unlikely to bring any holiday cheer, John Morton, head of immigration and customs enforcement at the Homeland Security Department, told a news conference.

Attorney General Eric Holder said federal law enforcement agents got court orders allowing them to seize the domain names after making undercover purchases from online retailers and confirming that the items sold were counterfeit or infringed on copyrights.

The move was applauded by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Anyone attempting to access one of the websites will find a banner saying that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities.

The counterfeit goods include sports equipment, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel and sunglasses. The copyright infringement covers copies of DVDs, music and software.

Most of the counterfeit goods are produced and shipped from China.

On a trip to Hong Kong and to Beijing last month, Holder told law enforcement counterparts from China and around the world to do more to fight these crimes.

Congress is considering giving law enforcement more tools to crack down on copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit goods online, but the proposed legislation has run into some opposition.

Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would allow the Justice Department to obtain court orders identifying sites dedicated to "infringing activity" and require companies that register Internet domain names to suspend those accounts. And to reach Web sites registered outside the U.S., the bill also would require Internet service providers to block their users from accessing those sites and prohibit payment processors and online advertising networks from doing business with them.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has strong backing from Hollywood, the nation's big record labels and other industries that depend on strong intellectual property protections. But some in the technology industry say it could result in Internet censorship by blocking access to Web sites.