McCarthy Elected House Majority Leader

WASHINGTON9 (UPI) — As anticipated, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy became House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy as members of the GOP caucus selected the California Republican to replace Eric Cantor Thursday afternoon.

Applause broke out inside the room where Republican members gathered to elevate McCarthy to the No. 2 spot before settling into the business of selecting a new majority whip to replace him.

McCarthy reportedly gave a short speech acknowledging his wife and children, who came to the Capitol for the event.

Vote totals from the secret paper ballot will not be released, but McCarthy was expected to easily defeat his only challenger, Idaho conservative Raul Labrador. In a gesture of respect, Labrador asked that an informal vote be called to make the decision unanimous, and members yelled their approval.

Cantor, who was defeated in his primary in Virginia’s 7th District last week, will step down as leader on July 31st.

President Obama Lays Out 5-Part Action Plan For U.S. Response To Iraq Crisis

WASHINGTON (UPI) — President Barack Obama spoke Thursday about how the U.S. will respond the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

The President emphasized that “American forces will not return to Iraq but we will take the fight to the terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well.”

After consulting with the National Security Council, the President laid out a five-part action plan:

1) Ensuring the security of the U.S. embassy and consulate personnel in Iraq.

2) “Significantly increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to give us a greater understanding of what ISIL [aka ISIS] is doing, where it’s located and how we might support efforts to counter this threat.”

3) Support to the Iraqi security forces. This may include: the creation of “joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning to confront the terrorist threat of ISIL;” additional military equipment to the Iraqi forces; and sending up to 300 military advisers to provide assessments to the Iraqi government, including how to protect Baghdad’s perimeter.

4) Pre-positioned military assets in the region. “If and when the situation requires,” the U.S. is prepared to take “targeted and precise military action.” Such action, the president said, would be taken in consultation with the U.S. Congress and Iraqi leaders.

5) Diplomatic outreach. “Finally, the U.S. will take diplomatic efforts to work with Iraqi leaders and leaders in the region to support stability in Iraq.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will depart soon to conduct those meetings, reminding regional leaders that a sovereign and stable Iraq is in everyone’s best interest.

When asked whether his plan was a prelude to boots on the ground, the president reiterated that “American troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.”

“Ultimately,” the President said, “this is something that is going to have to be solved by the Iraqis.”

In Obama’s view, the power to stop the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “involves partnerships where local forces take the lead.”

He encouraged Iraq’s government to form an inclusive government. With election results recently finalized, the President urged Iraq to form a new parliament as soon as possible.

“Shia, Sunni, Kurds — all Iraqis — must have confidence they can advance their interests and aspirations through the political process and not through violence.”

Report: U.S. Fired Depleted Uranium Ammunition At Live Iraqi Targets In 2003

UTRECHT, Netherlands (UPI) — A report claims United States troops in Iraq in 2003 fired ammunition containing depleted uranium at civilians and enemy soldiers.

The ammunition — chemically toxic and noted for its armor-piercing capabilities — is meant for use targeting tanks and armored vehicles, not people. A U.S. military directive, written to comply with international law, advises against using it on human targets.

The report by the Dutch group Pax, to be published later this week, says the directive was largely ignored by U.S. troops in Iraq; it includes coordinates where U.S. tanks and aircraft fired nearly 10,000 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition. Information on the coordinates has never been available prior to the report, despite requests from the Iraqi government and the United Nations.

The data show many rounds were fired in or near populated areas, and at least 1,500 rounds were specifically aimed at enemy troops.

Pax said at least 300 sites in Iraq were chemically contaminated by use of depleted uranium, and that an environmental clean-up will cost at least $30 million.

Wim Zwijnenburg, author of the report, said the U.S. Air Force was aware of the consequences of using the ammunition.

“The use of DU against these targets questions the adherence of coalition forces to their own principles and guidelines. They should be held accountable for the consequences,” Zwijnenburg said.

The report cites a 1975 memo in which the U.S. Air Force Office of the Judge Advocate concluded depleted uranium ammunition could be used, but it contained restrictions on its use.

“Use of this munition solely against personnel is prohibited if alternative weapons are available,” the memo said, noting legal reasons “related to the prohibitions against unnecessary suffering and poison”. It added the ammunition “may cause fires which spread thereby causing potential risks of disproportionate injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects. Precautions to avoid or minimize such risks shall be taken in the use of this weapon or alternate available weapons should be used.”

U.S. Supreme Court Strengthens Free Speech Rights For Public Employees

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision Thursday in the case of Lane v. Franks, gave additional protection to public employees who testify at trials.

The court, ruling for an Alabama community college employee who blew the whistle on a State legislator who gave herself a no-show job, removed the distinction between public employees’ free speech rights as citizens and as government workers.

“It would be antithetical to our jurisprudence to conclude that the very kind of speech necessary to prosecute corruption by public officials — speech by public employees regarding information learned through their employment — may never form the basis for a First Amendment retaliation claim,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, writing for the court.

The court ruled for Edward Lane, who was laid off from his job as director of a youth training program at Central Alabama Community College after he fired the State legislator, Suzanne Schmitz, and testified against her. Steve Franks, then the president of the college, dismissed Lane and 30 other employees, citing budget problems, and then rehired 29 of them.

A district court and appeals court ruled against Lane, finding that he testified against Schmitz, who was convicted of corruption, as a government employee, not a citizen. Lane had sued Franks, saying his dismissal was retaliation and that his 1st Amendment right to free speech had been violated.

The legal victory may not help Lane get his job back. The court found that Franks, who was also a public employee, is protected from lawsuits as an individual except when there has been a clear violation of the law or a Constitutional right.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by two other conservatives, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, said the decision does not deal with police officers and other employees where giving court testimony is part of the job description.

Panda Dogs Are All The Rage In China

BEIJING, May 14 (UPI) — Chow chows dyed to look like fluffy pandas are booming in popularity in China.

They are so popular that pet shop owner Hsin Ch’en said he can’t keep up with demand for the dyed chow chows.

Ch’en said that cute breeds like French bulldogs and Labradors were being passed over for the panda pups. He says he can dye the dogs in about two hours and the color will last for about six weeks before the owner has to bring it in for a touch-up.

“There are no chemicals or cruelty involved,” Ch’en said. “But the price of the dog does rise significantly because of the amount of grooming that goes into it. People don’t mind paying the extra though — they like the fact that heads turn in the street and they can tell their friends: ‘I have a panda dog.'”

Tennessee City Will No Longer Put Up With Saggy Pants

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. (UPI) — A Tennessee city has begun the process of making baggy pants outside of the law within its borders.

The City Council of Pikeville unanimously approved an ordinance that would make individuals who wear their pants “more than three inches below the top of the hips (crest of the ilium)” guilty of public indecency.

The ordinance must be read multiple times before it can officially be declared a law and Mayor Phil Cagle told the Times Free Press it would be at least a few months before the rule goes into effect.

“Myself and the City Council, we wanted an ordinance passed in black and white that our officers know what to tolerate and what not to tolerate,” Cagle said. “Now they know what we expect, and they know how to handle it.”

Offenders would be forced to pay at least $25 after their first offense and “not more than” $50 for subsequent offenses.

According to the ordinance, the city of Pikeville finds “the exposure of a person’s buttocks and genital area or undergarments is offensive and indecent” and “there is evidence that indicates that wearing sagging pants is injurious to the health of the wearer as it causes improper gait.”

State law already makes “indecent exposure” in schools illegal and Cagle was unclear as to how Pikeville’s ordinance is different. “All I know is we just don’t want them running around half naked on our streets,” Cagle said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Performance Of ‘YMCA’ At Talent Show By First-Grade Class Canceled For Being ‘Racist’

FARGO, N.D. (UPI) — A North Dakota elementary school will not be allowing the young men and women in a first-grade class to perform YMCA at a talent show because a parent dubbed the planned performance “racist.”

Students at Bennett Elementary School in Fargo were supposed to sing the famous Village People song during a May talent show.

The kids were supposed to come up dressed up like members of the ’70s group: a policeman, a cowboy, a biker, a construction worker and a Native American.

Parent Elaine Bolman found it offensive that her daughter or her classmates would be asked to dress up like a stereotypical Native American caricature.

“I’m not in a position to do anything for these educators, and hopefully those people that are can make the right choices so all students of any culture and race won’t feel singled out or like their race is being stereotyped against,” Bolman told Inforum.

High School Coach Charged With Stealing Money From Students

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. (UPI) — A Florida high school physical education teacher and assistant football coach has been charged with one count of grand theft between $300 and $5,000 and one count of burglary after “Operation Sticky Fingers” was conducted at New Smyrna Beach High School.

Volusia County deputies came up with the idea for the sting after students repeatedly reported thefts within the boys’ locker room.

The suspected thefts were happening inside the locker room and cameras couldn’t be used, so an ultraviolet theft-detection kit was utilized. During the operation, students were given marked bills to put in their wallets that were photocopied and coated with UV powder.

After some failed attempts, Barnes was reportedly caught fluorescent yellow-green-handed when a UV light revealed powder on both of his hands after some bills had gone missing, News 13 reported.

Barnes told Local 6, “I made a mistake,” and said he does not plan on returning to the school.

Volusia County Schools issued this statement on Tuesday: “Mr. Barnes has been instructed by administration to not return to the school until he has met with the Professional Standards office and disciplinary action has been determined.”

Ypsilanti’s ‘Mystery Pooper’ Finally Flushed Out By Michigan Police

YPSILANTI, Mich. (UPI) — Police have identified an individual who they believe is the infamous Michigan “mystery pooper,” but they have not released a name to the public.

Ypsilanti Police made contact with a suspect believed to be the fecal felon and Police Chief Tony DiGiusti told the Ann Arbor News there haven’t been any more puzzling poops since.

The individual was suspected of going No. 2 on the same slide in Prospect Park between November and April on a regular basis.

Friends of Prospect Park head Pete Murdock said the individual resides in a nearby halfway house. “I think if the person is put out of commission in terms of what they were doing, they should be safe,” Murdock said. “I haven’t heard of any incidents since all the to-do.”

Council Member Brian Robb said he hopes there aren’t “any copycat crimes.”

“This whole saga has generated a lot interest in Prospect Park from around the country. It’s great that the police were able to put a stop to this just as the weather warmed up,” Robb said.

Athletes More Likely To Need Pacemakers In Old Age

MANCHESTER, England (UPI) — Humans have a built-in pacemaker, but it doesn’t always work properly — which is why older patients with irregular heartbeats sometimes need an artificial one installed.

Oddly, many elderly with a history of athletic training and endurance running experience heart rhythm disturbances and require the aid of a pacemaker. Now doctors think they know why.

A new study by researchers at the University of Manchester found that the molecular properties of rodents’ pacemakers were transformed in response to exercise training.

Previously, doctors had assumed that a malfunctioning pacemaker was the result of a problem with the nervous system. But this new study suggests otherwise.

“The heart rate is set by the heart’s pacemaker, but this is controlled by the nervous system,” explained Dr. Alicia D’Souza, one of the study’s authors. “The ‘vagal’ nerves lower the heart rate and therefore it was assumed the low heart rate of athletes is the result of over activity of the vagal nerves.”

“But our research shows this is not the case,” Dr. D’Souza added. “Actually the heart’s pacemaker changes in response to training and in particular there is a decrease in an important pacemaker protein, known as HCN4, and this is responsible for the low heart rate.”

In other words, athletes may be training their pacemaker to become out of sync as they grow older.

Most people have a resting heart rate of somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Marathon runners can have heart rates as low as 30 beats per minute.

“Although endurance exercise training can have harmful effects on the heart,” explained the study’s lead researcher, Professor Mark Boyett, “it is more than outweighed by the beneficial effects.”

The researchers say more work is needed before they can draw actionable conclusions about the effects of extreme exercise on a human’s pacemaker.

The study was published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Children Of Heavy Smokers More Likely To Become Heavy Smokers

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The more a child is exposed to a parent smoking, the more likely the child is to not only smoke but also become a heavy smoker.

Lead investigator Darren Mays, an assistant professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said nicotine dependence involves strong cravings to smoke, which results in the need for more nicotine to feel the same effect. Without nicotine, the smoker will feel withdrawal of the drug.

The study involved 400 parents and their participating adolescent children ages 12-17 who were interviewed at the beginning and end of the study and after one year and five years later.

Mays and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brown University Medical School said the findings suggested parental smoking cessation early in a child’s life might be critical to prevent habitual smoking in the next generation.

The study, scheduled to be published in the journal Pediatrics, found the more years a child was exposed to a parent’s nicotine-dependent smoking — using American Psychiatric Association criteria — the greater the risk a teen would start smoking or experimenting with cigarettes.

“We believe social learning plays an important role in intergenerational smoking,” Mays said in a statement.

“If social learning is key, then children can also learn from a parent who smokes that it is possible — and wise — to quit.”

The findings suggested parents quitting smoking early in their children’s lives might be critical to prevent another generation smoking, Hays said.

Sallie Mae Agrees To $139 Million Settlement For Cheating Soldiers

NEWARK, Del. (UPI) — Sallie Mae and their former loan servicing unit, now called Nanvient, agreed to pay $139 million to settle allegations that they charged unfair student loan fees to soldiers.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. accused the loan giant of intentionally violating the Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by overcharging loan fees to active duty soldiers beginning in 2005, while many troops were still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The FDIC said Sallie Mae and Nanvient processed loan payments in a way that would maximize late fees. They also failed to lower service members’ loan rates to the 6 percent cap required by the SCRA. The Justice Department’s investigation revealed that only 7 percent of service members in their system were paying the 6 percent rate. The remaining 93 percent were severely overcharged. Nearly half paid an additional $166 and around a quarter paid an additional $500.

“Defendants’ conduct was intentional, willful, and taken in disregard for the rights of service members,” said the Justice Department.

Sallie Mae agreed to create a $60 million fund to refund the 60,000 affected soldiers and $55,000 as a civil penalty. They will also pay $72 million to the soldiers who were overcharged and $6.6 million to the FDIC for a second penalty.

“We offer our sincere apologies to the servicemen and servicewomen who were affected by our processing errors and thus did not receive the full benefits they deserve,” said John Remondi, Navient chief executive.

Sallie Mae added, “We regret any inconvenience or hardship that our customers may have experienced.”

Navient did not take all the blame. They partially faulted the federal government for enforcing what they considered to be new standards. At one point, Nanvient told Education Department officials that a service members’ rates couldn’t be lowered unless they specifically requested to 6 percent cap.

“The Education Department has done nothing to regulate the company when evidence that Sallie Mae mishandled its loans continues to mount,” said Chris Hicks, an organizer for the Debt-Free Future campaign for Jobs With Justice. “They have turned a blind eye to their servicers’ practices at the expense of borrowers, and this is already beginning to have a ripple effect on our entire economy.”

The Department of Education has yet to decide if it will cease Federal contracts with Sallie Mae. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said department officials are to immediately review “what appropriate actions, if any,” should be taken against the company.

U.S. Wholesale Prices Rise By Most In More Than A Year

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. wholesale prices rose for the second month in a row, suggesting that pricing pressures are building despite an extended period of low inflation.

The producer price index rose by a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent for the month of April, up from 0.5 percent in March, according to the Labor Department. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch estimated a 0.2 percent increase.

Despite the low inflation, wholesale prices last month were up 2.1 percent on an annual basis. Rising prices could suggest a rebound as global growth begins to pick up. It could also ease the apprehensions the Federal Reserve had about inflation remaining below the 2 percent mark.

Whole food sales rose 2.7 percent in April, the biggest jump since February 2011, and saw a 8.4 percent surge in the cost of meat, the highest gain since 2003. The drought in the West and porcine epidemic diarrhea have been putting pressure on the prices of beef, pork and other meats.

Energy prices were up 0.1 percent and core goods prices — which excludes food, energy and services costs — have risen 0.3 percent in three of the last five months.

While producer prices are important and one of the three inflation gauges used by the Labor Department, the true cost of living is reflected by the consumer price index, which measures what people actually pay.

U.S. Retail Sales Stay Flat For April, Despite Warmer Weather

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. retail sales for April fell short of economists’ expectations who expected sales to improve after the inclement weather during the first part of the year.

Retails sales grew by a sluggish 0.1 percent over the previous month, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Economists surveyed by the The Wall Street Journal had expected a healthier 0.4 percent growth. Excluding the volatile measure of auto and auto parts sales, the figures were pretty stagnant.

The Commerce Department revised March’s figure to reflect a 1.5 percent increase in sales as compared to 1.1 percent reported earlier.

March’s growth was the highest in four years and expectations were high that April would mark the beginning of a second quarter rebound after the first quarter was plagued with bad weather. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economic output.

Spending on furniture and electronic stores fell sharply, while spending on groceries showed a little growth. Clothing sales were the one sector to show any significant growth, with a 1.2 percent increase in sales.

Increases in hiring and rising payrolls suggested that consumer spending would pick up in the spring, giving the economy the much needed boost, after the government reported a below-par 0.1 percent growth in the GDP for the first quarter.

AT&T In Talks To Buy DirecTV For $50 Billion

DALLAS (UPI) — AT&T is in talks to buy satellite TV provider DirecTV for a reported $50 billion, expanding the wireless, phone and high-speed broadband provider’s services to satellite TV.

The two companies are discussing a deal that would involve a mixture of cash and AT&T stock but that would have DirecTV’s management run the company as a unit of AT&T. According to people close to the matter, an agreement could be reached in the next two weeks with the final price hovering in the low- to mid-nineties per DirecTV share.

A $95 per share deal would value DirecTV at nearly $48 billion.

AT&T are expected to pay for the deal with shares, which would help AT&T limit their borrowings and maintain their credit rating.

Satellite TV subscriptions have been peaking in the U.S. because more people are watching TV online. By combining DirecTV with its wireless and broadband services, AT&T will seek to offer a competitive package.

“With DirecTV they are getting a national TV presence — they can sell TV with wireless nationwide,” said Roger Entner, an analyst with Recon Analytics, based in Dedham, Massachusetts.

DirecTV has been expanding in Latin America as well and is also generating higher monthly bills from U.S. customers.

Boehner, White House Agree Shinseki Should Stay On At VA

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The White House has an unusual ally standing against calls for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki: House Speaker John Boehner.

In siding with the Barack Obama Administration’s support of the embattled secretary, Boehner said forcing Shinseki out of his position would do little to fix the problems facing the VA, including allegations that the Phoenix VA allowed more than 40 veterans to die while awaiting care and falsified records to cover it up.

“I think it’d be the easiest thing in the world for the administration to do, take Shinseki out, go through a process of coming up with a new secretary, when that’s not the issue,” Boehner said, during a rare live, open-ended interview in Texas Monday. “There is a systemic problem within the organization in the VA. The problem is much, much bigger than who the secretary is.”

Boehner instead suggested Shinseki should be given more authority to react to the problems within his department — by firing managers or cutting bonuses — rather than taking the fall.

“It will distract everyone’s attention if Shinseki goes and we wait around for a new secretary, and I don’t want that to happen,” he said. “I want to keep the focus on fixing the problem, not fixing the personality.”

The speaker’s stance comes in opposition to members of his own party, who have made their displeasure known. Last week, three Senators took to the chamber floor to urge Shinseki’s resignation, while 16 Republicans in the House sent Obama a letter urging him to hold the secretary accountable.

But the White House is standing by their man, reiterating their support for Shinseki again Monday.

“The president takes the situation, as he has said, around the Phoenix office very seriously,” said Press Secretary Jay Carney. “And that’s why he directed Secretary Shinseki to investigate. And Secretary Shinseki has invited the independent Veterans Affairs inspector general — Office of Inspector General, to conduct a comprehensive review.”

“The president remains confident that Secretary Shinseki is focused on this matter, and he’s confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and take appropriate action based on the I.G.’s findings,” Carney said.
Gabrielle Levy

NC Congressional Candidate Keith Crisco Dies Suddenly

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Keith Crisco, who was running in North Carolina against Clay Aiken for Representative Renee Ellmers’ seat, died unexpectedly in his Asheboro home Monday.

While few details were immediately available, the Asheboro Courier-Tribune reported Crisco, 71, suffered a fall around 1 p.m. and was declared dead at the scene by emergency responders.

Crisco, who served as state Secretary of Commerce from 2008 to 2012, was the co-founder of the Asheboro Elastics Corp. and active in local government.

Aiken led Crisco by 369 votes after last week’s Democratic primary; and while not all ballots had been counted, there weren’t enough left to change the outcome of the race. Crisco’s campaign was planning to announce that he would concede the election Tuesday morning, said Brad Crone, a political strategist and longtime friend.

Crisco was married with three children and six grandchildren.

‘Fake’ Mandela Sign Language Interpreter Pulled Out Of Psych Hospital To Shoot Commercial

TEL AVIV, Israel (UPI) — An Israeli startup got the “phony” sign language interpreter from Nelson Mandela’s memorial service out of a psychiatric hospital so that he could film a commercial for their new marketing campaign.

LiveLens hired a Zulu-speaking journalist to visit Thamsanqa Jantjie in the hospital and got him released so that he could go to a one-day “family event.”

Jantjie spent the day filming a commercial for Livelens, a new app that lets users stream video of themselves to their social media pages. “I am really, really sorry for what happened,” Jantjie says in the ad. “Now I want to make it up to the whole world.”

“We saw him with our own eyes; he’s a normal guy,” said Sefi Shaked, Livelens’ marketing manager. “Now he can have the closure and earn some money from it. It’s morally right. We see it as sort of a sad story with a happy ending.”

Livelens apparently wasn’t overly concerned with Jantjie being a mental patient.

“We decided that the guy who had the worst live show ever would be the best person,” Livelens CEO Max Bluvband told NBCNews.

The National Association of the Deaf has already called for a boycott of Livelens.

Political Attack Ad Sung To The Tune Of ‘Let It Go’ Hits Airwaves In Texas

HOUSTON (UPI) — Current Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst has released a political attack ad featuring his chief competitor, Dan Patrick, lip-syncing to “Let it Go” from Frozen.

Patrick, a Texas State Senator, finished well ahead of Dewhurst in the initial Republican primary election in March and is considered the favorite to win a May runoff.

The Dewhurst campaign’s attack video focuses on Patrick changing his name and filing for bankruptcy in the 1980s. Patrick was born Dannie Goeb but began going by Dan Patrick while working as a sportscaster and legally changed his name in 2003.

In response, Patrick went on DewFeed and fired back with a post featuring animated Frozen GIFs.

“All we’re doing is we’re quoting things he’s said, things he’s done, from newspapers, from TV shows,” Dewhurst told KERA about his aggressive ads.

Daily Coffee May Help Prevent Blindness From Glaucoma, Aging And Diabetes

ITHACA, N.Y. (UPI) — Daily coffee may help prevent blindness from glaucoma, aging and diabetes because it contains chlorogenic acid, a strong antioxidant.

Senior author Chang Y. Lee, a professor of food science at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said raw coffee is, on average, just 1 percent caffeine, but it contains 7 percent to 9 percent chlorogenic acid, a strong antioxidant, which might slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream after a meal.

The researchers said chlorogenic acid might also prevent retinal degeneration in mice. The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue, lining the inner surface of the eye, which serves much the same function as the film in a camera. Light striking the retina initiates a series of chemical and electrical events which trigger nerve impulses sent to the brain via the optic nerve.

The retina is one of the most metabolically active tissues — meaning it needs a consistently high and steady supply of uncontaminated oxygen. Without high levels of oxygen it is prone to oxidative stress — a lack of this oxygen and production of free radicals leads to tissue damage and loss of sight.

A free radical is an atom, molecule or ion that has unpaired electrons or an open electron shell and one or more “dangling” bonds. For example, a hydroxyl radical — HO — is a molecule one hydrogen atom short of a water molecule and thus has one bond dangling from the oxygen which can react with other substances. Free radicals are thought to contribute to the aging process.

The scientists gave mice nitric oxide, which creates oxidative stress and promotes forming certain harmful free radicals, leading to retinal degeneration, which impairs and can ultimately contribute to the loss of sight.

However, the study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found the mice exposed to the nitric oxide who were pretreated with chlorogenic acid did not develop any detectable signs of retinal damage.

The study is “important in understanding functional foods, that is, natural foods that provide beneficial health effects,” Lee said in a statement.

“Coffee is the most popular drink in the world, and we are understanding what benefit we can get from that.”

Previous research linked coffee to reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive declines.

Study: People Yawn To Cool Overheated Brains

VIENNA (UPI) — Researchers at the University of Vienna have found that yawning cools down the overheated brain.

Jorg Massen and Kim Dusch conducted the study, which tried to find the range of temperatures that causes yawning frequency to increase or decrease. They conducted identical studies on pedestrians yawning patterns in Vienna, Austria and Arizona in the winter and summer months.

They concluded that people are most likely to yawn at 68 degrees. When it is warmer outside, people are less likely to yawn, because it has little effect on the brain’s temperature. In freezing temps, yawning may be unnecessary or even harmful.

Factors like lack of sleep and stress can also contribute to the brain overheating, causing a person to yawn more frequently. Scientists are still searching for the cause of contagious yawning, which happens when a person sees someone yawn and feels the need to yawn, too.

The researchers said they have a strong hypothesis, but it’s not definite. Since yawning cools the brain and improves mental efficiency, they think that contagious yawning could be an effort to enhance group vigilance.

Large Tech Companies Slam FCC’s Proposed Net Neutrality Rules

WASHINGTON (UPI) — A group of large tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Amazon, have written a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing concern over proposed net neutrality rules.

The companies expressed their desire for a free and fair internet saying their success could be attributed to “a world without discrimination.” They want users on fixed-line and mobile networks to be protected from Internet providers slowing or blocking content.

“According to recent news reports, the Commission intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them. If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet,” the letter read.

The letter was signed by close to 150 technology-related companies, including Microsoft, Dropbox, Mozilla and dozens of other smaller companies.

The letter came as FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel said they had serious concerns with Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed rules.

Wheeler needs the support of his fellow Democratic members on the commission, as the the two Republican members are opposed to enacting net neutrality rules.

Critics of Wheeler’s proposal said he has gone back on promises to maintain equal treatment of all content by proposing a pay-for-priority arrangement between Internet providers and content companies, like Netflix.

Both Rosenworcel and Clyburn have asked Wheeler to postpone the May 15 vote by a month and allow the public more time to comment on the proposal.

“His proposal has unleashed a torrent of public response. Tens of thousands of emails, hundreds of calls, commentary all across the Internet,” Rosenworcel said in a speech to a meeting of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies in Washington. “We need to respect that input and we need time for that input,” she said.

“Over 100,000 Americans and counting,” Clyburn wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “I am listening to your voices as I approach this critical vote to preserve an ever-free and open Internet.”

Wheeler has been attempting to fast-track the net neutrality issue after Verizon won a challenge against net neutrality regulations, on the grounds the FCC didn’t have the authority to regulate internet service providers, with a federal appeals court in January sending the contested rules back to the FCC for updating. The FCC intends to vote on and adopt new rules by the end of this year.

Shinseki, Subpoenaed By House VA Committee, Orders Face-To-Face Audit Of All VA Clinics

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki ordered a face-to-face audit of all VA clinics Thursday. The VA Chief was also subpoenaed by the House Veterans Affairs Committee earlier in the day.

It’s fair to say: Eric Shinseki is having a rough week.

Monday, Daniel Dellinger, the national commander of the American Legion, issued a statement calling for Shinseki’s resignation.

Tuesday, Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona) wrote a letter to Shinseki, calling for a nationwide audit of the VA’s scheduling system.

Wednesday, several GOP representatives echoed Dellinger’s call, publicly asking the secretary to step down from the floor of the Senate.

Thursday, the house panel agreed in a verbal vote to subpoena the secretary.

The subpoena, the demand for the audits, and the calls for Shinseki’s resignation all come in response to a recent records falsification scandal at the Phoenix VA. Allegations that veterans died avoidable deaths due to delays in healthcare caused by the department and covered up by its administration with a secret waiting list have put a target on Shinseki’s back.

Shinseki was quick to respond when CNN broke the original story about the scandal at the Phoenix VA, saying: “These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and if the Inspector General’s investigation substantiates these claims, swift and appropriate action will be taken.”

The secretary immediately launched an investigation and placed the director and other management of the facility on administrative leave pending the findings. However, veterans and Congress still seem to want accountability to come from the top.

But Shinseki told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that he would not step down. “I serve at the pleasure of the president,” Shinseki said when asked if he would resign. “I signed on to make some changes. I have work to do.”

Through his press secretary, Jay Carney, Obama voiced his continued support of Shinseki, “The President remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and take appropriate action.”