U.N. Calls For Free Media Worldwide

UNITED NATIONS, May 1 (UPI) — Ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3, the United Nations Thursday urged governments worldwide to defend free media as a fundamental right.

“Freedom of expression, independent media and universal access to knowledge will fortify our efforts to achieve lasting results,” U.N. secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a meeting at U.N. headquarters on “Media Freedom for a Better Future.”

He mentioned that, in the line of duty, 70 journalists were killed in 2013, many caught in the crossfire of armed hostilities, and 14 have been killed thus far in 2014. Over 1,000 journalists have been killed, and more imprisoned or forced into exile, since 1992.

“These are alarming statistics. Behind each statistic stands a man or woman simply going about their lawful business,” he added.

General: We Never Thought Benghazi Was Because Of A Video

WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) — Military and intelligence officials in Africa during the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya said they quickly ruled out that the attack had been sparked by a controversial YouTube video, a general who was in Africa at the time of the attack said Thursday.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, testifying before the House Oversight Committee’s fourth hearing on the attack, said he and others at U.S. Armed Forces headquarters in Africa quickly came to the conclusion the attack was unrelated to the video, which had sparked a protest in Cairo earlier that day.

“As the attack was ongoing, it was unclear whether it was an attempted kidnapping, rescue, recovery, protracted hostile engagement or any or all of the above,” Lovell said.

New documents released by court order Wednesday provided an opening for renewed criticism of the White House from Republicans, who repeatedly asked whether the State Department had shirked its responsibility to protect Americans abroad.

“The military could have made a response,” said Representative John Mica (R-Fla.), “See, I believe we had the capability” to save at least the two Navy SEALs who died several hours after the beginning of the attack.

But Lovell said he agreed with the conclusion of Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who said last month he believed “that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened and how quickly it dissipated, we probably couldn’t have done more than we did.”

And yet, Lovell said, he felt the military could still have tried.

“We should have continued to move forward with whatever forces we had to move forward with,” he testified.

Lovell’s testimony comes in direct contradiction to that of then-Deputy Director of the CIA Michael Morell, who last month testified his analysts considered for several days the possibility of the attack having been brought on by extremists who took advantage of a protest over the video.

Thursday’s hearing comes just hours after the release of 41 documents of State Department communications, declassified by court order Wednesday. Included among them was an email from then-White House aide Ben Rhodes, now a deputy national security advisor, outlining a communication strategy for then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s television appearances for the Sunday after the attack.

The goals, Rhodes wrote, were “to convey that the United States is doing everything we can do to protect our people and facilities abroad; to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not in a broader failure of policy; to show that we will be resolute in brining people who harm Americans to Justice, and stand steadfast through these protests; to reenforce the president and administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.”

Republicans pounced on the documents, calling them proof that the White House “orchestrated an effort to deflect attention away from their failed Libya policy and the resurgence of al Qaeda another other terrorists.”

“The emails provide additional evidence that senior officials knew the attack on our mission in Benghazi was a complex attack and not a spontaneous reaction to a YouTube video,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a statement Wednesday.

But the White House denied the emails were the smoking gun Republicans have been looking for, saying that Rhodes’ email was actually addressing the larger situation of unrest, including the protests in Cairo and fears others might break out.

“In the e-mail, Ben Rhodes makes clear that our primary goals included making sure our people in the field were protected and bringing those responsible for the attacks to justice,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “The content reflects what the administration was saying at the time and what we understood to be the facts at the time.”

West Virginia Man Arrested Three Times In One Day

VIENNA, W.Va., April 30 (UPI) — A West Virginia man had quite a day Tuesday, somehow managing to get arrested three separate times on three different charges, according to Vienna Police Chief George Young.

Gregory Allen Horner was arrested the first time while police were responding to a call about someone — who turned out to be Horner — using a fake prescription for Xanax at a Rite Aid pharmacy on Monday. While police were at the pharmacy investigating on Tuesday morning, Horner walked in with another fake prescription.

After being arrested for forging a prescription, Horner posted bond and was released.

A few hours later, police went to Horner’s home for a domestic dispute and arrested him for domestic battery after his wife got a protective order, the NewsCenter reported.

Horner posted bond, returned to the home on Tuesday evening, and was arrested again for violating the protective order.

After his third arrest in seven hours, Horner was arraigned and immediately sentenced to a mandatory 10 days in jail.
Evan Bleier

Donald Sterling Also Receives Lifetime Ban From Nevada’s Bunny Ranch Brothel

CARSON CITY, Nev., April 30 (UPI) — Donald Sterling can’t watch his players on the court in California — and now he can’t play in Nevada.

A day after he was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling also got the boot from the infamous Bunny Ranch brothel outside Carson City, Nevada.

The owner of the legal brothel, Dennis Hof, also announced that Sterling is banned from entering any of his six other brothels in the state.

“A lot of NBA players come here to party,” Hof told the Huffington Post. “Out of respect to them, we have banned Sterling from coming here.”

Hof issued the ban on behalf of his employees as well.

“At any given time, 20 to 23 percent of the prostitutes here are African-American,” Hof said. “And they’re smoking hot. Some of them were crying this morning so we’re doing this for them as well. We don’t need racists or bigots at the Bunny Ranch.”

The owner would neither confirm nor deny whether Sterling had ever visited in the past.

“I can tell you this: Johnny Buss, one of the owners of the Los Angeles Lakers, and I have had a dual birthday party at the Bunny Ranch for the last 18 years, so a lot of NBA people have been here,” Hof said.

The “Duck Dynasty guys” and Michael Vick have also been banned from the Bunny Ranch and its subsidiaries.
Evan Bleier

Florida Senator Introduces ‘zombie Apocalypse’ Amendment

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., April 30 (UPI) — A Florida senator introduced an amendment to state Senate Bill 296 on Tuesday that would change the title from “An act related to carrying a concealed weapon or firearm” to “An act relating to the zombie apocalypse.”

The bill, which would eliminate criminal prosecution for carrying concealed firearms during a mandatory evacuation, was first introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes last fall.

Despite the seemingly humorous nature of the name change, Sen. Dwight Bullard wasn’t joking when he filed for the name change.

“For me, as laughable as the amendment might seem, it’s equally laughable that people who haven’t gone through the proper training, the background check, the license to carry — we’re saying because of a hurricane or flooding or sinkhole, these individuals have gone from gun owners to concealed carry permit holders,” Bullard told the Huffington Post.

“I’d argue a crisis is probably the last instance in which you want someone who is not a concealed permit holder to carry a weapon.”

When he introduced the bill, Brandes said that emergency evacuees would “have enough to worry about without having to cross-check themselves to be certain they’re in technical compliance with concealed weapon transport laws.”
Evan Bleier

89-year-old WWII Veteran Leo Sharp Hoping To Avoid Jail For Huge Cocaine Haul

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind., April 30 (UPI) — An 89-year-old World War II veteran will be sentenced on his 90th birthday in Detroit federal court after allegedly transporting more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine across the country.

Leo Sharp of Michigan City, Ind., was caught with more than 200 pounds of cocaine on Interstate 94 in 2011, and prosecutors determined that it was not his first time transporting the drug across the U.S. while serving as a mule for an Arizona drug ring.

Sharp, who pleaded guilty last fall, is set to be sentenced on May 7.

The veteran’s attorney, Darryl Goldberg, is hopeful that his client will be sentenced to home confinement because of his age and health.

“He is a colorful, self-made, charitable man who has worked hard throughout this entire admirable, extraordinary, and long life,” Goldberg wrote in a court memo. “Mr. Sharp made a monumental mistake at a moment of perceived financial weakness, and was exploited and threatened, but his conduct in this case was truly an aberration from a law-abiding life.”

Goldberg also noted that Sharp was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.

Prosecutors are believed to be seeking a five-year sentence.
Evan Bleier

Cornell Study Finds Children Who Eat Chicken On The Bone Are More Aggressive

ITHACA, N.Y., April 30 (UPI) — Researchers at Cornell University conducted a study about biting versus chewing habits in children and found that kids who eat chicken on the bone are more likely to disobey adults and be aggressive.

The study, which was published in Eating Behaviors, found that children were “twice as likely to disobey adults and twice as aggressive toward other kids” when eating food they had to hold and bite.

Researches found that children were more docile when eating cut-up pieces of food, results which would seem to indicate that there is a connection between having to use teeth to eat and aggressive behavior.

Not everyone agrees with the study’s findings.

“I think people have been eating chicken wings, chicken drumsticks for a millennia and I don’t think it’s made them any more aggressive than they otherwise would have been,” clinical psychologist Dr. Brian Russell told Fox News.

The children that the researchers studied were between the ages of 6 and 10.
Evan Bleier

Scientists Grow Functional Human Cartilage In Lab

NEW YORK, April 30 (UPI) — For the first time, scientists have successfully grown fully functional human cartilage in a lab setting, using stem cells derived from human fat tissue.

Scientists have previously been able to create cartilage out of animal cells, but attempts to cultivate cartilage from human stem cells has, until now, resulted in a weak, substandard product.

To produce cartilage able to substitute for the real thing — strong and durable — Sarindr Bhumiratana, a biomedical engineer at Columbia University’s Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, developed a new approach: subjecting the stem cells to a “condensation stage,” mimicking how a human skeleton develops in the womb.

As head researcher Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Bhumiratana’s advisor, explained: “Our whole approach to tissue engineering is biomimetic in nature, which means that our engineering designs are defined by biological principles.”

In other words, engineers at Columbia’s lab are continually try to recreate the biological environment and conditions that naturally enable tissue formation.

It’s a general approach, Vunjak-Novakovic admits, that has been used successfully before, to replicate bone and heart tissue. “Still, we were really surprised to see that our cartilage, grown by mimicking some aspects of biological development, was as strong as ‘normal’ human cartilage.”

Though the researchers’ new study — which was published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — suggests the cartilage produced is fully functional, they still need to test its durability once implanted in a human body.

“This is a very exciting time for tissue engineers,” says Vunjak-Novakovic. “Stem cells are transforming the future of medicine, offering ways to overcome some of the human body’s fundamental limitations.
Brooks Hays

Astronomers Measure Length Of A Day On Alien Planet, A First

LEIDEN, Netherlands, April 30 (UPI) — Tired of the nine-to-five, the eight-hour work day? At least Earth’s 24-hour day leaves some time for eating and sleeping. On Beta Pictoris b, the alien planet with only eight hours in its day, there’d only be time for work, work, work.

Beta Pictoris b is the first alien planet to have its rotation speed successfully clocked by astronomers.

The eight-hour day of Beta Pictoris b, a gas giant roughly 10 times the size of Jupiter, is thanks to its quick rotational speed. The equator of Beta Pictoris b spins around the planet’s axis at a rate of 62,000 mph, much faster than any other planet in our solar system.

By comparison, Jupiter’s equator rotates at a rate of 29,000 mph, and Earth’s equator spins at a speed of 1,060 mph.

“It is not known why some planets spin fast and others more slowly, but this first measurement of an exoplanet’s rotation shows that the trend seen in the solar system, where the more massive planets spin faster, also holds true for exoplanets,” said study co-author Remco de Kok, an astronomer at the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. “This must be some universal consequence of the way planets form.”

The planet in question orbits Beta Pictoris, a star which lies some 63 light-years from Earth and can be seen with the naked eye in the southern sky constellation Pictor, Latin for “The Painter’s Easel.”

Because of the planet’s exceptional rotation speed and gaseous state, it features an apparent oblong shape — disproportionally wider at its center than toward its poles.

The astronomers used a analysis technique called “high-dispersion spectroscopy” sourced with readings from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

“We have measured the wavelengths of radiation emitted by the planet to a precision of one part in a hundred thousand, which makes the measurements sensitive to the Doppler effects that can reveal the velocity of emitting objects,” explained lead author Ignas Snellen. “Using this technique we find that different parts of the planet’s surface are moving towards or away from us at different speeds, which can only mean that the planet is rotating around its axis.”
Brooks Hays

Trace Amounts Of Fukushima Radiation Found In Tuna Off Oregon Coast

CORVALLIS, Ore., April 30 (UPI) — The authors of the Oregon State University study say a sample of albacore tuna caught off the coasts of Oregon and Washington state have increased, but still small, levels of radioactivity — a result of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The researchers tested different parts of 26 Pacific albacore tuna. About half of the test subjects were caught between 2008 and the March 2011 nuclear meltdown, while the others were caught and tested between the accident’s aftermath and 2012. Certain radioactive isotopes tripled in that tuna specimens’ loins, carcasses and guts in the wake of the disaster.

Even at triple their normal levels, the scientists point out that the isotopes are barely detectable — trace amounts that remain well below the safety standards set by the EPA.

“You can’t say there is absolutely zero risk because any radiation is assumed to carry at least some small risk,” Delvan Neville, an Oregon State graduate research assistant and lead author of the study, said in a news release. “But these trace levels are too small to be a realistic concern.”

“A year of eating albacore with these cesium traces is about the same dose of radiation as you get from spending 23 seconds in a stuffy basement from radon gas, or sleeping next to your spouse for 40 nights from the natural potassium-40 in their body,” Neville added. “It’s just not much at all.”

Levels of radioactive cesium isotopes in West Coast waters are expected to slowly increase over the summer, as ocean currents continue to carry the polluted water across the Pacific. But researchers don’t expect radiation amounts to come close to broaching safe drinking levels.
Brooks Hays

California Offers Tax Breaks To Private Space Companies

SACRAMENTO, April 30 (UPI) — California may boast some of the highest taxes in the Union, but if you’re in the movie industry or the private space business, there are few better places to conduct your affairs.

As it has done for many years with the film industry, California is offering tax incentives to private space companies — having recently passed legislation liberating companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX from property tax duties for ten years.

Governor Jerry Brown signed the new bill into law Tuesday.

“I introduced AB 777 to support and grow one of the most exciting new industries in California, commercial space flight,” Assembly member Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, said. Muratsuchi serves as Chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Aerospace.

“Private companies like Space X are building rocket ships and creating thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs right here in Southern California,” Muratsuchi added. “This new law will allow commercial spaceflight companies to continue to invest and grow in our state.”

The bill could make the budget balancing responsibilities of Brown and Muratsuchi just a wee bit harder, as the legislation is expected to deplete local property tax revenues by roughly $1 million annually.

California’s Chamber of Commerce has been supportive of the bill from the beginning, calling it a “job creator” law.
Brooks Hays

U.S. Concerned By Iranian, Russian Energy Deal

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) — If reports about an energy deal between Iran and Russia are true, it would be a concern to the U.S. government, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Iranian Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian met Sunday in Tehran with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak to discuss upgrading Iran’s power plants and electrical transmission lines. Both sides already work together in the nuclear sector, with Russia supplying fuel for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear facility.

Russia is under pressure from a U.S. government frustrated with the Kremlin’s reaction to Ukraine’s move toward the European Union, while Iran is facing its own pressure from sanctions imposed for its controversial nuclear program.

Psaki told reporters during her regular press conference Tuesday she had no confirmation the bilateral energy deal was in place.

“If it were true, it would be of concern,” she said.

Novak said earlier this week the electricity deal could extend to Azerbaijan, Iran’s neighbor to its north.

Psaki’s comments followed a decision from the U.S. Treasury Department to sanction Emirati and Pakistani nationals for evading sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector.
Daniel J. Graeber

The Cost Of The Great Recession On The Body May Surpass Damage To Bank Accounts

BOSTON, April 30 (UPI) — The stress of the Great Recession due to unemployment, home foreclosures, stock market downturns — or the fear of losing a job, home or retirement funds — have a massive impact on health that has yet to be calculated.

Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, professor of health communication at Harvard School of Public Health, said the economic costs of the downturn get the lion’s share of attention, but the damage to “our bodies could end up far surpassing the damage to our bank accounts.”

“We talk about poverty and inequality resulting from the recession, but we do not take the next step,” Viswanath told Harvard Public Health. “We do not extend that logic to the effects on health.”

Michelle Williams of the Harvard School of Public Health said among the known biological effects of chronic stress includes:

— Higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

— Sleep deprivation alters the immune and hormonal systems.

— Depressed mood or anxiety.

— Increased frequency and severity of upper respiratory infections.

— Decreased response to vaccines.

— Shortened teleomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, which are linked to accelerated aging and early death.

“The impact of stress, lack of treatment, lack of capacity to manage one’s life, increased smoking or drinking, eating unhealthy foods, family breakups: those consequences are long-lasting,” Viswanath said.

Unemployment has long been associated with physical health and mental health harm. For example, a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2009 found men who lost their jobs in mass layoffs during the 1980s oil crisis and subsequent recession in Pennsylvania had double the risk of dying than those employed. The death risk decreased, but the men who had been laid off were still at significantly higher risk of dying 20 years later.

A 2011 meta-analysis published in Social Science & Medicine, found those who experienced unemployment had a 63 percent higher death risk during the study periods than those who did no experience unemployment.

A study published in Demography found losing a job when a business closes increased the odds of fair or poor health by 54 percent among workers with no pre-existing health conditions, and increased by 83 percent the odds of new health conditions — stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and emotional and psychiatric problems.

David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu wrote in their book “The Body Economic,” all who lived through the recent recession are part of a massive experiment that is still under way.

“Thank you for participating in this clinical trial. You might not recall signing up for it, but you were enrolled in December 2007, at the start of the Great Recession,” the book said. “This experiment was not governed by the rules of informed consent or medical safety. Your treatment was not administered by doctors or nurses. It was directed by politicians, economists and ministers of finance.”
Alex Cukan

Coral Reef Protein Fights HIV Infection

BETHESDA, Md., April 30 (UPI) — A new protein, extracted from coral collected from reefs off the north coast of Australia, shows the ability to block HIV from entering and destroying immune cells, or T cells.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute discovered that the proteins, called cnidarins, prove remarkably effective at quashing the transmission abilities of HIV. If the proteins stand up to further testing, they could be incorporated into sexual lubricants and gels as a new barrier against HIV infection.

Researcher Dr. Koreen Ramessar said the test results were “completely different from what we’ve seen with other proteins, so we think the cnidarin proteins have a unique mechanism of action.”

What’s more, the proteins proved capable HIV infection combatants without enabling the virus to become resistant to other HIV drugs.

Ramessar was joined by the study’s lead investigator, Dr. Barry O’Keefe, in San Diego this week to present their research findings at this year’s Experimental Biology 2014.

“It’s always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before,” O’Keefe said. “And the fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection — and to do it in a completely new way — makes this truly exciting.”

The proteins tested in the groundbreaking research were sourced from the National Cancer Institute’s exhaustive repository of natural product extracts, featuring natural substances collected from all over the world.

O’Keefe called the repository a “national treasure,” where “you never know what you might find.”
Brooks Hays

Forget Milk, Drink Tart Cherry Juice For A Good Night’s Sleep

SAN DIEGO, April 30 (UPI) — Drinking Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks helped increase sleep time among older adults suffering with insomnia.

Study co-author Dr. Frank L. Greenway, director of the outpatient research clinic at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University, said an estimated one-quarter to one-third of U.S. adults age 65 and older have insomnia — defined as trouble sleeping on average more than three nights per week.

Insomnia is linked to a higher prevalence of chronic pain, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and a decline of cognitive function, or dementia. Many turn to sleeping pills; but this can increase the risk of falls in in seniors.

“Sleeping pills may be an option for younger insomniacs, but for older people these medications quadruple the risk of falling, which can lead to broken hips and, often, earlier death,” Greenway said in a statement.

For the randomized crossover clinical trial, seven older adults with an average age 68 with insomnia drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily for two weeks, followed by a two-week period during which they drank none of the juice. Afterward, the study subjects drank another beverage for a two-week period.

The researchers studied the sleep of the study subjects controlled setting, using overnight polysomnography — body functions monitored including brain, eye movements, skeletal muscle activation and heart rhythm — during sleep to evaluate sleep efficiency, such as how long it takes someone to sleep and sleep duration.

Greenway told the annual meeting of the American Society of Nutrition held in conjunction with the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego that the study found those who drank the Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day slept an average 84 minutes more compared to the placebo.

Montmorency tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone. Tart cherry juice helped increase tryptophan, an essential amino acid and a precursor to serotonin that helps with sleep. Tryptophan degradation is a known predictor of insomnia and is also related to inflammation, Greenway added.

The findings were submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The Cherry Marketing Institute provided funding for the research, but had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis or preparation of the abstract or presentation.
Alex Cukan

High Doses Of Antidepressants May Be Linked To Youth Self-Harm

BOSTON, April 30 (UPI) — High doses of antidepressants — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac or Zoloft — may be linked to increased risk of suicidal behavior in youth.

Dr. Matthew Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and colleagues, analyzed data from 162,625 people ages 10 to 64 with depression who started antidepressant treatment with an SSRI at the most prescribed doses or at higher than average doses from 1998 to 2010.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found the rate of suicidal behavior — or deliberate self-harm — among children and adults age 24 or younger, who began antidepressant therapy at high doses was about twice as high during the first 90 days of treatment compared to a control group of patients who received generally prescribed doses.

The authors suggest this increased risk corresponds to about one additional event of deliberate self-harm for every 150 patients treated with high-dose therapy. However, there was no difference in risk for suicidal behavior in adults ages 24 to 65.

“Considered in light of recent meta-analyses concluding that the efficacy of antidepressant therapy for youth seems to be modest, and separate evidence that dose is generally unrelated to the therapeutic efficacy of antidepressants, our findings offer clinicians an additional incentive to avoid initiating pharmacotherapy at high-therapeutic doses and to monitor all patients starting antidepressants, especially youth, for several months and regardless of history of deliberate self-harm.”
Alex Cukan

New York State Legistators Aim To Ban E-cigarettes

ALBANY, N.Y., April 29 (UPI) — A group of New York state lawmakers have crafted a bill that would ban electronic cigarettes in public spaces.

“We want the same restrictions for e-cigarettes as regular cigarettes,” said Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Nassau County, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

E-cigarettes, also called personal vaporizers or PVs, allow users to inhale a smoke-like vapor by heating a liquid solution — usually a mixture of nicotine and flavorings.

Last week, the FDA announced plans to begin regulating e-cigarettes.

New York City is one of several major U.S. cities that has already banished e-cigarettes; its ban took effect this week. Gotham residents can no longer smoke e-cigs anywhere regular cigarettes are also prohibited, including public spaces like bars, restaurants, offices, parks and beaches.

Now, legislators in Albany want the rest of the state to follow suit. State reps are confident the measure will pass as part of the more comprehensive Indoor Clean Air Act bill.

“New York City did it,” Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, said. “The rest of New York state needs the same protection.”
Brooks Hays

Northrop Producing Counter-IED Jamming Backpack System

SAN DIEGO, April 30 (UPI) — Electronic jamming backpack systems to protect U.S. Marines from roadside improvised explosive devices are being produced by Northrop Grumman.

Five initial production systems have been ordered from the company for testing under the Counter Radio-controlled IED Electronic Warfare Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operation Capable, or CREW MEU, contract, which has a value of $4.1 million.

Additional units will be provided under a five-year multiple-award, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract if testing is successful, Northrop said.

The IDIQ contract would carry a maximum value totaling $90 million.

Northrop is offering its Freedom 240 dismounted system for the CREW MEU contract. It’s part of the Joint CREW Increment 1 Build 1 family of precision multi-functional electronic warfare systems for protection from IEDs, which is funded and managed by the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command.

“Our troops face the IED threat around the world, and these Marine Expeditionary Units are the ones that go to the most dangerous places at a moment’s notice,” said Mike Twyman, sector vice president and general manager, Defense Systems division, Northrop Grumman Information Systems. “Northrop Grumman’s Freedom 240 dismounted system is lightweight, powerful and designed to keep up with these hard-fighting Marines.

“The Freedom 240 is designed to defeat complex clusters of current, emerging and future IED threats. It’s also capable of worldwide deployment with only software changes.”

Added Jeannie Hilger, vice president, Network Communication Systems business, Northrop Grumman Information Systems: “Because the system features a fully open architecture common across all the JCREW I1B1 variants, the Marine Corps can take advantage of technologies developed by third parties and benefit from the system’s flexibility, extensibility, ease of upgrades and reduced lifecycle cost.”
Richard Tomkins

B&W Subsidiary To Manufacture Nuclear Power Systems For Navy

CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 30 (UPI) — A subsidiary of The Babcock & Wilcox Company is to manufacture nuclear components to support U.S. Defense programs, B&W reported on Wednesday.

Work by subsidiary B&W Nuclear Operations Group Inc., under a $23.7 million incremental order, includes the manufacture of U.S. Navy nuclear power systems for submarines and aircraft carriers, and is part of a previously announced $1.3 billion contract.

The order is also one of $195 million in orders and contracts B&W Nuclear Operations Group has recently received from the U.S. Naval Reactors Program.

Four new incrementally funded contracts totaling $76.8 million were awarded for engineering design, fabrication and further development work on the Ohio-class submarine replacement program; a contract — with a value of $18.8 million — was received for the disassembly and recovery of highly enriched uranium materials; and an order for $76 million was received for the procurement of material to be used in the assembly of nuclear propulsion components, part of a previously announced $366 million contract.

“B&W is pleased to receive these contracts supporting the U.S. defense programs, including the Ohio-class submarine replacement program and the overall mission of the U.S. Navy,” said Peyton S. Baker, president and chief operating officer of B&W’s government operations. “Smart execution in our shops is of paramount importance to the safe, reliable and cost-effective delivery of this hardware and design services to the U.S. government.”

Babcock & Wilcox said the work will be conducted at B&W NOG facilities in Virginia, Indiana and Ohio.
Richard Tomkins

U.S. Economy Grows At A Glacial 0.1 Percent

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) — The U.S. economy seems to have felt the effects a harsh winter, weak exports and lower spending by businesses, which brought the economy to a near standstill.

The economy grew a meagre 0.1 percent in the first three months of the year — the slowest pace since 2012. Economists had expected a slowing down in growth after the robust growth seen in the second half of 2013 and the cold weather in January and February. But Wednesday’s numbers were drastically lower than the 1.2 percent growth Wall Street had been expecting.

But the underlying numbers suggest that there is still some strength in the economy. The Commerce Department said that economic activity already appeared to be bouncing back.

“This is certainly a mediocre report but not as terrible as the headline looks,” said Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS. “Final domestic demand is growing at the same pace as it did in the fourth quarter, and consumer spending was much better than we had thought.”

While consumer spending grew 3 percent, exports dropped 7.6 percent, coupled with a 5.5 percent reduction in spending on equipment by businesses. Residential construction was understandably affected by the cold weather but was also affected by higher housing prices, falling 5.7 percent.

Dropping exports widened the trade deficit to 0.8 percentage points in the first quarter. Cutbacks in state and federal spending offset a rebound seen after the 16-day federal government partial shutdown.

Consumer activity was spurred by higher spending on healthcare services and utilities. The higher utilities spending can be attributed to the cold weather, whereas the higher healthcare spending can be traced to the Affordable Care Act, according to Berger.

Analysts had predicted that 2014 will be the year of strong growth, and that this growth will increase hiring and lower still-high unemployment.
Ananth Baliga

Private Businesses Add 220,000 Jobs, Highest In Five Months

NEW YORK, April 30 (UPI) — U.S. employers upped their hiring in April, with private businesses adding 220,000 new jobs, as the economy seems to be brushing off the effects of a harsh winter.

The employment report complied by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing and forecasting firm Moody’s Analytics also revised March’s figures up from 191,000 to 209,000. April’s hiring was higher than the 210,000 estimated by economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said that the trend suggests the labor market is strengthening.

“After a tough winter employers are expanding payrolls across nearly all industries and company sizes,” Zandi said. “The recent pickup in job growth at mid-sized companies may signal better business confidence.”

According to ADP, small businesses, those employing 1 to 49 workers, hired 82,000 workers this month. Medium-sized businesses with 50 to 499 workers added 81,000 employees, whereas large firms, who employ more than 500 people, hired 57,000 workers.

ADP’s numbers come two days before the government releases its employment report. Economists expect the Bureau of Labor Statistics to report that non farm payrolls increased 215,000 in April. The figure is higher than the 192,000 jobs added in March and the most encouraging estimate since mid-2010 when temporary U.S. Census hiring boosted job numbers.
Ananth Baliga

Apple Releases New Sub-$1,000 Macbook Air

CUPERTINO, Calif., April 29 (UPI) — Apple released Tuesday its updated versions of the Macbook Air line, making them faster and dropping $100 off the price of all four models.

The price drop puts the 11-inch Macbook Air at $899, making it the first time that Apple has sold a notebook to the public for less than $900. The price cuts in all four models represent a 7.7 percent to 10 percent discount depending on the model.

The refresh centers around Intel’s Haswell CPU, with the 11-inch base model MacBook Air getting a speed bump thanks to a 1.4GHz Core i5 processor. For an extra $ 150, buyers can opt for the 1.7GHz Core i7 processor.

The new processor, along with the power saving features of OS X 10.9 Mavericks, gives the Macbook Air all-day battery power with the 13-inch MacBook Air capable of lasting 12 hours.

Apple has upgraded the storage on the notebooks as well with the faster PCI-e storage replacing the mSATA-based SSD found in previous models.
Ananth Baliga

Crude Oil Train Derails In Lynchburg, Virginia, Causes Explosion

LYNCHBURG, Va., April 30 (UPI) — A train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in downtown Lynchburg Wednesday, causing a massive fire.

The CSX train crashed around 2 p.m. with 12 to 14 tanker cars, three or four of which were breached.

No injuries are reported at this time but residents are encouraged to stay away from the downtown area. Lynchburg police and emergency personnel are on the scene, and after assessing the situation, the fire department decided to let the fire burn out.

“The cause of the derailment has not been determined at this time,” the city said in a statement. “CSX officials are working to remove the portion of the train that is blocking workers from leaving Griffin Pipe Foundry located in the lower basin.”
Aileen Graef