New Studies Show ‘Young Blood’ Reverses Aging Effects In Older Mice

BOSTON (UPI) — New studies show that older mice injected with the blood of younger mice seem to experience a reversal in the effects of aging.

After the blood was put into the circulatory system of the older mice, they were found to have dramatic improvements in brain and muscle strength and activity. The mice given younger blood were also able to last longer on a treadmill than the control group, which was given saline. Young mice injected with old blood saw a negative effect of premature aging.

The findings are the result of three studies, all published Sunday in the journals Science and Nature Medicine, with two by Harvard Stem Cell Institute and one by a group of researchers from Stanford University.

The researchers are trying to narrow down what in the blood of the young mice causes the effects, and found that a prevalent protein in the young blood, GDF11, caused the same effects when injected to the older mice. The researchers believe there are other components in the blood that help reverse aging but this protein is one of the main components.

The hope is the new studies will lead to human tests and to possible treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“Right now we can’t do anything for Alzheimer’s patients, and this seems so easy and simple,” said Tony Wyss-Coray, a neuroscientist and study author from Stanford University.

Beyond the mental effects of aging, scientists are hoping to find that with greater knowledge of the aging process, they can start to tackle other diseases that come with getting older.

“If we understand the aging process in enough detail, we can begin to tackle the underlying mechanisms rather than treating one disease at a time,” said Judith Campisi, a biochemist at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

Putin Declares War… On Bad Language

MOSCOW (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law to ban swear words from movies, theater productions and concerts.

The law goes into effect on July 1 and will penalize offenders with fines that range from a maximum of $70 for individuals to $1,400 for organizations.

There was no further information regarding which specific swear words will be banned under the new law.

Culture Ministry spokesperson Irina Kaznacheeva insists “the law is not aggressive; its only aim is to regulate this sphere, so that swearing will have its purpose.”

The new legislation follows an April 2013 law that banned swearing in media.

Maryland Raises Minimum Wage To $10.10

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a hike in the State’s minimum wage from the current Federal $7.25 to $10.10 by July 2018.

Touting the move as a way to boost the State’s economy, O’Malley said the increase in minimum wage would be a boon both to workers and businesses.

“This will boost the incomes of hundreds of thousands of hardworking Marylanders and inject millions of dollars into our state’s economy,” the Governor said.

O’Malley was joined at the ceremony by U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a former member of O’Malley’s cabinet, who praised the movie as “good for Maryland business, good for Maryland workers and a good example for the country.”

“When you put money in people’s pockets, people spend it,” he said.

The minimum wage in the State will rise to $8 on January 1, and to $8.25 by July 1, 2015. It will then go up again on July 1, 2016, to $8.75, to $9.25 a year later and to $10.10 the year after that.

Maryland joins 21 States and the District of Columbia who have moved to raise their minimum wage above the Federal wage floor. President Barack Obama and members of Congress — mostly Democrats, with a few Republicans joining in — have made raising the Federal minimum wage a concerted part of the the domestic agenda for the year.

Boko Haram Claims Responsibility For The Abduction Of More Than 200 Nigerian Schoolgirls

CHIBOK, Nigeria (UPI) — A man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility Monday for the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and vowed to sell them.

The video is the first definite confirmation that Boko Haram — whose name is usually translated as “Western education is forbidden” — is the culprit behind the kidnappings.

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” said a man who is allegedly Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in the video. “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.”

There were claims made by civic organizations that the girls were already being sold to their captors for marriage for as little as $12 per person after being trafficked across the border into neighboring Chad and Cameroon. Those claims have not been confirmed.

The lukewarm search for the missing girls has been a source of frustration for the families of the victims and the people of Nigeria. The Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls has been trending and was part of a larger protest to spur government action on finding and rescuing the abducted students. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said Sunday the government will rescue them.

“We promise that wherever these girls are, we’ll surely get them out. One good thing that made me happy and I believe most Nigerians are happy is that there is no story that any of them have been hurt in terms of injured or dead.”

U.S Secretary of State John Kerry pledged U.S. support in finding the girls on Saturday.

“Let me be clear: the kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes.”

Kerry also said that the U.S. will help strengthen Nigerian institutions and military.

Abuja police said they are leaving “no stone unturned” in the search for the missing girls.

Supreme Court Backs Prayer In Town Meetings

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The Supreme Court cleared the path for explicitly religious prayers to be given during government activity, so long as the government was not seen as coercing citizens into participation.

In a 5-4 split decision, the high court’s conservative wing sided with the practices of Greece, a town of 94,000 residents outside Rochester, N.Y., which opens its monthly board meetings to a prayer delivered by a “chaplain of the month.”

Co-plaintiffs Linda Stephens and Susan Galloway sued the town, saying the practice had been heavily Christian in nature over the years and the town had repeatedly ignored requests to modify or change the policy. They argued the civic prayers violated the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The town said it sought to address the women’s concerns by inviting a broader range of voices, including a Jewish man, a Wiccan priestess and a member of the Baha’i faith to offer words at the sessions, inviting a diverse group of speakers without reviewing their remarks ahead of time.

A 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling went against the town, finding the policy “virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint” and violated the Establishment Clause.

But the highest court disagreed, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for a plurality that included Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, saying the town’s policy failed a three-part “coercion” test. Coercion, he wrote, would involve the town ordering the public to join in the prayer, criticizing those who disagreed with the prayer or declined to participate, or made policy decisions based on a citizen’s participation in the prayer.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote a concurring opinion that argued the coercion test need only find the government actually forced people to become members of the faith, attending services or paying taxes that supported religious institutions.

Writing for the dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town made little effort to be inclusive, and the ruling could force prayers explicitly promoting a single faith in other public venues such as trials, polling places or naturalization ceremonies. Her opinion was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

New Poll Shows Republicans Have Advantage With Voters Heading Into Midterm Election

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Republicans have an advantage of 4 percentage points over the Democrats with the U.S. midterm elections six months away, a poll released Monday said.

The poll by the Pew Research Center and USA Today showed the Republicans moving ahead with 47 percent of registered voters surveyed saying they would vote for a generic GOP candidate, while 43 percent said they would pick a Democrat. In October, a Pew/USA Today poll found 49 percent planning to vote Democratic while 43 percent said they would vote Republican.

Republicans tend to have a built-in advantage in non-Presidential years because older white voters are more likely to get to the polls. As a result, polls of registered voters tend to understate the party’s share.

The poll found that President Barack Obama’s approval rating remains low at 44 percent. But it is still considerably higher than President George W. Bush’s 32 percent rating six months before the 2006 midterms.

Almost two-thirds, 65 percent of those polled, said they hope the next President adopts different policies, instead of continuing Obama’s.

Most voters said they disapprove of Congressional leaders, with Republicans getting even worse ratings than Democrats.

More than half, 54 percent, of respondents said their decision on how to vote in November is not based on their feeling about Obama. But 24 percent said they would effectively be voting against him and only 16 percent for him.

The poll was conducted between April 23 and April 27 and surveyed 1,501 adults, 1,162 of them registered voters.

CBS, Buzzfeed, And Sky News Journalists Detained In Ukraine, Then Freed

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine, May 2 (UPI) — CBS reporter Clarissa Ward and her crew, Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio, and Sky News reporters were detained by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine Friday.

The journalists were detained, held, and then released. After their release, they discussed their experience with their respective outlets and on Twitter. Clarissa Ward of CBS told CBS This Morning abouther experience.

“We were stopped and told that the commander needed to ask his commander whether we should either be let go or taken prisoner. From there we were then taken to another nearby tent where we were blindfolded with sort of cloth and masking tape, really quite tightly bound around our heads so we couldn’t see anything at all.”

The militants then separated the men and women and interrogated them. Ward said she could hear them discussing whether to hold them in case of a hostage negotiation.

“You start to feel a pit in your stomach,” she said.

Ward and her colleagues were released and are now safe but one of the men on her team was beaten before their release.

Giglio told his story on Twitter after his release.

We were taken from a pro-Russia checkpoint en route to Slovyansk, blindfolded and held at occupied police building. The ordeal took 3 hours.— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) May 2, 2014

All the journalists and crew taken with me, including my brave translator Lena, are released and safely back in Donetsk as well.— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) May 2, 2014

Once they decided to release us — and a translator overheard talk of taking us hostage — the pro-Russia militiamen politely served us tea.— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) May 2, 2014

Barnaby Green from Sky News was brief in his tweet.

Well that was interesting….— Barnaby Green (@barnabysky) May 2, 2014

Family Of Defiant Nevada Rancher File Complaints With Sheriff Against Federal Agents

LAS VEGAS, May 2 (UPI) — Relatives of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher in a dispute over grazing fees, filed complaints Friday accusing Federal agents of impersonating police officers.

Bundy himself did not make the trip to the Las Vegas Metro Police headquarters. His sons, Ryan and Ammon, were joined by other relatives and friends.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management halted an attempt in April to seize Bundy’s cattle when armed supporters gathered at his ranch 80 miles from Las Vegas. The government says that Bundy owes more than $1 million in unpaid fees for grazing his cattle on Federal land.

Ammon Bundy was shot with a stun gun during a confrontation April 9. The complaints filed Friday included assault and making threats with a lethal weapon.

“We expect the sheriff to investigate the crimes,” Ammon Bundy said.

Bundy has said he believes the Federal government has no legal authority and that any law enforcement above the level of county sheriff is illegitimate. Many conservative pundits and elected officials who had expressed sympathy with him began backing off after he was quoted by the New York Times suggesting that blacks were better off as slaves.

Bundy’s feud with the Federal government apparently began because he was upset over new regulations in the 1990s aimed at protecting a species of desert tortoise.

N. Korea Releases List Of U.S. “Human Right Abuses”

PYNOGYANG, North Korea, May 2 (UPI) — North Korea responded to a United Nations report on its human rights abuses with a list of its own, in a newspaper article of “Poor Human Rights Record in the U.S.”

Following a 320-page U.N. report indicting North Korea for human rights violations “without any parallel in the contemporary world,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency offered a list Wednesday of grievances with the United States’ alleged record.

The article brought up racial discrimination, unemployment, surveillance and poverty, as well as the claim, “The U.S. is the world’s worst human rights abuser and tundra of a human being’s rights to existence.” It also referred to the United States as “a living hell as elementary rights to existence are ruthlessly violated,” without offering examples.

Other points mentioned include a reference to the death of Trayvon Martin, who was unnamed in pointing out “the Florida Court gave a verdict of not guilty to a white policeman who shot to death an innocent black boy;” “an average of 300,000 people a week are registered as unemployed,” and “its chief executive Obama indulges himself in luxury every day.”

Hagel To NATO: Increase Defense Spending

WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned NATO members Friday to increase their defense expenditures in light of challenges posed by Russia.

“Leaders across our governments must understand the consequences” of lagging defense spending by the 28 member nations of NATO, he said in an address at the Wilson Center in Washington. Noting the disproportionate burden of defense spending by the United States, he added, “Today America’s GDP (gross domestic product) is smaller than the combined GDPs of our 27 NATO allies, but America’s defense spending is three times our allies’ defense spending.”

Hagel’s speech reinforced the Obama Administration’s appeals to NATO nations to raise their defense spending. In March President Barack Obama urged “every NATO member state… to step up and carry its share of the burden by showing the political will to invest in our collective defense.”

Obama has said only the strength of the alliance would push Russia toward a diplomatic solution in Ukraine, and NATO and U.S. officials have called for renewed emphasis on the NATO budget when its next summit is held in Wales in September.

GOP Ramps Up Benghazi Investigation, Forms Select Committee

WASHINGTON– Republicans in the House began an all-out Benghazi-themed offensive on the Obama Administration this week, escalating the investigation into what they claim were cover-ups by the Administration in the wake of the terrorist attack that left four Americans dead.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced on Friday the formation of a select committee, to be chaired by South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks. Also Friday, the House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to force him to appear at a hearing later this month.

“The administration’s withholding of documents — emails showing greater White House involvement in misleading the American people — is a flagrant violation of trust and undermines the basic principles of oversight upon which our system of government is built,” Boehner said in a statement. “And it forces us to ask the question, what else about Benghazi is the Obama administration still hiding from the American people?”

The moves come two days after new State Department communications were declassified and released, including 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 fact that these documents were withheld from Congress for more than 19 months is alarming,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.). “The Department is not entitled to delay responsive materials because it is embarrassing or implicates the roles and actions of senior officials.”

Republicans pointed to testimony at an Oversight hearing Thursday from retired USAF Brig. Gen. Rovert Lovell that appeared to accuse the State Department of withholding military aid from Libya in the hours of the attack. But House Armed Services Committee Chair Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) quickly undercut their conclusion.

“BG Lovell did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken,” McKeon said in a statement Thursday. “We have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resourced DoD had available to respond.”

House conservatives have been clamoring for leadership to ramp up the investigation for months, sensing a political opening that they believe will energize their base heading into November’s midterm elections.

They also hope to hang the issue on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has maintained her edge as a clear frontrunner in polling of potential 2016 match-ups.

Since the immediate aftermath of the attack that left Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, the Republican investigation has turned up numerous “smoking guns,” particularly related to the creation of Rice’s talking points. At the time, Rice said the attack spontaneously occurred during a protest over a YouTube video that had generated outrage across the Middle East that week.

While it later became clear the attack was perpetrated by extremists — Republicans accuse the White House of trying to stick to its election-year message that al Qaeda was critically weakened — the CIA has maintained they could not rule out the protest as a cause for several days.

Editor’s note from Personal Liberty:Notable select committees in America’s past include the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, which probed President Richard Nixon’s role in Watergate, and the 9/11 Commission, which investigated the attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon.

Windows XP Users Included In Internet Explorer Security Patch

SEATTLE, May 1 (UPI) — Microsoft has issued a security patch for the security hole in all versions of Internet Explorer, and has even included a patch for XP users.

The tech company had stopped issuing updates and support for XP users form April 8, and said that the issuance of this update did not mean they were restoring support for XP.

“Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft, and we continue to encourage customers to migrate to a modern operating system, such as Windows 7 or 8.1. Additionally, customers are encouraged to upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer, IE 11,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

The fix will update all users who have their automatic updates turned on, the company said on its security response page. Microsoft suggests that users turn on the feature by clicking on the “Check for Updates” button on the Windows Update tab of their Control Panel.

“For those manually updating, we strongly encourage you to apply this update as quickly as possible following the directions in the released security bulletin,” said Dustin Childs from the response communications team.

Microsoft reveled earlier this week that a security flaw was allowing malicious hackers to get around security protections in the Windows operating system. The flaw was introduced when a user visited an infected site.

Many were quick to predict this as the end for Internet Explorer, which was once the most dominant browser in the market.

“I don’t expect a huge backlash on Internet Explorer’s market share,” said Gartner security analyst Lawrence Pingree. “In fact, I think this helps drive adoption of upgrades to Windows 7 from XP.”

The flaw got the Department of Homeland Security to ask its employees to stop using the browser until a fix was issued. According to Pingree, DHS issued that warning assuming that XP wouldn’t get the patch, leaving its users with no alternative but to switch browsers.

Consumer Spending Accelerates Fastest Since 2009

WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) — Consumer spending accelerated the most in five years in March, as shoppers embraced the warmer weather and made a beeline to auto dealers and malls.

Personal consumption — which includes purchases from cars to sliced bread — was up a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent, the Commerce Department said. This was the largest gain since August 2009 and even exceeded Wall Street expectations, which estimated a 0.6 percent rise in consumer spending.

Spending on durable goods, which include cars, jumped 2.7 percent, following a modest 1.3 percent increase in February. Purchases of non-durable goods, which include gasoline, rose 0.9 percent.

Household spending on services increased 0.4 percent, with a the biggest contributor being utilities. Spending on health care also rose, though by less than in the prior two months.

“Growth in economic activity has picked up recently, after having slowed sharply,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement following a meeting in Washington. “Household spending appears to be rising more quickly.”

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the U.S. economy grew by a meager 0.1 percent in the first quarter, largely helped by consumer spending.

Consumer spending accounts for nearly two-thirds of the U.S. economy’s output. Harsh winter weather caused consumer spending to remain subdued in December and February, but Thursday’s numbers show how spending helped the U.S. economy offset falling exports and business investment.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note to investors that March’s spending spurt, largely aided but auto sales, “cannot be sustained.”

Jobless Claims Jump For Second Straight Week, Up 14,000 To 344,000

WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) — The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose for the second straight week by 14,000 new claims to a seasonally adjusted level of 344,000.

This is the highest level seen since February and came as a surprise to economists who had estimated claims would fall to 320,000 for the week ending April 26. Claims had increased 25,000 the prior week, which economists attributed to the Easter holidays and expected it would be reversed this week.

The previous week’s estimates were also revised to reflect an additional increase of 1,000, taking that week’s claims to 330,000.

While claims have been rising steadily since February, when they were 301,000, they are still nowhere close to the peak of 600,000 reached in 2009.

Continuing claims jumped 97,000 to 2.77 million in the latest week. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits.

Jobless claims are a signal of layoffs, so higher numbers can indicate a weak labor market. But those claims are known to be volatile and could still be feeling the effects of the Easter break. The Labor Department is expected to release non-farm payroll data Friday, with economists polled by MarketWatch estimating 215,000 jobs were added in April, up from 192,000 in March.

Mark Fields To Replace Alan Mulally As Ford CEO

DETROIT, May 1 (UPI) — Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who is credited with turning around the car maker, will retire July 1 and will be succeeded by his lieutenant Mark Fields.

Fields has long been seen as the CEO-in-waiting after he was promoted to chief operating officer in 2012. Before being appointed COO, Fields was in charge of Ford’s operations in the Americas, making North America into a profit engine.

“Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said.

Mulally has been credited with turning around the company, which he took over in 2006 after being personally appointed by Bill Ford. At the time the car maker was known for executive infighting, but Mulally changed that by instilling a team-focused culture at Ford.

Mulallly shed Ford’s non performing brands like Mazda, Land Rover and Volvo. He took the bold step of mortgaging key company assets like its factories and iconic blu oval logo, to give the company enough cash to revamp its line of cars.

These efforts seem to have worked, as the company earned $7.2 billion in 2013, with enough profits to pay hourly factory workers a profit-sharing bonus of $8,800 each.

Fields has been by Mulally’s side during the recovery and was even groomed by the latter. When Mulally joined Ford, Fields was known to have a hot temper but after embracing Mulally’s work culture he has grown to become a more relaxed and polished leader.

“Fields learned a lot from Mulally,” said auto analyst Michelle Krebs. “He picked up good habits to not get sidetracked and be laser-focused on product.”

While some personnel changes are expected with the entry of a new CEO, insiders do not expect Fields to do anything radical.

Official: Guards Used Taser On Clayton Lockett Hours Before Apparently Botched Execution

OKLAHOMA CITY, May 1 (UPI) — Prison guards used a Taser to restrain Clayton Lockett hours before he died in an apparently botched execution, Oklahoma’s top corrections official said Thursday.

The information was provided in a timeline that Robert Patton, director of the department of corrections, sent to Governor Mary Fallin. Patton said Lockett was supposed to be X-rayed Tuesday morning as part of the execution procedure and was tasered shortly before 6 a.m. when he refused to allow guards to put restraints on him to escort him to the medical unit.

Lockett was pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m., more than 40 minutes after midzolam, the first of three drugs, was administered. Patton had announced a halt to the execution 10 minutes earlier because the doctor present said Lockett had not gotten enough of the drugs to kill him.

The cause of death is believed to be a heart attack.

Patton in his report also said that at the medical unit staffers found an apparently self-inflicted wound on Lockett’s arm that did not require stitches.

Lockett was sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of Stephanie Neiman, 19, of Perry, Okla. Neiman was buried alive after she became involved in a bungled home invasion while dropping a friend off.

Another inmate, Charles Warner, was scheduled to be executed at 8 p.m. Tuesday. That execution has now been stayed for at least two weeks.

Fallin announced Wednesday that the state will investigate what happened and determine if changes need to be made to execution protocols, promising the review will be independent. Dean Sanderford, Lockett’s lawyer, said no investigation by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety will be truly independent.

“In order to understand exactly what went wrong in last night’s horrific execution, and restore any confidence in the execution process, the death of Clayton Lockett must be investigated by a truly independent organization, not a state employee or agency,” he said in an emailed statement.

US Nuclear Arsenal Still Controlled By Floppy Disks

WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) — A Minuteman-3 missile with the power to cause 20 times the damage as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima lies underground in Wyoming, a relic of the cold-war still very much capable of being fired, controlled by archaic equipment also left over from that era.

In a special titled “Who’s Minding the Nukes?” by Leslie Stahl on CBS’ 60 Minutes, the U.S. nuclear arsenal was revealed to rely on incredibly dated technology — analog phones and eight-inch floppy disks.

A 23-year-old missileer working at the facility told Stahl, “I had never seen one of these until I got down in missiles.”

An audit of the nation’s nuclear weapons systems conducted in March of this year by the U.S. Department of Energy found the safety and reliability of America’s nuclear facilities could soon be a concern, noting “that irreplaceable nuclear weapons CM [configuration management] information is degrading. Specifically, film media and microfiche are being lost due to degradation, and radiographs are beginning to stick together causing extensive damage and making the data unrecoverable.”

It’s estimated it would cost $350 billion over a decade to modernize the systems.

But an official who oversees three nuclear bases, Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, told Stahl that the outdated system has security benefits, as the old technology is not easily hackable. “A few years ago we did a complete analysis of our entire network,” Weinstein said. “Cyber engineers found out that the system is extremely safe and extremely secure in the way it’s developed.”

President Obama Congratulates Iraq On Holding First Parliamentary Elections Since U.S. Military Withdrawal

WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama offered his congratulations to the Iraqi people for holding the country’s first parliamentary elections since the U.S. military withdrew in 2011.

Despite concerns about election day violence, Iraqis cast ballots on Wednesday at some 50,000 polling centers across the country. The 328 parliamentary seats in contention were sought by 9,000 candidates.

“Millions of Iraqis embraced their democratic right to vote,” Obama observed. “Yesterday’s turnout demonstrated to the world that they seek to pursue a more stable and peaceful future through the political process.”

Concerns about violence prompted authorities to lock down the capital city of Baghdad. No cars were permitted in the city in an effort to curb the possibility of suicide attacks and car bombings, forcing Baghdad residents to walk to polling stations.

BBC correspondent Rafid Jaboori reported that despite concerns about violence, the Iraqis he spoke to throughout the country said that they would not be deterred from voting on Wednesday.

China’s Plan To Stop Pollution: Ban Outdoor Grilling

BEIJING, May 1 (UPI) — The Chinese government banned outdoor grilling Sunday in an effort to curb the pollution that plagues the country.

The ban prohibits all outdoor grilling and food preparation. Chinese officials say the regulation will help cut down on smog.

The smog and pollution levels in China have reached up 15 times higher than deemed safe by the World Health Organization and is mainly attributed to the lightly regulated industrial sector and the millions of cars on the road.

The ban could hit the food industry as many people line the streets with grilling stands to purchase food during the warmer months. People who violate the ban could face up to a $3,000 fine. They will now have to either move their operation indoors or shut down completely.

The ban has been widely criticized with many calling for Beijing to focus on the real problems of industrial and automobile pollution.

Marathon Bombing Suspect’s Lawyers: Citizenship Status Should Not Be Used In Bid For Death Penalty

BOSTON, May 1 (UPI) — Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said Thursday federal prosecutors in Boston should not use his citizenship status against him in an effort to get a death sentence.

The lawyers filed a motion in U.S. District Court asking for removal of Tsarnaev’s alleged “betrayal” of the United States as an aggravating factor. They said the factor has not been used in any of the 493 federal death penalty cases since 1988.

Tsarnaev, now 20, allegedly worked with his brother to set off two bombs at the finish line of last year’s Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring many more. His older brother, Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a confrontation with police a few days later.

The brothers came to the United States as children with their parents, who are ethnic Chechens.

Defining “betrayal of the United States,” prosecutors said: “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received asylum from the United States; obtained citizenship and enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen; and then betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people in the United States.”

The defense lawyers described the move as unprecedented.

“But in not one of the 492 cases before Mr. Tsarnaev’s has the government cited the fact of a defendant’s American citizenship, the way he became a citizen, any aspect of his immigration history or his enjoyment of the freedoms of an American citizen as a reason to sentence him to death,” the motion said.

The federal government has held three executions since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that capital punishment is constitutional and now has 59 people on death row. The U.S. military has executed no one in the modern era and has six prisoners under death sentences.

Seattle Mayor Plans To Raise Minimum Wage To $15 Per Hour

SEATTLE, May 1 (UPI) — Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a plan Thursday that would give the city the highest minimum wage in the United States, $15 an hour.

The increase would be phased in and small and large businesses would have different timetables, the mayor said. Businesses with more than 500 employees that do not provide health benefits would have three years while some small businesses would have seven.

“No industry, organization or class of employer is exempt,” the mayor said.

Washington State already has the highest minimum wage in the country, $9.32 an hour. Hawaii and Maryland have adopted plans to increase the minimum wage in their states, while a plan backed by President Obama to raise the national minimum to $10.10 stalled Wednesday in the U.S. Senate.

Murray, a left-wing Catholic, made the announcement on May Day, celebrated as International Workers Day by many around the world.

The mayor got support from most members of an advisory committee he set up. Maud Daudon of the Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce abstained and Craig Dawson of Retail Lockbox voted against the plan while Kshama Sawant, a Socialist member of the city council, opposed it on the grounds that the increase should come sooner.

Councilman Nick Licata, who spoke after the mayor, promised to work to get the increase passed.

Russians Are Happier Than Ever, Survey Says

MOSCOW, May 1 (UPI) — Even though their country is preparing for military conflict and its economy is in recession, Russians, a survey released Thursday said, are the happiest they have been in 25 years.

In its annual “Happiness Index,” the VTsIOM public opinion research center said 78 percent of Russians declared themselves content with their lives, a one percent increase over last year’s statistics. Those in the 18 to 25 age group were the happiest, with 92 percent of respondents saying they were happy.

One in three respondents noted happiness, for them, was linked to family life, their children and grandchildren, and an interesting work life. The number of those simply thankful to be alive has doubled, the survey said.

Those unhappy complained of bad health and a low standard of living.

The survey was conducted among 1,600 respondents across 45 Russian regions.

Poll: Residents Of Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland Most Eager To Move To Another State

WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) — Residents of Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland most want to move elsewhere, a Gallup poll says.

On the other side, those living in Montana, Hawaii and Maine tend to want to stay put with only 23 percent saying they would like to move to another State. In Illinois, exactly 50 percent would like a change of State.

Overall, about one-third of those in the United States would like to move to a different State. In Nevada, where 43 percent of the residents would like to move, one in five says they are actually planning to do so in the next year, the highest of any State.

The findings are based on the same data as a Gallup report earlier this week on residents’ attitudes towards their States. They tend to track the same way — with some interesting exceptions.

Alaska tied with Montana in its percentage of satisfied residents, but Alaskans are about average in their desire to move. Maine was not in the top 10 in happy residents, but it ties with Montana and Hawaii in desire to move elsewhere and only 8 percent in the State plan to do so in the next 12 months.

Gallup found that only 24 percent in New Hampshire, Oregon and Texas want to move, followed by 25 percent in Colorado and Minnesota, 26 percent in South Dakota and 27 percent in Wyoming. In Connecticut, 49 percent want to move, 47 percent in Maryland, 43 percent in Nevada, 42 percent in Rhode Island, 41 percent in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, 40 percent in Louisiana and 39 percent in Mississippi.

In the top 10 States for people planning to move soon, almost one-third, 31 percent, said it was for work or business reasons. The other top reasons for relocating were joining family and friends, getting better weather or an improved location and enjoying a better quality of life.

Gallup surveyed at least 600 people in every state in the second half of 2013. The margin of error is 5 percentage points for each State sample.