Treasury Sec. Lew Defends Sanctions Against Russia

WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) — U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew defended the program of sanctions the Obama administration has leveled against Russia, insisting the sanctions were taking a toll.

“You have to look over the period of time Russia went into Crimea, since we’ve imposed sanctions, there has been a quite substantial deterioration in Russia’s already weak economy,” Lew told a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Tuesday. “We see it in their stock exchange, we see it in their exchange rate, we see it in a number of important economic indicators.”

Lew faced skeptical members of Congress from both sides of the aisle a day after White House announced additional sanctions, targeting seven individuals and 17 companies, including travel restrictions and the freezing of assets, and said further action could still come.

“We need to continue to keep our options open,” Lew said. “We are prepared to take more action and we’ve made clear that we’re prepared to take more action if the policy of Russia doesn’t change.”

The new U.S. sanctions include Dmitri Kozak, the deputy prime minister; Vyacheslav Volodin, deputy chief of staff to President Vladimir Putin; Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the international affairs committee of the Duma, and Igor Sechin, president of the state-owned Rosneft oil company.

The European Union issued sanctions of its own Tuesday, targeting 15 Russian individuals that also included Kozak as well as first deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov, and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, including the self-declared leader of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Denis Pushilin.
Gabrielle Levy

John Kerry Backtracks On Israel ‘Apartheid’ Comment, McCain Mocks Kerry Critics

WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement Monday saying he regretted using the term “apartheid state” when referring to the fate of Israel and the Palestinians if a peace deal could not be reached.

The original statement from Kerry was made during a closed-door meeting at the Trilateral Commission and published in an exclusive by The Daily Beast. Kerry told world leaders Friday if there is no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state.”

Apartheid describes a system of segregation that results in political and economic racial injustice, and it’s most often associated with the South African system from the 1940s to the 1990s.

The backlash to Kerry’s statement was swift, with figures from both the left and the right condemning the remarks and calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to repudiate Kerry’s words.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the statement “outrageous and disgusting,” and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. said in a tweet that Kerry’s assertion was “nonsensical and ridiculous.”

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous.— Sen. Barbara Boxer (@SenatorBoxer) April 28, 2014

Kerry quickly backtracked and reaffirmed his commitment to Israel, saying he wishes he had chosen a different phrase because he does not believe “that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.”

“I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution. In the long term, a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves or the prosperous state with full rights that the Palestinian people deserve.”

Update via Personal Liberty Staff:

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) mocked fellow Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) for calling on Kerry to resign over the remarks.

US Senator John McCain Meets Israeli President Shimon Peres

On Monday, Personal Liberty reported:

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called for Secretary of State John Kerry’s resignation Monday following the top U.S. diplomat’s remarks that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state if current peace talks with Palestinians fail. …

On the Senate floor, Cruz called for Kerry’s immediate departure.

“John Kerry should offer President Obama his resignation and the president should accept it,” Cruz said.

Noting that Kerry’s remarks brought him “great sadness,” the Texas Senator went on, “There is no place for this word in the context of the state of Israel. The term ‘apartheid,’ means ‘apart, different, isolated.’ The state of the victims of apartheid with which the Jews are tragically all too familiar.”

Roll Call reported that the Arizona Senator said that his response to Cruz should read, “Sen. McCain laughed heartily.”

“Resign?” McCain said. “Woo. That’s a pretty high bar.”

Former Illinois Lawmaker Faces Federal Child Pornography Charges

ELGIN, Ill., April 29 (UPI) — A former member of the Illinois legislature who supported bills for longer sentences for child pornography now faces federal child pornography charges.

In a complaint filed Monday, federal investigators charged that Keith Farnham, 66, used state computers as well as his personal computer to trade pornography and chat online with others who shared his predeliction.

Farnham allegedly said in one online exchange: “Twelve is about as old as i can handle. i love them at six, seven .”

As a legislator, Farnham co-sponsored two bills to toughen penalties for child pornography. He faces up to 10 years in prison if he is found guilty on the federal charges and is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

Farnham, a Democrat from Elgin, 35 miles north of Chicago, resigned his seat in the Illinois House of Representatives in mid-March, four days after his home computer was seized. At the time, he said he was leaving for health reasons.

Federal investigators say that an email address was identified in November as one used to trade child pornography. They discovered the address also appeared in online discussions about pornography and sex with children.

The address was allegedly eventually linked to Farnham.

Farnham, who owns a painting business in Elgin, had been in the state legislature since 2009.
Frances Burns

Boehner Keeps It Short On Grimm’s Legal Troubles

WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) — House Speaker John Boehner had no interest in dwelling on the legal problems plaguing New York Representative Michael Grimm, who was arrested and indicted on 20 charges of fraud related to his Manhattan health-food restaurants Monday.

During his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill Monday, Boehner gave a curt assessment of the freshman Republican’s decision to step down from his assignment to the House Committee on Financial Services.

“I think he made the right decision,” Boehner said. “I think all members should be held to the highest ethical standards.”

Grimm surrendered to the FBI Monday morning ahead of the unsealing of the indictment from the U.S. Attorney. He is accused of concealing about $1 million in gross receipts from the restaurant chain, Healthalicious, and falsely reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages to employees.

A former FBI agent himself, Grimm was charged with five counts each of mail fraud and wire fraud, three counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false and fraudulent tax returns, one count of conspiring to defraud the U.S., one count of impeding the IRS, a count of healthcare fraud, one count of obstructing and official proceeding and one count of employing unauthorized workers.

While those charges all relate to actions that precede Grimm taking office, Grimm also faces two counts of perjury for allegedly giving false testimony as a member of Congress when questioned under oath about his company’s financial dealings.

Grimm has denied wrongdoing and has refused to step down from his seat.
Gabrielle Levy

Luhansk, Ukraine, Government Building Stormed By Pro-Russian Seperatists

LUHANSK , Ukraine, April 29 (UPI) — An administration building in Luhansk, Ukraine, 20 miles from the Russian border, was stormed and occupied by pro-Russian separatists Tuesday.

Several dozen men, armed with sticks and steel bars, smashed windows and doors to enter the building, unattended by local police, where they shouted “Referendum now” before pulling down the Ukrainian flag and flying the tri-color Russian flag atop the building.

In an indoor courtyard they found security personnel in riot gear, but after a standoff, there was no report of violence.

“The regional leadership does not control its police force,” said Stanislav Rechynsky, and aide to the Ukraine Interior Minister in Kiev. “The local police did nothing.”

The invasion came after hundreds gathered outside the building to demand a referendum on greater autonomy to the city of 465,000 and other parts of eastern Ukraine.

Until the administration building was overtaken, only the city’s state security service headquarters had been targeted by separatist forces. Rechynsky said the government received information a television station in Luhansk was the next potential target.
Ed Adamczyk

EU Announces New Sanctions Against Russian Individuals

BRUSSELS, April 29 (UPI) — The European Union issued new sanctions Tuesday against 15 Russian individuals.

The newly sanctioned includes Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, first deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov, and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, including the self-declared leader of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Denis Pushilin.

The 15 names were selected for sanctioning “for threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” said Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Ashton spoke out Wednesday against recent unrest and destabilizing actions in eastern Ukraine.

“A number of people have been killed, wounded, tortured or kidnapped in the last few days. I notably condemn the shooting of Mayor of Kharkiv Henadiy Kernes yesterday and the detention of military observers from OSCE participating States in Slovyansk by armed separatists since last Friday. All persons still illegally detained by armed groups in Eastern Ukraine need to be immediately released. I am also concerned about continued attacks on journalists and the deterioration of media freedom environment in Eastern Ukraine, including the illegal seizure of TV transmission towers.”

Such incidents undermine the Joint Geneva Statement on Ukraine that Russia and Ukraine agreed to and signed on April 17, Ashton charged.

Under the terms of the agreement, all parties agreed to cease violent and provocative actions, disband all illegal armed groups, and that all occupants of seized buildings must disarm and depart — and will be granted amnesty.

While Ukraine has taken “concrete steps” to honor the agreement, Ashton pointed out that Russia must “take now concrete action in support of the Geneva accord.”
JC Finley

New Poll Finds More Than Half Would Prefer A Republican Congress

WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) — More than half of U.S. voters prefer a Republican majority in Congress to keep President Obama in line, a poll released Tuesday said.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll also gave the president a 41 percent approval rating, a drop of 5 percentage points from earlier in the year and the lowest this poll has ever found for him. At the same time, 53 percent of respondents said they would like to see a Republican majority in Congress while 49 percent would prefer a Democratic one.

Democrats had a slight edge in how people say they would cast their votes, with 45 percent of registered voters planning to support the a Democratic congressional candidate in the fall compared to 44 percent for the Republicans. But that is the same advantage the Democrats had before the 2010 election when the party lost control of the House.

Republicans have an advantage in mid-term elections because the older white voters who are now the party’s base are more likely to turn out.

Respondents gave Obama low marks on his handling of the economy, healthcare and especially foreign policy. Only 34 percent said they approve of his handling of the crisis in Ukraine.

There was some good news for the Democrats. While 40 percent of respondents said they trust the party more on most of the major issues facing the country, only 34 percent trust the Republicans.

Democrats have an especially strong advantage on women’s issues, helping the middle class and the minimum wage, and even on healthcare and the economy respondents found the party a bit more trustworthy. Respondents preferred the Republicans on gun control, handling the federal deficit and cutting the federal deficit.

The poll was conducted between Thursday and Sunday with 1,000 adults surveyed. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.
Frances Burns

Supreme Court To Hear Case On Police Searches Of Cellphones

WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases regarding whether police searches of cellphones should require a warrant to avoid violating the 4th Amendment.

The 4th Amendment prohibits law enforcement and the government from engaging in “unreasonable searches and seizures” but the Justice Department is trying to exploit an old loophole that allows a warrantless search to prevent the destruction of evidence.

The cases are among several that have tested the Constitution in the digital age. The first case, which is being heard on Tuesday, is Riley v. California. When David L. Riley was pulled over for expired registration in San Diego in 2009, police found guns in his vehicle and searched his smartphone, which contained evidence linking him to a street gang. He was arrested and convicted for attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In its Supreme Court brief, California claims information on cellphones “is not different in kind from wallets, address books, personal papers and other items that have long been subject to examination.”

However, many argue now that smartphones carry troves of personal data including communications, banking information, health information and access to a person’s social media, it needs to be protected as that information would under the 4th Amendment.

The original judge in the second case the court will hear, United States v. Wurie, agreed with that sentiment when he threw out the evidence collected from Brima Wurie’s cellphone after his call logs led to an arrest on drug and gun charges.

“Today, many Americans store their most personal ‘papers’ and ‘effects’ in electronic format on a cellphone, carried on the person,” Judge Norman H. Stahl wrote for a divided three-judge panel.

Riley’s lawyers say the solution to the police’s problem is as simple as requiring them to put the phone in airplane mode while they wait for a warrant or to disrupt the signal with Faraday bags to prevent wiping.

State Department Calls Sentencing Of Muslim Brotherhood Members En Masse ‘Unconscionable’

WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of State condemned Egypt’s continuation of mass trials for members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization now deemed a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government.

On Monday, a judge presiding over a mass trial in Minya recommended the death penalty for 683 people Monday, including a Muslim Brotherhood leader.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki called the death sentences “unconscionable.”

Echoing Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks regarding such mass trials and sentencing, Psaki said “it is impossible to believe that such proceedings could satisfy even the most basic standards of justice, let alone meet Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law.”

The U.S., she said, urges “Egyptian authorities to remedy the situation and reverse these court rulings and ensure due process for the accused on the merits of individual cases” and called “the Egyptian government to demonstrate — through actions rather than words — its support for the universal human rights and freedoms and democratic, accountable governance that the Egyptian people continue to demand.”

The death sentences handed down Monday are considered preliminary. Egypt’s top Islamic authority, the Grand Mufti, will make a final decision of approval or rejection, a step typically a formality.

Russia: U.S. Acting On ‘Distorted And Unfounded Perceptions’ By Imposing New Sanctions

MOSCOW, April 28 (UPI) — Russia described the new round of sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Monday as akin to “pouring oil on the flames.”

The United States imposed additional sanctions Monday against Russia, this time targeting seven individuals, including two regarded as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle of advisers, and 17 companies. The new sanctions were imposed in response to “Russia’s continued illegal intervention in Ukraine,” the White House explained.

Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov condemned the new sanctions.

“By making this decision, the United States was guided by absolutely distorted and unfounded perceptions regarding the events in Ukraine and around it. Washington is pouring oil on the flames but has done nothing, has not taken even one step to bring its proteges in Kiev to their senses. The new attempt at diktat and ultimatum undertaken by America against us will add no chance for a constructive resolution of the problems. …

“… They will certainly not achieve the goals they are seeking. The situation will deteriorate. We will respond, and this will not be our choice. But we cannot leave this without reaction, practical reaction based on our own decisions.”

The deputy foreign minister did not specify how Russia intends to respond to the new sanctions.

New U.S. Sanctions Target 7 Russian Officials, 17 Businesses

WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) — The United States imposed additional sanctions Monday against Russia, this time targeting seven individuals, including two regarded as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle of advisers, and 17 companies.

The sanctions involve travel bans and the freezing of assets of the individuals, as well as the freezing of company assets. 13 of the companies will face additional restrictions with the denial of export approval.

The White House said the sanctions were a response to “Russia’s continued illegal intervention in Ukraine.”

The list of individuals includes Igor Sechin, president of the state-owned Rosneft oil company; Dmitri Kozak, deputy prime minister; Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin’s deputy chief of staff; and Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia’s lower parliament, the Duma. Although the head of the energy company Gazprom, Aleksei Miller, was expected to be on the list, he was not.

Among the companies sanctioned were several banks, including Sobinbank, and the Stroytransgaz energy company.

In targeting Sechin, the White House sanctioned the chief of a partner with ExxonMobil, in numerous joint projects. It is unknown if he has U.S. assets to freeze, but he will no longer be permitted to enter the United States.

The sanctions “will increase the impact we have already begun to see on Russia’s own economy … Russian economic growth forecasts have dropped sharply, capital flight has accelerated and higher borrowing costs reflect declining confidence in the market outlook,” noted U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

Coldest Star Ever Found By NASA Astronomers

WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) — If Earth orbited WISE J085510.83-071442.5, a nearby star newly discovered by NASA scientists, there would likely be no such thing as a bathing suit or short shorts. That’s because this “brown dwarf” — a star too small to enable nuclear fusion and radiate light — is as cold as the Arctic.

With its temperature fluctuating between minus-54 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit, the star is the coldest ever spotted. Because brown dwarfs give off minimal light and heat, they’re extremely hard to find without a telescope outfitted with an infrared lens. Astronomers have detected other brown dwarfs, but their temperatures have been around room temperature.

“It’s very exciting to discover a new neighbor of our solar system that is so close,” said Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Penn State, in a statement released by NASA. “And given its extreme temperature, it should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures.”

At a distance of at 7.2 light-years away, the icy cold ball of gas is the fourth-closest star to Earth’s solar system.

The frigid star was discovered by NASA’s Spitzer and WISE Telescopes. Its existence was confirmed by NASA scientists and collaborating astronomers from Penn State.

“It is remarkable that even after many decades of studying the sky, we still do not have a complete inventory of the sun’s nearest neighbors,” said Michael Werner, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who works with data collected by Spitzer. “This exciting new result demonstrates the power of exploring the universe using new tools, such as the infrared eyes of WISE and Spitzer.”
Brooks Hays

The Fastest Animal In The World Is Not A Cheetah, But A Mite

CLAREMONT, Calif., April 28 (UPI) — Who would win a race: a cheetah of Paratarsotomus macropalpis, a type of mite? The answer depends on what kind of race it is. In a distance race, the remarkable bound of a slender cheetah is unbeatable. But if the race is measured in “body lengths per second,” nothing outpaces the mite.

That’s right, when speed is measured relative to body size, nothing in the world is faster than Paratarsotomus macropalpis.

“It’s so cool to discover something that’s faster than anything else, and just to imagine, as a human, going that fast compared to your body length is really amazing,” said Samuel Rubin, a junior physics major at Pitzer College who helped conduct the research. “But beyond that, looking deeper into the physics of how they accomplish these speeds could help inspire revolutionary new designs for things like robots or biomimetic devices.”

Rubin assisted Jonathan Wright, a professor of biology at Pomona College, in studying the rapid leg movement of the mite. The student researcher and his professor observed the mite, both in the lab and in its natural environment, using speed cameras. Wright said keeping the mite in the camera frame was exceedingly difficult.

“We were looking at the overarching question of whether there is an upper limit to the relative speed or stride frequency that can be achieved,” Wright explained. “When the values for mites are compared with data from other animals, they indicate that, if there is an upper limit, we haven’t found it yet.”

Rubin presented the duo’s findings to attendees of the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting in San Diego on Sunday.
Brooks Hays

Elon Musk, SpaceX Suing Federal Government For Opportunity To Launch Spy Satellites

WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) — Elon Musk, the head of private space launch company SpaceX, told reporters his company is filing a protest against the contract procurement procedures of the Air Force via the Court of Federal Claims.

Specifically, Musk wants the Air Force to renege its current multiyear deal with United Launch Alliance (ULA) — a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin — to launch several national security satellites. Musk thinks the so-called “bulk buy” should be cancelled and launch opportunities offered up in a competitive bidding process.

“[Bulk buying] blocks companies like SpaceX from competing for national security launches,” Musk told reporters in a conference call on Friday. “We feel that this is not right. National security launches should be competitive and not sole-sourced.”

Musk also questioned the fact that ULA’s rockets feature Russian-made engines. “How is that we’re sending hundreds of millions in US taxpayer dollars to Russia?” he asked.

Although SpaceX’s planned complaint is technically a “protest,” as the Washington Post reports, it carries the same weight as a lawsuit.

Jeff Foust, a space industry analyst and consultant at Futron, told Forbes he can’t see the Air Force being pressured to give up their ULA deal, but said it might encourage great political pressure.

“It may result in some more Congressional pressure on the Air Force to, if not undo the block buy, then to provide more launches that are open to competition,” Foust explained.

SpaceX has already launched several International Space Station resupply missions in cooperation with NASA. But this latest announcement is evidence of Musk’s eagerness to expand business and compete for military contracts.
Brooks Hays

Rosneft, Exxon To Explore Russian Arctic

MOSCOW, April 28 (UPI) — Russian oil company Rosneft said it was moving ahead with a joint effort with Exxon Mobil to explore for hydrocarbons in the arctic waters of Russia.

The board of directors said Monday they’d work to develop the Ust-Lensky reserve area in the northern Laptev Sea and the Severo-Vrangelevsky-1 in the Chukchi Sea in eastern Russia. Both sides would also explore parts of the Kara Sea under the terms of a joint venture operation, they said.

Neither side offered a reserve estimated of the targeted areas.

Changing weather patterns are leaving parts of the arctic ice-free for longer periods, giving energy companies a greater opportunity to explore frontier oil and natural gas basins.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace have expressed concern about drilling campaigns in the pristine arctic environment.

The environmental campaign group was critical during the weekend after it learned French energy company Total purchased oil from Russia’s arctic region.

Greenpeace oil campaigner Ben Ayliffe said the move only strengthens Moscow’s grip on the region’s energy sector.
Daniel J. Graeber

Kerosene Made From CO2 And Water

BRUSSELS, April 28 (UPI) — The European Commission said Monday a type of kerosene was manufactured in the laboratory using a process that involves solar power, carbon dioxide and water.

The EU said its so-called Solar-Jet project uses concentrated simulated solar radiation as a power source to convert CO2 and water into a form of kerosene.

“This technology means we might one day produce cleaner and plentiful fuel for planes, cars and other forms of transport,” European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Maire Geoghegan-Quinn said in a statement. “This could greatly increase energy security and turn one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming into a useful resource.”

Simulated sunlight is used in a laboratory setting to convert CO2 and water into a synthetic gas, which is then converted into kerosene using a special technique established by oil company Shell.

The European Commission said the project is in its infancy. A “glassful” of fuel was produced using the process, though it said the results of the experiment “give hope that in future any liquid hydrocarbon fuels could be produced from sunlight, CO2 and water.”
Daniel J. Graeber

Iran, Russia Discuss Electricity Deals

TEHRAN, April 28 (UPI) — Iranian Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian said his government was hoping to work on modernizing the nation’s energy grid with help from Russia.

Chitchian met Sunday in Tehran with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak to discuss upgrading Iran’s power plants and electrical transmission lines.

“Iran and Russia enjoy long-time joint experiences in the power industry and therefore, we hope that these negotiations would develop our cooperation in water and electricity industries,” Chitchian said.

Iran is working with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which includes Russia, on a deal that would allay Western concerns over a nuclear program Tehran says is for peaceful purposes.

Russia supplies Iran with fuel needed to power its Bushehr nuclear reactor.

Novak said an electricity deal could include cooperation with neighboring Azerbaijan.

“In this regard, we are compiling a preliminary draft agreement among the three countries to enable us to reach results for modernizing construction of new power plants, building hydroelectric power plants and high-pressure electricity transmission lines in Iran,” he said.
Daniel J. Graeber

Gallup: About One-Third Of U.S. Adults Didn’t See Dentist In Past Year

WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) — About 1 in 3 U.S. adults did not visit the dentist with the past 12 months, a survey found — similar to results of a survey in 2008.

Gallup interviewed 178,072 U.S. adults in 2013 for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and found 64.7 percent last year visited the dentist at least once.

The American Dental Association recommends adults visit a dentist at least once a year and the survey found one-third of U.S. adults did not meet this minimum level of dental care. Poor oral care has been linked to both heart disease and stroke, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

Blacks, Hispanics, young adults ages 18 to 29 and those living in the South were the least likely to visit the dentist. Married people were more likely to visit the dentist then those unmarried.

More than 8 in 10 in households with an annual income of $120,000 said they visited the dentist, while 4 out of 10 who earned $12,000 a year said they saw a dentist within the year.

The telephone survey was conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2 to Dec. 29, 2013. The survey has a margin of error of 1 percentage point.
Alex Cukan

Researchers Create Artificial Skin Using Stem Cells

SAN FRANCISCO, April 28 (UPI) — An international team of researchers developed skin grown from human stem cells that may eliminate using animals for drug and cosmetics testing and help develop news therapies for skin disorders.

The team led by King’s College London and the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center developed the first laboratory-grown epidermis — the outer layer of skin — similar to real skin.

“The ability to obtain an unlimited number of genetically identical units can be used to study a range of conditions where the skin’s barrier is defective due to mutations in genes involved in skin barrier formation, such as ichthyosis (dry, flaky skin) or atopic dermatitis, (eczema),” Dr. Theodora Mauro, leader of the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center team, said in a statement.

“We can use this model to study how the skin barrier develops normally, how the barrier is impaired in different diseases and how we can stimulate its repair and recovery.”

The new skin is grown from human pluripotent stem cells — stem cells that have the potential to differentiate into almost any cell in the body. Under the right circumstances, the stem cell can produce almost all of the cells in the body.

The human induced pluripotent stem cells can produce an unlimited supply of pure keratinocytes, the predominant cell type in the outermost layer of skin that closely match keratinocytes generated from human embryonic stem cells.

The artificial skin forms a protective barrier between the body and the environment keeping out microbes and toxins, while not allowing water from escaping the body.

The findings were published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.
Alex Cukan

Influenza B Has Stubborn Hold On Texas, Northeast, New York

ATLANTA, April 25 (UPI) — For the week ending April 19, overall U.S. flu activity was down except in Texas, the New England, New York and New Jersey where influenza B predominated.

The weekly flu report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said the national proportion of people seeing their healthcare provider for influenza-like illness decreased and remained below the national baseline of 2 percent. Baseline influenza activity is the level that clinical influenza activity remains throughout the summer.

Of the 5,061 specimens tested by U.S. World Health Organization and National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System laboratories, 12 percent were positive for influenza a decrease from the previous week.

Influenza B viruses accounted for 56 percent of flu viruses nationally and are causing an increase in influenza-like-illness in parts of the Northeast, the report said.

Texas reported moderate influenza-like illness activity, while New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and New York City reported low influenza-like illness activity. Forty-four states experienced minimal influenza-like illness activity. Delaware did not have sufficient data to calculate an activity level.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island reported widespread flu activity — more than half of the state’s counties reported flu in the previous week.

Maine, New Hampshire and Oklahoma reported regional activity, while Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington reported local flu activity.

Sporadic influenza activity was reported by 25 states and Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee reported no influenza activity.
Alex Cukan

Vancouver Bar Tops $60 Cocktail With Burger, Pulled Pork And Chicken Wings

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 28 (UPI) — A bar in Vancouver has come up with a new twist on Canada’s equivalent of the Bloody Mary that is basically a super-sized brunch on top of a cocktail.

The Score on Davie’s new cocktail, the $60 Checkmate Caesar, is made with classic ingredients like vodka and tomato juice — but that’s not all.

The 5,000-calorie drink comes garnished with a roasted chicken, a burger, a pulled pork Sriracha-glazed slider, onion rings, chicken wings, a mac & cheese hotdog and a brownie for desert.

When news about the drink began to spread, diners and media outlets alike took notice.

“Media all over the world: Good Morning America, food blog sites. When you order it expect people to want to take pictures of you with it,” bar owner Jesse Ritchie told CTV News. “It’s a huge hit.”

The drink’s success has prompted the Score to come up with other Caesar beverage creations like the Grilled Chaesar, Ain’t no Thang and the Big Score.

“The night we made it, the Caesar felt like a celebrity with the entire full bar snapping photos and videos as we put the final pickle on the top! And, yes, you can drink it and it’s delicious!” Ritchie told Eater.
Evan Bleier

Oklahoma Little League Team Raises Money By Raffling Assault Rifle

ELK CITY, Okla., April 28 (UPI) — The way a Little League team in Oklahoma is raising money for equipment and travel hasn’t been a hit with many members of the local community.

The Elk City Outlaws have come under fire for raffling off an AR-15 rifle, but their coach had no problem defending the idea.

“This is western Oklahoma. There’s a lot of people that carry guns out here and are proud of their guns,” coach Denny Geno told KFOR. “If you raise your kid the right way and they understand the safety then I don’t think there is a problem with it.”

According to Geno, the raffle winner will have to pass a background check before receiving the gun. He also said other local groups have raffled firearms in the past.

“I can see where those parents have concerns especially if they weren’t brought up around here,” said parent Andy Shelton. “For some people guns are just not their thing, but for people out here it’s a popular sport, hobby and activity that a lot of families enjoy.”

Other parents also didn’t have a problem with the rifle raffle.

“I ended up getting my son a little bitty 22 when he was four years old,” Christy Ham said. “We enjoy guns and teach our kids safety.”
Evan Bleier

LiveLeak Video Shows Russian Father Teaching Toddler How To Smoke

MOSCOW, April 28 (UPI) — A video that appears to show a Russian father teaching his toddler how to smoke a cigarette has been making the rounds on social media after it was posted to LiveLeak.

The video, “Father “Of The Year,” has already been viewed more than 150,000 times.

According to a translation, the man asks the boy “Did it kick in?” during the clip. A woman can also be heard in the background giggling at certain times during the video.

Twitter was not impressed.

Father offers toddler cigarette, toddler smokes it. Parents who deserve to be shot film the whole thing— The Right Hon. JV (@ASAP_JV) April 26, 2014

This is child abuse isn’t it?— Ananyoch Aonputtha (@imananyoch) April 28, 2014

With nicotine having fast acting properties on a young one’s developing brain, this video is quite alarming and sad— Health & Wellbeing (@HealthWellTrain) April 28, 2014

This isn’t right… “@Naijablogger: Shocking – Father & toddler son smoking cigarette :””— Kenzo Kurosaki (@FvckKenzo) April 27, 2014
Evan Bleier