Only in America

Only in America: The whistle stop

March 4, 2013

Robert Smith, 32, is known in Portland, Maine, as the Whistler, because he wanders the downtown all day, whistling loudly and irritating passersby. Police charged him with disorderly conduct, but after plea negotiations, Smith will be allowed to whistle as long as he doesn't stand in the same place. "All I'm doing is expressing myself freely," said Smith.

hollywood 411

'Let it Go' team writing song for Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris

1:03am ET
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Since we haven't reached peak Frozen yet, the songwriters behind the movie's earworm "Let It Go" will pen an original musical number for this year's Academy Awards.

Host Neil Patrick Harris and special guests will perform an "original multimedia musical sequence" called "Moving Pictures," producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced Tuesday. Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez said they are huge fans of Harris, and "when he asked us to write him a song for this year's show we said 'Yes!' before he could finish the sentence — it's possible he may have been asking us for something else." The Academy Awards will take place Feb. 22.

gold rush

Thieves steal gold from museum after smashing car into entrance

12:24am ET

A trio of brazen thieves crashed a stolen SUV into the entrance to the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco and took off with $10,000 worth of gold nuggets.

At about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, the ski mask–wearing suspects held up a security guard at gunpoint and then grabbed at least 10 ounces of gold before taking off in a four-door sedan, NBC Bay Area reports. Wells Fargo spokesman Ruben Pulido said in a statement the company was "disturbed" by the heist, but "grateful no team member was harmed." Historic stagecoaches on the premises were not damaged.

This wasn't the first time thieves in San Francisco have used vehicles in their brazen burglaries; last year, burglars drove into the Chanel store near Union Square, and two weeks ago two men backed a U-Haul into a Patagonia store near Fisherman's Wharf. Police do not think any of the incidents are related.


Sheldon Silver is out as New York Assembly speaker

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After a second day of closed-door meetings, Democrats in the New York State Assembly announced late Tuesday that embattled Speaker Sheldon Silver's long tenure will end Monday. It's unclear if Silver agreed to step aside, though he told reporters he "will not hinder a succession process." Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, from Rochester, will take over as interim speaker until the Assembly elects a new speaker, with a vote tentatively scheduled for Feb. 10.

Morelle is a leading candidate to replace Silver, 70, who has led the Assembly since 1994, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is eager to have a speaker from the city, like Silver. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, from Brooklyn, said that the Assembly Democrats won't allow de Blasio or Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) any input in their selection. Silver, fighting federal corruption charge, is not resigning his seat.

Foreign affairs

After investigation, Mexico declares 43 missing students dead

January 27, 2015
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The 43 college students who have been missing from southern Guerrero state in Mexico since September have been declared dead by Mexico's attorney general, Jesus Murillo Karam.

Murillo Karam cited confessions from suspects and forensic evidence from the scene where he said the students were killed after being captured by police and handed over to a gang in the city of Iguala. "The evidence allows us to determine that the students were kidnapped, killed, burned, and thrown into the river," he said during a press conference.

Murillo Karam said that a local gang, Guerreros Unidos, thought the men were rival gang members, but analyst Alejandro Hope told The Associated Press this motive makes no sense, as several suspects say they knew they were students. "We know the who, the what, the when and the where," he said. "We don't know the why. They have yet to tell a compelling story of why this happened. It doesn’t matter how many people they detain — unless they answer that question, the whole thing will remain under a halo of mystery."


Congressman says Hillary Clinton willing to testify again regarding Benghazi

January 27, 2015
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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she will testify again in front of Congress about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

"She said, I'll do it, period," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House select committee on Benghazi, told The Hill. "If the committee wants her to come, she's willing to come."

On Tuesday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of committee, said that he planned to summon Clinton. "Every witness who has relevant information needs to be talked to," he told reporters. If she didn't testify, it would be "an incomplete investigation." The attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and an inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee found that "there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks."


Study finds sugary drinks connected to earlier menstruation

January 27, 2015

A new study has found a link between drinking sugary drinks and earlier menstruation in girls.

Researchers looked at data from 5,583 girls between the ages of 9 and 14 who had not yet started their period. From 1996 to 1998, they answered a diet questionnaire annually, and by 2001, 159 had still not yet started to menstruate. After controlling for maternal age at menarche, physical activity, several behavioral and dietary factors, and birth weight, researchers discovered that girls who drank one-and-a-half 12 ounce cans of non-diet soda or sweetened iced tea had their first period an average of 2.7 months earlier than girls who drank less than two cans a week.

"Our findings are robust, and not dependent on body mass index," lead author Karin B. Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard, told The New York Times. "Sugared beverages are not healthy to begin with, and there should be heightened attention to avoiding them." Studies have already shown that starting menstruation at an earlier age is associated with an increased risk of endometrial and breast cancer later in life.


Obama drops plan to cut tax benefits on 529 savings accounts

January 27, 2015
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On Tuesday, President Obama dropped his proposal to remove the ability for people to withdraw money tax-free from 529 college savings plans.

The administration said that the tax break disproportionately benefited the wealthy, with more than 70 percent of accounts held by families who make at least $200,000 annually, and wanted to redirect more money to the middle class, The Washington Post reports. The White House faced criticism from parents and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who said the accounts are one of the best ways for families to save for college. "The President's plan has the puzzle pieces necessary to bring the middle class back, but this particular piece didn't fit," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said.

Officials say the backlash became "such a distraction" that it was decided the plan needed to be abandoned.


Former Russian spy may have been poisoned twice

January 27, 2015
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In London, an inquiry is now underway into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in late 2006 and died weeks later.

Lawyer Robin Tam said that evidence would be shown that Litvinenko "was poisoned with polonium not once, but twice," the Los Angeles Times reports. In November 2006, Litvinenko met with two Russians for tea at a hotel in London, where his drink was spiked. He died a few weeks later after being hospitalized for radiation poisoning, but before he passed away, Litvinenko said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hit. Russia denied the allegation and said it would not extradite the men Britain identified as the prime poisoning suspects: Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi.

Tam said this wasn't the first time that Litvinenko became ill after being with the men; following a meeting in mid-October, Litvinenko complained of not feeling well. Ben Emmerson, a lawyer for the Litvinenko family, said he was killed because he had shared information with countries looking into ties between organized crime syndicates and the Kremlin: "He had to be eliminated — not because he was an enemy of the Russian state itself or an enemy of the Russian people — but because he had become an enemy of the close-knit group of criminals who surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power."


Scientists just found a way to 'unboil' an egg

January 27, 2015

Anyone can boil an egg, but scientists have figured out a way to "unboil" one, The Huffington Post reports. University of California, Irvine, and Australian scientists reversed the effects boiling has on proteins found in egg whites.

"In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold," researcher Gregory Weiss said in a news release. "We start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius and return a key protein in the egg to working order."

Reconstituting proteins could streamline manufacturing cheese and other foods. It could also speed up development of drugs used to treat cancer.

outer space

Huge ring system around distant exoplanet is heavier, bigger than Saturn's

January 27, 2015

The sixth planet from the sun has nothing on J1407b, a giant expolanet with rings 200 times larger than Saturn's.

The planetary ring system was discovered in 2012, and is the first of its kind to be found outside of the solar system. In Astrophysical Journal, researchers write that the scale of the rings is even greater than first thought: More than 30 individual rings are tens of millions of miles in diameter, and between each ring there are gaps that point towards the presence of exomoons, Discovery News reports.

"The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed model based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system," lead author Matthew Kenworthy of Leiden Observatory said. "If we could replace Saturn's rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon."

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