April 25, 2014

Money really is dirty, according to new research. NYU's Center for Genomics and Systems Biology identified 3,000 forms of bacteria on dollar bills, including some that can cause ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning, and staph infections.

Even more disturbing is the fact that scientists could only identify 20 percent of the non-human DNA they found on the bills, which means that figure could be a lot higher. The DNA included 1.2 billion segments in all and even included traces of anthrax.

"It was quite amazing to us," Jane Carlton, director of genome sequencing at NYU's Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, told The Wall Street Journal. "We actually found that microbes grow on money." According to the Journal, a one-dollar bill lasts roughly 21 months in the U.S., providing plenty of time for germ collection.

Not using paper money is hardly a feasible option, but NPR recommends at least washing your hands after handling money. Meghan DeMaria

11:56 a.m. ET

In a report published Monday, members of a British parliament health committee asked Prime Minister David Cameron to drop his opposition to imposing a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks, BBC News reports. The cross-party committee wrote:

The scale and consequences of childhood obesity demand bold and urgent action. We believe that if the government fails to act, the problem will become far worse. We urge the Prime Minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children's health and life chances through his childhood obesity strategy. [House of Commons Health Committee]

Dr. Sarah Wollaston, the conservative legislator who chairs the committee, argued in a Guardian opinion piece Monday that taxing soft drinks would cut back on kids' consumption, which could in turn help lower obesity rates. Cameron isn't the only one who opposes the idea: Not shockingly, the British Soft Drink Association is pushing back, too.

"This was not an inquiry in the conventional meaning of the word," association director general Gavin Partington said in a statement Monday. "It was part of the PR campaign by the health lobby to persuade ministers to introduce a tax on soft drinks." Julie Kliegman

survey says
11:29 a.m. ET

When the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) passed in 1986, Congress figured Americans couldn't afford the digital storage to retain thousands upon thousands of emails, wrote the woman with 46,000 email conversations filling 16 GB of her Gmail account.

Thanks to the dated assumptions of the ECPA, the government isn't required to get a warrant to search emails more than six months old — but new poll results find Americans want Fourth Amendment protections for all their online communications. Some 77 percent of registered voters said a warrant should be required for law enforcement to view any "emails, photos and other private communications stored online," and 86 percent said the ECPA was due for an update after learning how it currently functions.

The poll was commissioned by Digital 4th, a cross-partisan coalition pushing for expanded online privacy protections. Bonnie Kristian

Around the world
11:01 a.m. ET
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Japan will send a whaling fleet to the Antarctic on Tuesday, the first such trip since the International Court of Justice's 2014 ruling that whale hunts aren't definitively necessary for scientific research, The Associated Press reports. But Tokyo's latest proposal to the International Whaling Commission argued killing the animals is necessary for collecting data on the maturing ages of whales.

Australia, which brought the international case against Japan last year, may send a boat to shadow the Japanese fleet. A group of 15 environmental and animal rights groups also oppose the move, writing in a statement: "We strongly demand that the government not start any new research whaling programs, and instead take on new measures that contribute to ocean conservation."

Japan's plan, as described Monday by government agencies, involves catching up to 333 minke whales each year for 12 years, with an evaluation halfway through. That's reportedly about one third of the whales Japan has killed in previous expeditions. Julie Kliegman

prison policy
10:55 a.m. ET
David Greedy/Getty Images

Paroled prisoners in Illinois may find themselves back in court and on the hook for thousands of dollars, as the state has a growing habit of suing former inmates for the cost of their incarceration. But not every released prisoner is equally at risk: Illinois often targets those who have recently come into a little money — through an insurance settlement or an inheritance, for instance — and thus in theory have the ability to pay up.

In one story cited by the Chicago Tribune, an inmate received a $50,000 settlement from the Department of Corrections because his cancer was not properly treated in prison, only to have the department sue him for $175,000 for the cost of his care. In another, the department successfully extracted almost $20,000 from a man released after serving 15 months for a low-level drug offense; after paying, he had to live out of a homeless shelter and died penniless.

Critics suggest that the lawsuits make released inmates more likely to return to a life of crime. "If you don't have a way to support yourself, you go to the underground economy," said Alan Mills of the Uptown People's Law Center. "That's criminal, and you go back to prison. That's horrible public policy." Bonnie Kristian

Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends
10:45 a.m. ET
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Even the Bard had to eat. Two hundred and fifty years after William Shakespeare's country house was demolished, researchers have unearthed the remains of a hearth and cold storage pit, as well as plates, cups, and cookware in New House, the Stratford-upon-Avon residence where Shakespeare lived for 19 years.

While the excavations by Staffordshire University's Centre of Archaeology are ongoing — the archaeologists hope to open to the site next summer for the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death — the kitchen marks one of the most thrilling discoveries yet, The Telegraph reports. New House's cooking areas, brew house, pantry, and cold storage pit indicate "a working home as well as a house of high social status," according to Dr. Paul Edmondson.

"At New Place we can catch glimpses of Shakespeare the playwright and country-town gentleman. His main task was to write and a house as impressive as New Place would have played an important part in the rhythm of his working life," Edmondson said.

Some experts hope to prove that the Bard wrote many of his plays at New Place, rather than in London. Shakespeare bought the Stratford home in 1597; he died there in 1616. Jeva Lange

Abortion Debate
10:13 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At a Sunday campaign stop in Iowa, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called Friday's shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado "horrific," but also slammed "some vicious rhetoric on the left blaming those who are pro-life," The Texas Tribune reports.

The suspected gunman, Robert Dear, reportedly hinted at a motive after police apprehended him in Colorado Springs on Friday by saying "no more baby parts," according to an anonymous law enforcement official. When a reporter mentioned those reports to Cruz, he pushed back, arguing that we don't know enough about the gunman yet to make a judgment call about his political beliefs.

"It's also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and a transgendered leftist activist," the presidential hopeful said. "If that's what he is, I don't think it's fair to blame on the rhetoric on the left. This is a murderer."

Cruz was referring to voting records that show that a Robert Dear with the birth year the same as the suspect was registered to vote as a woman in Hartsel, Colorado, as recently as 2014, according to BuzzFeed News. As for Dear's political beliefs, a New York Times profile described him as "generally conservative but not obsessed with politics," based on an interview with his ex-wife, Pamela Ross.

A campaign spokesman told the Times that Cruz was not making definitive claims about Dear's identity, but rather pointing out that people should not draw conclusions based on a story that's still developing. Julie Kliegman

nice try
10:03 a.m. ET

No election season is complete without a good scandal, and even those close to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio know that. According to an excerpt from McKay Coppins' forthcoming book The Wilderness, unsubstantiated rumors about Rubio have been swirling around him practically since he entered politics:

Jilted mistresses, sordid affairs, secret love children — Rubio’s team had heard it all […] One [rumor] that reporters in Florida had repeatedly tried to run down over the years dealt with a Tallahassee politico who Rubio had supposedly taken on several romantic out-of-state trips and paid for them with the state party's credit card. Another, even more pervasive rumor, held that Rubio was hiding a secret second family somewhere, and sending regular cash installments to support them (and keep them quiet). The details of this story varied substantially from one telling to another: sometimes the mother was a former Dolphins cheerleader; other times she wasn't. Sometimes there was one kid living with his mom in New York; other times there were two kids and they lived in Florida. [BuzzFeed]

To dispel any more talk of Rubio's alleged "zipper problem," Terry Sullivan, the head of a Rubio political action committee, went as far as to hire a firm to investigate. Nothing concrete was found — but that hasn't stopped Jeb Bush's allies from allegedly firing up the rumor mill once again, especially now that Rubio is a threat in the GOP presidential race. "Those who have looked into Marco's background in the past have been concerned with what they have found," a leaked document from the Bush campaign reportedly warned last month.

But so far, it's all talk. "Everybody who runs against him says he has girlfriends, or financial problems. They throw a lot of s--t at the wall. It's the same thing from the Jeb Bush camp. They keep telling me, 'Oh, we've got the thing that's going to take him down.' But nobody's ever produced anything that we all haven't read in the Tallahassee Democrat," MSNBC host Joe Scarborough told BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins. Sullivan himself reportedly joked that Rubio is "Cuban and [...] from Miami, so of course he has mistresses." Jeva Lange

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