Saturday, March 31, 2018

'The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind' Returns From Madness

One spring morning in 2015, Barbara Lipska got up as usual, dyed her hair and went for a jog in her suburban Virginia neighborhood.

But when she returned from a much longer than expected run, her husband Mirek was completely taken aback.

"I was lost in my own neighborhood," Lipska says. "The hair dye that I put in my hair that morning dripped down my neck. I looked like a monster when I came back home."

Although she now lucidly recalls that moment, at the time she was oblivious to her unusual appearance and behavior.

Lipska studies the neuroscience of mental illness and brain development at the National Institute of Mental Health. In her work she's examined the molecular structure of the brains of people who were so afflicted with schizophrenia or other disorders that they took their own lives.

And for two months in 2015, she developed similar symptoms of dementia and schizophrenia — only to learn they were the effects of cancerous tumors, growing in her brain.

A melanoma that had spread there caused the scientist to have to personally contend with the kind of ordeals and anxieties encountered by those whose brains she'd studied in the safe confines of her lab.

Lipska survived and, with journalist Elaine McArdle, has written a book about her illness and recovery called The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Discovery.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. - Read More, NPR

'The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind' Returns From Madness

Friday, March 30, 2018

Pope To World: Hell Does Exist -- Vanessa Romo

Things got a little heated at the Vatican this week when an Italian journalist reported that Pope Francis denied the existence of hell.

Apparently, the fiery 93-year-old avowed atheist reporter, Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica, set the social media world aflame after writing in Italian that when asked about the fate of "bad souls," the pontiff responded, "Hell does not exist."

The pope continued, according to Scalfari, saying (emphasis ours), "The disappearance of sinful souls exists."

The statements spurred Catholics and other believers to grab their virtual pitchforks to express their fury, which the Vatican has since tried to cool.

The Vatican adamantly rejected Scalfari's characterization of the conversation, which it insisted was not an official interview but rather a "private meeting."

On Friday — Good Friday — the Vatican issued a statement saying:

"What is reported by the author in today's article is the fruit of his reconstruction, in which the precise words uttered by the Pope are not cited. No quotations in the aforementioned article, then, should be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father."

And an article by the Catholic News Service said Scalfari has admitted "on more than one occasion" that he doesn't take notes or record his conversations with the pope. In other words, he prefers to take, let's say, a memoirist approach to his reporting. He relies largely on memory and recollection, as opposed to documentation. - More, NPR

Pope To World: Hell Does Exist

Wife Of Orlando Nightclub Shooter Cleared Of All Charges - NPR

Noor Salman, widow of the gunman who opened fire on an Orlando nightclub in 2016, has been found not guilty on both the counts she faced. U.S. District Judge Paul Byron announced the verdict Friday, roughly one month after the trial opened.

Salman was the only person charged in connection with the massacre that left 50 people — including her husband, Omar Mateen — dead at Pulse nightclub. She stood accused of helping Mateen prepare for and plan the 2016 massacre at the nightclub and of obstructing investigators' efforts after the killing.

Her defense team argued that far from being an eager collaborator, Salman was instead a "simple woman" with a low IQ, susceptible to influence and abused by Mateen. While prosecutors asserted that Noor had given misleading statements to state and federal investigators, the defense maintained that she had been manipulated and mistreated during these interrogations.

Later in the trial, Salman's attorneys also called for Byron to declare a mistrial or dismiss the case outright, saying the prosecution had withheld crucial information for the development of their argument. It was not until after the prosecution had rested its case, nearly two weeks after the trial opened, that prosecutors disclosed the information in an email last Saturday.

Among those key details, according to the defense filing, was the fact that Mateen's father had worked as a confidential informant for the FBI at various points over more than a decade leading right up to the June 2016 shooting. The filing noted that federal authorities had also opened an investigation of Seddique Mateen after the shooting, basing the probe on a series of money transfers he made to Turkey and Afghanistan not long before the massacre.

The defense argued that without those details, the defense had been unfairly hamstrung — an assertion that Byron rejected. He denied the motion earlier this week and allowed the trial to proceed.

Ultimately, though, the jury sided with the defense anyway, acquitting Noor Salman of both charges: aiding and abetting the provision of material support to a foreign terrorism organization — in this case, the Islamic State, to whom Omar Mateen pledged his allegiance during the attack — and obstruction of justice.

Salman bowed her head and cried in relief as the verdict was read, according to reporters inside the courtroom. Her defense team and family exchanged hugs.

"I believe in our criminal justice system and am grateful for the jury's hard work and deliberation," Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement released after the verdict, also thanking prosecutors and law enforcement. "Nothing can erase the pain we all feel about the senseless and brutal murders of 49 of our neighbors, friends, family members and loved ones."

"We are very sorry for the family members and friends of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and also the survivors of that horrible attack," a family spokesperson told reporters outside the courtroom. - Read More

Wife Of Orlando Nightclub Shooter Cleared Of All Charges

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Egypt's Sisi heads for landslide election win with low turnout

CAIRO (Reuters) - President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi cruised toward a landslide election victory against no real opposition but early results showed a lower turnout than the vote that brought him to power in 2014, despite efforts to get more Egyptians to the polls.

The vote this week had long been set to hand Sisi a second term after a crackdown against serious contenders left one challenger, widely dismissed as a dummy candidate. Critics say the contest recalled the kind of vote that kept Arab autocrats in power for decades before the 2011 Arab Spring.

With the election seen by many, including Sisi, as a referendum on his presidency, the focus is on turnout which he has sought to support tough economic reforms and a fight against Islamist militants.

Critics say austerity and an unprecedented crackdown on dissent have eroded Sisi’s popularity, but supporters say such measures are needed to stabilize the North African country after years of unrest that followed a 2011 popular uprising.

The former military commander overthrew Islamist Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely-elected president, after protests against Mursi’s rule in 2013 and was elected a year later. - Read More

Egypt's Sisi heads for landslide election win with low turnout

Uzbekistan offers to host talks between Afghan government, Taliban

TASHKENT (Reuters) - Uzbekistan offered on Tuesday to host peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, a move that could make Tashkent a player in settling the decades-long conflict in the neighboring country.

The former Soviet republic is seeking to raise its international profile as part of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s campaign to open up the nation of 32 million and attract foreign investment after decades of isolation and economic stagnation.

“We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange on the territory of Uzbekistan direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement,” Mirziyoyev told a conference in Tashkent attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and a number of foreign ministers including those of Russia and Turkey, also attended the conference, but there were no Taliban representatives. - Read More

Uzbekistan offers to host talks between Afghan government, Taliban

Nuclear Disarmament - How Helmut Kohl Nearly Prolonged the Cold War - Der Spiegel

Newly released secret documents reveal that Chancellor Helmut Kohl opposed negotiating with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late stages of the Cold War. Had the West German leader prevailed, it's likely the conflict would have ended very differently.
The interview with Hans-Dietrich Genscher had come to an end and the former German foreign minister was standing in the door of his home near Bonn to see out his visitor.

But there was time for one last question: What had Genscher's relationship with his former coalition partner, ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, been like? Did he like him? The answer, on this spring day several years ago, was "yes." There was a personal connection, Genscher said, but also a lot of wounds that went "more than just skin deep."

From 1982 to 1992, Genscher and Kohl governed West Germany, and then Germany, together. They negotiated German reunification and paved the way for the euro. But at the same time, the two men -- who addressed each other using the informal "du" -- spent years waging a protracted feud, a battle that overshadowed their relationship until the end of their lives. Information was leaked, accusations leveled and insults spread.

Kohl, a member of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), called Genscher a "master of self-promotion." Genscher, from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), maintained that the chancellor was not an international political heavyweight, saying there was simply nothing there.

Some of it was just muscle flexing. But there were also considerable, substantive differences, with far-reaching consequences. The most important conflict centered around Soviet reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, who took over the Kremlin in 1985 and pursued a policy of détente. While Genscher saw Moscow's new policy as an opportunity, Kohl was far more skeptical.

Secret documents from 1987 that have now been released show the extent of the discord -- and how lucky the Germans were. The Institute of Contemporary History in Munich published the paper at the behest of the German Foreign Ministry: ambassadors' reports, analyses from department heads, conversation transcripts from the archives of the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery, and several letters from Kohl's private home in Oggersheim.

The documents reveal that when Kohl met with other heads of state and government, he would rail against the new Soviet leader in Moscow, and the German leader tried to put the brakes on the Soviets' disarmament initiatives. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), which banned nuclear intermediate-range missiles, is now considered a major turning point of the Cold War. Back then, though, it seemed for a time as though it would fail due to Bonn's concerns. - Read More

How Helmut Kohl Nearly Prolonged the Cold War

Russia Retaliates, Expels 60 American Diplomats After U.S. Action - NPR

Days after President Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials from the United States and the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle in response to the nerve agent attack of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in the U.K., Russia has responded in kind.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that Russia will expel 60 U.S. diplomats and announced the closure of the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg.

Lavrov also said Russia will respond to other countries that have expelled Russian diplomats in a "reciprocal fashion," according to Russian media.

In a statement on its web site, the Russian Foreign Ministry said U.S. Ambassador Jon Hunstman had been summoned to be told of the decision, which was was a form of protest over "the outrageous and unreasonable" U.S. moves.

U.S. representatives have until Saturday to be out of the consulate building, the statement said.

As for the 60 diplomats, 58 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two staff members of the Consulate General in the city of Yekaterinburg must leave the country by April 5, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Russia's tit-for-tat moves come after some two dozen countries and NATO have shown more than 100 Russian diplomats the door in recent days. - More,

Russia Retaliates, Expels 60 American Diplomats After U.S. Action

Facebook Changing Privacy Controls As Criticism Escalates

Facebook responded to intensifying criticism over its mishandling of user data Wednesday by announcing new features to its site that will give users more visibility and control over how their information is shared. The changes, rolling out in coming weeks, will also enable users to prevent the social network from sharing that information with advertisers and other third parties.

"Last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies and help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data," Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan and Deputy General Counsel Ashlie Beringer wrote in a statement.

"We've heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed," they said.

The changes make it easier for users to see what information they've shared, delete certain personal information and control ads that they see. - More, NPR

Facebook Changing Privacy Controls As Criticism Escalates

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Are you ready? This is all the data Facebook and Google have on you - The Guardian

Want to freak yourself out? I’m going to show just how much of your information the likes of Facebook and Google store about you without you even realising it.

Google knows where you’ve been

Google stores your location (if you have location tracking turned on) every time you turn on your phone. You can see a timeline of where you’ve been from the very first day you started using Google on your phone.

Click on this link to see your own data:…

Here is every place I have been in the last 12 months in Ireland. You can see the time of day that I was in the location and how long it took me to get to that location from my previous one.

Google knows everything you’ve ever searched – and deleted

Google stores search history across all your devices. That can mean that, even if you delete your search history and phone history on one device, it may still have data saved from other devices.

Click on this link to see your own data:

Facebook has reams and reams of data on you, too

Facebook offers a similar option to download all your information. Mine was roughly 600MB, which is roughly 400,000 Word documents.

This includes every message you’ve ever sent or been sent, every file you’ve ever sent or been sent, all the contacts in your phone, and all the audio messages you’ve ever sent or been sent.

Click here to see your data: 

They also store every time you log in to Facebook, where you logged in from, what time, and from what device.

(Side note, if you have Windows 10 installed, this is a picture of just the privacy options with 16 different sub-menus, which have all of the options enabled by default when you install Windows 10) - Read More

Are you ready? This is all the data Facebook and Google have on you ...

Monday, March 26, 2018

Orlando Nightclub Shooter's Father Was FBI Informant, Gunman's Widow's Lawyers Say

Seddique Mateen, the father of the man behind the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre, worked with the FBI as a confidential informant for more than a decade leading right up to the shooting, according to attorneys for the shooter's widow.

The defense team revealed the information in a motion filed just hours before calling their first witness on behalf of Noor Salman, who stands accused of aiding her husband, Omar Mateen, and obstructing state and local investigations.

The attorneys requested that U.S. District Judge Paul Byron dismiss the case or declare a mistrial, asserting that prosecutors violated the Constitution by waiting so long to acknowledge the shared history between Seddique Mateen and federal law enforcement.

Only on Saturday — days after prosecution rested its case and nearly two weeks after the trial began — did prosecutor Sara Sweeney disclose Mateen's status as an informant "at various points" between January 2005 and June 2016.

The disclosure, which Sweeney sent to the defense in a brief email, also revealed that the FBI launched an investigation of the elder Mateen after finding evidence he made money transfers to Turkey and Afghanistan in the months leading up to the shooting.

These previous omissions "have placed Ms. Salman, the jury, and this Court in a dark wood where the search for truth has been thwarted," the motion states. "It is apparent from the Government's belated disclosure that Ms. Salman has been defending a case without a complete set of facts and evidence that the Government was required to disclose."

Defense attorneys argued that this evidence — which they say must be disclosed if it could impact the case, citing legal precedent — would have substantially changed their arguments in court. Specifically, they questioned whether the father had foreknowledge of Omar Mateen's attack and whether he "played a significant role" in the FBI's decisions to drop its investigations of his son in 2013 and 2014.

Immediately after the June 2016 massacre, which left Omar Mateen and his 49 victims dead at the club, Seddique Mateen condemned his son's actions on multiple media outlets.

"I apologize for what my son did. I don't know why he did it," he told NBC Newsat the time. "He is dead, so I can't ask him. I wish I knew." - Read More, NPR

Orlando Nightclub Shooter's Father Was FBI Informant, Gunman's Widow's Lawyers Say

Russia denies aiding Afghan Taliban in wake of U.S. general's comments

KABUL (Reuters) - Russia has rejected comments by NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan that it has been supporting and even supplying weapons to the Taliban, in a clash of words that underlines growing tension over Moscow’s involvement in the conflict.

In an interview with the BBC last week, General John Nicholson said that Russia had been acting to undermine U.S. efforts in Afghanistan despite shared interests in fighting terrorism and narcotics, with indications that Moscow was providing financial support and even arms.

“We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and said this was given by the Russians to the Taliban,” he said.

A statement from the Russian embassy in Kabul dismissed the comments as “idle gossip”, repeating previous denials by Russian officials.

“Once again, we insist that such statements are absolutely baseless and appeal to officials not to talk nonsense,” the embassy said.

U.S. commanders, including Nicholson, have said on several occasions over the past year that Russia may be supplying arms to the Taliban although no confirmed evidence has so far been made public.

However, Nicholson’s comments were unusually blunt and came in a context of growing tensions between NATO members and Moscow over the case of Sergei Skripal, a former intelligence agent found poisoned with a rare nerve agent in Britain. - Read More

Russia denies aiding Afghan Taliban in wake of U.S. general's comments

U.S. sanctions Pakistani companies over nuclear trade

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The United States has imposed sanctions on seven Pakistani companies over suspicion they have links to the nuclear trade, potentially hurting Pakistan’s ambitions to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Pakistani government spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have been strained in recent years over Pakistan’s alleged support for Islamist militants waging war in Afghanistan, something Pakistani officials deny.

The U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security, Commerce imposed the sanctions on the Pakistani companies on March 22 by placing them on its “Entity List”.

The companies had been “determined by the U.S. government to be acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”, the bureau said in a report on a U.S. government website.

The Department of Commerce’s Entity List does not freeze assets but requires that U.S. and foreign companies doing business with those on the list first obtain a license.

Companies placed on the Entity List will need special licenses to do business in the United States.

None of the seven sanctioned Pakistani companies, which are not well known, could be immediately reached for comment, nor could a Singapore-based company which the bureau said was linked to one of the Pakistani companies. - Read More

U.S. sanctions Pakistani companies over nuclear trade

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Emotions run high at mass gun demonstration - POLITICO

Hundreds of thousands of people from across the country descended on Washington Saturday to demand action on gun control in a mass demonstration that could rival the annual women’s marches sparked by President Donald Trump’s election.

Spurred by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month, the “March for Our Lives” has the backing of well-funded gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety. They are organizing youth voter registration drives and running crash courses on activism and public policy.

More than 800 “sibling” marches are planned across the United States and in other countries on Saturday.

The demonstration is the culmination of years of inaction by lawmakers as mass shootings have continued unabated in America. Left-leaning activists, feeling stymied by the National Rifle Association’s lobbying, are wielding one of the few tools they have left: taking to the streets to demand change.

“The adults haven’t been able to make these changes so the kids are going to show us how it’s done,” Parkland student Alex Wind said.

Emotions ran high during some of the speeches Saturday. - Read More

Emotions run high at mass gun demonstration - POLITICO

March for Our Lives 2018 -- live blog - CBS News

Tens of thousands of protesters are gathering in Washington, D.C., for a rally advocating for stricter gun control. Organizers of the "March for Our Lives" rally are hoping to draw 500,000 protesters to the nation's capital on Saturday. The organizers' website says more than 800 "March for Our Lives" events are planned around the world.

The event in Washington began at 12 p.m ET. CBS News is live streaming the event in Washington, and is covering events at other locations.

The protesters, many of them high school students, claim that the youth leadership of this initiative is what will set it apart from previous attempts to enact stronger gun-control legislation.

Over the past five weeks, after the murders of 17 people at the high school, CBS News has followed the students as they started a movement. It's all featured in CBS News' documentary "39 Days." You can watch the one-hour documentary here. - Read More

March for Our Lives: Washington DC, NYC, Chicago, Seattle live blog ...

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, is out. It was a long time coming.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster began his tenure as national security adviser as one of the most celebrated military leaders of his generation. But President Donald Trump let him go on Thursday after just over a year in the administration — leaving McMaster’s once-sterling reputation in tatters and the White House in even more disarray.

n a tweet, Trump announced that McMaster would make way for former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, but that McMaster “will always remain my friend.” McMaster will retire from the military, according to the New York Times. Bolton will assume McMaster’s role on April 9.

“H.R. McMaster has served his country with distinction for more than 30 years,” Trump said in a statement. “General McMaster’s leadership of the National Security Council staff has helped my administration accomplish great things to bolster America’s national security.”

On March 15, the Washington Post reported that Trump had decided to oust McMaster but didn’t do so because he wanted to ensure there was a prominent successor in place and that McMaster has his next job lined up. But now Trump finally followed through.

McMaster follows closely behind Rex Tillerson, whom Trump fired on March 13. Hours after Tillerson’s removal, McMaster told a reporter, “Hey, I’m still around.”

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. McMaster — along with Defense Secretary James Mattis and, at the time, Tillerson — was labeled an “adult” in the room whose military and strategic expertise would help him gain Trump’s trust and moderate the president’s most potentially dangerous foreign policy impulses.

Instead, McMaster soon found himself at odds with both the president and other top administration officials. Trump, for example, pushed back hard against McMaster on crucial national security decisions, particularly the decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. - Read More

H.R. McMaster is out and John Bolton is in. McMaster's ouster was a ...

Incoming National Security Adviser Bolton: Pakistan Could Be 'Iran on Steroids'

President Donald Trump’s latest pick for national security adviser, John Bolton, says the United States cannot walk away from the war in Afghanistan because of the larger threat from the Taliban, the Islamic State terror group and al-Qaida.
Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is widely known for his hardline views, is set to become Trump’s new national security adviser, after his predecessor, H.R. McMaster resigned following reports of “irreparable” differences with the president and other key White House officials.
Bolton told an audience in Washington in late February that Americans are frustrated that the U.S. is still in Afghanistan.
“We didn’t start this war, we don’t want this war. But one side doesn’t get to say, 'OK, we’re tired of it, I think it’s over,’ ” he said while speaking at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security in Washington.
Bolton’s views on ensuring the Taliban are degraded square with Trump’s Afghan strategy announced last August. Trump committed to sustaining the U.S. military campaign for as long as necessary and empowered American field commanders in Afghanistan to make tactical decisions as they deemed necessary.
But the Trump administration has since faced criticism about the lack of a complementary political and diplomatic strategy to achieve reconciliation in a country replete with ethnic fault lines, government corruption and a resilient Taliban.
In an interview with VOA, former U.S. Ambassador Robin Raphel praised Bolton’s recognition that the U.S. cannot walk away from the Afghan war. - Read More 

Incoming National Security Adviser Bolton: Pakistan Could Be 'Iran on ...

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Deadline for Retirement Account Withdrawals Is April 1

by Gary Strauss, AARP

Penalties for not following IRS guidelines can be punitive

If you turned 70½ last year, you’ve got until April 1 to start taking money out of your retirement account — or face a stiff penalty from the Internal Revenue Service.

The withdrawals, known as Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), must be taken from all employer-sponsored retirement plans, including tax-deferred Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401(k) plans, nonprofit 403(b) and government 457(b) accounts, profit-sharing plans and other defined contribution plans.

These retirement accounts allow contributions and investment gains to grow tax-free, with the proviso that account holders must begin taking RMDs after their 70th birthday. The IRS set the initial April 1 deadline as a grace period for retirees who didn’t make their first RMD withdrawal for 2017. They still have to take a 2018 distribution by Dec. 31, the annual deadline for all subsequent RMDs.

RMDs are based on prior year-end retirement account balances, a retiree’s age and life expectancy. Retirement plan administrators and custodians are required to report annual balance information for account holders to the IRS.

Plan administrators must also calculate or offer to calculate each account holders’ RMD. But it is the account holder’s responsibility to withdraw the correct amount, which must be recalculated every year, the IRS says.

You can determine your RMD using IRS worksheets. For example, a 70-year-old who had $350,000 in tax-deferred retirement accounts on Dec. 31, 2017, would have a 2018 RMD of $12,773.72.

If you have multiple retirement accounts, you must calculate the RMD for each, then add them together to determine an aggregate RMD. You can withdraw the funds from one account or from several, as long as they meet the total RMD, the IRS says. The money can also be taken as a lump sum or at intervals throughout the year.

For those who don’t take the RMD — or the proper amount — there’s a 50 percent penalty tax on the difference between the RMD and the amount withdrawn. For example, if you were supposed to withdraw $5,000 but did not, your penalty would be $2,500. The amount must be reported on your federal income tax return.

Over 2.4 million retirees paid RMD-related penalties in 2015, the IRS says. “It’s a hefty penalty for a tremendous number of retirees who just aren’t aware of the RMD requirements,’’ says Frank Paré, a California certified financial planner and president of the Financial Planners Association.

The IRS notifies those who don’t take an RMD or haven’t taken a large enough one by mail. If you’ve withdrawn too little due to a “reasonable” error or are taking steps to correct an insufficient RMD, you can request a penalty waiver by filing IRS Form 5329 and a statement of explanation, says IRS spokesman Raphael Tulino. - Read More