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March 28 2015 2:36 PM

Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz Sought Treatment for Vision Problems

Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot believed to have deliberately slammed the Germanwings plane into the French Alps, had sought medical treatment for vision problems, German daily Bild and the New York Times reported Saturday. The problems “may have jeopardized his ability to continue working as a pilot” although it’s far from clear how serious the problems were and the possibility that they were psychosomatic has not been ruled out, reports the Times. It seems he did not tell airline officials about the issue.

Lubitz also appears to have kept from his employer that he suffered from a psychiatric disorder and was being treated “by several neurologists and psychiatrists,” according to a Bloomberg source. The Düsseldorf University Hospital refused to say whether Lubitz sought treatment there for vision problems. Earlier, the hospital had denied speculation that Lubitz had been treated for depression there.

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As authorities try to piece together what may have happened the day of the crash, “the picture emerging of Lubitz is one of a man haunted, whose ambition to fly brought him both pleasure and torment,” points out the Washington Post. In his home town, he was hardly seen as a memorable man. “He was inconspicuous, normal, nice,” said the pastor at the Luther Church in Montabaur who taught Lubitz’s confirmation class.

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March 28 2015 12:47 PM

Clinton Wiped Copies of All Emails From Personal Server

Hillary Clinton no longer has copies of the emails she sent when she was secretary of state, her lawyer acknowledged to a congressional committee. After the former secretary of State turned over government-related emails, the settings on the server were changed so that only emails from the last 60 days would be stored, her lawyer, David Kendall, said, according to the New York Times. “Thus, there are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized,” Kendall said in a letter to the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that had subpoenaed the server earlier this month. Clinton has “maintained and preserved copies” of work-related emails, according to Kendall, who did not make it clear whether they were kept in paper or digital form, notes CNN.

The committee had asked for the server to be examined by a third party that could then help determine which emails were personal and which should be considered government records. Yet that appears not to be a possibility any longer. “Secretary Clinton unilaterally decided to wipe her server clean and permanently delete all emails from her personal server,” Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who chairs the House Benghazi committee, said in a statement.

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Gowdy said Republicans would analyze what steps to take. “In light of the secretary’s unprecedented email arrangement with herself and her decision nearly two years after she left office to permanently delete all emails … we will work with the leadership of the House of Representatives as the Committee considers next steps,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry has called on the State Department’s inspector general to review the agency’s recordkeeping practices, reports the Associated Press. The review is going to include an examination of how emails are archived and how the State Department responds to Freedom of Information Act and congressional requests. Clinton’s work-related emails will be published on a website once they are reviewed, the State Department said on Friday. 

March 28 2015 10:24 AM

Pilot Who Downed Airliner: “One Day Everyone Will Know My Name”

The co-pilot on the Germanwings flight who is believed to have purposefully crashed the plane into the French Alps had previously vowed to “do something” in order to be remembered, his alleged ex-girlfriend said. German daily Bild published an interview on Saturday with a 26-year-old flight attendant who said she was in a relationship with Andreas Lubitz last year. "When I heard about the crash, I remembered a sentence, over and over again, that he said," the woman said, according to Reuters. "'One day I'll do something that will change the system, and then everyone will know my name and remember it'."

The woman who is identified as Maria W. told the German paper she was “very shocked” when she heard the news. "I didn't know what he meant by that at the time, but now it's obvious," she said. "He did it because he realized that, due to his health problems, his big dream of working at Lufthansa, of a having job as a pilot, and as a pilot on long-distance flights, was nearly impossible." She says Lubitz told her he was in psychiatric treatment but did not speak about the issue much.

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Lubitz apparently put his pilot training on pause at one point due to “burnout syndrome,” according to the Guardian. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has said Lubitz suspended his pilot training that began in 2008 “for a certain period” before restarting, notes AFP. Lubitz’s former girlfriend says she finally broke up with him because she was afraid of him, claiming he suffered terrifying mood swings.

"He would suddenly freak out in conversations and yell at me," she said. "At night he would wake up screaming 'we are crashing' because he had nightmares. He could be good at hiding what was really going on inside him."

Lubitz hid from his employers that he was being treated for depression, according to the Wall Street Journal. A source tells the Journal that Lubitz’s neuropsychologist had excused him from work for a period of time that included the day of the crash. There is no evidence though that Lutbitz was under the effects of medication that could have clouded his judgment. “When someone makes the same decision five or six times all leading toward one specific end you have to assume they are acting intentionally,” the source added.

March 28 2015 8:24 AM

The Week in Photos

Somalis play football as the sun sets in Mogadishu on March 24, 2015.

March 27 2015 6:37 PM

Israel Announces It Will Release Millions in Seized Tax Revenue to Palestinian Authority

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Friday that Israel will release tax revenue it has withheld from the Palestinian Authority for the past three months. The tax money constitutes two-thirds of the Palestinian Authority's budget and Israeli military and security officials reportedly expressed concern to Netanyahu that refusing to turn it over could aggravate humanitarian problems in Palestinian-controlled areas. From the New York Times:

Israel collects more than $100 million a month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Its impoundment of the money had intensified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The money, collected in December, January, and February, will be transferred minus payments for services rendered to the Palestinian population such as electricity, water, and hospitalization, Israel said.
Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement, "Given the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, one must act responsibly and with due consideration alongside a determined struggle against extremist interests."
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Israel froze the revenue after the Palestinian Authority applied to join the International Criminal Court in late 2014. That move by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was condemned by the State Department in January as "entirely counterproductive" and "an escalatory step." Palestinian membership in the court is expected to be finalized in April.

As Al Jazeera notes, the seizure of the tax funds is not unprecedented: Netanyahu previously choked off revenue flows for three months following a push for United Nations recognition of Palestinian statehood in 2012.

March 27 2015 6:30 PM

Amanda Knox Guilty Verdict Overturned by Italy's Highest Court

Italy's supreme court has overturned the murder convictions of American Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito in the 2007 killing of Meredith Kercher, a British woman. Knox and Sollecito, who is Italian, were previously convicted in 2009, acquitted on appeal in 2011, and re-convicted in 2014.

The court's explanation of its decision will be released within 90 days, the New York Times says, adding that "gasps went up among spectators" when the ruling was announced.

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Further legal action against Knox is not expected. The AP quotes her attorney's exclamation: "Finished!" The conviction of a man named Rudy Guede, who was also accused of participating in Kercher's murder, still stands.

Incidentally, the AP described Knox and Sollecito's alibi by writing that the pair claimed to have been "smoking marijuana and making love" on the night of the murder, while NBC went with "smoking pot and having sex."

March 27 2015 6:10 PM

St. Louis Police to Limit Use of Tear Gas in Response to Ferguson Lawsuit

A civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of protestors in Ferguson has resulted in an unusual commitment from police agencies in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County to abstain from using tear gas or any other chemical agent as a means of breaking up peaceful demonstrations. According to Denise Lieberman, an attorney who represented the protestors, the agreement followed testimony from people who protested in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown and told the court that “police were gratuitously using tear gas and other chemical agents for the purpose of squelching first amendment activity.” Images of aggressive and military-style police action against demonstrators last summer shocked the country, and set off a national debate about the use of non-lethal weapons by law enforcement.    

Under the agreement, police officers will still be able to use chemical agents in response to illegal activity, but they will have to give fair warning before they do and provide people an opportunity to leave the scene. That will mean issuing “a clear order to disperse and clearly telling people that if they fail to disperse, they will be subject to arrest and/or chemical munition,” said Lieberman, a senior attorney at the civil rights organization the Advancement Project.

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The judge presiding over the suit declined to specify a length of time that officers would have to wait after issuing a warning.

According to a press release issued by the Advancement Project, the agreement is “unprecedented,” and, to the best of their knowledge, the only other police agency in the country with policies that limit the use of chemical agents is the Oakland Police Department. Whether that’s true or not is hard to say without doing a comprehensive study of law enforcement policies around the country, but last year, a police spokesman in San Francisco was quoted as saying that his department has a similar policy against using tear gas or rubber bullets for the purpose of crowd control.

Skeptics might argue that the restrictions imposed on police will limit their ability to control unruly crowds. But Lieberman said the agreement includes a provision concerning “violent exigent circumstances, where something turns immediately violent and the police have to take immediate action in order to avert a legitimate threat to themselves and others.” Also, there’s reason to think that the use of chemical agents by police actually aggravates protest situations: a study led by UC Berkeley sociologist Nicholas Adams, which involved an analysis of Occupy protests in nearly 200 American cities, found that when police officers used aggressive tactics against protesters, the likelihood of violence erupting went up, not down. 

March 27 2015 5:42 PM

Republicans Must Be Pretty Bummed That Harry Reid’s Retiring  

Harry Reid’s days in the Senate are officially numbered, and Republicans must be a tiny bit bummed. Reid was Public Enemy No. 1 for Republicans during the 2014 Midterms, and candidates around the country invoked his time as Senate majority leader to make the case for ousting vulnerable Senate Democrats. And while nobody draws as much grassroots conservative ire as President Obama, Republicans’ “Fire Harry Reid” refrain proved pretty effective.

Hating on Harry made sense for everyone from Cory Gardner—who beat an incumbent Democrat in Colorado by running as a pro-immigration moderate—to Ted Cruz, who released a Retire Harry Reid-themed get-out-the-vote video. The Republican National Committee used anti-Reid messaging to galvanize activists and donors. And it all worked: Reid wasn’t exactly fired, but he’s out. In the post-Reid era, Republicans will have to hope the universe gives them comparably energizing foes.

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And that could be a tall order, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in an affecting statement he released on the Nevadan’s retirement.

“Nothing has ever come easily to this son of Searchlight,” McConnell said. “Underestimated often, his distinctive grit and determined focus nevertheless saw him through many challenges. They continue to make him a formidable opponent today.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner was equally decorous.

“Harry Reid has always been a tough advocate for the people of Nevada, and I have always appreciated the candid and straightforward nature of our relationship,” he said.

On the campaign side, Republicans were a little less buttoned-up. Ward Baker, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, celebrated that the senator “decided to hang up his rusty spurs” and said in his statement that the race to fill his seat will be the GOP’s top 2016 pickup opportunity.

Ward is probably right about that, but largely because Republicans will be playing defense in the 2016 Senate contests. Republican candidates do much better in elections that don’t happen in presidential years—compare 2014 and 2010 with 2012 and 2008, for instance—and there will be a host of Republican incumbent senators running in blue and purple states who could be highly vulnerable. Not having Reid as a foil will only make things tougher for them.

March 27 2015 5:15 PM

This Is the Woman Harry Reid Wants to Replace Him in the Senate

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced Friday morning that he’s retiring, and he’s wasting no time trying to coronate his successor. The Washington Post is reporting that the outgoing senator—who would have been up for re-election in 2016—says he favors the state’s former attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, as his replacement.

The Nevada Senate race in 2016 could be pretty interesting. Reid was widely perceived as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, but his open seat could give Republicans an even better pickup opportunity (though that thesis is hotly debated, as Jeff Singer details at Daily Kos Elections).

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If Cortez Masto runs, she could be quite competitive. After being term-limited out of the attorney general’s office, she became executive vice chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which oversees colleges and universities in the state. During her short time there, she’s drawn national attention for her position on campus carry legislation. USA Today reports that current Nevada policy gives college presidents veto power over whether or not someone can carry a weapon on campus. But the Nevada Legislature is considering legislation that would take that power away from them, allowing people over 21 to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Cortez Masto is an adamant opponent of that change.

“The law works right now and from our perspective, it does not need to be changed,” she told USA Today. “The need for them to have this broad authority to carry a concealed weapons doesn’t exist. This is a solution in search for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

That wasn’t Cortez Masto’s first foray into gun politics. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in 2013 that she joined Mark Kelly—Gabby Giffords’ husband—to lobby for legislation that would require background checks for most gun purchases. That legislation eventually passed, but Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it.

Nevada is a very purple state, and debates over gun rights draw lots of controversy there (as they do around the country). The Cliven Bundy standoff, when some Bundy supporters pointed weapons at federal agents, was in Nevada. And Sharron Angle, who lost to Reid in his 2012 re-election contest, once called for “Second Amendment remedies” to public policy problems. Gun rights are a galvanizing issue for conservative activists, and could likely be an important issue in the race to replace Reid.

Cortez Masto might not be the only Democratic Senate contender. Rep. Dina Titus told the Hill on Friday that she’s also putting “serious thought” into launching a Senate bid.

March 27 2015 4:43 PM

Oklahoma Report Says SAE Frat Learned Racist Chant During National “Leadership Cruise”

The University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter whose members were caught on video repeating a racist chant originally became familar with the chant on a national SAE leadership cruise four years ago, the university's investigation determined. A total of 25 students will be disciplined over the incident, university President David Boren said; two were expelled, and the fraternity chapter has been closed. From the Huffington Post:

In a Friday letter to the SAE national office, also obtained by HuffPost, Boren said there was no indication the racist song was formally taught to fraternity members. But, he added, "it does appear that the chant was widely known and informally shared amongst members of the leadership cruise."
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The “findings” document posted at HuffPo attributes its conclusion to interviews conducted by the “Office of Student Affairs.” Boren said Friday that more than 160 people were interviewed.

The university’s letter to SAE’s national office suggests that the fraternity investigate how widely the chant has permeated other chapters throughout the country; the organization has said it is conducting such a review and has begun several anti-racism initiatives.

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