April 15, 2014

After a public outcry, the Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will no longer attempt to collect taxpayer debts more than 10 years old.

The move came after a Washington Post article last week exposed that the U.S. Treasury was garnishing federal and state tax refunds from debtors' children. In one case, Social Security wasn't even sure which member of a family actually owed the money; it targeted one daughter, even though her four siblings and mother had also received Social Security benefits after their father died in 1960. According to the Washington Post report, Social Security planned on going after the tax refunds of 400,000 people, who collectively owed $714 million.

This effort was all made possible by a revision to the Farm Bill passed in 2008, which lifted the statute of limitations "applicable to collection of debt by administrative offset." Carolyn W. Colvin, the acting commissioner of Social Security, announced the "immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program," adding that "if any Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment under this program, I encourage them to request an explanation or seek options to resolve the overpayment." Catherine Garcia

2:38 p.m. ET
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Paleontologists have uncovered countless dinosaur bones, but what they have yet to find is a dinosaur brain — that is, until now. Researchers recently realized what they thought was a run-of-the-mill skull fossil actually may contain a chunk of fossilized dinosaur brain tissue. Scientists think the brain tissue came from a "large leaf-eating dinosaur, possibly from a species similar to the iguanodon," which roamed the Earth some 130 million years ago, Mashable reports.

The brain tissue, which looks like a nondescript brown rock at first glance, was found by an amateur fossil hunter in Sussex in 2004. Scientists believe the dinosaur's head fell into a swamp when it died, which prevented the brain tissue from decaying like soft tissue usually does. Instead, The Independent explained, the brain was essentially "pickled by the highly acidic and low-oxygen water."

Still, some scientists aren't convinced this is the real deal. Lawrence Witmer, a paleontologist from Ohio University, stressed that brain tissue is "one of the first things that decomposes after an animal dies." He told NPR he thinks what researchers have discovered is "part of the protective outer covering of the brain."

However, researchers insist they've spotted what appear to be blood vessels, which, Vox noted, is "the tell-tale sign this was indeed part of a brain." "They're incontrovertible, they can't be anything else," said Alexander Liu, a co-author of the research. "They have the right diameters, they branch in the right way, they're hollow, and they are in the right places." Becca Stanek

2:28 p.m. ET

Apple on Thursday revealed its thinnest and lightest MacBook Pros ever, previewing two versions of the laptop computer at its October 2016 keynote. The smaller version will feature a 13-inch screen and weigh 3 pounds, while the larger version will measure 15 inches and weigh 4 pounds.

The machines will come with an updated keyboard with a "touch bar," which will feature a Retina display that responds to taps and adapts to whatever software is being used; if Safari is running, for example, the bar will display browser bookmarks and search and back buttons. Apple's voice control app, Siri, will also have a dedicated key. The computers ship with four Thunderbolt 3 ports that support USB-C, and any of the ports can double as a charging port.

"The Mac is more than a product to us," CEO Tim Cook said. "It's a testament to everything we do and everything that created Apple." The laptops start at $1,499 for a 13-inch and from $2,399 for a 15-inch. Pre-orders start today, with shipping beginning in two to three weeks. The Verge has all the specs and details on their live blog, which you can visit here. Jeva Lange

12:38 p.m. ET

Twitter announced Thursday that it will be discontinuing the mobile app for Vine, its short-form video-sharing service that has existed since 2013. The announcement follows reports earlier Thursday that Twitter would be reducing its global workforce by 9 percent, even as the troubled company's third-quarter earnings exceeded analysts' expectations.

"Nothing is happening to the apps, website, or your Vines today," the company said in a statement posted to Medium. "We value you, your Vines, and are going to do this the right way. You'll be able to access and download your Vines. We'll be keeping the website online because we think it's important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website." Vine has over 200 million monthly users and 1.5 billion "loops." Jeva Lange

11:57 a.m. ET

In further evidence Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed expert on every topic under the sun, the GOP nominee offered Wednesday to give Defense Secretary Ash Carter some advice on how to best defend the nation. During an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, the host reminded Trump that Carter had said Trump doesn't "know a damn thing about military strategy." Trump's response? "I'll teach him a couple of things."

Trump then launched into an explanation of how the military offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State should've been handled. "I've been hearing about Mosul now for three months. 'We're going to attack, we're going to attack,'" Trump said. "Why do they have to talk about it?"

Instead, the businessman advised, the military should have prioritized secrecy. "Don't talk about it," Trump said. "Element of surprise. General George Patton."

Listen to the rest of Trump's advice to Carter, a former physicist and Harvard professor who has been working on national security issues since the '90s, below. Becca Stanek

11:08 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Though first lady Michelle Obama has already stumped for Hillary Clinton many a time, the two women will appear on the same stage for the first time this campaign Thursday at a rally Thursday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Clinton campaign has already hailed Obama as its "not-so-secret weapon," and the speeches the first lady has made so far have been some of the most memorable of this election, dating back to her address at the summer's Democratic National Convention.

"She has exceeded our expectations in terms of how many events she has been able to do, willing to do. Her team keeps surprising us with additional availability and we can't, from our vantage point, we can't get her out there enough. She's been an absolute rock star," Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said earlier this week.

On Thursday, Obama will "get the drum beating on early voting," a Clinton spokesperson said. President Obama lost North Carolina in 2012; Clinton is an average of 5.4 points ahead in the four-way matchup, with just 12 days to go until Election Day. Donald Trump's campaign has also been active this week in the state, which, aside from the 2008 election, has historically voted Republican. Becca Stanek

11:05 a.m. ET

Archaeologists and restorers working in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem have pulled back the marble cover on what is traditionally considered to be the tomb of Jesus Christ, National Geographic reports. By removing the covering, which is believed to have been placed on the tomb around 1555 A.D. or earlier, scientists have exposed the "burial bed," where Christ is believed to have been laid after being crucified in A.D. 30 or 33.

"The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it," Fredrik Hiebert, the archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, said. "It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid."

Researchers plan to study the surface in order to better understand the original shape of the tomb. "The techniques we're using to document this unique monument will enable the world to study our findings as if they themselves were in the tomb of Christ," Chief Scientific Supervisor Professor Antonia Moropoulou said.

Watch the big reveal below, and read more about the restoration and research at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at National Geographic. Jeva Lange

10:44 a.m. ET

If the wildlife population keeps dropping off at the rate it has over the last 40 years, the world could be down to just one-third the wildlife it once had by the year 2020. A new Living Planet assessment by the conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released Thursday revealed that there was already a "58 percent overall decline in the numbers of fish, mammals, birds, and reptiles worldwide" between 1970 and 2012, which amounts to a 2 percent loss in wildlife populations every single year.

WWF said the data points to an impending sixth extinction that will be almost entirely humans' fault. "We are entering a new era in Earth's history: the Anthropocene. An era in which humans rather than natural forces are the primary drivers of planetary change," Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, wrote in the report. WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor explained to CNN that the new era is upon us "because we're using so much of the planet and we're destroying so much of (these animals') habitat."

However, BBC noted that WWF's Living Planet reports "have drawn some criticisms." Though the document delves into trends in 14,152 populations of 3,706 species of vertebrates, some argue the data isn't representative of the entire world's wildlife populations. Duke University conservation ecology professor Stuart Pimm said that the data WWF used from from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is "massively skewed toward Western Europe," and that there is "almost nothing from South America, from tropical Africa." Becca Stanek

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