National / International News
This past weekend, the word spread in the middle of the night in Sierra Leone: the way to prevent Ebola is to pray over hot salted water, then bathe in it.
First, a primer on payday loans from John Oliver (h/t @qz). Those short on time might want to skip to the last few minutes, for a cameo by Sarah Silverman.
Payday lenders, which charge notoriously high interest rates, are outlawed in some states, including New York. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has charged that a group of companies broke that law by making high-interest payday loans over the Internet, according to the New York Times.
According to the indictment, posted by the Times, a Tennessee man created a dozen companies that formed what the DA’s office calls a “payday syndicate.” Each company had a specific function. A shell company, officially incorporated in the West Indies, was structured so the company — as the indictment alleges — “owned no assets, had no officers or employees, possessed no bank accounts, and occupied no office space.”
A lawyer, also charged, allegedly told the defendants, essentially: Don’t worry about it. You’re officially based in the West Indies, and the loans happen in cyberspace. How could you be breaking New York laws? The indictment calls this advice "false."
The DA’s office says the companies loaned out $50 million to New Yorkers just in 2012 and collected $15 million in interest, breaking New York’s interest cap of 25 percent a year. The indictment lists one instance where the companies charged an effective rate of 1290 percent on a loan.
The companies may have violated laws in other states as well. The indictment says they loaned out $500 million in 2012 nationwide. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 15 states have what Pew calls “restrictive” payday lending laws, and according to the National Council of State Legislatures, a few outlaw them altogether. However, Pew researchers also interviewed more than 33,000 people, and found that even in states where payday loans aren’t allowed, like Arizona, people still used them.
First up, more on the New York Times report that Manhattan's District Attorney's office has charged that a group of companies broke New York law by making high-interest payday loans over the Internet. Plus, last month, a water main broke on the campus of UCLA and flooded the Los Angeles campus. Since then, city officials say they're working overtime to fix the city's aging infrastructure. But as LA, and many other cities have discovered, the costs are daunting. And two decades after the collapse of the USSR, Armenia is forging closer links with its former Soviet parent Russia to boost its economic fortunes. It's also calling on Armenians who live abroad to publish positive stories about the nation, hoping to promote tourism and foreign investment.
Following the expensive water-main break that flooded UCLA's campus, Los Angeles officials say they're trying to aggressively fix the city’s aging infrastructure.
The costs are daunting. It’s going to take the city of Los Angeles billions of dollars to fix.
“They estimate some over 20 millions of gallons of water were lost and of course it wound up on that new floor at the Pauley Pavilion Basketball Arena,” says Greg DiLoreto, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “We have some 240,000 water main breaks a year in this country. And the age of our water infrastructure continues to get older and older and older.”
DiLoreto says the country needs something like $84 billion dollars in water infrastructure investments between now and 2020.
Carolyn Berndt, program director at the National League of Cities, says local governments haven’t had the access to the kind of capital they need to make these upgrades.
“The traditional method has been through the state revolving loan funds," Berndt says. "Those numbers have been declining in recent years.”
Berndt says if cities are going fix their leaky pipes, they’ll need more financing than just a drop in the bucket.
The FBI is investigating possible civil rights violations after a police officer in suburban St. Louis fatally shot an unarmed teenager on Saturday. The death of Michael Brown, 18, stirred a night of unrest in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, where the incident happened.
Many of the costs these kinds of cases of alleged police misconduct can have on a community are impossible to quantify — in terms of loss of life, and loss of confidence in civic institutions.
"The greatest cost is loss of faith in the police department, which then cause crime to spiral out of control," says Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
But there are also some very specific costs to a community, with dollar amounts attached. For example, a string of notorious police brutality cases in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, connected to one police lieutenant, John Burge, cost the city of Chicago more than $100 million, says Simpson.
The money went to court fees, lawyer fees, and multi-million dollar payouts to some victims.
As Tim Lynch, director of the Cato institute's Project on Criminal Justice, points out, all that money has to come from some place. “The tax payers of these various cities pay the costs,” he says.
The money usually comes through a city's general fund, says Professor Simpson. Meaning, if a city has to spend a lot on a big police misconduct case, “it diminishes the ability to provide services to citizens, and it raises their property taxes.”
According to a review of public records by the Cato Institute, American cities spent at least $347 million between 2009 and 2010 on settlements and judgments related to police misconduct. Lynch says the amount could be even higher. Many municipalities do not make information on lawsuits involving police misconduct publicly available.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization held a briefing on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa endorsing the use of untested drugs. As information comes out about those affected by the virus, more is being learned about its origins and impact, partly thanks to an online tool called HealthMap.
The program uses algorithms to pull information off the web that could inform researchers about disease outbreaks. In fact, it identified the spread of a virus in Guinea nine days before the World Heath Organization announced the Ebola outbreak.
“HeathMap is essentially a data aggregation tool, organizing content from hundreds of thousands of sources,” says John Brownstein of the Boston Children's Hospital and co-founder of HealthMap.
The project sources material from all over the internet; including news, social media, and health ministry data.
In this particular case, the first public hints of the Ebola outbreak came from local media in Guinea — news stories of mysterious illnesses.
The tool, which has been around since 2006, has evolved to integrate real-time social media based data.
Of the project's strengths is the fact that the data collected provides a broader awareness of what’s happening at the population level.