How a man ended up $100,000 in debt — from chocolate
Max Ehrenfreund has a big investigative piece about multilevel marketing companies, which recruit salespeople with the promise that you can make a tidy profit selling chocolate, or protein drinks, or other products. But it doesn't always work out:
Enrique Martinez didn't like chocolate, but he was eating as many as 10 pieces a day, drinking chocolate protein shakes and rubbing a chocolate-based skin cream on his face. It was expensive chocolate, too. Martinez and his wife, Michelle, were going through $2,000 in chocolate a month.
The debt they accumulated this way — more than $100,000 over five years — is now with a consolidation company. Their credit is ruined. There is a crack in the driveway at their home in Albuquerque from a 14-wheeler that once delivered 12,000 cans of chocolate energy drinks to their garage. [Washington Post]
These companies are often compared to pyramid schemes, but there is a key difference. A pyramid scheme is an outright fraud where new investors are used to pay existing ones, so if the supply of new recruits ever dries up, or the reality of the situation leaks out, it collapses immediately. These companies, by contrast, are structured around selling actual products, so they are often perfectly legal — and they make the recruits complicit in perpetuating the business, because otherwise they'll have no chance of making good on their investment.
But sadly, according to a legal expert interviewed by Ehrenfreund, up to 99 percent of multilevel marketing recruits will end up taking a loss. The whole story of Martinez and his wife is really worth reading in full.
Rand Paul to drone fliers: 'Beware, because I've got a shotgun'
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spent part of his Wednesday on Snapchat. The potential 2016 contender was taking questions, in what the company is calling its first legislator interview.
Paul said drones should be used only according to the Constitution, then added drone operators near his house "better beware, because I've got a shotgun."
The lawmaker also fielded the inevitable question: Will he run in 2016?
"Maybe. They may have to make the fence and guard the fence a little bit better than they have been doing lately." —Julie Kliegman
E-cigarettes labeled a 'health threat' in California report
A new study by the California Department of Public Health released Wednesday declares that e-cigarettes and their secondhand aerosols are indeed health hazardous, despite the popular belief that they are significantly less harmful than regular cigarettes. Among other things, the report found that e-cigarettes emit chemicals that are known to cause cancer and birth defects, and that their effectiveness in helping users quit smoking traditional cigarettes is unclear.
Though California outlawed the sale of e-cigarettes to minors years ago, the report also claims that they put youth at greater risk than traditional cigarettes. This is mainly because e-cigs aren't bound to the same marketing restrictions — flavored e-cigs are legal, while flavored cigarettes are not, for example — that traditional cigarettes are.
Supreme Court orders Oklahoma to halt executions over lethal injection drug
The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the executions of three Oklahoma men due to concerns about the controversial drug cocktail the state uses for lethal injections.
The move was widely expected after the Justices agreed last week to hear the inmates' legal challenge that the drug, midazolam, causes intense suffering and thus violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Lawyers for the petitioners pointed to Oklahoma's botched execution last year of Clayton Lockett as proof the drug should not be administered.
Though the state initially opposed staying the executions, it changed course on Monday and asked the high court to intervene.
1 in 5 U.S. children live off food stamps
The economy may have picked up, but children are still struggling to get enough to eat. New statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau have revealed that about 16 million U.S. children — roughly one in five — received food stamps last year.
The number of children on food stamps is higher than it was at the start of the recession in 2007, when nine million children — about one in eight — were on food stamps.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the data is "the latest evidence of how little America's less-advantaged groups — children, but also young adults, the poor, minorities, the middle class — have benefited from an economic recovery whose gains have gone disproportionately to the affluent." Forty-seven percent of children on food stamps live only with their mothers, but the rate of children with married parents who are on food stamps has doubled since 2007, too.
Government budget cuts hit red states the hardest
A new Reuters analysis found that recent budget cuts may demonstrate the politicization of public spending.
The findings suggest that governmental budget cuts after a 2011 budget deal hit Republican states harder than swing states or Democratic states. Funding for discretionary grant programs has fallen 40 percent in red states, versus just 25 percent in purple and blue states. The funding cuts affected programs including Head Start preschool education and anti-drug initiatives.
"In the context of the Obama administration, swing states and blue states are doing better than red states," John Hudak, a federal spending expert who worked with Reuters on the analysis, said in a statement.
Reuters notes that the disparity "only shows up in federal aid that is most directly controlled by the administration." Even controlling for factors like population, economy, and the number of research universities, "red states still came up short."
D.C. issues concealed carry permits — but it's not very easy to get one
Out of the 69 people who applied for concealed handgun carry permits in the District of Columbia, eight have been approved and 11 have been denied, the Washington Free Beacon reports.
Although The District's previous ban on gun permits was deemed unconstitutional over the summer, applying for a permit even now is no simple task. The city council's "may issue" law requires applicants to get 18 hours of training, pay $110 worth of application fees, and prove that their need to pack heat is legitimate. Applicants then must wait 90 days for the city to review the application.
Despite denying more applicants than they've approved, the Beacon reports that the city has upped the number of certified trainers to teach the required 16 hours of classroom instruction and 2 hours of range training from one trainer to six.
Ted Cruz praises Michelle Obama for refusing to wear headscarf during Saudi Arabia trip
First Lady Michelle Obama made headlines yesterday when she chose not to wear a headscarf while visiting Saudi Arabia, as the country is one of the few with strict religious laws that expect women to keep their heads covered. While the tradition is not required of foreign visitors, the first lady's decision drew criticism from many Muslims on Twitter.
Mrs. Obama, however, had an unlikely ally Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who tweeted:
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 28, 2015
Strange bedfellows, indeed.
Ancient Israeli skull sheds new light on human evolution
Scientists have discovered the first fossil that appears to document human migration out of Africa and to Europe, by way of the Middle East. An Israeli skull that's roughly 55,000 years old was found in northern Israel's Manot Cave in the Galilee region.
The earliest remains of modern humans in Europe date to 45,000 years ago, according to The Associated Press. The newly discovered skull resembles ancient skulls found in Europe. Previously, scientists didn't have fossil evidence that "fits so well with what was believed about the ancient migration," AP notes. The fossil shows that modern humans in the Middle East "already had physical traits a bit different from other Africans they were leaving behind," The New York Times reports.
The skull also suggests that early humans interbred with Neanderthals, according to the researchers. Neanderthals were already known to live in the area at the time, so the skull documents the coexistence of Neanderthals and modern humans in the region. Experts note that the skull dates to the estimated time of the interbreeding, which is thought to have taken place between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.
FAA declares Super Bowl a 'no drone zone'
The FAA is still working on comprehensive rules for drone aircraft, but the federal agency on Wednesday issued one guideline for the devices: Don't mess with the Super Bowl.
"Don't spoil the game — leave your drone at home," warns a brief FAA ad.
The FAA did not say how it would enforce the request, but it's safe to assume Rob Gronkowski would snare any low-flying drones and then spike them to smithereens. — Jon Terbush
Steakhouse bans Seth Rogen over American Sniper comments
If Seth Rogen and Michael Moore ever find themselves in Michigan, they can forget about eating at Brann's Sizzling Steaks and Sports Grille.
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) January 27, 2015
Tommy Brann, owner of the restaurant, has explicitly banned Rogen and Moore, thanks to the comments they each made about Clint Eastwood's American Sniper. Rogen, who compared American Sniper to the fake Nazi propaganda film shown in Inglourious Basterds, has since apologized for his remarks. Moore, on the other hand, said he was taught that snipers were "cowards" rather than "heroes," and he has since backtracked on his statements, too.
"Chris Kyle is an American hero and what he represents to me is the goodness of America and the people who defend it," Brann told The Huffington Post. "He was doing his job and he was doing it great."