Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Feb 27, 2019 in Stuff You Should Know

FEMA Fraud

Do you remember Hurricane Sandy? It was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 hurricane season. At that time, it was the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history and the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. As it moved up the East Coast, Sandy was downgraded to a superstorm. However, it still caused millions of dollars of damage in New York City alone. Now, nearly seven years later, Sandy is back in the news–this time, because it has recently been revealed that in the wake of the storm, the New York City Department of Transportation fraudulently took millions of dollars of federal disaster relief funding to replace vehicles that weren’t actually damaged in the storm.

After Sandy, the New York City DOT submitted a list of vehicles that had been damaged by the storm to FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). FEMA then supplied the city with money to replace them. But as it turns out, many of those vehicles were damaged beyond repair long before Sandy hit. Even worse, it appears that the city officials who signed off on the claims knew this. The vehicles in question had apparently sustained damage due to Sandy, but officials didn’t mention to FEMA that they had already been marked for salvage, some of them for as long as seven years prior to the storm.

FEMA officials point out that this kind of fraudulent claim is especially damaging after a devastating event like Sandy because so many people are left destitute and in need of aid. New York City has agreed to reimburse the federal government $5.3 million to replace the misused funds.

Dig Deeper As of 2019, what is now the most expensive hurricane in U.S. history?

Russian Soldiers Go Offline

It’s common knowledge that if you use a smartphone, or participate in social media, you’re giving up a pretty fair chunk of your privacy. But what if your privacy was a matter of national security? Last Tuesday, the Russian government dealt with this concern by passing a bill limiting what military personnel can post about themselves or their colleagues online. According to the new bill, soldiers will no longer be allowed to record or distribute audio, photo, video, or geolocation data. They are also banned from using smartphones, tablets, laptops or any other devices that could reveal their location or be used to track them.

This is happening because several times in recent years, soldiers’ social media posts have exposed military activity denied by the Russian government. For example, though the Kremlin said that Russian troops weren’t fighting in eastern Ukraine, digital tracking of soldiers’ phones found that this wasn’t true. The same thing happened when the Russian government denied that it was involved in the Syrian conflict, or claimed that it had no role in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane in Ukraine in 2014–all of which was proven false using digital evidence.

The bill has passed the lower house of Russia’s parliament. It must also pass the upper house, and then be signed by President Vladimir Putin, before it becomes law. This is expected to happen within the next month.

What Do You Think? Do you think a government has the right to limit soldiers’ smartphone and technology use in the interest of national security? In your opinion, would it also have the right to impose the same limitations on civilians for the greater good and safety of the country? Why or why not?

Sanders 2020?

Democrats are “feeling the Bern” as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced his intention last week to enter the 2020 presidential race. He joins an increasingly crowded pool of Democratic hopefuls including Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Senator Kamala Harris (California), and Senator Cory Booker (New Jersey).

Sanders ran unsuccessfully against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary. Despite his loss, however, he amassed a significant group of devoted followers. His progressive platform included ideas like Medicare for everyone, a $15 minimum wage, and free college education, and because these ideas are now so popular, he is credited with shifting the whole Democratic Party to the left. (In fact, many of this year’s other Democratic primary contenders support the same ideas.) This time around, Bernie fans have been quick to renew their support. In fact, his campaign raised an estimated $6 million from more than 225,000 donors within the first 24 hours after he announced his candidacy.

Critics argue that because Sanders considers himself an Independent and refuses to join the Democratic Party, he shouldn’t run as the Democratic candidate. They also point out that 77-year-old Sanders, if he wins, would become the oldest president in American history. Others note that as a white man, Sanders performed poorly with certain demographic groups, such as women and people of color, in 2016. He would have to do a lot of work to win over those groups this time around, especially since he has faced charges of sexism and sexual harassment from his staffers in the past.

Dig Deeper In order to keep track of who’s who in the ever-more-crowded Democratic race for the presidency, use Internet resources to make a list of all of the candidates who have officially declared their intention to run so far, as well as one or two sentences about each.

Zombie Deer?

Closeup of deer in snow

There is a disease affecting deer. Could it also affect humans?
Credit: Shutterstock/graham tomlin

Zombie deer disease: it sounds like the stuff of horror movies. But it’s actually very real. Throughout the United States and Canada, deer (as well as elk and moose) are contracting Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD. The disease is contagious and there is no cure, meaning that it is always fatal. Experts also have no idea how to prevent its spread. Deer who contract CWD exhibit characteristics such as disorientation. This is because the disease causes an abnormal form of protein to collect in the deer’s brain cells. The brain cells eventually burst, which leaves behind a small hole or empty space in the brain. This gives the brain a “spongy” or “Swiss cheese” look. Over time, the infected animal experiences dementia, hallucinations, and difficulty walking and eating. This leads to rapid weight loss and eventually death. Twenty-four states have confirmed cases of CWD, as well as two Canadian provinces.

So what does this mean for humans? It’s possible that humans who eat contaminated meat can contract the disease, though no cases have been reported in humans yet, even among those who ate meat that later tested positive for CWD. Experts recommend that hunters avoid animals that appear sick or exhibit strange behaviors. However, because these symptoms sometimes take years to appear, it can be almost impossible for hunters to be able to tell which deer are infected and which aren’t. States such as North Carolina are working to combat the disease by making laws forbidding the transportation of any deer or deer parts over state lines, as well as carefully labeling deer carcasses to better track the animals.

Dig Deeper The recent CWD outbreak is often compared to the worldwide epidemic of “mad cow disease” in the late 1990s. Use Internet resources to learn more about this disease. How was it similar to the disease currently affecting the deer population? How was it different? What was the impact on humans? How was it ultimately stopped?