Project Loon gets federal clearance to provide cell service to Puerto Rico

Giant floating balloons could help deliver internet and cell service to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

The Federal Communications Commission has issued an “experimental license” to X, the moonshot outfit owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, to try and provide service to the ailing island.

The project — called Loon — could help restore some communications capabilities after Hurricane Maria wiped out Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.

More than two weeks after the storm, about 82% of the island is still without cell service, the FCC said Saturday.

“We need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island. Project Loon is one such approach,” Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “It could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information.”

The project, however, is not without its challenges.

Loon works like floating cell towers. Giant balloons are sent about 12 miles up into the Earth’s atmosphere. From there, they must work with an on-the-ground telecommunications system. For that to happen, X needs to partner with a telecom company that can provide that connectivity.

The system has been proven to work. Earlier this year, X said balloons over Peru were able to provide key coverage as the country was plagued by floods.

But the reason Loon was up-and-running so quickly in Peru was because X had already been working alongside Telefónica. Their systems were already integrated and tests were conducted in the months before Loon ramped up its internet coverage to help flooded areas.

In Puerto Rico, however, X essentially had to start at square one.

Spokesperson Libby Leahy said X is making “solid progress on this next step,” but the company declined to indicate a potential time frame for when the project could come online.

–CNN Tech’s Selena Larson contributed to this report.

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Nelly arrested after allegations of rape

Cornell Haynes Jr., better known as the rapper Nelly, was taken into custody Saturday in Washington state after a woman told police he raped her.

Police arrested Nelly in the early morning and took him to a jail in Des Moines, Washington, according to a report from the police department in nearby Auburn.

He was booked for investigation of rape in the second-degree and released a few hours later.

The report says a woman called 911 at 3:48 a.m. Saturday to report the alleged assault, which she says occurred on Nelly’s tour bus.

Police said Nelly, 42, had performed at the White River Amphitheater in King County just hours before the phone call was made.

He was arrested “after patrol officers investigated the incident,” according to the report.

Nelly tweeted Saturday afternoon that he is “completely innocent” and confident he will be vindicated.

“I am beyond shocked that I have been targeted with this false allegation,” he wrote. “I am confident that once the facts are looked at, it will be very clear that I am the victim of a false allegation.”

Nelly’s attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said the “allegation is devoid of credibility and is motivated by greed and vindictiveness.”

“I am confident, once this scurrilous accusation is thoroughly investigated, there will be no charges,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “Nelly is prepared to address and pursue all legal avenues to redress any damage caused by this clearly false allegation.”

Nelly was once one of the reigning kings of hip-hop. He shot to fame nearly 20 years ago with the track “Country Grammar.”

During the height of his career, he won three Grammy awards and regularly appeared on the Billboard 200.

The rapper has had previous run-ins with the law. In 2015, Nelly pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, according to E! News.

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Why does the Las Vegas shooter’s motive even matter?

Despite running down more than 1,000 leads in the Las Vegas shooting investigation, authorities say they are struggling to determine why Stephen Paddock fired on a packed crowd of concertgoers, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds more.

A frustrated Kevin McMahill, the undersheriff at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, asked the public to avoid the constant rumor and speculation as to Paddock’s motives, which he said were understandable but unhelpful.

“I get it,” McMahill said. “We all want answers.”

Indeed, in the week since the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, there has been an intense focus on figuring out the shooter’s motivation.

But why, exactly? Paddock himself is dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police are looking to find out if anyone knew of his plans ahead of time, but they have said he acted alone. There will be no criminal case against him. Learning his motivation won’t bring back the dead or help heal the nearly 500 wounded.

Does his motivation even matter? Why do we care so much about the motives of mass shooters?

The answer, according to experts in profiling mass shooters, is that we dig into the motive of mass killings to try to prevent future attacks, adjust policy and — perhaps most of all — satisfy our own human curiosity.

“Everybody is talking about this. Everybody is asking ‘Why’d he do it? What’s the reason?'” said Jeffrey Simon, a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of “Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat.”

“It’s just human nature to speculate and want to know why something occurred.”

Lessons learned

For Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former senior FBI profiler and author of “The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective,” understanding a mass killer’s motives can help stop future attacks.

“I like to think of these things as education,” she said.

The general public has a misunderstanding of how these mass shooters radicalize, she said. In general, they don’t suddenly “snap.” Instead, they slowly radicalize to the point where their brains begin to see other humans as objects and just a means to a desired end.

Elliot Rodger, who killed six people at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2014, had written a lengthy manifesto describing plans to kill “beautiful girls” and “popular people” after years of rejection and jealousy.

The 22-year-old Rodger fatally stabbed his three roommates before shooting dead two women outside a sorority house and another man inside a deli. He wounded 13 others during his shooting spree before killing himself.

If we understand that end goal — the motive — then we can better understand how the process of radicalization happened and whether any groups or causes contributed to that. That may help the public better predict who might be at risk for radicalizing and prevent future attacks, O’Toole said.

“I find that this is a teachable moment and we don’t want to lose that opportunity,” she said.

Policy changes

The killer’s motivation can also lead to policy changes, taking on that issue on a local, state or national level.

For example, Dylann Roof, motivated by white supremacist beliefs, killed nine people in a historically black church in Charleston in 2015.

Afterward, several states in the American South began to reconsider monuments or symbols of the Confederacy, which critics felt glorified the history of racism and slavery. South Carolina, in particular, passed legislation ordering the removal of the Confederate flag from state Capitol grounds.

“I think it’s part of human nature,” said Michael Stone, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University who has studied hundreds of mass killings.

“When something terrible happens, you want to know what were the factors that led up to it and whether there’s something about it that we could spot beforehand. Maybe we could head trouble off at the pass.”

Other mass killings have sparked policy changes on a wider scale. The Columbine high school shootings in 1999 led to a sharper focus on bullying as an underlying cause of violent behavior, and various states have passed anti-bullying laws in the years since, according to an analysis of state bullying laws.

In Orlando, a gunman’s targeted killing of 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub, led to much stronger support for the LGBTQ community, local lawmakers have said.

“You always have lessons learned after any kind of incident such as this, whether terrorist-related or not terrorist-related,” Simon said.

‘Part of human nature’

But there’s also an essential human component to knowing a shooter’s motivation. Stone, who wrote the book “The Anatomy of Evil,” which explores the motivations and mindsets of the world’s most prominent killers, said there’s a “fascination” with such people.

“It’s very hard to escape the fascination with these mass killers and mass murderers, and also the wish to have answers to what prompts some of these people to do these kinds of things,” he said.

In general, mass killers, almost all of whom are young men, are motivated by some combination of paranoia and mental illness or financial and social problems, he said. A disgruntled recently fired worker, perhaps, or a jilted lover.

Paddock, though, doesn’t seem to fit that type. He was a 64-year-old retired accountant with a girlfriend and plenty of money to spend. Investigators said they hadn’t learned anything in his social life, finances or political beliefs that explained his path to radicalization.

“He doesn’t fit into the major categories,” Stone said. “Because Paddock doesn’t fit in, he’s all the more intriguing. So people are pounding on the table, ‘We have to figure this guy out.'”

The sheer scale of the Las Vegas shooting, with such a large number of casualties, also makes these questions particularly relevant. Not knowing why it happened would leave many grieving families with lingering questions.

“In the end, (the motive) doesn’t change anything in terms of the impact it has had on the poor people who died, who’ve been injured, their loved ones,” Simon said. “But they may also want some type of closure as to why in the world did this occur.”

Undersheriff McMahill said law enforcement will continue to dig into Paddock’s background to learn more. O’Toole said she believes investigators should expend every effort to uncover his motivation.

“This was too horrible a crime, too extraordinary a crime to not to close the books (on),” O’Toole said. “(We are) obligated to the country, obligated to the citizens of Las Vegas, obligated to the families to understand why this happened.”

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New payday loan rules: What you need to know

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued new rules on payday loans this week.

Consumer advocates say the rules will help low-income people and families trapped in endless cycles of debt.

The industry argues that payday loans provide an option for people facing unexpected expenses or financial emergencies. The rules could cripple the industry, which collected about $3.6 billion in fee revenue in 2015, according to the CFPB.

Here’s what you need to know about payday loans and the new regulations.

What are payday loans?

Payday loans are typically between $200 and $1,000 and must be paid back when a borrower receives his or her next paycheck.

On average, borrowers incur a $15 fee for every $100 borrowed, according to the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA), which represents payday lenders. That’s the equivalent of a more than 391% annual interest rate.

Where do you get them?

A patchwork of state laws may limit access in some areas or cap the amount people can borrow. Some states have banned them entirely, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What’s the controversy?

The CFPB argues that most customers who take out payday loans can’t afford them.

About four out of five payday loan customers re-borrow their loan within a month. A quarter end up re-borrowing more than eight times, according to the CFPB. All the while, they rack up new fees.

Watchdog groups have long labeled payday lending practices as “predatory.”

Dennis Shaul, CEO of the CFSA industry group, concedes that some customers do get trapped by payday loans in a harmful cycle of debt — but it’s a small percentage, maybe 15 percent, he says.

He insists the industry is not out to prey on the financially vulnerable.

“We’re making about an average of 4 percent return on investment,” he told CNNMoney. “We’re not making an obscene profit on the backs of people.”

What do the new rules do?

1) Vetting borrowers: Lenders will need to check out a borrower’s income, living expenses, and their major financial obligations (like a mortgage or car payment). In most cases, that’ll mean pulling a credit report.

2) Special rules for loans under $500: Borrowers who take out some smaller-sized loans won’t necessarily have to go through all the vetting hurdles. But those borrowers must pay at least one-third of their loan before they can take out another. Frequent borrowers and indebted borrowers may also be prevented from borrowing again.

3) Limits on number of loans: If a borrower takes out three payday loans in “quick succession,” lenders must cut them off for 30 days. Also, unless they can prove an ability to pay it all back, borrowers cannot take out more than one payday loan at a time.

4) Penalty fee prevention: Lenders cannot continue trying to withdraw payments for a borrowers’ account if they don’t have sufficient funds. After two payment attempts, lenders will be required to re-authorize a payment method with the borrower.

The CFPB’s new rules, which will take effect in July 2019, will also apply to other types of loan products beyond traditional payday loans. They include auto title loans, deposit advance products, and longer-term loans with balloon payments.

What does this mean for payday lenders?

Shaul says the industry wants to to prevent the rules from taking effect — perhaps by working with the CFPB directly, convincing Congress to intervene, or by filing a lawsuit.

If they can’t stop the rules from going into effect, Shaul says he expects payday lenders will be hurt, but they’ll likely develop new products that comply with the rules.

Some payday lenders, however, may be forced to close up shop.

What does this mean for consumers?

If payday loans become unavailable in some areas, the CFPB says there are alternative options. Those include certain short-term loans offered by some community banks or credit unions. Some employers also offer advance payday programs. Neither of those options likely would be affected by the new rules.

— CNNMoney’s Donna Borak contributed to this report.

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Turkey backs Syrian rebel group in new anti-extremist push in Idlib

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday announced a new operation in the northern Syrian province of Idlib to drive out an al Qaeda splinter group before the establishment of a de-escalation zone there.

“Today in Idlib there is a serious operation underway, and it will continue,” Erdogan said during an address to his party in Afyonkarahisar.

Free Syrian Army (FSA) units backed by Turkish forces will carry out the operation, Erdogan said. Turkish soldiers have not yet crossed the border, he added.

The Free Syrian Army is a rebel group comprising Syrian military defectors and rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The FSA units are expected to cross from Turkey into Syria late Saturday, a commander from one of the participating rebel groups told CNN.

“There are 800 FSA fighters now in a military camp near Reyhanli inside Turkey. They are waiting to enter,” said the commander, who did not want to be named for security reasons. “Currently the Turks are clearing the border walls in order to allow vehicles to enter later,” he said.

Turkey’s top military brass, along with the country’s head of intelligence, were in Reyhanli and met with field commanders in the area, according to a Turkish Armed Forces statement.

Turkish TV channels showed live images of Turkish tanks lined up along the border with Syria, as well as heavy machinery working to remove parts of the border wall between the two countries.

The operation is expected to take a four-pronged approach, launching from the Syrian border towns of Atmeh, Bab al Hawa, Harem and Salkin, according to the rebel commander. Turkish soldiers are expected to join the operation later, he said.

Taking over Idlib

Idlib is the last remaining area in northern Syria where anti-Assad rebel groups have a foothold. But the FSA has increasingly lost territory to extremist Islamist groups there.

In recent months, the province has fallen under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the latest reincarnation of the formerly al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front. FSA and HTS oppose the Assad regime, but are also battling each another for control of Idlib.

“We will not allow a terrorist corridor to be established on our border,” Erdogan said in his address.

HTS on Saturday warned FSA units against participating in the Turkish-backed operation. “If you want to die, orphan your children, make our wives widows, step your feet into Idlib. The news is what you see, not what you hear,” said an HTS statement published on the group’s Telegram channel.

Mustafa Sejari, a representative of a rebel group working with the FSA, told CNN the “FSA is ready to start the operation with Turkish allies” and warned HTS fighters to abandon the group “to save their lives.”

Russian involvement

Turkey has been negotiating with Assad allies Iran and Russia to establish de-escalation zones in Syria. The three countries agreed to the creation of four zones after rounds of negotiations in Astana, Kazakhstan, with the aim of stopping armed hostilities between Turkish-backed rebels and the regime.

Security in Idlib will be provided by Turkey with Russia, Erdogan said Saturday, without elaborating further.

FSA groups have said they are not willing to accept participation by Russia, which they accuse of supporting the Assad regime through bombings in civilian areas.

“We deny any involvement of the Russian air forces in the upcoming Syrian Free Army operations. Our position on Russia as an occupier state supportive of terrorism in Syria has not changed,” wrote Sejari in a tweet.

Other FSA commanders also denounced Russian involvement. “The Russians were and are still the enemies of our revolution. They murdered our children in the past. Russia will not be our ally today. We hope that Turkey, which has borne the burden of our revolution, does not take a step that harms our people,” said Abu Issa Sheikh, another FSA commander.

Idlib became one of the most heavily populated areas in Syria after the Assad regime wrestled control of Aleppo from rebels in late 2016, driving displaced Syrians to the province.

“We cannot tell our brothers who are there, the ones who fled from Aleppo and took refuge in Idlib, we cannot just say live or die. … We have to extend our hand to them, and that is the step that was taken and will continue,” Erdogan said.

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Ken Starr on Russia: I expect indictments

Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation of former President Bill Clinton’s real-estate investments and extramarital affair led to Clinton’s impeachment, said Saturday that he “has a sense” there will be indictments in the federal investigation into allegations of possible collusion by the Trump campaign in Russia’s efforts to influence last year’s election.

“Given what we do know, especially given what happened this summer with respect to the FBI’s intrusion into Paul Manafort’s condominium, in light of the revelations that we’ve seen about General Flynn, I have a sense that there will, in fact, be indictments,” Starr told CNN’s Michael Smerconish.

Manafort was the president’s campaign chairman, and Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was his first national security adviser.

Starr added that there “may be guilty pleas” from some of those under investigation.

“What I find very interesting … is in light of the information that is now coming out with respect to Russian attempts to influence both the national election and 21 different states, what I expect to see is serious consideration of indicting one or more foreign nationals,” Starr said.

Starr additionally said that he thought it should be legal to indict a sitting president, saying “everyone is equal under the law,” although the Justice Department has an informal policy that the sitting president can’t be indicted, he said.

FBI agents raided one of Manafort’s homes this summer and seized materials as part of the ongoing Russia investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

Mueller’s team also met with Christopher Steele, the former British spy whose dossier on alleged Russian efforts to aid the Trump campaign spawned months of investigations. The former FBI director’s team is also sifting through Russia-linked ads handed over by Facebook.

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