Only in America
December 15, 2011

Alabama schoolchildren who want to give their teacher a Christmas present should keep it simple — and cheap. According to a new statewide anti-bribery law, any teacher who accepts a non-token gift faces jail time and a $6,000 fine. Unacceptable bribes include a gift card, ham, or turkey. When teachers, parents, and even Gov. Robert Bentley (R) protested, the state ethics commission was unmoved, responding: "The suggestion that it is harmless for a schoolchild to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse." The Week Staff

2016 fever
8:07 a.m. ET
(Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced Thursday that he was abandoning the Common Core program and calling for state education officials to develop new education standards. Christie once supported the controversial Common Core, but said in the five years since its adoption it had created "confusion and frustration" for parents and created unanticipated new problems. "The truth is that it's simply not working," Christie said. "We need to do something different." You can read more at CBS news. Harold Maass

Follow the money
7:27 a.m. ET

That's not revenue — that's pure profit.

FIFA, soccer's global governing body, took in $4.8 billion on last year's World Cup alone, the BBC reports, and incurred only $2.2 billion in expenses:

(BBC)

About $4 billion of FIFA's revenue came from sponsorships and broadcasting rights. Ticket sales only totaled $527 million.

So where did this mind-boggling profit go? "FIFA re-invests the majority of its revenue but it does hold on to a proportion of any profit to create a cash reserve," the BBC says. The reserve — which ballooned to $1.5 billion last year, from $350 million in 2005 — is meant to protect the organization in case the World Cup is canceled. By contrast, the $150 million that top FIFA allegedly accepted in bribes looks like just a drop in the bucket.

For more on FIFA's finances, head over to the BBC. Nico Lauricella

crisis at sea
2:35 a.m. ET
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

In Thailand on Friday, representatives from more than 20 countries gathered at the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean to discuss the migrant crisis taking place in the region.

Thousands of migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar are adrift at sea in southeast Asia, Reuters reports, unable to land in Thailand now that the country has made it too risky for traffickers to drop them off. Many of the migrants are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, a minority group that the country considers stateless. Htein Lin, director general at Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Myanmar is not to blame for the crisis, adding, "You cannot single out my country. In the influx of migration, Myanmar is not the only country."

Malaysia says it has taken in 120,000 migrants from Myanmar, and Indonesia promised to give temporary shelter to migrants at sea, but said it needs other countries to help resettle them. Thailand will not allow the boats to dock because it is already hosting 100,000 migrants from Myanmar, but is offering medical aid to migrants at sea. The country also gave the U.S. permission to fly surveillance flights over its airspace in an attempt to track down boats carrying migrants. "We have to save lives urgently," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard said. Catherine Garcia

protests
1:44 a.m. ET

On Thursday, a Southern California man ended his 55-day fast protesting the Armenian genocide that took place 100 years ago.

Agasi Vartanyan of Glendale began his fast on April 3, and spent the last 55 days inside a glass box outside of a Burbank church, only consuming bottled water. Vartanyan went on the hunger strike to bring attention to the 100th anniversary of the genocide of about 1.2 million Armenians in their homeland in 1915, and conducted a similar protest in Russia in 2006. A nonprofit group set up a livestream of his protest, and it drew almost 20 million viewers. "What makes what I'm doing worthwhile is when I see young people remembering their roots and their heritage," he told the Los Angeles Times through a translator.

The number 55 was important to Vartanyan, as he'll be turning 55 this year and he wanted to end his fast on May 28, the day Armenians celebrate their independence. It took him a year to prepare, both physically and mentally, and dropped 56 pounds over the 55 days. He would like to see the Turkish government recognize the massacre as genocide, and believes it deserves the same recognition as the Holocaust. "I've done these things for the memory of the victims," he told supporters who came to watch him finish the fast. "You never get anywhere without fighting for it." Catherine Garcia

This just in
1:12 a.m. ET

A volcano erupted without warning in Japan on Friday morning, causing the government to order all 140 residents of the Kuchinoerabu island to evacuate.

Authorities say that so far, no injuries or damage have been reported, although several people are not accounted for and others are on boats headed to an emergency shelter. Following Mount Shindake's eruption, Japan's meteorological agency raised its alert level to five, the highest on its scale, The Guardian reports.

Officials say that pyroclastic flows, or currents of rock fragments and hot gases from the volcano, have reached the north-west shore of the island. Witnesses said they heard what sounded like an explosion and felt the earth shake, then saw black smoke rising into the air. Catherine Garcia

$$$$$
12:37 a.m. ET
George Frey/Getty Images

Military veterans who were illegally charged too much interest on their student loans will receive anywhere from $10 to $100,000 in refunds.

The Department of Justice secured $60 million in refunds for 77,795 veterans who were overcharged by the student loan service provider formerly known as Sallie Mae, The Hill reports. Now called Navient Corp., the company will begin to issue refunds in June, with the Department of Justice saying the average veteran will receive $770.

Navient agreed to settle with the Department of Justice last year after it was charged with violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by not capping interest rates at 6 percent for certain loans. It was the first time a student loan company was sued by the federal government on these charges. Catherine Garcia

C-O-N-G-R-A-T-U-L-A-T-I-O-N-S
May 28, 2015
Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s a T-I-E: For the second year in a row, the Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned two champions.

Vanya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kansas, and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of Chesterfield, Missouri, battled it out through 20 rounds Thursday night, with Shivashankar tackling words like "thamakau," "hippocrepiform," and "scherenschnitte" and Venkatachalam taking on "pipsissewa," "pyrrhyloxia," and "sprachgefühl." It all came down to "nunatak" — after Venkatachalam spelled it correctly, the pair were named co-champions, with each one walking away with $35,000, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, and a complete reference library.

Both were competition veterans — it was Shivashankar's fifth year, Venkatachalam's fourth — who have long had their eyes on the prize. "I saw the past two champions and I wanted to do the same and I wanted to get the same," Venkatachalam told USA Today. "I just put in the work." Shivashankar — whose sister, Kavya, won the 2009 bee — dedicated her win to her grandmother, who died in 2013. "All she really wanted was her grandkids to do so well and I hope I make her happy with this," she said. Catherine Garcia

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