Garbage Gold

The closure of Latin America's biggest rubbish dump in 2012 was widely applauded. But little more than two years on, many of the rubbish-pickers who worked there are sorry it's gone, and poorer without it.

More than 2,000 self-styled "treasure hunters" used to trawl the mountains of rubbish at Gramacho, a dump overlooked by Rio de Janeiro's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.

Sifting through tonnes of waste, the rubbish-pickers - or catadores - searched for recyclable materials they could sell, and sometimes they literally struck gold.

One day Cleonice Bento glimpsed something particularly shiny among the rotten food and plastic bottles.

"I found a Portuguese gold necklace, sold it and built a two-storey house," she recalls. She even had enough money left over to take a holiday from rubbish-picking for another month.

Geraldo Oliveira, a 63-year-old known as Brizola, uncovered a treasure trove of a different kind.
Nestled inside a tube among the rubbish he found $12,000 (£8,000).

And then $9,000 (£6,000) more.

"I was scared," he remembers. "So I got a $100 note, buried the rest, and went to a money changer to check it was a true note - and it was!

"The dump was a mother, she provided everything."

The move was welcomed by environmentalists, politicians and even the majority of the catadores who, despite the fears about the future, agreed the work was dangerous and inhumane.

Today the gate to the old landfill is locked. The methane gas produced from 35 years of waste now supplies green energy to a nearby oil refinery.

The pickers were not abandoned completely. They received compensation and the promise of a new recycling facility next to the old site.

The Polo de Reciclagem de Gramacho is the first of its kind in Brazil, employing former rubbish-pickers who now work in better conditions with regular hours and pay.

But the former catadores earn only a fraction of what many earned on the dump. Cleonice says she now makes 500 reais (£125, $190) a month, a third of what she used to make.

"Despite the working conditions, the dump was a gold mine," says Dione Manetti, a consultant who has worked with rubbish-pickers across Brazil for 20 years.

Sometimes Gramacho rubbish pickers could make 4,000 reais (£1,000, $1,500) a month, he says.

"At the moment we are happy," says Rosinete dos Santos, an ex-catadora who is now financial co-ordinator of the new recycling facility.

"But if a new dump opened at the end of the road everyone would be out of here and up to the dump in a flash."

I told you no.....

Paris Sues Fox

The mayor of Paris (above) has said she will sue Fox News for its inaccurate reporting about the city following the attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The US network claimed there were "no-go areas" in the French capital where police and non-Muslims refused to go.

Anne Hidalgo said the people of Paris had been "insulted" and the city's image had been "damaged".

The network has since apologized for making "regrettable errors" on air regarding the Muslim population.

Ms Hidalgo told CNN: "When we're insulted and when we've had an image, then I think we'll have to sue. I think we'll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed.

"The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced."

Her words were echoed by the deputy mayor, Patrick Klugman.

In an interview with the BBC he said Ms Hidalgo was "definitely serious" about her intention to sue Fox News.

"We have our legal advisers working on the case," he added. "We are looking under which jurisdiction to bring the case, Paris or New York."

In response to Ms Hidalgo, Fox News executive vice president Michael Clemente said: "We empathize with the citizens of France as they go through a healing process and return to everyday life.

"However, we find the mayor's comments regarding a lawsuit misplaced."

Fox has also apologized for comments by terror expert Steven Emerson, who claimed Birmingham was "totally Muslim" and ruled by Sharia law.

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro subsequently said Emerson had "made a serious factual error that we wrongly let stand unchallenged and uncorrected".

Mr Emerson said he had made an "inexcusable error".

Prime Minister David Cameron responded by calling him "a complete idiot".

In another apology over the weekend, Fox News presenter Julie Banderas said the channel had "made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe", and apologized "to any and all who may have taken offense, including the people of France and England".


Hump Day Art

The Art of Andrew Ferez

Students In Poverty in US

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches.

The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.

“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved.

“A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”

The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up.

They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.

It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the needy children who arrive at school each day.

“When they first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs: Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe,” said Sonya Romero-Smith, a veteran teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque. Fourteen of her 18 kindergartners are eligible for free lunches.

She helps them clean up with bathroom wipes and toothbrushes, and she stocks a drawer with clean socks, underwear, pants and shoes.

Romero-Smith, 40, who has been a teacher for 19 years, became a foster mother in November to two girls, sisters who attend her school. They had been homeless, their father living on the streets and their mother in jail, she said. When she brought the girls home, she was shocked by the disarray of their young lives.

“Getting rid of bedbugs, that took us a while. Night terrors, that took a little while. Hoarding food, flushing a toilet and washing hands, it took us a little while,” she said.

“You spend some time with little ones like this and it’s gut wrenching. . . . These kids aren’t thinking, ‘Am I going to take a test today?’ They’re thinking, ‘Am I going to be okay?’ ”

The job of teacher has expanded to “counselor, therapist, doctor, parent, attorney,” she said.

Schools, already under intense pressure to deliver better test results and meet more rigorous standards, face the doubly difficult task of trying to raise the achievement of poor children so that they approach the same level as their more affluent peers.

“This is a watershed moment when you look at that map,” said Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, referring to a large swath of the country filled with high-poverty schools.

“The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years,” he said. “It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people.”

The data show poor students spread across the country, but the highest rates are concentrated in Southern and Western states. In 21 states, at least half the public school children were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches — ranging from Mississippi, where more than 70 percent of students were from low-income families, to Illinois, where one of every two students was low-income.

Git Outta Heeeaaar.....

Turkish Prison Time

Fethullah Gulen
Turkish prosecutors are seeking a jail term of up to five years for a prominent female journalist arrested over a tweet suggesting a cover-up in a corruption scandal that shook the government. – Reuters pic, January 17, 2015.

Turkish prosecutors are seeking a jail term of up to five years for a prominent female journalist arrested over a tweet suggesting a cover-up in a corruption scandal that shook the government, media reported today.

Sedef Kabas, a broadcast journalist and anchorwoman, has been charged with "targeting public servants tasked with fighting against terrorism," the Dogan news agency reported.

"As understood from the content of the tweet, it is clear, without any doubt, that Kabas threatened the plaintiff... and tried to discredit him," Dogan reported, quoting from the indictment.

Police detained Kabas last month after raiding her home in an upscale neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul, taking away her laptop, iPad and cellphone.

"Do not forget the name of the prosecutor who dismissed the December 17 case," Kabas had written on Twitter, including the name and the picture of the prosecutor.

She was referring to the corruption probe launched in December 2013 that is blamed by the authorities on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's top foe, exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Prosecutors in October dropped the case against 53 people, including sons of former ministers, due to "lack of evidence".

Erdogan managed to stall the corruption investigation by sacking thousands of police and scores of judges and pushing through laws tightening state control over the judiciary and the Internet including bans of Twitter and YouTube.

The authorities last month launched raids against pro-Gulen media and detained 30 people, in a move sharply criticized by the European Union as marking a new erosion of media freedom in Turkey.

Muhammed Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish preacher, former imam, writer, and Islamic opinion leader. He is the founder of the Gülen movement.

In 1998, Fethullah Gülen left Turkey for the United States, reportedly to receive medical treatment for diabetes. Since his voluntary exile, Gülen has resided on a large, rural estate in eastern Pennsylvania, together with about 100 followers, who guard him and tend to his needs. It is from his U.S. base that Gülen has built his fame and his transnational empire.


Drone Pestering

With drone sales soaring it’s inevitable that new and nefarious applications for them will emerge. Never has a technology emerged which someone, somewhere has failed to find an annoying or illegal use for.

There have already been several cases of celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Rihanna having their privacy invaded by paparazzi drone pilots hovering overhear and snapping away on a remote-controlled camera.

One was even said to have disrupted Tina Turner’s wedding.

But even non-celebrities may not appreciate having the whirring aircraft flying near their homes or places of business.

Enter the Rapere, a prototype drone-hunting drone which can down other tiny unmanned aircraft by entangling special string in their rotors.

A group claiming to be “commercial drone developers” have created the machine which can automatically identify drones, hover above them and release a “tangle-line” that falls into their rotors and causes it to crash. It will then return to its base station for recharging and re-arming.

It has been designed to be faster and more agile than other drones to ensure that they can't escape - partly by limiting flight time and therefore reducing weight.

“Having worked in the UAS industry for years, we've collectively never come across any bogus use of drones. However it's inevitable that will happen, and for people such as celebrities, where there is profit to be made in illegally invading their privacy, there should be an option to thwart it,” the group say on their website.

“It can tell the difference between a bird and a drone, and will fly over top of any drone within range, then disable it.”

The designers are still working on refining the design and in talks about mass production, but warn on their website that “it won’t be cheap”.

“It will be priced as a professional tool - we don't want this to become a toy people can use to disrupt legitimate drone use.”

There could also be legal problems. The issue of whether or not it would be legal to use is summed up on their website: “it depends on how you plan to use it, and where you live”.

In house exercising

Wealthy Win Again

Most Americans don't think that members of Congress -- a majority of whom are millionaires -- do a good job of representing the less well-off, according to the results of a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.

While 87 percent say the wealthy are somewhat or very well represented in Congress, just 19 percent say the same is true for people who have trouble making ends meet.

Few think people at their own income level are well-represented in Congress, no matter what that income level is. Just 21 percent living in households making less than $40,000 see themselves as well-represented. That number is 18 percent for people in households making $40,000 to $80,000, and 27 percent of those making more than $80,000.

There's a divide, however, on whether lawmakers who are personally wealthy can understand the interests of lower-income Americans. Overall, 30 percent of Americans think those representatives can do a good job of representing people trying to make ends meet, while 46 percent say they can't, and another 24 percent are uncertain.

The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century.

In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year. Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to fall, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets.

But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom. At the same time, fewer of those in this group fit the traditional image of a married couple with children at home, a gap increasingly filled by the elderly.

This social upheaval helps explain why the president focused on reviving the middle class, offering a raft of proposals squarely aimed at concerns like paying for a college education, taking parental leave, affording child care and buying a home.

“Middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change,” Mr. Obama told Congress and the public recently.

Still, regardless of their income, most Americans identify as middle class. The term itself is so amorphous that politicians often cite the group in introducing proposals to engender wide appeal.

The definition here starts at $35,000 — which is about 50 percent higher than the official poverty level for a family of four — and ends at the six-figure mark.

Although many Americans in households making more than $100,000 consider themselves middle class, particularly those living in expensive regions like the Northeast and Pacific Coast, they have substantially more money than most people.


Alabama Has The Lead For Now

Alabama school employees were implicated in more sex crimes with students than any other state in 2014, according to a new study.

Terry Abbott, the former chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Education who conducted the study, found that 25 Alabama educators were accused or convicted of having sexual relations with students last year, according to the Alabama Media Group.

Some states had more incidents, but on a per capita basis, Alabama has the highest rate of teacher-student sex abuse.

To be sure, the law varies state to state and there is no federal law that serves as an umbrella for such cases, which might skew Abbott's numbers a bit. The Alabama Media Group reports:
Alabama Act 2010-497 makes it illegal for any school employee to have a sexual relationship with a student younger than 19. In Wyoming, as long as the student is 16 or older and consents to the relationship, it's not a crime. In Michigan, all such relationships are illegal, regardless of the student's age.
Abbott and other advocates have lobbied for more uniform laws and sentencing guidelines nationwide, but until such legislation is adopted, there's always going to be some disparity, he said.
"In some cases, educators are committing heinous crimes involving children throughout the country and getting very little, if any, real punishment for it. You turn around and find a similar case in another state and find the judicial system has thrown the book at the educator," Abbott said Tuesday.
Texas saw the most cases with 116 accusations out of the 781 that Abbott and his PR firm, counted across the country, the New York Daily News reports

But Alabama's lower population means it has a higher rate of such cases.

Some of those cases last year made national headlines. Alicia Gray, for example, recorded and released a video apology after pleading guilty to charges that she had sex with a 14-year-old student. 

The 28-year-old math teacher took a plea deal last January and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation.

Days gone by

Time-Space Warping

It's not easy to weigh a star, but an international team of astronomers has done just that. 

In fact, they've measured the masses of both stars in an odd binary star system some 25,000 light-years from Earth--and gauged the space-time warp resulting from the system's intense gravitation.

"Our result is important because weighing stars while they freely float through space is exceedingly difficult," Dr. Joeri van Leeuwen, a University of Amsterdam astrophysicist and the leader of the team, said in a written statement. 

"That is a problem because such mass measurements are required for precisely understanding gravity, the force that is intimately linked to the behavior of space and time on all scales in our universe."

The binary system under study is known to astronomers as J1906. It features a fast-spinning neutron star, or pulsar, in orbit around another star that is believed to be either another neutron star or a white dwarf.

Neutron stars are the smallest, densest stars known to exist. 

Each of the stars in the system is more massive than our sun, and they are 100 times nearer to each other than the Earth is to the sun.

To gauge the pulsar's mass and measure the warping of space within the system, the team tracked the pulsar's rotations using observations from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico (where the original observations were made) and four other radio telescopes around the world. 

The measurements showed that the pulsar's mass is about 1.29 times the mass of the sun, Dr. Ingrid Stairs, a professor of physics and astronomy at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, told The Huffington Post in an email. Its companion star is about 1.32 times as massive as the sun. 

The extreme gravity within the system causes a wobble in the axis of the pulsar's spin, meaning the portion of the pulsar's emission that we are able to see changes over time.

"We have observed this, and in fact it turns out that we are starting to get close to the edge of the emission region, so that the pulsar is getting fainter and fainter," Stairs told The Huffington Post in an email. "We were lucky to catch it before it disappeared."

"This cosmic spinning top is expected to wobble back into view," van Leeuwen said in the statement, "but it might take as long as 160 years."