Archive for August, 2010

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (August 23-29, 2010)

Monday, August 30th, 2010

RELIGION

“‘Yoga wars’ spoil spirit of ancient practice, Indian agency says.” By Emily Wax. Washington Post. August 23, 2010. More than 30 million Americans practice some sort of yoga in an ever-expanding industry generating an estimated $6 billion in the United States alone. But in the birthplace of yoga, an Indian government agency is fighting what it calls “yoga theft” after several U.S. companies said they wanted to copyright or patent their versions. Yoga is a part of humanity’s shared knowledge, the agency says, and any business claiming the postures as its own is violating the very spirit of the ancient practice. India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library has gathered a team of yogis from nine schools and 200 scientists to scan ancient texts, including the writings of Patanjali, thought to be the original compiler of yoga sutras. The group is documenting more than 900 yoga postures and making a video catalogue of 250 of the most popular ones, from sun salutation to downward-facing dog. The catalogue will be released next month and given to the international patent system, which yoga gurus in India say is essential in an age when cultural traditions can cross borders instantaneously. “Yoga is collective knowledge and is available for use by everybody no matter what the interpretation,” said V.K. Gupta, head of the digital library, which was set up by the ministries of health and science. “It would be very inappropriate if some companies try to prevent others from any yoga practice, even if they call it some other name. So we wanted to ensure that, in the future, nobody will be able to claim that he has created a yoga posture which was actually already created in 2500 B.C. in India.”

New Lutheran group likely to rise from gay discord.” No by-line. USA Today. August 27, 2010. Last summer delegates for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to allow non-celibate gay and lesbian pastors. A year later, the ELCA is moving gay pastors into its fold — it’s now the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. to allow noncelibate gays into its ranks — even as the most visible dissidents strike out on their own. Critics of the decision plan to gather this week in Columbus, Ohio, for another Lutheran convention. Leaders of 18 former ELCA churches are expected to be among more than 1,000 Lutherans voting Friday to create a brand new Lutheran denomination that they claim will follow the Scriptures more faithfully: the North American Lutheran Church. The denomination will be slightly smaller: As of early August, 199 congregations had cleared the hurdles to leave the ELCA for good, while another 136 awaited the second vote needed to make it official. In all there are 10,239 ELCA churches with about 4.5 million members, making it still by far the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. And the breakaway members gathering in Ohio will face their own challenges if they vote to start another denomination at a time when attendance at mainline Protestant churches is falling and denominational distinctions appear irrelevant to a growing number of churchgoers.

In New Orleans, Black Churches Face a Long, Slow Return.” By Samuel G. Freedman. New York Times. August 27, 2010. Five minutes past 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday this month, which is to say five minutes past the time the worship service was supposed to start, Shantell Henley pushed open the front door of her pastor’s house in the Lower Ninth Ward. She entered the living room to find a gospel song playing on the stereo, two ceiling fans stirring the sticky air and 25 folding chairs for the congregants waiting empty. “Am I late?” she asked the pastor, the Rev. Charles W. Duplessis. “No,” he replied, smiling. “We’re Baptists.” His joke, though, could not dispel the truth. The problem at Mount Nebo Bible Baptist Church had nothing to do with any Baptist indifference to punctuality and everything to do with Hurricane Katrina, even as its fifth anniversary on Aug. 29 approached. Having lost his house and his church to the broken levees in the Lower Ninth, Mr. Duplessis had managed by grit and will and fathomless faith to reopen in early 2009, using his rebuilt home to replace the sanctuary he couldn’t afford to replace, the sanctuary that had stood in some grim coincidence on Flood Street. He installed an electric piano and a computer with a projector. He collected several dozen copies of the Baptist Hymnal. He put out weekly editions of the church bulletin; he put up a lawn sign declaring, “Our Church Is Back!” What was not back was the bulk of his congregation. Of the 120 members before Hurricane Katrina, only 40 had returned. The rest were still strewn across the map — Alabama, California, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas. And Mr. Duplessis could not in-gather the exiles, as the Bible commands, because most of the Lower Ninth remained a ruin of buckled roads, cracked foundations and swamp grass six feet high.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (August 23-29, 2010)

Monday, August 30th, 2010

SCANDAL

Company Owned By Cancer Research Donor Lobbied Against Designation of Formaldehyde as Carcinogen.” By Marian Wang. ProPublica. August 23, 2010. A prominent philanthropist, cancer survivor, and American businessman, David Koch, has given millions [1] to the cause of cancer research, while his company—Koch Industries—has lobbied against formal recognition of formaldehyde as a carcinogen, The New Yorker reported in a piece published today. Koch sits on the advisory board of the National Cancer Institute—a position he was appointed to in 2004 [1] by President Bush, reported The New Yorker. In 2005, Koch Industries bought Georgia-Pacific, one of the world’s largest plywood manufacturers and a major formaldehyde producer. The company has donated to both Vitter and Inhofe [2]. In a letter to federal health authorities sent last December, the company’s vice-president of environmental affairs wrote that “the company ‘strongly disagrees’ with the N.I.H. panel’s conclusion that formaldehyde should be treated as a known human carcinogen,” reported The New Yorker. The National Cancer Institute’s director, Harold Varmus, told The New Yorker that at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center—where he used to work and where Koch donated $40 million dollars and serves on the board—it wasn’t uncommon for donors to have large business interests, but “the one thing we wouldn’t tolerate in our board members is tobacco.” Varmus was “surprised,” however, when The New Yorker told him about Koch Industries’ stance on formaldehyde.
Related stories:
The Brothers Koch: Rich, Political And Playing To Win.” Fresh Air/National Public Radio. August 26, 2010.
A Reporter at Large: Covert Operations – The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.” The New Yorker. August 30, 2010.
The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party.” By Frank Rich. Op-ed. New York Times. August 28, 2010

Group Is Accused on Tax Exemption.” By Eric Lichtblau. New York Times. August 27, 2010. Democrats are charging that commercials financed by an increasingly prominent conservative foundation with ties to the Tea Party violate the foundation’s tax-exempt status. In a complaint filed this week with the Internal Revenue Service, lawyers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee charged that the group, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, has been running advertisements in Kansas, Missouri and Michigan that are inherently “political in nature,” contravening a ban under federal tax law. A copy of the complaint was provided to The New York Times. The foundation, which has just begun a $1.4 million ad campaign criticizing the economic policies in Washington as “wasteful spending,” has become a vocal critic of Democratic policies and drew a rebuke this month from President Obama. Nonprofit groups like the foundation, which falls under section 501(c)3 of the tax code, are forbidden from participating in “any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate.” They may, however, seek to educate voters or conduct broader get-out-the-vote drives “if conducted in a nonpartisan manner,” the I.R.S. says. The group’s tax-exempt status is crucial because it allows donors to take an income-tax deduction. Americans for Prosperity, which called the complaint without merit, said it had raised money from 70,000 individual donors.

Co-founder of Islamic charity goes on trial.” By Jeff Barnard. Washington Post/ Associated Press. August 28, 2010. The gates are rusted and the American flags are gone from the house on the outskirts of this small tourist town that once served as U.S. headquarters for an Islamic charity that was declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. But despite six years of trying, federal investigators have not brought terrorism charges against the Iranian-born tree trimmer and naturalized American citizen who co-founded the American branch of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc., or his fellow foundation officer living in Saudi Arabia. The government will instead put Pete Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, on trial Monday in U.S. District Court in Eugene on charges of conspiracy, tax fraud and failing to report taking $150,000 out of the country. The indictment alleges that the money came from an unnamed Egyptian benefactor through a London bank to Ashland in 2000, where Seda and Soliman Hamd Al-Buthe, arranged to take it out of the country, filing a phony tax return to show the money going toward the purchase of a prayer house in Springfield, Mo. Court documents show the government will argue that Seda and Al-Buthe intended the money to go to Muslim separatists in the Russian republic of Chechnya who have fought two wars with government forces since 1994, but will not be offering any evidence the money actually went to terrorists. The strength of any government terrorism case against Seda has been questioned.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (August 23-29, 2010)

Monday, August 30th, 2010

VOLUNTEERING

Unemployment Was ‘A Blessing,’ Says Former Autoworker.” By Sara Yin. Huffington Post. August 26, 2010. Getting laid off turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to 34-year-old Greg Kaminski, a high school graduate from Columbia City, Indiana (population: 7,000). Up until four years ago, Kaminski worked at an automobile company performing just two basic functions: receiving orders and shipping orders. Receive, ship, receive, ship, rinse and repeat. Although Kaminski was “comfortable” at the car safety plant, AutoLiv, and grateful for a steady paycheck, he recalls yearning to do more. But what? All he was familiar with, apart from automobile shipping and receiving, was a guttural pang whenever he saw a kid walking around alone: Kaminski himself was a raised in a fatherless home, and recalls being rejected, at the age of 5, by a “Big Brothers-like organization” because he was too young to qualify for a mentor. His childhood, in short, was “hell.” Fast forward to AutoLiv, September 2006. For months, Kaminski and his colleagues had been following the daily headlines of “Big 3″ layoffs, and expecting the same fate at their company. He hedged himself by enrolling part-time at Huntington University to obtain a two-year associate’s degree. That fall, AutoLiv shuttered its Columbia City plant, and Kaminski and all his colleagues lost their jobs. But he received two years of free education through Indiana’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). It was perfect: he could afford to top up his associate’s degree with another two years and obtain his bachelor’s. Now, Kaminski has one year to go before obtaining his bachelor’s in Business Administration, with a concentration in non-profit management, from Huntington. It was during these non-profit business classes that Kaminski discovered a way to hone his protective instincts for children. He and his classmates created the framework for JuneStar, named after the month Kaminski’s son’s was born, a non-profit that finds buddies and mentors for two of the neediest demographics in his community — young children and the elderly.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (AUGUST 16-22, 2010)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

ADVOCACY

United Nations Association forms alliance to survive; Amid declining financial support, nonprofit organization teams up with Ted Turner-funded U.N. Foundation.” By Jeremy Smerd. Crain’s New York. August 16, 2010. The United Nations Association of the United States of America stayed true to its mission to foster American support for the United Nations even when the U.N.’s own actions seemed to undercut American values. And today U.S. support for the U.N. is as strong as it’s ever been. Not so for UNA-USA. The association, located a block west of the iconic U.N. headquarters, has run out of money. Its donor base is old, and its membership is flagging. Last week, the association’s 40-member board of directors voted unanimously to end its existence as an independent organization and to form a strategic alliance with the United Nations Foundation, launched a dozen years ago with a $1 billion pledge from Ted Turner. UNA-USA plans to retain its nonprofit status but will be folded into the foundation. It will align itself with the foundation’s sister organization, the Better World Campaign, whose mission is also to strengthen U.S.-U.N. ties. The foundation, which must still approve the alliance, declined to comment.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (AUGUST 16-22, 2010)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

ARTS & CULTURE

Nonprofit Gen Art to rise from the dead; Investors from IMG to Gilt Groupe are interested in reviving the nonprofit film and fashion company and expanding its mission.” By Adrianne Pasquarelli. Crain’s New York. August 16, 2010. Gen Art, the film and fashion production company, is coming back from the dead. Just three months after closing its doors due to insolvency, the 16-year-old nonprofit is being courted by several potential investment partners. “We’ve had conversations with different types of companies about a revived business model,” says Gen Art Chief Executive Ian Gerard, who is also a co-founder of the firm. Interest has emerged from IMG, United Entertainment Group, Hachette Publications, Thrillist and Gilt Groupe, to name a few. As a partner, the investor would have to pony up somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000, to purchase Gen Art’s assets out of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection the firm entered in June, one month after shutting down operations. The new and improved Gen Art would be much different from the prior incarnation, known for championing celebrities like Zac Posen and Adrian Grenier early in their careers, though it would still carry the original mission of showcasing emerging talent, Mr. Gerard notes.

Do Arts at Governors Island Need Governing?” No by-line. New York Times. August 16, 2010. “What kind of culture develops on an island?” asked Edward Rothstein in Friday’s Weekend section. Eight hundred yards from Manhattan’s shores, Governors Island has been shaping its own cultural identity, Mr. Rothstein wrote, which he characterized as eccentric, surprising and fanciful. On the ArtsBeat blog, New York Times critics from several disciplines discussed the island’s role as a cultural destination: Mr. Rothstein, a cultural critic at large; Jon Pareles, the chief pop music critic; Charles Isherwood, a theater critic; Alastair Macaulay, the chief dance critic; and Ken Johnson, an art critic. Here are excerpts from the conversation; the full text is at nytimes.com/artsbeat.
Related article:
Governors Island: A Critics’ Roundtable.” No by-line. New York Times. August 13, 2010.

Chelsea Museum Shuts.” By Erica Orden and Craig Karmin. Wall Street Journal. August 17, 2010. The Chelsea Art Museum said on Monday it is shutting its doors to the public for the rest of the month, amid efforts by the founder and director to avoid foreclosure on the museum’s home. A company controlled by Dorothea Keeser that owns the West 22nd Street building filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month, a move that forestalls the possibility of foreclosure proceedings. A lawyer for Ms. Keeser, Thomas Bark, said the museum’s shutdown is temporary. “The museum and its sponsors are in discussions with various financial parties to restructure its finances in connection with the bankruptcy filing,” he wrote via email to The Wall Street Journal. It is not clear whether the closure is directly related to the bankruptcy filing or to Ms. Keeser’s debt restructuring talks with her creditor, Hudson Realty Capital. The New York real-estate fund refinanced the building’s mortgage with an $11 million loan in 2008 and, with interest, is currently owed about $13 million.

A Dream of a Contemporary Art Museum on the Jersey Shore.” By Kate Taylor. New York Times. August 17, 2010. When Robin Parness Lipson walks along the boardwalk here, she does not focus on the shirtless old men with fishing poles, the concrete relics of failed condominium developments or the pigeons who have taken up roost in the neglected Beaux-Arts landmarks along the shore. What she sees are the bustling new restaurants and gift shops and the energy of a bright future being shaped. And as part of that future, she sees her baby, her dream, the New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art: a glittering monument to the idea that New Jersey is not just the home of Snooki and the Situation, or feuding housewives, or the Bada Bing Club, but a place where cultured, philanthropic people can build something that makes a difference. “We’re creating a cultural brand, and it’s going to rebrand the state,” said Ms. Lipson, the wife of a parking garage developer, who came from humble beginnings and discovered a love of contemporary art only in the last few years. Ms. Lipson has not yet raised any of the $5 million it is projected that she will need to open the museum, nor does she have a lock on the boardwalk real estate she covets, or a team of slick consultants armed with surveys and statistics. But she is a bona fide expert at using charm, guileless candor, boundless energy and terms of endearment to bring home what she wants: a new museum on the Jersey Shore devoted to emerging artists.

Efforts in Philadelphia to Save Showpiece Ships.” By Bill Marsh. New York Times. August 18, 2010. They made an impressive display of America’s seafaring might, the aging maritime stars moored along both sides of the Delaware River. There is the 1892 cruiser Olympia, the oldest steel warship afloat, whose guns and those of the ships it led blasted away a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, announcing America’s arrival as a naval power. The ocean liner United States still holds the record for fastest westbound trans-Atlantic crossing. And the nation’s most decorated battleship, the World War II-era New Jersey, repelled swarms of enemy aircraft. But to their devoted keepers, the state of the historic trio is a depressing comedown from past glories. The ships are struggling in a world of threadbare private support and unpredictable government grants. Two of the three have barely avoided closing, or worse, with cash infusions that buy time but fall far short of saving them.

Troubled Folk Museum Receives a Reprieve.” By Kate Taylor. New York Times. August 20, 2010. The financially struggling American Folk Art Museum received a reprieve on Thursday. Six months after disclosing that it could no longer make payments on the $32 million it borrowed through a bond issue to finance its new building, the museum has reached a forbearance agreement with the company that insured its bonds. The agreement, which expires on June 30, means that the insurer, ACA Financial Guaranty, will cover payments to the bondholders and will not immediately exercise its rights under the financing agreement, which include foreclosing on the museum’s home. The museum’s director, Maria Ann Conelli, wrote in an e-mail that the institution considered the agreement “a positive step forward,” but that the details were confidential. ACA officials did not respond to phone messages left at their office. The bonds were issued through the Trust for Cultural Resources, a public benefit corporation created in 1980 to help cultural institutions finance capital projects. The museum, which has occupied its home on West 53rd Street since 2001, is the first organization to default on an agreement to pay off bonds that have been issued through the trust.

To change, or not to change? Attendance is way up, but some say ART’s artistic director has gone too commercial.” By Geoff Edgers. Boston Globe. August 22, 2010. The mounted photographs, proudly displaying three decades of American Repertory Theater productions, have been taken down. Instead, visitors to Cambridge’s Loeb Drama Center are greeted by posters of a nearly topless Amanda Palmer, star of an upcoming production, and blown-up newspaper articles praising ART artistic director Diane Paulus. That’s not all that has changed. As Paulus heads into her second season at ART, she has largely replaced the company’s steady diet of serious avant-garde productions with audience-pleasing musicals and adventurous interactive experiences. She has been a commercial smash, while shedding actors — and longtime staffers — who defined the company for decades. Now, she’s facing the ultimate byproduct of success, a backlash. To her supporters, Paulus is a crowd-inspiring theater revolutionary. To her detractors, she is the Broadway-obsessed, box-office-driven director who has dismantled a prized institution.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (AUGUST 16-22, 2010)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

CORPORATE PHILANTHROPY & SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Target: No donations planned for gay groups.” By Steve Karnowski. Washington Post/ Associated Press. August 16, 2010. Target Corp. said Monday it won’t give money to gay-friendly causes to quiet the uproar over a $150,000 donation that helped support a Minnesota governor candidate who opposes gay marriage. The discount retailing giant said it was “best to wait” given the controversy stirred by its donation, which prompted Facebook calls for a boycott and scattered protests outside stores. An anti-boycott site also popped up on Facebook from conservatives supporting Target. “We believe that it is impossible to avoid turning any further actions into a political issue and will use the benefit of time to make thoughtful, careful decisions on how best to move forward,” the company said in a statement. In response, the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, said it will contribute $150,000 of its own money to political candidates in Minnesota who support gay marriage, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. Target has been under pressure for three weeks for contributing $150,000 to MN Forward, a group that has run ads supporting Republican Tom Emmer.
Related story:
Exercising new ability to spend on campaigns, Target finds itself a bull’s-eye.” Washington Post. August 19, 2010.
Target feels backlash from shareholders; Institutions with stakes in the retail giant are demanding that the company revamp its donation process after a $150,000 contribution backed an anti-gay-rights candidate.Los Angeles Times. August 19, 2010.

ShoreBank Among 8 FDIC Bank Closures: Total Of 118 Seized In 2010.” By Marcy Gordon. Huffington Post/Associated Press. August 21, 2010. Regulators on Friday shut down a big community bank based in Chicago that has been known for its social activism but racked by financial troubles in recent months. A consortium funded by several of the biggest U.S. financial firms is buying its assets and pledging to operate the new bank by the same principles. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over ShoreBank, with $2.16 billion in assets and $1.54 billion in deposits. Urban Partnership Bank, the newly chartered financial institution, agreed to assume ShoreBank’s deposits and nearly all its assets. The FDIC also seized seven other banks Friday, bringing to 118 the number of U.S. bank failures this year amid the recession and mounting loan defaults. In an unusual move, the FDIC allowed some of ShoreBank’s executives to continue running the restructured bank. Executives who joined ShoreBank recently, as the bank struggled to raise capital, will manage Urban Partnership Bank. These managers “did not contribute to the bank’s problems,” the FDIC said. The FDIC and Urban Partnership Bank also agreed to share losses on $1.41 billion of ShoreBank’s loans and other assets. ShoreBank’s failure is expected to cost the deposit insurance fund $367.7 million.
Related story:
Chicago’s ShoreBank fails, is bought by investors; South Side institution billed itself as the leading lender to low- and moderate-income urban areas.” Chicago Tribune. August 20, 2010.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (AUGUST 16-22, 2010)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Objectives of charter schools with Turkish ties questioned.” By Greg Toppo. USA Today. August 17, 2010. They have generic, forward-sounding names like Horizon Science Academy, Pioneer Charter School of Science and Beehive Science & Technology Academy. Quietly established over the past decade by a loosely affiliated group of Turkish-American educators, these 100 or so publicly funded charter schools in 25 states are often among the top-performing public schools in their towns. The schools educate as many as 35,000 students — taken together they’d make up the largest charter school network in the USA — and have imported thousands of Turkish educators over the past decade. But the success of the schools at times has been clouded by nagging questions about what ties the schools may have to a reclusive Muslim leader in his late 60s living in exile in rural Pennsylvania. Described by turns as a moderate Turkish nationalist, a peacemaker and “contemporary Islam’s Billy Graham,” Fethullah Gülen has long pushed for Islam to occupy a more central role in Turkish society. Followers of the so-called Gülen Movement operate an “education, media and business network” in more than 100 countries, says University of Oregon sociologist Joshua Hendrick.

Tech-rich charter school seeks federal grant money; Eastside site hopes funds will help it get needed startup resources faster.” By Jason Thomas. Indianapolis Star. August 18, 2010. Students at the Paramount School of Excellence on the Eastside will have access to iPod Touch devices and iPads inside the classroom and a reflective pond outside when school starts Aug. 30. With an emphasis on technology and a projects-based approach, Paramount is one of about a dozen charter schools vying for a slice of a nearly $11 million federal grant through the state Department of Education. “Those dollars obviously will help us ramp up how quickly we get all the resources we need to be able to maximize our model,” said Michelle Thompson, co-founder of the school, which boasts five wind turbines on its property — part learning experience, part energy provider. “It would definitely be a bonus for us.” Indiana, along with 10 other states and the District of Columbia, on Monday was awarded a chunk of $136 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Education as part of a push to increase financial support for the startup of charter schools across the nation.

Finally, charter schools step up on English language learners.” Editorial. Boston Globe. August 20, 2010. Charter schools in the state’s biggest cities have made notable gains in reducing the achievement gap between whites and African-Americans, but they have lagged in enrolling children from non-English speaking families. So it was reassuring that a list of proposed new charter schools includes five that aim to draw many of their students from immigrant families. In 2009, a Globe review showed that enrollment at only one Boston charter school — Excel in East Boston — included more than 4 percent English-language learners. Overall, such children make up nearly 20 percent of the district. The failure of charters to recruit such students and meet their needs has been especially regrettable in light of the low test scores and high dropout rates among English language learners. This neglect by the charters could now be ending. Rebecca Cass, executive director of Excel, is seeking state approval for four new schools, one in Chelsea and three in Boston. By law, charters cannot discriminate in favor of one racial or ethnic group or another. But Excel’s formula of high expectations for students and an extended school day have raised the achievement levels of its many students from non-English speaking backgrounds and would help the new schools draw students from immigrant communities in Chelsea and Boston.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOL & COLLEGES

College Inc.; Feds publish for-profit loan repayment rates.” No by-line. Washington Post. August 17, 2010. A spreadsheet published late Friday by the federal Education Department answers a much-debated question in the federal effort to regulate for-profit colleges: Can students at for-profit schools repay their loans? The department released loan repayment rates for individual colleges. The data show a remarkable range from school to school in the ability of students to pay down their college loans. A quick analysis by the Institute for College Access & Success found that overall repayment rates were around 55 percent for non-profit colleges, compared with 36 percent at for-profit schools. For-profit stock plunged at the news. At issue is a proposed federal rule that would potentially restrict a school’s access to federal aid funds if its programs do not yield “gainful employment.”
Related stories:
For-profit colleges may get less aid.” Bloomberg.com. August 17, 2010.
Is There A For-Profit Education Bubble?” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. August 17, 2010.

HIGHER EDUCATION

“In venture with Temple U., Park Service combats looming shortage of rangers.” By Lorraine Mirabella. Washington Post. August 16, 2010. Hundreds of National Park Service who specialize in law enforcement in 13 states stretching from Maine to Virginia are set to retire in the next five years under federally mandated age guidelines. That’s about half the force. And as one generation of rangers steps down, the Park Service is struggling to lure a new one to the mostly outdoor, often physically demanding work, which blends police investigative skills with emergency medicine, search-and-rescue missions and firefighting. It might seem counterintuitive to be grappling with worker shortages at a time of record-high unemployment. But waning interest in park ranger jobs and requirements that weed out many applicants have led to a smaller pool of candidates, park service officials said. The Park Service has been reevaluating recruitment and training and launched a new approach this spring with an internship program called ProRanger in partnership with Temple. The Park Service chose Temple University because of its highly ranked criminal justice program and diverse student body, said Steve Clark, chief of law enforcement for the Park Service’s northeast region. Architects of the regional program, which has 13 interns in its first year, anticipate that it will grow and become a model for the Park Service nationally as well as for other federal agencies facing baby-boomer retirements and looking for innovative ways to find qualified workers.

PUBLIC SCHOOL FUNDRAISING

Vernonia class reunion raises money for new flood-proof campus.” By Rebecca Woolington. Oregonian. August 15, 2010. The schools may be small. The town, with 2,300 residents, is tiny. But the city of Vernonia knows how to throw a school reunion — and a big one at that. Dubbed Vernonia’s Biggest Class Reunion, the event Sunday brought together Vernonia alumni and those who have ties to the town’s schools. The goal behind the reunion was to raise money to build a K-12 school campus atop a hill, safe from the wrath of the Nehalem River. After the devastating flood in 2007 damaged hundreds of homes and structures, city leaders and residents decided to move the schools to higher ground, Vernonia Mayor Sally Harrison said. About 400 alumni had registered at Sunday’s reunion by early afternoon, but Harrison estimated about 1,500 people attended. Young and old shared memories, music, food and prizes beneath the sweltering sun and donated money for the project. So far, about $250,000 has been raised in private funds toward the $37 million project.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Wealthy Seek Special-Ed Cash.” By Barbara Martinez. Wall Street Journal. August 18, 2010. Families in the most affluent New York City school districts, including the Upper East and Upper West sides, file more claims than other parts of the city seeking reimbursement of their children’s private-school tuition, according to Department of Education data. The department last year spent $116 million in tuition and legal expenses to cover special-education students whose parents sued the DOE alleging that their public-school options were not appropriate. The number is more than double three years ago, and the costs are expected to continue to rise. Parents have been helped by a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that strengthened their legal position to sue school districts. The most recent case was last summer. “No one begrudges parents the right to send their children to private school,” said Michael Best, general counsel at the DOE. “But this system was not intended as a way for private school parents to get the taxpayers to fund their children’s tuition.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (AUGUST 16-22, 2010)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

HEALTH CARE

Drew University’s new nursing school opens under financial cloud; Officials say the university is going to have to use reserve funds and could run out of money to pay for the facility within six months. The $43-million building opened Friday.” By Rong-Gong Lin II. Los Angeles Times. August 15, 2010. Even as the doors open this month on a new $43-million building to house the inaugural nursing class at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, the university’s interim president warned that the long-struggling institution is already in danger of losing the facility. Beginning in September, the university will be forced to begin burning through a reserve fund to make loan payments, Dr. Keith Norris said in an interview with The Times. Without assistance from a government agency, foundation, charity or some other organization, Norris said, within six months the school could run out of money to pay for the 120-student nursing school building. Losing the building could put the entire university at risk, Norris said. The collateral for the loan is the university’s remaining assets, meaning that if Drew defaults on the loan, financial institutions could be in a position to seize the university.

Are bigger health-care networks better or just creating a monopoly?” By Alec MacGillis. Washington Post. August 16, 2010. Railroads put this city on the map, but the king of the domain is now health care — or rather, the Carilion Clinic. Carilion owns the two hospitals in town and six others in the region, employs 550 doctors and has set off a bitter local debate: Is its dominance a new model for health care or a blatant attempt to corner the market? Carilion says it represents an ideal envisioned by the nation’s new health-care law: a network that increases efficiency by bringing more doctors and hospitals onto one team, integrating care from the doctor’s office to the operating room. The name for such networks, which the new law strongly promotes with pilot programs, is accountable care organizations, or ACOs — providers joining together to be “accountable” for the total care of patients, with incentives from insurers to keep people healthy and costs down. “We need to fundamentally get off a transaction system where you’re paid for what you do to patients to being paid to care for them,” says Carilion chief executive Edward Murphy. But skeptics apply a more old-fashioned term to networks like Carilion: monopolies, which they say will make health care even more expensive. “The only way to decrease costs that truly works is increasing competition, but for some reason in health care, we’re supposed to believe that competition drives up costs,” said ophthalmologist Frank Cotter. The gap between those two views is at the heart of whether the law succeeds in controlling costs. Meanwhile, the question is creating a schism in the Roanoke Valley, a region of more than 250,000 people that depends on Carilion’s 12,300 jobs but also worries about health-care costs out of proportion to the area’s cost of living.

Suit Faults St. Vincent’s.” No by-line. Wall Street Journal/ Associated Press. August 17, 2010. A lawsuit filed Monday alleged that the now-defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital was destroyed by mismanagement as it teetered at the edge of bankruptcy, citing a $278,000 golf outing and more than $100 million in unspecified spending for just one year. Top executives at the debt-ridden, 160-year-old Greenwich Village institution earned $1 million each, while spending $17 million for management consultants, according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan state Supreme Court on behalf of former hospital staffers and community members. The city’s last Catholic-affiliated hospital filed for bankruptcy before closing in April, citing a debt topping $1 billion dollars. The number of beds had been reduced from 800 a decade ago to about 400 by the time it shut down.Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, the health care system anchored by St. Vincent’s, issued a statement saying its officials hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit, but “based upon news reports and press conferences, there appears to be a blatant distortion of the facts.”

In Rural Calif., A Debate On How To Save A Hospital.” By Sarah Varney. All Things Considered/National Public Radio. August 19, 2010. Rural hospitals across the nation have struggled to stay afloat. There are, of course, fewer patients in rural areas, and many of them are on public health insurance programs that pay far less than private insurers. Residents in Modoc County, in the remote northeastern corner of California, will soon vote on whether to tax themselves to save their local hospital. The county has gone broke trying to keep the hospital open, and a fractious debate has erupted in this proudly conservative frontier community over the best way forward.

Caritas deal sounds good, but more assurances are needed.” Editorial. Boston Globe. August 22, 2010. There are good reasons to support the proposed sale of Boston-based Caritas Christi Health Care to New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. In addition to protecting over 12,000 in-state jobs, Cerberus has promised to pay off the non-profit hospital chain’s debt, permanently secure employees’ pensions, earmark $100 million for hospital renovations and expansions, create up to 4,300 new jobs, and increase the system’s footprint by 117,000 square feet. With promises like that, it’s no wonder elected officials including Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown are urging Attorney General Martha Coakley to approve the deal. But before Coakley signs off, she must obtain from Cerberus a clearer sense of how it plans to achieve these goals, and a new commitment of a longer time period before the firm can back out by selling the hospitals. In a complicated deal like this one, any change can be a serious obstacle. But, if satisfied, these changes would do much to bolster public confidence that this is, indeed, a good deal for the Boston community. If Cerberus fails to provide the needed information and commitments, it would raise questions about the viability of its plan. In addition to being Massachusetts’ 10th largest employer, the Boston Catholic Archdiocese-affiliated Caritas currently serves 600,000 patients annually at a relatively affordable rate. And, because of its community focus, it provides $66 million worth of charitable services like free health screenings and substance abuse workshops to 85 different communities. Cerberus, to its credit, has promised to maintain these programs, but it still needs to show how it can afford to do so while transforming its hospitals from nonprofit entities to for-profit businesses. Many health care advocates don’t think it can, and they worry that Cerberus, a firm with no experience operating a hospital, let alone six, has not released a sufficiently detailed explanation of how it intends to boost revenues.

Sutter Health Co.’s prices outstrip others.” BY Peter Waldman. Bloomberg.com. August 22, 2010. After Mark Logsdon tore a ligament in his knee skiing at Lake Tahoe in March, he returned home to suburban Sacramento and had an MRI scan at Sutter Davis Hospital. Sutter’s price for the knee scan was $1,271, payable by Logsdon and his insurer, Anthem Blue Cross. An identical MRI at one of the local imaging centers owned by Radiological Associates of Sacramento would have cost $696 – 45 percent less. The reason: Sutter Health Co., the nonprofit that owns Sutter Davis, has market power that commands prices 40 to 70 percent higher than its rivals per typical procedure – and pacts with insurers that keep those prices secret. Cost never occurred to Logsdon, a doctor who happens to be chairman of Radiological Associates’ oncology division. Logsdon said he went to Sutter Davis out of convenience and was shocked afterward to learn the cost of the procedure. “I guess I’m a textbook case of why policymakers say they need to make patients feel the cost of these things,” said Logsdon, who paid $396 of the MRI’s bill. Sutter can charge the prices it does because it has acquired more than a third of the market in the San Francisco-to-Sacramento region through more than 20 hospital takeovers in the past 30 years, according to executives of Aetna Inc., Health Net Inc. and Blue Shield of California, who asked not to be named because their agreements with Sutter ban disclosure of prices.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (AUGUST 16-22, 2010)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

HUMAN SERVICES

Jewish Home, Bleeding Money, Up For Sale.” By Paul Bass. New Haven Independent. August 17, 2010. In another sign of the decline of the urban nursing home industry, New Haven’s hallowed Jewish Home For The Aged is struggling to pay the bills and on the verge of sale to a for-profit company. Like other city-based nursing homes with mostly low-income patients, the 226-bed not-for-profit home on Davenport Avenue in the Hill neighborhood has wrestled with deficits for years because of low Medicaid reimbursements. Now the home is on the verge of drawing up a contract to sell to a for-profit company, board Chairman Jay Kossman reported Monday. “It’s tragic. It’s sad that after 96 years, we have fallen on such difficult times,” Kossman said. “There is a buyer. There are negotiations underway. We would hope to sell the Jewish home in the near future.” Kossman declined to name the potential buyer. A name change and mission change are likely, he said: “It will not be run by a board of lay leaders. It will likely be for-profit.”

Feed the Children distributes food to 2,800 area families.” By Stephanie Wang. Indianapolis Star. August 19, 2010. Approximately 2,800 families — including the elderly, the impoverished and the recently unemployed — each received 45 pounds of nonperishable foods and personal-care items. The boxes offer a rare helping hand to those who have just lost their jobs. Those people may not fall under poverty levels right away and may not be eligible for food stamps. And when money starts running out, they’re often expected to sell their houses and cars to make ends meet. But the boxes, which contain about a week’s worth of food, can give the jobless a much-needed little boost.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (AUGUST 16-22, 2010)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

INTERNATIONAL

GENERAL

Man who received ‘blood diamonds’ from Naomi Campbell quits charity; Jeremy Ractliffe becomes first major casualty of the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.” David Smith. Guardian (UK). August 18, 2010. The man who received alleged “blood diamonds” from former supermodel Naomi Campbell has resigned from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF), it emerged today. Jeremy Ractliffe is the first major casualty of the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, a case that also put the reputations of Campbell, her former agent Carole White, and the actor Mia Farrow in the dock. A former chief executive of the fund, Ractliffe was questioned by its trustees over why he accepted three uncut diamonds from Campbell in 1997 and kept them for 13 years without informing the fund’s board. He handed them to police only when he was named in Campbell’s testimony at the court in The Hague. The fund said today that Ractliffe, 74, apologised for endangering its reputation and leaving himself open to criminal prosecution. He will step down from the fund at next week’s annual general meeting.

AFGHANISTAN

How Not to Win Hearts and Minds: In a U.N. survey, 52% of Afghans said foreign aid organizations ‘are corrupt and are in the country just to get rich.’” By William Easterly. Wall Street Journal. August 16, 2010. In June, this newspaper broke the story of how Afghan officials were literally stuffing suitcases with aid money and flying out of the country. As a result, the House foreign aid appropriations subcommittee voted to cut $4.5 billion from the U.S. aid program to Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan is not unique. Indeed, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has long been plagued by accusations of corruption and lack of transparency. But foreign aid bureaucracies traditionally have two contradictory mandates: 1) We must not give aid to corrupt recipients; and 2) We must spend the entire aid budget. No. 2 usually beats No. 1. Aid agencies put a glossy face on this outcome, which makes the victory of corruption even more likely. An Afghan government report in 2008 (the “Kazimi report”) detailed abundant corruption and suggested that aid inflows contributed to it. USAID’s own report in 2009 said “corruption is now at an unprecedented scope in the country’s history” and that the “tremendous size . . . [of] development assistance . . . increase[s] Afghanistan’s vulnerability to corruption.” According to Transparency International, Afghanistan went from the 42nd most corrupt country in the world in 2005 to the second most corrupt in 2009 (Somalia was first).

ARGENTINA

Independent Theatre Flourishing in Buenos Aires.” By Marcela Valente. Interpress Serrvice. August 20, 2010. Independent theatre productions are mushrooming in basements, small theatres, garages or private residences throughout the Argentine capital, and sometimes even making it big across borders.

AUSTRALIA

Coalition’s local line on $400,000.” By Tom Arup and Ben Cubby. Sydney Morning Herald. August 20, 2010. The Coalition has promised a $400,000 grant to a conservation group in the electorate of the opposition environment spokesman, Greg Hunt. Released by Mr Hunt in Melbourne yesterday, the Coalition’s environment platform includes the $400,000 grant to The Thin Green Line Foundation over the next three years. This makes up the entire financial commitment to the ”international conservation of endangered species” budget line in the policy paper. The foundation supports park ranger programs in developing countries and helps rangers and families who have been attacked or killed by poachers while protecting endangered animals.

Private schools stay quiet on cash bonanza.” By Anna Patty. Sydney Morning Herald. August 23, 2010. THE state’s wealthiest private schools posted financial surpluses of up to $8.4 million last year after the Commonwealth delivered them as much as $10 million in annual subsidies. Some did not have to declare their surpluses but the headmaster of Cranbrook School at Bellevue Hill, which topped the list, called for all schools to be as transparent as his and make their finances public. Annual reports lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for last year show Queenwood School for Girls in Mosman generated a net surplus of $4.7 million after receiving $16.8 million in fees, $1.06 million in donations and $3.2 million in government funding. Ascham School at Edgecliff recorded a surplus of $3.04 million after receiving $21.6 million in fees and $2.5 million in government funding. And Cranbrook registered a net surplus of $8.4 million, which took into account consolidated revenue from all sources, including $2.7 million in bequests and donations. Cranbrook and other schools that are registered as non-profit companies limited by guarantee must lodge an annual financial report with ASIC in compliance with the Corporations Act. But many other schools, including The King’s School, Shore and Sydney Grammar are not required to lodge the statements with ASIC because they are covered by different acts of parliament, including one that covers schools associated with the Anglican Church. The state Greens MP John Kaye said the public purse was being used to ”bolster very healthy bottom lines” for private schools. He said the Gillard government had awarded the nation’s 161 wealthiest private schools $432 million this year. ”With $432 million of public funding each year, these elite institutions should be fully accountable in how they spend their money,” he said.

CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

US Catholic church sued by alleged abuse victims.” By Peter Bowes. BBC News. August 19, 2010. The Catholic Church is being sued in California by seven people who claim they were sexually abused by a priest several decades ago. The six women and one man accuse the Diocese of Oakland of negligence for hiring the Reverend Stephen Kiesle. They say it was known that there were multiple allegations of abuse against him. He was sentenced to three years probation in 1978 for lewd conduct with two young boys in San Francisco. In 1982, the diocese recommended his removal from the Church – but that did not happen for a further five years. In the meantime, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, had responsibility for investigating abusive priests. Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter to the Diocese, urging “as much paternal care as possible” for Father Kiesle. The current lawsuits, which do not name the Vatican as a defendant, claims church officials did nothing effectively to prevent the priest from continuing to access children.
Related stories:
Founder Of Haitian Charity Pleads Guilty.” Hartford Courant. August 18, 2010.
Priest’s alleged victim sues Santa Rosa Diocese.” San Francisco Chronicle. August 20, 2010.

HAITI

The Candidate and the Charity.” Editorial. New York Times. August 18, 2010. Haiti’s election commission has been vetting the applications of nearly three dozen aspiring presidential candidates. The list of who has qualified for the Nov. 28 ballot is due on Friday, and there is a lot of buzz — here and there — about whether Wyclef Jean, the hip-hop star, philanthropist and entrepreneur, will be on it. Whatever Haiti’s electoral commission decides about Mr. Jean’s eligibility, he needs to answer questions surrounding his charity, Yéle Haiti. Its profile and fund-raising ability grew enormously after the Jan. 12 earthquake. The charity, registered in Illinois, has long been dogged by financial problems and reports of poor accounting. It went years without filing tax forms, didn’t keep many basic records and ran a $490,000 deficit in 2007. The most serious questions arose after it was found to have paid $350,000 to companies Mr. Jean controlled, including $250,000 to produce promotional videos for the charity starring Mr. Jean and other celebrities. Mr. Jean admits mistakes but denies wrongdoing.

INDIA

Cashless facility in corporate hospitals to resume from Friday.” No by-line. Times of India. August 19, 2010. The private sector hospitals and PSU insurers are likely to arrive at an interim settlement on restoration of cashless treatment facility at major hospitals in the country from Friday. The major corporate hospitals — Apollo Healthcare, Max, Medicity and Fortis– have given their package rates for treatment under mediclaim policies to the Third Party Administrators (TPAs), which are the facilitators between the insured and the insurer. “By tomorrow, TPAs will revert to the hospitals on the package rates. Cashless facility in these hospitals would be restored on an interim basis by Friday,” Max Healthcare Institute MD Pervez Ahmed told PTI. Although the cashless treatment facility will be restored from tomorrow on interim basis, it would take some time for the hospitals and four PSU insurance companies to arrive at final settlement on the vexed issue. “Final rate structure would be decided in another 30-40 days. Under the structure that is being worked out, hospitals would be categorised on the basis of super specialty medical centres and premiums would vary accordingly,” he said. Currently there are 449 hospitals across the country under the cashless network, but corporate hospitals were removed by the PSU insurers from their preferred provider network (PPN) from July 1. Four insurance companies — New India Assurance, United India Insurance, National Insurance and Oriental Insurance — had stopped the cashless service to these hospitals on charges of over-billing.

PAKISTAN FLOOD RELIEF

Clinton to Urge Increase in Global Aid for Pakistan (Update1).” By Flavia Krause-Jackson. Bloomberg.com. August 19, 2010. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks today on Pakistan’s need for humanitarian assistance as donations trail the response to the Haiti earthquake. Clinton speaks at 4 p.m. at the United Nations General assembly in New York, a day after an Obama administration official said the U.S. will pledge more money to the flood- devastated country. Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said today during a visit to Pakistan that U.S. aid will increase to $150 million, the Associated Press reported. “Frustration and donor fatigue are understandable given the myriad calamities in the headlines, but they are not good options,” Eric Schwartz, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration said yesterday. ’’There’s no question that the world economic situation has had an impact on the ability of many governments around the world to give and give generously.’’ By Aug. 11, $58 million have been contributed to United Nations and international aid agencies in response to the floods that began late July. That compares with $241 million raised in the two weeks after the Haiti earthquake, according to CARE.
Related stories:
New York’s Little Pakistan Responds To Floods; Business owners in Brooklyn’s Little Pakistan neighborhood are trying to raise money for relief efforts in Pakistan, which has been devastated by massive flooding.” Morning Edition/National Public Radio. August 19, 2010.
Floods in Pakistan affect millions; U.N.-led relief effort lacks financial support.” Washington Post. August 19, 2010.
Organizations taking donations to help flood victims in Pakistan; Millions of people have been affected by the worst monsoon floods in Pakistan’s history. Here are some organizations that are taking donations for the relief effort.Washington Post. August 19, 2010.
Charity response muted on Pakistan flood; Despite warnings that the humanitarian situation is dire, local charities are having a hard time raising money for the victims.” Crain’s New York. August 20, 2010.

RUSSIA

Volunteers Rush To Aid Russian Firefighters.” Weekend Edition Sunday/National Public Radio. August 15, 2010. Despite heavy rain on Friday, authorities say there are dozens of wildfires still burning around Moscow. There’s been a lot of criticism of the official response to the fires, which were sparked by a heat wave and later blanketed the Russian capital in poisonous smog. Now, as Peter van Dyk reports, volunteers are going out into the forest around Moscow to help the hard-pressed fire service.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa police investigate ‘baby begging scam’.” No by-line. BBC News. August 17, 2010. South African police have confirmed to the BBC that they are investigating a possible syndicate that has been hiring out children from creches to beggars. It follows a general crackdown on the use of children to beg in the capital, Pretoria. Twenty children were taken into care after an operation on Friday; 13 have since been returned to their families. An investigation by Johannesburg’s 702 Talk Radio found that some parents and child-minders were renting out babies to beggars for about 20 rand (about $3; £2) a day. Begging is common at busy intersections in towns and cities across South Africa.

UK

Edinburgh festivals funding: see what they get, before the cuts bite; Funding for the Edinburgh festivals is complicated – and faces severe cuts. See how the data comes together.” No by-line. Guardian (UK). August 16, 2010. Funding for the Edinburgh festivals is complicated – and faces severe cuts. The Scottish capital boasts several of the world’s largest and most famous arts festivals, and they all face unprecedented cuts in their subsidies as the UK government in London prepares for the deepest cuts in public spending in modern times. The festivals are now preparing for intense discussions with their main funders, the City of Edinburgh Council, the arts funding agency Creative Scotland and the Scottish government. One of the key arguments will be over value for money. Here we have gathered the most detailed list yet published of all the funding the 15 festivals have received from these bodies for the five financial years since 2006.

Tony Blair’s donation to British Legion receives mixed response; Armed forces charity delighted to accept book proceeds but opponents of war say it will not change their views on former PM.” By Matthew Taylor. Guardian (UK). August 16, 2010. For the former prime minister it was “a way of marking the enormous sacrifice” of the UK’s armed forces. For some others it was little more than an attempt to assuage a guilty conscience. Like so much else about Tony Blair, today’s announcement that he will hand over several million pounds in proceeds from his forthcoming memoir to the Royal British Legion has divided opinion. Chris Simpkins, the director general of the armed forces charity, said he was delighted to accept the “very generous” offer – the largest in the organisation’s history – which will help pay for a new rehabilitation centre for injured servicemen and women. But for some families who have lost loved ones in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan the gift, including all of Blair’s reported £4.6m advance, was greeted with suspicion.
Related stories:
Thanks for the memoirs? An act of charity – or a gesture of contrition?Independent (UK). August 17, 2010.
I was speechless, but at least it shows he has a conscience.” Independent (UK). August 17, 2010.
Tony Blair’s donation to British Legion receives mixed response: Armed forces charity delighted to accept book proceeds but opponents of war say it will not change their views on former PM.” Guardian (UK). August 16, 2010.
Blair’s Credit: A gift to help wounded soldiers is an act of generosity that should be welcomed.” Times of London. August 17, 2010.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article2691498.ece

Tony Blair’s memoirs soar up bestseller lists: Tony Blair’s memoirs are not high on Westminster MPs’ reading lists.” Times of London. August 18, 2010.
We accepted Blair’s gift, not his wars, Legion says; The donation of profits from Tony Blair’s memoirs have caused anger among relatives of the war dead.Times of London. August 21 2010.

Ushahidi: giving citizens the power to put news on the map; It’s a crowdsourcing tool that lets any mobile phone user help map humanitarian crises – and it’s getting even simpler.” By Josh Halliday. Guardian (UK). August 16, 2010. Ushahidi – Swahili for “testimony” – works by mapping user-generated reports of incidents submitted by SMS, email and Twitter and via the web. The text message option means that those submitting information do not need to have access to the internet, which makes reporting incidents open to many more people in the developing world: Kenya has 17 million mobile phone users. “It feels like it was just last year,” says Erik Hersman, one of Ushahidi’s founding members, reflecting on the two days in January 2008 when “the world’s greatest crowdsourcing tool” went from being an idea to a platform pinpointing a sequence of catastrophes. But, apart from a few structural updates, little substantial had changed in Ushahidi until now. Groups wishing to use the tool – be they collections of citizens, international humanitarian bodies or media organisations – had to install the platform on a local server and pay for domain hosting rights. All of which acts as a barrier to entry. This month those barriers were removed and Ory Okolloh, very much the mother of Ushahidi, is under no illusions as to how important this new service – dubbed “Crowdmap” – is. “This is huge. It’s a landmark,” she says. “This has the potential to take us to the next level in terms of scale, like Blogger did for blogging – Crowdmap has the potential to do that for mapping.

Oxfam wants bank tax to save poor countries from financial disaster; Oxfam says ‘Robin Hood tax’ should be imposed on banks to help low-income nations fill huge budget holes.” By Katie Allen. Guardian (UK). August 18, 2010. The financial crisis has driven millions of people into poverty and put many more at risk as the world’s poorest countries scramble to fill huge budget holes with dwindling help from richer nations, according to Oxfam. With the deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of slashing poverty just five years away, and aid budgets under pressure from the downturn, Oxfam is stressing the urgent need for new sources of help, such as a ‘Robin Hood tax’ on financial transactions. The charity is worried that much of the focus during and after the credit crunch has been on the fate of richer countries such as Greece, the US and Britain, while continued growth in emerging markets such as Brazil and India has been largely been taken as a sign the crisis was restricted to developed nations. But its study of the budgets of 56 low-income countries, many of them in Africa, concludes that they too propped up their economies by borrowing in the earlier part of the crisis, and have now been left with gaping budget deficits. “It is brutally unjust that the poorest people on earth are made to pay the price for bankers’ greed through cuts in schools or life-saving medicines,” said Max Lawson, spokesperson for the Robin Hood Tax Campaign and policy adviser at Oxfam. “A Robin Hood tax would make the banks foot the bill for the misery they have caused.” The first detailed analysis of the impact on poorer countries says revenues fell in almost two-thirds of them last year and for almost half, revenues will still be below 2008 levels by the end of 2010.

How can football clubs capture the social value of the beautiful game? Football still has vast social value despite financial crises. Do we need more supporter-owned clubs to restore its rightful place at the heart of communities, asks David Conn.” By David Conn. Guardian (UK). August 18, 2010. With barely a breath caught since the World Cup, the Premier League season sprinted forth at the weekend to stadiums packed with expectant crowds, customarily feverish television coverage and a flurry of stories with one unifying theme: money. Prospective bidders from overseas to buy debt-laden Liverpool football club; the manager of Aston Villa, Martin O’Neill, walking out apparently over lack of funds ; three Football League clubs staving off winding-up petitions in the high court. Released earlier this summer with a touch less fanfare was a report that found that for all its crises and financial overkill, football remains a sport of immense social value, and its clubs – when not falling into ruin – are widely considered to be rallying points for civic pride. Commissioned by Supporters Direct, the government-backed initiative to encourage democratic, mutual ownership of football clubs, the report documents the beneficial impact that clubs can have in their communities, and recommends a series of ways in which this can be improved.

“‘Big society’ is a departure for Tories; For all the precursors it is possible to dig up in the domestic tradition, the ‘big society’ is really an American import.” By Tim Bale. Guardian (UK). July 19, 2010. The Conservatives have a huge advantage over their political rivals when it comes to lending legitimacy and weight to their ideas. The Tory party has been in business so long, and has so often adjusted its aspirations to electoral necessity and to the temper of the times, that it is possible to anchor almost any contemporary concept firmly within the Conservative canon. So it is with the “big society.’

“Scramble for university as course vacancies halved; Girls outperformed boys in the new A* grade.” By Matt Lloyd. Times of London. August 19, 2010. The number of university courses in clearing has almost halved after this morning’s A-level results, with one in four exams marked as an A grade. Ucas, the admissions service, said they had just 18,500 courses with vacancies down from 32,000 at the same time last year. There are expected to be around 156,000 candidates looking for vacancies on courses this year after a record number of applications and a cap on undergraduate places. Experts predict that around 80,000 well qualified candidates will miss out, a Times survey of admissions tutors indicated that there would be seven candidates chasing each spare place in the system that matches candidates who miss their grades with available courses. The best results ever – the 28th consecutive increase in the pass rate – will be matched by the fiercest competition for university.
Related story:
Clearing 2010: Private universities receive surge of interest: Students who fear they may fail to get a place in this week’s clearing battle consider paying higher fees to obtain degree.” Guardian (UK). August 18, 2010.

UK museums make £1bn from tourists; National Gallery The National Gallery is one of the capital’s top draws, according to VisitBritain.” No by-line. BBC News. August 20, 2010. The UK’s major museums and art galleries raked in £1bn from overseas visitors in 2009, according to the national tourist authority. Of about 30 million visits made to the UK last year, over a third included a trip to a leading cultural institution, a report by VisitBritain said. French tourists paid the most visits to museums, while holidaymakers from the US favoured art galleries.

A-level results 2010: No degree course? Then try volunteering, says minister; Universities minister urges students disappointed in clearing to enhance their CVs and apply to less competitive institutions.” By Jeevan Vasagar. Guardian (UK). August 19, 2010. Students who fail to get on to a degree course this year should take up volunteering to enhance their CVs and apply to less competitive universities next year, the universities minister said today, as 180,000 candidates chased a dwindling number of places in clearing. A-level pass rates rose to another record high of 97.6% today, while an unprecedented 27% of entries secured an A or A* grade, in results that sharpened the already fierce competition to secure a degree course place. David Willetts said: “It is intensely competitive for young people. Look at the extras you can put on your CV – taking the example of medicine, that could be getting involved in caring for people who are sick, in some way.” Candidates should consider an insurance offer as well as aiming for the more heavily subscribed universities, the minister said. “That’s not a matter of aiming low but maximising opportunity.” The intensity of the scramble going on today was underlined by figures showing there were approximately 18,500 courses with vacancies, down on 32,000 courses with vacancies last year, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).

Jewish schools are not a faith school ‘menace’; My local Jewish primary is multicultural and academically excellent, and shows Dawkins is wrong about faith schools.” By Karen Glaser. Guardian (UK). August 19, 2010. I am a big fan of Britain’s most prominent atheist. I think secularists are incredibly lucky to have someone of his calibre fighting their cause and I fail to see how anyone, religious or not, could disagree with the evolutionary biologist’s core claim that faith is a matter of assertion over proof. But when it comes to faith schools, I think this great humanist is misguided. In the film, he reports that one in three state schools in Britain already has a religious affiliation and that under the coalition’s free school system, religious groups are being encouraged to set up more. Dawkins is, unsurprisingly, appalled: faith schools, he claims, indoctrinate and divide children, and bamboozle their parents.

Festivals balk at proposals to give away £2m to charity.” By Mike Wade. Times of London. August 19 2010. Edinburgh’s festivals were last night urged to demonstrate their global leadership role in the arts by making a “truly international gesture” and donating £2 million to charity. Victor Spence, of the Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality and Peace, said that the sum could be generated by adding a 50p surcharge to every ticket sold and could be targeted at specific causes among children in the developing world. He added that the move would be in keeping with the founding spirit of this festival, established in the aftermath of the Second World War, to promote the healing power of the arts. “[The festival] has to look beyond itself and it also has to accept that some promoters have been accused of greed. The festival was originally conceived as a means to bring peace and reconciliation — to a great extent that spirit has been lost. This move would underscore [Edinburgh’s] leadership role as a festival city.”

Minister’s ‘segregation’ warning as independent schools shine; Privately educated children three times more likely to be given new A* grade.” By Richard Garner. Independent (UK). August 20, 2010. Pupils at independent schools are three times more likely to gain the A* grade as those in comprehensive schools, yesterday’s A-level results revealed. The finding prompted the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, to warn that the school system was “one of the most segregated in the world”. The new grade, introduced this year, was awarded for 8.1 per cent of scripts, stirring memories of the 1960s, when 8.5 per cent were given an A grade. As one education expert put it: “A* is the new A grade.” Teachers’ leaders warned that the new grade would hamper state school pupils’ chances of getting into Britain’s top universities. The figures showed that 17.9 per cent of all independent school entries were awarded an A*, compared with just 5.8 per cent of entries from comprehensive schools. In state grammar schools, 12.5 per cent of entries were given an A* grade. John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, described the A* grade as “a belt and braces filter for the Russell Group [the group representing 20 of the country's leading higher education research institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge] to select their candidates. “All this is going to achieve is independent pupils succeeding in getting places against state school pupils – and that’s something of massive concern.”

Dwindling appeal of a night out at the ‘Legion’ — once a popular venue; A skittles league club meets once a month at the Royal British Legion club at Bathford, Bath. Without them it would be deserted.” By Jon Rowley. Times of London. August 21 2010. Poppies and a pint: once every town worth the name had its Royal British Legion Club where old soldiers could gather and complain about life on civvy street over a pint of Old Peculier. Tony Blair’s multimillion-pound donation is going to the Legion for its charitable work, but it is the 667 pubs and clubs it runs across the country that for many is its most familiar face. Once almost every town and village had its Legion but now the clubs are in trouble. There are 667 across the country but more are closing every year. Most clubs started life as meeting places when the Legion was founded after the First World War. Once they provided a social venue for ex-servicemen and women who felt most comfortable with others with shared experiences. Today, the Legion is more keen to talk about its social media initiatives on the internet.