“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.
“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).
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.