“Development: To Feed the World, Gov’ts Break New Ground with Civil Society.” By Marwaan Macan-Markar. Interpress Service. October 15, 2010. For over a decade, seasoned activist Sarojini Rengam’s efforts to storm the bureaucratic barricades at global food security meetings in Rome hardly produced any cracks. The tightly structured agenda at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) gatherings she went to were unequivocal about where activists stood – in the margins. The likes of Rengam, the executive director of the Asia-Pacific branch of global green lobby Pesticide Action Network, were given limited time to air their concerns towards the end of the annual Committee of World Food Security (CFS) meeting. Moreover, this virtual postscript to the conference came after government policy makers had already drafted a final document. “Civil society organisations were often seen as environmental terrorists,” said Rengam of how groups like her Penang-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) and others from the global South were viewed by government officials who dominated the annual event hosted by the U.N. body in the Italian capital. But not any more. In an unprecedented nod toward civil society organisations, this year’s annual FAO event to shape global food security policy rolled out the welcome mat to some 150 activists who took part in the just-finished meeting – on equal footing with government delegates.
“Anglicans warned church is on its knees.” By David Marr. Sydney Morning Herald. October 13, 2010. The Anglican Church in Sydney is in diabolical trouble. Already battered by the global financial crisis, the diocese is planning further savage spending cuts. The archbishop, Peter Jensen, told the annual synod on Monday: “The financial issues are grave.” One of the biggest and richest dioceses in Australia, Sydney leveraged its huge investment portfolio in the boom and sold when the market hit rock bottom. After losing more than $100 million, it was forced to halve its expenditure. “There was considerable pain,” the archbishop told the annual gathering of clergy and laity in Sydney. But it wasn’t enough. “In round terms, it seems possible that the amount of money available … to support diocesan works in the next few years is going to be reduced from the $7.5 million of 2010 to something like $4 million. Our major rethink of last year was only the beginning.”
“Mary’s foundation offers kick-starts and care.” By Aaron Cook. Sydney Morning Herald. October 15, 2010. Imagine going to work each day and trying to live up to the example of a saint. That is what staff at the Mary MacKillop Foundation will face after Mary MacKillop is canonised on Sunday. From football for young refugees, to scholarships for trainee doctors who want to work in indigenous communities, the foundation’s aim is to continue MacKillop’s legacy by supporting small, life-changing projects, said its chief executive officer, Sam Hardjono. ”We help projects that aren’t well known, where people can’t get funding from other sources,” he said. One project to receive support is Football United, which provides social opportunities and leadership training for disadvantaged youth. Mr Hardjono said an important side effect of a small grant in 2006 was that it encouraged other charitable organisations to become involved.
CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL
“Australia’s New Saint Also Dealt With Sex Abuse Scandal.” Weekend Edition Sunday/National Public Radio. October 17, 2010. This Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Australia’s first saint, Mother Mary MacKillop. In 1871, MacKillop was briefly excommunicated for insubordination after her order of nuns reported a case of child sex abuse by a priest. Liane Hansen speaks with James Martin, who, in a recent op-ed in the Catholic weekly, America, called MacKillop “a saint for our time.”
“Australia’s first saint overcame excommunication.” Washington Post/Associated Press. October 15, 2010.
“Microlender Says Chief Was Ousted Over ‘Differences’.” By Vikas Bajaj. New York Times. October 12, 2010. SKS Microfinance, which recently became the first Indian microlender to sell shares in the stock market, should be enjoying a honeymoon right now. The company and its shareholders raised more than $350 million in an initial public offering in August by luring investors like the billionaire George Soros. The stock climbed 50 percent a few weeks after it started trading on Aug. 16. But the glow has started to dim. On Tuesday, the company’s chairman and founder, Vikram Akula, and two of its directors tried to deflect caustic questions from reporters at a hastily called news conference. The main one: Why did the company fire its chief executive so soon after its successful share sale? After refusing to provide an answer for more than a week, Mr. Akula said the SKS board had unanimously decided to fire the chief executive, Suresh Gurumani, because of “interpersonal differences” between him and other executives. He declined to provide details. Mr. Akula said the board felt that he and M. R. Rao, who was promoted to chief executive from chief operating officer, were the right people to deal with new competition that had cropped up in recent weeks and to rebut negative reports about microfinance.
“Microsoft Moves to Help Nonprofits Avoid Piracy-Linked Crackdowns.” By Clifford J. Levy. New York Times. October 16, 2010. — Microsoft is vastly expanding its efforts to prevent governments from using software piracy inquiries as a pretext to suppress dissent. It plans to provide free software licenses to more than 500,000 advocacy groups, independent media outlets and other nonprofit organizations in 12 countries with tightly controlled governments, including Russia and China. With the new program in place, authorities in these countries would have no legal basis for accusing these groups of installing pirated Microsoft software. Microsoft began overhauling its antipiracy policy after The New York Times reported last month that private lawyers retained by the company had often supported law enforcement officials in Russia in crackdowns on outspoken advocacy groups and opposition newspapers. At first, Microsoft responded to the article by apologizing and saying it would focus on protecting these organizations in Russia from such inquiries. But it is now extending the program to other countries: eight former Soviet republics — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — as well as China, Malaysia and Vietnam. Microsoft executives said they would consider adding more. “We clearly have a very strong interest in ensuring that any antipiracy activities are being done for the purpose of reducing illegal piracy, and not for other purposes,” said Nancy J. Anderson, a deputy general counsel and vice president at Microsoft. “Under the terms of our new nongovernmental organization software license, we will definitely not have any claims and not pursue any claims against nongovernmental organizations.”
‘Students face unlimited fees for university; Mr Cameron has endorsed a more progressive student loans system in which lower paid graduates would be subsided.” By Greg Hurst. Times of London. October 12, 2010. Universities should be free to charge unlimited tuition fees but graduates should start repaying students loans later and over a longer period, a review recommended today. Fees of up to £6,000 a year would go directly to universities but above that figure they would pay a levy, rising for each additional £1,000, restricting their additional income.
Lord Browne of Madingley proposed a new system of loans under which one in five graduates in lower paid jobs would repay less than today but higher earning graduates would pay more. His proposals, following review of higher education finance lasting almost a year, will form the basis of a new system for funding universities from autumn 2012.
“Cable on collision course with party over graduate tax; Vince Cable has concluded that a graduate tax would not be fair.” Times of London. October 10, 2010.
“Tuition fees: Vince Cable battling to head off full-scale Lib Dem rebellion; Business secretary proposes early repayment penalty to prevent rich graduates paying less for their university education than those on middle incomes.” Guardian (UK). October 12, 2010.
“Browne review: Universities must set their own tuition fees; The cap on student fees should be lifted entirely, says Lord Browne, and graduates will start repayments once they earn £21,000; Main points at a glance.” Guardian (UK). October 12, 2010.
“Universities face closure as tuition fee rise favours elite; Fees of up to £6,000 a year would go directly to universities.” Times of London. October 13, 2010.
“It’s every university for itself under Lord Browne’s funding system.” Times of London. October 13 2010.
“Graduates who pay off their loans early may face penalty.” Independent (UK).
October 13, 2010.
“Ancient Scots universities call for variable student fees; Michael Russell, the Scottish Education Secretary, has called for a Green Paper on higher education funding.” Times of London. October 13, 2010.
“Universities to be hit by £4bn massacre of teaching funds; A £3.2 billion reduction in state funding for teaching is a cut of almost 80 per cent.” Times of London. October 15, 2010.
“Browne review: Universities warned to expect £4.2bn cuts; Universities UK claims tuition fees proposals ‘confirm worst fears’ of massive cuts.” Guardian (UK). October 15, 2010.
“Cambridge may go private in fees row; Top universities claim planned tuition fee rises are too small to secure their global standing and may seek to become private institutions.” Times of London. October 17, 2010.
“Multi-faith moan about youth is unjustified; The perception religion no longer appeals to the young is misplaced – just look at the positive results of interfaith action.” By Ian Linden. Guardian (UK). October 7, 2010. Question: “What is confirmation, Father?” Answer: “The sacrament of leaving the church, my child.” A bad Catholic joke but it has a ring of truth. At least it sums up the widespread perception that youth and religion go together like water and oil, or from the perspective of the young, like seabirds and oil slicks. I remember some years ago the venerable Ayatollah Kashani in Tehran complaining to a visiting delegation of which I was part, that youth were falling away, no respect for authority or religion, everything going to the dogs. You could have pirated the conversation and replayed it in Tel Aviv, Cairo or Galway without anyone noticing. So is this great, perennial, multi-faith moan really justified? It depends where you look. Scan the crowds at the annual Hindu Student Forum gathering in Leicester, the Greenbelt festivals, the big papal youth rallies, Muslim youth events, Alpha course conferences, and you get a different picture. Perfectly ordinary young adults interested in spirituality, in different forms of service overseas and at home, in the tough, demanding bits of their faith communities’ life, in finding out what their young contemporary co-religionists think about things that matter. Impressive numbers. No going to the dogs here.
“Quango bonfire to save no money for years; The £318m-a-year National Policing Improvement Agency is to be scrapped.” By Jill Sherman and Richard Ford. Times of London. October 14, 2010. A total of 192 quangos are to be scrapped by the Government and a further 118 merged, but substantial savings are unlikely to be made over the next five years. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister said that a further 171 of the present 901 public bodies would be reformed substantially, ushering in a “new era of accountability in government”. The total will be cut from 901 to 648. But as Mr Maude delivered his ministerial statement, the Cabinet Office website detailing which public bodies would be abolished crashed under the pressure of thousands of quango staff trying to discover their fate. Mr Maude declined to say how much money would be saved but Whitehall sources made clear that winding down the bodies immediately would be too costly on account of millions of pounds of liabilities. During the current spending squeeze departments will not be able to pay redundancy costs, pension liabilities or contract penalties for breaking long leases on properties. Mr Maude announced that a Public Bodies Reform Bill will be introduced this year to start the long-awaited bonfire of the quangos. But he made clear that many of their functions – together with many staff – would be absorbed into government departments. “Today’s announcement means that many important and essential functions will be brought back into departments, meaning the line of accountability will run right up to the very top where it always should have been,” he said.
“192 quangos to be scrapped.” Independent (UK). October 14, 2010.
“Three-quarters of health quangos axed.” Independent (UK). October 14, 2010.
“Cull of quangos scaled back after lobbying.” Independent (UK). October 14, 2010.
“Government scraps 192 quangos; Thousands of jobs will go in biggest shakeup of government the coalition has made to date; Full list of quangos being scrapped, merged or reprieved.” Guardian (UK). October 14, 2010.
“Quango review sees five major bodies becoming charities; British Waterways, the Design Council, the National Endowment of Science, Technology and the Arts, the Theatres Trust and the School Food Trust all to join the third sector.”
Guardian (UK). October 14, 2010.
“Quango cull of health bodies is coalition’s third assault on NHS; Cuts follow abolition of 10 strategic health authorities and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.” Guardian (UK). October 14, 2010.
“Government urges councils to stop giving tax breaks to Scientology; Communities secretary Eric Pickles says majority of the public does not want ‘controversial organisation’ to be given favourable treatment.” By Rajeev Syal. Guardian (UK). October 15, 2010. The government is urging councils across the country to stop giving hundreds of thousands of pounds in tax breaks to the Church of Scientology. The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, said a majority of the public did not want the “controversial organisation” to be given the kind of favourable treatment usually reserved for charities and questioned this use of public money. The church, which is not classed as a religion by the Charity Commission, was described as a cult by a high court judge in 1984. It is the first time a cabinet minister has intervened in the long-running row over the tax breaks for Scientology. At least four authorities have given tax breaks to the group, which counts a host of celebrities among its high-profile members.
“Minor British Institutions: The Royal College of Art.” By Sean O’Grady. Independent (UK). October 16, 2010. In everything that could be described as art, from sculpture to fashion and vehicle design, the Royal College of Art has someone to teach it and something to say about it. It describes itself as “the world’s most influential postgraduate art and design school”, which may be a little immodest, but it has an impressive list of alumni, including James Dyson, Tracey Emin, Barbara Hepworth and David Hockney. It’s an informal, smelly sort of place, more workshop than studio, smelling of paint, petrochemicals and glass fibre. This, despite its somewhat plain premises, just by the Albert Hall in London which put its architecture to shame. The late prince consort would approve of its vocational bias, and the success many of it graduates enjoy in their chosen fields (and the benefits they confer upon our “knowledge economy”). It can trace it origins back to 1837, as the Government School of Design; in 1967, a royal charter granted it independent status.
“Relax — these cuts are just a scratch; Every pound not taken from the taxpayer to fund the public sector is a pound more in the pockets of the private citizen, to spend as they want.” By Dominic Lawson. Op-ed. Times of London. October 17, 2010. Cuts? What cuts? In the last few days before George Osborne reveals to parliament the precise details of the coalition government’s expenditure plans, we have been drenched with leaks setting out increasingly hysterical claims of The End of the World as We Know It from the massed vested interests of the public sector. The bloated military establishment claims that we will be defenceless against as yet unidentified enemies; the security services imply that the chancellor is, in effect, an agent of Al-Qaeda. Yet the most blood-curdling military metaphors come from the world of high culture. Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, has pre-emptively accused the government of destroying the entire national system of “cultural provision” with “the ruthlessness of a blitzkrieg” that will render Britain no longer “a civilised place to live”. The chancellor is Hermann Goering and the Treasury is the Luftwaffe, just because the amount of money provided by the taxpayer to the likes of Serota will be frozen, in cash terms, over the next five years. That’s right: the overall totals outlined in Osborne’s budget statement in June were based on public expenditure rising from £669 billion, in the last full year of the Labour administration, to £697 billion this year, and then falling slightly to £686 billion in 2015-16. In other words, at the end of Osborne’s “ruthless blitzkrieg”, spending will be higher than it was during Gordon Brown’s final year of fiscal incontinence.
“Charity offers UK drug addicts £200 to be sterilised.” No by-line. BBC News. October 2010. Drug addicts across the UK are being offered money to be sterilised by an American charity. Project Prevention is offering to pay £200 to any drug user in London, Glasgow, Bristol, Leicester and parts of Wales who agrees to be operated on. Project Prevention founder Barbara Harris admitted her methods amounted to “bribery”, but said it was the only way to stop babies being physically and mentally damaged by drugs during pregnancy. Drug treatment charity Addaction estimates one million children in the UK are living with parents who abuse drugs. Pregnant addicts can pass on the dependency to the unborn child, leading to organ and brain damage. Mrs Harris set up her charity in North Carolina after adopting the children of a crack addict.