Archive for January, 2011

CIVIL SOCIETY, REVOLUTION, & SOCIAL MEDIA – A COMMENT

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

As hundreds of thousands mill in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities, it appears that another authoritarian Middle Eastern regime is about to fall to the rage of masses mobilized and coordinated by cellphones and the internet.

In response, Egypt’s police state shut down the internet and cut off virtually all cellphone service both within the country and between it and the outside world. Satellite communications have also been disrupted by government jamming. (None of this, curiously, seems to have stemmed the flood of images of or broadcasts about the disorders featured on the 24 hour news channels and web sources like Al Jazzera and the BBC).

Many “progressives” are professing horror and surprise at the internet shut down — yet had little to say when, last summer, the White House requested that Congress grant the president an internet “kill switch” that would allow our government to do exactly the same thing.

Is the internet actually more vulnerable to government and corporate interference than other forms of mass media (low power community radio,citizens’ band, shortwave, ham radio, or satellite TV)?

Alas, the internet is obviously more vulnerable. The communications industry is highly centralized. The IT revolution may have decentralized the production of content, but not its dissemination. The carrier technologies are either hard-wired networks or satellites, both controlled by a handful of corporations — all of which work hand-in-glove with government.

Let’s not forget that the internet originated in a US Department of Defense initiative, ARPANET. It was intended to create a decentralized communications system that could withstand a nuclear attack. In this sense, the new the new technology was less vulnerable to disruption. But that was based on the assumption that the disruptive force originated with an external enemy, not movements directed against the government itself.

The Roman emperor Nero wished the Roman people had one neck. With IT, alas, his wish has more or less come true — but on a global scale.

While the media and friends of civil society celebrate the power of the new technology to topple tyrants, we would do well to keep in mind that its power, wielded by would-be tyrants, can also be used to suppress revolutionary social movements.

Peter Dobkin Hall
January 29, 2011

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 17-23, 2011)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

Bernice King declines SCLC presidency.” By Rhonda Cook. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. January 21, 2011. Fifteen months after her election, Bernice King, the youngest child of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has declined the position of president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She said in a written statement Friday that her decision came “after numerous attempts to connect with the official board leaders on how to move forward under my leadership, unfortunately, our visions did not align.” The board, meeting in Atlanta at the time King released her statement Friday morning, was not aware of her plans, according to one member, Art Rocker. King initially delayed taking office because of turmoil of competing factions, both claiming to be the official board. One group tried to remove another from positions of power because then-Chairman Raleigh Trammell and then-Treasurer Spiver Gordon were suspected of mishandling $569,000 of SCLC funds, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The FBI and the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office opened investigations into the matter, and it is still pending. A grand jury in Ohio has indicted Trammell in connection with his spending of that chapter’s money. A Fulton County judge ruled last summer that Trammell and his supporters were not the official board. Even then, King did not assume the paid position of SCLC president. King, a minister, was the first woman elected SCLC president, a position once held by her father, co-founder of the organization, and her brother, Martin Luther King III.
Related stories:
King’s daughter won’t take SCLC helm.” Boston Globe/Associated Press. January 22, 2011.
Georgia: Bernice King Leaves Helm of Rights Group.” New York Times/ Associated Press. January 21, 2011.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter won’t lead SCLC.” Washington Post/ Associated Press. January 21, 2011.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 17-23, 2011)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

ARTS & CULTURE

Conservatory Is to Cut Ties to Children’s Music Project.” By Daniel J. Wakin. New York Times. January 21, 2011. The classical music world’s latest Big Idea — a movement to marry music education to social work — has been jolted in this country by the rocky divorce between the effort’s fledgling national organization and the New England Conservatory here. The organization, El Sistema U.S.A., an offshoot of El Sistema, a national music training program in Venezuela that has inspired similar efforts around the world, is expected to leave the Boston conservatory by June for a home to be determined. The conservatory, which has basked in the glow of association with the movement, has declined to provide funds for an expansion that Sistema backers say is crucial and inevitable. “We really felt this was outside our mission altogether,” the conservatory’s president, Tony Woodcock, said in an interview last week. He forcefully praised the movement’s goals and said that the substantive work of El Sistema U.S.A. — a program in which 10 fellows a year are trained to go off and establish or run music education programs — would go on at the conservatory. The institution has promised to finance the program, now in its second season, for five years. Mr. Woodcock left open the possibility that the fellowship would end after that. He said his decision to sever ties with El Sistema was made with leaders of the conservatory’s board. In Venezuela, El Sistema has drawn some 400,000 young people, most of them poor, into a constellation of orchestras and musical training centers. Intensive lessons, rehearsals and classes throughout the week are intended to keep children of troubled neighborhoods off the streets, instill a feeling of self-worth and purpose and create a sense of community.

The Thorny Path to a National Black Museum.” By Kate Taylor. New York Times. January 22, 2011. In the late 1970s, when Lonnie G. Bunch III had his first job at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, veterans of the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black squadron, accused the museum of playing down their contributions during World War II. In response, the museum asked some of the African-Americans on staff to allow their faces to be used on mannequins, increasing the “black presence” in its exhibits. “I didn’t do it,” Mr. Bunch said recently, who was among those asked. “That’s not the way I wanted to be part of a museum.” Thirty years later Mr. Bunch, and African-American history itself, are part of a Smithsonian museum, but in a very different way. As the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Mr. Bunch, 58, is charged with creating an institution that embodies the story of black life in America. The pressure couldn’t be greater. To open in 2015, in a $500 million building designed to evoke the art of an ancient West African kingdom, the museum will stand at the geographic center of American civic identity, on the National Mall. Since Mr. Bunch was appointed in 2005 — two years after the museum was created by an act of Congress — he and his staff have been racing at full speed, commissioning the building, amassing a collection, reaching out to potential donors and future visitors. But as their deadline approaches, and grand dreams have to be refined into gallery layouts and exhibition plans, they are not only juggling details and a $250 million fund-raising campaign, but also grappling with fundamental questions about the museum’s soul and message.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 17-23, 2011)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

On Upper West Side, Hurdles for Charter School.” By Fernanda Santos. New York Times. January 21, 2011. In a stylish apartment on West 99th Street, Eva S. Moskowitz, a former City Council member who runs a network of charter schools in Harlem and the Bronx, delivered a tantalizing sales talk.“Middle-class families need options too,” she said. But Ms. Moskowitz is trying to expand her chain into a whole new precinct of the city, the relatively well-off Upper West Side. And outside the parties she has organized to drum up interest, the reaction has been anything but warm from the stridently anticharter political establishment of the neighborhood. Opposition to the charter school, named Upper West Success Academy, has been as structured and relentless as the school’s own marketing campaign, and it has already chased the school out of two proposed locations, on 105th and 109th Streets. The local community education council, which represents District 3 public school parents, has mobilized council members and state senators in fighting the charter school, which it contends will siphon middle- and upper-middle-class families from schools that desperately need them for stability. Members of the teachers’ union and New York Communities for Change, which replaced the state’s chapter of the embattled organization Acorn, are often present at rallies and copied on e-mails debating the next steps in the battle. Even the local community board, which has no official say in the process, has chimed in. On Jan. 4, it voted 40 to 0 against the city’s most recent plan, to house the charter school at the former Louis D. Brandeis High School on West 84th Street. Ms. Moskowitz is known for an aggressive style, and perhaps no neighborhood spoils for a fight more than the Upper West Side. But the dispute also has its roots in population shifts that have crowded out parents from the most popular public schools there, and in a decision last year by lawmakers in Albany to more than double the number of charter schools allowed in the state, as a way to compete for federal Race to the Top money.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 17-23, 2011)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

INTERNATIONAL

GLOBAL

Does Helping the Planet Hurt the Poor? No, if the West Makes Sacrifices.” By Peter Singer. Wall Street Journal/Reuters. January 22, 2011. Environmental protection often comes at the expense of the world’s poorest people, who struggle to meet their subsistence needs. Children carry firewood in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. All of us who are middle class or above in the U.S. and other industrialized nations spend money on many things we do not need. We could instead donate that money to organizations that will use it to make a huge difference in the lives of the world’s poorest people—people who struggle to survive each day on less than we spend on a bottle of water. For decades, that is what I’ve been advocating we should do. But this concern for the poor appears to be in tension with the need to protect our environment. Is there any point in saving the lives of people who will continue to have more children than they can feed? Don’t rising populations in developing countries increase the pressure on forests and other ecosystems? Then there is climate change. How would the world cope if everyone were to become affluent and match our per capita rate of greenhouse gas emissions?
Related article:
Does Helping the Planet Hurt the Poor? Yes, if We Listen to Green Extremists.” Wall Street Journal/Reuters. January 22, 2011. Bjørn Lomborg responds to Peter Singer.

AUSTRALIA

Parents bear the burden of surging private fees.” By Anna Patty. Sydney Morning Herald. January 23, 2011. The state’s richest schools are more out of reach than ever to ordinary families. In the 10 years since the Howard government introduced a funding system to make private schools more affordable, the most expensive schools’ fees have risen by about 100 per cent – against inflation of 37 per cent. The Howard government made assurances that its socio-economic status funding model, introduced in 2001, would keep a lid on fee rises. The model aims to allocate funding to schools based on the socio-economic status of the families of their students. But it uses census data to measure the average wealth of families in the areas where they live. This has drawn criticism of the funding for schools which draws some of their students from wealthy farming families, even if they live in relatively poor areas. Under its ”no losers” policy, the Howard government refused to cut funding to schools, even if they were entitled to less under the new funding arrangement. This has meant that more than half the schools funded under the system have received more than their strict entitlement. The Rudd and Gillard governments have maintained the $27 billion four-year funding arrangement, despite a federal Department of Education review finding it delivered $2.7 billion in overpayments. The inflated payments will grow to at least $3 billion by the end of 2016 if the current system continues.
Related story:
Mother called it quits at $31,000.” Sydney Morning Herald. January 23, 2011.
Investment paid off for Marsha.” Sydney Morning Herald. January 23, 2011.

CANADA

NGO hopes to benefit from failure: A Canadian NGO has posted its shortcomings online in a bold attempt to learn from them and encourage others to do the same.” Guardian (UK). January 17, 2011. NGOs battle for media attention, devoting considerable effort and energy into getting that crucial eyeball contact. Usually that means making the message as stark and sensationalist as possible, with the implicit message that the NGO knows exactly how to sort out the problem – whether that is tax havens, Aids or educating 10-year-olds in Tanzania. So I’m full of admiration for a Canadian NGO that is breaking all the rules by publishing a failure report. Engineers Without Borders has bravely catalogued various mistakes in its projects. Project officers come clean in a series of snapshots of what they did wrong . So Owen Scott confesses that he thought he knew exactly what was needed in Malawi, where he was working on a water project. He secured the funding and got it sorted: an updated survey. But it only postponed the problem, which was that the district government didn’t have the money to regularly update the survey. Scott admitted “prioritising tangible activities” and effectively using money as bribery. This is brave stuff. Anyone who has ever worked in aid projects will recognise all of it. The confidence with which aid workers can think they know what they are doing, plunge in and make countless mistakes. But this is the knowledge that NGOs keep well clear of their marketing departments. It’s an ugly dishonesty that runs through almost all aid work, a painful underbelly to the very obvious idealism and good intentions.

CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

Vatican warned Irish bishops not to report abuse.” By Shawn Pogatchnik. Washington Post/Associated Press. January 19, 2011. A 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police – a disclosure that victims’ groups described as “the smoking gun” needed to show that the church enforced a worldwide culture of covering up crimes by pedophile priests. The newly revealed letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican’s rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland’s first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits. The letter undermines persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that Rome never instructed local bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church’s right to handle all child-abuse allegations and determine punishments in house rather than give that power to civil authorities. The Vatican early Wednesday insisted that its response to the Irish bishops was designed to ensure that guilty priests not avoid punishment and that all possible canonical crimes were also dealt with.
Related story:
Vatican Letter Warned Bishops on Abuse Policy.” New York Times. January 18, 2011.
Did The Vatican Tell Irish Bishops To Protect Priests?” All Things Considered/ National Public Radio. January 19, 2011.
Diocese abuser list long awaited; Lawyer criticizes ‘culture of secrecy’.” Boston Globe. January 20, 2011.

INDIA

India to tear down flats at centre of graft scandal.” No by-line. BBC News. January 17, 2011. India’s environment ministry has ordered the demolition of a block of flats in Mumbai that has been at the centre of a corruption scandal. It said the Adarsh Society building must be demolished within three months for breaching coastal protection laws. The 31-storey block was originally planned as a six-storey housing project for war widows. But flats were sold to politicians and military officers, allegedly at prices far below the market rate. The block, in an exclusive part of central Mumbai, exceeds the maximum height for buildings near the coast. “Out of three options the Ministry has decided to remove the entire structure,” said a statement from the environment ministry. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told a newspaper that he hoped the decision to demolish the building will set a “precedent” for cases involving violation of coastal protection laws. The state’s chief minister, Ashok Chavan, had to resign after it emerged that relatives of his had flats in the building. He denied any wrongdoing. The Adarsh Society case is one of several corruption scandals that have shaken India’s government.
Related story:
Adarsh society flouted CRZ, FSI norms.” Times of India. January 17, 2011.

UK

Lord Adonis criticises independent schools for not embracing academies Andrew Adonis, the former schools minister, accused independent schools of lacking courage to run academies.” By Greg Hurst. Times of London. January 18, 2011. Independent schools have been accused of failing their charitable duties by Lord Adonis, the former Schools Minister, for refusing to play a bigger role to support state education. Too many heads of independent schools preferred to “sit on the sidelines and carp” about standards in the state sector rather than risk their reputations by getting involved, he said. He was also critical of independent school governors, saying that many had missed an opportunity to breach the divide between state and private education by sponsoring academies. His attack is significant because Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has promised to continue with Lord Adonis’s policy and has privately urged headmasters of leading independent schools to back academies. In his first interview on the subject since leaving the Government after last year’s election, Lord Adonis said he “deeply regretted” that only a handful of independent schools had responded to his appeals to start academies. “I do not think the private school sector has risen up to its responsibilities properly at all. I think the majority of good private schools should be sponsoring academies and should be actively engaged in the opportunities which academies present,” he said. Although many independent schools have shared facilities and forged links with local state schools, he criticised them for lacking the courage to run state schools themselves.

Campaign grows against cuts that would shut 375 libraries.” By Rob Sharp. Independent (UK). January 18, 2011. Anger against the funding bloodbath facing local libraries around the country swelled yesterday as key campaigners joined increasingly widespread protests against the cuts. According to the Public Libraries News website, updated by Cheshire-based librarian Ian Anstice, 375 branch libraries and mobile book-lending services are currently threatened with closure, the result of local authority budget cuts to be introduced in April. In recent weeks others speaking out for a public inquiry have included Joanna Trollope, Philip Pullman and Tony Christie. Labour leader Ed Miliband said on Saturday that his party would back campaigns to save libraries as “a place where community is built, as families get to know each other and form friendships”. Online, thousands of supporters pledged their support on Twitter by employing the #savelibraries hashtag. Broadcaster Lauren Laverne and author Neil Gaiman among those Tweeting their support.
Related story:
Libraries: ‘Hands off our doors to learning‘.” Independent (UK). January 23, 2011.

Westminster braces for student protests.” By Philippe Naughton. Times of London. January 19, 2011. Protests and walkouts were planned at schools and colleges around the country before a Central London rally beginning in Piccadilly and a march on Westminster. Leaders of the demonstration do not expect it to produce the kind of violence seen in successive protests against tuition fees last year, when students tried to smash their way into Parliament and attacked a car carrying the Prince of Wales and his wife. But the Metropolitan Police, which has arrested 60 protesters so far including one sixth former jailed for dropping a fire extinguisher off the roof of Tory party headquarters, was taking no chances: officers set up barricades around Parliament Square this morning. The EMA is a weekly payment of between £10 and £30 given to the poorest 16 to 18-year-olds, living in households earning under £30,800 a year, to help them stay in education. In some parts of the country around four-fifths of sixth formers are eligible for the payments. The Conservatives say that the scheme, which costs £560 million a year, is no longer affordable as the Government tries to reduce the deficit, but Labour is hoping to spark a Liberal Democrat rebellion in an Opposition Day debate in Parliament.
Related story:
Decision to scrap EMA ‘stacks the odds’ against poor, says Burnham; Young people see a government that is kicking away the ladder of opportunity, says shadow education secretary as he opens debate on decision to scrap the EMA.” Guardian (UK). January 19, 2011.

NHS reforms: government unveils radical pro-market shakeup; The health secretary lays out plans to cull 24,000 management staff and let NHS hospitals, private firms and GPs compete for patients.” By Randeep Ramesh. Guardian (UK). January 19, 2011. The NHS will undergo a radical pro-market shakeup with hospitals, private healthcare providers and family doctors competing for patients who will be able to choose treatment and care in plans laid out by the government today. The dramatic shift aims to cull more than 24,000 management staff to reduce bureaucracy and also allow NHS hospitals to chase private patients as long as the money is “demonstrably” ploughed back into the health service. The cap on such income put in place by the previous government will be removed. The health and social care bill will abolish all of England’s 152 primary care trusts, which currently plan services and decide how money should be spent. Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, said the radical proposals would save the taxpayer more than £10bn over the next decade. Under the plans, GPs will be responsible for buying in patient care from 2013, with a new NHS commissioning board overseeing the process. GPs will form consortiums which will take control of 80% of the NHS budget, buying services from providers in the public, private and charity sectors. The health secretary claimed that his policy was already having an effect: with more than 28 milion patients covered by “pathfinder” consortiums mimicking the work of the new GP bodies. However, the proposals drew sharp criticism from the medical profession. The Royal College of General Practitioners said it “continues to have concerns about how the government plans to implement its proposals”.

The head of corporate fundraising on getting money from companies.” By Jane Dudman. Guardian (UK). January 19, 2011.

Big society plans raise concerns for parliamentary democracy; Civil service boss orders inquiry into impact of bill as critics warn providers may be less accountable.” By Polly Curtis. Guardian (UK). January 21, 2011. The head of the civil service has ordered an inquiry into the government’s localism reforms amid growing concerns that its “big society” plans risk eroding the basic democratic principles of transparency and ministerial accountability, the Guardian has learned. There are fears by those at the top of Whitehall that parliament’s fundamental right to hold the government to account for its actions is being tested by the scale of the coalition’s ambitions to devolve power from the centre to local communities and outsource services to charities and the private sector. Gus O’Donnell, the head of the civil service, has asked a senior colleague to investigate the democratic impact of the government’s localism bill, which is intended to end Whitehall’s domination of the political system and devolve power to local people. Sir Bob Kerslake, the permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, will investigate the “accountabilities issues” being thrown up by the plans. O’Donnell told MPs this week that the issue was “absolutely crucial” to the project’s success.

Social workers to get new professional body – or maybe two; The College of Social Work will formally launch next year, but will the British Association of Social Workers launch a rival body?” By David Brindle. Guardian (UK). January 21, 2011. A social work college, which is being set up to bolster the profession in the wake of the Baby Peter scandal, has opened its doors to “founder members” who will help shape the organisation as it develops. But the recruitment drive threatens to be overshadowed by argument over the way the College of Social Work is being structured, amid speculation that the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) may be planning to launch a rival body. Creation of the college was recommended by the social work task force which reported to government on measures to reform the profession and rebuild its confidence and image after a series of scandals, culminating in the death of Peter Connelly in Haringey, north London. The college’s formal launch is scheduled for next year. But it is already established in shadow form and has now begun to invite applications for prospective membership from social workers, students and associates. Maurice Bates, interim co-chair of the college, said: “We are calling on social workers to help lead the development of the college and its membership services. It is a unique opportunity for social workers themselves to change the face of their profession.” Although full college membership is expected to cost £270 a year before tax relief, prospective membership is free and social workers who sign up will be eligible for all services as they come on stream. These services will include professional indemnity and public liability insurance, a magazine and peer-reviewed journal and, controversially, representation by public services union Unison. It is this aspect of the package that has most angered BASW, which fears its future will be jeopardised. Hilton Dawson, BASW general secretary, has written that the college is using public funds “to enable the trade union to compete with and potentially undermine an independent professional association”.

Just who should be in charge of running Catholic schools?” By Christopher Lamb. Times of London. January 21, 2011. As the Government considers plans for faith academies, some schools remain at loggerheads with their diocese over the admissions policy. The Catholic Education Service (CES) is negotiating with the Government to develop a Catholic academy model, it emerged recently. The idea is that the schools would become academies but the Church would retain control over admissions, ethos, land and assets. Academies remove schools from local authority control, and Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, wrote to all schools in England and Wales last year asking them to consider switching to academy status. The idea struck a chord, and more than 100 Catholic schools registered an interest. For some Church leaders the idea of being free of state control, especially from those who might be hostile to faith schools, was worth exploring. Bishop Malcolm McMahon, OP, the chairman of the CES, applauded Gove’s idea. He was interested, he said, “because of course that was exactly how Catholic schools were founded — by local communities getting together, pooling their resources”. At present Catholic schools are funded by the local authority, with the Church picking up 10 per cent of the costs. The local diocese, run by the bishop, appoints a majority of the governing body of each school, controls admissions policy and owns the school’s land and assets. But it was for these reasons that Oona Stannard, chief executive of the CES, initially appeared to pull the plug on the idea of Catholic schools becoming academies. She told schools that becoming academies risked an “uncertain future”, saying that there was no guarantee that they could continue to control their admissions and select Catholic pupils. Ms Stannard was also concerned that, should a school become an academy, the ownership of the school’s land and assets would be transferred from the diocese into a new academy trust. To become an academy a school would have to gain permission from its trustees, which for a Catholic school are the bishop and diocesan officials. They would not consent, she explained, if this meant the diocese giving away land and assets.

Private schools in bid to go free.” By Rosa Silverman. Independent (UK). January 23, 2011. A number of independent schools are set to scrap their fees and become “free schools” under plans brought in by the Government. Among those hoping to break with their past and enter the state school system are a 400-year-old co-educational Yorkshire grammar school and a small independent primary school in Warwickshire. The planned changes come after Education Secretary Michael Gove rushed through legislation shortly after the election to pave the way for parents, charities and businesses to set up independent schools within the state system. But the free schools idea has met with opposition in some quarters. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) warned the Government earlier this month to stop “playing with the educational future of this country” and scrap the plans. General secretary Christine Blower said the state-funded schools were “not wanted or needed” and claimed parents had not been given enough say on the matter. Defending the proposals, the Department for Education said free schools would give all parents, not just the rich, the option of a good local school with great teaching, strong discipline and small class sizes.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 17-23, 2011)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

LABOR UNIONS

Unions see sharp membership declines again.” By Sam Hananel. USA Today/Associated Press. January 21, 2011. The nation’s labor unions saw another steep decline in membership last year, even as the economy showed signs of recovery and job losses slowed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that unions lost 612,000 members in 2010, dropping the unionized share of the work force to 11.9% from 12.3% in 2009. That follows a loss of 771,000 workers in 2008, continuing a steady decline from the 1950s when more than a third of workers belonged to unions. The news comes as union officials are pressing President Barack Obama and other leaders to invest more money in infrastructure projects like repairing highways and bridges to help stimulate the economy and create new jobs. That plea is meeting stiff resistance from Republicans intent on cutting spending sharply to pare back the rising national debt. Union membership in the private sector fell from 7.2% to 6.9%, a low point not seen since the infancy of the labor movement in the 1930s. The steepest decline was seen in the construction industry, where unemployment remains around 20%. Public employment unions saw a 1.2% decline, mostly from job cuts among state and local government workers. Those unions could see further declines this year, as states eliminate jobs in an effort to make up multibillion-dollar budget deficits. “In the absence of federal support for state and local governments, public sector cutbacks will continue to depress the overall union membership rate,” said Ben Zipperer, a senior research associate of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 17-23, 2011)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

LAW & PUBLIC POLICY

Cash-Strapped Cities Look To Tax Churches; Church Attendance Tax.” By Adelle M. Banks. Huffington Post/Religion News Service. January 22, 2011. With cash-strapped states and cities facing a slew of tough choices, there’s a growing debate nationwide about whether religious congregations should help foot the bill. “It makes no sense to tax churches and to limit their ability to provide their services, and it does damage to the constitutional separation between church and state,” argues Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing Catholic and Baptist churches in the city of 10,000. He acknowledges that church-state separation is generally not an argument made by his conservative Christian law firm; but in this instance, he says “there should be a separation here.” Houses of worship are generally exempt from federal and state taxes, in part because nonprofits are viewed as providing beneficial services for society. As a result, municipalities often don’t gain any revenue from the property on which they sit, and Stanley views the fees as a way to get around the churches’ tax-exempt status. According to the lawsuit filed in December, the city calculated the number of trips generated to and from a property based on a manual of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. The manual estimates that a church produces an average of 5.8 vehicle trips per week for each seat in a sanctuary. That led to a fee of $898.77 for First Baptist Church of Mission, and $1,685.19 for St. Pius X Catholic Church. Stanley said state courts in Idaho and Florida have ruled against similar fees, determining that city-imposed fees were invalid because they were not authorized by state legislation.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 17-23, 2011)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

RELIGION

Archdiocese campaign targets once-faithful.” By John M. Guilfoil and Sean Teehan. Boston Globe. January 23, 2011. This weekend, Catholic parishioners in the Boston area will see a videotaped address by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, describing the archdiocese’s upcoming campaign designed to bring wayward Catholics back to the pews. The Catholics Come Home initiative formally launches on Ash Wednesday, which falls this year on March 9. The date marks the start of Lent, which culminates in the celebration of the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. The program will encourage laymen to take a proactive role in the effort by inviting former Catholics or Catholics who have not been to Mass in a while to return to church. “We must let them know that we want them to be active members of Christ’s family, our brothers and sisters. Every Catholic can be a minister of welcome, reconciliation, and understanding to those who have stopped coming to Church,’’ O’Malley said. A special second collection will also be taken this weekend to fund the airing of television ads promoting the Catholics Come Home effort during the Lenten season. The campaign is planned as the Catholic Church faces huge challenges. Nationally, 10 percent of all American adults consider themselves former Catholics, according to a recent study. In the Boston Archdiocese, weekly Mass attendance has plunged from 376,383 in 2000 to 286,951 in 2009, according to the church’s annual count.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 17-23, 2011)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

SCANDAL

Levy’s exit cushioned by $1.6 million severance deal.” No by-line. Boston Globe. January 22, 2011. The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center board decided this week to pay Paul Levy, outgoing chief executive, up to $1.6 million in severance, and the hospital described his leaving as a “negotiated departure’’ rather than simply a voluntary resignation, as Levy and the hospital framed it earlier this month. The board voted on Wednesday to pay Levy as much as two years of his $800,000 base annual salary — but that amount would be reduced if he takes another job. “The Board concluded that this agreement was in the best interest of the medical center and the people it serves,’’ Stephen Kay, the board chairman, wrote in an e-mail to the hospital community late yesterday. “Just under two years before Paul’s contract would have expired, the Board of Directors has agreed with Paul on a negotiated departure.’’ The e-mail suggests a more complicated scenario behind Levy’s departure than he and Kay described Jan. 7, the day Levy announced his resignation. At the time, Kay had said, “Paul wanted a change; there’s nothing more to it.’’ Kay and Levy have said Levy’s departure was unrelated to investigations into his relationship with a female employee, which the board concluded last year was a “lapse in judgment.’’

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 10-16, 2011)

Monday, January 17th, 2011

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

At 100, Boston NAACP confronts city’s mixed past.” By Russell Contreras. Washington Post/Associated Press. January 15, 2011. For years, Michael Curry has heard this joke from African-Americans living in the South: No matter how bad things are for black people here, at least we don’t live in Boston. Despite Boston’s deep liberal ties and an abolitionist past, many African-Americans still view Massachusetts and its largest city as a hostile place for people of color. It’s a charge that stings, said the Boston-born Curry, a 42-year-old attorney. It’s a past he is vowing to tackle as the new president of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest.
After drawing hundreds of voters during the chapter’s first contested election in a decade last month, Boston’s NAACP is preparing to embark on a yearlong celebration to mark the chapter’s 100th anniversary with forums and community discussions – starting with events this weekend honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. But black activists warn that any such celebration must included honest discussions about Boston’s troubled racial legacy, from the busing riots of the 1970s to current violence in largely black neighborhoods. “It’s time we have this conversation,” said Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, an anti-poverty and civil rights group based in Boston. “Around the country, black people have images of Boston, and they aren’t pretty.”