Archive for February, 2011

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

ARTS & CULTURE

Museums needn’t fear Google, a tool to spread the love of art; The Google Art Project allows viewers to get microscopically close to major works such as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” The Google Art Project allows viewers to get microscopically close to major works such as Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night.’” Editorial. Boston Globe. February 26, 2011. Despite concerns that it might cut into attendance at museums around the world, the Google Art Project is far more likely to whet Internet users’ appetite to see more art, boosting interest and attendance. It’s a good example of how the Internet can be a teaching tool, bringing distant masterpieces to life in homes around the world. The initiative, unveiled earlier this month, lets users take virtual walking tours through parts of 17 top art museums and view ultra-high-resolution images of Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus’’ and other beloved works. But the diversity of reaction so far suggests more trepidation than is strictly necessary. While some major institutions joined with Google enthusiastically, some opted not to participate, and others made only a small number of their rooms available. Critics have noted, meanwhile, that the initiative is light on non-Western art, that some weird camera angles lend a surrealistic edge to the virtual tours, and that clicking through even the best close-up views of an artwork is no substitute for seeing it in person. All true enough. Yet even at this early stage, the Google Art Project also hints at how new improvements in technology can also stoke public enthusiasm for artworks that may be centuries old. Up to now, it wasn’t easy for people who can’t visit, say, Florence or Berlin to see what’s on display in major museums there, and museums vary considerably in how much of their collection they put on display on their own websites. By creating a common standard on a single, highly conspicuous website, the Google initiative makes it easier for emerging art lovers to explore their interests — and decide which museums they might want to visit in person — and for amateur curators to develop virtual exhibits of their own on whichever themes they choose.

Free Music Lessons Build A Priceless Community.” By Al Letson. Weekend Edition/National Public Radio. February 27, 2011. The sounds emanating from the classrooms at the Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala., run the gamut from sweet to, well, not so sweet. Throughout the day, more than 120 kids, some traveling more than an hour to get there, will walk through the halls of the church. Many of them are holding instruments you’d find in an orchestra, and they’re here to get free music lessons. Through Birmingham’s Scrollworks program, children get music lessons and instruments to practice on, free of charge. It’s one of many programs in the city seeking to heal lingering wounds by crossing racial and economic barriers. The program includes children from ages 8 to 19 years old. Not only does it help these kids learn how to play music, but it also tries to inspire by taking them to see and hear classical performances. Theresa Dickerson says her daughter got to watch renowned violinist Joshua Bell this week. Scrollworks relies on grants, donations and about 10 instructors who work for little or no money. Jeane Goforth has put her life’s savings into bringing music to her community’s children. Scrollworks relies on grants, donations and about 10 instructors who work for little or no money. Goforth proudly tells us that in December she got her first paycheck in the three years the program has operated — for $250. Money clearly is not her focus. She lives simply, and lately, she’s been paring down her life even more. “I would like to leave this world with nothing,” she says. “I would like the last thing I sell or give away, and then I can die.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

CORPORATE PHILANTHROPY & SOCIAL RESPONSIBILTY

Wal-Mart bypasses federal regulators to ban controversial flame retardant.” By Lyndsey Layton. Washington Post. February 26, 2011. Wal-Mart is banning a controversial flame retardant found in hundreds of consumer goods, from couches to cameras to child car seats, telling its suppliers to come up with safer alternatives. In perhaps the boldest example yet of “retail regulation,” Wal-Mart is stepping ahead of federal regulators and using its muscle as the world’s largest retailer to move away from a class of chemicals researchers say endanger human health and the environment. “This really shows the market being able to move more decisively than the government,” said Andy Igrejas, national campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of environmental and public health groups pushing for tougher federal chemical laws. Increasingly, retailers are barring specific chemicals from products in their stores in response to concerns from consumers and advocacy groups. In 2006, for example, Whole Foods became the first national retailer to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from baby bottles and children’s cups. Health advocates had raised questions about the safety of BPA, a widely used component in plastic that has been linked to reproductive problems, cancer and other health disorders in laboratory animals. Now, Wal-Mart has turned its sights on polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, a class of compounds used since 1976 as flame retardants in electronics, furniture, sporting goods, pet supplies, curtains and toys, among other things. In a recent notice to suppliers, the company said it would begin testing June 1 to make sure products do not contain PBDEs. Studies have linked the chemicals to problems with the liver, thyroid and reproductive systems and brain development in laboratory animals.

GE donations to river group stir controversy; Critics see attempt to sway Housatonic River cleanup.” By Beth Daley. Boston Globe. February 27, 2011. The Facebook page popped onto the Web last month, pushing a controversial position on the PCB-poisoned Housatonic River in Western Massachusetts: cleaning it too thoroughly may actually harm the environment more. Missing from the webpage of the Smart Clean-up Coalition was any explanation of the group’s origins or members. So a skeptical river advocate asked whether the group took money from General Electric, the company responsible for both the contamination and the cleanup — and another champion of a less aggressive approach. “No,’’ the Smart Clean-up Coalition responded on the page. “We have no association with GE.’’ But they do. The coalition is an initiative of 1Berkshire, an economic development alliance that has received $300,000 from General Electric Co. in recent months, the group has since acknowledged. Over the past two weeks, the alliance has given an evolving explanation for not disclosing its relationship with GE upfront. Both the group and GE insist the money had nothing to do with the creation of the Facebook page or the group’s position that an aggressive cleanup — which would include dredging, riverbank excavation, and truck traffic — could have the unintended effect of harming ecologically sensitive areas and tourism. “Smart Clean-up Coalition is not working with GE in any way, shape, or form,’’ said Michael Daly, chairman of 1Berkshire and chief executive of Berkshire Hills Bancorp, which owns Berkshire Bank. He said GE’s donation, along with significant donations from other companies, will help 1Berkshire pursue its goal of economic growth. “No one was trying to hide anything.’’

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

EDUCATION

HIGHER EDUCATION

On The Chopping Block: Scholarships At Private Colleges And Universities; Grants to students who attend private institutions in Connecticut would be cut by 25 percent next year, then 50 percent.” By Kathy Megan. Hartford Courant. February 21, 2011. Mackenzie Manning remembers hearing then-gubernatorial candidate Dannel P. Malloy talk repeatedly last fall about the importance of higher education to the state’s economy. So, when she learned that the newly elected governor’s budget would cut and possibly eliminate scholarships for Connecticut students who attend in-state private colleges, Manning was dismayed. “I understand the cuts have to come from somewhere,” said Manning, a sophomore at the University of Hartford studying politics and government, “but cutting out students who want to make Connecticut their home … I felt not angry, but disappointed.” Manning is one of more than 6,000 Connecticut students who face the loss of the need-based grants, which average $3,830 per year. Malloy’s proposed budget calls for a 25 percent cut in the $23.4 million Connecticut Independent College Student Grant Program in the next academic year, followed by a 50 percent cut the year after that. After 2012-2013, the future of the program is uncertain.

Yale fundraising is on the rebound.” By Drew Henderson. Yale Daily News. February 22, 2011. While other American colleges and universities suffered a decline in giving, Yale saw a 6.4 percent increase in donations in 2010. Results from the Council for Aid to Education’s annual Voluntary Support of Education survey released earlier this month show that 13 of the 20 universities that raised the most money last year reported a drop in gifts from the 2009 fiscal year to the 2010 fiscal year. As other schools reported an average donation increase of just 0.5 percent over the previous year, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said she is pleased that in Yale’s case, the results demonstrate significant recovery after the 2008 recession. “We are very pleased we are catching up again and making up the decreases we experienced at the height of the financial crisis,” Reichenbach said. “In general, donors are getting more optimistic about the financial situation and are more willing and comfortable making new commitments.” As Yale approaches the June 30 deadline for its five-year comprehensive fundraising campaign, “Yale Tomorrow,” Reichenbach said the University has seen an increase in donations. Yale received $380.9 million and ranked seventh in total giving in the 2010 fiscal year. Stanford University led the nation in total donations in 2010 with $598.89 million in gifts, and has stayed at the top spot for several of the past few years. But Stanford, which is also in the final year of a five-year “Stanford Challenge” development campaign, registered a 6.4 percent decrease in giving from 2009 to 2010.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS

The extras can make the difference for private schools.” By D. Aileen Dodd. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. February 22, 2011. educational alternatives. During the private school application season, which typically consumes February, sometimes the extras can make the difference as families weigh their options.. After a 3 percent decline in enrollment statewide on average, Georgia private schools are expected to rebound this year bolsted by the improving economy and parents frustrated with problems at local schools exacerbated by continued budget cuts. “Applications are at an all-time high,” said Fred Assaf, headmaster of Pace Academy, which is seeing a 36 percent jump in interest this year from applicants. Among those parents shopping for schools is D’Angelia Grimball of Snellville. She pays property taxes to Gwinnett County, home to some of Georgia’s best public schools. Recently, she toured The Westminster Schools, 40 miles away, hoping to find a place where her son who does science experiments for fun can have the opportunity to explore his passion at school. “He’s really smart,” she said. “He says he’s ready to do chemistry and biology, but at public school they want him to conform. He’s really bored.” Parents shopping for private schools during the 2011-12 enrollment season want to see technology, excited teachers, engaged students, a selection of sports, fine arts and more. Last year, 107,509, about 6.8 percent, of Georgia’s 1.6 million K-12 students attended private school. Nationally about 11 percent of students attend private schools. Private school tuition in Georgia ranges from about $5,600 to $20,000, according to the Georgia Independent School Association.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

FUNDRAISING

KGO Radio Shelves Leukemia Cure-A-Thon after 30 Years; KGO Radio has pulled the plug on its yearly “Cure-A-Thon.” San Jose Mercury-News. February 23, 2011. A 24-hour radio charity that benefited the Northern California Leukemia Society.” No by-line. February 23, 2011. Begun in 1979, the annual charity raised well over $18 million and was a key part of KGO’s March schedule, both in terms of popularity and as a valuable tool to the charity that was dependent on both its monetary contribution and promotional pull. KGO hasn’t officially announced the Cure-a-Thon is history, but a station source confimed to me that after 30 years, there will be no 2011 charity.

“Orchestra Hits Highest Notes in Fund Drive.
” By Erica Orden. Wall Street Journal. February 26, 2011. Even as most arts organizations have struggled through a brutal few years for raising money, the New York Philharmonic not only has met its fund-raising-campaign goal of $50 million, but has nearly doubled that figure. By the time the campaign concludes in June, the company expects to have raised more than $90 million. “We’re quite a bit over what we initially hoped to get,” said Ronald Ulrich, a philharmonic trustee and co-chairman of the campaign, which launched in 2007. The orchestra established the effort after several years of working toward financial stability in the wake of seeing its endowment plummet by 16% in 2001, to $164.2 million from $194.8 million. The company worried that the facts of its balance sheet would translate to sticker shock at the box office. The orchestra said in a statement that it “recognized that increasing expenses could not be passed along to audience members in the form of higher ticket prices without significantly limiting the Philharmonic’s audience—and as a result, its mission to serve the general public.” Originally designed with an objective of raising $50 million over five years, the campaign quickly locked down a lead, $15 million gift from the Starr Foundation, and then pressed its trustees and other major donors to match that grant. Within two years, the orchestra bumped up the goal to $75 million, and as of now it has recorded a total of $88.4 million, with $52 million in new funds contributing to the current $190 million endowment, and the balance in multi-year operating gifts. When the U.S. went into financial meltdown just about a year into the campaign—and the company’s endowment shrunk to $137 million from a high of $215 million—organizers had to consider how best to push forward.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

HEALTH CARE

Caritas owner widens its aims; Bids $1.1 billion on Fla. hospitals; Steward would double its size.” By Beth Healy. Boston Globe. February 23, 2011. Steward Health Care System, a company formed just months ago to run the newly privatized Caritas Christi hospitals, is making an aggressive effort to expand nationally with a $1.1 billion bid for medical facilities in Florida. Steward, which was created after the New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management bought six Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts last November, sent a letter of intent Monday, offering to take over the financially troubled Jackson Health System in Miami for $600 million in cash and $500 million to cover debt. The move is in keeping with the strategy of deep-pocketed Cerberus, which tapped Caritas chief executive Ralph de la Torre to lead the charge in assembling a large hospital chain in the Boston area — and beyond. Since acquiring Caritas, the firm has agreed to buy two other hospitals in the state, and de la Torre recently has made it clear that Steward does not plan to limit its growth to Massachusetts. Steward executives yesterday declined to be interviewed on their first major foray outside the Northeast. In a statement, Bruce Rubin, the company’s Florida spokesman, said “intensive dis cussions with elected and appointed officials are just getting underway.’’He said a purchase of the Jackson network in Florida would not draw resources away from the Massachusetts hospitals.

From The Son Of Ex-Slaves, The Gift Of A Hospital.” Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 25, 2011. Dr. John A. Kenney may be best known as Booker T. Washington’s personal physician. But Kenney’s granddaughter Linda Kenney Miller, along with her sister Diane Kenney, recall a different story about the doctor. In the early 1920s, the doctor had been run out of Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan and wanted to set up a medical practice in his new home of Newark, N.J. “He got there and he saw there was no place for African-Americans to be treated, for the doctors to get training, for the nurses to learn their skills. So he took a loan from a bank, and he built a hospital — the first hospital for blacks in Newark,” Linda says. It was in the Third Ward, where there was crime, poverty and illness, she says. And then, when the Depression hit, the hospital had to lay off a lot of staff because it couldn’t afford to pay them. Toward the end of the Depression, Linda says, her grandfather wanted to find a way to keep his hospital functioning, so he decided to let it become a community-owned property. “And the community would invest in it and run it. And on Christmas Eve, he gave the hospital to the community as a Christmas gift,” she says.

Massachusetts General Hospital at 200: A great institution rises and, with it, the healing arts; Boston’s first general hospital did what it could for the poor; today it brings cutting edge care to the city, and world.” By Liz Kowalczyk. Boston Globe. February 26, 2011. When Massachusetts General Hospital opened in 1821, most patients were required to apply in writing for admission. They could be turned away for “bad morals’’ — and discharged for spitting, drinking, smoking, or swearing. Patients who followed the rules stayed for two months on average at an all-inclusive daily rate of 43 cents. They endured hemorrhoid and cataract surgery and amputations without anesthesia — assistants held them down, and sometimes they got opium and brandy for pain. Patients seeking treatment of broken legs or arms died as often as they went home. Nearly 200 years later, patients still can’t smoke, but that’s about the only similarity. The average stay for patients not having surgery is less than five days, the average age, about 64 — up from 30 when the hospital opened. Patients are asleep or fully numb for operations, and fixing broken bones is low-risk and routine. The average daily rate: $3,200, before the discount given to insurers, and not including extras like physicians’ fees. Even taking into account inflation, the cost of spending a day at Mass. General is more than 400 times higher now than it was two centuries ago. Perhaps that’s the price of medical progress.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

INTERNATIONAL

GENERAL

Gene Sharp, ‘Clausewitz Of Nonviolent Warfare,’ Amazed By Egypt’s Youth.” By Mark Memmott. Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 23, 2011. He’s been called “the man who changed the world,” by the editorial board of the Boston Globe, and the Karl Von Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare” by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. As Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep notes, former Havard reseacher Gene Sharp has been an inspiration to young revolutionaries in countries such as Serbia and Egypt, where they used his manual From Dictatorship to Democracy and his book The Politics of Nonviolent Action to help guide them through what turned out to be successful — and peaceful — revolts against oppressive regimes. In a conversation with Morning Edition, Sharp talks with Steve about why dictators can’t stand up to a determined, organized, non-violent resistance.

AUSTRALIA

Mission Australia kept funds from staff.” By Ben Schneiders. Sydney Morning Herald. February 21, 2011. One of Australia’s biggest charities pocketed nearly $500,000 in public money meant to fund large pay rises for community workers, and has admitted it did not pay the higher salaries. Under cross-examination a top executive at Mission Australia, which had $289 million in revenue last financial year, admitted it received the money from the Queensland government after the 2009 equal pay decision but only paid workers the same rate as other states. If the staff had been paid under the Queensland equal-pay order, many would receive rises of between $1 an hour or $2 an hour or $2000 to $4000 a year, according to Mission Australia. The Queensland government gave money to community groups to fund a 2009 equal pay decision that gave Queensland community and social-services workers pay rises of up to 37 per cent over three years. That prompted a $414 million government funding boost. The decision to award such a big pay rise to a mostly female workforce has triggered an Australian Services Union-led national pay equity claim which is being heard in Fair Work Australia. That claim is regarded as the most significant equal pay case in Australia for four decades.

Priests lose faith in their church.” By Leesha McKenny. Sydney Morning Herald. February 26, 2011. One priest said he learnt more about God from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings than the Catholic Church. Another compared the fervour of World Youth Day to the Hitler Youth. And a 47-year-old, whose only ambition had been to be a priest, said: ”Given the state of the church today, I look forward to the night when I go to sleep and just don’t wake up again.” Such were the varied, often frank and sometimes bleak views of Australia’s Catholic clergy revealed in an anonymous survey. The Charles Sturt University academics Chris McGillion and John O’Carroll approached 1550 active and 160 retired priests for their views on their lives and their church, and 542 took part in the written survey. The results, plus 50 face-to-face interviews, were the basis of their book Our Fathers, which revealed that many thought the Vatican was out of touch, bishops were bad managers and the future of the church was a cause of great concern. ”You’ve got a very representative group of mainstream priests responding,” said Mr McGillion, a former Herald journalist. What emerged was a priesthood in a professional crisis, rather than a vocational one, he said.
Related story:
The Essay: Holy disorder; Many Australian priests find themselves alienated from Rome.” Sydney Morning Herald. February 26, 2011.

BANGLADESH

Microfinance guru Muhammad Yunus faces removal from Grameen Bank; Pressure on Nobel prizewinner to quit bank board but supporters say campaign is politically motivated by Bangladesh government.” By Jason Burke. Guardian (UK). February 21, 2011. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel prizewinning economist and so-called father of microfinance, faces being ousted from the bank that he founded to help poor people in Bangladesh and across the developing world. Yunus, the managing director of the Grameen Bank, which has lent small sums to millions of deprived people to help them start or run their own businesses as a first step out of poverty since being created in 1983, has been caught in a bitter political battle in his homeland of Bangladesh. The campaign to remove Yunus, mounted mainly by politicians, is to intensify this week ahead of a key board meeting next Monday, which his supporters believe will involve an attempt to force the 70-year-old to quit as managing director. Last week, Bangladesh’s finance minister said Yunus should stand down following alleged irregularities in operations. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith called Yunus a “man of high standing and respect” but “now old”. The minister, who is 77, said: “We need to redefine the bank’s role and bring it under closer regulation.”

CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

Roger Mahony leaves a mixed legacy; Once seen as a possible candidate for pope, the cardinal’s career was derailed by the church sex scandal.” By Mitchell Landsberg. Los Angeles Times. February 23, 2011. In 1995, a book by a veteran Vatican-watcher took a crack at the ultimate Roman Catholic parlor game: Guessing the identity of the next pope. Only one North American made the list — a long shot, to be sure, but someone who seemed to represent the future of the Catholic Church in the United States. That lone American was Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. By the time Pope John Paul II died 10 years later, Mahony was no longer being discussed as papabile — capable of becoming pope — not even as the longest of long shots. A lot had happened in the intervening decade. Mahony, who retires in the coming week as head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, leaves a legacy that church historians will puzzle over for years. Once a shining star — perhaps the shining star — of the American church, his reputation suffered from his handling of a devastating sexual abuse scandal that shattered the lives and trust of many Catholics and led to the largest civil settlement by any archdiocese, a staggering $660million. Yet such were Mahony’s strengths that he remains respected, even beloved, by many in his flock who see him as fiercely devoted to social justice, willing to fight for progressive reforms in the church and motivated by a lifelong passion for easing the burdens faced by Latino immigrants. He also kept the archdiocese from financial collapse after the sex abuse settlement, an achievement that required tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. “I would say that, in the minds of historians in the future, they will look back on these 25 years as some very creative years, where the growth of the archdiocese was shepherded ably by him,” said Msgr. Craig Cox, the rector of St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. “Certainly times of controversy and tension, without a doubt, but I think that history will look kindly on him.”

EL SALVADOR

Women at the Forefront of Grassroots Organising.” By Dahr Jamail. Interpress Service. February 24, 2011. Women are playing a leading role in a powerful social movement addressing natural resource protection, adaptation to climate change, and corporate accountability in this coastal village in El Salvador. Cristina Reyes is currently in her second term as president of the local community council in Ciudad Romero, located in the department (province) of Usulután, on the Pacific Ocean. Her work bringing electricity, potable water, roads and services for women to her area helped get her elected as head of the community council. Her life before this — and the lives of many others living in this area — reads more like an epic story of adventure, survival, and resistance. Reyes and her family had to flee their home village during the political violence that preceded the 1980-1992 civil war that claimed some 75,000 lives. After living in the jungle and caves with her sister while fleeing the U.S.-backed counterinsurgency forces, Reyes finally sought refuge in neighbouring Honduras. By then, various leftwing groups had joined together in the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). She and her sister worked at a radio station run by the guerrillas, while working to assist and comfort women who had lost their husbands and children in the war. This led to her work in women’s organisations in the capital city of San Salvador, before she moved to the Lower Lempa River region in Usulután, where Ciudad Romero and other communities were built by former insurgents and refugees who returned to the country after the war. “We helped start food programmes, and now we’re working on improving electricity availability,” Reyes said. “And we have plans to build a hospital here.” Reyes is part of a broader social movement called La Coordinadora de Bajo Lempa y Bahía de Jiquilisco, a coalition of grassroots groups active in more than 100 communities in this region, which was declared the Xiriualtique-Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Educational Organisation) in 2007.

ITALY

Shoe tycoon helps to foot the bill to save Pompeii with €25m gift.” By Michael Day. Independent (UK). February 21, 2011. An Italian shoe magnate is preparing to step in and help to save the ancient site of Pompeii from disintegration, following last year’s headline-grabbing collapses in key buildings. Diego Della Valle, the owner of the luxury shoe brand Tod’s, has said he “will give a helping hand” to rescue the ancient Roman city and World Heritage Site. In December, it emerged that Mr Della Valle had put his hand in his pocket and produced €25m (£21m) to help to save the Colosseum in Rome. “The businessmen and people of Naples have to grab the opportunity to involve themselves in the restoration of Pompeii. If it’s needed, I’m ready to lend a hand,” he was reported as saying in Il Giornale dell’Arte magazine. A spokeswoman for Tod’s told The Independent that Mr Della Valle was indeed ready help. Italy’s respected business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore said recently that the only solution for Pompeii was a private sponsor. “Its management should be taken away from a state that has shown itself incapable of protecting it,” it declared.

LIBYA

With Libya’s Megalomaniac ‘Philosopher-King’; In a tent in the desert, Gadhafi explained why he could never tolerate any challenge to his supreme will.” By Robert D. Putnam. Wall Street Journal. February 26, 2011. On Jan. 19, 2007, my wife, Rosemary, and I spent several hours with Col. Moammar Gadhafi in his tent in the Libyan desert, sipping tea and discussing sociology and political theory. It was a strange encounter at the time, and after the horrific events of the past week in Libya, it seems stranger still. Several months earlier a former student of mine, working for an international consulting firm that was advising the Libyan government on economic and political reform, had called to see whether I might be interested in traveling to Libya to discuss my research on civil society and democracy, particularly “Making Democracy Work,” my book on why democracy functions well in northern Italy but not in the country’s south. My hosts were willing to pay my standard consulting fee, and to be honest, I was curious. Col. Gadhafi fancied himself an intellectual, I was told, and considered his own “Green Book” an original contribution to political philosophy.
Related story:
How Do Libya’s Tribes Impact The Country?” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 25, 2011.
LSE embroiled in row over authorship of Gaddafi’s son’s PhD thesis and a £1.5m gift to university’s coffers.” Independent/Reuters (UK). February 27, 2011. [For story, go to UK].

UK

Cameron: all public services should be open to private sector; David Cameron: “complete change is needed.” By Michel Euler. Times of London/Associated Press. February 21, 2011. Almost all public services could be opened up to private companies under plans being put forward by Prime Minister David Cameron today, who says “complete change” is needed to improve standards. The Prime Minister said that a new presumption that private companies, voluntary groups and charities should be allowed to bid to provide services would allow the Government to transform public services without having to legislate repeatedly to allow different providers to get involved. The changes, to be set out in a White Paper within the next fortnight, could allow non-public providers to run schools, hospitals and council services such as maintaining parks, adult care, special schools and roads maintenance. Outside providers would be offered payment-by-results contracts, increasing their earnings as the quality of services improves. Mr Cameron wrote in The Daily Telegraph: “We will create a new presumption – backed up by new rights for public service users and a new system of independent adjudication – that public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service. “Of course, there are some areas – like national security services or the judiciary – where this wouldn’t make sense. But everywhere else should be open to real diversity.” Mr Cameron said that the changes would release the public sector from “the grip of state control”, ending the era of “old-fashioned, top-down, take-what you’re-given” services. The Government hopes that the plan will reduce bureaucracy, improve quality and save money. But it is certain to be opposed by Labour, the unions and many users of public services.

Some universities charging £9,000 may look rather silly, says minister.” No by-line. Times of London. February 21, 2011. Some universities that charge the maximum £9,000 annual tuition fee may look “rather silly” when students opt for cheaper alternatives, David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said yesterday. Elite institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and London’s Imperial College are expected to be joined by less prestigious universities in imposing the maximum charge, amid fears that setting lower fees may saddle them with a reputation for offering “cut-price” education. But Mr Willetts said that for many courses there was no reason for charges above £6,000-£7,000, and said that the student charters being launched this week would provide young people with transparency about the education on offer so that they are able to make informed choices about whether proposed fees are value for money. “Certainly there will be in the student charters we are launching this week much greater expectation [on universities],” Mr Willetts told Sky News’s Murnaghan programme. “Universities are going to have to tell those customers what they are offering. I think there have been universities that haven’t provided the kind of proper teaching experience that students expect and if they try to charge anything approaching £9,000 for that, I think they will find that there are alternatives available for many young people.” Further education colleges are keen to offer degree courses at competitive prices, while other alternatives are likely to emerge, such as two-year degrees and courses linked closely to potential employers, said Mr Willetts. Universities should charge maximum fees only in “exceptional circumstances”, and the Office for Fair Access will require any that do so to show that they are making places available for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, he said. “I certainly hope to see a range of fees being set by universities,” said Mr Willetts.

For peat’s sake: green groups seek compost tax to save British bogs.” By Ben Webster. Times of London. February 21, 2011. Britain’s leading gardening charity has clashed with powerful conservation groups over a campaign for a punitive tax on bags of peat bought by millions of gardeners. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation want the Government to impose a £1 tax per average bag of peat in next month’s Budget and then to raise the charge gradually until peat use is eliminated. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) opposes the idea, despite accepting that extraction of peat is destroying wildlife habitats and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. It says peat-free compost is inferior for some plants and defends the right of gardeners to use small amounts of peat. British gardeners use three million cubic metres of peat a year, or more than 60 million bags. A million tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted annually by carving up ancient peat bogs, the equivalent of an extra 300,000 cars on the roads. Only 1 per cent, or 700 hectares, of England’s original, raised peat bog survives intact. These bogs are home to butterflies, dragonflies, insect-eating plants and important bird species such as skylarks, curlews and snipe. The bogs form at 1mm in depth a year. The Government agreed a voluntary target with retailers in 1999 for 90 per cent of “all growing media and soil improvers” to be peat-free by the end of last year. However, peat-free alternatives accounted for only about 60 per cent of the market last year.Mark Avery, RSPB conservation director, said: “A financial incentive is vital if we are to change the behaviour of consumers and encourage the horticultural industry to invest in alternatives. Studies have shown that good peat-free composts work just as well.” The RHS said that it preferred the voluntary approach. Dr Roger Williams, its head of science, said: “There are some plant groups where even we find it difficult to grow these plants well in peat-free growing media.”

Cameron public services plan is ‘classic nasty party stuff’; TUC condemns prime minister’s proposal to open public services to private bidders as ‘naked rightwing agenda’.” By Allegra Stratton and Hélène Mulholland Guardian (UK). February 21, 2011. The TUC has accused David Cameron of “classic nasty party stuff” after the prime minister proposed to make all public services open to private sector bidders. The umbrella organisation for trade unions issued a strong rebuttal of the prime minister’s plans to “completely change” public services by bringing in a “presumption” that private companies, voluntary groups or charities are as able to run schools, hospitals and many other council services as the state. Writing in the Daily Telegraph about the plans, to be published in a white paper in the next fortnight, Cameron said he was seeking to end the “state’s monopoly” over public services, with only the security forces and the judiciary exempt. Private sector bodies will get an automatic right to bid for the bulk of public work. Many elements of the NHS could soon be provided by private firms, schools could be run by charities and mutuals could take over the provision of council services. Another basic principle will be that, where possible, the successful bidder should be local. The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said the plan was a “naked rightwing agenda that takes us right back to the most divisive years of the 1980s”.
Related story:
Cameron: all public services should be open to private sector; David Cameron: ‘complete change is needed’.” Times of London. February 21, 2011.
David Cameron to end ‘state monopoly’ in provision of public services; Government plans to give private sector bodies automatic right to bid for bulk of public work.” Guardian (UK). February 21, 2011.
Gas and power markets are a ‘model for the health service’.” Times of London. February 25, 2011.

Big society bank aims to boost social enterprise; Will the ‘big society’ bank help social enterprises do bigger business, in the face of cuts?” By Randeep Ramesh. Guardian (UK). February 22, 2011. The Big Lottery-funded Taste Tideswell School of Food in Derbyshire is the kind of social enterprise that could benefit from having more private investment available. There aren’t many people who would bet against Sir Ronald Cohen. He foresaw one of the biggest shifts in business in the last century – the rise of private equity – and his insight made him a multimillionaire. Yet eyebrows were raised when one of Labour’s biggest donors was wheeled out by the coalition to front the “big society” bank, which aims to finance a revolution in how we can all come together rather than come apart in an age of savage public spending cuts. A compassionate capitalist who still supports Labour, Cohen views wealth as a force for good. He spent the best part of the last decade as chair of the Labour government’s social investment taskforce, calling for a bank to fund social entrepreneurs who wanted to fix Britain’s ills. While Labour backed his ideas philosophically, it could not do so financially. The credit crunch meant Cohen only got £75m for his bank before the last election. The Tory-led government, painfully aware that society’s needs were increasing at a time of shrinking public expenditure, offered a better deal: £400m for a big society bank, funded in part by unclaimed deposits lying in high street banks. Cohen accepts the big society bank “is not a substitute for the [government's spending] cuts” but will build up the skills and resources of intermediaries, providing funding to organisations such as the Charity Bank and Big Lottery Fund, which, in turn fund social enterprises. “The social state is not the private or public sector. It is something else.” For the 65-year-old, neither government nor business can solve the thorny dilemmas posed by a turbo-capitalism that creates islands of wealth in a sea of poverty. What will resolve tensions and build community cohesion, he says, are social entrepreneurs who can develop innovative solutions to problems of poverty and inequality.

Fall in payroll giving takes wind out of ‘big society’ sails; Decline in the number of employees donating via payroll giving is a ‘worry for charities’.” By Jill Insley Guardian (UK). February 24, 2011. The number of employees giving money to charity through the government’s payroll giving scheme has fallen by 30,000 in the past year – yet another indication that David Cameron’s “big society” idea may never get off the ground. Payroll giving has decreased for the second year in a row, according to accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy, with the number of employees opting to give directly from their gross salary dropping from 754,000 to 724,000. The number of payroll givers peaked at 758,000 in 2007/08, but has fallen as incresing numbers of workers have lost their jobs. John Howard, partner and head of charity and not-for-profit at , Wilkins Kennedy said: “A loss of 30,000 donors is a serious worry for charities as donations made through payroll giving have virtually no administration costs. This comes at a time when charities are feeling the strain from the government’s cuts to local authority spending. At the same time, the recession has increased the workload of many charities.” However, fewer people are actually giving more money: the total amount of money donated through payroll giving has actually increased from £104m to £106m in the past 12 months. Total charitable donations made by the UK public rose by £400m to £10.6bn in 2009/10, according to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charities Aid Foundation. Although the amount has not returned to pre-recession levels, the number of people giving to charity as a whole had risen by 2% in 2010 to 56%.

Conservative nostalgia for Victorian era is dangerous; The government’s promotion of Victorian values could destroy the summation of the era’s reforming spirit – the welfare state.” By Timothy Stanley. Guardian (UK). February 24, 2011. The promos for the upcoming public service white paper suggest that ideology is driving the government’s agenda. David Cameron has stated that his goal is to defund and deconstruct the welfare state, to “dismantle big government and build the big society in its place”. His ambition is radical in the purest sense of the word, for it is a conscious attempt to turn the clock back to the historical period for which he feels the greatest affinity: the 19th century. Victorian Britain was a land of laissez-faire capitalism and self-reliance. Government regulation was minimal and welfare was left to charity. With little tax burden and low labour costs, industrialisation turned Britain into the workshop of the world and created a thriving middle class. The state helped promote and safeguard trade through a bullish foreign policy that created a consumer’s empire. In 1839, we even went to war with China to force the Middle Kingdom to lift its ban on imported British opium. The Victorians matched entrepreneurship with a passion for civic engagement and voluntarism: the historical blueprint for the “big society”. Churches provided schools and hospitals, friendly societies offered support for impoverished members, co-operatives helped small traders keep afloat. Robert Owen built a model mill town in Scotland that guaranteed free schools and hygienic living conditions to refugees from industrial Glasgow. Sweetmaker Joseph Rowntree gave his workers doctors and a pension, and set up a charitable trust that is still transforming lives today. The Victorian era had a deep impact upon a certain Tory tradition, which remembers it as an epoch wherein wealth creation spurred civic virtue. Margaret Thatcher observed that during the 1800s, “not only did our country become great internationally, also so much advance was made in this country … As our people prospered so they used their independence and initiative to prosper others, not compulsion by the state.” Michael Gove has written: “For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … I don’t think there has been a better time in our history.”

LSE embroiled in row over authorship of Gaddafi’s son’s PhD thesis and a £1.5m gift to university’s coffers.” By Jonathan Owen. Independent/Reuters (UK). February 27, 2011. Controversy over links between the London School of Economics and Libyan regime intensified last night, as it emerged that Saif al-Islam, the Libyan leader’s son, could be stripped of his doctorate. Amid claims that his LSE thesis may have been ghost -written, the LSE is investigating allegations of plagiarism and in a statement yesterday, confirmed a degree can be “revoked if there are substantiated concerns about the manner in which it was attained – for example if there is a later discovery of plagiarism.” The university is seeking “specific information” regarding “direct allegations” of plagiarism and is carrying out its own checks. After getting his PhD in 2008, Saif al-Islam made a controversial £1.5m gift to the LSE from his organisation – the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) – in 2009. It has emerged that Professor David Held, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance which benefited from the donation, and an informal mentor to Mr Gaddafi’s son, was appointed a trustee of GICDF in June 2009 – before the LSE formally accepted the £1.5m donation in July 2009. Last week, the LSE cut its ties with GICDF, refusing to accept any further funds beyond the £300,000 already received.

VATICAN

Vatican blocks second term of Caritas head.” By Ruth Gledhill. Times of London. February 18, 2011. The Holy See has blocked the appointment of one of the most powerful women in the Roman Catholic church from serving a second term as head of its global development agency. According to The Tablet, the UK-based Catholic weekly, Caritas Internationalis “is reeling” after the Vatican took the highly unusual step of blocking Dr Lesley-Anne Knight from running for a second four-year term as the agency’s Secretary General. Caritas has pleaded with the Church’s Secretariat of State to grant Dr Knight the necessary nihil obstat or “no objection” she needs to serve a second term before the election takes place at the organisation’s assembly in late May in Rome. Caritas international president Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez of Honduras wrote to all directors of Caritas to inform them of the Vatican’s decision. He said Caritas leaders “expressed their incomprehension at the reasons provided” in a meeting at the Vatican and “reaffirmed their positive view of Lesley-Anne Knight’s work for Caritas and the Church”. Dr Knight, a Zimbabwe-born British citizen, has been a powerful advocate for ending poverty and for migrant rights but has been critical of the way aid organisations respond to disasters. After the Haiti earthquake she told The Tablet that aid organisations have “got to do better” in responding to major disasters and said rescue workers needed to cooperate rather than “trying to score points off one another”. She has also spoken out about the need to reorganise Caritas structurally in response to “the rapidly changing operating environment of the twenty-first century”. One official told The Tablet anonymously that Dr Knight may have been rejected because she been “critical of the Vatican machine, has made no secret of it and has failed to be discreet”.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

LABOR UNIONS

It’s Crunch Time for Organized Labor.” By Neil King, Jr. Wall Street Journal. February 23, 2011. Labor unions are facing the most direct challenge to their political and financial clout since Ronald Reagan broke the air-traffic controllers union 30 years ago. Across the industrial Midwest, a union stronghold long vital to Democrats and key to President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects, Republicans are trying to roll back the powers of not just public-employee unions but also the bargaining and dues-collecting power of groups that represent auto workers and carpenters. Democratic members of Indiana’s House of Representatives refused to show up for work Tuesday, in an effort to block debate on a Republican-backed “right to work” bill that would give employees the ability to opt out of paying union dues even in a union-represented shop. Such laws are in force in 22 states. Democratic members of Wisconsin’s Senate continued their boycott of the legislative session, effectively blocking action on proposals to curtail bargaining power for state public unions. Gov. Scott Walker said 1,500 state workers could lose their jobs by July if his proposal doesn’t pass. Republicans in Michigan, meanwhile, are working on a bill to make the home of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. a right-to-work state. Lawmakers in those states and Ohio have sparked widespread protests with proposals to restrict longstanding collective-bargaining rights or to weaken the grip of private-sector unions that represent more than a million workers. The actions follow elections last fall that put GOP governors and Republican majorities in charge of statehouses across the region. Several of the new governors ran campaigns promising to go after public union benefits and to weaken their bargaining powers.
Related stories:
Spreading Anti-Union Agenda.” Editorial. New York Times. February 22, 2011.
The immediate crisis.” No by-line. The Economist. February 22, 2011.
Labor Unions Fight For Their Right To Influence.” All Things Considered/ National Public Radio. February 23, 2011.
Billionaire Brothers In Spotlight In Wis. Union Battle.” Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 25, 2011.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

LAW & PUBLIC POLICY

Opposition Arises to Charities’ Merger.” By Stephanie Strom. New York Times. February 23, 2011. For the last decade, Smile Train and Operation Smile have been the Hatfields and McCoys of the charity world. Leaders of the two organizations, which work to repair cleft lips and palates of children in poor countries, have long been estranged. Even though Smile Train’s founders at one time served on the board of Operation Smile, they and its founders, Dr. William P. Magee and his wife, Kathleen S. Magee, ran separate charities with similar goals while remaining divided by their differences year after year. So the announcement on Feb. 14 that the two organizations were merging seemed, at least on the surface, an effort to set aside the longstanding feud in the interests of a greater good. But as it turns out, according to some board members, the merger was the culmination of another feud, one that had been quietly building in Smile Train’s offices and board room between Brian Mullaney, a co-founder and former advertising executive, and Smile Train’s other founder, Charles B. Wang, owner of the New York Islanders and the founder and former chairman of Computer Associates. In the nonprofit equivalent of a putsch, Mr. Wang and four Smile Train board members who are also employees of his businesseses engineered the merger and presented it as a fait accompli at a regularly scheduled board meeting on Feb. 8, board members who opposed it said. The opponents initially balked and have now complained to the New York attorney general’s office. They contend that Mr. Wang set up a highly unusual financial structure under the merger.The controversial deal gives Mr. Wang oversight of the bulk of Smile Train’s roughly $160 million in assets, and it guarantees lifetime tenure at the new organization to the Magees. Additionally, it commits the merged organization to put half of all the money it raises over the next three years into a fund under Mr. Wang’s control. “It’s kind of like handing the New York Yankees over to a high school team,” said Mark Edward Atkinson, a Smile Train board member who opposed the merger. “Operation Smile gets a partner and a $50 million dowry, and Smile Train fires its senior executives, all of whom are great, and the organization and money move to Virginia,” where Operation Smile is based.

Judge denies Chabad request for disputed $18-million pledge.” No by-line. Los Angeles Times. February 24, 2011. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge tentatively denied an $18-million claim involving a pledge the president of Chabad of California Inc. said was verbally promised by a prominent philanthropist before his death. Judge Mary Ann Murphy said Tuesday she found little evidence that Roland Arnall made a pledge to Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin for the construction of a Chabad educational center in Westwood before he died in March 2008 at age 68. After Arnall’s death, Cunin claimed the pledge became the obligation of Arnall’s widow, Dawn Arnall. According to Murphy’s 69-page proposed statement of decision, it was up to Chabad to prove through a “preponderance of evidence” that Arnall actually promised Chabad $18 million. Murphy ruled that Chabad’s lawyers failed to offer proof during a non-jury trial late last year, citing “discrepancies and lack of corroboration.” The case had been under submission since early November. The decision becomes final within 15 days unless the judge agrees to charges based on objections from attorneys. Dawn Arnall claims she knew nothing about the alleged $18-million pledge until after her husband died and Cunin started asking about the money. In the past, the couple made various donations to Jewish and non-Jewish organizations.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

PHILANTHROPY

Donor of the Day: A Nonprofit for Asperger’s Patients.” By Shelly Banjo. Wall Street Journal. February 22, 2011. When Marcia Scheiner left a New York financial services company last summer after 25 years in the industry, she negotiated that $250,000 from her severance be donated to charity. Now, she’s directing that gift to the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership, a nonprofit she is launching this month to help young adults with Asperger syndrome find jobs. The move is sparked by her son, now in his first year of college. She says a generation of young adults with Asperger’s in their 20s and 30s will for the first be heading to college and getting master’s degrees but will still be faced with high unemployment rates. According to estimates from the National Institutes of Health, two out of 10,000 children have the disease, which sits on the autism spectrum of disorders. However, Asperger syndrome wasn’t widely known until the 1980s. While there’s no cure for the disease, effective therapeutic treatments have emerged to help patients with Asperger’s maintain independent lives. “From the time they are children, we’ve allowed them to develop a tremendous amount of skills and go to college but there’s still an 80% unemployment rate because of the challenges they face with social skills and sensory issues,” Ms. Scheiner says. She points to the trouble many with Asperger’s might have relating to co-workers, forming relationships, or looking people in the eye, often a clincher in a job interview. While there are a number of vocational programs that help people with the developmental disorder train for interviews and workplace situations, Ms. Scheiner says not enough businesses are equipped to respond to Asperger patients.

Donor of the Day: Helping Children Develop Connection to Books.” By Shelly Banjo. Wall Street Journal. February 23, 2011. To John Langan and Judy Nadell, providing children with books they can relate to can vastly improve their education. To put more books into hands of children who don’t have them, the founders of West Berlin, N.J., publisher Townsend Press are giving $1 million to DonorsChoose.org, an online charity that helps teachers raise funds for classroom projects. The most recent gift comes on the heels of the couple’s first $1 million donation made late last year to spur literacy projects across the country. Mr. Langan and Ms. Nadell, who are married and were both longtime teachers, began writing textbooks in the late 1980s for their own classrooms after finding their school’s supplied books to be insufficient for their students. After Townsend Press took off in the early 1990s, the couple quit their teaching jobs and focused on creating educational materials targeted to children in low-income neighborhoods or of diverse ethnicities. A few years ago they started the Townsend Press Library and two series of books priced at $1 or less. “We make our living with textbooks but find satisfaction in creating these books that students we are targeting can actually afford,” Mr. Langan says. “If you put a book in the hands of a child without any books, it’s a no-brainer; you know you are doing something good.” Part of the couple’s most recent gift will create “Double Your Impact,” in which $500,000 will be unlocked to match other donors who fund teachers’ book requests in high-need public schools serving pre-kindergarten through second grade and grades six through 12. The other half will go to fund projects which request Townsend’s King School or Bluford Series books, sold at $1 each, and to launch a partnership with DonorsChoose.org and nonprofit BetterLesson.org to help teachers turn the projects they are seeking funding for into shareable curriculum. “Their initial $1 million gift that matched other donors’ gifts for literacy projects was made in November and was absorbed over the course of a month and a half,” says Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org. “We’re using their grant to fuel what we call citizen philanthropy—getting that $20 donor to fund a project that would otherwise seem out of your reach because of a philanthropic discount from a bigger donor.”

Giants Staffer’s Big Goal: Medical Miracle Worker.” By Aditi Kinkhabwala. Wall Street Journal. February 25, 2011. Sammy Arthur’s extroversion is larger than life, gregariousness to the nth degree behind a smile as beatific as it is constant. But on Tuesday, he sat at the head of a conference table in The Regency hotel, lips straight, face in hands, eyes not dancing. Well, it was exactly a week from what is annually the biggest night of his life. For 25 years, Mr. Arthur has been the man about The Regency, the once-poor Ghanian immigrant who’d gone from parking-garage attendant to closest confidante of the late billionaire owner Bob Tisch. Steve Tisch, the Giants co-owner and movie executive who now employs Mr. Arthur with the New York football club, has called him a Damon Runyan character. In the end, though, Mr. Arthur wants to be known as medical miracle-worker. Founder and chairman of the Health and Humanitarian Aid Foundation, Mr. Arthur has made it his mission to bring medical supplies, services and practitioners to the country of his birth. He went on his first aid mission to Ghana four years ago, created a 501c(3) foundation two years ago and Tuesday night, at the foundation’s fund-raising gala at Gotham Hall, he hopes to raise another half-million dollars for this May’s mission to Accra and Cape Coast—even if he has to buy 10 dinner tables himself. “We’re trying to get him to calm down. People will come through—no one says no to Sammy,” says HHAF president David Chen. Mr. Chen, who doubles as NYU’s manager of MRI services, said the foundation has thus far spent $250,000 in funding missions and has sent and distributed more than $1 million worth of equipment and supplies. Eight doctors and two nurses oversaw more than 70 surgeries a year ago, including the removal of a tumor embedded in a woman’s jaw for 18 years. Mr. Arthur has enlisted 20 doctors and nurses for this year’s mission, upped the spread of the food program and blueprinted a women’s empowerment program—which is why he is stressed about donations.

Khadafy Foundation: 10 years providing support for families of homicide victims.” By Cecily Burt. San Jose Mercury-News/Oakland Tribune. February 27, 2011. On Feb. 9, 2000, Marilyn Washington Harris opened up the newspaper and read the headline: “Twins Killed.” “Those were Lorrain Taylor’s sons,” Harris recalled. “I thought ‘What a terrible thing to happen.’ I didn’t know I wasn’t too far behind.” On Aug. 4, 2000, Harris got the news that no parent ever expects to hear. Her 18-year-old son Khadafy Washington was found shot to death on McClymonds High School’s campus in West Oakland. For the first few months she was numb with grief. Before Khadafy died, she always thought she would finish her government career and retire. But there was another plan for her. She didn’t set out to be a crusader, but she turned her grief into something powerful, a crisis support network that links the families of other slain children and helps them in their darkest hours. “I couldn’t pick up a gun, but I could do something,” Harris remembers thinking. She started the Khadafy Foundation for Non-Violence by reaching out to other mothers and providing a grief support group. She started visiting families who lost a child to violence, offering support, food, comfort, hope and information about how to navigate the awful but necessary bureaucracy of reclaiming a body, filing a claim with the state for Victims of Crime money, arranging a funeral. For many years Harris did all this on her own, mostly out of her own pocket, or with a few donations. In 2007, she began receiving support for her crisis response work from the city of Oakland’s Measure Y program, which includes funding for violence prevention. In 2008, Harris revamped the nonprofit foundation’s board to expand the organization to reach more families in need and provide more support for the entire community. The organization started youth nonviolence programs — Dare to Be Different and I Want to Live — at Ralph Bunche school and hopes to expand to McClymonds next month.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

Monday, February 28th, 2011

RELIGION

When Does a Religion Become a Cult? America has long been a safe harbor for experimental faiths. But the unorthodox can descend into something darker.” By Mitch Horowitz. Wall Street Journal. February 25, 2011. America has probably supplied the world with more new religions than any other nation. Since the first half of the 19th century, the country’s atmosphere of religious experimentation has produced dozens of movements, from Mormonism to a wide range of nature-based practices grouped under the name Wicca. By 1970 the religious scholar Jacob Needleman popularized the term “New Religious Movements” (NRM) to classify the new faiths, or variants of old ones, that were being embraced by the Woodstock generation. But how do we tell when a religious movement ceases to be novel or unusual and becomes a cult? To use the term cult too casually risks tarring the merely unconventional, for which America has long been a safe harbor. In the early 19th century, the “Burned-over District” of central New York state—so named for the religious passions of those who settled there following the Revolutionary War—gave rise to a wave of new movements, including Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism and Spiritualism (or talking to the dead). It was an era, as historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom wrote, when “Farmers became theologians, offbeat village youths became bishops, odd girls became prophets.” When the California Gold Rush of 1849 enticed settlers westward, the nation’s passion for religious novelty moved with them. By the early 20th century, sunny California had replaced New York as America’s laboratory for avant-garde spirituality. Without the weight of tradition and the ecclesiastical structures that bring some predictability to congregational life, some movements were characterized by a make-it-up-as-you-go approach that ultimately came to redefine people, money and propriety as movable parts intended to benefit the organization. Many academics and observers of cult phenomena, such as psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo of Stanford, agree on four criteria to define a cult. The first is behavior control, i.e., monitoring of where you go and what you do. The second is information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group. The third is thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning. The fourth is emotional control—using humiliation or guilt. Yet at times these traits can also be detected within mainstream faiths. So I would add two more categories: financial control and extreme leadership.

Patriarchy and Fundamentalism Two Sides of the Same Coin.” By Cléo Fatoorehchi. Interpress Service (IPS). February 25, 2011. While “fundamentalism” has become something of a buzzword in the past few years, particularly in the West in connection with Islam, it in fact exists in every region and religion, and has a set of common characteristics, say activists who have studied the question for years. To bring attention to the issue and how it affects women’s lives around the world, the international Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) launched a new report Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York entitled “Towards a Future without Fundamentalisms”. Following up on earlier research by AWID, the report says fundamentalist movements tend to be absolutist and intolerant, anti-women and patriarchal. Saira Zuberi, who coordinates AWID’s Resisting and Challenging Religious Fundamentalisms initiative, created in 2007, acknowledged religious fundamentalisms to be “very complex and sophisticated movements”. Though they might have divergent focuses – Christian fundamentalism may focus on reproductive rights, and Muslim fundamentalism on “modest” clothing, for example – all of them seek social control, Zuberi said. And to achieve their goals, the report argues that fundamentalisms can be opportunistic, seeking allies wherever they can find them, regardless of ideological purity.