Archive for October, 2011

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

ARTS & CULTURE

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20111021/ARTS/111029979

Occupy Museums’: Protestors move to the MOMA; An offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, dubbed “Occupy Museums,” plans to visit and protest at “temples of cultural elitism” weekly.” No-byline. Crain’s New York Business/Bloomberg News. October 21, 2011. Five weeks after protesters occupied a Lower Manhattan plaza to press for economic and political change, they’ve turned their attention to what they call “temples of cultural elitism:” New York’s museums. Members of an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street calling itself “Occupy Museums” on Thursday targeted the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art. They took turns reading from a statement, with the crowd repeating each line in a call-and-response system used at their Wall Street base in Zuccotti Park and in many protests. “The Occupy Wall Street Movement will bring forth an era of new art, true experimentation outside the narrow parameters set by the market,” was the chant at one point, voiced by a crowd comprising a few dozen artists, students and passers-by outside the MoMA. Artist Dave Kearns complained about MoMA’s regular admission fee, calling $25 “an obscene amount of money,” and adding, “There should be more nights when it’s free.”

Digital Library Nearly Online.” By Gautam S. Kumar and Julia L. Ryan. Harvard Crimson. October 25, 2011. The Digital Public Library of America, an initiative spearheaded by Harvard faculty members, is making fast progress toward developing a fully operational online database of existing digitized works by April 2013. An international leader in the effort to organize digital copies of printed volumes, represents of the DPLA traveled to Washington, D.C. last week, where they accepted another significant donation from two separate foundations and established relationships with other organizations sharing a common mission. To support DPLA’s transitional operations, the Sloan Foundation and the Arcadia Fund each donated $2.5 million to the project. The combined $5 million will cover costs as DPLA attempts to bring together already digitized works that are not yet aggregated in one location. Leaders of the initiative—including University Professor Robert C. Darnton ’60 and Harvard Law School Professor John G. Palfrey, Jr. ’94—also announced on Friday in Washington a new partnership that will expand the scope of the project. In addition to long-standing partnerships with the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute, DPLA will also collaborate with the Europeana Foundation, which works to compile digitized works in Europe.

Public Theater gets $2M from Ford Foundation; The grant will go towards the renovation of the nonprofit’s Lafayette Street home. The theater will also name its lobby after the Ford Foundation.” By Miriam Kreinin Souccar. Crain’s New York Business. October 28, 2011. The Ford Foundation gave a $2 million grant to the Public Theater to help it renovate its long-time home on Lafayette Street. The $40 million renovation, for which the Public Theater has raised $37.9 million, is on track to be completed by this summer, with a grand reopening in fall 2012. In honor of the grant—which is the largest the campaign has received outside of the city’s $28 million commitment—the Public Theater will rename its lobby after the Ford Foundation. “The Ford Foundation’s visionary leadership has understood the vital interaction between the arts and civic life for many years,” said the Public Theater’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, in a statement. “Our partnership with the Ford Foundation will help move the theater to where it belongs: the center of public discourse.” The gift is one of a number of recent grants made by the Ford Foundation to local cultural groups for building projects. Last March, the foundation gave $3 million to help complete the interior of the new Museum for African Art, going up on East 110th Street. It is also transforming P.S. 109, an abandoned school in East Harlem, into a performance space and residence for artists—part of a $100 million foundation effort to develop arts spaces around the country. This year, the $11 billion-asset Ford Foundation is on track to give away $15 million to New York arts organizations, triple the amount it gave three years ago. Luis Ubinas, Ford Foundation president since 2007, has made an increase in local arts giving one of his missions. While many foundations give money for specific programs, Mr. Ubinas says he wants to help strengthen cultural institutions overall. “We are committed to doing everything we can to help the city’s cultural organizations emerge from this economic crisis stronger than ever,” he said.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

CORPORATE PHILANTHROPY & SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Gift Props Up Chemical Engineering.” By Kevin Helliker. Wall Street Journal. October 25, 2011. Dow Chemical Co. will pour $250 million mostly into chemical-engineering programs at 11 U.S. universities over the next decade to help attract top students who are increasingly tempted by research-and-employment opportunities in other engineering specialties. The donation will fund faculty positions and research projects for doctoral students that could boost by several dozen the number of doctorates awarded each year in an academic field that hasn’t kept up with engineering in general and biomedical engineering in particular. Engineering schools are in such demand because they bestow degrees for a range of red-hot industries, including energy, biomedicine and technology. The number of doctorates awarded in engineering climbed 50% to about 9,000 over the decade ended in 2010—a number that falls short of satisfying demand. The number of chemical-engineering Ph.D.s rose 40% to 905 over that time, while the number of doctoral degrees issued in biomedical engineering soared to 733 from 219, according to the American Society for Engineering Education. Undergraduate degrees in chemical engineering remained about flat during that period, at 5,948 a year, while such degrees in biomedical engineering more than tripled to 3,670. To a large extent, that shift was driven by federal and private research funding that placed greater emphasis on biomedical engineering. Over nearly 30 years, for example, the nonprofit Whitaker Foundation donated $700 million to universities and medical schools “with a focus on biomedical engineering,” according to the foundation’s website.”We think the shift has gone too far,” said Theresa Kotanchek, a Dow vice president.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS
2 Charter Schools Proposed.” By Lisa Fleisher. Wall Street Journal. October 29, 2011. The New York City Department of Education has proposed locations for two new Brooklyn charter schools run by former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. The new schools run by the Success Charter Network would launch in August, with about 190 students each in kindergarten and first grade. One elementary school would share a building with the William Floyd elementary school on the edge of Bedford-Stuyvesant, while another would share a Cobble Hill campus with a special-education school, and two schools with students in sixth- through 12th-grades. The shared-space arrangement must be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, the board of education controlled by the mayor, after a public comment period and a public hearing. Some local parents and teachers have already started to fret about Success Charter Network coming into the district, worrying about overcrowding and losing some school resources. They’ve taken to local blogs and listservs to discuss the merits and perils of the new school. Ms. Moskowitz’s Harlem-based charter network, which runs nine schools in the city, has drummed up ideological and community opposition in some neighborhoods. Success Charter Network is known for longer school days, intense focus, frequent testing and high scores. But it has been accused of counseling students out of the school, which it denies. Ms. Moskowitz, who founded the network in 2006, said her group started speaking with people who live in her target neighborhoods a few months ago, and she will host two informational sessions on Saturday. “Our goal here is really simple, it’s to provide more, excellent, high-quality options to families,” she said. “That’s how we’re introducing ourselves.”

Charter Schools Could Get Longer Day Money.” By Rebecca Vevea. Chicago News Co-op (chicagonewscoop.org). October 24, 2011. Chicago charter schools could soon receive financial incentives similar to those being offered to city elementary schools that vote to lengthen the school day. The Chicago Board of Education will vote on a resolution Wednesday that would create a $4.4 million grant fund for charter schools that choose to extend their day. Individual schools would eligible to receive $75,000 and individual teacher stipends of $800. Roughly 42 schools will be awarded money under the program, which Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll estimated will cost about $6 million. Carroll told the Chicago News Cooperative in September that charter schools would not be included in the city’s longer day incentive program, which has been one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s signature education initiatives. She said the decision to incorporate charters followed “an organic conversation” between CPS and charter operators and is about ensuring “equity in the system.” The move to include charter schools is the latest salvo in the fight between the district and the Chicago Teachers Union over the length of the school day.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

Study raises questions about virtual schools.” By Lyndsey Layton. Washington Post. October 24, 2011. As an increasing number of cash-strapped states turn to virtual schools — where computers replace classmates and students learn via the Internet — a new study is raising questions about their quality and oversight. In research to be released Tuesday, scholars Kevin G. Welner and Gene V. Glass at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado assert that full-time virtual schools are largely unregulated. Once used by home-schoolers, child actors and others in need of a flexible way to learn outside a classroom, virtual schools have grown in popularity in the past several years. Cyber-schools generally operate as charters, outside the traditional system but funded with taxpayer dollars. Nationwide, more than 200,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual school programs, in which students have no face-to-face contact with teachers. And virtual schools are the fastest growing alternative to traditional public schools, the study found. Supporters say they allow students to learn at their own pace and provide access to teachers and subjects that may not be available at traditional schools. Critics say they siphon resources and deprive students of socialization. Their spread comes despite a lack of any data about their impact on children from kindergarten through high school, the researchers found. “We’re going whole hog into something that we don’t have research on,” Welner said.

Schools rolling out new fundraisers: food truck nights; Public schools, hit by budget cuts, drops in donations and new fundraising guidelines, are capitalizing on the culinary craze. Mobile eateries park at campuses, dispensing meals to the hungry and money to cash-strapped facilities.” By Angel Jennings. Los Angeles Times. October 23, 2011. Echo Lau drove to Whitney High School on a recent Monday evening to pick up her kids. She left with dinner. The student parking lot at the Cerritos campus is transformed every week into a congested food truck stop as eight mobile eateries attract the business of loyal followers, parents and students. But this isn’t a typical stop for these catering trucks; this is a school fundraiser, in which a portion of the proceeds go directly to Whitney to help pay for a new multi-media center. Outdoor food courts are popping up in the parking lots of at least a dozen high schools across Southern California with more on the way. Financially strapped public schools — hit hard by budget cuts, new fundraising guidelines, and fewer donors — have found a way to capitalize on the food truck craze. Schools typically earn up to $50 per food truck nightly. It’s small change that quickly adds up, said Bryan Glonchak, assistant principal at Whitney. Since school opened, Whitney has made a total of $2,000 on the fund-raiser. In most cases, schools host weekly food truck events, in which up to 10 vendors gather at dinnertime. Facebook and Twitter help spread the word. The money is then used to fund scholarships, pay for equipment and school projects.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Students Push for Greek Recognition.” By Hana N. Rouse. Harvard Crimson.
October 28, 2011. [For story, go to mutual benefit organizations].

PRIVATE SCHOOLS

At Elite Schools, Easing Up a Bit on Homework.” By Jenny Anderson. New York Times. October 24, 2011. Armed with neuroscience, self-analysis and common sense, some of New York City’s most competitive high schools, famed for their Marine-like mentality when it comes to homework, have begun to lighten the load for fear of crushing their teenage charges. “We have incredibly talented high-achieving kids who need to be appropriately taken care of,” said Jessica Bagby, the head of Trinity’s upper school. “We realize the pressures on them, and to the degree that we’re complicit, we need to own that.” Homework debates are both evergreen and charged in top-tier schools, but several private-school watchers say the recent moves to ease up are a marked shift. There remains a significant cadre of parents — call it the Tiger Mom camp — who see hard work as a rite of passage, part of what they pay $40,000 for and essential to making their children competitive. (One father commented wryly that it was unlikely that parents in India and China were fretting about overwork.) But for the first time in recent memory, many see an edge by the other camp, fueled in part by the 2010 documentary “Race to Nowhere,” which focuses on the detrimental effects of overprogramming students who lack sleep and joy.

Schools Snap Up Land; Elite Private Academies Move Toward Expansion During Economic Downturn.” By Laura Kusisto, Sophioa Hollander, and Robbie Whelan. Wall Street Journal. October 25, 2011. Even as the economy falters and some parents fret over sizable tuition checks, private schools in New York City are on a land-buying spree. Elite academies around the city have bought at least a dozen buildings or new development sites in the past several years, according to an analysis of public records. At least six of those deals have closed since 2010 or are expected to close by the end of this year. Experts said many schools that had prided themselves on their tweedy academic allure realized they had to expand—especially with new athletic centers—to attract the best candidates, send graduates to top-tier schools and compete with the lush campuses of suburban secondary schools. “It’s a big trend that we’re seeing. A lot of schools seem to be hitting capacity, and what they’re generally trying to do is find a location for their athletic facilities,” said Janet Woods, head of the nonprofit practice group at Jones Lang LaSalle. “They’re competing for these Ivy League slots, where you can’t just be a scholar. You have to be an athlete.” That’s created a rush to buy, and a fear of a shortage of appropriate sites on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side. Despite a recession that many feared would drive down enrollment numbers, the city’s independent schools have flourished. Enrollment in a core sample of the schools rose to 31,591 students in 2010-11 from 30,805 three years before, according to the National Association of Independent Schools. For some schools, that’s been a mixed blessing as they find themselves with more students than their facilities can handle.

PRIVATIZATION

Big Money, Bad Media, Secret Agendas: Welcome to America’s Wildest School Board Race.” By John Nichols. The Nation. October 21, 2011. School board elections are supposed to be quintessential America contests. Moms and Main Street small-business owners and retired teachers campaign by knocking on doors, writing letters to the editor and debating at elementary schools. Then friends and neighbors troop to the polls and make their choices. But what happens when all the pathologies of national politics—over-the-top spending by wealthy elites and corporate interests, partisan consultants jetting in to shape big-lie messaging, media outlets that cover spin rather than substance—are visited on a local school board contest? Emily Sirota is finding out. The mom of 10-month-old Isaac, Sirota’s a social worker and community organizer with a degree from the University of Denver and a history of working in the community. She’s running for a seat representing southeast Denver on the city’s school board in one of three school board contests that the city’s voters will decide November 1. If Sirota wins, her election would in all likelihood shift control of the nonpartisan board, which is currently split 4–3 in favor of so-called “reformers,” who critics describe as “the forces trying to charter-ize, voucher-ize and privatize public schools.” Sirota makes no secret of her desire to turn the board that runs one of the nation’s largest urban schools systems toward a more clearly defined position in favor of funding local schools, paying teachers and school staff a fair wage and working to close achievement gaps that have developed along racial and economic lines.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

Preservation, not profit, takes precedence at Big Horn Mine in the San Gabriels; The mine, perched on Mt. Baden-Powell, still holds an estimated 262,000 ounces of gold. It’s also a refuge for wildlife — and soon it will be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service.” By Louis Sahagun. Los Angeles Times. October 22, 2011. The Big Horn Mine, perched on a mountainside overlooking the headwaters of the San Gabriel River, still holds an estimated 262,000 ounces of gold in its quartz bedrock. At current prices, that haul would be worth more than $430 million. The wild country surrounding the mine, framed by alpine peaks and watered by snowmelt running through wrinkled canyons and ancient pine forests, is a refuge for bears, mountain lions and endangered Nelson’s bighorn sheep. Within a few days, preservation will trump economics when the 277-acre parcel is handed over to the public. The transfer of title to the U.S. Forest Service will cap six years of arduous negotiations by the nonprofit Wilderness Land Trust, which acquires unprotected private land and returns it to the people. And, trust president Reid Haughey reported with a hint of satisfaction, taxpayers got this slice of paradise for a bargain price: $2 million. “At 277 acres, this is a relatively small transaction,” he said, standing knee-deep in sage and prickly yuccas on a promontory near the mine’s long-abandoned ore mill. “But the value of adding it to the surrounding wilderness for future generations is significant.” The mine on the eastern flank of 9,399-foot Mt. Baden-Powell was first prospected in 1859. In its heyday in the 1930s, Big Horn Mine supported a community of cabins, machine shops and a post office serving the 30 workers who operated its steam-powered rock crushers and trucked ore down the mountain for processing. Permits to mine gold were valid until just a few years before the land trust — with $125,000 in private donations and a long-term loan of $825,000 — bought the property from a private mining company in 2007. It was ultimately sold to the Forest Service for $2 million. “We moved quickly to prevent the land from being marketed for its mineral resources and potential as a mountain retreat,” Haughey said. “When we bought the mine, gold was selling for $350 an ounce. Today, it sells for about five times that much.”

Record $20 Million Gift to Help Finish the High Line Park.” By Lisa W. Foderero. New York Times. October 26, 2011. Many visitors to the High Line, the popular park that wends above street level on the West Side of Manhattan, stop at its northern terminus and peer wistfully through a chain-link fence at the as-yet unreclaimed half-mile segment to the north. Until this week, the nonprofit conservancy that operates the High Line still needed to raise $85 million to finish the park and maintain it. On Wednesday night, the conservancy took a major step toward that goal when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a $20 million gift to the High Line from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation. The gift, which will help build up the park’s endowment and pay for the design of the last section, is the single largest donation ever made to a New York City park, according to city officials. It follows two previous donations totaling $15 million to the High Line from Barry Diller, chairman of IAC and Expedia, and his wife, the designer Diane von FurstenbergThe High Line is an unusual public-private partnership. The city paid most of the construction costs of the first two sections (the second opened earlier this year), which together run from Gansevoort to 30th Streets. But Friends of the High Line, the conservancy that rallied to save the railway from demolition and raised money for its transformation into a park, assumed full responsibility for the cost of the operations from the start. With three million annual visitors, 10 times what the founders of the conservancy initially envisioned, wear and tear, as well as educational programming, is a constant challenge for the 60-member staff. Annual operating costs for the park come to $3 million.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

FUNDRAISING

Bankers Roll, Rock for Charity.” By Marshall Heyman. Wall Street Journal. October 24, 2011. When it comes to participating in Hedge Fund Rocktoberfest, an annual music fund raiser that takes place at the banquet hall 583 Park Avenue, the amateur bands, comprising, generally, members of the local financial community, tend to request three songs in their set lists. The person who makes sure that the various groups, with names like The Cause, Big Dog Party and Flash Crash, don’t play these songs over and over and over again is C. Mead Welles, the president of Octagon Asset Management. Mr. Welles is also the co-founder of A Leg to Stand On (Altso), an organization that provides prosthetic limbs, corrective surgeries and rehabilitation to disabled children in the developing world. Mr. Welles describes himself as a “closet musician.” This is how Rocktoberfest began: “In my office I had a guitar and a drum set and I started jamming with some of my investors,” Mr. Welles said, at this year’s party, the eighth. Separately, he wanted to find a way to raise money for Altso. The two hobby slash passions clicked: Why not do a rock show for charity? The first, held in Chelsea sold out, and has grown exponentially since. The band that raises the most money gets the time slot of its choice, and, no doubt, the ability to sing “Message in a Bottle,” should its members so desire. The goal, Mr. Welles continued, is to raise awareness—a $250 donation will pay for a prosthetic limb—and “to keep it casual.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

INTERNATIONAL

CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

Pope orders inquiry into child abuse at Ealing.” By David Brown and Sean O’Neill. Times of London. October 25 2011. The Vatican has ordered a top-level inquiry into sexual abuse by clerics at a London abbey after investigations by The Times uncovered decades of mistreatment of children. Monks and lay teachers at Ealing Abbey and the neighbouring St Benedict’s independent school have been linked to abuse dating from at least the 1960s to 2009. The powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome has ordered an historic apostolic visitation amid growing evidence about the scale of the scandal. It is the first such inquiry into child abuse in Britain. Victims believe that the investigation could be the first step towards the disclosure of details of a cover-up of sexual and physical abuse by clerics, an issue that has already rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and Ireland. The apostolic visitation is led by Bishop John Arnold, an auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, and Father Richard Yeo, president of the English Benedictine Congregation. The Vatican’s intervention will be interpreted as a rebuke to the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, and the Catholic hierarchy in England, which has insisted for years that the Church in Britain has first-rate child protection policies. It is also a clear signal to Ealing Abbey that the inquiry it commissioned, by Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC, one of the country’s most prominent lawyers, must not be the last word on the scandal.

EUROPE

America’s Exploding Pipe Dream.” By Charles M. Blow. New York Times. October 28, 2011. We are slowly — and painfully — being forced to realize that we are no longer the America of our imaginations. Our greatness was not enshrined. Being a world leader is less about destiny than focused determination, and it is there that we have faltered. We sold ourselves a pipe dream that everyone could get rich and no one would get hurt — a pipe dream that exploded like a pipe bomb when the already-rich grabbed for all the gold; when they used their fortunes to influence government and gain favors and protection; when everyone else was left to scrounge around their ankles in hopes that a few coins would fall. We have not taken care of the least among us. We have allowed a revolting level of income inequality to develop. We have watched as millions of our fellow countrymen have fallen into poverty. And we have done a poor job of educating our children and now threaten to leave them a country that is a shell of its former self. We should be ashamed. Poor policies and poor choices have led to exceedingly poor outcomes. Our societal chickens have come home to roost. This was underscored in a report released on Thursday by the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation of Germany entitled “Social Justice in the OECD — How Do the Member States Compare?” It analyzed some metrics of basic fairness and equality among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries and ranked America among the ones at the bottom. I could write (and have written) ad nauseam about our woeful state, but it might be more powerful to see it for yourself. So here are some of the sad data from the report.

UK

Peers marshal revolt over cuts in welfare for cancer patients.” By Rosemary Bennett. Times of London. October 24, 2011. A huge revolt against the Government’s welfare reforms is brewing in the House of Lords, with crossbench, Liberal Democrat and Labour peers poised to vote down key sections of the much-vaunted Bill. Two leading crossbenchers will today table amendments removing a time limit that the Government wants to impose on sickness benefit, which would mean thousands of cancer patients losing their money after one year, even if they are still undergoing or recovering from treatment. The Welfare Reform Bill limits Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the new incapacity benefit, to one year even though all those who receive it have paid for it through national insurance. The proposal will leave 7,000 cancer patients up to £94 a week worse off. Under another proposal, cancer patients needing immediate financial help to cover extra costs after their diagnosis will be forced to wait six months instead of three to get an Personal Independence Payment, which replaces Disability Living Allowance. Lord Patel, a widely respected obstetrician, and Lord Crisp, former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Health, are leading the charge and tabling the amendments. The vote is set to take place next month. A month ago at their party conference, the Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly to scrap time-limiting ESA, so a large number of their peers are expected to join the rebellion.

NHS power will be held by quango, leaked document reveals; Malcolm Grant, the government’s choice to run the powerful NHS commissioning board, makes remarkable admission.” By Randeep Ramesh. Guardian. October 24, 2011. The health secretary will “franchise” the running of the NHS to a quango for up to three years at a time – a move that will result in an unelected academic and the nation’s 38,000 family doctors, rather than ministers, being accountable for the day-to-day running of the health service, according to leaked documents obtained by the Guardian. In unpublished evidence to the health select committee last week, Malcolm Grant, the government’s choice to run the powerful NHS commissioning board, outlined “an extraordinary transformation of responsibility” that appears to undermine claims by ministers that the proposed legislation will not dilute the government’s constitutional responsibilities to the health service. At present, the cabinet minister for health has a “duty to provide a national health service” in England, but that disappears in the NHS bill’s proposals. Grant, a law professor who runs University College London, told MPs that, under the new system, the secretary of state “mandates” the commissioning board to run the NHS every “two … possibly three years” and then retreats into the shadows. The board will hand over taxpayers’ cash to groups of GPs to buy services on behalf of patients. mHe admitted there would be “a fundamental change of responsibility and accountability under the bill” because about £80bn of public money would be transferred to the board and GPs. He said these two groups – not politicians – would run the NHS and ensure patients received an adequate level of health provision in England.

Charity muggers can take the enjoyment out of giving; It is a rare town centre that isn’t in the grip of the ‘charity mugger’, or street fundraiser. But their aggressiveness makes it easy to forget how good it is to give.” By Richard Coles. Guardian. October 27, 2011. It is a rare town centre that isn’t in the grip of the ‘charity mugger’, or street fundraiser. But their aggressiveness makes it easy to forget how good it is to give. Charity muggers – street fundraisers as they prefer to be called – have now spread, it seems, from cities to little market towns, where they are paid to stop passersby and sign them up to standing orders supporting charitable causes, from Save the Children to the RSPCA. I watched the chuggers at work and saw how they accosted people with arms outstretched, a friendly gesture that is actually designed to funnel you in to their proposal; how they chastised those who wouldn’t stop; how they muttered insults at their retreating backs. Like the charities they represent, they are only trying to make a living.

Families remortgage to help avoid student loan debt; Leading universities discuss deals to scrap government handouts and instead use private lending schemes to fund studies.” By Jack Grimston. Sunday Times. October 30, 2011. A leading university has been holding talks with banks about whether private lending schemes could fund undergraduates studies more cheaply than government loans. Surrey University believes parents remortgaging homes or taking out bank loans could make the cost of courses more affordable for some students, despite the state system being promoted by the government as the best deal on offer. About a third of Surrey’s British undergraduates already take no loans from the government, with families using savings or remortgages to avoid their children piling up debts. Christopher Snowden, the vice-chancellor, anticipates the figure could rise. Theoretically, with a high number of foreign students taking out no British loans and most UK undergraduates opting out of the government scheme, the university could be in a position to leave the state system. Surrey expects to receive only 14% of its funding from the government in 2015. If it were to become private, it could set its own fees, while making provision for poorer students, and work under far less strict regulation. Snowden made it clear, however, that this was not being considered. Surrey, ranked 21 in The Sunday Times University Guide, is one of several institutions, including Warwick and the College of Law, that have explored alternatives to the government scheme. National talks involving the vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK have got nowhere.

Big society guru shocked bosses with expenses; The man behind the Big Society quits a think tank, after colleagues grow concerned at his expense claims and conduct toward lesbian staff.” By Marie Woolf. Sunday Times. October 30, 2011. Phillip Blond, the controversial architect of David Cameron’s big society, left a think tank after less than a year when staff objected to the size of his expenses claims and his behaviour towards lesbian staff. The prime minister’s guru quit Demos over what were officially described as “philosophical differences”, but it is understood that the director and trustees had been concerned by his conduct. On one occasion, staff and people from outside the organisation were shocked to witness Blond telling one young woman that he would not be told what to do by a “lesbian kid”. The former theology lecturer made it clear he was not dismissed from Demos, where during his seven-month stint in 2009 he led a project on progressive conservatism. He then founded the ResPublica think tank. Last weekend, The Sunday Times reported how Blond had used money from ResPublica — which he repaid — to fund holidays abroad, his luxury flat and clothes worth £1,000 from the London tailor Nino’s, whose clients include John Malkovich, the actor, and Usain Bolt, the sprinter. Staff at ResPublica were angry about the scale of his spending and tried to persuade him to surrender his Lloyds TSB bank card after they were paid late and locked out of their offices because of unpaid rent.

Exclusive: Cover-up at St Paul’s; Clerics suppress report on bankers’ greed to save church embarrassment.” By Brian Brady and Jane Merrick. Independent. October 30, 2011. A highly critical report into the moral standards of bankers has been suppressed by St Paul’s Cathedral amid fears that it would inflame tensions over the Occupy London tent protest. The report, based on a survey of 500 City workers who were asked whether they thought they were worth their lucrative salaries and bonuses, was due to be published last Thursday, the day that the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, Giles Fraser, resigned in protest at the church’s tough stance. But publication of the report, by the St Paul’s Institute, has been delayed in an apparent acknowledgement that it would leave the impression that the cathedral was on the side of the protesters. The Independent on Sunday understands that the decision has upset a number of clergy, who hoped that the report would prove that the church was not detached from a financial crisis that had its heart yards from the cathedral itself. The decision will fuel the impression that the wider established church is attempting to stifle debate about the tent protest, as leading members of the Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have failed to comment publicly about Occupy London. A spokesman for St Paul’s Cathedral said: “It has been decided to delay publishing this report until further notice as it wouldn’t get the proper debate it deserves in light of the present circumstances.” The spokesman refused to comment what the report’s findings were, but it is understood it raised profound concerns about the banking sector’s willingness to accept responsibility for the financial crisis. Such a critical analysis, coming from the institute which is described as part of St Paul’s Cathedral’s “wider mission”, would be seen as highly inflammatory at a time when the church is going to the High Court to attempt to remove 200 tents from its land.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

LAW & PUBLIC POLICY

What Is The Basis For Corporate Personhood?” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. October 24, 2011. Melissa Block interviews John Witt, professor of law and history at Yale Law School, about the history of corporate rights as people. He says the case of Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific helped define the personhood of corporations in terms of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Maryland man’s notes leaving $100,000 to stepdaughter disputed by Shriners.” By Ruben Castaneda. Washington Post. October 24, 2011. When John Barry Badini wrote his will in 2007, the Clinton man decided he would leave more than $1 million to the Shriners hospitals and $20,000 to his stepdaughter. In August 2010, he typed a note raising Alicia Decatur’s inheritance to $50,000, court papers show. Then, on March 28 — the day he killed himself — he penned a note to the executors of his estate: “Please change Alicia’s monetary inheritance from $50,000 to $100,000.” But the Shriners don’t want Decatur to get the additional $80,000. In a case scheduled to go to court Tuesday in Upper Marlboro, an attorney for Shriners Hospitals for Children, based in Colorado, filed a motion seeking to have the amendments declared invalid because they were not witnessed by at least two people. Such formalities are required for the changes — codicils in legal parlance — to be legitimate under Maryland law, wrote Bethesda lawyer Richard L. Lyon. Before Badini’s notes surfaced, Decatur said, she never thought about Badini dying or any inheritance. Now, she said, she is just seeking what he wanted to give her. For their part, the Shriners said they would follow the letter of his will. “Shriners Hospital wishes to follow (Badini’s) will and the law and will use any funds from the Badini estate for the treatment of children with burn injuries, spinal and orthopaedic injuries and cleft palate and lip injuries,” Lyon wrote in an e-mail. Badini, who was 67 when he died, had been a Shriner for at least 30 years, one of his close friends said. He was retired from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and had worked as an IT specialist for private firms, Decatur said.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

MEDIA

A Grass-Roots Newscast Gives a Voice to Struggles.” By Brian Stelter. New York Times. October 23, 2011. Hours after Amy Goodman, the host of the grass-roots newscast “Democracy Now!,” was arrested in Minnesota in 2008 while trying to cover protesters at the Republican National Convention, she was sitting in a network news studio above the convention floor, when a producer said: “I don’t get it. Why wasn’t I arrested?” Ms. Goodman asked him, “Were you out on the streets?” No, he said, he had been in the studio the whole time. “I’m not being arrested here either,” she said she told him. “You’ve got to get out there.” For Ms. Goodman, that exchange expresses both a shortcoming of the network newscasts that many Americans consume and a strength of “Democracy Now!,” the 15-year-old public radio and television program. The newscast distinguishes itself by documenting social movements, struggles for justice and the effects of American foreign policy, along with the rest of the day’s developments. Operated as a nonprofit organization and distributed on a patchwork of stations, channels and Web sites, “Democracy Now!” is proudly independent, in that way appealing to hundreds of thousands of people who are skeptical of the news organizations that are owned by major media companies. The program “escapes the suffocating sameness that pervades broadcast news,” said John Knefel, a comedian and freelance writer who started listening about four years ago and now tries never to miss an episode. Distribution for “Democracy Now!” — which is live each weekday at 8 a.m. Eastern — comes from public, community and college radio stations; public access television stations and some PBS affiliates; the noncommercial satellite networks Free Speech TV and Link TV; and from the program’s Web site, DemocracyNow.org, which streams each hourlong newscast in full. The producers say the program is broadcast on more than 950 stations. But because the distribution is cobbled together and because the program has no commercials, no Nielsen ratings are available.

WikiLeaks suspends publishing to fight financial blockade; Julian Assange says banking bans have destroyed 95% of whistleblowing site’s revenues.” By Esther Addley and Jason Deans. Guardian. October 24, 2011. Julian Assange, co-founder of WikiLeaks, has announced that the whistleblowing website is suspending publishing operations in order to focus on fighting a financial blockade and raise new funds. Assange, speaking at a press conference in London on Monday, said a banking blockade had destroyed 95% of WikiLeaks’ revenues. He added that the blockade posed an existential threat to WikiLeaks and if it was not lifted by the new year the organisation would be “simply not able to continue”. The website, behind the publication of hundreds of thousands of controversial US embassy cables in late 2010 in partnership with newspapers including the Guardian and New York Times, revealed that it was running on cash reserves after “an arbitrary and unlawful financial blockade” by the Bank of America, Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and Western Union. WikiLeaks said in a statement: “The blockade is outside of any accountable, public process. It is without democratic oversight or transparency. “The US government itself found that there were no lawful grounds to add WikiLeaks to a US financial blockade. But the blockade of WikiLeaks by politicised US finance companies continues regardless.” Assange said donations to WikiLeaks were running at €100,000 a month in 2010, but had dropped to a monthly figure of €6,000 to €7,000 this year. This had cost the organisation a cumulative €40m to €50m, he claimed, assuming donations had stayed at their 2010 level without the financial blockade.
Related stories:
Struggling Wikileaks stops publishing classified files; Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange Julian Assange says a blockade by US finance companies has cut off 95% of Wikileaks’ revenue.” BBC News. October 24, 2011.
Founder Says WikiLeaks, Starved of Cash, May Close.New York Times. October 24, 2011.
Building on WikiLeaks.” Sydney Morning Herald. October 28, 2011.
Assange can still Occupy centre stage.” Sydney Morning Herald. October 29, 2011.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

MUTUAL BENEFIT ORGANIZATIONS

Students Push for Greek Recognition.” By Hana N. Rouse. Harvard Crimson. October 28, 2011. Students made a case for the recognition of Harvard’s fraternities and sororities as official student organizations during a meeting of the Committee on Student Life on Thursday morning. The conversation comes at a time when students and administrators alike look to find a place for a growing Greek presence in Harvard students’ social life. During Thursday’s meeting, members of Harvard’s Greek organizations laid out what they saw as the benefits of recognition, ranging from the ability to use College space for philanthropic events to the promotion of inclusiveness by utilizing the student activities fair to advertise Greek life. Harvard has not recognized sororities and fraternities since 1984, when the College revoked their official status due to the gender-discriminatory recruitment practices of the social organizations. Administrators cite the gender discrimination policy, as well as Greek groups’ ties to national organizations, as reasons why the College is unable to recognize Greek life—concerns echoed by Dean of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson during Thursday’s meeting.

Coop Revisits Its Role in University.” By Kerry M. Flynn. Harvard Crimson. October 28, 2011. When English Professor Stephen L. Burt ’94 was an undergraduate at the College, his choices about where to purchase textbooks were largely limited to Harvard Square. Burt, like the majority of Harvard students at the time, used the Coop to buy all his coursebooks each semester. Since the rise of internet sales, Harvard Square has seen a decrease in the number of bookstores, but the Coop still remains the sole seller of official textbooks for Harvard University classes, except for foreign books. After a significant decrease in textbook sales and criticism from students about high prices, the Coop is now debating what role it should take. The Coop released a survey on Wednesday to all members asking this question. In 1882, students in conjunction with University professors tired of Harvard Square businesses’ inflated prices, and decided to pool their capital together to buy books and supplies for students cheaply and with little overhead. The Coop continues to run as an independent entity from the University, collecting all information from Harvard courses directly from faculty, according to Harvard’s Director of News and Media Relations Kevin Galvin. The Coop operates as a cooperative society, which means it is owned by its members and its structure its predicated on a rebate that has certain tax implications. The Coop has over 55,000 members, including 22,000 students from Harvard and MIT, who pay $1 to receive a membership card.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS

Nonprofit Firms Stretch Out.” By Laura Kusisto. Wall Street Journal. October 24, 2011. The lease of a small office in Midtown by an organization dedicated to assisting injured veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq has underscored the importance of nonprofits in the city’s uncertain office market. The Wounded Warrior Project, which supports a range of education, employment and other types of support programs, has doubled its space at 7 Penn Plaza to 9,400 square feet. The organization’s revenue, which comes primarily from private donations, grew to more than $73 million for the year ended September 2010, up from $54 million the year before. Nonprofit organizations have long been a mainstay of New York’s office market especially in older buildings in Midtown South, downtown and side streets in Midtown. During the economic downturn, many of these organizations’ budgets have been hurt, crimping their appetite for space. But a surprising number of nonprofits have been expanding. This year, at least 10 have signed leases for more space than under their expiring leases, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of recent leasing transactions. Those deals show that demand for many nonprofits’ services has increased with difficult times. While nonprofits are generally bargain hunters, others have stepped up to fill spaces that could easily have been occupied by hedge funds or media companies.