Archive for February, 2012

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


The Citizens United catastrophe.” By E.J. Dionne Jr. Op-ed. Washington Post. February 5, 2012. We have seen the world created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and it doesn’t work. Oh, yes, it works nicely for the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country, especially if they want to shroud their efforts to influence politics behind shell corporations. It just doesn’t happen to work if you think we are a democracy and not a plutocracy. Two years ago, Citizens United tore down a century’s worth of law aimed at reducing the amount of corruption in our electoral system. It will go down as one of the most naive decisions ever rendered by the court. The strongest case against judicial activism — against “legislating from the bench,” as former President George W. Bush liked to say — is that judges are not accountable for the new systems they put in place, whether by accident or design. The Citizens United justices were not required to think through the practical consequences of sweeping aside decades of work by legislators, going back to the passage of the landmark Tillman Act in 1907, who sought to prevent untoward influence-peddling and indirect bribery. If ever a court majority legislated from the bench (with Bush’s own appointees leading the way), it was the bunch that voted for Citizens United. Did a single justice in the majority even imagine a world of super PACs and phony corporations set up for the sole purpose of disguising a donor’s identity? Did they think that a presidential candidacy might be kept alive largely through the generosity of a Las Vegas gambling magnate with important financial interests in China? Did they consider that the democratizing gains made in the last presidential campaign through the rise of small online contributors might be wiped out by the brute force of millionaires and billionaires determined to have their way?

Secret money is funding more election ads.” By Dan Eggen. Washington Post. February 6, 2012. More than a third of the advertising tied to the presidential race has been funded by nonprofit groups that will never have to reveal their donors, suggesting that a significant portion of the 2012 elections will be wrapped in a vast cloak of secrecy. The bulk of the secret money spent so far has come from conservative groups seeking to propel a Republican into the White House, advertising data show. Millions of dollars in additional spending from both sides has poured into legislative races, such as the Senate contest in Massachusetts, that could help determine which party controls Congress in 2013. The flow of funds is part of a wave of spending by outside groups — particularly super PACs, which have few limits on their activities — that has quickly come to dominate the 2012 presidential contest. But unlike super PACs, politically minded nonprofit groups are under no obligation to disclose the corporations, unions or wealthy tycoons bankrolling their advertising, much of which is almost indistinguishable from regular political ads run by campaigns. The result is a race heavily influenced by such organizations and their funders, who will remain largely in the shadows. Nonprofit “social welfare” organizations and other tax-exempt groups with confidential donors have spent more than $24 million in the 2012 cycle on political ads naming President Obama or, less frequently, his Republican rivals, according to a Washington Post analysis of data supplied by Kantar Media-CMAG, which tracks ad spending. That accounts for about 40 percent of the money estimated to have been spent on advertising related to the presidential candidates.

Planned Parenthood’s Hostages; The abortion provider uses a vast media and political network to maintain its subsidies from government and private charities.” By Robert P. George and O. Carter Snead. Wall Street Journal. February 6, 2012. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, an organization dedicated since 1982 to fighting, and one day curing, breast cancer, decided to extricate itself from the culture wars by discontinuing grants to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions. The grants Komen had been making amounted to $650,000 last year, funding some 19 local Planned Parenthood programs that offered manual breast exams but only referrals for mammograms performed elsewhere. The reality is that Planned Parenthood—with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion—does little in the way of screening for breast cancer. But the organization is very much in the business of selling abortions—more than 300,000 in 2010, according to Planned Parenthood. At an average cost of $500, according to various sources including Planned Parenthood’s website, that translates to about $164 million of revenue per year. So how did Planned Parenthood and its loyal allies in politics and the media react to Komen’s efforts to be neutral in the controversy over abortion? Faced with even the tiniest depletion in the massive river of funds Planned Parenthood receives yearly, the behemoth mobilized its enormous cultural, media, financial and political apparatus to attack the Komen Foundation in the press, on TV and through social media. The organization’s allies demonized the charity, attempting to depict the nation’s most prominent anti-breast cancer organization as a bedfellow of religious extremists. A Facebook page was set up to “Defund the Komen Foundation.” In short, Planned Parenthood took breast-cancer victims as hostages. Komen’s leaders had good reason to believe their organization could disintegrate under Planned Parenthood’s assault. On Friday the charity issued a statement “apologizing to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.” The statement assured Planned Parenthood’s supporters that, like any other organization, it is eligible to apply for grants in the future.

President Obama Softens Super PAC Opposition.” By Sam Stein. Huffington Post. February 2, 2012. President Barack Obama’s campaign is reconfiguring its approach to powerful super PACs, worried the president’s re-election prospects could be overwhelmed by conservative groups raising and spending unlimited amounts of money. The president’s advisers have signaled to donors that he will soften, for the time being, his long-standing opposition to the outside groups, in hopes of assisting their fundraising efforts and leveling the campaign finance field heading into the general election. Obama’s campaign staff will go so far as to appear at super PAC events — though they will not be explicitly raising money. The president will not attend those events, a source confirmed. The new posture is a reversal for the president, and one likely to trouble some in the progressive universe (see: Feingold, Russ). Obama was staunchly anti-outside money during his pre-White House political career, and first ran for the White House encouraging deep-pocketed Democrats to send checks only through his campaign. He wanted a consistently coordinated message and his advisers were willing to starve non-campaign organizations of cash in order to achieve it. When the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United opinion allowing the creation of super PACs, the president and his staff offered sharp denunciations. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests,” Obama said at the time. He called super PACs a “threat to our democracy.” Politics eventually collided with ideology. In 2010, a wave of conservative money helped Republicans re-take the House of Representatives. The president and his advisers have watched in some horror, meanwhile, as super PACs have helped Mitt Romney submarine challenger after challenger (most notably Newt Gingrich) during the Republican primary this year. The determination was made that they could not unilaterally disarm.
Related story:
Obama embraces the super PAC.” Politico ( February 6, 2012.

With Spotlight on Super PAC Dollars, Nonprofits Escape Scrutiny.” By Kim Barker, Al Shaw and Ariel Wittenberg. ProPublica ( February 7, 2012. The website for the American Bridge 21st Century Foundation is simply a satire ad against leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney. When super PACs announced their 2011 fundraising numbers earlier this week, it provided an early glimpse into how the new way of financing political campaigns may work in the upcoming election. The filings showed that super PACs are indeed fundraising juggernauts, pulling in more than $98 million, with an average donation of $47,718. But so far, their sources of funding are largely transparent, not clouded in the kind of secrecy that some campaign-finance watchers had feared, and not relying that much on connected nonprofits that don’t disclose donors. Instead, it was separate announcements this week from a cluster of politically active social welfare groups, known as 501(c)4s for their IRS tax code, that hinted at how secret money could factor into the upcoming election — and in a more direct fashion than initially forecast after the Supreme Court opened the door to super PACs two years ago. On Tuesday, Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit arm of the GOP super PAC American Crossroads, announced it raised $32.6 million last year, far outstripping the super PAC itself, which raised $18.4 million. Priorities USA and American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, the nonprofit arms of the two largest Democrat super PACs, announced they raised $5.1 million. The super PACs, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century, raised $8.1 million. Unlike super PACs, which are required to identify their donors, social-welfare nonprofits such as Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA — also referred to as “dark money” groups — don’t have to disclose contributions to the FEC, although they are supposed to report spending on political ads within a day or two. The nonprofits have to disclose their annual revenue and expenses to the IRS, but often delay such filings. A few have not yet filed their taxes for 2010. Campaign finance watchdogs had worried that 501(c)4s, or “c4s” as insiders call them, would filter money from unidentified donors through super PACs, but, if the recent filings are any guide, they may spend funds directly. This means c4s could have a more muscular, proactive role than previously anticipated.

Powerful GOP-Linked SuperPAC Has Clear Agenda.” By Peter Overby. Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 9, 2012. As some superPACS throw millions of dollars into the Republican primaries, others such as American Crossroads are quietly preparing for the day after the primaries end. American Crossroads is near the White House, but it’s more than location that marks the superPAC as part of the Republican establishment. Its cofounders include two former Republican national chairmen and consultant Karl Rove. To outsiders, it almost looks like a wing of the GOP. “They have the credibility. People trust them,” says Saul Anuzis, a longtime Republican National Committee member from Michigan. “They know that none of them are strident or ideologues in that regard. They’re party people.” As the two parties and their outside allies brace for the general election, Anuzis breaks down the financial battle this way: “A third of all the money spent on federal elections will come from candidates; a third will come from the parties and a third will come from these independent groups and superPACs.” American Crossroads with $15 million on hand as of Jan. 1 stands to be one of the central elements of the Republican effort.

Some Saner Voices on ‘Super PACs’.” Editorial. New York Times. February 9, 2012. The 112th Congress rode to office in 2010 on the biggest wave of unlimited, undisclosed corporate money that American politics has ever seen. That same Congress has hit a historically low approval rating of 10 percent, Gallup reported this week. It’s not a coincidence. Members of Congress know who spent $300 million on their elections, and they are beholden to those outside interests far more than they are to the needs of voters and the country. Republicans, in particular, have resisted all legislative efforts to make those donations public. That’s why a small news item out of Montana this week was so promising. Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat in a tough re-election fight, has proposed a pact with his Republican challenger to keep “super PACs” and other third-party spending out of their race. The proposal suggests that the notion of a truce — like one signed last month by Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race — might spread to other states. Mr. Tester’s opponent, Representative Denny Rehberg, says he is considering the offer. Here’s hoping he agrees and that other Congressional candidates around the country do the same. At the presidential level, super PACs have allowed the candidates to outsource their attack ads to groups able to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. The gusher of big money, freed up by Citizens United and other court decisions, will have the same corruptive effect on Congressional races if the candidates don’t stop it. Once one side arms itself, the other side feels obliged to match. This destructive effect was made sadly evident this week when President Obama, who had previously denounced outside spending, abandoned that principle and began inviting unlimited donations to the super PAC supporting him.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


Two decades later, donors wondering what happened to plans for slavery museum.” By Susan Svrluga. Washington Post. February 11, 2011. Nearly 20 years ago, former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder announced that he wanted to create a museum that would tell the story of slavery in the United States. He had the vision, the clout, the charm to make it seem attainable, and he had already made history: the grandson of slaves, he was the nation’s first elected African American governor. He assembled a high-profile board, hosted splashy galas with entertainer Bill Cosby promising at least $1 million in support, accepted a gift of some 38 acres of prime real estate smack along Interstate 95 in Fredericksburg and showed plans for a $100 million showstopper museum designed by an internationally renowned architect. And then .?.?. “Governor Wilder disappeared,” said Rev. Lawrence Davies, the former longtime mayor of Fredericksburg who was a member of the board. Davies stopped getting notices about board meetings, and when he tried to reach Wilder, he never heard back. “No one could ever get through to him,’’ Davies said. “We didn’t know what to think.” It wasn’t just board members and city officials who were left to wonder. There are donors, too, asking what happened.

Tug of War Over a Civil Rights Legacy.” By John Leland. New York Times. February 10, 2012. Over a bustling stretch of Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the words on the faded marquee are as bracing as ever. “SLAVE #1,” it reads, in bold capital letters. Last week, amid the bright new chain stores that have popped up beside the Brooklyn neighborhood’s Caribbean-patty joints, the theater’s closed steel gate bore a warning from the Buildings Department: Anyone trying to enter would be subject to arrest. “The conditions in this premises,” the sign read, “are imminently perilous to life.” Above it was a plea for money: “Help Restore Historical Site. Get Involved!!!” The Slave Theater, once a hub of civil rights activity in New York, has been out of operation since 1998, its unheated main hall crumbling from neglect. As real estate developers pour money into the neighborhood around it, the theater is at the center of a bitter dispute over not just ownership rights, but also competing visions for a neighborhood landmark. Who owns the rights to history? Behind the shuttered gate lies a tangled story of lost millions and alleged foul play, in which a wealthy African-American judge was placed against his will into court-ordered guardianship and died, seven years later, broke and in debt.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say.” By Sabrina Tavernise. New York Times. February 9, 2012. Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects. It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race. Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.


Connecticut Set to Boost Charter Funds.” By Shelly Banjo. Wall Street Journal. February 6, 2012. Connecticut would pump more money into charter schools and increase their numbers under a legislative proposal Gov. Dannel Malloy plans to unveil Monday. Mr. Malloy’s plan would hike funding for alternative schools such as charters by $21.6 million and bring per-pupil government funding for their students closer to that of traditional public schools, said people familiar with the governor’s thinking. The number of state charter schools would go up to 22 from 17. And, for the first time since the state’s charter-school law was passed in 1996, Mr. Malloy’s plan would provide incentives for local school districts to launch charter schools of their own. By raw numbers, Mr. Malloy’s proposal doesn’t measure up to charter-school initiatives in other states. California, by contrast, has nearly 1,000 charter schools, while neighboring New York has about 175. But the governor’s plan is sure to spur new debate over the role of charter schools in Connecticut, which has waded only tentatively into the nationwide movement toward alternative public-school models. In a recent interview at the Capitol here, Mr. Malloy declined to address the specifics of his charter-school proposal. But he said his education package would be a “soup-to-nuts approach,” representing a “down payment on improving Connecticut’s public schools, which are failing more than 40% of the state’s children.”
Related story:
Malloy To Give Charter Schools A Boost.” New Haven Independent ( February 6, 2012.

Republicans, Democrats offer charter school amendments.” By Nancy Badertscher and Christopher Quinn. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. February 7, 2012. Democrats, the minority in both the House and Senate, announced their own version of an amendment that they say would give the state that right while limiting government reach into local school decisions. Both proposals address last year’s Georgia Supreme Court ruling, declaring unconstitutional the Georgia Charter School Commission and its authority to approve and fund charter schools over the objections of local school boards. The ruling was considered a setback for 16 state-approved charter schools — eight that were open and eight that had planned to open next fall — and for the charter/choice movement in Georgia. The House Education Committee met Tuesday to approve changes to Republican-sponsored House Resolution 1167. Its chief sponsor, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, said the changes would allow the state to approve charter schools while addressing concerns that the amendment was too broad and would allow the state to create all kinds of schools. “I think there’s a lot of support on the floor for this,” Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, said after the revised amendment cleared committee Tuesday. House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, said Jones’ resolution would give the General Assembly “unchecked and unprecedented power” in local school decisions, including allowing it to redirect local money to schools that had not been approved locally. Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, filed House Resolution 1335, which asserts the state’s right to create charter schools but limits funding to state dollars. School superintendents were reviewing both amendments Tuesday. Last year’s Supreme Court ruling came in a lawsuit by superintendents, including Alvin Wilbanks in Gwinnett County, who said that state money was improperly redirected from public schools to support charter schools that were turned down by the local school boards but approved by the Georgia Charter School Commission.

Chamber Starting Early Hill Ad Blitz.” By Brody Mullins. Wall Street Journal. February 9, 2012. WASHINGTON—The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a $10 million campaign Thursday to support the election of 20 mostly Republican congressional candidates, a sign that it isn’t only the presidential race that could see record spending this year. The U.S.’s biggest business lobby plans to run ads in 12 House and eight Senate races as part of an effort referred to internally as “Advance and Protect.” The goal is to help Republicans win a majority of seats in the Senate while protecting the GOP majority in the House. Most of the Senate races targeted by the Chamber are those Republicans hope will bring them the four seats needed to win control, including in Wisconsin and Missouri where Republicans haven’t even picked a candidate. The ads in those states, which criticize Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, are designed to weaken the Democratic candidate. “We don’t want to leave any seats on the table like we did in the last election,” said Scott Reed, one of the Chamber’s advertising strategists. The Chamber is supporting one Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah, in part because he voted against the health-care overhaul bill. Funds for the Chamber campaign come from its member firms. It is not required by law to disclose the amount of the donations or what companies provide them. The ad spending blitz will be the first installment of what is expected to be a record-breaking year for Chamber election spending, topping the $50 million spent on congressional elections in 2010. It is one of the earliest of its size in an election year and is reminder that the battle for Congress could be as fierce as the presidential race.


Rhodes provides timeline of Witt’s ’12 candidacy.” By Gavan Gideon and Caroline Tan. Yale Daily News. February 6, 2012. According to the Rhodes’ statement, which University Spokesman Tom Conroy confirmed as accurate on Sunday, Yale told the Trust that Witt learned on Nov. 8 that his candidacy would require re-endorsement in light of a complaint lodged against him. But Witt told the News last Wednesday that he learned of his need for re-endorsement on either the evening of Nov. 9 or morning of Nov. 10 in a phone call with Katherine Dailinger, Yale’s director for national fellowships. Since the Rhodes released its conflicting report, Witt’s spokesman, Mark Magazu, has said Witt stands by his timeline. Despite the discrepancy between Witt’s account and the Trust’s account, Magazu maintains that the Rhodes statement does not contradict that the quarterback chose to play in The Game before learning his candidacy had been called into question.

Suit alleges bias in elite admissions; The U.S. Department of Education is looking into racial discrimination in admissions at Harvard and Princeton.” By Andrew Giambrone. Yale Daily News. February 7, 2012. The U.S. Department of Education’s investigation into alleged racial discrimination by Harvard and Princeton universities has prompted discussion about whether discrimination impacts admission processes at the nation’s elite schools. Harvard and Princeton came under fire last week after Bloomberg reported that an Indian-American student from California, who declined to be identified, had filed complaints with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights claiming he had been denied admission to the schools because of his race. The student’s allegations have stirred discussion among higher education officials and experts as to whether racial discrimination plays a cloaked role in today’s college admissions process. While experts remain unsure whether the allegations have sufficient legal grounding, four of five interviewed said they think the complaints are linked to growing anxiety about the competitiveness of college admissions among Asian-Americans, many of whom who feel the system is unfair. An increasing number of students from Asian-American families are rejected from the nation’s top colleges and universities each year, four higher education experts said. Lee Cheng, secretary of the Asian American Legal Foundation — a non-profit organization based in San Francisco — predicted that claims of racial discrimination in college admissions from Asian-American students and their families will likely increase in the next five years. But Cheng and other experts said such complaints will be difficult to analyze until colleges and universities release admissions data in full — including demographics, legacy status and test scores. If that information were made public, Cheng said he expects the data would show that race and ethnic discrimination do factor into college admissions decisions.
Related story:
Harvard Targeted in U.S. Asian-American Discrimination Probe.” Bloomberg News ( Feb 2, 2012.

Saudi Prince Who Funded Harvard Program Visits.” By Michelle M. Hu and Justin C. Worland, Harvard Crimson. February 8, 2012, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia—who donated $20 million to create the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard in 2005—discussed the future of the Middle East at a panel on Wednesday. His donation, one of his six multimillion dollar contributions to fund academic centers at universities around the world, has endowed four professorships and pushed the program to the forefront of the University’s efforts to improve teaching and learning and to promote international engagement at Harvard. “At Harvard, we’re talking about teaching and learning initiatives, but what this network does is provide us with partners to be able to take this teaching and learning initiative to new heights.” said Director of the Islamic Studies Program Ali S. Asani ’77, referring to the other five institutions—Georgetown University, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Cambridge, the American University of Cairo, and the American University of Beirut—that received donations from the Prince and attended the conference. Asani also said he believes that the program will encourage similar efforts in other areas of the University. “It has become a catalyst,” said Asani. “Fortuitously, it happens at a time when Harvard is rethinking teaching and learning and has new ideas about global education.”


Smaller Mass. cities seek non-profit to bolster schools; The Brockton schools boss has a question: What about us? He and his peers are tired of seeing foundation funds flow mainly to troubled schools in Boston.” By James Vaznis. Boston Globe. February 11, 2012. Small Massachusetts cities face challenges in establishing partnerships with educational nonprofits or philanthropists to improve their schools because such groups and donors tend to favor larger cities like Boston. Many major nonprofits consider large cities as having the greatest need – and a big name that can impress donors. But increasingly in Massachusetts, it is the cities outside Boston that appear to require additional help in overhauling their schools.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


Real-Estate Crash Aids the Green Movement.” By Laura Kusisto. Wall Street Journal. February 10, 2012. The real-estate crash left pockets of the region’s rural areas littered with the remnants of would-be golf courses, shopping centers and luxury subdivisions that never got off the ground. But the market swoon has yielded an unexpected upside for environmentalists. Land trusts—nonprofit organizations that buy open fields, forests and other untamed properties to preserve them as open space—say they’ve received dozens of calls from developers over the past few years willing to sell them properties in upstate New York, Connecticut and New Jersey at discounts of up to 90%. The Scenic Hudson Land Trust Inc. recently bought a 185-acre parcel of land across the river from the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Dutchess County. The trust had coveted the tract for years but balked at the price tag. The developer, Jacob Frydman, chief executive of United Realty Partners, planned to build 175 homes and a shopping center on the site. When Scenic Hudson approached him during the boom years, he offered to sell them the land for $10 million. But after the market crashed, Mr. Frydman said he saw things a bit differently. “By the time 2008 rolled around, it became pretty clear to me that even though I thought this was exceptionally valuable, it was going to be a couple of years before the market caught up,” he said. The trust ultimately bought the majority of the site for just over $2 million. Even more than previous downturns, the recent recession has created unique opportunities for land trusts to grab properties at cheap prices because land values in rural areas once ripe for second-home development and golf courses have taken a steep dive in the housing crisis.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


Steep drop in generous New Yorkers; Only three New Yorkers made Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of top donors last year. George Soros, who gave away $335 million, topped the state’s list.” By Miriam Kreinin Souccar. Crain’s New York Business. February 6, 2012. New York’s “one-percenters” are keeping their riches to themselves these days. Only three New Yorkers made the list of 2011′s top 50 donors, released Monday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That’s down from 14 New Yorkers in 2010, a very steep drop. The number looks even more paltry when compared with California, which boasted 14 of the top 50 donors this year. “We’re starting to see a shift towards the technology money in philanthropy,” said Chronicle editor Stacy Palmer. “We’re seeing a soaring interest in philanthropy among Silicon Valley folks and I think that will continue.” Ms. Palmer said the lack of New Yorkers on the list this year could just be a fluke, but she was surprised more financial executives weren’t using philanthropy to burnish their reputation right now. The Chronicle’s list is compiled from information from wealthy donors and many of America’s biggest nonprofits, and does not account for anonymous gifts. “Wall Street has had a difficult year reputation-wise so we would expect more people to come out and at least talk about their philanthropy,” she said. “It surprises me that more Wall Street people weren’t making more big, public gifts.” New York’s most generous donors were George Soros, who gave away $335 million last year, landing him in the No. 4 spot on the list; Mayor Michael Bloomberg who placed fifth with gifts of $311.3 million; and telecom mogul Gustave Hauser and his wife Rita, who were No. 33, and gave away $40 million. Some prominent New Yorkers who were on the 2010 list but didn’t show up again this year were David Koch, who gave away $23 million in 2010 including $10 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Ann Ziff, who gave $30 million to the Metropolitan Opera. With the biggest number of donors, California nonprofits enjoyed the bulk of the donations last year with 22 recipients, the largest number for any one state.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


Charity Does an About-Face; Breast-Cancer Group Backs Off Move to Withhold Funds for Planned Parenthood.” By Louise Radnossky, Anna Wilde Mathews, and Melanie Grayce West. Wall Street Journal. February 4, 2012. The breast-cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure, faced with harsh criticism from some supporters, has backtracked on a policy that would have cut off future funding to most Planned Parenthood affiliates. But the effects of the public spat, which has divided women’s-health supporters, will continue to be felt for a long time. The two iconic organizations have been on the opposite ends of a social-media and political firestorm that erupted after Komen’s original decision became public Tuesday. Planned Parenthood blamed the move on pressure from antiabortion groups that have long targeted it as a prominent provider of the procedure. Swiftly, opponents in the abortion debate seized on the split—slamming Komen’s decision and funneling donations to Planned Parenthood, or lauding the move and pledging new support to the breast-cancer charity. Komen struggled to quell a rebellion among some of its own affiliates—some of which had applied for an exemption to the policy that cut off funding—as well as boycotts targeting the corporate donors who have helped make its pink ribbon and road races ubiquitous. Planned Parenthood Federation of America said it has almost $3 million in new donations, far more than the amount that Komen had been giving to its affiliates, which amounted to about $680,000 last year, mostly for breast exams and education programs. Planned Parenthood, with 79 local affiliates, operates clinics that offer reproductive and some other health services. Komen has contended that the public debate was distorting its policy, which banned funding for organizations that were under government investigation. That category included Planned Parenthood, because of a probe by a Republican congressman involving management of federal funds. On Friday, Komen said that in the future, organizations would be disqualified only if they are the subjects of “criminal and conclusive” investigations, not “political” ones.
Related stories:
Komen Races To Restore Planned Parenthood Funds.” Weekend Edition Saturday. February 4, 2012.
Karen Handel, Susan G. Komen’s Anti-Abortion VP, Drove Decision To Defund Planned Parenthood.” Huffington Post. February 5, 2012.
Planned Parenthood’s Hostages; The abortion provider uses a vast media and political network to maintain its subsidies from government and private charities.” Wall Street Journal. February 6, 2012. [For story, go to Health Care].
Mitt Romney: Susan G. Komen Was Right to Cut Planned Parenthood.” Huffington Post. February 6, 2012.
Komen vice president resigns as details emerge on Planned Parenthood debate.” Washington Post. February 7, 2012.
Top Lobbyist Resigns From Cancer Charity.” Wall Street Journal. February 8, 2012.
After Outcry, a Senior Official Resigns at Komen.” New York Times. February 7, 2012.
Karen Handel, Susan G. Komen Executive, Quits Over Planned Parenthood Dispute.” Huffington Post. February 7, 2012.
Komen official resigns after grant dispute.” Huffington Post. February 7, 2012.
Komen executive quits as questions persist; As Karen Handel, the executive at the center of the funding controversy, steps down, many Komen supporters question the foundation’s salaries, legal strategies and ties with certain products.” Los Angeles Times. February 7, 2012.
Komen official resigns after grant dispute; Karen Handel, the senior vice president of public policy, resigned just a week after a dispute with Planned Parenthood Federation of America regarding breast cancer screening grants.” Crain’s New York Business. February 7, 2012.
The Evil Brilliance of Komen’s Karen Handel.” The Nation. February 7, 2012.
Planned Parenthood Still In Cross Hairs.” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 7, 2012.
Controversy Over Stem-Cell Research Keeps Charities On Sidelines.” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 7, 2012.
The Komen Turnaround Was a Defensive Victory.” Editorial. The Nation. February 8, 2012.
Komen’s Nancy Brinker says she made mistakes in Planned Parenthood case.Washington Post. February 9, 2012.

Awakenings: On Margaret Sanger. Review of Margaret Sanger. A Life of Passion by Jean H. Baker.” By Michelle Goldberg. The Nation. February 7, 2012 February 27, 2012. Her origins were grimly ordinary. Born in 1879, the sixth child of eleven, Margaret Higgins saw her middle-aged mother die in 1899, debilitated by childbearing and the struggles of caring for a large family on the meager income of an irresponsible husband. Though she longed to be a doctor, she settled for a career in nursing, which proved to be an education in the suffering caused by unsafe abortion. She married young, to the Jewish architect and aspiring artist William Sanger, got pregnant quickly and endured a difficult delivery while suffering from tuberculosis. For a while, Margaret Sanger played the housewife in upstate New York, a role she found stultifying. She began to thrive in 1910, when she and her husband moved to New York City, throwing themselves into the exhilarating ferment of radical politics. Working part time with Lillian Wald’s Visiting Nurses Association in the immigrant ghettos of the Lower East Side, Sanger was “exposed to the social pathos of a poverty hauntingly familiar to her from her own youth in its victimization of women and children,” as Ellen Chesler explained two decades ago in her landmark biography Woman of Valor. It was in 1912 in these ghettos that Sanger supposedly encountered Sadie Sachs, a Jewish immigrant who sparked her “awakening” to the necessity of birth control. In speeches and books, Sanger later described nursing Sachs, a 28-year-old mother of three, through the complications of a botched abortion. Sachs had begged the doctor who initially treated her for advice about preventing another pregnancy, saying, “Another baby will finish me.” The doctor’s response was callous: “You want your cake while you eat it too, do you? Well it can’t be done. I’ll tell you the only sure thing to do….Tell Jake to sleep on the roof.” Months later, Sanger returned to the apartment and found Sachs suffering from septicemia, the result of a self-induced abortion. “I was now finished with superficial cures, with doctors and nurses and social workers who were brought face to face with this overwhelming truth of women’s needs and yet turned to pass on the other side,” wrote Sanger, promising, “I would tell the world what was going on in the lives of these poor women. I would be heard.” As Chesler noted, the portrait of Sachs may have been apocryphal, a composite of many women Sanger had encountered. Even so, its account of the widespread maternal misery that Sachs represented was indisputable.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012



Swaziland’s Cooperatives No Threat to Banks.” By Mantoe Phakathi. Interpress Service ( February 8, 2012. Nomsa Tsabedze is one of the many people at the Bunye Betfu, Buhle Betfu Credit and Savings Cooperatives waiting to apply for a loan to pay for her children’s school fees. “Unlike banks, there is no collateral required before you get a loan from a cooperative,” said Tsabedze, adding: “If you’re a member of a cooperative, you’re guaranteed a loan depending on how much you’ve saved.” For the past five years, ever since she started working as a clerk in the public service, Tsabedze has been saving and obtaining loans from the cooperative. But while Tsabedze and thousands like her have chosen to put their money in cooperatives as opposed to banks, many in this Southern African nation feel that this poses no risk to the banking industry. This is despite concerns by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that the country’s increasingly popular 230 savings and cooperatives pose a threat to commercial banks. In a recent assessment, the IMF said that it was concerned that people are shunning commercial banks in favour of cooperatives. “This is because loans from cooperatives are more accessible to the Swazi population and do not have appropriate risk weighted safeguards,” reads the report released in December. While commercial banks are viewed as risk averse and reluctant to lend, cooperatives have become the preferred lender for civil servants, in particular. There are four commercial banks in the country and one building society, which operates as a bank.


Rich or poor? Gillard plans to put it all online this year.” By Dan Harrison. Sydney Morning Herald. January 29, 2010. The financial resources of every school in Australia will be on public display in the next version of Julia Gillard’s My School website, due later this year. State and territory governments and Catholic and independent school authorities agreed a year ago to provide the information but have not yet been able to devise a measure that allows fair comparisons between government, Catholic and independent schools. Peter Hill, the chief executive of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which is responsible for My School, said data about each school’s financial resources would be published in a second version of the site, along with results from this year’s national literacy and numeracy tests. ”A lot of people will be very interested in finances of schools, because, of course, some schools have much more in terms of financial resources than others and this may go a long way to explaining some of the differences we’re observing,” Dr Hill said. He said financial data would not be used to determine ”similar” schools to which schools could be readily compared but would be displayed on the site separately. Many parents had difficulty using the site after it was launched yesterday.
Related story:
Invest in public schools – survey.” Sydney Morning Herald. February 6, 2012.


Catholic Leaders Convene to Discuss Abuse Prevention.” By Elisabetta Povoledo. New York Times. February 6, 2012. Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church began a four-day symposium on Monday about the prevention of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy, an unprecedented assembly described by the Vatican as a response to a painful issue that has wracked the church and estranged many faithful. “We are still learning,” Cardinal William J. Levada, head of the Vatican office that deals with allegations of clerical abuse, told the 200 delegates during his keynote speech. “We need to help each other find the best ways to help victims, protect children,” he said, and to educate priests “to be aware of this scourge and to eliminate it from the priesthood.” More than 100 bishops and 30 religious superiors, as well as Catholic university rectors and abuse victims were participating in the symposium, titled “Toward Healing and Renewal.” Participants planned to discuss how the church can better listen to victims, cultivate a consistent response to cases of pedophilia and thwart future cases of abuse.

Cardinal Egan Criticized for Retracting Apology on Sexual Abuse Crisis.” By Andy Newman. New York Times. February 7, 2012. In 2002, at the height of the outcry over the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests, the Archbishop of New York, Edward M. Egan, issued a letter to be read at Mass. In it, he offered an apology about the church’s handling of sex-abuse cases in New York and in Bridgeport, Conn., where he was previously posted. “It is clear that today we have a much better understanding of this problem,” he wrote. “If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.” Now, 10 years later and in retirement, Cardinal Egan has taken back his apology.In an interview in the February issue of Connecticut magazine, a surprisingly frank Cardinal Egan said of the apology, “I never should have said that,” and added, “I don’t think we did anything wrong.” He said many more things in the interview, some of them seemingly at odds with the facts. He repeatedly denied that any sex abuse had occurred on his watch in Bridgeport. He said that even now, the church in Connecticut had no obligation to report sexual abuse accusations to the authorities. (A law on the books since the 1970s says otherwise.) And he described the Bridgeport diocese’s handling of sex-abuse cases as “incredibly good.” All of which has Cardinal Egan, now 79 and living in Manhattan, drawing fire from advocates who say he has reopened old wounds.
Related story:
Retired Cardinal Edward Egan Faces Criticism For Taking Back Abuse Apology.” Huffington Post. February 7, 2012.
Archbishop ‘appalled’ at paedophile priest.” No by-line. Times of London. February 8, 2012.
Cleric warns of silence on sex abuse in Asia; Culture keeping victims in hiding, he says at meeting.Boston Globe/Associated Press. February 10, 2012.
Pennsylvania: Answers Sought in Cardinal’s Death.” New York Times/Associated Press. February 10, 2012.
With Vatican’s Backing, Catholics Address Sex Abuse.” All Things Considered/ National Public Radio. February 10, 2012.
Retired Maine priest under investigation for sex abuse.” Bangor Daily News/Associated Press. February 11, 2012
Sex abuse lawsuit against Vatican withdrawn.” USA Today. December 12, 2012.


China Fund to Support Film Projects Worldwide.” By Michael Cieply. New York Times. February 6, 2012. If Chinese versions of Rupert Murdoch and Oprah Winfrey teamed up with, say, China’s J. P. Morgan to start a film fund, this would be it. Sun Media Group, founded by Bruno Wu, who is often compared to Mr. Murdoch, and his wife, Yang Lan, sometimes likened to Ms. Winfrey, is joining Harvest Fund Management to create an $800 million fund that will back entertainment ventures in China and around the world, company executives said Saturday. “The goal is pretty straightforward; it’s to make a maximum return, of course, for the investors,” Mr. Wu said of the enterprise, which is aimed at a booming Chinese market for global film. He and Lindsay Wright, the vice chairman of a Harvest global investment unit, spoke jointly by telephone. The fund, called Harvest Seven Stars Media Private Equity, is expected to invest in existing entertainment companies. But it also will provide backing for individual filmmakers and build an entertainment distribution system in China and elsewhere, Mr. Wu and Ms. Wright said. Its initial pool of capital, they added, will probably be expanded in the near future. Last year, the Motion Picture Association of America said it expected the number of cinema screens in China to increase to more than 16,000 in 2015 from about 6,200 in 2011, as Chinese box-office receipts grow to a projected $5 billion from $1.5 billion. At the same time, China has been under pressure from the entertainment industry in the United States to ease censorship, open its markets and crack down on chronic film piracy. “The awareness, and urge, and strong desire to protect” intellectual property has never been higher in China, Mr. Wu said. He and others, he said, have been lobbying the Chinese government for tougher antipiracy measures.

Religion and the Communist Party: Render unto Caesar; The party’s conservative wing finds religion—and dislikes it.” The Economist. February 11, 2012. There was a time when Devon Chang had difficulty reconciling his two chosen faiths: Christianity, which he embraced in 2005 at the age of 19, and the Communist Party of China, which had embraced him a year earlier. Did his submission to an almighty God not mean he must renounce the godless club of Marx and Mao? Not necessarily. A fellow convert’s university lecturer suggested that if all Communist Party members found Jesus, then Christianity could rule China. “So it’s a good thing for me to become a Christian,” Mr Chang reasoned. In this section. The party does not quite see it that way. Although people join the party more for career reasons these days than for ideological ones, it still officially forbids religious belief among its members. In practice, this has for some years been a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But signs are now growing that the party is about to become tougher on believers within its ranks. And behind it might be Mr Chang’s notion of Christianity as a Trojan horse. If you can’t beat ’em… Experts say that, of China’s 1.3 billion people, 200m to 300m now practise religion (though the government admits to only 100m), and far more engage in the veneration of ancestors. The vast majority of the religious are Buddhists or Daoists. Estimates for the number of Christians vary wildly from 50m to 100m (they are hard to count because so many believers go to underground “house churches”). Across the country, local governments have rebuilt temples and constructed new ones to capitalise on religious tourism. In rural areas, temples and churches have helped provide education and health care, with the unofficial blessing of local party chiefs.


Egypt Names 19 Americans in Probe; Inclusion of U.S. Workers Among 43 NGO Employees Facing Charges Over Foreign Funding Raises Tensions, Jeopardizes Aid.” By Matt Bradley. Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2012. Egypt’s judicial ministry named the 43 nongovernmental organization employees, including 19 Americans, who will face charges in an investigation over foreign funding that has shaken Washington’s faith in one of its closest security allies in the Middle East. The ministry said the workers will be charged with establishing NGOs without licenses and receiving and spending foreign funds without government permission—both breaches of Egypt’s highly restrictive NGO law. If convicted, the workers could face financial penalties and up to five years in prison. The published list adds a shade of clarity to a legal case against American and Egyptian pro-democracy groups that has troubled and confused American policy makers and NGO employees since the summer. The case implies that Egyptian prosecutors believe the American government is committing espionage to undermine the Egyptian state even as it funds Egypt’s ruling military with a $1.3 billion annual grant—the U.S.’s second-largest aid package to any peacetime country after Israel. While Egypt’s military rulers and the civilian government it appointed insist the investigation into foreign funding is a legal effort by an independent judiciary to enforce national law, civil-society workers said the case smacks of scapegoating by a military leadership that has come under severe strain and criticism. Prosecutors said the groups violate Egyptian law by operating without licenses, while the foreign NGO leaders said their repeated applications for official credentials have been ignored.
Related stories:
Egypt to prosecute Americans, including Sam LaHood, in NGO probe.” Washington Post. February 5, 2012.
Egypt Defies U.S. by Setting Trial for 19 Americans on Criminal Charges.” New York Times. February 5, 2012.
U.S. Aid At Risk As Egypt Targets Democracy Groups.” All Things Considered?National Public Radio. February 6, 2012.
Egypt to Charge Foreign Workers; Americans Among Those Facing Trial.Wall Street Journal. February 6, 2012.
Egypt defies US with ‘unrest’ trial for 19 Americans; One of those to go on trial is the son of US Transport Secretary Ray LaHood, seen here with Barack Obama.” Times of London. February 6, 2012.
Egypt defies US with ‘unrest’ trial for 19 Americans
One of those to go on trial is the son of US Transport Secretary Ray LaHood, seen here with Barack Obama
.” Times of London. February 6, 2012.
Egypt Spirals Down; The military government trumps up a criminal case against foreigners, including American citizens.” Wall Street Journal. February 6, 2012.
Egyptian Judge Details Charges Against NGO Workers.” All Things Considered/ National Public Radio. February 8, 2012.
Egypt Judges Detail Evidence Against Americans, Others.” Wall Street Journal. February 9, 2012.
Egypt’s Premier Vows Not to Yield in Prosecuting 19 Americans.” New York Times. February 9, 2012.
What Do Democracy Promoters Actually Do?” Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 9, 2012.
In Egypt, NGO crackdown and draft law have chilling effect.” Washington Post. February 11, 2012.
Architect of Egypt’s NGO crackdown is Mubarak holdover.” Washington Post. February 7, 2012.
New Egypt More Distrustful Than Old, U.S. Groups Say.” Wall Street Journal. February 8, 2012.
NGO Prosecution Puts U.S.-Egyptian Ties at Risk.” Interpress Service ( February 8, 2012.

“US senators warn Egypt of ‘disastrous’ rupture in ties.” BBC News. February 8, 2012.
In Egypt, NGO crackdown and draft law have chilling effect.” By Ernesto London. Washington Post. February 11, 2012.


Guggenheim to Close Berlin Outpost.” By Carol Vogel. New York Times. February 6, 2012. After 15 years, Deutsche Guggenheim, an outpost of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in the headquarters of Deutsche Bank in Berlin, is closing at the end of the year. The decision to end the partnership between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Deutsche Bank was announced in Berlin on Monday morning. Neither the bank nor the Guggenheim gave a concrete reason for the decision, saying only that their contract expires at the end of 2012. “Since 1997, when Deutsche Guggenheim was established under the leadership of Thomas Krens, its program has played an essential role in the development of contemporary art in Berlin,” Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim Foundation, said in a statement. “Berlin today is a very different city from what it was when we began. We feel the time is right now to step back and re-examine our collaboration to see how it might evolve.’’ Over the years the Guggenheim has held 57 exhibitions and attracted 1.8 million visitors. It also commissioned 17 artists — among them John Baldessari, Anish Kapoor, Gerhard Richter and James Rosenquist — to create new works that were first shown at Deutsche Guggenheim. The end of Deutsche Guggenheim does not signal an end to the Guggenheim’s international network of museums. It is awaiting the green light from the City Board and the City Council of Helsinki to embark on a new Guggenheim Museum in Finland; an announcement is expected in the next few weeks.


Private schools in Haryana oppose concessional norms for poor.” By Deepender Deswal. Times of India. February 6, 2012. Students of private schools in Rohtak would be at the receiving end of a face off between the school owners and Haryana government over concessional education to children from weaker sections. Over 400 private schools in the home district of chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda will remain closed on Monday, following a call given by the private school welfare association to protest against the government’s enforcement of provision for free education to 25% children from poor sections enrolled in these schools. They are demanding that the government incur the expenses of these children instead of putting an extra burden on them. The government has directed the schools to furnish details of the beneficiary children on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana high court. Lawyer activist Satbir Hooda had demanded the implementation of the provision under Section 134A of the Haryana School Education Rules in 2009 to reserve 25% seats for meritorious students from economically weaker sections and charge fee from them at the same rates as charged in government schools. The private schools, however, refused to provide any concession, after which Hooda approached the high court for compliance of norms. Meanwhile, opposing the government’s move, president of the private schools welfare association, Kulbhushan Sharma, said, “In 2007, government came up with these provisions which mentioned that the deficit could be recovered from the remaining 75% students. But in 2009, government deleted the provision of recovery from 75% students, which burdened the school authorities. Now, if we enhance fee of 75% students, it would be exorbitant and we have to face the opposition of parents”. Maintaining that the Monday’s closure would only be symbolic, he said they could resort to statewide strike if the government does not listen to them. This issue could be tackled under the provisions of the Right to Education (RTE), in which the government is bound to fund the education of poor students, he said.

Community Radio Saves Lives and Livelihoods.” By Manipadma Jena.” Interpress Service ( February 10, 2012. Fisher Wanka Masani, 25, has been inseparable from his two- dollar transistor ever since a community radio (CR) station started up in this coastal town. The square black box blares popular songs while Masani waits for his brothers to land the daily catch. Radio Namaskar (the traditional Indian greeting), on the air since February 2010, offers much more than entertainment to the 2,000 active fishers from a 10,000-strong settlement of mud hut dwellers along Odisha state’s Chandrabhaga coastline on the Bay of Bengal. Cyclonic storms often threaten the fragile vessels of the fishers, and their lives. Television weather forecasts are unreliable because power supply in these parts is erratic. The popularity of the CR can be gauged from its most popular programme ‘Janata Darbar’ (People’s Court) and ‘Sir, Tike Sunibe?’ (Sir, Can you Kindly Lend Your Ear?) on which communities air their problems and grievances through focused 30-minute discussions, seeking redress from government agencies or elected leaders. “Ninety percent of our success stories are women-led,” says Naseem Ahmed Shah Ansari, 36, founder and chairperson of Radio Namaskar. All the 72 listener groups are led by women, he says, adding: “We want women to be the change makers in our predominantly rural setting.” Because of limited funds, the CR runs its programme entirely through 25 volunteers, ranging from Narayan Das, 62, a retired school teacher, to 18-year-old Sharup Saha, a student. “Neither the federal government nor funding organisations have any specific policy in place yet for funding CRs in India,” laments Ansari. The initial funds too were hard to come by: of the 22,000 dollars invested half came from Radio Namaskar’s parent organisation, Young India, while the rest was loaned interest-free by other non- government organisations. “Revenue from government advertisements is eyewash. We get a pittance and payments are invariably delayed,” says Ansari who is now looking at private advertisements, allowed for 5 minutes per hour of broadcast, as additional revenue.


UNICEF Funding Falls Short Leaving Millions of Children at Risk.” By Bari Bates. Interpress Service ( February 6, 2012. – If the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had 1.28 billion dollars it could help 97 million people around the world. It could relieve five million drought-affected children in Ethiopia, give 360,000 children in Kenya access to quality education and treat 16,000 children for acute malnutrition in Madagascar. It could provide 2.2 million Somalis with safe drinking water and give a million children in the Republic of South Sudan basic health care. And those figures are for Eastern and Southern Africa alone, just two regions of the world that UNICEF aims to reach. Sadly, the U.N. agency secured less than 50 percent of its funding in 2011, suggesting that it will meet only half its expected goals this year. Each January UNICEF releases its Humanitarian Action for Children report, which identifies children around the world in the most acute need of aid as a result of humanitarian emergencies – be they “natural disasters, human conflicts or chronic crises.” The report is rife with pictures of children clinging perilously to survival; high-resolution images depict the protruding ribcages of malnourished boys and girls and the harsh realities of whole populations that are slowly starving to death. Everything about the report is a desperate call for help. But help comes at a price, which, in this case, is a high one.


Benefit cuts are fuelling abuse of disabled people, say charities; Rising public resentment blamed on government.” By Peter Walker. Guardian. February 5, 2012. The government’s focus on alleged fraud and overclaiming to justify cuts in disability benefits has caused an increase in resentment and abuse directed at disabled people, as they find themselves being labelled as scroungers, six of the country’s biggest disability groups have warned. Some of the charities say they are now regularly contacted by people who have been taunted on the street about supposedly faking their disability and are concerned the climate of suspicion could spill over into violence or other hate crimes. While the charities speaking out – Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the National Autistic Society, Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), and Disability Alliance – say inflammatory media coverage has played a role in this, they primarily blame ministers and civil servants for repeatedly highlighting the supposed mass abuse of the disability benefits system, much of which is unfounded. At the same time, they say, the focus on “fairness for taxpayers” has fostered the notion that disabled people are a separate group who don’t contribute. Scope’s regular polling of people with disabilities shows that in September two-thirds said they had experienced recent hostility or taunts, up from 41% four months before. In the last poll almost half said attitudes towards them had deteriorated in the past year. Tom Madders, head of campaigns at the National Autistic Society, said: “The Department for Work and Pensions is certainly guilty of helping to drive this media narrative around benefits, portraying those who receive benefits as workshy scroungers or abusing a system that’s really easy to cheat.” He added that ministers such as the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, were being “deeply irresponsible” in conflating Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which helps disabled people hold down jobs, and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a payment for those unable to work. This “scrounger rhetoric” was already having an impact on people’s lives, Madders said, citing a woman who rang the charity to say a neighbour who formerly gave lifts to her autistic child had stopped doing so following press articles about disabled people receiving free cars under a government scheme. Some disabled people say the climate is so hostile they avoid going out, or avoid using facilities such as designated parking bays if they “don’t look disabled”.
Related story:
‘Scroungers’ rhetoric over benefits fuels abuse say charities.” Independent. February 6, 2012.

Transport charities call for £100m fund to put cycling on safer track; Investment would encourage more people to switch from their cars to bicycles.” By Philip Pank. Times of London. February 6, 2012. Each year £100 million should be set aside to finance cycle infrastructure across Britain, leading transport charities propose today. The radical blueprint to kick-start construction of world-class cycle facilities calls for 2 per cent of the Highways Agency annual budget to be put into a national fund to which local authorities could bid for finance. The proposal is one of eight ideas put forward in The Times cycle safety manifesto. Investment on such a scale would encourage more people to switch from their cars to bicycles, its backers claim. The initiative from the Campaign for Better Transport, supported by Sustrans and national cycling groups, comes amid deep cuts to local authority budgets and the closure of a £60 million scheme to promote cycling. Stephen Joseph, executive director of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “You have a fund there [the Highways Agency budget] dedicated to road infrastructure. I don’t see why 2 per cent couldn’t go to cycling infrastructure.” Eleanor Besley, of Sustrans, said: “I think that is a fantastic idea. I can’t think of any problems with it.” The Highways Agency receives £4.9 billion to maintain the road network. Most roads are managed by local authorities, whose maintenance budgets have been cut by 20 per cent, or £164 million, this Parliament. Last year, funding for infrastructure in 12 Cycling City and Towns members was also stopped. Withdrawal of the £43 million came before final analysis could be made on whether the scheme was encouraging more cycling.

Live Q&A: Students and social enterprise. Thursday 16 February from 1pm to 3pm.” Guardian. February 9, 2012. Join our expert panel to discussstudents and social enterprise. How could social enterprise be promoted among university students? As Dr Nissa Ramsay of UNLTD says, social entrepreneurship in higher education is more than just a fad – it could be instrumental to creating public value and enhancing the student experience. As Katerina Elias-Trostmann of NACUE wrote for us, there’s a real challenge in how to channel students’ ideas into viable business models says Katerina Elias-Trostmann. This live Q&A will consider: – how to teach social enterprise in higher education; – how to encourage students to pursue social enterprise in their own time; – making the leap from student social enterprise to real-life social enterprsie – how is it happening, how can it be supported and what needs to happen. Get in touch if you’d like to be a panellist – we’re interested in hearing from current students, past students who’ve carried social enterprise into their working lives, tutors and teachers, support organisations and investors. Email Gines Haro Pastor for more details. If you’d like to leave a question, please do so in the comments section below, or come back to ask it live – and follow the debate – on Thursday 16 February from 1pm to 3pm. Panel of experts: Edwin Broni-Mensah – Founder, GiveMeTap; Andre Hackett – Co-Founder, We Make a Change Ltd; Taeed Olinga – Professor in Social Enterprise, University of Northampton; Sara Fernandez – Chief Operating Officer, Student Hubs; Sharon Clancy- Head of Community Partnerships, University of Nottingham; Hushpreet Dhaliwal – CEO, NACUE.

Christianity on the rack as judge bans public prayer.” By Ruth Gledhill and Simon de Bruxelles. Times of London. Fenruary 10, 2012. The right of Christian worship in schools and Parliament faces a fresh assault after a High Court judge banned prayers at council meetings. In a landmark ruling yesterday on a case brought by the National Secular Society and an atheist councillor, formal acts of prayer in the chambers of town and city halls were outlawed. Senior members of the Church of England acted with barely disguised fury at the decision, branding the verdict a “silencing” of the Christian voice in Britain. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, told The Times that the High Court ruling represented the “marginalisation of Christianity”. The National Secular Society, which began the case in July 2010, denied that the ruling was an attack on religion — but acknowledged that it was contemplating a move to stop formal prayers at both Houses of Parliament. Keith Porteous Wood, a spokesman for the society, said: “England and Wales are the only countries in the world to have [prayers at Parliament], presumably because the UK is the only country in the world to give clerics, 26 bishops, the right to sit in its legislature. Strange how Britain still is alone in thinking it is appropriate to enforce this by law. We will not give up on this.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


Unions Create TV Ad To Appeal To Young People; This TV ad is the first in a new campaign by the AFL-CIO to change how young people feel about unions.” By Richard Gonzales. Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 6, 2012. This TV ad is the first in a new campaign by the AFL-CIO to change how young people feel about unions. At a time when young activists from Zucotti Park to Tahrir Square have shown what the internet and social media can do to help organize people, some American unions have been taking notes. The AFL-CIO is embarking on a new advertising campaign that combines new and old technologies. “Work doesn’t separate. It’s what binds us together,” a commercial voiceover says in the recently test-launched ad campaign with a disarmingly simple message. The campaign is called “Work Connects Us All,” and it’s TV ad features a multi-racial cast of firefighters, teachers, autoworkers, and even baristas gathered in a stark industrial interior. “I teach your kid. You fix my car. He builds my city. She keeps it safe. Work is what connects us,” the ad says. It never mentions unions, and only a quick credit at the end tells the viewer that it is sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


Misreading Catholic Barometer Is a Political Risk.” Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2012. [For stories, go to Religion].

Senate Backs Church Use of Schools.” By John Eligon. New York Times. February 6, 2012. New York’s State Senate passed a bill on Monday that would allow churches to continue holding worship services in public schools, but the future of the legislation remained in question as the Assembly speaker expressed skepticism about it. The bill, sponsored by Senator Martin J. Golden, Republican of Brooklyn, says that congregations may hold services in schools when the property is not being used for school purposes. The bill would effectively undo a court ruling last year that upheld a policy of the New York City Education Department prohibiting religious services from being held in public schools after hours. Churches pay the same rent as other groups to use schools. Despite the city’s rule against it, dozens of churches have been holding services in schools on Sundays for years while a case pertaining to the issue made its way through the courts. After a federal appeals court ruled in the city’s favor last summer, and the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case late last year, the city said that worship services could not be held in schools after Feb. 12. That has caused dozens of congregations to look for new homes. Their only hope appears to be intervention by the Assembly on Tuesday, but it seemed unlikely that a bill would pass that house quickly enough.
Related story:
For Congregations Gathering in City Schools, Time to Move.” New York Times. February 6, 2012,

Prayer Case at School Is Settled.” By Nathan Koppel. Wall Street Journal. February 10, 2012. A Texas school-prayer case that fueled calls by Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich to curtail the power of federal judges was settled Thursday, with the school district agreeing to bar employees from displaying religious symbols but permitting students to pray at graduation. The case began last May when a former student and a graduating one at Medina Valley High School near San Antonio sued to block religious displays at the school, including prayer at the graduation ceremony. Federal Judge Fred Biery sided with the students, concluding that such prayers were likely to violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Although Judge Biery’s ruling was reversed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, allowing the prayers to proceed, the decision drew barbs from Mr. Gingrich. He called it hostile to religion, criticizing Judge Biery by name Jan. 22 after winning South Carolina’s primary. The settlement prohibits employees of the local district from initiating or joining prayers in the presence of students. It also bars school employees from displaying religious icons on school walls or windows unless they are being used for “non-religious” purposes. But the school district may permit students to pray in graduation-ceremony speeches. In his order approving the settlement, San Antonio-based Judge Biery, appointed by President Bill Clinton, couldn’t resist a parting shot. To those who “demagogued this case for their own political goals: You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he wrote. Mr. Gingrich’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Senate Republicans Would Require The Unemployed To Volunteer.” By Arthur Delaney. Huffington Post. February 10, 2012. Republicans in the U.S. Senate want the long-term unemployed to volunteer for 20 hours a week in order to receive unemployment insurance. A bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) would also require claimants drawing benefits six months or longer to search for work at least 20 hours a week. “Engagement in volunteer service will encourage unemployed workers to maintain job skills, marketability, and a sense of self-worth while providing for the betterment of their communities,” Burr said in a statement. “Even more, the active job search requirement will enhance the integrity of the unemployment system and its ability to identify and serve those most in need.” Burr’s bill dropped right as Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked over a reauthorization of federal unemployment insurance programs and a 2 percent cut to workers’ Social Security payroll taxes. Those items and several other domestic spending measures are set to expire at the end of the month. Republicans on the negotiating committee are already pushing for a host of unemployment reforms, including allowing states to drug test workers applying for benefits and denying aid to people who don’t have high school diplomas. A Burr spokesman said the senator wouldn’t mind if his proposal got wrapped into the broader package. Seventeen other senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), signed on to Burr’s bill. Worker advocates said the legislation amounts to just another effort to demonize people laid off through no fault of their own in order to undercut the costly government programs that support them — much like what happened with welfare recipients in the years leading up to welfare reform in 1996.

A Year of Tax-Code Reckoning.” By Jonathan Weisman. New York Times. February 11, 2012. Taxpayers struggling with their 2011 returns can take a little solace in the knowledge that change is coming — though it may be accompanied by increasing tax bills. For two decades, politicians have promised — and failed — to overhaul the tax code to make it simpler and fairer. This time they have a deadline of sorts. On Jan. 1, 2013, a major part of the current code turns into a pumpkin. That is when income tax rate cuts — a host of expanded tax deductions and credits, and generous changes in the taxation of dividends, capital gains and inheritances — are set to disappear. That day of reckoning was supposed to have come in 2011, but President Obama signed a two-year extension of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, along with temporary tax cuts of his own, most notably the two-percentage-point cut to the payroll tax. This time around, Mr. Obama has vowed that he will not extend the tax cuts for upper-income Americans, and no matter who wins the presidential election in November, Mr. Obama will be in the White House on Expiration Day. That will put pressure on Republicans in Congress to prevent a sudden return to the tax code of the 1990s. “The worst thing for our country would be for these automatic tax increases to take place,” said Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. Of course, if the G.O.P. wins control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Republican leaders could allow those wholesale tax increases to take place, with the expectation that they will overturn them once they assume control later in January. They could use a parliamentary mechanism called reconciliation — the same method used in 2001 and 2003 — to avoid a Democratic filibuster and reinstate the expired tax rates, at least temporarily. But at this point, no one is advocating mere preservation of the status quo.

Occupy Movement Regroups, Preparing for Its Next Phase.” By Erik Eckholm. New York Times. February 11, 2012. The ragtag Occupy Wall Street encampments that sprang up in scores of cities last fall, thrusting “We are the 99 percent” into the vernacular, have largely been dismantled, with a new wave of crackdowns and evictions in the past week. Since the violent clashes last month in Oakland, Calif., headlines about Occupy have dwindled, too. Far from dissipating, groups around the country say they are preparing for a new phase of larger marches and strikes this spring that they hope will rebuild momentum and cast an even brighter glare on inequality and corporate greed. But this transition is filled with potential pitfalls and uncertainties: without the visible camps or clear goals, can Occupy become a lasting force for change? Will disruptive protests do more to galvanize or alienate the public? Though still loosely organized, the movement is putting down roots in many cities. Activists in Chicago and Des Moines have rented offices, a significant change for groups accustomed to holding open-air assemblies or huddling in tents in bad weather. On any night in New York City, which remains a hub of the movement, a dozen working groups on issues like “food justice” and “arts and culture” meet in a Wall Street atrium, and “general assemblies” have formed in 14 neighborhoods. Around the country, small demonstrations — often focused on banks and ending foreclosure evictions — take place almost daily. If the movement has not produced public leaders, some visible faces have emerged.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012


A New Question of Internet Freedom.” By David Jolly. New York Times. February 5, 2012. European activists who participated in American Internet protests last month learned that there was political power to be harnessed on the Web. Now they are putting that knowledge to use in an effort to defeat new global rules for intellectual property. In the U.S. protests , Web sites including Wikipedia went dark Jan. 18, and more than seven million people signed Google’s online petition opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act. Ultimately, even the bills’ sponsors in the U.S. Congress backed down under the onslaught of public criticism. The European activists are hoping to use similar pressure to stop the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement , or ACTA, which is meant to clamp down on illegal commerce in copyrighted and trademarked goods. Opponents say that it will erode Internet freedom and stifle innovation. About 1.5 million people have signed a Web petition calling for the European Parliament to reject ACTA, which some say is merely SOPA and PIPA on an international level. Thousands of people have turned out for demonstrations across Europe, with more scheduled for next Saturday. After more than three years of talks, which critics say were conducted without sufficient public input , the United States signed on to ACTA last October in Tokyo, along with Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand and South Korea. (The agreement is to come into force when six of those countries have ratified it.) But the issue moved into the mainstream in Europe after the European Union and representatives of 22 of 27 E.U. members — all except Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia — signed Jan. 26. On the same day, Kader Arif, a French Socialist member of the European Parliament, quit as the body’s special rapporteur for ACTA. He said the European Parliament and civil society organizations had been excluded from the negotiations, and he denounced the entire process as a “masquerade.” The issue, which had gotten little traction in the news media previously, began to move into the headlines, with calls for national legislatures and the European Parliament to reject the treaty.

Social Media Acts As Catalyst For Policy Change.” All Things Considered/ National Public Radio. February 6, 2012. Websites like Facebook and Twitter played an integral role in last year’s Arab Spring uprisings. But they’ve also brought about change right here at home. Audie Cornish talks to Clay Shirky, a professor of New Media at New York University, about how social media has fueled policy changes from Bank of America to Verizon, and the most recent backlash with the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Opinions: We are the media, and so are you.” By Jimmy Wales and Kat Walsh. Washington Post. February 9, 2012. It’s easy to frame the fight over SOPA and PIPA as Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley — two huge industries clashing over whose voice should dictate the future of Internet policy — but it’s absolutely wrong. The bills are dead, thanks to widespread protest. But the real architects of the bills’ defeat don’t have a catchy label or a recognized lobbying group. They don’t have the glamour or the deep pockets of the studios. Yet they are the largest, most powerful and most important voice in the debate — and, until recently, they’ve been all but invisible to Congress. They are you. And if not you personally, then your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends and even your children. The millions of people who called and wrote their congressional representatives in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act were “organized” only around the desire to protect the Web sites that have become central to their daily lives. Change like this needed a fresh set of voices. The established tech giants may have newfound political influence, but their fights are still the same closed-door tussles over minor details. They have been at the table, and they have too much invested in the process to change it. More important, they are constrained by obligations to their shareholders and investors, as well as by the need to maintain relationships with their advertisers, partners and customers. Wikipedia, its users and its contributors don’t have the same constraints. We don’t rely on advertising dollars or content partnerships. The billions of words and millions of images in our projects come from the same place as our financial support: the voluntary contribution of millions of individuals. The result is free knowledge, available for anyone to read and reuse. Wikipedia is not opposed to the rights of creators — we have the largest collection of creators in human history. The effort that went into building Wikipedia could have created shelves full of albums or near-endless nights of movies. Instead it’s providing unrestricted access to the world’s knowledge. Protecting our rights as creators means ensuring that we can build our encyclopedias, photographs, videos, Web sites, charities and businesses without the fear that they all will be taken away from us without due process. It means protecting our ability to speak freely, without being vulnerable to poorly drafted laws that leave our fate to a law enforcement body that has no oversight and no appeal process. It means protecting the legal infrastructure that allowed our sharing of knowledge and creativity to flourish, and protecting our ability to do so on technical infrastructure that allows for security and privacy for all Internet users.

Project Funded Online Hits $1 Million Milestone.” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 11, 2012. Kickstarter, a website designed to fund creative projects through the support of small online donations, crowned its first millionaire this week: Casey Hopkins, an engineer based in Portland, Ore. It all started when Hopkins got fed up with the iPhone docks he kept buying in stores. “They’re these little plastic pucks and they don’t work if you have a case on your phone,” he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. “And they’re so lightweight that when you go to grab it, the whole thing comes with it.” So he designed his own — one made of aircraft-grade aluminum that wouldn’t move around when you took your iPhone out of it. He called it the Elevation Dock. He shot a video of some prototypes, put it on Kickstarter, and asked for help raising $75,000 to get his project off the ground. “Then it just exploded across the Internet,” he says. “We hit that $75,000 goal in eight hours.” Twenty-four hours later, Hopkins, who made less than $40,000 last year, had racked up $168,000 in pre-orders. Today he has more than $1.4 million in venture capital for his new business. He’s gotten orders from retailers all over the world — Taiwan, South Korea, Australia — anywhere iPhones are. The Evelation Dock will retail for about $90 later this year on his website, Hopkins says, but not until he ships the first round out to supporters who backed his project. The next few months, he says, will be “nose to the grindstone.”