Archive for February, 2012

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012

PHILANTHROPY

Donor of the Day: Modernizing a Weekend Retreat for 3,500.” By Melanie Grayce West. Wall Street Journal. February 6, 2012. There’s no real way to “modernize” the interior of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue, a beautiful Byzantine-style church completed in 1918. But as services and church uses have evolved, a few interior-design tweaks were needed. First, the pews went and were replaced with padded chairs. The movable chairs allow for a bit more flexibility in the space for services, concerts, theatrical performances, weddings and other ceremonies. The chair’s padding, complete with removable kneelers, absorbs sound a little better and has improved the acoustics inside the church. The chairs were paid for by some of the church’s 3,500 parishioners. Second, there was a need to bring the action of the service closer to the congregation. St. Bart’s, as it is known, is a very large church. From the narthex and the furthest row of chairs, the church’s fixed marble altar is a distance that requires squinting. The church wanted to make Sunday services more intimate. Diane Posnak, who has been a parishioner for 27 years, agreed with the idea and donated $150,000 to have a new movable platform and altar designed for St. Bart’s. She did so in memory of her husband, Robert, who died 17 years ago. Mr. Posnak was a head partner at Ernst & Young and Mrs. Posnak, now retired, was a partner at Steven Hall & Partners. Mrs. Posnak says that her family was initially drawn to St. Bart’s because of its preschool. Where friends had country or weekend homes, the Posnaks called St. Bart’s their weekend retreat. Mr. Posnak was active in the church—he filmed the church’s Christmas pageants—and is buried in the church’s columbary. Mrs. Posnak has been a lifelong volunteer, serving on many of the church’s various boards. The new platform and altar is something “Bob would have supported vociferously,” said Mrs. Posnak. “I felt that it was something that would bring us closer together as a community.”

Donor of the Day: Years of Donating to an Education Model That Works.” By Melanie Grayce West. Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2012. You could call Ava Seave and Bruce Greenwald good neighbors. It was about 20 years ago that the couple were invited to attend a fund-raiser at the De La Salle Academy, a private, independent middle school located on West 97th Street. The school is down the block from the couple’s Upper West Side home. That event led to others and a series of small donations. Ms. Seave recalls donating some bookshelves to the school. Students walked to her apartment and picked them up. After several years, Ms. Seave joined the school’s board. De La Salle and its sibling school, the George Jackson Academy in the East Village, were founded by Brother Brian Carty. He established the nonsectarian schools to serve talented students from low-income families. Admission is need-blind and many of the students attend the school on a scholarship. Nearly half of the 150 students come from homes where the income is less than $25,000. Brotherhood and community, sharing and civic responsibility are core tenets of the school. De La Salle has “such a basic level of ethics and a belief in the human spirit,” said Ms. Seave. “That makes it broadly attractive to donors.” Ms. Seave is a management consultant and Mr. Greenwald is a professor of finance and asset management at Columbia Business School. Through the years, the family’s donations have totaled some $400,000, including a recent gift of $150,000. De La Salle is the family’s primary charitable activity. “You can have so much good effect for not a lot of financial involvement,” said Ms. Seave of the school. “If you’re skeptical about how charities work, you can see the effects of it really easily, right down the street from where you’re living.”

Donor of the Day: Making Room For Wizards.” By Melanie Grayce West. Wall Street Journal. February 8, 2012. It took a decade and $250,000, but last week Joseph B. Rosenblatt finally got the children’s study centers he wanted. Mr. Rosenblatt, 89 years old, is chairman emeritus of New York’s Olmstead Properties, a privately held, real-estate firm. After serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II, Mr. Rosenblatt began his career in real estate, focusing on properties in the Garment Center and “recycling” them into moderately priced office space or living lofts. He was known for his good eye and often offered opinions to others on real-estate deals. It was nearly 10 years ago that he got a call to help a friend of a friend evaluate some railroad apartments in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He went out one night after work to see the buildings, walking through one family’s apartment after another. What struck him was not just the poor condition of the buildings, but that the children’s rooms didn’t have any bookshelves or desks, books or lamps. None of the apartments he saw had a space for a child to do homework. Mr. Rosenblatt worried that these young children would hit fourth grade without the study skills necessary to advance. As the father of three and grandfather of six, he believes that education happens equally in the home and at school. “These children are going to be lost,” he thought. Mr. Rosenblatt, checkbook in hand, set out to fund a program that would provide study areas and materials to help the kind of kids he saw that night. Within weeks, Mr. Rosenblatt was meeting with NYCHA’s Office of Public Private Partnerships to develop the “Wizard’s Corner” pilot program. At last, Mr. Rosenblatt made his gift through the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The Wizard’s Corner children’s program will be in three community centers in NYCHA developments in Brooklyn. The program, which will serve some 400 children, includes community study centers and money to provide desks, lamps and chairs to eligible families with children ages 5 to 11.

Donor of the Day: Revamping Connecticut’s Education System.” By Shelly Banjo. Wall Street Journal. February 9, 2012. Cable entrepreneur Steve Simmons says he wants Connecticut to have its own “Waiting for Superman” moment, referring to the 2010 documentary about failures in the American school system that he says helped spur a nationwide movement to improve public education. To that end, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform and Mr. Simmons, of Greenwich, have put up $250,000 to create a documentary to call attention to the state’s own struggling public school system. Called “Great Expectations: Raising Educational Achievement,” the three-part series will have its premiere on Connecticut Public Television Thursday, giving residents an inside look into some of the state’s lowest-performing schools and how educators can revamp the leadership, policies and curriculum to boost student learning and turn around what Mr. Simmons calls “dropout factories.” The film will also highlight school-reform efforts that Mr. Simmons calls models for improvement, such as a sweeping overhaul of New Haven’s school system led by Mayor John DeStefano and the state takeover of the Windham school district in the northeast corner of the state, led by former Hartford school Superintendent Steven Adamowski. Produced by local documentary filmmaker Jonathan Robinson, the film is expected to reach half a million viewers over six months. The Connecticut Council for Education Reform, comprised of Connecticut business and civic leaders, emerged out of a 2010 commission appointed by former Republican Gov. Jodi Rell to make recommendations for closing the state’s achievement gap between poor and wealthy children, the largest in the nation. As a commission, the group put forward more than 65 recommendations to improve the state’s public schools and decided to create a nonprofit to advocate for the implementation of their suggestions.

Handshakes, Fashion Tips and Other Life Lessons.” By Melanie Grayce West. Wall Street Journal. February 8, 2012. The program is called Overcoming Obstacles and was founded by Mrs. Chalsty 20 years ago through her New York-based Community for Education Foundation, an education reform organization. The 80 lessons focus on “relevant skills” like handling stress, taking tests, networking and dealing with bullies. It was that last subject—bullying—that served as Mrs. Chalsty’s inspiration. At her 10th high school reunion in 1989, Mrs. Chalsty was approached by the woman who bullied her throughout junior and senior high school. The woman apologized and explained that she was now teaching at-risk young people life skills. Mrs. Chalsty recalls that the woman admitted that a life-skills program would have been useful during their school years. That conversation set in motion a research project for Mrs. Chalsty and ultimately led to the development of the Overcoming Obstacles program. So far, Overcoming Obstacles has been used by 2.5 million students in New York, Charleston, S.C., Jersey City, N.J., Los Angeles and other cities. It is a program “that everyone agrees is important,” says Mrs. Chalsty. “If you don’t learn communication and goal-setting, you’re not engaged in learning.” The curriculum and teacher training have traditionally been paid for by school districts. But with budget cuts, the organization decided it was time to make the program free. To that end, the organization kicked off a $10 million dollar “gifting initiative” to make Overcoming Obstacles free to eligible schools, including the New York City Department of Education, who will use the program in all of its 850 middle and high schools. The Chalstys, who reside in Charleston, S.C., recently donated $500,000 to help kick-start the gifting initiative. Another $1.5 million of the $10 million goal has been raised. Mr. Chalsty, chairman of Muirfield Capital Management and former chairman of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Inc., sees the support of Overcoming Obstacles as partly a payback for the scholarship that he received to travel from his native South Africa to study in the U.S.

Over Bowls Of Soup, Donors Find Recipe For Change.” By Linton Weeks and Sam Sanders. All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 9, 2012. The Soup Movement in America is based on a simple recipe: Bring a bunch of people together to eat soup. Ask each person for a modest donation — say $5. Listen to a few proposals about how people might use that pool of money for a worthwhile project. Vote on the best proposal, and give all the money to the top vote-getter. Go home full and fulfilled. With the national surge of microfinancing and social entrepreneurship, soup groups have bubbled up in Detroit, Fort Worth, Los Angeles and other cities around the country. FEAST, founded in Brooklyn in 2009, has awarded more than $17,000 in small grants. Louisville’s posSOUPbility group convened for the first time on Jan. 29. You can find a loose-knit network of active — and not so active — groups at the Sunday Soup website. Many of the confabs have a special focus. Sprout Seattle, for example, provides funds for emerging artists. In Philadelphia, an organization called PhilaSoup concentrates on education.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012

RELIGION

Misreading Catholic Barometer Is a Political Risk.” By Gerald F. Seib. Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2012. In nine of the past 10 presidential elections, the Catholic vote has gone with the candidate who ultimately won the election. Five times it has gone to a Republican; five times to a Democrat. In five of those elections, the percentage of the Catholic vote taken by the winner has been within a single percentage point of the share he won overall. In 2008, 54% of Catholics went for President Barack Obama and he won; in 2010, 54% voted Republican, and the GOP took control of the House. In short, Catholic voters, who make up about a quarter of the electorate, represent the ultimate swing vote, and they rank right up there with the state of Ohio as a bellwether of presidential-election outcomes. Which is why President Barack Obama has to be worried about the reaction to his administration’s decision that could compel many Catholic institutions, like other employers, to offer contraception services in health policies. The harshly negative reaction of the church’s bishops—important allies of the president’s on other matters, notably immigration reform—is one thing. The bigger question is whether rank-and-file Catholics, even the majority who tend to disagree with church teaching on contraception, will view the administration’s actions as a case of overreach. As a result, the administration now faces a delicate question of whether to mend fences, seek a new compromise or assume the flap will blow over without affecting broader Catholic views. The cause of this rift is a set of guidelines the Department of Health and Human Services issued last month as an outgrowth of the 2010 health-care law, detailing which preventive-health services employers are required to cover without an insurance co-payment. The HHS guidelines said that birth control has to be covered, though they also gave an exemption to churches that consider contraception immoral. But religious institutions that employ and serve people outside their faith—hospitals, elementary schools, universities—have to comply with the requirement to cover birth control if they offer health coverage for employees. Catholic institutions that employ and serve wide swaths of non-Catholics across the country won’t be exempt, despite church teachings against use of contraception.
Related stories:
Editorial: Contraception mandate violates religious freedom.” Editorial. USA Today. December 5, 2012.
White House seeks to soothe concerns over contraception rule.” Washington Post. February 7, 2012.
Obama Tries to Ease Ire on Contraception Rule.” New York Times. February 7, 2012
White House: ‘Ways To Resolve’ Contraception Issue.” All Things Considered/ National Public Radio. February 7, 2012.
ObamaCare’s Great Awakening; HHS tells religious believers to go to hell. The public notices.” Wall Street Journal. February 8, 2012.
Transformers: The Catholic church learns the true meaning of Obama’s ‘transformative’ presidency.” Wall Street Journal. February 8, 2012.
GOP Legislators Take Aim at Contraceptive Rule.” Wall Street Journal. February 9, 2012.
Obama mandate on birth control coverage stirs controversy.” USA Today. February 9, 2012.
Birth Control Is Covered, and G.O.P. Vows a Fight.New York Times. February 8, 2012.
A rule that protects women and respects faith.” Op-ed. Washington Post. February 9, 2012.
Bishops Stand Strong Against Birth Control Mandate.” All Things Considered/ National Public Radio. December 9, 2010.
Biden Backs Birth Control Compromise.” Wall Street Journal. February 10, 2012.
United We Stand for Religious Freedom; ObamaCare’s contraception mandate stands the First Amendment on its head.” Wall Street Journal. February 10, 2012.
Bishops Were Prepared for Battle Over Birth Control Coverage.” New York Times. February 9, 2012.
Obama Birth Control Compromise Announced.” Huffington Post. February 10, 2012.
Mike Huckabee CPAC Speech: ‘We Are All Catholics Now’.” Huffington Post. 2-10-12
Rules Requiring Contraceptive Coverage Have Been In Force For Years.” Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 10, 2012.
Catholics Split Over Obama Contraceptive Order.” Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 10, 2012.
Obama shifts course on birth control rule to calm Catholic leaders’ outrage.” Washington Post. February 10, 2012.
Obama Retreats on Contraception.” Wall Street Journal. February 11, 2012.
Rule Shift on Birth Control Is Concession to Obama Allies.” New York Times. February 10, 2012.
N.Y. Law on Contraceptives Already in Place, and Catholic Institutions Comply.” New York Times. February 10, 2012.
The Freedom to Choose Birth Control.” Editorial. New York Times. February 10, 2012.
Pro-Choice, Catholic Groups Line Up Behind ‘Miraculous’ Accommodation on Contraceptive Access.” The Nation. February 10, 2012.
White House Revises Birth Control Coverage Policy.” By Scott Horsley. All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 10, 2012.
Week in Politics: Birth Control And The Primaries.” All Things Considered/ National Public Radio. February 10, 2012.
U.S. bishops blast Obama’s contraception compromise.Washington Post. February 11, 2012.
Bishops call Obama’s contraception compromise ‘unacceptable’.” Politico.com. February 11, 2012.
New Contraceptive Plan: A Successful Balancing Act?” Weekend Edition Saturday/National Public Radio. February 11, 2012.
Bishops Reject White House’s New Plan on Contraception.” New York Times. February 11, 2012.
From abortion rights to social justice, and lots in between.” The Nation. February 10, 2012.
Prayer Case at School Is Settled.Wall Street Journal. February 10, 2012. [For story, go to Law & Public Policy].

Gardens of Eden Sprout in Synagogue and Church Yards, but They Aren’t Very Fruitful; Rabbi Birnholz’s Biblical Plantings Have Been Disappointing; Faith, Toil and Perseverance Come a Cropper.” Wall Street Journal. February 11, 2012. Rabbi Michael Birnholz wanted a little bit of Eden for his synagogue here, so he set out to bring forth fruit upon his land, planting a collection of herbs, fruit trees and flowers mentioned in the Bible. Heaven hasn’t always smiled on the rabbi’s efforts. This lush, sun-drenched region, known as the Treasure Coast, is renowned for its citrus groves and semitropical vegetation. But Rabbi Birnholz’s pomegranates, date palms, fig, olive and apple trees—they aren’t all doing so well. “I think that it is dead,” he said, surveying a shriveled pomegranate tree in the garden behind Temple Beth Shalom, a lively reform congregation. “Agriculture is not easy.” “Biblical gardens” are sprouting outside churches and synagogues around the country. Collections of flora native to the Middle East were once largely the domain of professional botanical gardens or institutions such as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York, whose renowned biblical garden has a $20,000 annual maintenance budget and expert gardeners and volunteers. Now, they are cropping up in synagogue and church yards from Missouri to Vermont. The Internet makes buying exotic “biblical” seeds a cinch. And at a time when congregations of all faiths and denominations struggle to attract members, a biblical garden can be a draw—turning obscure biblical references into living, blooming realities.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012

SCANDAL

Claremont McKenna’s inflated scores bring new scrutiny to college rankings; Some students and their counselors say they might take annual magazine listings of colleges less seriously than in the past.” By Larry Gordon. Los Angeles Times. February 13, 2012. As she looked for potential colleges, Elisha Marquez researched school rankings in U.S. News & World Report and other publications. As a result, she found some East Coast schools that previously were not on her radar. But Marquez heard disturbing news recently. Claremont McKenna College reported that an admissions dean inflated freshman SAT scores for six years to boost its standing in U.S. News. Such cheating makes Marquez “a little more skeptical of such rankings.” Reactions like hers are spreading as the Claremont McKenna scandal revives the long-festering national debate about the rankings’ reliability and influence. That poses challenges not just to U.S. News, which is the most prominent, but to Forbes, Princeton Review, Kiplinger and other popular college listings as well. Some said it was like seeing the curtain pulled back on the Wizard of Oz to reveal a more vulnerable and questionable entity. U.S. News describes the cheating as a rare — although not unprecedented — blip. It should not detract from its careful efforts to provide a fair and consumer-friendly tool in the otherwise confusing world of college admissions, according to Robert Morse, the magazine’s director of data research. “All schools aren’t corrupt. Just a few are corrupt on a very infrequent basis,” said Morse, who helps gather information from and about the 1,600 schools in its annual best colleges editions and websites.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012

YOUTH-SERVING ORGANIZATIONS

Saluting a Centennial; The Girl Scouts’ success in America merits attention—as does their founder’s colorful life.” By Amy Finnerty. Wall Street Journal. February 11, 2012. Review of Juliette Gordon Low by Stacy A. Cordery (Viking); First Girl Scout by Ginger Wadsworth (Clarion); On My Honor by Shannon Henry Kleiber (Sourcebooks). When Juliette Gordon Low was abandoned by her wealthy, philandering British husband in the early 1900s, she was a middle-age woman and nearly deaf, but she resolved not to sink into despair and self-pity. Daisy, as everyone knew her, had grown up in privilege as a child in Savannah, Ga., and then led a married life of antic leisure in England, traveling often between Europe and America. After the collapse of her marriage, Daisy cast about for a way to make herself useful—she’d had a taste of it in the late 1890s when she moved to the U.S. to help organize a convalescent hospital during the Spanish-American War. But now she wanted a long-term focus for her considerable but largely untapped energies. Though she was childless, Daisy found an interest in 1911 that would consume her: encouraging girls to become competent, self-confident, civic-minded and sociable young citizens through the organization she launched in America, the Girl Scouts. Daisy settled on her mission after meeting Robert Baden-Powell, the renowned former British army general who a few years earlier had founded the Boy Scouts and its off-shoot, the Girl Guides. The youth movement was immediately popular, and an American version of the Boy Scouts had been started in 1910. Daisy assembled the first meeting of American Girl Guides in Savannah in March 1912; the following year her group changed its name to Girl Scouts. Now known as Girl Scouts of the USA, the organization celebrates its centennial as the nation’s largest all-female volunteer organization: 50 million American girls and women have participated in a group that today has 2.3 million active Girl Scouts and 880,000 adult volunteers. They are part of an international sisterhood of 10 million members in 145 countries. Of the three books pegged to the Girl Scouts’ 100th, the most engaging by far is Stacy A. Cordery’s “Juliette Gordon Low.” Ms. Cordery gives us the unexpurgated life—one that might make you want to shield the eyes of the nearest Brownie Scout but one that also lends depth and color to the American Girl Scouts founder’s story. Ms. Cordery uses a wealth of historical detail to animate both an era and the author’s flawed, sometimes exasperating but generally appealing subject.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 30-February 5, 2012)

Monday, February 6th, 2012

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

Study: SuperPACs Behind Nearly Half Of 2012 Ads.” By Peter Overby. All Things Considered/National Public Radio. January 30, 2012. A new analysis shows that in the deluge of TV ads in the early voting states for the Republican presidential primaries, nearly half of the ads are coming not from the candidates but from superPACs — the new breed of political committees that raise unregulated money. Political scientists at Wesleyan University in Connecticut found that so far, there have been about the same number of GOP primary ads as there were four years ago. What’s different — and different in a big way — is the role of outside money groups, mostly superPACs, says Erika Franklin Fowler, a director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “They went from about 3 percent of total ad airings in the 2008 race to almost half, about 44 percent, in 2012,” she says. SuperPACs are creations of several recent legal rulings, including the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. A superPAC can raise unlimited money from corporations, unions and the wealthy. The candidate can help raise that money, but the candidate and the superPAC cannot coordinate their messages. Fowler says that once superPACs became possible, they changed the game in the 2010 congressional races. “2010 was a record-breaking year in terms of political advertising, and we expect 2012 to shatter those records,” Fowler says.
Related stories:
Sen. Jon Tester Decries Citizens United’s Impact In Montana, Nationally.” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. January 30, 2012.
Super PACs helping Republican candidates close in on Obama.” Washington Post. January 31, 2012.
Super Facts about Super PACs.” American Prospect. January 31, 2012.
G.O.P. Donors Showing Thirst to Top Obama.New York Times. January 31, 2012.
“‘Super PACs’ report donors for 2011; A group supporting Mitt Romney raised $30 million, including three $1-million donations from hedge fund executives. The disclosures underscore the powerful role assumed by wealthy individuals in this election cycle.” Washington Post. January 31, 2012.
The big spenders behind the super PACs.” Washington Post. February 1, 2012.
Senate Democrats Call For SuperPAC Probe.” All Things Considered/ Public Radio. February 1, 2012.
Outside Groups Outspend Candidates.” Wall Street Journal. February 1, 2012.
‘”Secrecy Shrouds ‘Super PAC’ Funds in Latest Filings.” New York Times. February 1, 2012
“Super PACs’ largely funded by a wealthy few; A few super rich individuals are using their personal and corporate wealth to influence American politics in an unprecedented manner.Los Angeles Times. February 2, 2012.
Corporations are sending more contributions to super PACs.Washington Post. February 2, 2012.
“If Their Names Aren’t on the Campaign Reports, Take a Look at the Super PAC.” New York Times. February 4, 2012.
The Citizens United catastrophe.” Washington Post. February 5, 2012.

Obama’s Enemies List: David and Charles Koch have been the targets of a campaign of vituperation and assault, choreographed from the very top.” By Theodore B. Olson. Wall Street Journal. February 1, 2012. How would you feel if aides to the president of the United States singled you out by name for attack, and if you were featured prominently in the president’s re-election campaign as an enemy of the people? What would you do if the White House engaged in derogatory speculative innuendo about the integrity of your tax returns? Suppose also that the president’s surrogates and allies in the media regularly attacked you, sullied your reputation and questioned your integrity. On top of all of that, what if a leading member of the president’s party in Congress demanded your appearance before a congressional committee this week so that you could be interrogated about the Keystone XL oil pipeline project in which you have repeatedly—and accurately—stated that you have no involvement? Consider that all this is happening because you have been selected as an attractive political punching bag by the president’s re-election team. This is precisely what has happened to Charles and David Koch, even though they are private citizens, and neither is a candidate for the president’s or anyone else’s office. What Messrs. Koch do, in fact, is manage businesses that provide employment to more than 50,000 people in North America in legitimate, productive industries. They also give millions of dollars to medical researchers, hospitals and cultural institutions. Their biggest offense, apparently, is that they also contribute generously to nonprofit organizations that promote personal liberty and free enterprise, and some of those organizations oppose policies advocated by the president.

With Spotlight on Super PAC Dollars, Nonprofits Escape Scrutiny.” By Kim Barker, Al Shaw and Ariel Wittenberg. ProPublica, Feb. 3, 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.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 30-February 5, 2012)

Monday, February 6th, 2012

ARTS & CULTURE

“Museum features items Made in NY; South Street Seaport Museum reopened.”
last week. By Jeremy Smerd. Crain’s New York Business. January 29, 2012. The city’s manufacturing industry has all the makings of a museum exhibit: It’s old and exists mainly in the past. But rather than lament a bygone era, the South Street Seaport Museum, as part of its grand reopening, is celebrating the small-scale artisanship still flourishing here. “Made in New York” features three galleries filled with furniture and clothing made locally and in limited batches. Psychedelic-looking wallpaper, a chaise longue made out of cork, cabinet drawers built from recycled lumber, custom-made staircases and hand-blown glass are among the items being exhibited. Most can be ordered directly from the artists. “Everyone thinks there is no longer manufacturing in New York, but there actually is,” said Donald Albrecht, curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York, which took control of the shuttered South Street museum in the fall and reopened it last week. Mr. Albrecht discovered many of the Brooklyn artists in Dumbo, Williamsburg, and Sunset Park’s Industry City at Bush Terminal, where goods-makers keep the history of New York’s manufacturing alive and working.

King Center ex-CEO opens up.” By Shelia M. Poole and Ernie Suggs. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. January 27, 2012. In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Martin King said his concerns about the blurring of lines between the nonprofit King Center and the for-profit King Inc. left him with no choice but to leave the organization he had led for 18 months. This month, the center’s seven-person board of mainly family members removed King as CEO, replacing him with his sister, Bernice King. At the same time, Martin King, still bearing the title of president, said he was stripped of his executive powers and responsibility, leaving his position little more than a “ceremonial” one. “I disagree with the new direction of the board, which makes the center essentially an extension of King Inc. rather than acknowledge the fundamentally different and at times conflicting motives of a for-profit corporation vs. a public foundation,” King wrote in a resignation letter he submitted to the board Jan. 17. “The convergence of the two entities is evidenced by the placement of King Inc. staff in control of the center, including the interim managing director position.” But while King is citing philosophical differences, a person close to the situation is claiming that King was stripped of his powers in essence because he wasn’t a good leader.
Houston attorney Terry M. Giles, who was appointed by a judge to serve as the custodian of King Inc., said as president and CEO of the King Center, King was not moving the organization forward. Giles, who is applying through the Fulton County Superior Court to be the custodian of the King Center as well, said that during King’s time at the helm, virtually no fundraising had been done to “assure the future and proper care of the center.” In essence, the whole of the King estate is divided into two parts, King Inc. and the King Center. The King Center was launched in 1968 by Coretta Scott King as a place to carry on her late husband’s work in peace, civil rights and nonviolence. King Inc. was established later as the financial arm of the family, controlling the use of King’s image and words. King Inc. has taken in millions and has been a major guardian of King’s likeness — often suing big and small companies over unauthorized usage.

Asia Society Expands, East and West.” By Robin Pogrebin. New York Times. January 31, 2012. Even as cultural organizations around the country contract because of the economic downturn, Asia Society is pushing against the tide with two new multimillion-dollar buildings, one of which opens in Hong Kong next week, the other in Houston this spring. The buildings are part of a philosophical as well as physical expansion for the society, a nonprofit institution founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III to educate the public about Asia and perhaps best known for the elegance of its headquarters and galleries on Park Avenue at 70th Street. Long regarded as a New York institution with regional branches, Asia Society over the last few years has aimed to recast itself as an international organization, partly through the construction of the two major centers in cities where it previously had only offices. The new buildings — each of which cost about $50 million — will catapult the annual operating costs of each location to $4.5 million from about $1 million, but Asia Society says it is confident about the investment. “By the year 2050, more than 50 percent of the world’s gross domestic product will come from India and China,” Vishakha N. Desai, president of the society, said in a recent interview at her office. More than 60 percent of the population will live in Asia then, she said. “We’re going from Pax Americana to possibly Pax Pacifica,” she added. “This is a century when America will be a very important player, but not the player. There is a different balance of power in the world.” Because the world has changed, so has Asia Society’s mission. Where once the organization was focused on explaining Asia to Americans, now it emphasizes strengthening partnerships in areas like culture, business, public policy and education, not only between Asians and Americans but among Asians themselves

Underground Railroad Freedom Center battling tough times.” By Mark Curnutte. USA Today/Cincinnati Enquirer. February 2, 2012. It opened to great fanfare and promise in 2004. Now, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, whose exhibits focus on the story of the American struggle for freedom, especially that of African Americans, is in deep financial trouble that could force it to shut down. Located where African Americans crossed the Ohio River into freedom, the center has cut expenses severely but faces a $1.5 million shortfall in its 2012 budget, said Freedom Center board Co-chairman John Pepper and other center leaders. Pepper, chairman of the board of Walt Disney; the Rev. Damon Lynch, Pepper’s Freedom Center co-chairman; and Kim Robinson, the center’s president and chief executive, discussed the threat of the center closing by the end of 2012. “We were not crying wolf,” Pepper said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. The Freedom Center’s budget has been cut from $12.5 million in 2004 to $4.6 million in 2011, and its workforce from 120 to 34 full-time employees, Robinson said. “We are scratching and clawing,” he said. By its nature as an institution that examines the enslavement of Africans in North America, the Freedom Center has struggled to fight the label that it’s a black-only museum, Lynch said. The Freedom Center, by its leadership’s admission, failed to market its mission clearly enough and appeal to all audiences. “We need to become more engaging to bring families and young people through our door,” Pepper said. Pepper is the Freedom Center’s primary fundraiser and benefactor. He and his wife, Francie, have contributed more than $15 million since 1999, he said.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 30-February 5, 2012)

Monday, February 6th, 2012

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Emanuel’s Appearance in Pro-Charter School Video Irks Teachers Union; An interview with Mayor Rahm Emanuel is featured in a new video from a Michigan-based education organization promoting charter schools and criticizing the Chicago Teachers Union.” By Hunter Clauss. Chicago News Cooperative (chicagonewscoop.org). January 31, 2012. As Chicago Public Schools begins what are certain to be contentious contract talks with the Chicago Teachers Union, Mayor Rahm Emanuel emerged as the star of a new online video promoting charter schools and ripping the union. An exclusive interview with Emanuel highlights the 35-minute video produced by the Michigan-based Education Action Group Foundation and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams. Williams narrates the video, saying the teachers union is “radically politicized” and is “repeatedly providing terrible examples for Chicago’s school children.” (Scroll down to see the video). A spokeswoman for Emanuel said Monday the mayor did not share those views of the union, but CTU officials were irked by Emanuel’s more-measured comments in an interview with Williams. The mayor discusses the opposition he faced from the CTU to some of his education proposals, such as extending the length of the school day this year.

Pennsylvania Schools’ Financing Fight Pits District Against ‘Charter on Steroids’.” By Sabrina Tavernise. New York Times. February 4, 2012. The Chester Upland School District is more than $20 million in debt, its bank account is almost empty and it cannot afford to pay teachers past the end of this month. To make matters worse, the local charter school, with which the district must divide its financing, is suing the district over unpaid bills. The district’s fiscal woes are the product of a toxic brew of budget cuts, mismanagement and the area’s poverty. Its problems are compounded by the Chester Community Charter School, a nonprofit institution that is managed by a for-profit company and that now educates nearly half of the district’s students. The district sees the charter as a vampire, sucking up more than its fair share of scarce resources. The state, it says, is giving the charter priority over the district. “It’s not competition, it’s just draining resources from the district,” said Catherine Smith, a principal at Columbus Elementary, a district school. “It’s a charter school on steroids.” The charter says that it is also part of the public school system and that the district, its primary source of financing, has not paid it anything since last spring. The state has taken over payments, but even those are late, it says. Chester may be a harbinger of fiscal decline. At least six other Pennsylvania school districts are bordering on insolvency, according to State Representative Joseph F. Markosek, the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

Tutor Network Scores To Grow.” By Sophia Hollander. Wall Street Journal. January 31, 2012. Aristotle Circle, a national network of admissions experts based in New York, has purchased one of the largest peer tutoring companies in the country and plans to double its size by the end of the year, company officials announced Monday. Peer2Peer currently operates in New Jersey, Connecticut and the Washington, D.C., area and has employed 5,000 high school students since it began in 2004, according to founder Erik Kimel. Through the merger, the companies plan to create an additional 5,000 student jobs this year, including 100 in New York City.Aristotle Circle began searching last year for ways to expand its tutoring services, said Suzanne Rheault, the company’s CEO and founder. Peer2Peer already had an infrastructure for screening applicants. The peer model also offers more financial flexibility: In New York City, where private tutoring session can cost several hundreds dollars an hour, peer tutors are a relative bargain at $40 to $60 an hour. “For a lot of people,” Ms. Rheault said, “this will be the first time ever they can actually afford to have a private tutor.” Both companies operate on unconventional models. Ms. Rheault, who was in finance before establishing Aristotle Circle, created an “expert network” model more commonly used in that industry. Parents use the service to connect with an array of experts versed in everything from polishing interview skills to decoding financial aid packages; they also offer quirkier specialties such as how to compile an opera singing portfolio. “What they’re doing is innovative, and clearly they’re growing,” said Sanford Bragg, the CEO of Integrity Research, a consulting firm that tracks expert networks.

HIGHER EDUCATION

New colleges may strain resources.” By Antonia Woodford. Yale Daily News. January 30, 2012. Though two new residential colleges are tentatively scheduled to open in 2015, it is not yet clear how the University will adjust its academic resources to accommodate the influx of students. The new colleges, which will house more than 800 additional undergraduates in total, will require Yale to find more classroom space, offer more courses, and hire more faculty members and teaching fellows, administrators said. But as the University’s endowment recovers from the recession and Yale struggles to raise funds for the colleges — originally set to open in 2013 — plans to meet the demands of a larger student body have stalled. Administrators and faculty first officially considered the likely effects of the new colleges in 2007, when University President Richard Levin appointed two committees to study the new colleges’ potential impact on Yale’s academic and student life. The result of their investigation, an 100-page report published in 2008, called attention to academic space “absolutely necessary” before the expansion and pointed to challenges in providing teaching fellows and advisers. It also identified five academic areas as already “under stress” — chemistry, English, economics, political science and the arts — and concluded that interdisciplinary programs would face particular difficulties as well. While student enrollments have remained fairly steady for the past decade, Yale’s faculty has grown by 15 percent since 1999 — roughly the same percentage by which the student population will increase once the new colleges are full. Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development, said strong endowment returns allowed for faculty growth and for the University to add faculty in new fields. Still, some departments will likely need to expand further to meet the new students’ needs, administrators said. For example, the University will need to add more resources to handle introductory English seminars, Provost Peter Salovey said. “Our goal is to not compromise the Yale College experience,” Salovey said. “That means to continue to emphasize small classes and more or less the faculty-student ratio Yalies have come to accept.”

Jesuit college’s leader is of a different cloth; David Burcham, president of Loyola Marymount University, isn’t a priest. He’s not even Catholic. But as the school enters its second century, it’s fallen on him — in suit and tie, not cloak and collar — to redefine the meaning of a Jesuit education.” By Rick Rojas. Los Angeles Times. January 29, 2012. David Burcham stood before the altar in Sacred Heart Chapel at Loyola Marymount University. The midday sun beamed through the stained-glass windows and a crucifix loomed over his shoulder as the university president offered a stirring defense of the school’s Roman Catholic legacy. The Jesuit mission, he said, “with its strong tradition of truth-seeking, is more relevant and important than ever because our world is in danger of drowning in disinformation.” He went on: “Jesuit and Marymount traditions of intellectual analysis, moral reflection and civic action are an antidote to superficiality. We train young people to think deeply about the critical issues as they cultivate wisdom, accountability and fair-mindedness.” Those who came before Burcham had been men of the cloth — Jesuit priests who would often say Mass from the place where he now stood. But on this day, rather than wear the cloak and collar of his predecessors, Burcham stood before the packed chapel in a suit and tie. He’s not a priest. He’s not even a Catholic. Yet it has fallen to him to redefine the meaning of a Jesuit education as the university enters its second century. Burcham, 60, may be the only Protestant in charge at one of the nation’s 28 Jesuit colleges and universities, but he’s certainly not alone as the first layman, or non-clergy. Since Georgetown University, arguably the most prestigious Jesuit school, named a layman as president in 2001, a number of schools have followed suit. Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., are among them.

Yale model back on track.” By Gavan Gideon. Yale Daily News. January 31, 2012. Yale’s investment performance exceeded the average endowment return at colleges and universities nationwide in fiscal year 2011 by almost 3 percent, according to the 2011 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments released today. Though the University’s endowment plunged by 24.6 percent when the recession hit in fiscal year 2009 — far worse than an average 18.7 percent lost by endowments that year ­— Yale’s nontraditional investment strategy has helped the endowment recover and maintain strong long-term growth. Yale returned 21.9 percent on its investments in the fiscal year that ended June 30, while the national average among 823 colleges and universities included in the study was a 19.2 percent return. Those institutions also maintained an average annual return on investments of 5.6 percent over the past decade, while Yale’s endowment returned an annual average of 10.1 percent during the same period. Provost Peter Salovey praised Yale’s performance in light of the financial difficulties the University has weathered in past years. “Although I am pleased Yale beat the average for 2011, it is much more thrilling to me to see that our 10-year return is so strong on both an absolute and comparative basis, especially given the bumpy ride in recent years,” Salovey said in an email. Topping that national average puts the University back on track after it lagged the 11.9 percent average in fiscal year 2010, when it posted the worst return on investments in the Ivy League at 8.9 percent. Despite the positive figures reported in the latest fiscal year, higher education endowments have not fully recovered from the effects of the recession, said William Jarvis ’77, managing director of the Wilton, Conn. investment firm the Commonfund Institute. The endowments of almost half of the 823 colleges and universities included in the study are still worth less than they were before the recession first hit. Yale’s endowment also remains below pre-recession levels: it reached a high water mark of roughly $23 billion in fiscal year 2008, but was valued at just $19.4 billion as of June 30.

Academic freedom is alive in Singapore.” By Joseph Daniels. Yale Daily News. January 30, 2012. Walker Vincoli’s argument (“No student freedom at NUS,” Jan. 26) that Singapore is a totalitarian state unreceptive to the values necessary for a liberal arts education is founded in a flawed ideology of American exceptionalism. It is founded in the idea that Americans have a right to demand changes of others when it suits us and that we should be the models for such change. Vincoli’s portrayal of Singapore and NUS relies on merely a surface reading of Singaporean state and society. Vincoli neglects to note that Singapore is a dynamic society. As a result of global economic changes, Singapore has recently seen a marked evolution in the very laws and regulations Vincoli noted. While Singaporean law prohibits male homosexual acts, this law is not enforced, and Singapore has a relatively large gay scene. “Let’s not go around like this moral police … barging into people’s rooms. That’s not our business,” former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in 2007. Though none of this belittles the flaws of the current restrictive laws, Vincoli denies Singapore’s societal evolution. The general election in May 2011 was perhaps the most dramatic election in Singapore’s history. One of the top ministers lost his seat, and the opposition won 39.86 percent of the vote — the most it had won since Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965. Considering the longtime dominance of the People’s Action Party, this indicates an emerging freedom of choice. Singaporean students I talked to when I studied at NUS never said they felt unduly restricted or pressured in their speech or votes. The May elections revealed some Singaporeans’ deep-seated dissatisfaction with growing inequality, the high cost of housing and general disconnect between the state and the people. Singapore’s ban on spontaneous or non-permitted protest is a legitimate problem, but just because there is an apparent limitation on freedom does not mean that it is a debilitating limit or that Singaporeans do not have other avenues to express their concerns. December train breakdowns that left thousands stranded combined with a general economic slowdown triggered an uproar of dissatisfaction that led to a major review of ministerial salaries at the insistence of the general public. Singapore, while by no means perfect, is not a country wholly without freedom. Freedom isn’t defined in a world of black and white but in a world of gray that lacks universal logics of societal comparison.
Related story:
No student freedom at NUS.” By Walker Vincoli. Yale Daily News. January 26, 2012.

After Mistake, a Mea Culpa From Vassar.” By Matt Flegenheimer. New York Times. January 30, 2012. After 76 applicants were mistakenly told they had been accepted to Vassar College, its president has apologized for the “considerable confusion and hurt” caused by the “terribly upsetting event,” and said the college would reimburse the students’ $65 application fees. “Vassar prides itself on providing a professional and personal relationship with everyone in our community,” Vassar’s president, Catharine Hill, wrote in an e-mail to the applicants on Sunday night. “Obviously we have failed dramatically to do so in this instance.” On Friday, around 4 p.m., 122 students who had applied for binding early admission to Vassar saw what the school later called a “test letter” congratulating them on their acceptance. Hours later, the students received a message saying the letter had been posted in error. Once the correct decisions were displayed, only 46 of the students were told they had been accepted. Some parents have called on Vassar to accept the rest of the students anyway, reasoning that because early decision applications are binding, the school should be held to its initial answer as well, even if it was delivered in error. One family in Connecticut said it was considering legal action. But reversing the admissions decisions would be unfair, Ms. Hill said.

Claremont McKenna College inflated freshman SAT scores, probe finds.”.” Los Angeles Times. January 30, 2012. (For story, go to Scandal).

Price Controls for Harvard? President Obama wants to unleash more lawyers and bureaucrats on higher education.” By Fay Vincent. Wall Street Journal. February 1, 2012. In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama said he wants the federal government to assert control over the rapidly rising cost of college tuition. His objective is to force all schools receiving federal aid—which is nearly all of them—to justify their tuition increases or lose the aid. Where to begin? The president could hardly have found a more intricate area in which to assert power. His supporters laud his effort for recognizing the burdens on young people emerging from college with mounting debts. Critics see political motivations, with the president appealing to young voters in an election year. And cynics may consider all this just another idea that will have come to life during a State of the Union only to die rapidly in the cold weather of careful analysis. Whatever the case, by treading into educational pricing, the president may find himself getting an education. Consider an analogy. If Harvard is a Ferrari, then Fairfield University, the small Jesuit school in Connecticut where I was a trustee for many years, is a Chevrolet. Yet in education, Ferraris cost about the same—often less—than Chevrolets. This year Harvard’s stated tuition is $36,300, while Fairfield’s is $39,900. Rich, prestigious schools like Harvard and Yale could charge much more for what they provide. They could also reduce tuition by increasing their reliance on their huge endowments. Less wealthy schools, by contrast, are dependent on tuition and have almost no pricing flexibility. Yet the sticker price for four years at Harvard is very close to the price at Fairfield, even though many would consider a Harvard education and diploma more valuable. The crucial defect in the president’s thinking is the assumption that four years of higher education is a commodity. Of course it’s not. Price can be deceptive. And the real cost of a Harvard education is about half the sticker price. Much of the complication in tuition pricing arises from schools’ policies on endowment-spending and financial aid. President Obama will find that at many schools only a relatively small percentage of students pay the full tuition sticker price, with the average net cost of the education well below that stated price. Financial aid provided to students accounts for the difference.

Fat Cats at Widener.” By Melissa J. Barber. Harvard Crimson. February 1, 2012. It is about time for the Harvard Corporation to finally stand up to the bloated, budget-busting tyranny of the Harvard University Library. Since John Harvard gave the university its first endowment of 400 books and a paltry 780 pounds to manage them, the library has been an odious drain on University finances. Current plans to restructure Harvard libraries and institute deep cuts to staff, services, and collections in the consecrated name of financially responsible austerity are the result of the Library Task Force Report. This report was commissioned in 2009 to plan the slaying of the dread budgetary Scylla of Harvard Yard, Widener Library. The Library Task Force Report represents a new vision for the library, arguing that Harvard is no longer in any position to try to “collect and maintain the entirety of the world’s scholarship”. After all, why might a university with a peerless endowment also be expected to maintain an equally unrivaled library? With an endowment of 32 billion dollars growing in 2011 at a meager 21.4%, Harvard simply can no longer afford to maintain the best and largest academic library collection in the world. The library’s $225 million operating budget, an outrageous 5.7% of the University’s annual budget, must be further cut to improve the financial profile of the University. Although cutting costs and improving efficiency and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive, the Library Task Force Report makes clear that the Harvard Corporation has its miserly heart in the right place. Why attempt to improve efficiency without laying off workers, or effectiveness without cutting resources?

Immigrant Worker Firings Unsettle a College Campus.” By Jennifer Medina. New York Times. February 1, 2012. The dining hall workers had been at Pomona College for years, some even decades. For a few, it was the only job they had held since moving to the United States. Then late last year, administrators at the college delivered letters to dozens of the longtime employees asking them to show proof of legal residency, saying that an internal review had turned up problems in their files. Seventeen workers could not produce documents showing that they were legally able to work in the United States. So on Dec. 2, they lost their jobs. Now, the campus is deep into a consuming debate over what it means to be a college with liberal ideals, with some students, faculty and alumni accusing the administration and the board of directors of betraying the college’s ideals. The renewed discussion over immigration and low-wage workers has animated class discussions, late-night dorm conversations and furious back and forth on alumni e-mail lists. Some alumni are now refusing to donate to the college, while some students are considering discouraging prospective freshmen from enrolling. For the last two years, many of the dining hall workers had been organizing to form a union, but the efforts stalled amid negotiations with the administration. Many on campus believe that the administration began looking into the employees’ work authorizations as a way to thwart the union effort, an accusation the college president, David W. Oxtoby, has repeatedly denied. But that has done little to quell questions and anger among the fired workers and many who support their efforts to unionize.

U.S. Department of Education Investigates Harvard Admissions.” By Hana N. Rouse and Justin C. Worland. Harvard Crimson. February 3, 2012. The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating Harvard’s undergraduate admissions process in response to a complaint that it discriminates against Asian Americans, according to Bloomberg News. In August, an undergraduate applicant filed a complaint against the University, alleging his rejection was based on race. The same individual also filed a complaint against Princeton University. In a statement, Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote that the University could not comment on the specifics of complaints currently under review. “Our review of every applicant’s file is highly individualized and holistic, as we give serious consideration to all of the information we receive and all of the ways in which the candidate might contribute to our vibrant educational environment and community,” Neal wrote. This case is not the first time that an Ivy League university has been investigated in response to allegations of discrimination against Asian Americans. Jian Li ’10 filed a complaint with the Department of Education in 2006 after being rejected by Princeton, according to a 2008 story in USA Today. That case later prompted a broader ongoing review of Princeton’s admissions practices. Harvard’s admissions office website says that “[t]here is no formula for gaining admission to Harvard” and that the “Admissions Committee does not use quotas of any kind.” This “holistic” approach—which the College has employed for decades—has been cited by the Supreme Court as an appropriate way to consider race in admissions. “In short, an admissions program operated in this way is flexible enough to consider all pertinent elements of diversity in light of the particular qualifications of each applicant,” wrote Justice Lewis F. Powell in the majority decision of the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case.

PRIVATE & PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS

Boston left with one all-girls Catholic high school; 2 struggling schools to merge.” By Bella English. Boston Globe. January 31, 2012. Mount Saint Joseph and Trinity Catholic, two Catholic high schools that date to the 19th century, will merge next fall, leaving just one Catholic girls’ high school in Boston.

2 education voucher bills could be headed for floor votes.” By Nancy Badertscher. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. January 31, 2012. Two voucher bills could be moving to the floor of the state Senate for a vote. Senate Bill 87 and House Bill 181 passed out of the Senate Education Committee late last week and are before the Senate Rules Committee for possible placement on the full Senate’s calendar. Both are opposed by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher organization. SB 87, the “Georgia Educational Freedom Act,” sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, is billed by PAGE as a major expansion of the state’s current school voucher law. HB 181, sponsored by Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, would eliminate the requirement that students with fragile medical conditions spend a year in a public school before being allowed to attend private school on a special needs scholarship. Both bills were introduced last year. HB 181 cleared the state House last year.

School Hits Sour Note; Friends Seminary Grapples With Musician’s Political Views.” By Sophia Hollander. Wall Street Journal. February 1, 2012. Most parents at Friends Seminary were unaware of the writings of Gilad Atzmon when they first saw the posters promoting his participation in a Martin Luther King Birthday concert on the school’s campus last month. But over the past two weeks, administrators and parents at the elite Quaker private school in Lower Manhattan have become quick studies after Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz publicly criticized Friends Seminary for inviting a musician he called a “notorious anti-Semite and Holocaust denier”—accusations that Mr. Atzmon, who was born Jewish, staunchly denies. The clash sparked days of discussion at a school that prides itself on tolerance and inclusion and launched debates on parenting sites such as UrbanBaby, where some posters vowed to pull their applications in protest. In a statement provided to The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, school officials expressed “regret” over any offense caused and announced they would be establishing new procedures governing guest speakers and performers.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 30-February 5, 2012)

Monday, February 6th, 2012

GIVING

Charities Ended 2011 on High Note.” By Melanie Grayce West. Wall Street Journal. January 30, 2012. Several major charities ended 2011 on a high, with some nonprofits conducting record-breaking holiday-season campaigns. Fund-raisers said the early numbers could signal a continued bounce-back for charitable giving this year after falling in 2008 and 2009 from its prerecession peak. “I think we’re all quite encouraged,” said Andrew Watt, president and chief executive of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, a trade group. For the past four years, charities have worked to return to giving highs. Charitable contributions hit a peak of $311 billion in 2007 before dropping the next two years, only to see some recovery in 2010 with donations totaling $291 billion, according to an annual survey released last June by Giving USA.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 30-February 5, 2012)

Monday, February 6th, 2012

HUMAN SERVICES

Uproar as Breast Cancer Group Ends Partnership With Planned Parenthood.” By Gardiner Harris and Pam Belluck. New York Times. February 2, 2012. Pink ribbons have for decades been a symbol of resolve and compassion in the face of the deadly disease of breast cancer. Now, that nearly ubiquitous icon has many women seeing red. When the nation’s largest breast cancer advocacy organization considered in October cutting off most of its financial support to the nation’s largest abortion provider, the breast cancer group was hoping for a quiet end to an increasingly controversial partnership. Instead, the organization, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, is now engulfed in a controversy that threatens to undermine one of the most successful advocacy campaigns. The foundation’s decision to eliminate most of its grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening caused a cascade of criticism from prominent women’s groups, politicians and public health advocates and a similarly strong outpouring of support from conservative women and religious groups that oppose abortion. Now, leaders of both the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood are accusing each other of bad faith and actions that undermine women. And two organizations dedicated to detecting and curing breast cancer have found themselves on opposite sides of the nation’s divisive debate over abortion. John D. Raffaelli, a Komen board member and Washington lobbyist, said Wednesday that the decision to cut off money to 17 of the 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates it had supported was made because of the fear that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, would damage Komen’s credibility with donors. The organization’s longtime support of Planned Parenthood had already cost it some support from anti-abortion forces, Mr. Raffaelli said. But the board feared that charges that Komen supported organizations under federal investigation for financial improprieties could take a further and unacceptable toll on donations, he said. “People don’t understand that a Congressional investigation doesn’t necessarily mean a problem of substance,” Mr. Raffaelli said. “When people read about it in places like Texarkana, Tex., where I’m from, it sounds really bad.” So the Komen board voted that all of its vendors and grantees must certify that they are not under investigation by federal, state or local authorities. But for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, being the target of partisan investigations is part of doing business. So Komen’s new rule effectively ended their long partnership and seemed to the health services provider an unacceptable betrayal of their common mission to save women’s lives.
Related stories:
Komen Cuts Planned Parenthood Grants Months After Arrival Of New VP, Who Is Abortion Foe.” Huffington Post. January 31, 2012.
Cancer Group Halts Financing to Planned Parenthood.New York Times. January 31, 2012
Planned Parenthood says Komen decision causes donation spike.Washington Post. February 1, 2012.
Cancer charity halts grants to Planned Parenthood.” No by-line. USA Today. February 1, 2012.
Nonprofit Allies in Rift Over Funding.” Wall Street Journal February 1, 2012.
Planned Parenthood vs. Komen: Women’s Health Giants Face Off Over Abortion.” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 1, 2012.
Planned Parenthood will recoup, but will Komen?Washington Post. February 1, 2012.
Komen Foundation’s lamentable choice.” Washington Post. February 1, 2012.
Susan G. Komen chapter: ‘We are absolutely frustrated’ by the decision to defund Planned Parenthood.” Washington Post. February 1, 2012.
Interview: Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.” Washington Post. February 2, 2012.
What Planned Parenthood actually does, in one chart.” Washington Post. February 2, 2012.
Komen Foundation Pulls Funding For Planned Parenthood.” Morning Edition/National Public Radio. February 2, 2012.
Komen gives new explanation for cutting funds to Planned Parenthood.Washington Post. February 2, 2012.
Komen says Planned Parenthood plans are mischaracterized.” USA Today. February 2, 2012.
Two dozen Senators call on Komen to reverse Planned Parenthood decision.” Washington Post. February 2, 2012.
A Painful Betrayal.” Editorial. New York Times. February 2, 2012
Charity pulls plug on Planned Parenthood, inciting critics.USA Today. February 2, 2012.
Andrea Mitchell To Komen Chief: I’m Expressing ‘Anger’ Of Many People.” Huffington Post. February 2, 2012.
Susan G. Komen Top Officials Resign As Backlash Gains Steam.” Huffington Post. February 2, 2012.
As Komen Defends Itself, Planned Parenthood Rakes In Substitute Funds.” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 2, 2012.
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/02/02/MNF51N1JUV.DTL
“Fury over Komen decision to withhold cancer funds
.” San Francisco Chronicle. February 2, 2012.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder defends Planned Parenthood decision; Nancy G. Brinker says abortion is not the reason that grants for breast cancer exams are being cut off. Lawmakers, women’s health advocates and others continue to criticize the move, and both groups see donations pour in.” Los Angeles Times. February 2, 2012.
Shattering the Susan G. Komen Pinkwashing; .” American Prospect. February 2, 2012.
Nonprofits’ Backers Mobilize; Supporters of Breast-Cancer Charity, Planned Parenthood Clash Over Funding.” Wall Street Journal. February 3, 2012.
Race for the Consumer?” By Samuel Bakkila. Harvard Crimson. February 3, 2012.
Bloomberg: Support Komen and PP.” Politico.com. February 3, 2012.
Did Komen aid W.H. on birth control?” Politico.com February 3, 2012.
Newt: Komen reversal ‘unfortunate’.” Politico.com. February 3, 2012.
Mitchell’s ‘passion’ on Komen story.” Politico.com. February 3, 2012.
Komen’s Race To Reverse Course: Questions And A PR Challenge.” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. February 3, 2012.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure has long been under pressure; Antiabortion activists have tried for years to break the foundation’s ties to Planned Parenthood.” Los Angeles Times. February 3, 2012.
Komen reverses decision on funding Planned Parenthood.” USA Today. February 3, 2012.
Susan Komen U-turn on Planned Parenthood funding cut.” BBC News. February 3, 2012.
For Komen, a growing backlash; Urged to restore funds for Planned Parenthood.” Boston Globe/Associated Press. February 3, 2012.
Susan G. Komen Reverses Planned Parenthood Decision, Apologizes, But Does Not Promise To Renew Grants.” Huffington Post. February 3, 2012.
The Komen decision: Cut your losses, move on.” Politico.com. February 3, 2012.
Can Susan G. Komen recover?” Politico.com. February 3, 2012.
Susan G Komen in U-turn over Planned Parenthood funding cut; Nancy Brinker, cancer charity’s CEO, apologises for ‘recent decisions’ and says Komen will honour existing grants.” Guardian. February 3, 2012.
Komen, Catholics and the cost of conscience.” Washington Post. February 3, 2012.
Social Media Flex Muscles Again, Amplifying Protests.” Wall Street Journal. February 4, 2012.
Charity Does an About-Face; Breast-Cancer Group Backs Off Move to Withhold Funds for Planned Parenthood.Wall Street Journal. February 4, 2012.
Susan G. Komen foundation takes steps to rebuild trust after PR fiasco.Washington Post. February 4, 2012.
Texans Lead Battle for Women’s Health.” New York Times. February 4, 2012.
Komen Races To Restore Planned Parenthood Funds.” Weekend Edition Saturday/National Public Radio. February 4, 2012.
Cancer Group Backs Down on Cutting Off Planned Parenthood.” New York Times. February 3, 2012.
Karen Handel, Susan G. Komen’s Anti-Abortion VP, Drove Decision To Defund Planned Parenthood.” Huffington Post. February 5, 2012.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 30-February 5, 2012)

Monday, February 6th, 2012

INTERNATIONAL

AFRICA

Social Media Saved Africa’s Oldest Community Station.” By Davison Mudzingwa. Interpress Service (ipsnews.net). February 3, 2012. When a financial crisis threatened the existence of Africa’s oldest community station, Bush Radio, an outpouring of sympathy and appeals went viral on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. In the end, it was this outspoken support that showed financial backers that the station was worth saving. “It got the message out there to the decision makers, and because it was in their faces all the time… there has been offers of assistance,” said Adrian Louw, programme integrator at Bush Radio. The emergence of social media has opened new opportunities for community broadcasters in Cape Town, South Africa. Not only are they able to interact more effectively with their audiences, but they can now do so cheaply. Bush Radio broadcasts to at least 260 000 listeners, predominantly in the poor Cape Flats, formerly an apartheid housing area for people of colour. But thanks to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a blog, Bush Radio now maintains a strong presence in the community. “The use of social media has been important for us because it has allowed us to do stuff without getting a specific designer on board that knows our internet protocols,” said Louw.

CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

Archdiocese Angers Many by Contesting Abuse Claims.” By Laurie Goodstein. New York Times. February 3, 2012. More than 550 people who say they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests or church employees have filed claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in bankruptcy proceedings, the largest group of claimants against any of the eight dioceses that have declared bankruptcy since 2004. The claimants came forward, many just before the deadline late Wednesday, after being encouraged to do so by the church itself and by victims’ advocates. The archdiocese ran notices in local parish bulletins and in newspapers across the country, as the bankruptcy court required. However, if the archdiocese has its way in court, as many as 95 percent of the claims could be dismissed. The archdiocese has filed motions asking the bankruptcy judge to throw out the claims of those whose cases are beyond the statute of limitations, or who already have settlements from the archdiocese or whose alleged abuse was at the hands of a layman or laywoman working for the church, not a cleric, said Jerry Topczewski, a spokesman for the Milwaukee archdiocese. The archdiocese will also ask the judge to bar any claims involving priests who were members of religious orders. Although those priests may have been working in parishes that are part of the archdiocese, the archdiocese contends that they were not technically employees. Mr. Topczewski said: “Our parishes are separately incorporated, always have been, and someone who’s a layperson employed by X-Y-Z parish is not an employee of the archdiocese. A judge is going to have to make the interpretation.” The church’s legal maneuver has infuriated those who came forward, who now feel doubly betrayed.

DEVELOPMENT

New Chief Unveils Plan to Revive Disease-Fighting Fund.” By Betsy McKay. Wall Street Journal. January 30, 2012. The new chief of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria plans a major overhaul of operations following an assessment urging improved management. The assessment came after disclosures of misused funds and a slowdown in global donations. The Global Fund, based in Geneva, is one of the world’s largest funders of programs and medicines to combat the big infectious-disease killers. It has been praised for corralling donations from more than 45 countries, as well as from private donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which on Thursday said it is making $750 million available to the fund in a promissory note. Since it was formed in 2002, the group has channeled $15.1 billion to 150 countries for AIDS treatment, antituberculosis drugs and bed nets to combat malaria. It is credited with helping sharply reduce malaria rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Bill Clinton, the rock star Bono, and other luminaries have lauded the fund. But the fund, noted for its transparency, has been hurt by a slowdown in donations and its own disclosures of management shortcomings and some misuse of grant money—on expenses such as an apartment renovation in India, for example, rather than medicines. Last week, its troubles led to an announcement that its executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, will step down in March. A report it commissioned recommended an overhaul of its grant management and financial practices and said it needs to redefine the way it does business with recipient countries. The fund said it is working on recovering the misspent grant money, which it says is a small portion of its overall grant funding, and it is implementing the recommendations. It has also faced allegations of mismanagement, including whether it made improper payments connected to French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a fund ambassador. A spokeswoman for Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy declined to comment. Simon Bland, chairman of the Global Fund board, said payments for Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy’s work were made properly, but acknowledged some discord because the board hadn’t been informed about them. He added that her AIDS campaign has “delivered some great value.”

EGYPT

Egypt Defies U.S. by Setting Trial for 19 Americans on Criminal Charges.” By David D. Kirkpatrick. New York Times. February 5, 2012. Egypt’s military-led government said Sunday that it would put 19 Americans and two dozen others on trial in a politically charged criminal investigation into the foreign financing of nonprofit groups that has shaken the 30-year alliance between the United States and Egypt. The decision raises tensions between the two allies to a new peak at a decisive moment in Egypt’s political transition after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak a year ago. Angry protesters are battling security forces in the streets of the capital and other major cities. The economy is in urgent need of billions of dollars in foreign aid. And the military rulers are in the final stages of negotiations with the Islamists who dominate the new Parliament over the terms of a transfer of power that could set the country’s course for decades. The criminal prosecution is a rebuke to Washington in the face of increasingly stern warnings to Egypt’s ruling generals from President Obama, cabinet officials and senior Congressional leaders that it could jeopardize $1.55 billion in expected American aid this year, including $1.3 billion for the military. But for Washington, revoking the aid would risk severing the tie that for three decades has bound the United States, Egypt and Israel in an uneasy alliance that is the cornerstone of the American-backed regional order. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she had personally warned the Egyptian foreign minister, Mohammed Amr, at a security conference in Munich on Saturday that the continuing investigation of the nonprofit groups cast new doubt on the aid. “We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt,” she told reporters there. Mr. Obama delivered a similar warning to Egypt’s acting chief executive, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, less than two weeks ago. Last week, 40 members of Congress signed letters to Field Marshal Tantawi making the same threat. “The days of blank checks are over,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Democrat who chairs the spending panel overseeing the aid, said in a speech from the Senate floor on Friday. Congress recently required the State Department to certify that Egypt is making progress toward democracy before aid can be disbursed. Lawmakers and administration officials say the crackdown on the civil society groups could violate the criteria set out in the law.
Related stories:
Americans barred from leaving Egypt take refuge at US embassy in Cairo; Three US citizens move into embassy as tensions mount over Egyptian crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights groups.” Guardian. January 30, 2012.
Egypt snubs U.S. envoy regarding Americans barred from leaving.USA Today. February 1, 2012.

GHANA

Radio Static for Ghana’s Community Stations.” By Sandra Ferrari. Interpress Service (ipsnews.net). January 31, 2012. There is a tension resonating through Ghana’s airwaves, an electric current fueled by rivaling interests between community radio advocates and Ghana’s National Communications Authority. Recently, community radio supporters rallied through the streets of Accra in what they called a “Voice Walk”, which Ghana’s National Communications Authority (NCA) described as irresponsible and unexpected. “Everything we do, we consult them. I don’t know what has happened,” says Henry Kanor, deputy engineer for the NCA. This past November, members of the Ghana Community Radio Network (GCRN) and the Coalition for Transparency of the Airwaves (COTA) demanded that government answer to the limited frequency allocation being given to community radio stations. Across the country, there are 11 community radio stations on air with 14 more waiting to receive their frequency. “It’s just a deliberate refusal to give people a voice,” says Wilna Quarmyne, Deputy Executive Director of the GCRN and community radio pioneer in her native Philippines. She believes the NCA is subtly putting up barriers for community radio stations in Ghana and the implications of this are detrimental to the freedom of the press here in this West African nation.

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS

“‘Occupy’ is the Watchword at Thematic Social Forum.” By Clarinha Glock. Interpress Service (ipsnews.net). February 3, 2012. Traditional social movements of homeless and landless people have for years been organising occupations as a pressure tactic. Now “occupying” is a key element for fighting the capitalist system in its hour of crisis, and also in the realm of virtual reality. With a shout of “Let’s occupy Flamengo Park!” in Rio de Janeiro, representatives of trade unions, landless rural workers, women, indigenous people, Afro-Brazilians and “quiombolas” (descendants of former slaves) wound up the Thematic Social Forum (FST) last weekend in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. The FST was held Jan. 24-29 as a preparatory meeting for the June People’s Summit that will take place in Rio in June, in parallel with the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Meanwhile, at the Global Connections meeting in Porto Alegre, held within the framework of the FST, internet activists called for a campaign to block corporate web sites, as a form of virtual occupation. The FST, an outgrowth of the World Social Forum, prompted discussion of modern forms of protest. Representatives of popular movements like the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and the “Indignados” (Indignant) from Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom took part in the debate, in person or via the internet. Two issues captured the most attention: What to do after the occupations? And how to get the new information technology tools into the hands of traditional social movements that do not yet have access to them?

SOMALIA

Somali militants shut down Red Cross food aid; Al-Shabab insurgents say relief group is distributing spoiled food and has shut down aid distribution in the famine-hit south.” No by-line. Guardian. January 31, 2012. An International Red Cross Committee plane near Mogadishu in Somalia. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Somali insurgents have shut down food aid distribution by a major aid group because they say the organisation is distributing spoiled food in the famine-hit south. The militant group Al-Shabab said on Monday it was closing the Red Cross’s operation permanently. The militia said it had conducted a “thorough inspection” of the aid group’s warehouses and food depots and found up to 70% of the food was “unfit for human consumption, posing a considerable health hazard and exposing the vulnerable recipients to acute illnesses”. A Red Cross spokeswoman said on Tuesday the organisation did not have an immediate comment. The Red Cross previously said some trucks were stuck on bad roads for several weeks in the rainy season and the food they were carrying was spoiled. That food – about 2,000 tonnes according to al-Shabab – was publicly burned after the militia had taken photographs of mouldy beans. The Red Cross began distributing monthly rations to 1.1 million people in October and was midway through a second distribution when a convoy of trucks was stopped by al-Shabab in mid-December in Jowhar. Negotiations for their release took several weeks but were ultimately unsuccessful. The Red Cross formally suspended operations in al-Shabab areas of southern Somalia on 12 January. It is the only agency bringing in food to the famine-hit areas on such a large scale. The UN said more than 13 million people were in need of aid and 750,000 at risk of starvation at the height of the Somali famine.

UGANDA

Rural Women’s Banks Ease Tough Times.” By Wambi Michael. Interpress Service (ipsnews.net). January 31, 2012. For most Ugandan women, obtaining a commercial loan to start a business has been very difficult. Many do not have the required collateral of land title deeds and many cannot afford the interest rates charged by commercial banks. But six women-led rural banks have begun changing the lives of women in rural Uganda, easing their access to credit and enabling them to start small businesses and improve their food security. About 20 kilometres from the Ugandan capital, Kampala, is Wakiso. Here the African Women Food Farmer Initiative, a cooperative savings and credit society, is one of the six rural banks run by women. It has over 1,600 savers and borrowers and is supported by the Hunger Project, an international organisation promoting sustainable end to hunger. “It is a unique bank because it is run by women and it supports women, especially those engaged in agriculture. We mobilise women and encourage them to fight hunger and poverty by saving as well as accessing small loans,” said Rose Nanyonga, the bank manager. Nanyoga explained that unlike commercial banks, this village bank is owned by women who have a stake in its growth. “Our members buy shares in the bank. So they own it. And they get dividends at the end of every year,” said Nanyonga. All seven of the bank’s board members are also women. The bank does not merely provide clients with access to credit. Outside the banking hall agricultural input, lanterns and even solar panels are available for sale to the bank’s clients.

Using Community Radio to Heal After Kony’s War.” By Andrew Green. Interpress Service (ipsnews.net). January 31, 2012. Radio Mega FM’s transmission tower rises from the centre of Gulu town, transmitting talk shows and the latest Ugandan radio hits to listeners across the district. But it also serves as something of an informal memorial to community radio-driven peace efforts during the Lord’s Resistance Army’s destruction of northern Uganda. The LRA opened its war against the Ugandan government in 1987. In the mid-1990s, the commander of the LRA, Joseph Kony, turned on his own people, the Acholi. His fighters slaughtered thousands of villagers, kidnapped and impressed thousands more children into his army and caused nearly two million people to flee to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp. Acholi leaders and NGO officials, responsible for communicating to a chaotic population where literacy was low and poverty high, needed a way to begin reorganising communities and to talk to the rebels about peace and reconciliation. Community radio stations in Gulu – the heart of Acholiland – became the linchpin of those efforts. They turned to radio because it “can reach to the very least, to the farthest of places,” said Arthur Owor, the head of the Media Association of Northern Uganda, which is based in Gulu. With one handset and one battery, presenters could communicate with dozens of people. “The net returns were really high, in terms of the message,” he said.

UK

Wildlife charity to fund police unit tackling animal trafficking; World Society for the Protection of Animals to help Metropolitan police fight trade in illegal and exotic creatures.” No by-line. Guardian. January 29, 2012. A specialist police unit that fights wildlife crime is joining forces with an animal charity. The Metropolitan police’s wildlife crime unit is teaming up with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), which warned animal trafficking is a “major source of revenue” for criminals. It is the first time a charity has directly funded a Met police unit and it is hoped it will lead to more staff being recruited and trained in how to tackle wildlife crime. WSPA’s UK head of external affairs, Simon Pope, said: “Without the specialist skills and knowledge of the WCU, wildlife crime in London could flourish. “This is not some niche, illicit trade carried out by petty part-time villains. It is a major source of revenue for a global network of hardened criminals, gangs and drug lords, all growing rich from the trafficking of wildlife and none about to have a crisis of conscience and stop what they are doing.” Sergeant Ian Knox, head of the WCU, added: “I am delighted that the World Society for the Protection of Animals has decided to contribute a significant amount of money to the wildlife crime unit. “The extra funding will pay for more staff so we can be more proactive in targeting criminals who seek to exploit animals for financial gain. “We will also be able to provide additional support and training to wildlife crime officers across London which will ensure that the Met has the capability to tackle crimes against animals in the future.”

Welfare reform: Labour widens attack on household benefit cap; Labour calls for localised benefit cap and better regulation of profiteering landlords ahead of key Commons vote.” By Patrick Wintour. Guardian. January 31, 2012. Labour has widened its attack on the government’s £26,000-per-household benefit cap ahead of a key Commons vote on Wednesday and called on the Liberal Democrats to back plans to lower the housing benefit bill by regulating profiteering private landlords. Labour is backing a localised benefit cap in an effort to avoid alienating working class supporters that favour the principle of a cap. The shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, has written to the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, asking for a meeting to discuss supporting reforms to tighten the housing benefit bill, notably tighter regulation of private sector landlords. Byrne argues that escalating housing benefit costs lie at the root of the mushrooming welfare bill and much of this increase has been caused by profiteering private sector landlords. Clegg is facing internal pressures of his own from campaigners demanding that Liberal Democrats vote to support most of the big six amendments to the welfare bill forced through by peers over the past fortnight. His MPs were called to a meeting of Liberal Democrat campaign groups on Monday to discuss their approach, and hear what concessions may be offered by government ministers. The Conservatives have been trying to maximise Labour’s discomfort after it voted last week with the bishops and crossbenchers to exclude child benefit from the cap’s calculation, a move seen by the government as a wrecking amendment.
Related story:
This upheaval of the welfare state demands spiritual intervention; There is a clear feeling that the debate around our public services is so fundamental that it cannot be left just to politicians and those who run the services.” Guardian. January 31, 2012.

“Private universities would raise standards, urges former Ofsted head; Sir David Bell: ‘completely relaxed’ about private organisations competing with universities
.” By Nicola Woolcock. Times of London. February 3, 2012. Ministers should throw open the market to private universities to improve standards in higher education, Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading and a former leading civil servant, has told The Times. Sir David, former permanent secretary at the Department for Education and head of Ofsted, said he was “completely relaxed” about private organisations being allowed to offer degrees and compete for students with traditional universities. It would make higher education institutions “up their game”, he said. A Higher Education Bill, designed to extend regulation of student numbers to private universities and thus draw them into the marketplace, is expected to be squeezed out of this year’s Queen’s Speech. David Willetts, the Universities Minister, hoped to push through the new legislation this year as he wanted more competition to drive down costs and increase standards for students. But further privatisation is opposed by hundreds of academics, including Professor Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor of Salford University, and Professor Alan Ryan, former warden of New College, Oxford. Sir David said he was in favour of an open market: “People talk about the arrival of private competition as if we’re not already in a highly competitive situation. If universities pretend they’re not, then that’s what they’re doing — pretending. We are competing. “I’m completely relaxed about the new private providers, I think what it does is make everyone up their game. Let’s not pretend that what’s being proposed is radical.

National Library Day marks a year of protests against library closures; Campaigners have saved some libraries from closure, and an inquiry begins next week – but councils are now under greater financial pressure than ever to cut services.” By Benedicte Page. Guardian. February 2, 2012. In the 12 months since a surge of public protest against proposed library closures was expressed in last February’s Save Our Libraries Day, campaigning bibliophiles around the country have enjoyed mixed fortunes. There was rejoicing in Somerset and Gloucestershire, where library closures were quashed by a legal challenge, but in Brent, north-west London, despite a determined high court action and 24-hour vigils outside Kensal Rise library, the Brent SOS Libraries campaign group failed to prevent six libraries from being boarded up. Saturday sees another national day of library action, but users of Brent’s Preston Park library will be marking National Libraries Day not in their now closed library building, but at a pop-up library in a nearby primary school. The day will consist of all manner of author visits and read-a-thons to highlight and celebrate the service. All around the country – including Oxfordshire, Doncaster and Surrey, the latest place where a legal challenge is being launched against the council – groups of committed library users are still battling to preserve their library networks from heavy cutbacks. Many credit the vigour of the campaigning for the fact that the tally of library buildings to have closed their doors is much lower than had been suggested. A year ago, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals predicted that 600 libraries could go – yet so far, according to the website Public Libraries News, only 32 in the UK have closed. Forty-three mobile libraries have also shut down; eight libraries have been handed over to local communities to run; four more, in Lewisham, have been transferred out to a social enterprise company. Alan Gibbons, who runs the influential pro-library blog Campaign for the Book, has no doubt that local protesters are responsible for the lesser number of closures.