“First School for Transvestites Opens in Buenos Aires.” By Marcela Valente. Interpress Service (IPSnews.net). April 27, 2012. With 35 students, the first secondary school specifically for transvestites and other members of sexual minorities who face discrimination in mainstream schools opened in March in the Argentine capital. The “Mocha Celis” Popular Baccalaureate is the name of the tuition-free school supported by nonprofit organisations, which caters especially – but not exclusively – to transvestites, transsexuals and transgender persons over the age of 16. The school is named after an illiterate transvestite who worked as a prostitute and was an activist with the Association of Argentine Transvestites. A week after Celis went missing, her body was found, showing signs that she had been beaten and shot to death. Activists suspect that Celis was killed by a federal police officer who had previously threatened her. In an interview with IPS, Francisco Quiñones, the head of the new school, explained that the idea was “to create an inclusive school, free of discrimination, that takes into account and values the different trans identities, where they can manage to finish secondary school. “Public schools, which are governed by rules that cater to heterosexuals, drive these people away,” and they end up dropping out of school at much higher rates than the rest of the population due to discrimination, which can even go as far as physical violence, he said.
CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL
“2 Abuse Victims Testify at Church Official’s Trial.” By Jon Hurdle. New York Times. April 25, 2012. Two men testified Wednesday of abuse they suffered as youths at the hands of a now defrocked Philadelphia priest. The two victims of Edward Avery, a former priest who has pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges, appeared during the landmark trial of Msgr. William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who is charged with child endangerment. Monsignor Lynn is suspected of allowing priests accused of abuse to remain in positions where they could continue to abuse children. One victim, now 23, told the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas how Mr. Avery abused him in the sacristy of St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in Northeast Philadelphia in 1998, when he was 10 years old. The man said that he had already been abused by the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, another priest who is charged with abuse, and that Mr. Avery said he intended to do the same thing with him. “He said he heard about my sessions with Father Engelhardt and that ours were going to begin soon,” said the man, who was an altar boy. Jurors were shown a school photograph of the boy at age 10, and of the inside of the church, and the sacristy where the abuse occurred. On the first of two occasions when Mr. Avery abused him, the priest asked the boy to stay behind after Mass, and took him to a storage room adjoining the sacristy, the court heard. The witness said the priest turned on music and forced the boy to do a striptease until he was naked. He then sat the boy on his lap, and forced him to perform oral sex and masturbation, and told him that he was doing God’s will. “ ‘This is what God wants,’ ” the witness said Mr. Avery told him.
“In L.A. clergy abuse cases, the wheels of justice move slowly; A victim who went along with the landmark $660-million settlement blames the delay in the release of confidential files not only on the church, but also on his own lawyers. ‘They took the money and ran,’ he says.” By Gale Holland. Los Angeles Times. April 28, 2012. Manuel Vega was in the courtroom when the Los Angeles Archdiocese agreed to pay clergy abuse victims a landmark $660-million settlement. The bailiff had to whisk some of the victims out to make room for all the high-fiving lawyers filing in for their payday, he says. Vega, who says he was molested as a boy by a priest in Oxnard, went along with the settlement only because his attorneys assured him the church would turn over confidential personnel files that would reveal the truth about priest abusers, and those who shielded them, including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony. Four years and nine months later, Mahony is retired, but not a single page from the files has seen the light of day. Complaints about the delay have become a litany trotted out every year, along with accusations the church is stonewalling to protect its own, and Mahony’s, legacy. What’s different about Vega’s complaint is that he blames not only the church but his own lawyers. “They took the money and ran,” he says. The Los Angeles settlement required attorneys on both sides to “immediately work cooperatively” so the files could be opened in “a reasonably short period of time.” Raymond Boucher, who represented Vega and other victims, and J. Michael Hennigan, who represents the archdiocese, blame the slow grinding of the legal system for the long delay. “All we’re doing is what is required by law,” Hennigan said. “Nobody is more frustrated than I,” Boucher said. The Diocese of Orange, however, released its confidential priest files five months after reaching a financial settlement with abuse victims. The revelations included church officials dumping one serial molester in Tijuana, welcoming a convicted child abuser from another state into their diocese and offering a repeat abuser up to $19,000 to leave the priesthood quietly. But then, the pact that victims’ lawyers struck with the L.A. church was never what it was cracked up to be.
“Civil Society Determined to Have an Impact on Río+20.” By Fabíola Ortiz. Interpress Service (ipsnews.net). Innovating and stepping up the pressure on governments are the bywords for civil society participation in the run-up to Rio+20, a conference with the ambitious goal of changing the way humankind relates with the planet. Rio+20 is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place Jun. 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the same city that hosted the historic Earth Summit in 1992. The key themes addressed at the conference will be a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development. “There is a great deal of concern over what is going to happen. There is skepticism,” Marcelo Cardoso, executive coordinator of the non- governmental Vitae Civilis Institute, told Tierramérica. “For us, it will be an opportunity for international civil society to work together towards developing agendas of convergence” with the authorities and the private sector to achieve consensus. Agenda 21, the plan of action adopted at the Earth Summit, stated the need for broad public participation in decision-making, with a particular emphasis on nine major groups: indigenous peoples, farmers, workers and their trade unions, local authorities, business and industry, the scientific and technological community, women, children and youth, and non-governmental organisations. These nine groups are striving to influence the formal discussions through the organisation of campaigns and parallel activities within the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future. “Civil society organisations must take on a global role,” said Cardoso. While civil society can have a key impact on decision-making processes, it is also a complex and “highly fragmented” sector, he noted.
“Farm Animals Join Rio+20 Agenda.” By Johanna Treblin. Interpress Service (ipsnews.net). April 28, 2012. Human development and biodiversity will not be the only focus of the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June, for which representatives of hundreds of states and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) will gather to discuss sustainable development. The delegates will also deal with the wellbeing of farm animals and sustainable farming, thanks to the efforts of the London-based NGO World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the governments of the G-77 countries, Switzerland and New Zealand. Together, they have helped to draft a part of the Rio+20 outcome text, to be negotiated in June, to “call upon all States to prioritise sustainable intensification of food production through increased investment in local food production”, especially in regard to women, smallholders, youth and indigenous farmers. The draft text further demands an increase in “the use of appropriate technologies for sustainable agriculture”. The WSPA, which sees itself not only as an animal advocacy group but also as one that supports sustainable agriculture, defines sustainable livestock production as part of a food and agriculture system that is ecologically sound, equitable for farmers and rural communities and other sectors of society, and humane in its use and treatment of livestock.
“Egypt Rejects Registration Bids From 8 U.S. Nonprofit Groups.” By David D.Kirkpatrick. New York Times. April 23, 2012. An Egyptian ministry has rejected the applications for registration of eight American nonprofit groups, state media reported, in the government’s first action on the status of foreign-backed nonprofit groups since its criminal prosecution of three American-backed organizations set off a crisis in relations with Washington this year. The state media reported that the Insurance and Social Affairs Ministry had rejected the applications of the groups on the grounds that their activities violated Egyptian sovereignty. Most notable among them was the Carter Center, which has sent monitors to observe the Egyptian presidential election. Its founder, former President Jimmy Carter, is something close to a national hero in Egypt for his role brokering the 1979 Camp David peace accords. Sanne van der Bergh, director of the center’s operations in Egypt, said that the group was awaiting an official response to its application and that it still hoped to receive an invitation from the presidential election commission to monitor the elections starting next month. Other groups denied registration included Seeds of Peace, which brings young Egyptians, Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians together at a camp in Maine; a group for Coptic Christian orphans; and a Mormon missionary group. There was no indication of any immediate legal action against the groups or their employees in Egypt. In February, the Egyptian authorities brought criminal charges against the employees of three American-backed groups accused of illegally receiving foreign money and operating without registration. The groups — the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House — were federally financed and chartered to promote democracy. Among those charged was Sam LaHood, an official of the Republican Institute and the son of the American transportation secretary, Ray LaHood. Last month, the United States flew Mr. LaHood and six other Americans out of Egypt in a deal to remove them from prosecution. But the trial is continuing, and about a dozen of the groups’ Egyptian employees still face criminal charges and possible jail time.
“Maxxi museum faces closure; Italian art centre may be put under special administration as government acts on £650,000 hole in institution’s accounts.” By John Hooper. Guardian. April 24, 2012. The Italian government has 20 days in which to decide the fate of the country’s national contemporary art museum, the Maxxi, which opened in Rome just two years ago and was designed by the Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Lorenzo Ornaghi, the culture and heritage minister in Mario Monti’s non-party government, has opened proceedings that could lead to the Maxxi being put under special administration. Officials said he decided to act following the discovery of a €800,000 (£654,000) hole in the 2011 accounts and a prediction that losses could reach €11m in the next three years. The Maxxi crisis is the latest symptom of the funding crisis which is sweeping southern Europe and wreaking havoc on the arts. The administrators of the museum said last year’s losses were in part due to a 43% cut in government funding and had, in any case, been covered by profits carried over from the previous year. They expressed “surprise and concern” at the minister’s decision which “damaged the international credibility” of the museum.
“Turkey Feels Sway of Reclusive Cleric in the U.S.” By Dan Bilefsky and Sebnem Arsu. New York Times. April 24, 2012. When Ahmet Sik was jailed last year on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, he had little doubt that a secretive movement linked to a reclusive imam living in the United States was behind his arrest. “If you touch them you get burned,” a gaunt and defiant Mr. Sik said in an interview in March at his apartment here, just days after being released from more than a year in jail. “Whether you are a journalist, an intellectual or a human rights activist, if you dare to criticize them you are accused of being a drug dealer or a terrorist.” Mr. Sik’s transgression, he said, was to write a book, “The Army of the Imam.” It chronicles how the followers of the imam, Fethullah Gulen, have proliferated within the police and the judiciary, working behind the scenes to become one of Turkey’s most powerful political forces — and, he contends, one of its most ruthless, smearing opponents and silencing dissenters. The case quickly became among the most prominent of dozens of prosecutions that critics say are being driven by the followers of Mr. Gulen, 70, a charismatic preacher who leads one of the most influential Islamic movements in the world, with millions of followers and schools in 140 countries. He has long advocated tolerance, peace and interfaith dialogue, drawing on the traditions of Sufism, a mystical strain of Islam generally viewed as being moderate. But the movement’s stealthy expansion of power — as well as its tactics and lack of transparency — is now drawing accusations that Mr. Gulen’s supporters are using their influence in Turkey’s courts and police and intelligence services to engage in witch hunts against opponents with the aim of creating a more conservative Islamic Turkey. Critics say the agenda is threatening the government’s democratic credentials just as Turkey steps forward as a regional power.
“Fraudster’s extradition fuels hopes for lost charity cash; Michael Brown: faces an extradition hearing this week.” By Fiona Hamilton. Times of London. April 23 2012. The head of a charity conned by Michael Brown, a former donor to the Liberal Democrat Party, is hoping that the fraudster’s extradition to Britain will lead to it recovering its money. Michael Stoma said that his charity is owed up to £350,000 raised by Brown on its behalf for children in Ethiopia, but which it never received. Dr Stoma welcomed the prospect of the return of the Lib Dems’ biggest donor to serve a seven-year prison sentence for fraud and hoped that it would resurrect calls for the money to be reimbursed. He said: “We want to see it [the money] back. It would go where it was intended to go.” Brown, 45, landed in Madrid on Saturday after being deported from the Dominican Republic where he was arrested in January. It follows a four-year search across three continents after he fled Britain while on bail before a £40 million fraud trial in 2008. He will face an extradition hearing this week. He was convicted and sentenced in his absence of stealing £36 million from investors, including nearly £8 million from Martin Edwards, the former chairman of Manchester United. The prospect of Brown returning to the UK will increase pressure on the Liberal Democrats, who received a £2.4 million donation from him.
“How to stop donors asking about your administration costs; Charities need to stop talking about their administration costs and focus on telling donors where their money goes.” Guardian. April 23, 2012. It’s probably the most frequently asked question in the entire charity world. And yet as any charity knows, it’s irrelevant. To see off the question about running costs, talk about something else. Be on the offensive with a strong strategy and good data about results. In my experience of working with donors of all types, the administration question arises from a vacuum. Donors know that charities’ stories are sales pitches, hardly an unbiased basis for good decisions. They can rarely see into the black box that allegedly transforms their donation into impact. So arises a suspicion that it doesn’t – a suspicion compounded by common tales of funds being frittered/embezzled/corrupted away. Hence there’s a vacuum where there should be confidence about effectiveness. This doesn’t matter in a commercial transaction. I don’t particularly care how a café spends the money I give it as long as I get a nice lunch. But since donors aren’t the ones consuming the charities’ work, they’ve no idea whether its product or service is any good. This separation between the person providing the money and the person consuming the product is at the heart of most problems in the charity sector. The admin question is usually a misplaced quest for some reassurance that something useful is happening.
“Oxfam launches Humankind Index to measure wellbeing; The charity’s Scottish arm has used measures including health, transport, family life and employment to evaluate quality of life.” By Severin Carrel. Guardian. April 24, 2012. Anti-poverty campaigners at Oxfam have created a new technique for measuring quality of life and social justice in Britain which they claim has found major flaws in mainstream policies on jobs and economic growth. The charity said its new Humankind Index, launched on Tuesday, was a far more accurate measure of people’s wellbeing and happiness than focusing on GDP and employment rates, and had found deep-seated and significant problems which had been ignored by successive governments. It said the index – designed by Oxfam’s Scotland office using 18 measures ranging from health, transport, family life and experiences of work to access to parks – found most people put much greater weight on the quality of their lives and work than on material wealth and success. While quality of life for most people in Scotland had improved slightly, by 1.2%, between 2007-08 and 2009-10, this was chiefly due to improvements in their health and community spirit. The index, which is now being evaluated by UK government statisticians and Scottish government civil servants, estimated that in contrast, there had been a 43% fall in people’s financial security, a 26% fall in the number of people who felt they had secure and suitable jobs and a 24% decline in those who felt they had enough to live on. It had also detected a growing “lag” in the wellbeing and experiences of the most deprived communities compared to the average; Oxfam said that raised serious questions about the damage being done by the recession and the stress from flexible, temporary and part-time working demanded by government ministers and the modern jobs market.
“Open data can benefit voluntary sector; Charities can improve interventions and the impact of their work through effective use of open data.” By Ed Anderton. Guardian. April 24, 2012. For many in the voluntary sector, the starting point for looking into open data is the desire to challenge social changes more effectively. The Nominet Trust team is spending a fair amount of time thinking, investigating and experimenting with open data. The trust’s aim is to seek and support new uses of digital technology for social good. We recently co-hosted a conference on charities and open data with the Big Lottery Fund and NCVO, which indicated a growing interest from the voluntary sector. The opening of public sector data over the past few years is one obvious stimulus for this, particularly since many charities are data suppliers due to their work delivering a public service contracts. For many in the voluntary and charitable sector, the starting point for these conversations is the desire to be more effective in addressing social challenges. Whether this is the remarkable intrinsic motivation of wanting to support the communities more effectively, or the extrinsic motivation of doing more with less, the starting point isn’t technology, but making the most of the resources we have. Data is one resource that is becoming available in abundance. But this isn’t new. In 1858, Florence Nightingale produced the ‘Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East’ which showed that most British soldiers in the Crimean war died of sickness, rather than wounds or other causes. This data demonstrated the importance of hygienic camps and hospitals; its clear presentation articulated the specific challenges that needed to be addressed. It provided evidence of effective practice and presented arguments for better ways of working. Using data to inform how we improve our work has a long tradition in our sector.
“Private schools look east for pupils as British parents feel pinch; John Newton, the head of Taunton School, where about a quarter of pupils are from overseas, said there was a belief that some boarding schools were recruiting foreign students in a ‘desperate attempt to fill their beds.’” By Nicola Woolcock and Greg Hurst. Times of London. April 26 2012. An increasing number of Russian and Chinese pupils are helping to prop up private schools, according to an annual census by the Independent Schools Council. The number of children from abroad taught at private schools grew by 1,411 — almost 6 per cent — last year, while the number of British pupils fell by 706, or 0.15 per cent. Russian families were the fastest-growing market, with a doubling of the numbers of Russian pupils in the past five years. Many of the families of foreign pupils hire agents or consultants to secure a place at a leading school. The Times has been told that some wealthy Russian parents pay as much as £50,000 per child, although more typical commission charges would be equivalent to the first term’s fees at the school; about £10,000. Some independent schools hire agents to recruit international pupils, and pay commission of up to 20 per cent of their fee income per pupil. These agents, used even more widely by British universities, face tighter controls in an attempt to squeeze out rogue operators. Britain has joined Australia, Ireland and New Zealand to issue stringent rules of conduct that education agents will be expected to follow. These include acting ethically, declaring all fees, ensuring advertising material is accurate and shunning abuse of visa controls. The lucrative recruitment practice risks creating “ghettos” of children from the same country at boarding schools, some heads have warned. Martin Stephen, the former High Master of St Paul’s School, last week criticised schools that were increasingly reliant on the “fool’s gold” of fees from overseas students, adding that soaring fees were making independent schools the preserve of the very wealthy and threatening their very existence.
“Foodbank handouts double as more families end up on the breadline; Trussell Trust says two centres a week are opening in UK to give food parcels to working families struggling to cope.” By Patrick Butler. Guardian. April 26, 2012. Britain’s leading foodbank network, the Trussell Trust, says every single day it is handing out emergency food parcels to parents who are going without meals in order to feed their children, or even considering stealing food to put on the table, as the government’s austerity measures start to bite. The number of people to whom it had issued emergency food parcels had doubled in the last 12 months and was set to increase further as rising living costs, shrinking incomes and welfare cuts take their toll, the trust said, as it published its annual report, which is fast becoming a barometer of social deprivation. Two foodbanks a week opened up in the UK over the last 12 months to meet an explosion in demand from families living on the breadline, the trust said. The charity currently oversees 201 foodbanks run on a franchise basis across the UK, up from 100 in 2010-11. It fed 128,000 people last year, distributing 1,225 tonnes of food donated by the public, schools and businesses, and estimates that half a million individuals a year will be in receipt of a food parcel by 2016. “Foodbanks are seeing people from all walks of life turning to us for help when they hit crisis,” said Chris Mould, the executive chair of the Trussell Trust. “The current economic situation means that times are tough for many. Every day we meet parents who are skipping meals to feed their children or even considering stealing to stop their children going to bed hungry. “It is shocking that there is such a great need for foodbanks in 21st century Britain, but the need is growing.”
“From Haiti to Athens: charity aids austerity victims.” By James Bone Perama. Times of London. April 27, 2012. The head doctor at the clinic by the docks has worked as a humanitarian volunteer in such poverty-wracked nations as Haiti and Uganda. Now she is working for the same charity, treating patients in her own backyard in Perama, on the outskirts of Athens. “Here there’s also a crisis, like in Haiti. Many times I feel I am in Haiti when I’m in Athens. There are too many critical cases,” Aspasia Michalakis said. “Now we have to concentrate in Greece. We have abandoned, more or less, the other world crises. We had the opportunity to go to Libya, but because of the [Greek] crisis we didn’t go.” The medical charity Médecins du Monde — Doctors of the World — known for its work in the Third World, now serves thousands of patients with mobile units and five clinics in Greece as the country’s public health service crumbles because of the EU-mandated austerity programme.
“Judges must speak out, says founder of marriage charity.” By Frances Gibb. Times of London. April 28 2012. A senior judge has defended the right of judges to speak out on public concerns. Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court family judge who will launch a charity next week to tackle the “crisis of family breakdown”, said that if judges saw something wrong from their own experiences in the courts they had a duty to warn people about it. It was the same, he said, as doctors alerting the public to an epidemic that they had detected. “It would be irresponsible to remain quiet,” he said. Sir Paul, 62, has 40 years’ experience in the family courts, as a family barrister and, since 2000, as a judge. He is setting up the Marriage Foundation, a charity with no political or religious affiliations, to tackle “the appalling and costly impact of family breakdown”. He is concerned about the impact of marriage breakdown on children: an estimated 3.8 million children are currently caught up in the family justice system. The Marriage Foundation, which has attracted 300 supporters, seeks to raise £150,000 to fund research and be a “first port of call” on marriage. His comments will fuel the debate about judges voicing their views. Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, the Master of the Rolls, warned judges last month about the dangers of engaging in public debate, saying that “only in very exceptional circumstances” should a judge express his or her views out of court. In a separate speech, Lady Justice Hallett said that judges should not “descend into the political arena”. Sir Paul, who is married with three children and three grandchildren, said that all judges brought their life experiences to work. “Of course it would be unseemly to comment on the defence budget or NHS reforms. But if judges cannot comment on what they find in the work they do, who will?”
“Britain’s rich soar to record wealth.” By Kathryn Cooper. Sunday Times. April 29, 2012. Britain’s wealthiest people are richer than they have ever been with a combined fortune of £414 billion, even though the rest of the country is mired in its worst recession since the 1930s. The Sunday Times Rich List 2012, published today, reveals that the 1,000 richest men and women in the country have increased their wealth by 4.7% on last year’s total of £395.8 billion, surpassing the previous high of £412.8 billion recorded before the 2008 financial crash. At a time when the economy has slipped back into a double-dip recession, the figures will raise concerns about the growing gap between the most affluent in society and the “squeezed middle”. There are 77 British-based billionaires in this year’s list, exceeding the previous peak of 75 in 2008. Last year there were 73 people on the list with a fortune of £1 billion or more, and in 2010 there were just 53. The growth in the wealth of the country’s elite has come in large part from British-born industrialists in traditional sectors of the economy, some of whom are more than £1 billion richer than they were last year.
“Cardinal accuses David Cameron of ‘immoral’ behaviour and favouring rich; Cardinal Keith O’Brien says PM should not protect only his ‘very rich colleagues’ but consider his moral obligation to the poor.” By Shiv Malik. Guardian. April 29, 2012. One of Britain’s most prominent religious figures, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has accused David Cameron of immoral behaviour and of favouring rich City financiers over those struggling on lower incomes. O’Brien, Scotland’s most senior Roman Catholic authority, said: “The poor have suffered tremendously from the financial disasters of recent years and nothing, really, has been done by the very rich people to help them. “I am saying to the prime minister, look, don’t just protect your very rich colleagues in the financial industry, consider the moral obligation to help the poor of our country.” O’Brien called for Cameron to introduce a Robin Hood or financial transaction tax on City dealings. “My message to David Cameron, as the head of our government, is to seriously think again about this Robin Hood tax, the tax to help the poor by taking a little bit from the rich,” he told the BBC. Last year Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne, led Europe-wide efforts to stop France and Germany introducing just such a tax, arguing that it would be uniquely damaging to UK interests. In a BBC1 Scotland interview, O’Brien said it was immoral “just to ignore” those suffering as a result of the credit crunch. “When I say poor, I don’t mean [only] the abject poverty we see sometimes in our streets. I mean people who would have considered themselves reasonably well-off. “People who have saved for their pensions and now realise their pension funds are no more. People who are considering giving up their retirement homes that they have been saving for, poverty affecting young couples and so on and so on. “It is these people who have had to suffer because of the financial disasters of recent years, and it is immoral. It is not moral just to ignore them and to say ‘struggle along’, while the rich can go sailing along in their own sweet way.”