Friday, October 30, 2009
The leaders of Zimbabwe’s National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations (NANGO), which represents more than 1,000 civic groups, were arrested in Victoria Falls after a three-day conference at which five plainclothes security agents sat taking notes in the audience, said the group’s spokesman, Fambai Ngiranda. They were charged with convening a political meeting without police clearance, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported. Dadirai Chikwengo, chairman of the association’s board, and Cephas Zinhumwe, its chief executive, spent two nights in cells with no light, sleeping on the floor, Mr. Ngiranda said. “We still live in an undemocratic, autocratic situation,” he said. “Repressive legislation is still being applied to intimidate and harass human right defenders, civil society leaders and elements deemed inimical to ZANU-PF.”
The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) has introduced the “NGO Law Monitor.” The NGO Law Monitor seeks to provide up-to-date information on legal issues affecting not-for-profit, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world. In the initial phase of the Project, ICNL presents reports on 10 countries and 3 regional multilateral organizations. Each country report provides an overview of key issues relating to the freedom of association and the NGO legal framework, with a focus on legal barriers affecting civil society. Each regional organization report provides an overview of the organization, focusing on its engagement on NGO legal issues. In the coming months, reports relating to an additional 21 countries and 7 regional organizations will be made available. ICNL expressed gratitude to the NGO Law Monitoring Network, which is comprised of individuals and organizations located in more than 30 countries. The Network is dedicated to monitoring legal developments affecting civil society at the country and regional level.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Today's Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that "[b]ruised by the deepest recession in decades, the nation's most-successful fund-raising organizations anticipate that giving will decline this year by a median of 9 percent." The Chronicle's conclusion is based on a survey it conducted to determine the 400 organizations that raise the most money from private sources.
The findings reveal that the fund-raising outlook for those organizations in 2010 is gloomy. In fact,
Nonprofit officials say they are hopeful that the stock market's climb will prompt donors to give more, but they fear that foundations and corporations might cut back further. For the most part, they are setting their budgets conservatively, often hoping to raise just 1 or 2 percent more than they did in 2009.
These developments haveforced nonprofits to create new methods of fund-raising. According to the Chronicle,
... the push to be more aggressive in seeking donations continues. Colleges and other nonprofit organizations are stepping up their efforts to solicit individuals, trying to explain more clearly why they need money, focusing on donors who have stopped giving, experimenting with new methods of online fund raising, and putting more time and effort into securing planned gifts.
Charities are also reorganizing their fund-raising departments, sometimes because they have been forced to lay off employees. They are encouraging fund raisers to share responsibilities and work more closely with people in different departments.
Smaller charities are more badly hit than larger ones. Yet, the picture for big groups is still grim:
For only the third year in the survey's 19-year history, the minimum amount to qualify for The Chronicle's list dropped, to $47.6-million from $51.5-million in 2007, adjusted for inflation.
With the first anniversary of President Obama's historic election drawing near, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, Texas, will tomorrow host the Barack Obama Politics, Law & Policy Symposium. The symposium will focus, not only on the President's policies, but also on how his election has affected race relations in the country. Presenters at the day-long symposium include Professor Kevin Brown of Indiana University, Maurer School of Law-Bloomington, Angela Mae Kupenda of Mississippi College School of Law, Creola Jackson of Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law, and Constance Fain of Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
The day promises to be filled with thoughtful presentations and animated debate.
Held Oct 28 at ABA Int'l Law Section Meeting:
Recently, several states have taken dramatic legislative action to regulate the nature and scope of nongovernmental organization (NGO) activities. In some cases, these regulations have sought to restrict issues NGOs may address, or constrain their access to third-party funding. Governments have justified these measures as necessary in the face of alleged NGO corruption and interference in the political process. However, other observers view these laws as thinly veiled attempts to limit NGO influence across a wide range of matters ranging from human rights to greater government transparency. A panel of experts will examine the content and impact of legislative initiatives in Africa, China, and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as efforts within the NGO community to define and implement internal accountability norms for the industry. Building on these presentations, a brief workshop session with audience members will help identify potential responses to some of the challenges raised.
NGO and Not-for-Profit (NGO-NPO) Organizations Committee; Latin America and Caribbean Committee; International Human Rights Committee; Goal VIII Rule of Law Committee
Robert C. Blitt, Chair, University of Tennessee College of Law, Knoxville, Tennessee
David S. Fushtey, The Governance Counsel, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Leon Irish, President, International Center for Civil Society Law, Crownsville, Maryland
Robert C. Blitt, University of Tennessee College of Law, Knoxville, Tennessee
Adriana Ruiz-Restrepo, RRA Attorneys, Bogotá, Colombia
Karla Simon, Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, Washington DC
Eduardo Szazi, Szazi Bechara Advogados, São Paulo, Brazil
Civil society representatives were barred from a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as government officials from Burma and Singapore, among others, sabotaged the conference in Thailand, reports the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). A conference that was supposed to offer a space for civil society to engage with government officials was undermined by the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Philippines and Burma. The five countries stopped their civil society representatives from participating, damaging the credibility of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), according to a statement by organizers of the ASEAN Peoples Forum (APF). These actions rendered the meeting “meaningless” says APF. As a result, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia boycotted the meeting.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Former top editors from the Chicago Tribune and other journalists have formed a nonprofit news organization - the Chicago News Cooperative. The new venture will provide two pages of local news twice a week for the Chicago edition of the New York Times, which will pay for the service. The MacArthur Foundation and a local public television station have provided start-up funding for the cooperative. The story now appears as "breaking news." More in-depth coverage will likely be available tomorrow.
A recent Houston Chronicle report revealed that a long-simmering disagreement between broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Texas Southern University("TSU") ended Friday when the university's governing board agreed to strip Smiley's name from its communication school.
In 2004, Smiley promised to donate $1 million (at $200,000 a year for five years) and to raise another $1 million for TSU. The school later created the Tavis Smiley School of Communication in his honor.
Since then, though, Smiley has made one $50,000 donation in mid-2005 and raised $250,000 from three corporate donors. Still, he told the Chronicle on Friday that he had intended to fulfill his personal $1 million pledge. In an interview with the paper, he allegedly stated: “Any institution that turns away a $1 million gift in this economy, I think ought to have good reason for doing that.”
Smiley said former university President Priscilla Slade offered to name the school for him before he pledged any money. “I even made a joke, how much is this decision going to cost me?” he said. “She said, ‘This decision has already been made.'”
TSU President John Rudley said the dispute had been going on since he arrived on campus in early 2008.
Talks broke down last month after more than a year of negotiations, and Rudley informed Smiley the deal was off.
In a letter to Smiley dated September 28, Rudley wrote:
Because you did not fulfill your original commitment to our partnership, TSU plans to treat the partnership as being at an end. TSU will therefore remove your name from the School of Communication and the KTSU Radio facility to allow us to provide other major donors with the naming opportunity.
Smiley maintains that he stopped making the payments as agreed out of concern about mismanagement under the former university president. Slade was accused of using school money for personal expenses and fired in mid-2006. She eventually was sentenced to 10 years probation after a grand jury indicted her.
The controversy with Smiley has prompted TSU's regents to adopt a policy spelling out the circumstances under which it will consider naming a university building, college, endowed professorship or other program. Under this new policy, anyone interested in naming consideration for a college has to donate $10 million, with half in hand before the name change takes effect. Naming consideration for a department or school within a college would require a $2 million donation.
Today's New York Times reports that under a new Islamic Criminal Code that goes into effect this month, the Shariah police in Aceh, Indonesia, will be wielding a new and more potent threat to the province's citizens and residents: death by stoning for adulterers.
Although most of Indonesia still lives up to its reputation for a moderate, easygoing brand of Islam, Aceh has gone from basic Islamic law to what many observers see as extremism. According to the Times:
Though extreme, Aceh is not an isolated case. In recent years, as part of a decentralization of power away from the capital, Jakarta, at least 50 local governments have used their new authority to pass Shariah-based regulations regarding conduct and dress, though none have gone as far as Aceh to deal with criminal matters.
The Times continues:
Most experts and human rights advocates believe the regulations discriminate against non-Muslim minorities and contravene the country’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. But the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — a moderate former general whose Muslim credentials have often been questioned by political opponents — has not challenged them. In fact, Mr. Yudhoyono has backed morality-based laws that pleased Muslim conservative allies but angered advocates of human rights.
The president has yet to comment on the stoning provision, leaving it to his aides to quietly criticize it and clearly hoping that the Aceh Parliament will repeal it. Aceh’s governor has said he will refuse to carry out any stonings, and even supporters acknowledge that the punishment will be extremely hard to apply for practical and theological reasons. Nevertheless, because the governor lacks veto power, stoning could remain on the books.
Today's NonProfit Times is reporting that legislation introduced in Congress yesterday could provide temporary relief for nonprofits faced with huge increases in pension contributions in the coming years.
The measure, introduced by Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) and Rep. Patrick J. Tiber (R-Ohio), will either be taken up by the Senate directly on the floor or will go through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
According to Patricia Read, Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Government Affairs at Independent Sector, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of nonprofits, “This was a problem that came up with the 2006 Pension Protection Act, when they did not foresee the consequences of economic downturn."
Michael Watson, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Diversity, for the Girl Scouts of America, believes that “The [Pension Protection Act] was designed to make sure that companies paid an adequate amount into their pensions but I don’t think any of the designers anticipated the dramatic decline in the market to the extent that we’ve had.”
Currently, nonprofits that offer defined benefit pension plans grapple with daunting budget challenges as they face huge increases in their required, minimum pension payments. Under the bill introduced in Congress, employers could make amortization payments over nine years instead of the required seven, and make interest-only payments in the first two years. They also could choose to make level payments for a 15-year period.
Diana Aviv, President and CEO of Independent Sector, gave a few examples of nonprofits that would be affected if some type of relief is not granted:
- Family Service of Greater Boston saw funding status fall from 94 percent to 72 percent in one day due to a market decline in 2008, and now it is underfunded by $2 million.
- Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s defined benefit assets declined 23 percent between April 2008 to April 2009, increasing the cost of the plan by almost $1.5 million, a 215-percent increase over the prior year.
- One nonprofit in the Midwest estimates its annual contributions will increase by six to eight times what it was the previous year.
“The problem is that this comes at exactly the time when folks aren’t having an easier time of raising money as they might have had in the past, so there is the double whammy,” Aviv said. Although “predicting anything with certainty one does at one’s own peril … there is sympathy for this for resolution,” she said. “We’re not seeing obstacles and barriers that would suggest this is going to be a big fight. All things being equal, we are hopeful that this will be resolved,” Aviv added.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Earlier today, a French court convicted the French branch of the Church of Scientology of fraud and fined the organization almost $900,000. However, the court stopped short of granting the prosecution's demand to ban the church entirely. The church said it would appeal.
The verdict was among the most important in several years to involve the group, which is registered as a religion in the United States but has no similar legal protection in France where it is considered a sect. Today's court decision marks the first time that the church itself -- and not individual church members -- had been tried and convicted.
According to the New York Times:
The case was brought by two former members who said they were pushed into paying large sums of money in the 1990s, pressed to sign up for expensive “purification courses” and harassed to buy a variety of vitamins and other forms of pharmaceuticals, plus electronic tests to measure spiritual progress. One woman said she had been pressured into spending more than $30,000.
The major fines were rendered against the Scientology Celebrity Center in Paris and a Scientology bookstore. Six group leaders were convicted of fraud, with four given suspended sentences of 10 months to two years. One of them, the group’s leader in France, Alain Rosenberg, was given a two-year suspended sentence and fined $44,700. Two others were given only fines, of $1,490 and $2,980.
Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, applauded the tribunal's decision, saying: “This is an historic decision. It’s the first time in France that the entity of the Church of Scientology is condemned for fraud as an organized gang.” Meanwhile, Agnès Bron, a spokeswoman for the church, called the verdict "an Inquisition for modern times.”
The Church of Scientology is based in Los Angeles. It was founded in 1954 by the writer L. Ron Hubbard. The State Department has in the past criticized Belgium, Germany, and other European countries for labeling Scientology a cult or sect and enacting laws to restrict its operations.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Today's Washington Post is reporting that the federal Student Support Services program, launched during the Nixon administration, is today part of a larger effort to help disadvantaged students overcome academic and cultural barriers to success in higher education. The program is part of TRIO, a group of national initiatives aimed at raising the odds that a disadvantaged student will stay in college, get good grades and graduate.
However, supporters of the programs are not satisfied. They claim that the programs have languished through years of fiscal neglect. Total funding to the TRIO programs -- $848 million in the fiscal year that began this month -- has risen about 1 percent in the past five years. TRIO currently serves 838,591 students, fewer than it did in 2003.
The Post continues:
The support programs are closely linked to the federal Pell grant, a $25 billion fund that helps students from low-income families pay for college. Unlike TRIO, funding for Pell has increased by more than one-third over the past three years. A student aid bill that cleared the House last month would add $40 billion to Pell over the next decade but does not address TRIO.
Advocates say the support programs are key to the success of students who receive Pell grants. They argue that money is not enough. Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC, that supports the TRIO programs, had this to say: "You can give them all the money in the world, but if you don't address the confidence issues, the skills issue, you're not going to make it."
Statistics apparently support this view. Federal data show that 29 percent of all postsecondary students complete a bachelor's degree in six years and 10 percent attain associate's degrees. But when Pell is combined with the support programs, the graduation rate rises by about 10 points.
Last week, the Vatican made a proposal to Anglicans unhappy about their church's moves toward accepting female and gay bishops: reunite with the Roman Catholic Church.
In a surprise announcement from Rome last Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI approved a provision to create a new church entity that will allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church in a format similar to Ukrainian or Eastern Rite Catholics, keeping their liturgy and married priests, but not married bishops.
According to USA Today, the announcement stunned many in the 77-million worldwide Anglican Communion, particularly the Church of England, where the Archbishop of Canterbury has wrestled for years with factions that oppose female bishops.
Meanwhile, several church officials and commentators have been weighing in on the Pope's announcement. One Anglican group, known as the Traditional Anglican Communion, opposes female bishops and has made public its bid to join the Catholic Church. The fellowship, which split from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1990, says it has spread to 41 countries and has 400,000 members. In a similar vein, the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, sees the Vatican's announcement as a global event, "maybe one of Benedict's biggest moves."
"Rome is trying to find a structural solution to an unbearable pastoral problem," Harmon said in a statement reacting to the Pope's invitation. According to him, Vatican leaders "clearly feel that if they don't intervene now, it will get worse. Their motive is the reunification of Christianity. If Anglicanism wasn't going to provide a catholic solution, the worldwide church would fracture even more."
Still, Harmon does not expect to see any "snap moves" — particularly because most traditionalist bishops in the USA are married.
Across the border in Canada, some Anglicans have rebuffed the Pope's invitation. Canadian Anglican parishes dissatisfied with their church's new approach to female bishops and gays have broken away from the Anglican Church and formed the Anglican Network in Canada. According to the Network's website, the group "embrace[s] Anglican orthodoxy — the biblically faithful, authentically Anglican way of following Jesus … defined by and centered on the … foundational principles of the Anglican tradition in Canada." No evidence exists that the breakaway parishes will now reunite with the Catholic Church. In fact, CBC News reported on Thursday that Kevin Flynn, director of Anglican studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, said he does not think Rome's offer will change much between Anglicans and the Catholic Church. Flynn also thinks the Pope's attempts to woo disaffected Anglicans might alienate some Catholics who want to see their church adopt more liberal views.
"For those Roman Catholics, … I'd say, 'Well, come and be an Anglican.' "
In an op-ed published in Saturday's New York Times, British commentator A. N. Wilson opined that the Pope's overture is actually good news for Britain:
It will formally bring to an end the idea of the Established Church, and of the monarch as that Establishment’s symbol and head. Whatever our private religious allegiances, we Britons no longer want to force our royal heads of state to jump through those impossible hoops. The paradox is that a move by a conservative pope to ease the tender consciences of conservative-minded Anglicans will actually be a move toward the complete secularization of Britain, and an acceptance of its new multicultural identity.
In yesterday's Times, Ross Douthat took a different approach. According to Douthat, the Pope's invitation "represents an unusual effort at targeted proselytism, remarkable both for its concessions to potential converts — married priests, a self-contained institutional structure, an Anglican rite — and for its indifference to the wishes of the Church of England’s leadership."
This is not the way well-mannered modern churches are supposed to behave. Spurred by the optimism of the early 1960s, the major denominations of Western Christendom have spent half a century being exquisitely polite to one another, setting aside a history of strife in the name of greater Christian unity.
This ecumenical era has borne real theological fruit, especially on issues that divided Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. But what began as a daring experiment has decayed into bureaucratized complacency — a dull round of interdenominational statements on global warming and Third World debt, only tenuously connected to the Gospel.
At the same time, the more ecumenically minded denominations have lost believers to more assertive faiths — Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, Mormonism and even Islam — or seen them drift into agnosticism and apathy.
Nobody is more aware of this erosion than Benedict. So the pope is going back to basics — touting the particular witness of Catholicism even when he’s addressing universal subjects, and seeking converts more than common ground.
Along the way, he’s courting both ends of the theological spectrum. In his encyclicals, Benedict has addressed a range of issues — social justice, environmental protection, even erotic love — that are close to the hearts of secular liberals and lukewarm, progressive-minded Christians. But instead of stopping at a place of broad agreement, he has pushed further, trying to persuade his more liberal readers that many of their beliefs actually depend on the West’s Catholic heritage, and make sense only when grounded in a serious religious faith.
At the same time, the pope has systematically lowered the barriers for conservative Christians hovering on the threshold of the church, unsure whether to slip inside. This was the purpose behind his controversial outreach to schismatic Latin Mass Catholics, and it explains the current opening to Anglicans.
Douthat then makes an interesting comment:
...in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.
Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.
Hence, Douthat concludes, what is being interpreted, for now, "as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe."
The debate will no doubt continue for a while. We shall keep you posted as warranted.
Friday's Philadelphia Inquirer reported that 25 years after a devastating famine killed one million of its citizens, Ethiopia on Thursday appealed for emergency food aid for 6.2 million people. The current need arises from a prolonged drought that has hit much of the Horn of Africa, including Kenya and Somalia. In making the appeal, Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia's state minister for agriculture and rural development, asked donors for more than $121 million in emergency food aid.
Ethiopia has historically struggled with cyclic droughts. The 1984-1985 Ethiopian famine -- caused partly by drought -- drew international attention as news reports showed emaciated children and adults with limbs as thin as sticks. The crisis launched one of the biggest global charity campaigns in history, including the concert Live Aid (which raised $70 million in aid).
In a report marking 25 years since that famine, the aid group Oxfam said countries must focus on preparing communities to prevent and deal with drought and other disasters before they strike, rather than relying on importing aid. The Inquirer reported Waleed Rauf, Oxfam's Ethiopia country director, as saying: "The current humanitarian situation underlines our belief that while food aid -- much of it donated by foreign donors -- is important and can save lives, we need greater funding for longer-term solutions, which can begin to tackle the underlying causes that make people so vulnerable to disasters."
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Stephanie Strom reports today in the New York Times about several charitable gifts by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google. This year, in commemoration of his family's immigration to the United States from Russia, Mr. Brin has made gifts to several organizations that helped his family along the way. Mr. Brin was six years old when his family moved to the U.S. He notes that his philanthropy is still small in amount compared with his "theoretical wealth," but he says the gifts this year signal his growing commitment to philanthropy. Together with his wife, Anne Wojcicki, he hopes to follow Bill Gates' example of carefully thought-out philanthropy that becomes more significant in amount over time.