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News Briefs

Public Confidence In Charities Declines


Not so many months ago, Americans were dipping into their pockets like never before, pouring more than $2 billion into charitable causes in the aftermath of Sept. 11. For a time, the nation’s nonprofit groups were riding high in the public’s esteem.

No longer, though. An unfolding list of questionable dealings -- from the financial irregularities acknowledged at the United Way of the National Capital Area to the lavish spending of AIDSRide promoter Pallotta TeamWorks to the stumbles of the American Red Cross in attempting to use its Sept. 11 donations for other causes -- has caused public confidence in charities to plummet.

The percentage of people who say they have no confidence in such organizations has doubled since July 2001, to 16 percent, according to nationwide surveys by the Brookings Institution and Independent Sector, an association of nonprofit groups. At the other end of the scale, the proportion of those who say they have “a lot” of trust in charities has slipped from one in four last July to less than one in five.

When the question is narrowed to just federated appeals such as the United Way, the confidence level tails off even more abruptly: Those with “a lot” of trust have fallen from 39 percent a year ago to 26 percent, and those with “none” have grown from 13 percent to 17 percent.

Judge in Cigarette Smuggling Case Did Not Disclose Ties to Tobacco


Federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan was part of the 2-1 majority that gave the tobacco industry one of its biggest legal victories in recent years -- a ruling upholding dismissal of Canada’s cigarette smuggling case against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The ruling last October by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not only derailed Canada’s multibillion-dollar claim, but quickly led to dismissal of similar suits against cigarette makers by the European Community and Colombia.

Internal documents disclosed in tobacco litigation show that Kaplan had represented Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. as a private attorney during the 1970s and ’80s. The documents show that as part of Kaplan’s work for B&W, he participated in meetings of the Committee of Counsel, the inner sanctum of top tobacco lawyers that mapped the companies’ joint legal and political strategies -- including how to temper government action on tobacco smuggling.

Kaplan did not disclose his former ties with the industry to lawyers for the government of Canada, though legal experts say he didn’t have to. Nonetheless, tobacco industry foes, who said the ruling was of immeasurable benefit to the entire industry, not just R.J. Reynolds, reacted with surprise and anger.

Brain May Be Hard-Wired For Counting


The ability to count may be hard-wired into the brain -- a basic mental ability on which the eventual mastery of arithmetic may rest, according to new research.

Specific sets of neurons in the brain are designed to rapidly process quantities and numbers. This may be what allows people to make rapid guesses about relative size -- and in prehistoric times might have allowed animals roaming the tundra to quickly estimate the numbers of their friends and foes.

Neurons in the prefrontal cortex of the brain -- the executive center that makes rapid-fire decisions -- quickly rewire themselves to recognize different numbers of objects, according to an animal study published in the Sept. 6 issue of Science by Andreas Nieder, David J. Freedman and Earl K. Miller of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.