From the Greek Streets › People take to the streets, Syntagma metro station re-opens after popular pressure: emergency General Strike underway, against 20% wage decreases and other shock doctrine measures

  As the troika ‘negotiates’ (read: reads out already agreed measures with the government ‘representatives’), people are taking to the streets for an emergency General Strike against new measures that will allegedly include a 20% decrease in the national minimum wage and a subsequent cut in the unemployment benefit, among many others.At approximately 11.30 GMT+2 the metro station in Syntagma re-opened, following a protest outside the police HQ against its closure. The operation of the metro stations is crucial in allowing people to attend the demonstrations; in the past few general strikes police have attempted to turn their closure into a regular practice.Information on the strike day as it comes.

New and Innovative Merchant Services in Rhode Island

Merchant Data Systems is expanding their brand and capabilities to Rhode Island. Merchant Data Systems is a payment processing company that provides full-time services. The company is excited to be expanding their products to other states in the US, with Rhode Island being one of them.Providence, RI (PRWEB) June 06, 2012 Merchant Data Systems is expanding their brand and capabilities to Rhode Island. Merchant Data Systems is a payment processing company that provides full-time services. The company is excited to be expanding their products to other states in the US, with Rhode Island being one of them.Merchant Data Systems provides a variety of services and products such as, mobile credit card processing, credit card merchant accounts, and online merchant accounts. Founded in 1997, Merchant Data Systems is one of the credit card processing companies that is on the fast track to bringing new and more innovative products to each state. This company provides a personalized experience to each customer. Rhode Island merchant services are about to improve and thrive, due to Merchant Data Systems.With its expansion into Rhode Island, MDS will give merchants the capability to accept credit cards, set up credit card machines within their stores or offices and create merchant accounts. Merchant Data Systems is providing a payment gateway for all participating merchants in the state of Rhode Island. In addition to expanding in Rhode Island, MDS is interesting in growing in large numbers within the United States, as well as increasing their online presence.In an effort to expand their online reach, Merchant Data Systems has partnered with Karma Snack, an internet marketing company. This joint venture with Karma Snack comes at an appropriate time when internet marketing has increased in popularity. This partnership has formed a separate entity called MDSSEO. Combining MDS’ and Karma Snack’s business methods, MDSSEO will provide businesses with services that will help them compete in this current marketplace. This joint venture will provide merchants with exceptional financial services and products, including but not limited to, cash advances, financing for equipment, working capital and payroll services.With Karma Snack’s knowledge and expertise in internet marketing, this joint venture will also give merchants ability to setup e-commerce shopping carts and mobile SEO. All participating merchants can rest assured that their information is secure with Merchant Data Systems and Karma Snack. Merchant Data Systems is looking to provide these services and products to improve Rhode Island merchant services.Along with mobile SEO and financial products, Merchant Data Systems is looking to bring digital marketing into the company. With digital marketing, MDS will be a step ahead of other payment processing companies and move into the right direction when it comes to online technology. For the original version on PRWeb visit: prweb.com/releases/prwebMerchant-Services/Rhode-Island/prweb9577728.htm

Nonprofit serving Md.’s low-income LGBT community

BALTIMORE (AP) — Lee Ann Hopkins spends each day in a tiny brick-walled office crammed with books and fliers on FreeState Legal Project, of which she is the executive director — and only employee. “I wear all the hats,” Hopkins said. “I am the executive director, the intake coordinator, case manager, trainer, outreach coordinator, volunteer coordinator, attorney recruiter and trash can taker-outer.” Hopkins and a 19-member volunteer board run FreeState Legal Project, which provides legal aid to low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Maryland residents. The nonprofit, which celebrates its one-year anniversary May 23, was founded to address the specific set of legal issues facing the low-income LGBT community — like same-sex marriage and divorce, discrimination, gender identification and name changes, Hopkins said. The group’s role is also partly educational, Hopkins said, and they will meet with people or other organizations to discuss LGBT issues and the law. ___ The numbers Last year, FreeState took on 54 cases. This year, Hopkins wants to double that. “We haven’t even scratched the surface,” she said. There are about 25,000 impoverished LGBT people living in the Baltimore area alone, Hopkins said. There is no other legal agency that focuses on the LGBT community in central Maryland, a 2009 survey commissioned by FreeState found. A consultant hired by FreeState conducted a survey of 25 service providers to the LGBT population in the Baltimore area. Of those, 23 responded to the survey. When asked whether there was a need for a specific group to provide legal services to the LGBT community, 16 of the 17 who answered the question said there was a need. Of those who responded to whether their groups provide legal services to the LGBT community, six of the 19 respondents said they did provide legal services, but 60 percent of these groups just provide referrals to legal services. The survey also found that other nonprofit legal service providers did not have the resources to take on work-intensive discrimination cases or deal with numerous small cases, like legally changing a client’s name or gender. In its first year, the group received 150 phone calls; in 130 of them, Hopkins said, she gave some legal advice over the phone. People can call at set times — Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Hopkins collects information from the caller. If the caller qualifies as low-income, Hopkins forwards the person to one of more than 60 attorneys who do pro-bono or low-bono work for the group. “We are the matchmaker,” Hopkins said. If she can’t find an attorney who fits a case, Hopkins may handle the client herself. Before taking the job at FreeState, Hopkins was the special assistant city solicitor in the Baltimore City Health Department. She also worked at Baltimore Housing, which provides housing to low-income residents, and the Baltimore City Circuit Court’s Pro Se Assistance Project in the Family Law Division. She has also long been an advocate for the LGBT community, working as the executive director of a social justice organization in Massachusetts. Before getting her law degree, Hopkins also went to Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., where she picked up counseling skills she uses in her job today, she said. “I wanted to change hearts and minds and also do something very concrete,” Hopkins said. ___ The history The idea for FreeState began in 2007 when a group of four attorneys and law students met to discuss whether LGBT legal needs were being met in Baltimore, said Venable LLP associate Aaron S. Merki, who was part of the original group while he was a second-year law student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. After six months, the group formed an advisory board of 10 people to discuss ways to raise money. The group decided it had to prove there was a need for the service with data in order to attract donors, so members commissioned the 2009 survey. Once the group had the survey results, the board started reaching out to people in the philanthropic community for support, Merki said. The group received a $20,000 donation from the John J. Leidy Foundation, a Towson group that gives grants to state nonprofits, a huge step in making the nonprofit a reality, Merki said. Then the board started planning. Members developed the model for the nonprofit. “We took the time to plan and research at the outset rather than just sort of diving into it right off the bat,” Merki said. In 2010, the group hired a part-time director, and in 2011, the board hired Hopkins as a full-time executive director. The group officially opened its doors to clients last year. Hopkins runs an office on West Chase Street in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore & Central Maryland, a space shared with other LGBT groups. She said the group started its outreach last year by going to the Baltimore Pride celebration in June and handing out fliers, information and, of course, strings of beads. Hopkins said that event alone catapulted the group into the public eye and word spread quickly. ___ The casework The key to FreeState, Hopkins said, is that the group will take on legal cases that are not handled by other nonprofits, like gender identification changes, in an environment that is comfortable for low-income LGBT individuals. Hopkins said they deal with a lot of same-sex couples who got married in another state seeking a divorce, cases of transgender residents being discriminated against when looking for work or housing and even a case where a local school failed to punish students who bullied another student for being gay. The group helps same sex couples with adoptions. The group also deals with the legal issues surrounding transgender residents legally changing their genders and names. “Sometimes, transgender individuals face extreme hardship and discrimination because their documentations don’t match with how they present themselves,” Hopkins said. FreeState also hosts what they call Will Power Parties, which are events where LGBT residents and attorneys casually gather in a happy-hour-like environment to talk about setting up estate planning as a same-sex couple. The events are casual, with finger foods and door prizes, Hopkins said. The group hosted two parties last year, but Hopkins said she hopes to make them quarterly. ___ The clients Ellen and Traci, clients of FreeState, called the group “a miracle.” The couple legally married in Colorado more than 13 years ago, before Traci, who was born male, transitioned to a female. They have asked to use only their first names in order to protect their privacy, since Traci’s co-workers are not aware of their history. The couple moved to Maryland in March last year when Traci got a new job. That April, while Traci was filling out her paperwork for health insurance, the human resources representative told her the insurance would not cover same-sex couples. The couple had just bought a townhome in mid-April, when Ellen had a mini-stroke and ended up in the hospital. The couple’s old insurance would last them only through October. Ellen started researching options. She said she called a number of government agencies, but no one knew what to tell her. “They had no idea what to do,” Ellen said. “People haven’t dealt with this kind of issue a lot, and neither have I.” She was eventually referred to FreeState by another attorney. Hopkins took on their case. After negotiating for about 2½ months, the company granted the couple health insurance. “It was pretty scary there for a little bit, but FreeState Legal just went to bat for us,” Ellen said. ___ The need Mark F. Scurti, a partner at Pessin Katz Law P.A. who is on the board for FreeState, has been practicing LGBT law in Maryland for 20 years. In his practice, Scurti said, he sees the greatest demand for representation in discrimination in employment and housing, followed by family law — adoption and custody issues for same-sex couples. Scurti said many people in the low-income LGBT community do not go to other free legal aid organizations, because they think those groups weren’t designed to deal with LGBT-related issues and almost feel like they would have to go through the “coming out” process all over again. “There was a perception that their issues were not something these organizations can handle or there was a perception that they were not warm and friendly, which is clearly not the case, but that was the perception,” Scurti said. Shawn Boehringer, chief counsel at Maryland Legal Aid, said his organization deals with the LGBT community on a regular basis, especially through a federal grant targeting the legal problems of people with HIV/AIDS. It also handles a limited number of employment cases, Boehringer said, but it does not do any name-change work or estate planning for LGBT individuals, like FreeState. “There is a niche there they have identified,” Boehringer said. “There is an unmet need there they are addressing through their work that we would probably not address at Legal Aid. . To have one group focus on those issues I think is entirely appropriate and needed. To have an organization that focuses on that issue, that puts some life into the protections that community now has.” ___ The future In its first year, the group limited its outreach efforts so as not to overwhelm itself in the beginning stages, Merki said. Next year, he said, the board wants to expand its outreach efforts not only to the low-income LGBT community, but also to other attorneys interested in doing pro-bono work and to judges and the general community. Merki said they have not decided how they will market the group yet, but will likely discuss it at a strategic planning meeting in a few months. “It’s a constant process,” Merki said. “With a good nonprofit, you should always be figuring out what needs are out there that haven’t been identified that you can identify.” In the distant future, Merki said the group hopes to hire more staff and eventually expand to other locations in the state and even bring the nonprofit to other parts of the country to use as a model. He said the group also wants to increase outreach in local school systems about bullying issues. “We want to take baby steps and not get ahead of ourselves,” Merki said. “That results in an organization falling apart.” The group faces a fundraising challenge this year in competing with the same-sex marriage issue, Hopkins and Merki said. The Maryland General Assembly approved same-sex marriage this spring, and the public will vote on its passage in a fall referendum. Hopkins said while the group is glad same-sex marriage could be legalized in the state, the issue will attract a lot of donors that may have given to FreeState. “So much money and attention is going to gay marriage that low-income LGBT individuals will be left by the roadside, and they won’t benefit from all this movement and all this change that’s happening,” Hopkins said. “A lot of low-income LGBT individuals may not get married and may not be able to afford to get married.” At this point, Merki said the group has raised more than $100,000, the bulk of which it has spent getting the organization started and running it for a year. “We are impressing upon donors that this is an extremely innovative program that combines public education outreach as well as provisional legal services,” Merki said. “We believe Baltimore can lead the way in advancing the interests of low-income LGBT persons.”

Bristol Palin: I’m a “Grounded, Normal Mom”

Bristol Palin may have donned a gorilla suit on Dancing With the Stars and famously spoken out against President Obama’s support of gay marriage, but when the 21-year-old’s new Lifetime reality series premieres this summer, Palin insists viewers will see a more “normal” side of her. “I think I have tough skin and I know that God is on my side and my faith is everything to me,” the mom of Tripp, 3, told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts in an interview promoting the June 19 premiere of Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp. “It’s just the root of my life and my family’s life and I think it will do well,” she said. VIDEO: Watch Bristol dance in a gorilla costume on DWTS Sarah Palin’s daughter — who welcomed Tripp in December 2008 with ex Levi Johnston — says she has turned her haters into her biggest motivators. “When people are talking poorly about me, I think it just gives me more motivation to want to do more and want to speak up even louder and they’re just not doing themselves well by doing that.” PHOTOS: Controversial star moms Declaring herself a “grounded, normal mom,” the reality star says Alaska’s former governor supports her decision to put her life — and Tripp’s — in front of TV cameras. “She supports me and she knows that I have good judgment so she is definitely in support of it,” Palin told Roberts. VIDEO: Sarah Palin goes camping with Kate Gosselin Little Tripp was also open to the idea of having cameras at home, says mom. “Tripp didn’t care if the cameras were there or not,” Palin told Roberts. “He’s still going to be rowdy, he’s still going to be a little terror, but it was fun. It was a lot of fun.” Tell Us: Will you watch Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp?

KTRE.com

By GREG RISLING and KEN THOMAS and RAQUEL DILLONAssociated Press WASHINGTON (AP) – Commerce Secretary John Bryson said Monday he will take a medical leave of absence to undergo tests and evaluations after suffering a seizure in connection with a succession of traffic accidents in the Los Angeles area. Bryson informed President Barack Obama that he was taking a medical leave “so that I can focus all of my attention on resolving the health issues that arose over the weekend,” according to a statement released by the department. Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank will serve as acting commerce secretary in Bryson's absence. White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement that Obama's thoughts were with Bryson and his family. The 68-year-old former utility executive struck a car stopped for a train – twice – on Saturday afternoon and then rammed into another vehicle with his car a few minutes later. He was found unconscious in his vehicle, and government officials said Monday he had had a seizure, which could play a role in whether he's charged with felony hit-and-run. It wasn't clear whether the medical episode preceded or followed the collisions, but Bryson hasn't suffered a seizure before, said a department official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secretary's medical history. Bryson has a “limited recall of the events,” the official said. The crashes drew attention because of health concerns involving a member of Obama's Cabinet, as well as the challenge investigators face when trying to determine whether someone should be held criminally responsible because of adverse health. Bryson was driving alone in a Lexus in San Gabriel, a community of about 40,000 northeast of Los Angeles, when he struck the rear of a vehicle that had stopped for a passing train, authorities said. He spoke briefly with the three occupants and then hit their car again as he departed, investigators said. They followed him while calling police. He was cited for felony hit-and-run, although he has not been charged. Bryson then struck a second car in the nearby city of Rosemead, where he was found unconscious in his car, authorities said. Bryson has returned to Washington after a brief hospital stay, department spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said. Officials said Bryson was not on state business, was driving a personal car and did not have a security detail at the time. He took a Breathalyzer test that didn't detect any alcohol, but investigators were awaiting the results from a blood test, said Los Angeles County sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker. Commerce officials said he was given medication to treat the seizure. Paramedics treated two people in the first collision for pain, but a couple involved in the second crash declined medical aid. The case was being reviewed by sheriff's investigators and will likely be submitted to prosecutors in the coming days. “In most cases, it is presented to the DA's office to make a decision,” sheriff's Lt. Margarito Robles said. Defense attorney Steve Meister, who has represented people who have been involved in crashes while having seizures, said “it's difficult to assign criminal liability when someone was medically unconscious. They have to be aware what was happening.” The episode is consistent with someone who has suffered a series of epileptic seizures, said Dr. Jerome Engel Jr., a neurologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is not involved in Bryson's care. After a seizure, a person is often confused, and that state of confusion can last for a while. “You may even seem to be alert and awake, but you're not really behaving normally,” Engel said. Under California law, a doctor has to report a patient who complains of lapses of consciousness or whose epileptic seizures pose an impairment to driving. In those cases, a person can't drive unless he's been seizure-free for three months. Bryson had been in California to deliver the commencement address Thursday at Pasadena Polytechnic School, where his four children attended. The K-12 school said he urged students to pursue their passions, to serve their country, and to value their education and friendships. Bryson was sworn in to lead the Commerce Department in October after easily overcoming conservatives' objections that his pro-environmental views made him unsuited for the job. As secretary, Bryson is a member of the president's economic team and has advised on energy issues. He is the former head of Edison International, the holding company that owns Southern California Edison, and has served on boards of major corporations, including the Boeing Co. and the Walt Disney Co. He helped oversee Edison's transformation into a leading wind and solar company and launched a plan to turn 65 million square feet of unused commercial rooftops into solar power stations with enough electricity for more than 160,000 homes. ___ Dillon reported from San Gabriel, Calif; Risling reported from Los Angeles. AP science writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report. Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

‘CSI: Miami’ canceled by CBS: So long, Horatio Caine

Bad news for fans of David Caruso's laconic detective Horatio Caine: CBS has canceled "CSI: Miami" after 10 seasons.  In a statement Sunday morning, the network said: "'CSI: Miami' leaves an amazing television legacy — a signature look and style, global popularity and as a key player in CBS’ rise to the top over the past decade. We thank all the producers — led by Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman and Ann Donahue — and its talented cast, led by David Caruso, for 10 outstanding seasons. Viewers around the world will continue to enjoy rebroadcasts of 'CSI: Miami' in syndication and on key digital platforms for many years to come." The network will apparently leave intact the original "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," as well as the other spinoff, "CSI: NY." Still, the news marks the beginning of the end for one of TV's most successful franchises of the past decade. "CSI: Miami" had dealt with depressed ratings and sharply increased production costs in recent seasons. What do you think of the final curtain for "CSI: Miami"?  RELATED: CBS picks up Sherlock Holmes drama "Elementary," other shows "Two and a Half Men" renewed for 10th season on CBS ABC cancels "GCB," adds more series -Scott Collins (twitter.com/scottcollinsLAT) Photo: Adam Rodriguez and David Caruso (right) on the 10th season finale of "CSI: Miami." Credit: Sonja Flemming / CBS.

Apple’s homegrown Maps app debuts (First Take)

(Credit:James Martin/CNET)It’s WWDC week, and one of the big announcements from today’s keynote was Apple’s new, homegrown Maps app, which will come baked into iOS 6 this fall. Here, we take a look at Apple’s new offering and how it compares to the Google-powered app that it’s replacing Built by Apple from the ground up, Maps uses a vector-based engine that maintains a crisp appearance and seamless rendering, even as you zoom in and out. For context, Google Maps has been using vector-based graphics since late 2010, so while the technology is worth mentioning, it isn’t exactly groundbreaking. That said, let’s skip the underlying technology and get right to the noteworthy features of the new Maps app on iOS 6. Turn-by-turn navigationAsAndroid users will attest, navigation is one of the most useful and basic features that a mobile maps program can offer, and until now Apple users had to rely mostly on subscription-based third-party apps to get it. Well, with iOS 6, that ends, as Apple’s Maps app will offer native turn-by-turn navigation, very much like that available on Android. And from the looks of it,iPhone users should be pleased with the finished product. Similar to Android’s built-in Google Maps-powered navigation, Apple’s Maps lets you type out your destination or simply speak it aloud. From there, the app responds by speaking your directions aloud and displaying your position along the route line on your map. Siri, of course, is the star of navigation as it is her (its?) voice that guides you. One small, though incredibly thoughtful detail is evident when a route includes two quick, back-to-back turns. In this scenario, Maps displays both directions, so you won’t be caught off guard. Google Maps should definitely take this page out of Apple’s book.What we didn’t see in Apple’s Maps was public transit navigation. For now, you can get transit directions, but no turn-by-turn (or stop-by-stop) navigation like Google offers across hundreds of cities around the world. (Credit:Apple)TrafficAlso available will be crowd-sourced traffic data and accident reports, which you can overlay on your map at will. This feature looks very much like the traffic layer that iPhone users have already been enjoying for some time, though its not clear whether the quality of the traffic data is remarkably different from before.One thing worth noting is, if you get stuck in a traffic jam while navigating, Apple Maps will automatically offer you an alternative route and tell you how much time it could save you. Meanwhile, on Google Maps, you can easily switch routes as well, but it must be done through a menu.(Credit:Apple)Info cardsIn what appears to be an outright challenge to Google and its Zagat ratings, Apple’s built-in Info cards will offer local search info courtesy of Yelp. When you tap a point of interest, Maps brings up an Info card with vitals like address and phone number, as well as the ever popular Yelp ratings, reviews, and photos. In my opinion, this is a huge boon for Apple, as I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished Google had integrated Yelp instead of Zagat. The Yelp community is rich with user-generated content, and to many (including me) it is the go-to source for local reviews.(Credit:Apple)Flyover (3D maps)Finally, to no one’s surprise, Apple’s Maps will also include a 3D imaging component. Hot on the heels of Google’s announcement of the very same feature last week, Apple is touting its Flyover feature as “photo-realistic and interactive.” Based on the demo, Flyover looks pretty much like we all expected. The 3D imaging is crisp, and it lets you zoom, pan, tilt, and rotate around landmarks. One thing it can’t do, though, is swoop all the way down into a ground-level street view mode the way Google’s product can. For some, this may qualify as a deal-breaking omission, as Google’s Street View is a wildly popular and useful feature.Also worth noting is that Google’s full 3D functionality was actually announced for Google Earth and not Google Maps, meaning you have to switch apps to get the full experience. This, of course, means that Apple’s 3D Maps experience is just a bit more seamless.(Credit:Apple)So far, Apple’s new Maps app is impressive. It has some stunning 3D visuals, easy-to-use turn-by-turn navigation, integrated Yelp data, Siri powers, and more. While it may not have quite as many features as Google Maps for Android, it is still a huge upgrade over the inadequate Google-powered iOS app that it’s replacing. Users of the iPhone andiPad should be jumping for joy.

Whether or not MTV’s Teen Mom series glamorizes teen pregnancy depends on dads

Commenters on MomHouston’s recaps MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” series can be divided into two camps: those who believe the show glamorizes teen pregnancy and those who believe the show is a deterrent to teen pregnancy because it portrays the harsh realities of young parenthood.A study out of Indiana University shows both camps are right.The show is like a Rorschach test: some see teen moms losing out on friends, relationships, youth and opportunity, others see teen moms gaining fame, money and a cute little baby to play with whenever they want.Paul Wright, an assistant professor of telecommunications, whose previous research has shown links between media portrayal of consequence-free recreational sex and risky sexual behavior among teens, set out to determine if family background affects how young people view the “Teen Mom” series.“(The shows) were intended to be program-length public service announcements discouraging teen pregnancy. But critics said the programs sent mixed messages. My viewing of the programs suggested the same,” Wright said in a press release. “On one hand, the programs do show many of the difficulties teen mothers face. But on the other hand, they sometimes seem to send the message that getting pregnant was all for the best.”Wright surveyed more than 300 unmarried, female undergraduates, 40 percent of whom were younger than 19 and 75 percent of whom were younger than 21. The study is published in the Journal of Sexuality & Culture.His results found that young women with fathers who regularly talked with their daughters about the negative consequences of premarital sex and that emphasized males will often pressure girls into sex were more likely to focus on the negative outcomes in “Teen Mom.”Mothers who regularly talk about the potential negative outcomes of sex did not affect whether the young women focused on the negative outcomes to teen pregnancy portrayed on “Teen Mom.”The results are depressing if you consider the fact that a large number of children born to teen moms do not have fathers who stick around as active parents in their lives. Your opinion in the comments below.

The Associated Press: Gospel artists flock to Atlanta to advance career

Gospel artists flock to Atlanta to advance careerBy JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr., Associated Press–Jun 1, 2012 ATLANTA (AP) — Christian rapper Lecrae first came to Atlanta as a teenager for a youth conference in 1999, but what ultimately convinced him to lay down roots here was its thriving gospel music scene.”Atlanta is just a musical hub,” said the 32-year-old, who moved from Houston three years ago. “There are a slew of producers, engineers, artists and writers. There’s a wealth of outlets here, and it’s a community of artists who are here as well. That’s a major reason why I came here.”Atlanta has become a key place of business for many of the heavyweights in gospel and Christian music, like Marvin Sapp, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin and Jason Crabb. They flock to the city known to some as “gospel’s Hollywood” because of its flourishing R&B and hip-hop scene, an evolving television market, a variety of Christian and gospel record labels, and a plethora of mega churches. Some of the industry’s best, such as Francesca Battistelli, the group Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin and Dottie Peoples, reside in the city or in the suburban areas.”Atlanta is becoming like the new Los Angeles,” said Sapp, the chart-topping gospel singer from Grand Rapids, Mich.”Everybody and their momma are shooting all types of films here,” he added. “It’s becoming a regular hotbed for the entertainment field. And because of that, gospel is coming here as well. People are connecting. It’s becoming a very viable place for gospel artists to excel and be successful musically.”Recently, the 43rd annual Dove Awards took place at the popular Fox Theatre in Atlanta for the second straight year. The show, which celebrates Christian and gospel music, had all the glitz and glamour of a high-profile awards show, with more than 250 media outlets on the red carpet.The rising support of the genre in Atlanta is what convinced Gospel Music Association organizers to move the Doves to the city in 2011. The ceremony started in Memphis and was held in Nashville, Tenn., for more than four decades.GMA board chairman Mitchell Solarek said organizers felt Atlanta has a larger media reach with more radio and television outlets to support the show. With GMC — formerly the Gospel Music Channel — based in Atlanta, Solarek called the move a “no brainer.” The network aired the awards in April.”Even though Nashville is touted as the music capital of the world, the media is not as broad there as it is in Atlanta,” he said. “We wanted to take this (awards show) to a market that was broader than it was in Nashville, while still achieving our goal of musical diversity and still reach the bulk of our members. And Atlanta is just a drive away.”That sounds good to the ears of Georgia officials, who have worked hard to promote the state as an entertainment destination. They offer one of the highest tax credits in the United States — up to 30 percent to those looking to produce shows, music videos and commercials in the state.”We are developing strategies to aggressively promote Georgia’s strengths in the music industry including its wealth of talent, expanding digital media infrastructure, production facilities, live music scene and music education opportunities” said Lisa Love, the director of music marketing and development for the Georgia film, music & digital entertainment office.”The gospel and contemporary Christian-oriented assets in all of those areas will continue to be invaluable in the positioning of Georgia as an entertainment industry destination,” she continued.Lecrae has made it his destination. Since he has lived in city, the rapper has become one of the most popular in Christian hip-hop. He also co-founded his own record label with Ben Washer, Reach Records, which is based in Atlanta. Other labels launched by artists based in Atlanta or in the state of Georgia include Christian rock group Third Day’s Essential Records; singer/rapper Canton Jones’ Cajo International; Dottie Peoples’ DP Muzik Group; and televangelist Creflo Dollar’s Arrow Records. Warner Music Group’s Taseis Distribution is located in Atlanta as well.”It’s easy to come here because of all the industry people are already here,” said Henry Panion III, whose record label, Audiostate 55 Entertainment is based out of Birmingham, Ala., and is distributed through Taseis. “Atlanta has become an entertainment draw, and gospel is following suit.”Atlanta is also host to BET’s “Sunday Best,” a gospel talent competition that awards the winner with a recording contract. It’s hosted by Franklin along with judges Mary Mary and Donnie McClurkin.Tyler Perry’s sprawling TV and film studio has also become a player in Christian music. Perry’s inspirational-based stage plays and movies have provided an avenue for gospel singers to gain exposure. Tamela Mann, known as Cora in Perry’s plays, movies and TV show “Meet the Browns,” is also a gospel singer and won a Dove Award last year.”If you look at the underlying story of his movies, there’s always something that talks about the goodness of the Lord,” said Crabb, who won artist of the year at the Doves in April. “When you have a state like Georgia that’s spiritually deep-rooted, more are going to want to be a part of what he’s doing.”Georgia has the most mega churches in the country behind California, Texas and Florida, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research’s recent database. The number of mega churches in Georgia gives artists a chance to perform in front of congregations ranging from 2,000 to 20,000. Several high-profile pastors such as Andy Stanley, Creflo Dollar and Paul Morton normally offer live music without a traditional setting of a choir before a preacher’s sermon.Lecrae feels he’s in Atlanta at the perfect time.”It’s been really good here,” he said. “Just seeing people within the music industry from mainstream and even what others call secular music come together to use their talents for the Lord, it’s great.” Gospel Music Association:gospelmusic.org Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office:georgia.org/media Dove Awards:doveawards.com Gospel Music Channel:watchgmctv.com/musicCopyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Servitude trial: Tommy Connors says men 'were paid'

8 June 2012 Last updated at 11:04 ET Share this page Seven members of the Connors family are on trial at Luton Crown Court The father of a family of travellers accused of forcing men to work for little or no pay has told a jury the men were paid and were free to leave. Tommy Connors, 52, said at Luton Crown Court that it was part of traveller lifestyle that workers would come and go from their Bedfordshire site. Seven Connors family members deny charges of servitude and forced labour. They were arrested when police raided the Green Acres site near Leighton Buzzard on 11 September 2011. The other six are: James John Connors, 34; Johnny Connors, 28; Tommy Connors (Jr), 26; James (Jimmy) Connors, 24; Patrick Connors, 20 and Josie Connors, 30. Mr Connors said "They were paid. If they wanted to leave we would let them leave. "There was no need to force them to work. "Some would leave and come back again and some would stay for longer, some for years." ‘Perspective and context’ He denied exploiting, threatening or assaulting anyone who stayed at the Green Acres site. Mr Connors told the jury he was born in Belfast, the seventh generation of a traveller family and the youngest of 19 children. He admitted he had convictions, including one for false imprisonment in 1999. The jury has heard that over the past 15 years, Mr Connors and then his children and son-in-law James John Connors, recruited vulnerable adults as workers, on the pretence of offering them paid employment, food and accommodation. Recruitment would typically take place at centres for the homeless, soup kitchens or on the street, with the men then forced to work without payment, the prosecution said. Defence counsel Lewis Power QC said the case "hinges on perspective and context". "One man's meat is another man's poison, one man's trash is another man's treasure and one man's slavery is another man's freedom," he added. "The events on 11 September 2011 have led to this first effectively quasi-slavery trial in this country for over 200 years." Judge Michael Kay QC told the jury: "This is not a trial as to the law or culture or practices of Irish travellers. "It is about the law of this country as it applies to all residents from whatever race, religion or culture."