Strengthening human rights, addressing terrorism

Broad-based humanitarian change requires not just the work of human rights organizations, but of people helping people, says Larry Cox, the new executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Involving regular people in the fight for human rights is critical, especially during this time of heightened concern about terrorism.

"Human rights offers a different vision of how you can protect people, and that is to bring to justice those who are guilty of violent attacks while working to ensure all human rights, including economic, social, and political rights," Cox says. "The fulfillment of these rights protects us all by addressing the forces that typically attract people to become terrorists."

To create such change, Cox envisions a renewed emphasis on traditional grassroots organizing to bring about changes in public policy. In college and then as an antiwar worker in Paris in the 1960s, he learned first-hand many of the organizing techniques he envisions reviving at Amnesty, such as letter-writing and phone campaigns, engaging community groups, and organizing protests and marches.

[Excerpt of an article by Jane Savitt Tennen, Philanthropy Journal]


African group to get $17 million Gates grant

In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, it is the lack of street signs, addresses and even consistent spelling of family names that poses some of the greatest challenges to scientists seeking to test a new drug or vaccine.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is expected to announce a $17 million grant in support of an African-led initiative working to overcome such obstacles.

Drug companies or other organizations doing clinical research in Africa today typically impose their own monitoring system tailored to fit the needs of a particular study and then dismantle it upon completion.

What's needed, said Dr. Regina Rabinovich, head of the infectious disease program at the Gates Foundation, is an African-run system of clinical research that is permanent and self-sustaining.

To that end, the Seattle philanthropy has given $17 million to a non-profit organization known as the INDEPTH Network, formed by Binka and others in 1998.

[Excerpt of article by Tom Paulson, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer]


Radiant Angelina Jolie's humanitarian efforts

Actress Angelina Jolie, currently at an African resort (Namibia) awaiting the birth of the baby she is having with Brad Pitt, joined in a telephone conference call to publicize efforts to raise money to provide an education for 100 million children in poor nations who are not now in school.

CNN reports that Angelina participated in the call with British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and Gene Sperling, top White House economic adviser in the Clinton administration and currently the U.S. director of the Global Campaign for Education.

Britain recently announced they would boost its spending for the project by an additional $15 billion over the next 10 years and challenged other members of the Group of Seven wealthy industrial countries including the United States to match Britain's commitment.

Sperling urged the Bush administration as a first step to match Britain's commitment by boosting its current support of around $500 million by another $1 billion annually.

"A down payment by the United States of $1 billion would provide further momentum," Sperling said. "This down payment would make it possible for more than 10 million children to go to school and ensure that our country is contributing at least as much as the United Kingdom."

AP adds about Jolie, “The pillow-lipped actress graces the cover of People's "100 Most Beautiful People" issue, on newsstands today. It's her fourth time on the list, but first as cover girl. It is Angelina Jolie's humanitarian efforts that make her most radiant, according to People magazine.”


Tithing as a Nation - Bono

From Bono's Address to the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC

I was amazed when I first got to [the U.S.] and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to 10% of the family budget.

Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world?

Less than 1%.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America: I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is 1%? … 1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business, thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

… We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us. 1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one.


Tithing and Giving

When it comes to the subject of Christians tithing, the following Bibical challenge is one that most Christians are just too tight to attempt:

"Test me now [by tithing]," God said through His prophet Malachi. "And see if I won't open for you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing so big you won't be able to receive it."

Tithing first appears in the book of Genesis -- Abraham gave "a tenth" to Melchizedek, king of Salem -- and is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. In modern times, the practice is open to many interpretations.

Whether one attends religious services or not, when it comes to the subject of giving one thing is certain:

America's poor are regularly more generous than America's rich—if you look at their giving as a percentage of their income.


Tithing Rewards Both Spiritual and Financial

The Washington Post ran an article on Christians who have taken the tithing test, and tell about it: "Anything that I get, I tithe," one said. "It's not a hardship at all. It's like when anyone else gets their check. They see what they have, they pay their bills and live on what is left. I tithe, and I live off the rest."

Tithing is particularly strong in African American communities, where it is reinforced by centuries of family tradition.

Across the spectrum of faiths, religious institutions draw much of the nation's charitable money, accounting for three out of every four dollars given, IRS data found. In African American communities, the figure is closer to nine out of every 10 dollars.

At some churches, tithing is the backbone of a movement known as "prosperity ministry," through which churchgoers are encouraged to give under the belief that they could receive riches in return.

The Rev. C. Matthew Hudson Jr., pastor at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, said in an interview, "God is a promise keeper. He says if you give [to Him], try [Him] and see if [He] won't open a window from heaven and pour you out a blessing. [He’s] going to bless your health, family finances and future."

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Giving by American Christians

Alarm bells are ringing. Ever more loudly and more ominously throughout the nonprofit world, warning buzzers are sounding a grim caution: Charitable giving is in a perilous dip.

Shame on us all! And especially for a Christian, who has been taught by Jesus what sacrifice is all about, to rely on tax technicalities to call himself generous—that misses the whole point, and may also miss the blessing God intends for really committed givers.

Christians in America know very little about serious giving. …The problem lies deep in our own stingy hearts.

Here is the story as reported by Empty Tomb, a research group based in Champaign, Ill.: "Protestant denominations have published data on an ongoing basis throughout the century. In 1916, Protestants were giving 2.9 percent of their incomes to their churches. In 1933, the depth of the Great Depression, it was 3.2 percent. In 1955, just after affluence began springing up through our culture, it was still 3.2 percent. By 1999, when Americans were overall much richer, after taxes and inflation, than in the Great Depression, Protestants were giving 2.6 percent of their incomes to their churches."

Most evangelical Christians in America could double their giving and still fall short of the tithe God instructed His people in the Old Testament to consider the starting point of their giving.

[Excerpts of an article by Joel Belz, World magazine]


U.S. Firms Suspected of Bilking Iraq Funds

American contractors swindled hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraqi funds, but so far there is no way for Iraq's government to recoup the money, according to US investigators and civil attorneys tracking fraud claims against contractors.

Courts in the United States are beginning to force contractors to repay reconstruction funds stolen from the American government. But legal roadblocks have prevented Iraq from recovering funds that were seized from the Iraqi government by the US-led coalition and then paid to contractors who failed to do the work.

''The Iraqi people are out of luck, the way it stands right now," said Patrick Burns, spokesman for Taxpayers Against Fraud, a watchdog group.

In some cases, contractors were paid twice for the same job. In others cases, they were paid for work that was never done.

Among the contracts paid for was Halliburton's controversial no-bid contract to restore Iraq's oil infrastructure, worth $2.4 billion. In addition, at least seven more cases against contractors have been filed in US civil courts under the federal False Claims Act.

In the first phase of the fraud claim involving Custer Battles, the jury ruled in March that the company should pay triple damages to the US Treasury for the $3 million it was paid for delivering a fleet of trucks that didn't work and old, spray-painted Iraqi cranes that were passed off as new imports.

Lawyers said the injustice surrounding wasted Iraqi funds has helped fuel the insurgency. ''Like a colonial power, the Bush administration took Iraq's oil money, and wasted it. The Iraqis well know that. That's one reason why they're shooting at US soldiers."

In February, a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to conspiring with at least three others to steal more than $2 million from the Iraqi fund. The money, earmarked for refurbishing a police academy and library in the town of Hillah, was spent on expensive cars, machine guns, jewelry; hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash was also smuggled into the United States.

[Excerpt of an article by Farah Stockman, Boston Globe]


Charities required to check Terror List

While Congress continues to debate the National Security Agency's program of warrantless wiretapping, another form of government scrutiny has largely escaped public notice. A growing number of private companies are screening potential customers against a government watch-list of suspected terrorists.

Plus U.S. charities are required by the Treasury Department to check the OFAC list before giving aid.

Businesses encounter steep costs from adopting screening programs. Worse, charities are encumbered in their ability to help those in need. Imagine the Red Cross telling a tsunami-ravaged villager in Indonesia that before she can get a blanket, she must provide her name, date of birth and place of birth, and then wait three days to be cleared of being a terrorist.

The problem is compounded by the mistakes in the list itself. According to a report by the Sept. 11 Commission staff, OFAC listed several individuals whom it later removed. Two Somali-Americans endured 10 months of economic deprivation and public stigma before being removed from the OFAC list.

[Excerpt of an article by Shirin Sinnar, The San Jose Mercury News]


Massive Iraq War Bill

With the expected passage this spring of the largest emergency spending bill in history, annual war expenditures in Iraq continues to rise, from $48 billion in 2003, to $59 billion in 2004, to $81 billion in 2005 to an anticipated $94 billion in 2006, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The U.S. government is now spending nearly $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from $8.2 billion a year ago, a new Congressional Research Service report found.

Annual war costs in Iraq are easily outpacing the $61 billion a year that the United States spent in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972, in today's dollars.

The issue will be hotly debated next week when the Senate takes up a record $106.5 billion emergency spending bill that includes $72.4 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill is the fifth emergency defense request since the Iraq invasion in March 2003.

Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker warned that such costs will continue, even after U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq. To fully re-equip and upgrade the U.S. Army after the war ends would cost $36 billion over six years. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said a more protracted fight could triple Schoomaker's $36 billion figure.

[Excerpts of an article by Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post]


The new Billion-Dollar Palace in Iraq

The fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River in Baghdad will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water. Original cost estimates range over $1 billion.

The new U.S. Embassy is as cloaked in secrecy as the ministate in Rome, and has been under construction since mid-2005 with a target completion date of June 2007. The embassy complex — 21 buildings on 104 acres, according to a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report — is taking shape just east of a former palace of Saddam Hussein’s and across the road from the building where the ex-dictator is now on trial.

"Embassy Baghdad" will dwarf new U.S. embassies elsewhere, its 104 acres six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York, and two-thirds the acreage of Washington's National Mall.

The 5,500 Americans and Iraqis working at the embassy, almost half listed as security, are far more numerous than at any other U.S. mission worldwide.

[Excerpts of an article by Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press]

More on the new Billion-Dollar Palace in Iraq

"The presence of a massive U.S. embassy — by far the largest in the world — co-located in the Green Zone with the Iraqi government is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country," says a European-based research group.

State Department spokesman Justin Higgins confirmed that “large numbers of non-diplomats work at the mission” — hundreds of military personnel and dozens of FBI agents, for example.

Security, overseen by U.S. Marines, will be extraordinary: structures reinforced to 2.5-times the standard, and five high-security entrances, plus an emergency entrance-exit, a Senate report says. It will have its own water wells, electricity plant and waste-water-treatment facility, "systems to allow 100 percent independence from city utilities," says the Senate report.

Factor into the equation that US engineers have been constructing 14 "enduring bases" in Iraq. This Pentagon-speak terminology, "enduring" bases, translates as something a little more enduring than a tent on a wooden platform. At least $4.5 billion has gone to construction and maintenance of U.S. bases.

Together, a one billion dollar “embassy” and 14 “enduring bases” suggest an indefinite stay on Iraqi soil that will cost US taxpayers for years to come. --Not to say that hopes that the troops might be out by 2008 is wildly optimistic.


Two of three Brits want to leave charity legacies

The Remember a Charity consortium has published research suggesting that 68 per cent of UK adults want to leave their mark on the world by including a donation to charity in their wills.

The consortium, which includes more than 140 charities, commissioned its study through a market research agency to find out if people could be motivated to leave donations by the concept of 'leaving their mark'.

"The results are hugely encouraging," said Jonathan Parris, director of Remember a Charity. "Charitable legacies are the largest single source of voluntary income for UK charities."

The UK's biggest mortgage lender announced that the number of people subject to inheritance tax is set to triple by 2020, and predicts that 3.1 million more homeowners will be liable to legacy penalties within the next 15 years.

Because donations to charity fall outside the donor's estate for inheritance tax purposes, such donations can reduce inheritance tax and make more money available for other beneficiaries.



Far Too Little British Philanthropy

The arrest of academy school advocate Des Smith in Scotland Yard's 'cash for honours' inquiry has been greeted with a bizarre degree of media glee.

We should all be wary of this culture of contempt for the entrepreneurs and businessmen who are generously donating to academy schools. For the truth is that we have far too little philanthropy.

As Major Bill Cochrane of the Salvation Army puts it: “There is a meanness abroad in society today. Barring a few high-profile exceptions, the rich in Britain give far too little of their money away.”

According to Colin Tweedy of Arts & Business: "The great age of industrial philanthropy is over. More and more now, it is a question of shareholder value."

The admirable Andrew Carnegie principle of distributing excess wealth 'best calculated to produce the most beneficial result for the community' is notably absent among our super-rich. The UK wealthy give less as a proportion of their income than the poor; they give substantially less than their peers in America; and they don't even begin to match their predecessors.

[From a commentary by Tristram Hunt, in the Guardian (U.K.)]


Counting International Aid Dollars

Philanthropy flows to poor countries, some of it from famous outfits such as the Ford Foundation, and some unofficially from millions of ordinary givers.

A new study by the Hudson Institute concludes that U.S. private giving to poor countries came to a sum more than triple the U.S. government's foreign aid.

And nearly as large as the $80 billion given away by all donor governments combined.

By itself, official U.S. foreign aid comes to a minimal 0.17 percent of the gross domestic product, the second-lowest share among the 22 rich countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Add in private philanthropy, and U.S. help to poor countries jumps to 0.61 percent of GDP, only slightly less than the 0.7 percent target urged by development advocates.

But who's giving most of this private aid?
Foundations, corporate philanthropic efforts, religious organizations and voluntary aid groups account for only about one third;
fully two-thirds comes from migrant workers sending money home. But these transfers, mainly within families, clearly aren't the same as "foreign aid" or even "charity."

Eliminate these remittances, and the United States doesn't stand out for its generosity.

A nation that wants to lead the world should invest more in the battle against poverty.

[From a Washington Post editorial]


Gates Foundation reorganizing for greater global outreach

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to reorganize its top management structure into four programs intended to improve the philanthropy's overall mission of reducing global inequities.

Patty Stonesifer, chief executive officer of the Gates Foundation, announced in a statement that, as of May 1, the philanthropy's activities will be categorized into:
U.S. programs,
global health programs,
global development programs
and operations.

[The Seattle Post-Intelligencer]


Products Turn Red To Augment AIDS Funding

Help may be at hand in the form of Project Red, an effort conceived by U2 rock star Bono and the Kennedy clan's Bobby Shriver, who have worked together on African poverty issues. The project is centered on enlisting companies to create special "red" products, a portion of whose profits -- about 40% to 50% -- is given to the global AIDS fund for its work in Africa. "We're trying to make it really easy for people to help," Bono says, referring to consumers.

Mr. Annan's special U.N. envoy for AIDS in Africa, says, "The companies are going to benefit a hell of a lot more from Bono's name than the global fund is going to benefit from the companies."

Replies Bono, "We don't know that yet. If we fail, that's true."

The U.N. envoy for AIDS in Africa suggests that companies give 0.7% of their after-tax profits to the fund. But Ms. Tanguy of the HIV/AIDS business coalition says, "It's not going to happen," in part because shareholders likely wouldn't agree.

[By Steve Stecklow, The Wall Street Journal]


Corporation Non-Cooperation with AIDS Funding

When United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called in 2001 for a new global fund to fight the AIDS pandemic, he described it as a public-private partnership with both governments and corporations pitching in.

It hasn't worked out that way.

Since 2001, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an independent Swiss-based, nonprofit foundation that is supporting disease prevention and treatment programs in 131 countries, has raised more than $4.8 billion from governments, including $1.5 billion from the U.S. Other money has come from nonprofit sources, including $150 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But less than $2 million has come from corporations, and none of that has come from American companies, according to the fund's financial records. This isn't to say that U.S. companies ignore AIDS. Some have given to AIDS relief efforts outside the global fund -- more than $69 million in 2003, the latest year tracked by Funders Concerned About AIDS.

[By Steve Stecklow, The Wall Street Journal]


Afghanistan Opium: Between a rock and a hard place

There is a new spate of attacks in Afghanistan as NATO forces prepare to take over most military duties from the U.S.-led coalition. These attacks -- including suicide attacks, a tactic once unknown in Afghanistan – range “from the murders of five medical workers in Badghis province in the north to bombings in the opium poppy region of Helmand in the south”, as Pamela Constable reports in the Washington Post:

“The reinvigorated Taliban militia, for its part, has vowed to wage a bloody spring and summer offensive against the Afghan state. But a variety of foreign analysts and military officials here offer a different explanation: a vast canvas of weakly governed and unprotected territory in which drug traffickers, feuding tribesmen and opportunistic criminals -- as well as Taliban gunmen on motorbikes and mysterious suicide bombers -- operate with increasing ease, despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops in the country.”

“Over the next several months, more than 6,000 troops from Britain and other NATO countries are slated to take over security in the southern region, and analysts are predicting a bloody debut.”

Another byproduct of Afghanistan occupation is the country is again producing 90 percent of the world's opium, which of course ends up on the streets of the world as heroin. According to one U.S. report, the area devoted to poppy production has nearly tripled in the last two years. One can understand why—drugs are about the only saleable commodity that poor country has.

The irony of this situation though is that the western occupying forces have become the chief drug lords there, in a way. After all, what made it possible for the smaller drug lords to come to power was the overthrow of the Taliban. In order to originally overthrow the Taliban, the U.S. had to turn to those Afghan rebels the Taliban were fighting—this shady bunch of warlords and drug lords called the Northern Alliance, whom the Taliban had driven from power because they were so corrupt.

The Taliban, who practice a very fervent and severe form of Islam, at least had cracked down on the opium growing and drug dealing during their reign of fear. To overthrow the Taliban, the U.S. used this alliance of drug dealers and warlords, and now the U.S. and NATO forces are between a rock and a hard place: The U.S. can't let the Taliban regain control but to keep the Taliban under control, they have to allow the Afghan drug lords and warlords, who are now provincial governors and even cabinet officials, keep dealing drugs and all their related chicanery.


Russia Is Stalling American Aid

Russian authorities are holding up millions of dollars in international Western aid to Russian human-rights and democracy-building organizations, in what the groups say is another sign of growing Kremlin pressure on civil society.

The government has virtually stopped registering certain categories of foreign grants to Russian nonprofit groups, effectively paralyzing the work of a number of grass-roots organizations.

The U.S. government has brought the issue up with the Russian presidential administration and is watching developments very closely, a U.S. official said. Much of the U.S. government's funding for efforts to promote democracy in Russia, a Bush administration priority, goes through USAID.

"This is political pressure on the donors," said Lilia Shibanova, head of Golos, an electoral watchdog that has been waiting nearly two years for approval of its USAID funding. "The authorities want to tighten control of all foreign grants, especially those for human-rights projects."

A Russian government official denied programs are being deliberately held up, noting that approvals regularly take several months to complete.

Concerns about the delay come with Russia's nongovernmental organizations already bracing for a new law that will significantly expand state control of the country's nonprofit sector. The Kremlin's hardening approach to NGOs reflects a widely held suspicion in Moscow that foreign-funded civil-liberties groups are trying to foment a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution here. Russian intelligence officials have publicly accused Western spy agencies of using not-for-profit groups as a front for instigating unrest and weakening Russian influence in the former Soviet Union.

[Excerpt of article by Guy Chazan, The Wall Street Journal]


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Assessing AIDS in Africa

Each year, the United Nations releases an update on the state of AIDS, and its statistics are cited around the world in hundreds of reports and articles. In general, the U.N. data have painted a grim picture of the virus's inexorable advance.

But a report last week forces a reexamination of these views. In some parts of Africa, it seems, AIDS has advanced less than the United Nations had suggested.

New studies suggest that in Botswana 34.9 percent of adults (ages 15 to 49) are infected with the HIV virus, slightly less than the 37.3 percent reported by the United Nations.

The proportion infected in South Africa stands at 16.2 percent, considerably lower than the 21.5 percent claimed by the United Nations.

But Rwanda's rate is only 3 percent. Back in the mid-1980s, some researchers were saying that Rwanda might have an infection rate of 30 percent, and the United Nations claimed a rate of 11.2 percent in 2000.

The United Nations' credibility on AIDS will now suffer. [But] the credibility of the United Nations matters less than the reaction of health officials in poor countries and donor agencies. There has long been a concern that AIDS, while underfunded relative to the number of people in need of treatment and education, is arguably overfunded relative to other diseases.

Even Botswana's revised infection rate of 34.9 percent is devastating.

[From Washington Post editorial]


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Gates Foundation grant targets pneumonia

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is ratcheting up its war on one of the world's top killers with a $75 million grant to help speed development of pneumonia vaccines.

The goal is to provide vaccines for less than $5 a dose in poor countries, where the disease kills about one million children a year.

With the $75 million grant, PATH, a Seattle-based organization that is deeply involved with the foundation's efforts to improve global health, hopes to spur development of vaccines tailored to the pneumonia strains prevalent in the developing world.

The program will also work to accelerate clinical testing of the drugs and encourage construction of manufacturing plants in Africa and Asia to produce the vaccine locally.

In the United States and other developed nations, an adult pneumonia vaccine has been widely available for more than a decade and a children's version was introduced about 5 years ago. But at $50 a dose, the drug would be out of reach of impoverished families in Africa and Asia, even if it were available there.

[The Seattle Times]


Ted Turner on the Iraq war: 'A big waste of time'

Ted Turner, the outspoken billionaire philanthropist, made the following comments as he was recently being honored for promoting global understanding.

Refering to President Bush, Turner didn't mince words. "We can't afford the war in Iraq," Turner said. "This is a big waste of time.

"I wish we would say, 'We won and we are going home.' We shouldn't be there. Bombing isn't a way of changing people's minds. You do that with education."

Bush lacks a true understanding of the world, Turner said. "We had a president of the United States who had been out of the country but once before he was elected," he said.

On news coverage in America, the former head of CNN said, "There's an awful lot of superfluous news, the pervert of the day and someone that shot seven people at a fraternity party. Who needs it all?"


Democracy and the Palestinians

President Bush made “the spread of democracy” his Administrations’ primary mission. Let’s dedicate a couple posts to the theme of democracy, starting with the MidEast:

Prior to the January elections in Palestine, the Bush administration used foreign aid money to attempt to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority, knowing the PA faced a serious challenge from the Islamic Hamas.

Nevertheless, Hamas beat out the Palestinian Authority, creating two firsts:
1. The first time a regime has changed in the Arab world democratically through elections;
2. The first time an Islamist group has come to power through elections.

Hamas had won hearts through building an effective and affordable social welfare system in Gaza, runnung most of the kindergartens, funding health clinics, and providing welfare checks to widows and orphans.

However because Hamas opposes Isreal, the U.S., Europe and Canada cut its international aid to the Palestinians. Thankfully for the poor, the U.S. is still going to fund some humanitarian needs, such as education, health and food.

Withdrawing aid for the construction of schools and roads, the U.S. has instead pledged to provide Palestine with “increased assistance for democracy promotion”. Besides speculating what that might be, any contradiction of terms in this rhetoric?

Democracy In Iraq: Not A Priority in U.S. Budget

President Bush vows to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. [Meanwhile] his administration has been scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to build democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups.

Some organizations face funding cutoffs this month, while others struggle to stretch resources through the summer. The shortfall threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society.

Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, an advocacy group that hosted a Bush speech last week, called the situation "a travesty" and said she is "appalled" that more is not being done. "This is the time to show that democracy promotion is more than holding an election.:

"The solution to Iraq lies in the political process, and it's reckless for the White House to cut funds [strengthening] democracy in Iraq at this time," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Officials at the White House, the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget and USAID were contacted for comment in recent days, but none would speak on the record.

[Excerpt of article by Peter Baker, Washington Post]

Democracy In Venezuela: Chávez's Successful Socialism

When the hated despots of nations like Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan loot their countries' treasuries, transfer their oil wealth to personal Swiss bank accounts and use the rest to finance (in the House of Saud's case) terrorist extremists, American politicians praise them as trusted friends and allies.

But when a democratically elected populist president uses Venezuela's oil profits to lift poor people out of poverty, they accuse him of pandering. The socialist economic model espoused by President Hugo Chávez has become wildly popular among Latin Americans tired of watching corrupt right-wing leaders enrich themselves at their expense. (Left-of-center governments have recently won power in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.)

With Venezuela's oil revenues rising 32 percent last year, Chávez's use of oil revenues is directed to helping the poor of his country, schools are sprouting like weeds, and $10 billion per year is banked for future anti-poverty programs. [Not to speak of] eye surgery for poor Mexicans, and even heating fuel for poor families from Maine to the Bronx to Philadelphia.

Please discuss the $1 billion a week we're wasting in Iraq while people die for lack of medical care and schools fall apart right here in America.

Eighty-two percent of Venezuelans think Chávez is doing a good job. That's more than twice the approval rating by Americans of Bush. He roundly defeated an attempt to recall him. So why is Washington lecturing Caracas?

[Excerpts of Ted Rall’s Yahoo Opinion]

Democracy In Afghanistan: Conundrum of Regime Change

The case of the Afghan man who faced execution for converting to Christianity illustrates the conundrum of "regime change." OK, so your army has just rolled into a foreign capital. You can do whatever you want. However, if you interfere with the internal affairs of a liberated country, and you tell them what to do--you haven't liberated them at all. But if you can't change anything, what's the point?

So while prime minister Hamid Karzai cuts a dashing figure with his green Tajik robe and impeccable English, … U.S.-occupied Afghanistan has a 2004 Constitution that includes a key sentence: "No law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam." There's more paperwork, but nothing new: Sharia is still the law of the land.

[Related to this] article 2(1)(a) of Iraq’s new U.S.-backed constitution reads: "No law may be passed that contradicts the immutable rulings of Islam."

The neoconservative theorists who dreamed up America's regime change policy point to post-World War II Germany and Japan as successful precedents. But we didn't create democracy in Germany from scratch. Liberation works best when you kick a foreign army out of a country that had liberal values before its occupation.

After it came into possession of Afghanistan, with its long history of justice based on brutality and vengeance, the U.S. faced a choice between the harsh totalitarian Soviet and the hands-off "we liberated you, it's all yours" approaches. The Soviets sent girls to school and university, banned the burqa and prohibited the enforcement of Sharia law. We chose laissez-faire liberation, and spread theocracy instead of democracy.

[Excerpts of an editorial by Ted Rall, Yahoo News]


U.S. to Redirect Aid for Palestinians

The United States plans to terminate assistance for building projects in Palestinian territories and redirect much of its annual aid to the Palestinians toward basic humanitarian needs, such as education, health and food, as well as increased assistance for democracy promotion.

The shift in aid priorities was set in motion after the unexpected democratic victory by the radical Islamic organization Hamas in January legislative elections. Shortly after Hamas won the elections, the United States and other key bankrollers of the Palestinian Authority said they would end assistance as soon as Hamas took control of the cabinet, unless the organization recognized the right of Israel to exist.

The United States in the past did not provide much direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority -- and immediately demanded the return of nearly $50 million in direct aid -- but officials needed to determine whether indirect assistance, such as road or school construction projects, would also be affected. In the end, officials decided that any project that had a connection with a government ministry would be ended.

[Excerpt of an article by Glenn Kessler, Washington Post]


Foundation giving

Giving by the largest U.S. funders grew 8.1 percent in 2004, reversing a two-year decline, a new report says. Foundation Giving Trends: An Update on Funding Priorities released by the Foundation Center in New York, analyzed grant information from the 1,200 largest private and community foundations in the U.S.

More to the theme of this blog, international giving reached a new high of $2.8 billion in 2004, with most of those funds benefiting agencies based in the U.S. that work in international aid.

Inflation must be factored into this equation though, both from the standpoint of eroding assets and the value of foundation giving. While giving among foundations reached a record level of $33.6 billion, in inflation-adjusted terms, that was slightly less than the peak amount reported in 2001.

This noted increase in giving is also boosted in part by the presence of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which makes numerous large grants primarily in the area of health.

Children and youth received the largest share of funds among beneficiary groups, while gays, lesbians and AIDS sufferers saw the most growth in funding.



International Red Cross criticizes American Red Cross

Two international Red Cross organizations issued scathing criticisms of the American Red Cross's chaotic response to Hurricane Katrina, accusing the charity of approaching the relief effort with a "dangerous combination of ignorance and arrogance."

The reports -- by the British Red Cross and the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, which sent experts to the Gulf Coast shortly after Katrina struck -- say their American counterpart was ill-prepared for the disaster, relied on inexperienced volunteers in key positions and had an ineffective system for moving supplies to where they were needed.

The reports by the British Red Cross and the ICRC were prepared last September but the American Red Cross didn't release them until yesterday, after The Washington Post asked the British Red Cross for a copy.

[Excerpt of article by Jacqueline L. Salmon, The Washington Post]


Bill Clinton Urges World to Aid the Poor

Former President Clinton welcomed Heifer International to his neighborhood, dedicating the charity's new world headquarters with a plea for everyone to "give them your hand" and fight hunger.

Clinton's library and school of public service are next door to Heifer International and the region is also home to Winrock International, which runs programs worldwide to help rural residents achieve a balance between food and income while managing natural resources.

"Ordinary people of modest means have the power to change lives half a world away," Clinton said in a two-hour ceremony that featured music and dance from among the 50 countries that Heifer serves.

[Washington Post]


Did Exxon Prompt IRS to Audit Greenpeace?

The Wall Street Journal reported that:

Two and a half years ago, a self-described watchdog of nonprofit groups (PIW), wrote to the Internal Revenue Service urging the agency to audit Greenpeace and accusing the environmental group of money laundering and other crimes.

The IRS began a months-long audit of the U.S. arm of Greenpeace, known for steering its boats in the way of oil tankers. Greenpeace says it [recently] received notice from the IRS that the group "continues to qualify for exemption from federal income tax" as a nonprofit entity.

Greenpeace says an IRS auditor said the PIW letter triggered the audit. The IRS won't say how it decided to audit Greenpeace.

What is clear is where PIW has gotten a lot of its funding: Exxon Mobil Corp., the giant oil company that has long been a target of Greenpeace protests.

"I believe organizations should be scrutinized and audited, but I just don't believe you should get targeted because ... you're a critic of Exxon Mobil," said the executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Oh yes, and this in a year that CNN reports that Exxon Mobil hauled in nearly $1 billion a day in sales last year, making it the biggest company in the United States according to the latest Fortune 500.

And Exxon Mobil‘s revenue and profit were the biggest ever for a U.S. company as a result of soaring oil prices. Once again proving that not everyone loses in wartime and rising fuel prices. Of course, this huge profit is not only due to Americans lining up at the pumps, but also because of furious growth in China and India, as well as the long-awaited recovery in Japan.

The point is that Exxon and the other four largest oil companies gained 28 percent of the combined revenue of the 25 largest companies -- making 2005 a year for Big Oil to remember. And there’s no question about their ability to bully if they want.


Donor Fatigue and Silent Crises

While massive crises such as that in Sudan's Darfur region attract media and donor attention, the grinding poverty that is a fact of daily life for many in Africa's poorest countries goes largely unnoticed.

The Sahel -- a band of arid savannah which stretches across the southern fringe of the Sahara -- suffers from perpetual food insecurity and last-minute emergency aid only helps alleviate the problem in the short term.

Longer-term commitments from donor nations are harder to secure, particularly in the case of what aid workers call "silent crises" such as that in the Sahel, where there is no constant diet of shocking images to prick donor consciences.

"We can't expect immediate results," said Herve Ludovic de Lys, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in West Africa. "The projects that need to be put in place to correct the structural causes (of this crisis) will take years. But in the meantime, we have an obligation to save lives," he said.

Source: Reuters


Legislators have critical eye on Red Cross

The American Red Cross plans this week to turn over the results of its investigation into allegations of fraud and waste for possible criminal prosecution.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross did not respond quickly enough in low-income areas, did not reach remote Gulf Coast communities, could not manage its overwhelmed phone lines for storm victims, failed to cooperate with local organizations and was unclear in telling donors how their gifts would be spent.

The American Red Cross has faced the toughest challenge of its century-old special relationship with Congress. Lawmakers have called for a reconsideration of the Red Cross' official designation as the charity the government relies on first after national disasters.

Senator Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over tax-exempt organizations such as the Red Cross, expressed concerns about the structure and effectiveness of the 125-year-old organization, which has had three presidents resign since 1999.

Fraud was predictable as both the Red Cross and FEMA were, in effect, giving away cash, and they were doing so because the public was clamoring for them to do so.

The giant charity has now launched its biggest overhaul in decades after complaints about how it reacted to the epic hurricane season, criticism of its treatment of minority evacuees and unhappiness from Congress about how it governs itself.


Bono on Charity, Justice and Equality

- From Bono's Speech to the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC

Americans, like the Irish, are good at [charity]. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

…It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain. Yeah, “equal,” that's what it says here in this book [The Bible]. We're “all made in the image of God."