US Congressperson vows to cut aid to Afghanistan

A key U.S. House of Representatives Democrat said she is cutting billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan from spending legislation because she is outraged over reports of corruption and donor aid being flown out the country.

Representative Nita Lowey, who heads the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, acted after a Wall Street Journal report said more than $3 billion in cash had been flown out of Kabul airport in the past three years, and that U.S. investigators think some of the money being flown out to safe havens is diverted U.S. aid.

She vowed not to spend "one more dime" on aid to Afghanistan until she can be sure it is not being abused. Lowey said in her statement she would only leave "lifesaving humanitarian aid" in the bill, which her committee will consider on Wednesday.

Her statement comes amid increasing doubts among U.S. lawmakers about President Obama's six-month-old troop buildup strategy against a resurgent Taliban.



Gulf of Mexico oil spill a tough fundraiser sell

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

And CNN raised $1.8 million in a telethon Monday night on "Larry King Live," with Robert Redford, Cameron Diaz, Justin Bieber, Sting and other celebrities urging donations to help families and wildlife affected by the spill.

However, a similar event this year for earthquake relief in Haiti raised $10 million.

This month, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that more than $4 million had been raised since the deadly tanker explosion in April and resulting oil leak, a fraction of the more than $6 billion donated to the Gulf of Mexico region in the year after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

For many, the idea of shelling out for a manmade disaster is tough to swallow; some say BP should cover the damage.

"It's a challenge in terms of fundraising," said LaTosha Brown, director of the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, adding that there has been debate in philanthropic circles about whether a disaster blamed on a corporation should be the focus of private donors.

[Washington Post]


Back to Survival Mode in the Gulf of Mexico

The looming Gulf of Mexico oil spill has forced many local fishermen out of their trade. Areas ravaged by the floods and winds of Hurricane Katrina five years ago are again in survival mode, this time against a silent, slow-moving threat.

OUTLOOK: Collecting 90% of escaping crude possible?

BP'S NEXT CHALLENGE: Disposal of tainted sludge

GREEN HOUSE: Environmental impact of oil spill

Unlike post-Katrina, when the federal government stepped in with billions of dollars in recovery funds, responsibility for the oil crisis is left largely to BP, says Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., whose district includes Louisiana's southeastern coast. "It's terribly frustrating," he says. "You see these people who are so resilient, so strong-willed, so hard-working get knocked down and get back up. Now there's less ability to fix everything. It's not in their control at all."

Technical disasters, such as oil spills, tend to be more stressful on people than natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, says Steve Picou, an environmental sociologist at the University of South Alabama who has studied disasters.

Fishing villages affected by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989, for example, showed high stress levels 14 years after the spill, Picou says.


Charitable Giving to continue to decline next couple years

The Wall Street Journal reports that, faced with continued economic uncertainty, Americans cut back on their charitable giving again last year.

For the second year in a row, philanthropy has seen the deepest decline ever recorded by the Giving USA Foundation, which has tracked annual giving since 1956. Giving, in current dollars, has gone up every year the organization has measured it except 1987 and the past two years.

This is the first recorded decline in donations to charities since 1969.

Nancy Raybin, chair of the Giving Institute, the consulting arm of the Giving USA Foundation, said she expected giving to continue to decline or to be flat for the next couple of years, but that contributions are likely to rebound as they did after the Great Depression.

Whatever their wealth, people need to feel it is secure, and until they regain confidence in the economy, giving is likely to stay down, said Claire Costello, national foundation executive for Bank of America Merrill Lynch Philanthropic Management.