Hot Docs: Nonprofits Suffer in Bad Economy, Popularity of Online Porn Nationwide

Today's selection of timely reports.

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Nonprofits Hard Hit by Poor Economy: The economic crisis is taking a severe toll on nonprofit organizations and groups devoted to helping those in need. A new report, "The Quiet Crisis: The Impact of the Economic Downturn on the Nonprofit Sector," finds that churches raised $3 billion to $5 billion less than expected in the last quarter of 2008; United Way is reporting a 68 percent increase in calls for such things as food, shelter, and clothing; and Chicago's Meals on Wheels program had to cut its budget by 35 percent. The report calls for changes in the tax code to make it easier to make donations, for passage of the Serve America Act to encourage volunteer work through tax benefits and other means, and for nonprofits to play a bigger role in solving mortgage and foreclosure problems.

Online Porn Popularity Transcends Barriers: While rates of online porn usage are fairly consistent across the country, states with a conservative bent have slightly higher rates. Benjamin Edelman, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, acquired ZIP codes for credit card purchases from a "top-10 seller of adult entertainment" for a two-year period. His study, "Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?" finds "interest in online adult entertainment relatively constant across regions." However, the study found that "subscriptions are slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative legislation on sexuality" and where people hold conservative views on "religion, gender roles, and sexuality." The state with the highest subscription rate is Utah.

Haiti's Stability at Risk: In order to avoid further unrest, the Haitian government must reach out to parliament and civil society and build a national consensus, according to a report from the International Crisis Group. The independent, nonprofit group outlines the fragile state of Haitian society after last April's riots, which toppled the government of Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis. Since then, four tropical storms and hurricanes have torn across the country, killing 800 and causing widespread damage that has "exacerbated food shortages and pushed yet more Haitians into poverty." The government should hold elections in 2009 that are observed by both national and international monitors, improve transparency in the handling of emergency funds and reconstruction, and identify projects to address food shortages and job creation.

Nuclear Detection Office Needs to Plug Gaps: While the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office has made some progress in combating nuclear smuggling, it has yet to close some critical gaps in such areas as land borders and ports. The Government Accountability Office, in a report titled "Nuclear Detection: Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Should Improve Planning to Better Address Gaps and Vulnerabilities," found that the office is "still in the early stages of program development, and has not clearly developed long-term plans, with costs and time frames, for achieving its goal of closing these gaps by expanding radiological and nuclear detection capabilities." For example, the GAO says that field-testing of radiation detection equipment to secure land borders is still not complete and that all the equipment may not be in place until 2012. A three-year maritime pilot program is in its first year of operation, yet the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office has made "little progress . . . in developing criteria for assessing the success of the pilot to help determine whether it should be expanded to other locations."