Friday, January 15, 2010

WTF?!? It Takes 90 Days For Your Text Donations To Get To Charity


MADDOW: Many of you have already donated money to help the millions of people affected by the earthquake in Haiti. Many more of you will donate in days and weeks ahead. If you donate by credit card, American Express and Visa and Mastercard have all announced that they will waive the few percentage points those companies would normally skim for themselves off of your payment. And good on them for that.

Some of you, however, will end run around the credit card companies altogether to donate money in a completely novel way. It‘s one of the ways that I personally gave today. I gave by text message. After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Americans donated about $200,000 to charity through text messaging.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Americans donated about twice that, about $400,000 through text messaging. Last year, for all of 2009, for all causes, fundraising via cell phone hit the $2 million mark nationwide. That was all very good, very philanthropic.

But this time, for this disaster, the charitable donation numbers we are seeing dwarf those totals. A bunch of organizations are raising money this way for Haiti. But to just give you a ballpark idea of donate-by-texting‘s success, the American Red Cross alone has raised almost $6 million through text message donations in two days.

And the icing is that wireless carriers, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have agreed to waive their standard text messaging fees for those texted donations. Excellent.

Except for Sprint. Sprint not so much with the excellent. They told MSNBC today that standard text messaging charges will apply. They did say that their customers are free to buy text messaging plans from Sprint to cover the cost of that one text. Helpful. Thanks, Sprint.

Joining us now is Tony Aiello. He‘s the CEO and co-founder of M-Give one of the companies making it possible to donate by phone. M-Give is a for-profit company. They‘ve waived their start-up in transaction fees for the charities raising money for the crisis in Haiti in this sway. Mr. Aiello, thanks very much for joining us.

TONY AIELLO, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, M-GIVE: Thanks for having me this evening, Rachel.

MADDOW: I know that you‘re waiving all your fees for donations to this disaster. Thank you. Before this quake, tell me how this service worked, how it would be set up. I know the donation amount would show up on a customer‘s phone bill.

AIELLO: Yes. That‘s exactly correct, as using this example as perfect because it works for day-to-day fundraising just like it does for disaster relief. So, in effect, the mobile user would, in this case, text the word Haiti to the number 90999 and receive a text message back asking them to confirm by replying with “yes.”

At that point, their mobile phone bill is tagged with a $10 donation. So that donor then actually pays that to their wireless carrier the next time they pay their bill. And the funds are then funneled to a 501 C3 called M-Give Foundation and then distributed to the appropriate charities. In this case - this campaign - all the funds are going to the Red Cross.

MADDOW: I would also say that if you‘re worried about getting spam on your cell phone because you‘ve done this, I did this today, and after you get sent the “yes” and you get the confirmation, you then get a note that says, “Do you keep getting texts from the American Red Cross?” You can write back and say “no” if you don‘t want to. So it‘s sort of a “whew” if you‘re worried about that.

One of the things that I am worried about this, although I think

it‘s cool to donate at the spur of the moment -


MADDOW: I‘m worried it‘s a quick way to donate but it takes too long this way for the money to actually arrive at the charity that I just donated to. Can you explain that?

AIELLO: Well, sure. As I mentioned a moment ago, when the - if you and I both give today, we might be paying our mobile bill on a different cycle or a different monthly billing cycle.

So the carriers have to collect all of that money and then distribute it to the 501-C3 clearing house and then distribute it to the charity. So everyone in the chain wants to get the money to the Red Cross as fast as possible.

And all parties involved - they‘re working to try to streamline that effort. And right now, in traditional day-to-day fundraising, it‘s about a 90-day - 90 days between the time that the mobile user presses the buttons on the phone and the dollars arrive at the charity.

We hope to streamline that for this disaster based on the size and scope of this situation. The tragedy boggles the mind, so everybody wants to get the money to the charity as fast as possible.

That said, because this is such a major disaster, I think people are going to be needing dollars for quite some time. So you know, clearly your point is well taken. The goal is to get the money to the charity as quickly as possible.

MADDOW: Mr. Aiello, I think it‘s an incredibly successful way to raise money. If that window does get shorter than the time it is now and you talk about these details on your Web site, let us know and we‘ll tell people. We‘ll help get the word out.

Tony Aiello is the CEO and the co-founder of M-Give, a company that allows you to text donations to nonprofits. As Mr. Aiello Said, if you‘d like to text a donation for relief to Haiti, we have a list of charities that accept text donations posted on our Web site, which is Mr. Aiello, thank you. And we will be right back.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Army chief: U.S. troops could be in Iraq for 10 years

Despite the agreement to bring them home by 2012, the Pentagon is prepared for things to change, Gen. George Casey says.

Who didn't see this coming?

The Associated Press report in the LA Times:
The Pentagon is prepared to leave fighting forces in Iraq for as long as a decade despite an agreement between the United States and Iraq that would bring all American troops home by 2012, the top U.S. Army officer said Tuesday.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, said the world remains dangerous, and the Pentagon must plan for extended U.S. combat and stability operations in two wars. "Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction," Casey said. "They fundamentally will change how the Army works."

He spoke at an invitation-only briefing to a dozen journalists and policy analysts from Washington-based think tanks. He said his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a U.S. commitment to fighting extremism in the Middle East.

Casey's calculations about force levels are related to his attempt to ease the brutal deployment calendar that he said would "bring the Army to its knees."

Casey said his comments were not meant to conflict with administration policies.

CBS News's version adds:
Casey would not specify how many combat units would be split between Iraq and Afghanistan. He said U.S. ground commander Gen. Ray Odierno is leading a study to determine how far U.S. forces could be cut back in Iraq and still be effective.

Back to the LA Times:
President Obama plans to bring U.S. combat forces home from Iraq in 2010, and the United States and Iraq have agreed that all American forces would leave by 2012.

This isn't exactly true.

To begin with, it's disingenuous to suggest the U.S. is ending the occupation of Iraq because troops remaining aren't combat troops.

All troops are trained combat troops.

The distinction relates to current assignment. Combat troops (tens of thousands of them) assigned to duty in Iraq, which will include training, advising, and protecting "U.S. interests in Iraq", including but not limited to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad (U.S. Marine Security Guards), a 104-acre compound where 5,500 people (non-diplomats, U.S. government personnel of all kinds, and who knows how many spooks) live/work/play in a city within a city (a de facto military base) as large as Vatican City, six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York, two-thirds the acreage of Washington’s National Mall. It has its own area code, power station, water wells, waste treatment facilities, apartment buildings, fire department, shopping mall, restaurants, cinema, country-club recreational center, and more. It is the largest (at least ten times the size of new U.S. embassies elsewhere) and most expensive U.S. embassy in the world ($736 million to build, $1.2 billion a year to operate).

The new United States Embassy rises above Baghdad.
[Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.]
Several senior U.S. officials have suggested Iraq could request an extension, but the legal agreement that the two countries signed last year would have to be amended [for any significant U.S. presence to remain.

As recently as February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated the U.S. commitment to the agreement worked out with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"Under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011," Gates said during an address at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. "We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned."

The United States has about 139,000 troops in Iraq and 52,000 in Afghanistan.

Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war quickly and refocusing U.S. resources on what he called the more important fight in Afghanistan.

[That will not mean a major influx of U.S. fighting forces on the model of the Iraq "surge," however. Obama has agreed to send about 21,000 combat forces and trainers to Afghanistan this year. Combined with additional forces approved before former President George W. Bush left office,] the United States is expected to have about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year. That's about double the total at the end of 2008, but Obama's top military and civilian advisors have indicated the number is unlikely to grow much beyond that.

CBS News's version continued with:
Casey said several times that he wasn't the person making policy, but the military was preparing to have a fighting force deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come. Casey said his planning envisions 10 combat brigades plus command and support forces committed to the two wars.

When asked whether the Army had any measurement for knowing how big it should be, Casey responded, "How about the reality scenario?"

This scenario, he said, must take into account that "we're going to have 10 Army and Marine units deployed for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Casey stressed that the United States must be ready to take on sustained fights in the Middle East while meeting other commitments.

Casey reiterated statements made by civilian and military leaders that the situation in Afghanistan would get worse before it gets better. "There's going to be a big fight in the South," he said.

Casey added that training of local police and military in Afghanistan was at least a couple years behind the pace in Iraq, and it would be months before the U.S. deployed enough trainers. There's a steeper curve before training could be effective in Afghanistan, requiring three to five years before Afghanis could reach the "tipping point" of control.

He also said the U.S. had to be careful about what assets get deployed to Afghanistan. "Anything you put in there would be in there for a decade," he said.

As Army chief of staff, Casey is primarily responsible for assembling the manpower and determining assignments. He insisted the Army's 1.1-million size was sufficient even to handle the extended Mideast conflicts.

"We ought to build a pretty effective Army with 1.1 million strength," Casey said. He also noted that the Army's budget had grown to $220 billion from $68 billion before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He said the Army is two-thirds of the way through a complete overhaul from the Cold War-era force built around tanks and artillery to today's terrorist-driven realities. The Army has become more versatile and quicker by switching from division-led units to brigade-level command.

Casey said the Army has moved from 15-month battlefield deployments to 12 months. His goal is to move rotations by 2011 to one year in the battlefield and two years out for regular Army troops, and one year in the battlefield and three years out for reserves. He called the current one-year-in-one-year-out cycle "unsustainable."

So there you have it. A meme which will slowly seep sideways into the minds of Americans (journalists' minds, in particular), so that as we get closer to the target dates for withdrawal of troops, Americans will have adjusted to the United States's continued occupation of Iraq.

C'est la guerre.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Coffee Stain Madonna?

Coffee stain Madonna
As newspapers across America close, one reporter finds comfort in a coffee stain as he packs up his desk.

I dunno. It looks more like Strawberry Shortcake to me.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Remember This?

ABCnews reports:
The Obama White House doesn’t seem inclined to share its new pictures of a Boeing 747 used as Air Force One buzzing the lower Manhattan skyline.

At a press briefing Tuesday, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs dodged reporters’ questions about last week’s photo-op, which cost over $325,000 in taxpayer dollars and frightened a broad swath of lower Manhattan.

“I’ve watched CNN. . . I didn't notice a lack of archival material from that flight,” Gibbs cracked, an apparent reference to the prevalence of shaky video shot by witnesses on the ground.

The New York Post reported Tuesday morning that an unnamed White House official said the White House had “no plans” to release pictures from the event.

Gibbs said the White House anticipates completing a review of the incident this week, but did not answer questions about why it would not release the pictures or when it might do so.

The White House Military Office had reportedly organized the event, but made no arrangements to alert Manhattanites that a large plane would fly very close to their tall buildings. As a result, many fled the area at the sight of the plane, believing it could be another 9/11-style attack.

President Obama reportedly had not been told of the flyby, and was reportedly furious at the oversight. The Military Office head, Louis Caldera, apologized publicly. He is still on the job, despite calls for his dismissal.

A similar photo op scheduled for Washington, D.C. this week was reportedly cancelled.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Did Somebody Torture Condi?

What happened to Condoleeza Rice's face?

Condoleeza Rice on April 23, 2009:

Then on Sunday, May 3, 2009:

In this photograph provided by Rabinowitz-Dorf, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks to supporters of the Jewish Primary Day School in Washington. (AP Photo/Rabinowitz-Dorf, Ron Sachs)