Saturday, May 30, 2009

eBay "Giving Works" and MissionFish are a Scam

eBay now allows sellers to auction an item for charity. Sellers can agree, in advance, to donate anywhere from 10% to 100% of the proceeds to the charity of the seller's choice, so long as that charity is on eBay's approved list. The listing shows a cute little ribbon, telling the bidder that the auction is for the benefit of charity, as well as a short paragraph extolling the benefits of the particular charity that will benefit. What's more, eBay discounts its fees in connection with charity auctions. The discount is proportional to the percentage donated to charity; eBay gives up almost all its fees if the auction is 100% for charity. Sounds great, but sadly it is a scam.

In the fine print, it turns out that all donations must be made through "MissionFish." What's more, MissionFish takes a fee for its service. There is a small notice on each charity listing stating that a "small deduction may apply." Those words are in faint print and small type. There is no "may" about it, and the deduction certainly is not "small." In fact, MissionFish charges far more than eBay. That's right, you would be better off ignoring eBay's offer to waive part of its fees. Simply sell the item, pay the fees and donate the balance to charity. Far more will go to charity that way than if you take eBay up on its supposedly charitable offer.

MissionFish charges:

20% of the first $50
15% of the next $150
10% of the next $800 and
5% of the amount above $1,000

So, for an item that sells for $500, MissionFish will charge $72.50. That's right, MissionFish takes $72.50 from the charity for the "service" of delivering your $500. By way of comparison, on the same $500 item, eBay would charge a $4 insertion fee (at most), plus a $19.69 final value fee, for a total of $23.69. So, eBay does not waive its fee. Quite to the contrary, the fee nearly triples! And, what is worse, you do not even see it unless you look very carefully.

Here is how MissionFish and eBay hide the fact that they are stealing from charities. Again, say you auction an item for $500 to benefit charity. The buyer sends the money to you. You then take the $500 and give it MissionFish, which tells you that you made a donation of $500. You never find out that about 15% of your money went to MissionFish.

Finally, eBay (which owns paypal) gets a fee when the money is sent to you by the buyer. So, you end up with less than $500 because paypal/Ebay takes a bite up front, but then you have to give MissionFish the full $500 so that MissionFish/paypal can take their next bite. And, if you forget to feed MissionFish the full $500, they will bill your credit card. Want to take your credit card off their account? No problem, just enter a new card and click that you authorize them to charge that. The website does not allow you to simply remove your credit card.

Do not be fooled! If you want sell something for charity, by all means do it, but do not tell eBay. Just sell the item and donate the proceeds yourself.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Letting Go of Gay "Pride"

For years, western society has preached that being gay is a sin. Most gay people internalized that message and were ashamed of being gay. Eventually, some gays began to stand up for themselves, and they stopped being ashamed. Instead, they became proud. After all, being proud is, in most people's mind, the opposite of being ashamed. In fact, this new gay "pride" misses the point entirely and is ultimately counter productive to the gay rights movement.

Being gay is not something to be proud or ashamed of. Sexual orientation is a preference, and it does not make sense to be proud or ashamed of a preference. For example, no one is ever proud that they like ketchup, or cold weather, or that their favorite color is blue. The fact that people are born gay is not even the point. Being gay still simply means that someone has a sexual preference for people of their own gender. There is nothing to be proud or ashamed of, no matter what one prefers.

The use of the phrase "gay pride" is far more than a simple gramatical error. Quite to the contrary, it confuses the debate about gay rights and alienates straight people. It confuses the debate because it perpetuates the wrongheaded idea that sexual orientation is one of those things that we should be either proud or ashamed of. The entire point of the gay equality movement is that sexual preference is not something good or bad. Saying otherwise frames the issue in a way in which gays will lose. If sexual orientation is something to be proud or ashamed of, then straight people will surely decide that they are proud of being straight -- and that gays should be ashamed. It creates a pitched battle over who is better, gays or straights. That is the opposite of the message gays should be sending: we are different in our sexual orientation, but those differences do not make us better or worse than you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

United Airlines' Charity Policy

I had a few extra United Airlines upgrades in my account recently, and realized that I would not be able to use them before they expire. I know that United does not allow the sale of upgrades or miles, but they do allow members to donate miles. I therefore decided to donate my upgrades by holding a 100% charity auction on Ebay, with all the proceeds going to and Much Love Animal Rescue. In the listings, I expressly stated that the auctions were subject to United's rules, and that if United objected, I would remove the listings.

United waited until the listings were over, then told me I had violated their rules. Even though 100% of the proceeds went to charity, United still views what I did as a "sale." Moreover, United penalized me by taking away two systemwide upgrades which, based on the Ebay auctions, were worth $500 each. Even worse, United took away the upgrades from the Ebay bidders. So, they did not get what they bargained for. The charities already have the money, so I cannot get it back to return it! I protested with United, but got nowhere.

I am done with United Airlines. Hello American!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cancer as a Political Issue

For the eight years of the Bush administration, our political were dominated by an irrational fear of terrorism. Even now, with President Obama providing immeasurably better leadership, terrorism still plays far too large a role in our political debate. Terrorism killed a total of approximately 3,000 people in the continental United States on September 11, 2001. It has killed approximately zero since then.

Cancer, on the other hand, kills thousands of people every day. Cancer is the greater threat to public health, by a huge margin. In fact, in terms of the threat to publich health, terrorism is lower than the common cold, while cancer is at the very top of the list. As far as I am concerned, a death by terrorism is no worse, and maybe in some ways much better, than a death by cancer. Yet, we spend far more money on preventing terrorism than we do preventing cancer.

The most important function of a government is to do for the people what they cannot do for themselves individual. This includes things like building roads, maintaining a currency, national defense and disease control. Basic cancer research is far too expensive and far too long term for any individual to undertake it alone. Only the government can fund it adequately.

Moreover, the benefits of successful advances benefit not just all Americans, but everyone on the entire planet -- as well as everyone who is born in the future. The market cannot provide adequate incentives under those circumstances.

If there is anything that our government should do for us, it is to fund basic cancer research and make the result as widely available as possible. This is something that we all have an interest in, and it should be a major political issue, well ahead of relatively smaller threats, such as terrorism.