Thursday, January 14, 2010

Earthquakes and Journalism


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via Think Tank on 1/14/10

Journalism is not a particularly esteemed profession, but its capacity to bear witness remains one of its more redeeming attributes. At moments like this in Haiti, a journalist's function as a witness can be relatively uncomplicated, in comparison to, say, the processes of political or investigative reporting. In the field during a natural disaster of this scale, you do feel at times ghoulish and intrusive upon both the grief of survivors and in relation to the more directly useful efforts of rescuers and humanitarian relief workers. And yet all of those classes of participants in the crisis will recognize, most of the time, that journalism helpfully amplifies their own condition or potential.

I learned something about journalism while covering my first earthquake, in northwest Iran, in June, 1990. Tens of thousands of people died. After some travail, a small group of us newspaper and broadcast correspondents from the West arrived by helicopter, after dark, in a flattened village. I was still pretty green but I had seen enough death and devastation by then to know that it would not affect me emotionally. Nonetheless, as I stumbled into the village off the helicopter, I felt paralyzed, professionally. There were no houses or buildings left standing; there were so many dead; there was so much audible suffering. What was one supposed to write in one's notebook to capture and convey this scene?

My memory of what followed is vivid. I was in the company of one of those lions of foreign correspondence at the Los Angeles Times—I think it was Rone Tempest. Perhaps he noticed that I seemed confused. Anyway, he said—grunted, actually—like some veteran baseball player spitting tobacco in a nineteen-thirties movie: "Make lists—all the little things." And so I did. A tin cooking pot with rice still in it. Five boots, none matching. A bicycle wheel protruding from a pile of rocks. Like that. We rode back to Tehran that night on a bus. I wrote my story on one of those ancient Radio Shack portables. When I flipped through my notebook with a flashlight, I gradually came to realize that I had something particular—and for American audiences so distanced from revolutionary Iran—something useful to say.

Upon repetition, covering earthquakes gradually became less pure. The reason is that as a newspaper correspondent, at least, one became schooled in the editor-feeding subgenres of earthquake coverage. These subgenre stories passed like months on a calendar across the twelve days that generally constitutes the entire attention span of editors, broadcast producers, and their audiences. Subgenre pearls which one can anticipate from Haiti but about which one should perhaps not be overly cynical include: The Late Miracle, approximately on day five, in which an improbable survivor is dug out by heroic search teams from a foreign country; The Interpretation of Meaning, a story to be filed on Sundays in Christian cultures and Fridays in Muslim ones, chronicling the efforts of religious leaders to explain God's will in this instance (I recall sitting, riveted, on a press platform in Tehran, listening to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani deliver a remarkable Friday sermon about science and Allah); and Heading to the Exits, in which the laundry-less journalist forecasts a slow recovery complicated by political fallout and imperfect relief efforts, while implying that he/she will return over the ensuing months to chronicle the full course of the recovery.

For now, however, I tune in and read about Haiti with an appetite for small, humanizing detail that gradually accumulates in a crisis of this magnitude, ensuring that it will not be neglected—or, later, forgotten. Already there is much outstanding journalism on the airwaves and in print —notwithstanding, in these times, the considerable expense. Technology, increasingly, makes us all witnesses to crises. And yet, only those journalists intrepid enough to find their way forward, independently, can focus our lenses.


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Haitian Earthquake: Made in the USA Why the Blood Is on Our Hands

Haitian Earthquake: Made in the USA

Why the Blood Is on Our Hands

by Ted Rall
As grim accounts of the earthquake in Haiti came in, the accounts in U.S.-controlled state media all carried the same descriptive sentence: "Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere..."

Gee, I wonder how that happened?

You'd think Haiti would be loaded. After all, it made a lot of people rich.

How did Haiti get so poor? Despite a century of American colonialism, occupation, and propping up corrupt dictators? Even though the CIA staged coups d'état against every democratically elected president they ever had?

It's an important question. An earthquake isn't just an earthquake. The same 7.0 tremor hitting San Francisco wouldn't kill nearly as many people as in Port-au-Prince."Looking at the pictures, essentially it looks as if (the buildings are of) breezeblock or cinderblock construction, and what you need in an earthquake zone is metal bars that connect the blocks so that they stay together when they get shaken," notes Sandy Steacey, director of the Environmental Science Research Institute at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. "In a wealthy country with good seismic building codes that are enforced, you would have some damage, but not very much."

When a pile of cinderblocks falls on you, your odds of survival are long. Even if you miraculously survive, a poor country like Haiti doesn't have the equipment, communications infrastructure or emergency service personnel to pull you out of the rubble in time. And if your neighbors get you out, there's no ambulance to take you to the hospital--or doctor to treat you once you get there.

Earthquakes are random events. How many people they kill is predetermined. In Haiti this week, don't blame tectonic plates. Ninety-nine percent of the death toll is attributable to poverty.

So the question is relevant. How'd Haiti become so poor?

The story begins in 1910, when a U.S. State Department-National City Bank of New York (now called Citibank) consortium bought the Banque National d'Haïti--Haiti's only commercial bank and its national treasury--in effect transferring Haiti's debts to the Americans. Five years later, President Woodrow Wilson ordered troops to occupy the country in order to keep tabs on "our" investment.

From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. Marines imposed harsh military occupation, murdered Haitians patriots and diverted 40 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product to U.S. bankers. Haitians were banned from government jobs. Ambitious Haitians were shunted into the puppet military, setting the stage for a half-century of U.S.-backed military dictatorship.

The U.S. kept control of Haiti's finances until 1947.

Still--why should Haitians complain? Sure, we stole 40 percent of Haiti's national wealth for 32 years. But we let them keep 60 percent.


Despite having been bled dry by American bankers and generals, civil disorder prevailed until 1957, when the CIA installed President-for-Life François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Duvalier's brutal Tonton Macoutes paramilitary goon squads murdered at least 30,000 Haitians and drove educated people to flee into exile. But think of the cup as half-full: fewer people in the population means fewer people competing for the same jobs!

Upon Papa Doc's death in 1971, the torch passed to his even more dissolute 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. The U.S., cool to Papa Doc in his later years, quickly warmed back up to his kleptomaniacal playboy heir. As the U.S. poured in arms and trained his army as a supposed anti-communist bulwark against Castro's Cuba, Baby Doc stole an estimated $300 to $800 million from the national treasury, according to Transparency International. The money was placed in personal accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Under U.S. influence, Baby Doc virtually eliminated import tariffs for U.S. goods. Soon Haiti was awash predatory agricultural imports dumped by American firms. Domestic rice farmers went bankrupt. A nation that had been agriculturally self-sustaining collapsed. Farms were abandoned. Hundreds of thousands of farmers migrated to the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince.
The Duvalier era, 29 years in all, came to an end in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. forces to whisk Baby Doc to exile in France, saving him from a popular uprising.
Once again, Haitians should thank Americans. Duvalierism was "tough love." Forcing Haitians to make do without their national treasury was our nice way or encouraging them to work harder, to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Or, in this case, flipflops.

The U.S. has been all about tough love ever since. We twice deposed the populist and popular democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The second time, in 2004, we even gave him a free flight to the Central African Republic! (He says the CIA kidnapped him, but whatever.) Hey, he needed a rest. And it was kind of us to support a new government formed by former Tonton Macoutes.

Yet, despite everything we've done for Haiti, they're still a fourth-world failed state on a fault line.

And still, we haven't given up. American companies like Disney generously pay wages to their sweatshop workers of 28 cents an hour.

What more do these ingrates want?

Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.

Marines to aid Haitian earthquake relief. But who's in command?

Marines to aid Haitian earthquake relief. But who's in command?

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Burst of Mobile Giving Adds Millions in Relief Funds


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via NYT > United Nations by By JENNA WORTHAM on 1/14/10

Americans are using their cellphones and social media like Facebook to make a donation to the Haiti relief effort.


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Limbaugh Stands By His Haiti Remarks, Tells Critical Caller She's a 'Bigot' ...


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Water For Haiti, Now


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via Main RSS Feed by Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute on 1/14/10

In any disaster like this, after search, rescue, and immediate medical care, clean and safe water becomes a critical need.


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We Are Haiti


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via Main RSS Feed by Axel Caballero on 1/14/10

Watch video "We Are All Haiti" and help the organization of your choice:


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George Clooney to host telethon for Haiti aid

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hollywood actor George Clooney will host a telethon on MTV next week to raise funds for victims of the earthquake in Haiti, the music network said on Thursday.
The event will be broadcast on all MTV Network channels on Friday, January 22, when Clooney is expected to be joined by as yet unnamed pop music and movie stars.
Haiti-born musician Wyclef Jean has already raised over $1 million for the aid effort via the Twitter network, and is in the country "giving aid and assessing the situation", according to his website.

Digitalglobe's before and after photo gallery

Analysis (pre-post) and Digitalglobe's offer below for free access to Haiti satellite imagery useful. Check

Google imagery of Haiti and relief efforts

High resolution before and after imagery available free on google earth, dynamically updated by and linked to social media enabling rapid grass roots crisis response:

How do they measure earthquakes from 250 years ago?


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via Slate Magazine by Brian Palmer on 1/14/10

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti on Tuesday was the most powerful in the region for more than 100 years. A 7.2-magnitude quake struck the island in 1887, and another, from 1751, registered a 7.3. Wait a second—modern seismography dates back only to the late 19th century, and the Richter scale is just 75 years old. How do seismologists know the strength of a 1751 earthquake?

[more ...]

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Earthquake - Richter magnitude scale - Haiti - Seismology - Earth Sciences


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Update on Haiti -- you can help

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Clinton Foundation


In the past 48 hours, we've heard the heartbreaking stories and seen the harrowing images of people who remain without shelter, water, food or basic medical supplies in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake off the shore of Haiti.

But the outpouring of support is reason for hope. If you've already donated, I am deeply grateful. Please consider making another gift and encouraging your friends and family to do so as well. The most important thing you can do right now is to give money. Small donations add up to big amounts.

To see how you can help, please visit:

Yesterday I met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations to discuss the current situation on the ground in Haiti and the need for sustained focus through and beyond the immediate crisis. We must ensure the coordination of the United Nations, world governments, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals like you.

As UN Special Envoy for Haiti, I have been monitoring the situation very closely. What we need right now is to find survivors in the rubble, bury those who did not live, get medical care and supplies to the hurt, food for the hungry, and shelter for the homeless. And once the emergency is over, we can start to rebuild.

Together, we can make a tremendous difference in saving lives and sustaining them through this crisis.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your generosity at this critical time

Bill Clinton
UN Special Envoy for Haiti

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The Clinton Foundation seeks to address some of the world's more pressing challenges -- such as HIV/AIDS, global climate change, and extreme poverty -- through collaborative and systematic effort.

UN in Haiti: Death Toll Rises as Peacekeepers Deploy to Prevent Looting, Distribution of Food and Water Starts

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UNIC Washington
January 14, 2010
Michael Reyes
United Nations Washington
Tel: 202-331-8670

UN in Haiti: Death Toll Rises as Peacekeepers Deploy to Prevent Looting, Distribution of Food and Water Starts


The UN building in Haiti

The UN headquarters in Haiti. Logan Abassi/MINUSTAH via Getty Images 


The acting head of the UN mission in Haiti told reporters this afternoon that UN Peacekeepers have fanned out across the capital of Port-au-Prince, where tens of thousands of survivors are sleeping out on the streets with little water and food available to them.


"It looks like a ghost-town," said Kim Bolduc, the UN's Resident Co-coordinator in Haiti. "But there are still many bodies on the street, and so many survivors have nowhere to go. The distribution of food and water has started."


The UN's lead spokesman in Haiti, David Wimhurst, told reporters via a videolink to New York that the UN death toll stood at 36, with 73 injured and 178 missing, unaccounted for. He said rescue teams had not given up hope of finding survivors in the rubble of the UN Headquarters, especially after an Estonian protection officer was saved this morning, almost unscathed after 30 hours below the wreckage.


Earlier in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that a UN team headed by Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping and formerly head of the UN operation in Haiti, would take charge as soon as they arrived today.


Welcoming the deployment of US troops, announced by President Obama this morning, the Secretary-General said, "Our force commanders and Edmund Mulet will be co-coordinating closely with the American military." Asked about his Special Representative Hedi Annabi, missing since Tuesday, Ban said, "I pray for him. We should always hope for a rescue."



Latest UN Statements

Latest UN Headlines from Haiti


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As the United Nations office in Washington, D.C, the United Nations Information Center serves as the focal point for UN news and information to advance understanding of the UN and its work, and to serve as a resource for United States government officials, NGOs, civil-society organizations and the American people. 
For more information about the Center or any of the UN-affiliated agencies, please call 202-331-8670, email or visit us online at

What You're Not Hearing about Haiti (But Should Be)

What You're Not Hearing about Haiti (But Should Be)

by Carl Lindskoog
In the hours following Haiti's devastating earthquake, CNN, the New York Times and other major news sources adopted a common interpretation for the severe destruction: the 7.0 earthquake was so devastating because it struck an urban area that was extremely over-populated and extremely poor.  Houses "built on top of each other" and constructed by the poor people themselves made for a fragile city.  And the country's many years of underdevelopment and political turmoil made the Haitian government ill-prepared to respond to such a disaster.   
True enough.  But that's not the whole story.  What's missing is any explanation of why there are so many Haitians living in and around Port-au-Prince and why so many of them are forced to survive on so little.  Indeed, even when an explanation is ventured, it is often outrageously false such as a former U.S. diplomat's testimony on CNN that Port-au-Prince's overpopulation was due to the fact that Haitians, like most Third World people, know nothing of birth control.   
It may startle news-hungry Americans to learn that these conditions the American media correctly attributes to magnifying the impact of this tremendous disaster were largely the product of American policies and an American-led development model.   
From 1957-1971 Haitians lived under the dark shadow of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a brutal dictator who enjoyed U.S. backing because he was seen by Americans as a reliable anti-Communist. After his death, Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" became President-for-life at the age of 19 and he ruled Haiti until he was finally overthrown in 1986.  It was in the 1970s and 1980s that Baby Doc and the United States government and business community worked together to put Haiti and Haiti's capitol city on track to become what it was on January 12, 2010.   
After the coronation of Baby Doc, American planners inside and outside the U.S. government initiated their plan to transform Haiti into the "Taiwan of the Caribbean."  This small, poor country situated conveniently close to the United States was instructed to abandon its agricultural past and develop a robust, export-oriented manufacturing sector.  This, Duvalier and his allies were told, was the way toward modernization and economic development.   
From the standpoint of the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Haiti was the perfect candidate for this neoliberal facelift.  The entrenched poverty of the Haitian masses could be used to force them into low-paying jobs sewing baseballs and assembling other products.   
But USAID had plans for the countryside too.  Not only were Haiti's cities to become exporting bases but so was the countryside, with Haitian agriculture also reshaped along the lines of export-oriented, market-based production.  To accomplish this USAID, along with urban industrialists and large landholders, worked to create agro-processing facilities, even while they increased their practice of dumping surplus agricultural products from the U.S. on the Haitian people.   
This "aid" from the Americans, along with the structural changes in the countryside predictably forced Haitian peasants who could no longer survive to migrate to the cities, especially Port-au-Prince where the new manufacturing jobs were supposed to be.  However, when they got there they found there weren't nearly enough manufacturing jobs go around.  The city became more and more crowded.  Slum areas expanded.  And to meet the housing needs of the displaced peasants, quickly and cheaply constructed housing was put up, sometimes placing houses right "on top of each other."   
Before too long, however, American planners and Haitian elites decided that perhaps their development model didn't work so well in Haiti and they abandoned it.  The consequences of these American-led changes remain, however.       
When on the afternoon and evening of January 12, 2010 Haiti experienced that horrible earthquake and round after round of aftershock the destruction was, no doubt, greatly worsened by the very real over-crowding and poverty of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas.  But shocked Americans can do more than shake their heads and, with pity, make a donation.  They can confront their own country's responsibility for the conditions in Port-au-Prince that magnified the earthquake's impact, and they can acknowledge America's role in keeping Haiti from achieving meaningful development.  To accept the incomplete story of Haiti offered by CNN and the New York Times is to blame Haitians for being the victims of a scheme that was not of their own making.  As John Milton wrote, "they who have put out the people's eyes, reproach them of their blindness."   
Carl Lindskoog is a New York City-based activist and historian completing a doctoral degree at the City University of New York.  You can contact him at

At least 36 UN personnel killed by Haiti quake

At least 36 UN personnel killed by Haiti quake
14 Jan 2010 18:40:59 GMT
Source: Reuters
* Greatest loss of life in single event in U.N. history * 150 peacekeepers, staff unaccounted for after earthquake * U.N. says continues to maintain law and order(Updates U.N. death toll, previous GENEVA)

Bill Clinton and Haiti


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via (title unknown) by Mark Leon Goldberg on 1/14/10

Bill Clinton has raised $2.6 million from 30,000 donors in the last 24 hours. He will also likely be tapped to play a major fund raising role for the UN.

As I said in my Daily Beast item, one of the best things that Haiti has going for it right now is Bill Clinton.  Last spring, the Secretary General tapped the former president to be his special envoy for Haiti.


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Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the United States


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via (title unknown) by Alanna Shaikh on 1/14/10

Sending aid to Haiti isn't the only thing we can do to help the country. We can also help Haitians help themselves.

Sending aid to Haiti isn't the only thing we can do to help the country. We can also help Haitians help themselves. The US could grant Haitians in the United States Temporary Protected Status (TPS). It's a kind of temporary immigration relief offered to countries that have suffered severe disasters. TPS lets nationals of the disaster-hit country apply for work authorization, allows them to travel outside the US, and prevents them from deportation.



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CNN: Twitter hoax spreads rumors of airlines' free flights to Haiti

Twitter hoax spreads rumors of airlines' free flights to Haiti

By Brandon Griggs, CNN
  • Rumors spread on Twitter on Thursday about airlines flying doctors to Haiti free of charge
  • American Airlines spokesman calls the rumors a hoax
  • Rumors also spread that JetBlue is offering free flights and UPS is shipping packages for free
  • Both airlines say they are working with relief agencies to fly in supplies and personnel
(CNN) -- Twitter was buzzing Thursday morning with news that several airlines are flying doctors and nurses to Haiti free of charge to help with relief efforts there in the wake of Tuesday's devastating earthquake.
The only problem: The rumors are false, an American Airlines spokesman says.
"Last night's hoax on Twitter about American and JetBlue flying doctors and nurses to Haiti for free was just that -- a hoax. We don't know who is responsible, but it's a very low thing to do," airline spokesman Tim Smith said in e-mails sent Thursday.
Twitter users also circulated a rumor that UPS would ship for free any package under 50 lbs. to Haiti. In a blog post Wednesday on UPS's Web site, a spokeswoman debunked the rumor and said that destruction of Haiti's roads and communications networks "means our own shipping services to Haiti are on hold."
UPS is donating $1 million to help the people of Haiti through relief agencies, she said.
On Wednesday, American and American Eagle sent three planes to Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, carrying 30,000 pounds of water, food and other nonperishable goods for its more than 100 employees who work at the airport there and for assistance at Port-au-Prince hospitals, the airline said in a news release.
Three more relief flights are planned from Puerto Rico to Haiti on Thursday, and an additional three for Friday, the airline said.
"We've incentivized our 62 million AAdvantage members to give cash to Red Cross and receive bonus miles from us," Smith added. "We cannot fly any passengers to Haiti at this time and our efforts on the humanitarian front are as described above."
A spokeswoman for JetBlue said the airline is flying relief workers from agencies such as the American Red Cross free of charge to Santo Domingo in the neighboring Dominican Republic, but only after they have been vetted by the Haitian Consulate. The consulate then arranges transportation for passengers from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, she said.
"There have been a lot of people mobilizing on Twitter asking for our support. And I think that's where these rumors are coming from," JetBlue spokeswoman Alison Croyle said.
"We're not offering free transportation for just any doctors who walk up and want to fly there."
The American Airlines and JetBlue rumors erupted quickly on Twitter and other social networks, with people retweeting the Haitian Consulate's New York City phone number, which medical professionals could supposedly call for free flights.
Calls overwhelmed the consulate, resulting in repeated busy signals for callers.
But by late Thursday morning, word appeared to be spreading that the rumors were not true.
Posted one user on Twitter about 10:30 a.m. ET: "American Airline and Jet Blue Are NOT Flying doctors and nurses into Haiti for free. Do NOT call them."
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Op-Ed Contributor: Haiti’s Angry God


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via NYT > Opinion by By POOJA BHATIA on 1/13/10

On the earthquake-rubbled streets of Port-au-Prince, survivors weep, pray and ask for redemption.


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Haiti Earthquake Challenge #2


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via The Spud by The Spud on 1/13/10

Countless Haitians need immediate medical assistance from yesterday's massive earthquake. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) area medical facilities have been severely damaged, but MSF has set up clinics in tents and some 900 Haitians have already been treated. In the works: a 100-bed makeshift hospital, and an additional staff of 70 are expected to arrive in the coming days.
Haiti Earthquake Challenge #2 To help MSF with their relief efforts, The Spud will match the first 25 $5 donations to their Haiti Earthquake Response. That means if you donate $5, we'll match that amount—doubling your impact. Donate directly to MSF and forward your gift confirmation to We'll match the $5 donations in the order we receive the confirmations, up to the first 25. The match will be completed within 24 hours and we'll forward you the matching gift receipt. 
The Spud thanks Annalise Nelson, Rick Thiounn, Thomas Chadefaux, Kai Chan, Nilesh Parikh, Lisa Kim Holbrook, Daniel Holbrook, Rivka Golomb, and Ratha Tep for sponsoring this challenge.


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