Showing posts from February, 2017

When the lawyers lead the grassroots

Today, I signed up to take the ACLU’s “People Power” training . I’ll let them explain: On March 11, the ACLU is holding a Resistance Training. This event will launch People Power, the ACLU’s new effort to engage grassroots volunteers across the country and take the fight against Donald Trump’s policies not just into the courts, but into the streets. We’re organizing grassroots events in communities across the country to watch the livestream together. Please join us! Sign up to learn more about People Power and the Resistance Training livestream on March 11 at 5pm ET. We’ll follow up with you about opportunities to volunteer and attend events near you. I’m curious to hear what the ACLU comes up with. However, I have to say that they’re not off to a good start. The confirmation email for my sign-up seems to indicate that I can’t learn more or join the livestream unless I host an event somewhere. Since I have no interest in hosting an event, this is a bit frustrating. Oh well. [ Edit: I

Refugee crisis

The Syrian crisis has made refugees a cause célèbre. And there’s good reason for that. The percentage of the world’s population displaced from their homes doubled since the crisis began, now approaching 1 in 100 persons. Think of it this way: how many friends do you have on Facebook? Now imagine that 1 out of 100 is a refugee. The number is too high to bear. Today, I donated to the International Rescue Committee . Believe it or not, the IRC was founded in 1933 – by Albert Einstein, no less! The IRC has first-responder programs, as well as programs to help with resettlement efforts and numerous other humanitarian aid initiatives. It’s an incredibly important program; the reality is that, while individual crises ebb and flow, the presence of refugee crises has been a constant. I gave in response to a plea from a friend, incidentally, who decided to use her birthday (it’s a big number, but I won’t give it away) as a platform to raise money for the IRC. If you, too, feel that no one should

The Academy Awards

One thing I’m learning is that a civic act doesn’t have to be a chore. Tonight, I attended the Brattle Theatre’s annual Oscar party. With a pre-award-show party and a members-only screening of the presentation of the Oscar awards, it’s frankly a highlight of every year for me.  I spent six years on the board of the Brattle Film Foundation, an organization I’m proud to be associated with, and to have helped in some small way. If they ask me to come to a fundraiser, I’m there. And I know I’ll have a good time because they know how to throw a party. (But, I have to admit, I didn’t make it to the end of the ceremony.)

To Good Samaritans

Three days ago, there was a shooting in a bar in Kansas City. A drunk man tossed ethnic slurs at two Indian immigrants and got himself kicked out when patrons complained, to their immense credit. But he returned with a handgun and shot both Indians, one fatally. The fact that the incident was racially motivated is worrisome, but let’s be clear: it would have been terrible even had racism not been involved. But in a perverse way, the incident gave me hope that I want to build on. Today, I gave to a GoFundMe campaign for Ian Grillot, a bystander in the bar who chose to intervene after the shooter had let already let loose on the first two victims. He took a bullet to the chest. He doesn’t think of himself as a hero, he’s told the press . But we know better. And we should applaud good Samaritans. There are actually three GoFundMe fundraisers related to the incident. One was setup on behalf of both of the victim’s families. Another was setup for the slain victim’s family. Combined, the th

Stay Angry

Yesterday’s blog post – on racial profiling singling out Chinese – has me so riled up, I have to continue the momentum. Today, I donated to the Angry Asian Man subscriber drive. Who? Angry Asian Man is an Asian-American blogger who speaks truth to the Asian-American experience: The concerns I was raising were funny because there was truth to them. Because racism does exist, and because Asian Americans still do struggle with issues of acceptance in this country. My context for discussing these problems often came from comic exaggeration, because at times, it was the only way to make such ugly issues open and approachable. So Angry Asian Man became a cause. And just like Angry Asian Man, the views expressed in the contents of this website will inevitably be ridiculously zealous and exaggerated. Of course, it’s all in fun, but just like the persona of Angry Asian Man, rooted in truth. Follow Angry Asian Man on Facebook .

Racial profiling, with Chinese characteristics

Should US border control include scanning the social media accounts of inbound travelers – specifically of Chinese visitors? Crazy, right? Don’t scoff at the possibility. Asian-Americans Advancing Justice put out a communique yesterday: “US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just put forward a proposal to collect information from the private social media accounts of Chinese visitors entering the US on tourist  and business visas. Read media coverage here and here. ” Today, I sent a letter to the US CBP in opposition of their proposal. I encourage you to do the same, by clicking here .  

Sponsoring the New York Times

I’ve always supported good journalism, with high standards for reporting and also for accountability. And when I say I “support good journalism,” it’s with my dollars. I pay subscriptions to four newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and T he Boston Globe . Those papers are on different points of a political spectrum, in terms of their op-ed pages and their coverage, and I support them all. Today, I made a contribution to sponsor a New York Times subscription for a student. My own habits as a newspaper reader were formed when I was young. I’d like to pass that along to the next generation.

Lawyers and muses

Apparently, human rights lawyers have their muses. A  recent article in 1843 magazine details the fascinating partnership between Amal Clooney and Nadia Murad. Clooney is the dynamic human rights lawyer with a celebrity husband. Murad is a survivor of Islamic State’s brutal slavers. She is also Clooney’s client, but also her muse, as the article details. Together they advocate before the world, even appearing before the United Nations. Today, I supported another human rights lawyer and her muse. Through this fascinating Kickstarter project, called Immigration Nation , immigration attorney Lauren Burke and her former client, Martina Carrillo, hope to travel the country in a camper van, providing pro bono legal services for immigrants and their communities across the US. They have experience together, having co-founded an immigration-focused nonprofit called  Atlas: DIY . They’re a bit lower profile than Amal Clooney and Nadia Murad, but who needs celebrities when the crowd is on your s

Tracking hate crimes against Asian-Americans

According to FBI statistics , 3.3% of hate crimes in 2015 resulted from anti-Asian bias. Yet, as this NPR story  tells it, Asian-Americans tend to “underreport hate incidents because they feel intimidated by law enforcement or are afraid of being seen as overly sensitive.” And, generally speaking, “racially motivated incidents that are reported are often filed as generic offenses and don’t show up in national data about hate crimes.” So the incidence is probably much higher – and is rising by some accounts . Asian Americans Advancing Justice launched a website that will lower the barrier to reporting. Check it out here . Importantly, they’re working with the Southern Poverty Law Center to integrate their data with the SPLC’s Hate Map . Today, I signed up to help  Asian Americans Advancing Justice . Because I am one.

The Magna Carta

A good many years ago, in 1215 to be exact, King John of England signed the Magna Carta. It was a revolutionary document, establishing among other things the principles that everyone (including the king!) is subject to the law, and that individuals have rights, including to a fair trial. It’s a model, or a starting point, at least, for modern constitutions. Today, I visited the British Library and viewed one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta. It was a particularly poignant reminder of how those rights are taken for granted in America – until they’re not. What I also learned today is that the Pope annulled the original Magna Carta just ten weeks later. It took many years, and a few more kings, before the principles of the Magna Carta became enshrined in law. Democracy takes time. Still, we hold those principles dear in the US Constitution and we’ll defend them to the end. (Also, I apparently I just missed visiting the library on the #DayofFacts  declared by museum

Local currencies, starring David Bowie

I like to shop in local businesses when I can. Their owners tend to stay involved in the local community and I like the idea of keeping economic activity close to home. But it’s not just where I spend my money, but also how. Using cash, for example, helps the margins of my local mom-and-pops. Some enterprising communities have turned to local currencies as an additional way to accelerate the impact of local shopping. Think of Disney Dollars, but for communities not corporations. “Such schemes,” as the Economist writes, “aim to boost spending at local retailers and suppliers, by encouraging the recirculation of money within a community. Because the currency is worthless outside its defined geographic area, holders spend it in the neighborhood, thus creating a ‘local multiplier effect’.”  It’s an interesting idea. While there are a few local currencies in the United States, I haven’t really seen one in the wild. Apparently, there’s one in the Berkshires , for example; Wikipedia lists a

Homelessness and affordable housing

Boston has an action plan to end chronic homelessness by 2018, and has touted its successes . Yet emergency shelters are still full. What gives? Part of the problem is lack of affordable housing. (To be sure, it’s just part of a multi-faceted problem.) Programs like HomeStart perform a valuable role in offering stabilization and housing services to vulnerable populations. They’re prevention program served 454 households – keeping them off the rolls of the homeless. That’s powerful. Today, I donated to HomeStart, through my friend Lisa’s fundraising. She’ll be riding in her corporate “iCycle” event – a series of spin classes held outdoors, in the middle of winter. I’m an alumnus of that same company, by the way, so I’m personally vested in their effort, though I won’t be joining them on their bikes. Good luck, Lisa.

Investing for a return - in civic pride?

A loyal reader in California alerted me to an interesting opportunity back in Massachusetts. Neighboring Cambridge has turned to the crowd to raise capital funds. Check out the campaign here . Muni bonds are a staple asset class for investors, because of their tax efficiency. They are, of course, not without risk. Just ask the holders of Detroit  paper just before its $18 billion bankruptcy. The Motor City is far from alone in its financial woes. But analyst Meredith Whitney, who famously “called” the mortgage meltdown a decade ago, didn’t quite get her second act, a  muni bond implosion , right. (At least, not yet.) In any case, the opportunity for modest individual investors to buy directly into a single municipal entity is limited. And, given the concentration of risk, why would you want to invest – except where you are emotionally vested? Enter the “minibonds,” which are being brokered by a startup called Neighborly  (and which thankfully isn’t using the Libyan “.ly” top-level doma

Zoning highs

Today, I went to the Somerville Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. I went because there were two different applicants seeking special permits to open medical marijuana dispensaries. The applicants are not only across the street from each other, they’re both in stone’s throw from my house. In fact, I can see one storefront from my bedroom window. Consider my interest piqued. There was a large turnout and the elephant in the room did not go unstated. Last year, Massachusetts voters also approved recreational marijuana. So aren’t these medical dispensaries just loss leaders until they’re able to open recreational retail dispensaries? Surely that would be bad for the neighborhood – and for real estate values. Here’s the thing:  I  went looking for empirical research on real estate value nearby dispensaries. The only study I could find was this one, on medical dispensaries that converted to retail dispensaries when that became possible in Denver, Colorado. The conclusion? “We find that after

Divided on Indivisible

A political resistance movement is gaining traction. Town hall meetings are being disrupted. Senate phone lines are jammed. Organizers are focusing campaigns on swing districts , as I wrote about last week. All of this comes straight from the Indivisible guide , which is fast emerging as the go-to reference manual. The guide was written by politically progressive Congressional staffers who took lessons from the Tea Party movement to develop tactics for progressive Democrats. Today, I read the Indivisible guide and reflected on it. The core tactic is to spark action through small, local cells of activists. Per the guide, “Only 1 in 5 self-identified Tea Partiers contributed money or attended events.” So a few concerned citizens can have a big influence if they know how to engage their members of Congress. It’s a cynical (“It’s all about reelection, reelection, reelection”), but realistic guide to influencing political sausage-making. It is explicitly defensive, espousing a consistent

Spare Change News

If you live in Boston long enough, you’ll probably get to know a Spare Change News vendor. They’re a remarkably loyal bunch; many have been distributing the paper for decades. And they’re all currently or formerly homeless, or otherwise low-income individuals. Spare Change News does its best to hire current or former homeless individuals for many roles, not just for distribution. From writers to editors to graphic designers, they tap an under-appreciated talent market. And they do that without sacrificing editorial standards. The current issue has a great Q&A with civil-rights icon and US representative John Lewis, for example. Today, I bought a copy of Spare Change News from my local vendor. It’s published by the Homeless Empowerment Project, which provides stability and community for its vendors, and provides other resources to enable the homeless to transition. I remember when the paper was launched 25 years ago. I was impressed by the idea at the time, though I concede I’ve

Laughing Matters

“Attacks on reproductive freedom, immigration, the environment, Muslims, LGBTQ rights and more got you feeling down?” asked the  Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts . “Us too.” It was a time for a semi-break from the seriousness. So, today, I went to comedy for a cause: the Stand Up with Planned Parenthood comedy fundraiser, which held two sold-out shows – on a Sunday night, in the midst of a blizzard, I should point out. Reproductive health jokes were welcome, though not necessarily the funniest. Added bonus: the shows took place at the Somerville Brewing Company , aka Slumbrew, taproom and brewery. The owners have always stayed personally connected with their neighbors, which goes to show the importance of small businesses in supporting the community. And I enjoyed with gusto their nitro stout, which they named “#ThanksObama.” Thanks, indeed.

Wall of Compassion

We stood in silent solidarity, on a snowy sidewalk in 20 degree weather. Today, I took part in a “human wall of compassion.” Several hundred people gathered outside the  Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center  and surrounded the building in a show of support. We stood in silence out of respect for the mid-day prayers. And while we faced outward, away from the building, our thoughts were inward, in empathy for those praying inside New England’s largest mosque. It warmed our hearts to hear many give thanks as they left the building. Our message to them was clear: We have your back.

Good neighbors

They say good fences make good neighbors. So do good shovels, I hope. Today, I shoveled out two neighbors from the snowstorm that pummeled Boston yesterday. As I was clearing the sidewalk outside my house this morning, one neighbor stepped outside with her baby, and headed to her car. Her driveway was already cleared – thanks to our great neighbors,  Redbones restaurant and their dedicated staff (and snowblowers) – but the curb cut was plowed over. So I immediately moved over and cleared the snow so she could get out. Then, as I cleared my own driveway, I was sure to dig out and clear the snow off of my other neighbor’s car; we share a driveway. That’s just being neighborly. But the real heroes are at Redbones . They were snow blowing sidewalks all day yesterday, through the heart of the storm. We ate there last night, as the storm was dying down, in appreciation of their effort.

Book overload

There’s a certain romanticism about displaying an impressive library of books that reflect the depth and diversity of your interests. I’m over it, though. Truth be told, books take up a lot of physical space and the vast majority of those books I’ll never find the time to re-read. So why not spread some joy and knowledge by getting books into the hands of those want them? And why not be more efficient with our printing presses and raw materials? I feel good about getting books directly into the hands of someone who wants them, preventing books from going into landfills, and reducing the need to print more dead trees. For over a decade, I’ve belonged to several book swapping websites, which operate on the premise of give a book/get a book. My favorite, for a time, was . In their old incarnation, you could list the books you’re willing to part with and the books you’d like to receive, and they would match you for a direct 1:1 swap. Their secret sauce was they arranged for three-

Travel offsets

Business travel will be real test for this experiment in civics. Busy work days away from keyboard make it harder to put thought into a civic action. Today, I was in New York and pretty much onsite with a client nonstop through the whole day. To compound matters, there’s a winter storm coming so I changed my plans to head back to Boston today, a day earlier than expected. Heavy weather has become more a fact of life that we need to adapt to. Today, I bought carbon offsets to make up for my travel. Actually I looked at the footprint of my train travel on this calculator and realized it’s only 0.03 tons of carbon, round trip, amounting an $.018 offset. So I combined this trip with an upcoming London visit to offset a total of 1.21 tons through Terrapass . 

Popular vote

Yesterday, I wrote about living in deep blue Massachusetts. Consider this. In the post Reagan-era (1988), only two Democratic candidates for the presidency have lost the popular vote – and they’re both from Massachusetts. (That’d be Dukakis and Kerry, for the curious.) Every other Democratic candidate (B. Clinton x2, Gore, Obama x2, H. Clinton) has won the popular vote. It’s perhaps another clue as to how out-of-sync the Commonwealth is with the rest of the nation. To many, the Al Gore and Hillary Clinton electoral college losses are also a sign that the electoral college is a poor way to elect a president. Those are the two only candidates to win the popular vote and lose the election since 1988. And I agree that the electoral college process is broken, but not for reasons of partisanship. Frankly, I just think it makes what should be a simple process – one person, one vote – into a bizarrely complicated ritual, with different rules in different states. I’m not reflexively  in favor

Swing districts

I live in the bluest of blue states, Massachusetts, famously the only state to support George McGovern for president in 1972 . One of my senators is Elizabeth Warren, the firebrand who is a darling of progressive democrats. And I like that about her, although, I don’t always agree with her policy prescriptions. Living in a deep blue state means my ability to influence national policy is limited. I’m not saying that I don’t engage locally; I do. I just know that the marginal impact of my phone call to Elizabeth Warren’s office is close to zero. Today, I signed up with Swing Left . Swing Left identifies the closest “swing district” in Congress, and tells you how to contact and help Democratic candidates in that district. In my case, that’s New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. They’ll email me periodically with opportunities to get involved. I also signed up with Sister District , which similarly attempts to connect volunteers with “down-ballot” elections in state and local races w

Super Bowl Sunday

I haven’t taken a day off yet, and Super Bowl Sunday will be no exception. What to do on a day that’s often devoted to escapism through sports? Here’s an idea I came across yesterday. Some fans of the Patriots feel conflicted by the political leanings and friendships of the leaders of the team – notably Tom Brady and Bill Belichek. One writer, Josh Gondelman, decided he’d ease his soul by linking donations to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to the Patriots success. For every touchdown scored by New England, he’ll donate $100; for every field goal $50. With the hashtag #AGoodGame, the idea is trending on Twitter. Because of Tom Brady’s garbage politics, I’m donating $100 for every Patriots TD and $50 for every FG to the @NAACP_LDF . #AGoodGame — Josh Gondelman (@joshgondelman) February 3, 2017 For the record, I happen to be a Giants fan, despite the fact that I live in Boston. Today, I pledged to donate $10 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for every touchdown scored by either team, and $5

Investment advice

My friend Paul Sullivan wrote a timely article for the New York Times today: “Profits? Nice, but for These Investors, Conscience Matters More.” To be sure, he writes the Wealth Matters column and my assets aren’t in the same league as the investors that he writes about. But a conscience is on my investing mind, as well. Socially responsible investment makes up 28% of global assets under management (AUM), according to Business Insider . It’s an important way to vote with your wallet and to participate, if only in a very small way, in the governance of organizations. Last December, I rotated the holdings of my retirement account into socially conscious mutual funds. Notably, this included moving about half the account from S&P500 index funds to the Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund, and then layering in thematic funds like the Parnassus Fund, TIAA-CREF Social Choice Bond Fund and a few others. I’m a little nervous – after all, I’m staking my retirement on this decision – but the funds

Coffeehouse culture

Once upon a time, coffeehouses were the place to go to discuss business news, political gossip, scientific breakthroughs or artistic developments. This was particularly true in 17th and 18th century England : cafes were essentially the social media of the day, not only for sharing but also as birthplaces of dissent and organized citizen movements. So it was particularly poignant to hear Starbucks announce it would hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. To be clear, that hiring plan is worldwide, so there’s no expectation of displacing current workers or replacing hiring programs currently in place for, say, military veterans or at-risk youth. But Starbucks’s announcement was a pointed response to the demonization of refugees. Sprudge, a coffee industry trade publication, also organized its own event this weekend: “ A Nationwide Coffee Fundraiser For The ACLU .” Sprudge will match the first $500 of donations to the ACLU raised or made by participating coffeeshops. Today, I wen

Climate reality training

“There has never been a more important time to speak truth to power,” Al Gore told the Sundance audience two weeks ago, imploring for the political climate to shift on climate action. Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Sequel , had just premiered at the film festival. “In order to fix the climate crisis we have to fix the democracy crisis,” he added, according to Variety . [youtube] Today, I signed up with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. What I’m most interested in are the three-day Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings they provide, to enable ordinary folks like me speak more persuasively about climate action. If I get the opportunity to attend, I most certainly will.


The Oxford Dictionaries named “ post-truth ” their word of the year for 2016. Ad agencies are talking about campaigns for a “post-fact economy.” And, yes, “alternative facts” have somehow become a thing. If truth is stranger than fiction, post-truth is stranger yet. Today, I signed up for the March for Science , after they finally picked a date – April 22 – which un-coincidentally happens to be Earth Day.  I may even head to Washington for this one. For the record, I don’t believe that “reality has a well-known liberal bias,” as Stephen Colbert joked at the White House Correspondents dinner. Liberals have their own blind spots, for example, around GMOs .