04/02/17 8:03pm

This week I want to talk about just one thing: Taxes. They’re due two weeks from Tuesday on April 18 (here’s the story behind the unusual date). As self-employed person, writing out a big check to the government is never my favorite moment in April, but this year I’m particularly dreading it.

In general, I’m pro tax. I say that as someone who has to save for and write five-figure checks each year. I really feel those dollars, way more than back in my W-2 days. But I’m happy to pay for libraries and public transportation and grants for the arts, even for art I don’t like or understand. I want teachers to get paid more and I want health care for all. Hell, I want six months of leave for new parents and all the social “entitlements.” I want to live in a society that believes that government can and should create a solid structure in which humans flourish.

(more…)

03/26/17 9:06pm

Apologies for the interruption in #actiontrumpshate service. I’ll admit it, I just could not read another article about politics or look at another photo of Trump in the Oval Office for a few weeks. It made me feel tired and sad and that’s ridiculous because ultimately, I have a home, and I can afford to heat it and feed my family and now we even get to keep our ACA coverage. Letting a tyrant as petty as Trump stop me from sitting on the couch and pontificating to you all on my Apple product is as first world a problem as they come.

Last week we got the best news we’ve had since the election. The Republicans blew it. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. The Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Tom Price all those guys wasted mountains of political capital and still couldn’t come up with a bill that was appealing to much of anyone, that would actually serve the American people or that they could pass.

You know what the best thing about was? They did it to themselves, with a little help from us, the people. Republicans in the House were reluctant to sign on to a piece of legislation that so many constituents had so vocally opposed. Calling, sending postcards, showing up a town meetings, sending faxes, we’re doing it. And this should give us great hope.

What now? We have to keep the pressure on our elected officials, keep standing up and speaking out, and start looking toward the 2018 midterm elections. But most of all, we need to take this opportunity not to gloat, but to re-energize. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been experiencing late winter, Trump-related ennui. There’s a lot to dig into right now, some of it even genuinely progressive, not just playing defense.

Bernie Sanders told a crowd of 1000 at town hall meeting in Vermont this weekend that he has plans to introduce a single-payer bill in the Senate. You get to call your senators’ offices and either voice your support, or your support for strengthening the ACA–by lowering the Medicare eligibility age, by importing drugs from Canada (Sanders and a few other Democratic Senators, including New Jersey dream boat, Cory Booker introduced a bill in February proposing just that). Sanders isn’t likely to succeed with a single payer system at this point, but by pushing to the left measures like lowering the Medicare age and finding ways to resist big pharma and fine tuning the ACA may become more possible.

And yes, the Republicans failed because the ultra-conservative Tea Party types thought the terrible bill that would have stripped tens of millions of people of health insurance and important protections against corporate greed and healthcare chaos was too liberal. There are plenty of moderate Republicans in the House though, who are very relieved that they didn’t have to vote because they know how angry it would have made their constituents, and that’s thanks to the level of political engagement that is the new normal. Let’s keep it rolling, this week and forever. (more…)

03/21/17 1:43pm

In early February the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to divest from Wells Fargo Bank because of its financial backing of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. While your checking and savings accounts may seem paltry compared to the assets of the 18th largest city in the U.S., moving your money to a credit union is an incredibly effective way of investing in your local economy and taking your hard earned dollars out of the hands of corporate interests.

Large corporate banks like Wells Fargo, Chase, Citibank and TD Bank use customers’ deposits to invest in a wide range of ventures, some of which are risky, divisive and take money outside of the communities where customers live. We’re talking an oil pipeline that threatens drinking water and Native American sovereignty; we’re talking mortgage-backed securities; we’re talking investments that you the consumer are never consulted about and may never know about, in companies and with entities you would never intentionally support.

Unlike so many thorny political and financial issues of conscience though, there is a good answer for this dilemma: Join a credit union.

“It’s like shopping local,” says Michael Mattone, the vice president of public relations for Municipal Credit Union. “We’re the shop local of banking.”

(more…)

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02/28/17 3:49pm

 

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Lent starts tomorrow. I’m not asking you to go to church or subscribe to any particular religious beliefs, or any beliefs at all. Just as the bunnies and eggs of Easter map onto pagan spring fertility rites, we can take other traditions, rituals and celebrations and find inspiration in them.

Lent is traditionally a time spent reflecting on the life and work of Jesus Christ, who, from a certain perspective, was one of the original grassroots organizers. He definitely did not care for the financial services industry. This year it seems fitting to spend it thinking deeply about how our own daily actions fit into our larger communities, into the larger world.

What do I mean?

Many of us exist in this place where we buy our way out of moral dilemmas. This philosophy, which has been a powerful agent of change in the food world, really works best when you’re talking about essentials. We have to eat, so buying food that creates positive change for the environment, for workers, for the larger agricultural economy, is the right thing to do if you can afford it. When it comes to non-essentials, like 90% of the clothing we wear, like conveniences and indulgences, it’s a little less clear. Even if you buy green, organic cotton t-shirts made locally the real question isn’t whether the t-shirt is better than the fast fashion version. The question is, did you really need that t-shirt? What does it mean to be in a position of power where you are able to make that choice? Is this the set of choices that you would like to define your life?

Now, I’m not saying luxuries are bad. I just bought a new dress I didn’t need for a wedding. I love watching procedural dramas, even terrible ones that are basically an advertisement for a police state. I’m thinking about getting up to eat a Thin Mint right now. The Girl Scouts illustrate this perfectly, those cookies are a luxury masquerading as a good deed, right?

In my experience, living in a city, looking for convenience and ways to treat myself as a reward for the work it takes to live in a city (yes, that’s tautological loop), there are two dominant types luxury to think about here: the $20 mani-pedi and the $200 t-shirt; the $4 coffee and the $200 farm-to-table dinner. Amazon Prime might embody both of these and a whole slew of other modern problems as well.

The mani-pedi, at least in New York City, is the perfect example of an affordable luxury that many of us have indulged in, myself included, without really examining what we were participating in. Instead of wondering how the service could be so cheap, we let ourselves believe that those small, mostly Asian women, literally kneeling in front of us and trimming our toenails were being treated at least okay. It turns out that for the most part, no, they are not being treated okay, or really even like humans at all. Cheap things, whether you’re talking about junk food or dresses sewn by children, are rarely actually cheap.

The $200 eco t-shirt has a different set of problems. I’m all for buying nice things and supporting small businesses and if all cotton was grown organically the health of our planet, and textile workers, would improve considerably. But there’s another way to look at this purchase, too. We all have too many things. Even if they spark joy. You are an economic actor and that $200 you spent could have gone elsewhere, to a charity, to making your shopping list even more local and sustainable, to your savings account so that you can work toward quitting your job in a lucrative industry you hate so you can work at something lower-paying that you love. You get the idea.

Buying our way out of moral dilemmas can be a good thing–think back to food, and hey, we do need to wear clothing. But when that becomes our only tool, voting with our dollars, it’s limiting; it reinforces the idea that the most important thing about us is our consumer choices, our money and how we use it.  We are not just the sum of our bank accounts and all the convenience apps on our smartphones; we’re interconnected human beings and we put up a lot of filters between ourselves and others these days in the name of convenience. This Lent challenge is designed to help us reconnect to a sense of shared purpose and intellectual engagement–that we have more important aspects of ourselves to develop and enrich the world with than our sense of personal style.

For Lent, let’s each chose something like the $20 mani-pedi problem–a small luxury that upon deeper reflection makes the world a less kind, just, interesting or vital place when we partake in it, and quit that activity. Other things that you could argue belong here include social media, reality television, fast fashion and almost anything you can do from your phone. Many Catholic grandmas I know used to give up chocolate for Lent. Google “chocolate and slavery” and that choice suddenly has more weight. I vowed never to buy anything again after moving last fall and then fell victim to post-holiday sales. No more shopping until after Lent.

For $200 t-shirt problem, just identify one way that you’re buying your way out of a moral dilemma and really examine it. Yes, those gorgeous sandals are made from local leather by artisans paid a living wage. But, do you actually need them? Is there something more truly liberating you can do with that money? They’ll still be there after Easter Sunday, if you decide you need them. Or, think about the time you spend watching television. Is there something more personally gratifying you can do with that time? I’m by no means an anti-TV activist. But, I do find that reading at night makes me sleep better and makes me feel more alive than watching television, especially my guilty-pleasure cop shows. For Lent I’m going to stop with the social media (that isn’t for work). I waste at least an hour a day scrolling through Facebook and trolling Instagram that could be spent plotting a garden, reading a novel or going for a walk.

Just sit with a question of your choosing, think about what you are making room for in your life, for the six weeks of Lent. As they say in yoga, see what comes up.

Here’s what to do this week to keep defending, and even expanding a more just and peaceful world. (more…)

02/20/17 2:59pm

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In thinking about Action Trumps Hate for this week I bookmarked dozens of stories on my phone and laptop, because there is such a blinding whirlwind of bad ideas being put into action every single day. Just now, while writing that sentence I remembered all over again that Scott Pruitt is heading up the EPA now. Say goodbye to breathing “air” and drinking “water,” folks.

The theme that emerged from the chaos of stories about non-existent terror attacks in Sweden, whatever that press conference was supposed to be and all things Kellyanne Conway was immigration.

A clear picture is beginning to emerge. The Trump administration is actively working to reduce the number of immigrants and refugees in the country through a two-pronged approach. One, by limiting the number of new immigrants coming in to the country by reducing the number of refugees we accept and attempting to enforce a travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations, leveraging Islamophobia to do so. Two, by detaining and deporting immigrants who are in the country illegally, whether or not they have committed a crime, leveraging the deep socioeconomic divide in the country and working class despair to do so. (more…)

02/17/17 1:25pm

Yesterday immigrants, both legal and undocumented, went on strike around the U.S., underscoring their contribution to the workforce and the country. Some McDonalds shut down. The Davis Museum at Wellesley College, where Hillary Clinton was valedictorian in 1969 removed every piece of art created or donated by an immigrant from its halls, leaving many spots bare.

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement continue to defy state officials from red and blue states alike in an immigration sweep, the largest since Trump took office and one that many advocate groups are saying is more significant that what they’ve seen in the recent past. According to a report from immigration advocacy organization New York Immigration Coalition, 40 were arrested by ICE agents across the New York area in a five day span, and 600 across the country.

According to The Nation,  “One hundred and sixty immigrants were arrested in the Los Angeles area; some 200 undocumented immigrants were arrested in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina this past week….Another 200 people were arrested throughout the Midwest: in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin.”

ICE claims that said raids are, as a spokeswoman told radio station WNYC, “ not unusual for a week long operation’,” and that  “95 percent of them had criminal records.’”ICE spokeswoman Rachel Yong Yow told the Nation on

New York Immigration Coalition spokeswoman Thanu Yakupitiyage believes ICE is exaggerating the number of those arrested with previous criminal records. As she explained in an email to Brooklyn Based, “They aren’t “raids” necessarily–but they are targeted enforcement pick-ups by ICE. If you read the memo [a leaked memo NYIC obtained], you’ll see that the way ICE justifies it is as operations targeting people with “criminal convictions.” However, people beyond those with convictions have also been swept up in some of the arrests.” (more…)

02/12/17 9:41pm

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I’ve decided to start going to Planned Parenthood again. I moved recently and I haven’t found a gynecologist to call my own yet, and while reading about the anti-choice rallies urging the government to “defund” PP last week I realized that I could support it with my body, as a patient. This feels right in so many ways.

I owe my life to Planned Parenthood. Not in the medical sense, but the quality of my life today was made possible by having access to birth control I could afford when I was younger. For many years I didn’t have health insurance and having Planned Parenthood as a resource meant that I knew I could at least get a Pap smear and a basic check-up. As a human female who has spent the past few decades having sex with a variety of human males, there’s just no way that without birth control I could have gone to college, worked approximately 46 different jobs in my twenties, lived in different cities, gone to graduate school, started a business and all the other great stuff I chose to do, footloose and fancy free-like, before I finally had my son at age 38. I recognize what a privilege this is and I also recognize that I’m a way better mom than I would have been at 20, 25, 30 or even 35. Everybody wins, especially me.

The Planned Parenthood in Downtown Brooklyn is very large and very efficient. The waiting room has a distinct resemblance to the DMV. Between the waiting room and your exam you linger in a sort of medical purgatory where you pee in a cup and carry it past a dozen other women doing the same thing in a bathroom with all the charm of a high school locker room. But then you get to your appointment and you are treated like a real live human person worthy of care.

I can’t tell you how rare and important this is, and I probably don’t have to. (more…)

02/07/17 11:17am
PS 123 in Queens. Photo: NYC DOE

PS 123 in Queens. Photo: NYC DOE

Today the Senate, plus Vice President Mike Pence, voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos is by many accounts the worst possible Secretary of Education and her policies will affect students in New York City, the only question is how.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, perhaps realizing that he’s running for reelection, has presented himself as a progressive defender of civil rights, including the right to education. As Chalkbeat reported, he stated that the latest New York City budget was devised “with the assumption of profound challenges from Washington.”

What he didn’t explicitly outline was how profoundly those challenges might impact the NYC Department of Education.

Dr. James Kemple, Executive Director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at NYU Steinhardt, told Brooklyn Based that “the role of the federal government in education is pretty narrow.” Current federal education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed in 2016, and, Dr. Kemple points out, gives states much greater discretion over their education budgets and educational standards than its predecessor, No Child Left Behind. It would usually take an act of Congress to rewrite legislation like ESSA, but with Trump’s penchant for executive orders, it’s hard to say what the future of education policy from a federal vantage point will be.

Federal money makes up only about 10% of the New York City’s DOE operating budget, but 10% of $23 billion is a significant sum. Trump has demonstrated something like eagerness to yank federal funding from Sanctuary Cities, like New York, including the provision to do so in  the executive order he signed on Jan. 25, though the legality of cutting off federal education funding is unclear.

We spoke to several education policy experts for clues on how DeVos and the Trump administration might affect New York City public schools, which we’ve outlined below. If slashing funding for schools with a high proportion of low-income students, taking away reduced-price lunches, and laying the groundwork for more charter schools and school vouchers aren’t part of your New York values, we also have some ideas for how to fight back. (more…)

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02/05/17 2:58pm

school1

There’s been a lot of talk about how Democrats have voted in the cabinet confirmation process this week, calling out senators who have voted yes on Trump’s picks. I believe that on this matter reasonable people can disagree; it really is quite rare for nominees to be rejected, but then, these are unusual times and unusual nominees, many of them. Playing politics is, literally, senators’ jobs, and it’s not that surprising that many of them are more interested in confirming the devil they know (Ben Carson) than rolling the dice and getting a new, worse devil as a new nominee. But let’s be clear about one thing: there is no worse nominee for the position of Secretary of Education than Betsy DeVos. Let us count the ways:

She doesn’t understand or seem to care about basic education policy matters.

She doesn’t understand or seem to care about special education programs.

It appears that she plagiarized some of the written portions of the questions posted to her by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Her many, many conflicts of interest are not just financial, though those alone should be enough to disqualify her. Her family’s money has been used to do little more than advance extreme right wing agendas and her brother Erik Prince is the founder of Blackwater–yes, the vile mercenary group.

So what are we to do?

The Senate vote is Monday (the calendar indicates it will happen after noon), so there’s not a lot of time left. Still, call, call, call. Now is the time to talk to friends and family who have Republican senators if you do not have one to call your own. Write a script for them and email it with the phone number. Offer to speak for them if they initiate a three-way call to the senator’s office. Make the script personal, talk about a child you know who deserves a real education. Talk about your own excellent public education.

It’s also time to get creative. If you have a child in your life get your best photo of them (ask their parents’ permission first!), and tweet it at every Republican senator with a Twitter account, or post to their Facebook walls. It’s a public way to register your opinion. If you’re not comfortable with a photo, just use a name and say, my daughter Libby, my nephew Frank–to personalize this is the point.

Here are a couple options:

This is my son. He deserves a SecED who believes public education is an American value. All children do. #dumpdevos

All American children deserve to be educated, not monetized. @BetsyDevos #dumpdevos

You get the idea.

Here are a few to start with @SenDanSullivan is from Alaska and the other Republican senator from the state, Lisa Murkowski, has vowed to vote no. @SenJohnMcCain occasionally shows some independence from his party and good sense, and @SenBobCorker from Tennessee has been floated as someone who could be turned.

This is how much Betsy Devos or her family has contributed to each senator on this list. Graph:

This is how much Betsy Devos or her family has contributed to each senator on this list. Source: Center for American Progress; Every Voice; Federal Election Commission.

If you don’t like the tactic of using cute kid mugs to shame these Republicans into voting in the interest of public school children, then use their own fundraising against them. Here’s a chart and an article about how much all of these Republicans have accepted over the years from Betsy DeVos and her family. Tweet something like:

.@SenJohnMcCain @BetsyDeVos paid you $50,600, but you work for American children #dumpdevos

Two different campaigns have been started to “buy” senate votes. The GoFundMe started by a Philadelphia teacher to buy Senator Pat Toomey’s vote against DeVos (@SenToomey) has raised almost $70,000 (the money will go to several Philly-area educational resources). A similar campaign in North Carolina has raised $6,000 (this will go to Public School Forum of North Carolina) to buy Senator Richard Burr’s (@SenatorBurr) vote. His last tweet was about the Puppy Bowl. Tweet at both of these senators about all this. Link to the GoFundME campaigns. Get it out there for transparency, if nothing else.

Here’s what your week looks like, and no, it’s not pretty. (more…)

01/31/17 10:36am
Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves. --Hussain ibn Ali Photo: Fatima Alvi

Fatima Alvi  volunteers with Who is Hussain?, a group inspired by the life of Hussain inb Ali, who said, “Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.” Photo: Fatima Alvi

When Linda Sarsour spoke at the Women’s March on Washington saying that she was “unapologetically Muslim American, unapologetically Palestinian American, unapologetically from Brooklyn, New York,” she was not wearing a pink pussy hat. The march co-chair wore black and white headscarves, layered and tucked into a black jacket, instead. Despite Sarsour’s simple elegance in a sea of wild fuchsia and deep magenta, to some, her choice of headgear made her a far more potent target for hate.

It didn’t take long for headlines like, “Women’s March Organizer Linda Sarsour Makes Islamic State Signal,” to start popping up on far-right and white nationalist websites, like Jihad Watch where that post appeared on Tuesday, Jan. 24, just days after the march. The hashtag #IMarchWithLinda began to trend across social media, as supporters rallied behind the activist.

As a public figure who wears the hijab, Sarsour has been called a terrorist, a friend to ISIS, and a supporter of Sharia law in the past, but following the march, she was attacked with renewed vigor. She may be highly visible as an activist and executive director of the Arab American Society of New York, but she is not the only hijabi in the city who has been singled out for being identifiably Muslim in recent months.

In a post-election climate in that has seen an uptick in anti-Muslim bias crimes, and with President Trump’s executive order to suspend visas from seven Muslim-majority countries last week, some Muslim women have considered changing the style of hijab that they wear, donning less distinctive headgear like hats, or simply not wearing a head-covering at all, out of concern for personal safety as Islamophobia becomes more pronounced. (more…)