Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ann on BBC TV

Watch Ann deliver a succinct soundbite as an Obama supporter in this BBC news report

Her comment occurs at 1.33 in the piece.

I Will Become an American

After watching the swearing-in of President Obama, I was in tears.

This is not about my admiration for Barack Obama even though I remain steadfast in my belief in his potential to become one of America's most inspiring and most accomplished Presidents.

This is about my admiration for the American people. This reflects my deep respect for a country that can rise above its historical failures and elect a President like Barack Obama.

I emigrated from Britain in 1985. During a trip to Britain in 1988, I came to a stark realization that I felt more at home in America. That is the key reason why I have chosen to live in America for over 20 year.

Yesterday, I felt so proud of the American people that I now want to become one of them.

There was a moment yesterday when I realized this. I noticed that I did not tear up during President Obama's inaugural speech even though I found it eloquent and moving.

I started crying during the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

The next time I tear up to that anthem, I want it to be at my swearing-in as an American citizen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Was Mugged Yesterday

Yesterday, I was mugged just a block away from my home. I live on Capitol Hill in northeast Washington, DC. It was at 4.30pm in the afternoon in sight of several witnesses.

I was carrying groceries in one hand and dry-cleaning in the other. From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw someone close behind me. I didn't look around. The next moment, I felt an arm wrap around my neck from behind.

I could see people on the other side of the street. I yelled for the police. I was on my back. I think that I saw one of the assailants notice my front left pocket wallet. I rolled over on my front, pulled out my "fake wallet" from my back pocket, and yelled: "here's my wallet." They took it.

I felt a couple of medium blows to my head, which I quickly covered with my arms. Then the assailants ran off. I didn't see them but the witnesses on the other side of the road said it was three young men.

The muggers ran away. They only got away with my "fake wallet" which contained two dollars and pieces of cardboard that look like credit cards.

Aside from minor scrapes and bruises, I'm fine. I was not robbed of my real wallet, cell, or PDA. I escaped with even my clothes undamaged.

My neighbors on the block called the police, gave the officers a good description of the muggers, and took good care of me while the police arrived.

The patrol officer took the report in a very polite, helpful, and efficient way. I am going to email his commander to commend him.

Then two of my neighbors walked me the block over to my house. They were disgusted by the youths mugging people in the neighborhood. One of them said: "that kid has a bullet with his name on it." I am going to buy them dinner next week.

I am somewhat amazed that I had the presence of mind to hand over the "fake wallet." I'm definitely buying a replacement.

I read the Washington Post police blotter in the Thursday "DC Extra" every week. I like to keep track of any crime in my neighborhood. I had noticed a week or so ago a report of kids in a car mugging two people around the same time two blocks south.

I posted my account of the crime on local community listservs. Someone then posted it to the local Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) listserv. Finally, at 11.30pm that night, I was amazed that the DC Chief of Police Cathy Lanier took the time to reply the posting. This is what she posted:

Thanks for posting this to the 1D listserv. This senseless crime is very unfortunate. It was ingenious thinking to have the empty wallet. I am also very glad that this victim was not badly injured and that community members assisted. I have been given more details on this and will reach out to the victim. Inspector Robinson and I will also aggressively follow-up on this and make sure officers are working the area to catch this kind of activity.

Cathy Lanier
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department
Washington, DC 20001

I hope that, by sharing my story with my neighbors, it will help them avoid a mugging. I also hope that it will help the police catch the assailants and make our streets safer.

However, I would not want the MPD to spend too much time on my case. Aside from a couple of scrapes and bruises, I am fine. The muggers only got away with my "fake wallet" that two dollars and a bunch of cardboard posing as credit cards. Other people are victims of much more serious crimes every day. I hope that the MPD does not focus on my case to the detriment of much more serious crimes.

I will be even more alert when walking in my neighborhood. I never wear my Ipod. I visibly scan the neighborhood as I walk down the street and look in the eyes of any suspicious individuals approaching me. I rarely use my cell phone on the street and I may stop doing so altogether.

In addition to the folks that walked me home, a neighbor who read the story on the listserv just called to see if I was all right. Despite the crime, this remains the most closely-knit community in which I have ever lived. That reassures me greatly.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Defend the U.S. Constitution

Check the signatures of me and Ann on the ad "A Declaration for Our Times," in today's New York Times!

You can see the ad with its nearly 600 signatories here:

To quote the campaign:

"The declaration will help bring the administration's constitutional violations into focus. Just as importantly, it will promote the People's Campaign for the Constitution (PCC) as a means for people to act locally, within community coalitions, to hold incumbents and candidates for congressional seats accountable for the oaths they must take to defend the Constitution. Correcting the unbalanced concentration of executive branch power that this administration has amassed will be extremely challenging, no matter who wins the presidential election."

"We ask you to support this grassroots organizing and education campaign by bringing it to your community. With the Constitution on our side, we can reverse the freedom-robbing government actions and policies that are threatening our nation's future. Please sign the pledge for the People's Campaign for the Constitution if you have not already done so. Thank you again for supporting the declaration. We will mail you a copy of the ad with our thanks."

"Please forward widely."

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Address: 8 Bridge Street, Suite A, Northampton, MA 01060
Telephone: 413-582-0110
Fax: 413-582-0116

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bush and Burma

Cartoon is copyright of Studio Bendib.

Readers of this blog know that I'm deeply critical of the Bush Administration.

Nevertheless, I do praise President Bush for his Administration's strong support for the Burmese democracy movement. I consider Bush's policy on Burma to be one of his very few but deserved achievements. His Administration's increase in support to battle AIDS in Africa is another rare bright spot in his record.

I have lately been on a couple of progressive radio shows to talk about the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. I praise France, Britain, and the United States for their advocacy of providing humanitarian relief over the objections of Burma's ruling generals. While the left-wing magazine, The Nation, supports air drops of aid, American progressives remain very wary. For many (mostly good) reasons, they don't trust the Bush Administration to deploy the U.S. military to transport humanitarian aid into Burma despite the success of a similar initiative in Aceh, Indonesia, after the Asian tsunami.

It is not appropriate to compare Bush's botched response to Hurricane Katrina to the Burmese generals' corrupt and murderous behavior in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. General Than Shwe's response to the cyclone has included stealing aid and refusing to let aid workers and journalists into the cyclone-affected region. This constitutes a crime against humanity of a level and character that is simply not comparable to the response to Katrina. The comparison is inaccurate. It is also quite offensive in the way it devalues the military regime's complicity in the staggering but avoidable destitution, disease and deaths in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

That is why I am saddened by the views expressed in the above cartoon. To suggest that President Bush is comparable to a brutal military dictator like Than Shwe is frankly repulsive to me.



Monday, May 19, 2008

Burma's Generals Are The Problem (Times Two)

There's another reason why Burma's military regime is the main problem in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

An interview with Burma specialist Sean Turnell in today's Irrawaddy notes the regime is not only blocking international aid, it is also refusing to spend its own considerable reserves.

Sean Turnell notes:

"I think it’s important to remember, of course, that the regime currently has around $4 billion in foreign exchange reserves that they got from the gas sales. In kyat terms that’s over 4 trillion kyat. So the idea that they’re giving 5 billion kyat in relief funds is the most extraordinarily ungenerous thing imaginable. Also of course, this is the people’s money; it’s not the generals’ money at all. They’ve accumulated all of Burma’s vast export revenue from the gas, which should belong to the people, so the idea that they’re handing back is an extraordinarily poor thing and it unfortunately summarizes so much of what the regime’s response has been to this cyclone."


"The Burmese regime is currently earning just over $100 million every single month. If we have a look at the public accounts, what we see is an incredible accounting trick—the regime has logged into the public accounts the gas revenue according to the official exchange rate, which undervalues it by 200 times. Effectively, that means that $3 billion is sitting somewhere. Now where it’s sitting is the interesting question, but what we do know is that it’s sitting somewhere where Burmese people can’t get access to it."

"So either it’s sitting offshore or it’s sitting in the accounts of the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank or the Central Bank. But it looks like it’s only accessible by Than Shwe and perhaps one or two others; it’s not being used for the benefit of the Burmese people, which of course is critical at the moment. This sort of money can do an enormous amount with regard to the cyclone disaster, but it seems to be deliberately withheld."


"Well I think we can expect the money to be used in the way they’ve always used foreign exchange—for things like the new capital at Naypyidaw, for the nuclear reactor, if that goes ahead. I’m sure people will remember the 1,000 percent pay increases for senior military personnel and various other wasteful capital projects like that. They are, in a sense, glorifying the regime rather than relieving the suffering, which is certainly the most important way the money could be used at the moment."

In the interview, entitled "A Shattered Rice Bowl," Turnell describes the long-term damage to Burma's principal rice-growing region by the cyclone.

Unless the Burma's generals stop blocking foreign aid and open up their own plentiful coffers, they will cause an additional hundreds of thousands of deaths as well as wrecking Burma's future capacity to grow its own food.


This article is cross-posted on the blog of the International Campaign for the Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma.



Sunday, May 18, 2008

Burma's Crony Capitalists Cash In

In her book "The Shock Doctrine," Naomi Klein describes how politically-connected corporations obtain lucrative government contracts in the aftermath of the disruption of wars and natural disasters. This is sadly already occurring in Burma.

Burma is ruled by an unaccountable and authoritarian military junta. In 1989, Burma's ruling generals shucked off their veneer of "socialism" and announced that they would supposedly move to a market economy. This "sham capitalism" has proved to no different in substance than the regime's earlier "sham socialism." Both are just a cover for the military's continued dominance of political and economic power.

The early 1990s saw the rise of Burma's crony capitalists. These politically-connected friends of the junta used their personal contacts and outright corruption to form symbiotic business relationships with key Burmese generals.

The military junta is now giving contracts to many of its favored companies for reconstruction in the disaster areas of Cyclone Nargis. The regime has awarded many contracts to crony businessmen under the current financial sanctions imposed by the
United States, European Union, and Australia

Informed sources say that the regime has awarded
contracts to rebuild buildings in cyclone-devastated Labutta Township. These contracts have been won by Ayar Shwe War Company, owned by General Thura Shwe Mann's son Aung Thet Mann, and Zaykabar, owned by Khin Shwe, who is targeted by US sanctions. Several years ago, Zaykabar was reported to be a front for the regime's contracts with American PR firms hired to put a smiling face on the junta's deserved reputation for repression.

Stories are also circulating that the Htoo Companies, owned by Tay Zar, who is also targeted by US sanctions, and Diamond Mercury Company were awarded contracts to rebuild in
Bogale Township, which will be monitored by Brigadier-General Thein Aung.

Asia World Group of Companies owned by Steven Law, who is also under the
US financial sanctions and is even reported to have business links to Burma's drug trade, has won a contract to rebuild schools and offices in Kungyangone Township.

Needless to say, these crony capitalists have obtained free access to the cyclone-affected regions of Burma while the military is actively restricting access to those areas to aid workers and journalists.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Myanmar's killing fields of neglect

Thelma Young, one of our excellent staff at the U.S. Campaign for Burma, sent me this article. It speaks for itself.

Shawn Crispin is one of Southeast Asia's most prominent journalists

“As the international community looks on in stunned disbelief, Myanmar's junta has again invoked it's own perceived "right to kill", which the ruling generals have historically and frequently used against its own citizens to maintain their brutal grip on power. As the UN dithers, the fact remains that only the USmilitary now has the power to avert a wider human catastrophe.

Myanmar's killing fields of neglect
By Shawn W Crispin
Asia Times Online, May 16, 2008

BANGKOK - With an estimated two million people at risk of death by disease, deprivation or starvation and the scant amount of foreign aid that has entered the country diverted from those most in need, Myanmar's worst case humanitarian scenario is now playing out in full view of the international community.

As the death toll mounts and the United Nations futilely negotiates with the country's ruling generals to open Myanmar's borders and allow a multinational response to the Cyclone Nagris disaster, the moral case for a unilateral US military-led humanitarian intervention has grown.

Certain US officials have argued behind closed doors for a military response to the disaster, one that would allow the US navy and marines on standby in nearby waters to bypass the diplomatic dithering at the UN Security Council and distribute aid directly to desperate storm victims. Myanmar ally China has predictably blocked the global body from invoking a "right to protect" principle, underscoring the cynicism of Beijing's commercially driven foreign policy.

Yet so far the UN and US have played by the junta's rules, sending aid in by air force cargo planes toYangon airport and allowing military officials to handle in-country distribution. It's altogether unclear what percentage of that limited amount of aid has actually reached victims, and how much has been diverted for political purposes to junta loyalists.

Despite the belated shipments, European Union officials say that famine is a growing possibility for the worst-hit areas, what some are beginning to characterize as "Myanmar's killing fields of neglect". The official understated death toll is now up around 38,500, with an additional 27,800 considered missing; one United Kingdom official and aid agencies have revised up that statistic to around 200,000, double the UN's previous 100,000 dead and missing estimate.

It's unclear how many of those new estimated deaths could have been avoided with a rapid international response to the crisis. Disaster relief experts earlier estimated that they had a 10-day window to reach victims with assistance to avoid a massive second wave of deaths. That assessment was predicated on the misguided notion that foreign aid and emergency personnel would be allowed into the country, which until now they have not.

On Thursday, the junta provisionally agreed to allow 160 Asian - not Western - relief personnel into the country, though their movements are expected to be tightly restricted to Yangon and its outlying townships. The junta has throughout the crisis insisted it has the situation under control, which by any humanitarian measure it woefully does not.

Authorities have simultaneously bid to cover up the scale of the disaster, both by cynically understating official casualty counts and through a Tuesday directive from Prime Minister Thein Sein to bar foreigners from entering the delta's worst-hit areas. It has by now become woefully apparent that the brutal regime is willing to allow potentially hundreds of thousands more to die rather than lose face in admitting the necessity of UN-led and US-delivered disaster assistance.

Instead, the military government continues to monopolize aid delivery, despite its utter lack of expertise and hardware to manage what if handled properly should be a massive search-and-rescue operation. One Western military official told Asia Times Online that Myanmar's military possesses only six sometimes functioning helicopters, nowhere near the size of the fleet needed to reach all those stranded in the delta's inaccessible coastal areas.

Death by corruption
There is a more troubling question of political will. As the death toll mounts, the regime advertently continues to prioritize aid delivery to regime loyalists, soldiers and their family members, apparently to avoid a possible revolt among the rank and file.

Foreign assistance earmarked for delivery to cyclone victims, including food, water and mosquito nets, have been hijacked and sold at inflated prices in local markets, according to a Western diplomat tracking events.

He said that some foreign aid, particularly high-quality Western-made mosquito nets and blankets, have been diverted and are now on sale in neighboring southwestern China, where consumer purchasing power is stronger than in Myanmar. "The government is stealing aid on arrival," said the diplomat. "Many ministers see this as a pay day, a godsend, for greasing their patronage networks."

While profiteering from the sale of supplies, the junta is handling the disaster more as a security than humanitarian crisis. Thousands of storm survivors have been rounded up in makeshift camps, where they are being treated more like prisoners than victims. The US Campaign for Burma, an advocacy group, says that those who have entered the military-run camps have subsequently not been allowed to leave or meet with outsiders.

Some say there is also an emerging ethnic dimension to the junta's lackluster response. One well-placed Western diplomat says that the junta has prioritized Buddhist Burmans over other ethnic and religious groups in its aid distribution. That skewed distribution, he contends, has been aimed in particular at the ethnic Karen, which made up a large percentage of the delta's population and through the Karen National Union have for decades waged a guerilla war for independence in nearby border areas.

At least one Western government is now considering in response to the junta's lame response - and potential passive ethnic cleansing policies - to deliver aid and supplies to border areas in Thailand, where several international relief organizations are already established. If done, it would inevitable lead to a mass migration of storm victims out of Myanmar into Thailand, a scenario Bangkok is clearly trying to avoid, not least through its well-publicized and early food aid donations to its allies in the junta.

By now, several diplomats, politicians and commentators have pointed to the UN's "responsibility to protect" principle as possible grounds to violate Myanmar's sovereignty and force aid upon the country, either through military air drops or supplies landed through offshore ships.

Unfortunately that won't happen any time soon due to China's intransigence and veto power on the Security Council. During a UN session earlier this week, China's deputy ambassador made a spirited case against invoking the principle to force aid on Myanmar, arguing preposterously that nobody invoked the principle when France suffered from a recent heat wave which killed thousands of its citizens.

Some now claim that the UN is playing a cagey "good cop, bad cop" routine with the junta, where some member states like France publicly argue for invoking the "right to protect", while other UN officials negotiate with the hard-line regime to allow in more international aid and workers, including apparently the 160 Asian relief workers the junta agreed to give visas to on Thursday.

Clearly that response is too little, too late, considering the huge scale of Myanmar's now intensifying humanitarian crisis. And as the military government pilfers and diverts an unknown but likely large proportion of the foreign aid so desperately needed by its own citizens, it's more readily argued that it's the junta that is playing the UN - not the other way around.

As the international community looks on in stunned disbelief, Myanmar's junta has again invoked it's own perceived "right to kill", which the ruling generals have historically and frequently used against its own citizens to maintain their brutal grip on power. As the UN dithers, the fact remains that only the USmilitary now has the power to avert a wider human catastrophe.

If ever there was an opportunity for the US to make moral use its military might, a humanitarian intervention in Myanmar is it.
Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor.


Naomi Klein on the Politics of Disaster in Burma

One of my favorite journalists and commentators, Naomi Klein, has just published an excellent article in The Nation.

Naomi Klein highlights why Burma's generals need to divert cyclone aid to its already hungry soldiers. Burma's paramount leader, Than Shwe, cannot afford to alienate the only force throughout Burma that holds weapons.

Key quote:

"None of this compares with the rage boiling over in Burma, where cyclone survivors have badly beaten at least one local official, furious at his failure to distribute aid. There have been dozens of reports of the Burmese junta taking credit for supplies sent by foreign countries. It turns out that they have been taking more than credit--in some cases they have been taking the aid. According to a report in Asia Times, the regime has been hijacking food shipments and distributing them among its 400,000 soldiers. The reason speaks to the threat the disaster poses to the very existence of the regime. The generals, it seems, are "haunted by an almost pathological fear of a split inside their own ranks...if soldiers are not given priority in aid distribution and are unable to feed themselves, the possibility of mutiny rises." Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, confirms that before the cyclone, the military was already coping with a wave of desertions."

"This relatively small-scale theft of food is fortifying the junta for its much larger heist--the one taking place via the constitutional referendum the generals have insisted on holding, come hell and high water. Enticed by high commodity prices, Burma's generals have been gorging off the country's natural abundance, stripping it of gems, timber, rice and oil. As profitable as this arrangement is, junta leader Gen. Than Shwe knows he cannot resist the calls for democracy indefinitely."

"Taking a page out of the playbook of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the generals have drafted a Constitution that allows for elections but guarantees that no future government will ever have the power to prosecute them for their crimes or take back their ill-gotten wealth. As Farmaner puts it, after elections the junta leaders "are going to be wearing suits instead of boots." The cyclone, meanwhile, has presented them with one last, vast business opportunity: by blocking aid from reaching the highly fertile Irrawaddy delta, hundreds of thousands of mostly ethnic Karen rice farmers are being sentenced to death. According to Farmaner, "that land can be handed over to the generals' business cronies" (shades of the beachfront land grabs in Sri Lanka and Thailand after the Asian tsunami). This isn't incompetence, or even madness. It's laissez-faire ethnic cleansing."

The regime has crossed another crucial line. The first was killing Burma's respected Buddhist monks. The second is mismanaging, diverting, and stealing aid for the cyclone victims. While it may not yet be apparent, the generals' power is gradually slipping from its grasp. There is now a new opportunity for the Burmese people - supported by us in the international community - to curb or do away with its callous regime.



Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cyclone Nargis in Burma (Myanmar): How You Can Help

As many of you know, I'm Co-chair of the board of directors of the U.S. Campaign for Burma:

Several of my friends have asked how they can best help the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their home, their family, and their livelihood in Burma (Myanmar).

Since the cyclone struck Burma, I've been working almost full-time on helping to provide access to aid for those affected. It's been a crash course for me in humanitarian relief in Burma. Here's what I've learned.

1. It is best to donate to small charities. The big charities (Red Cross, World Vision, etc.) have big publicity machines and are likely not hurting for donations. We should give our "smart money" to the most effective small charities who devote their money solely for relief and spend little to no money on fund-raising or overhead.

2. It is best to give to charities who were on the ground prior to the cyclone. They are experienced with Burma, already have a network of Burmese partners, and know how to best bypass the regime's rampant mismanagement, diversion, and blatant stealing of aid.

3. Please donate to political action as well as relief. The problem is not that there is insufficient aid. Aid is already piling up on the borders. The real problems is that the Burmese military regime is taking control of aid deliveries and diverting it to feed the army. (The regime is scared that their own troops are hungry and have weapons. The generals fear mutinies and even a large-scale insurrection by junior officers and rank-and-file soldiers.) The regime is also refusing access to the affected regions by aid workers and journalists. It will take political pressure on the regime to force them to let in the aid. That requires funding the organizations that are organizing the most effective political pressure.

Regarding aid, I do recommend Thirst Aid, which was inside Burma before the cyclone and has already been delivering water purification tablets. (Thirst Aid is a small charity run by a couple of experienced Burma aid activists in Oregon and has very little overhead.)

Foundation for the People of Burma was established by Hal Nathan, a San Francisco money manager and, I believe, Buddhist. This group has worked through monasteries inside Burma for several years.

Burma Lifeline is run by Tad and Inge Sargent, long-time Free Burma activists based in Boulder, Colorado.

Burma Border Projects is run by Michael Forhan, a long-time friend and comrade-in-arms. Based out of Worcester, MA, he has been bringing over medical supplies and medical professionals to the famous Dr. Cynthia's clinic Thai-Burma border. The doctors, dentists, nurses, and psychologists not only provide treatment but also provide training for "backpack doctors," who risk their lives to cross the border on foot into war zones in Burma and provide medical treatment.

The U.S. Campaign for Burma is raising money that people can earmark for relief. These funds are being passed though 100%. I cannot go into detail about the groups inside Burma to which we are directly sending the money. If the regime learned that we were giving money to those organizations, they would very likely steal the money and put the people in prison.

I would also recommend donations for the political work of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, Burma Campaign UK, and Canadian Friends of Burma. These do the most effective work in lobbying the United Nations, U.S. government and Congress as well as the European Union and its member governments to put pressure on the Burmese military regime to open up its borders for aid and for experienced aid workers.

Thank you for your consideration. Namaste.



Monday, September 03, 2007

You've a Heck of a Profile, Brownie

My friend and writer, Pagan Kennedy, has an essay, "A Space for Us," in this Sunday's New Times Book Review. She talk about her experiences on MySpace where she has been interacting with readers of her books in new ways.

I was amongst a group of her friends to whom she sent an amusing message about another networking website, LinkedIn, where I keep a profile.

In an email titled "Brownie, you've got a heck of a LinkedIn profile," Pagan wrote:

Hey friends who are on LinkedIn:

After spending way too much time procrastinating on the new "Myspace for suits," I made a fascinating discovery. Michael "You've Done a Heck of a Job," Brown has put his profile up on LinkedIn! Apparently he's looking for a heck of a new job. If you type "Michael Brown" into the LinkedIn search engine, you'll find him about four entries down. He lists himself as "Former Director of FEMA"!!! No shame!!!

So I asked him to be my LinkedIN friend. I will be really, truly, completely thrilled if I can one day boast Brownie as one of my contacts.

Out of curiosity, I did ask Michael Brown to be one of my LinkedIn contacts. To my surprise, an email quickly popped up in my inbox announcing that Brownie had indeed agreed to be my friend.

I don't know if this is the real Michael Brown. Certainly Facebook and MySpace are full of profiles claiming to be that of David Beckham, William Shakespeare, Willie Wonka, and Saint John the Baptist. However, LinkedIn is a professional networking site with, I expect, a certain degree of policing of accounts to weed out the pranksters. It's public if you do want to check out Michael Brown's profile.

I think I may well indeed be a friend of Brownie.



Monday, August 27, 2007

But At Least My Wife Blogs

I have not blogged for quite some time.

However, my wife, Ann Corbett, has been blogging from her trip to India and Nepal. She's been there on business meeting partners and projects funded by her employer, the Global Fund for Children.



Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Free Aung San Suu Kyi!

On June 16, Ann and I will once again host our "House Arrest Party" for Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the Burmese democracy movement.

Our party will be one of approximately 200 that will take place around the world that weekend. The US Campaign for Burma (USCB) organizes the house parties to raise money, educate people about the situation in Burma, and support the work of the many brave individual Burmese who are risking their lives to restore democracy and human rights to their country.

Our indefatigable new USCB Grassroots Organizer, Thelma Young, has even started a blog, Free Aung San Kyi!, for the House Arrest Parties.

Please join us in hosting your own house party or simply donating to the important work of the US Campaign for Burma.



Monday, April 30, 2007

Fire at Eastern Market

Eastern Market before the fire

Ann and I love the fruit and vegetables of Eastern Market on Capitol Hill. We prefer to support the small market vendors there with their fresh and largely local foods. Only yesterday we shopped there.

Early this morning Eastern Market was gutted by fire. We first heard about it on the NPR national morning news.

I decided to go down and see the damage for myself. I'll post some of the pictures when I have time.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Kite Flying and Cherry Blossoms at the National Mall

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hear Me Roar

Yesterday I updated my blog for the first in several months.

Just a few hours later, I received an email from Chicago Public Radio asking me to talk about the campaigns by the US Campaign for Burma to force corporations out of Burma.

Over the past ten years, I have been interviewed several times by Jerome McDonnell for his show, Worldview. But the show had lost track of me since my move to Washington, DC. Fortunately a web search by a Worldview producer turned up this blog and my current email address.

Check out the January 24 edition of Worldview on Chicago Public Radio here.

Make sure you listen to the segment with Katie Redford and Ka Hsaw Wa of EarthRights International about their lawsuit Unocal for its complicity in human rights abuses in Burma.

I'm very glad I finally posted an update to my blog!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I have so much to report.

Last July, Ann and I moved to Washington, DC. We now live in the far northeast corner of Capitol Hill on a quiet section of F Street NE.

We moved so that I could take up the position of Director of the Big Box Collaborative, an alliance of groups battling Wal-Mart and the "big box" retail stores. The first shareholder resolution that I ever filed was at Wal-Mart back in 1992. It's interesting how my work has turned full circle.

I miss Boston badly.

There's more to follow.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Welcome, Shea

Shea Mullaney, my friend and fellow member of Arlington Street Church, has a blog: Soul Meets Blog

I just found this out when I was browsing my blog's referrer log at Sitemeter. It turns out that Shea already blogrolled me without my knowledge.

I first met Shea at the church's Buddhist reading group. He's fairly well steeped in Buddhism and meditation. He's also written a book of poetry, "Follow the Wolf Moon." I bought the book directly from him. However I must confess that it currently lies in my pile of recently as yet unread fiction.

Shea is also much fun. I wish he'd make it to more of my parties.

I was very psyched when another friend and fellow congregant, Sara Davis, brought him as her guest to my wedding last May. At the wedding reception, he two of them sang "This Bed is on Fire," a peppy pop song with wonderfully filthy lyrics, right in front of my parents.

Over the summer, Shea took over one of the Sunday services in his capacity as a member of the church worship committee. He organized a very pagan earth-centered service at the end of which he solemnly smudged volunteers, including me and Ann, with smouldering sage.

A few weeks later, when I was in Nevada with a group of Oxfam staff, I received the gift of small sheaf of sage from a Western Shoshone leader. Since it comes with good karma, I decided to give it to Shea.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Apocryphal, maybe. But a great quote nonetheless.

On Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, in Annapolis at a hearing on a proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at American University, was requested to testify.

At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: "Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?"

Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Wal-Mart Opposes Tighter Port Security

From today's (March 24, 2006) "Washington Wire" column in the Wall Street Journal:

"Wal-Mart resists efforts in Congress to dramatically tighten port security in the wake of Dubai-ports furor. The company argues examining all containers, or even a fixed percentage of them, could impede shipping and boost costs."

There you have it. Wal-Mart opposes tighter port security measures that will cost it money.

I feel safe assuming that Wal-Mart believes that the increased security will increase the company's costs. After all, Wal-Mart would not bother lobbying against these security measures if they did not pose increased costs for Wal-Mart.

I give Wal-Mart a week or so to weather the ensuing storm of criticism before it issues a public statement of support for better port security. I also expect that Wal-Mart will even more quickly issue a press release complaining of being "misquoted" or "taken out of context" by the Wall Street Journal.

Whether that statement will represent an actual climb-down from Wal-Mart's position remains to be seen.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cowboys Will Break Your Heart

This year Ann and I hosted our first Oscars party.

Even though I only sent out an evite on Friday morning, fifteen people turned up on Sunday night. Turnout is good when you invite nearly 400 of your very closest friends.

Some people even dressed up. That earned them between one to three points depending on the level of their elegance and bling. They won additional points for each Oscar winner they correctly predicted.

My strategy for guessing the Oscar winners was to bet heavily on gay cowboys, paraplegics, penguins, and a certain claymation dog.

I also bet against King Kong in the view that, after Lord of the Rings, the Academy would not favor Peter Jackson so heavily again.

Sadly for me, "Crash" upstaged "Brokeback Mountain" and King Kong took away a couple of technical prizes. At least Grommit came through for me.

I remain verklempt that "Crash" won, of all things, "Best Screenplay" for its awfully contrived script. There is no God.

Nevertheless John Stewart was fun and our friends were excellent company. I'm sure we'll host another party next year.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Leaving Oxfam America

I'm leaving my job at Oxfam America on Friday, March 10.

My colleagues are organizing a leaving party roast at the West Street Grille on West Street in Boston (near Downtown Crossing). It's on Thursday, March 9, starting at 5.30pm.

If you live in the Boston Hub, you may have received the evite already. If not, email me and I'll put you on the guest list. In any case, please just show up anyway. You are sure to have a good time.

Some of you may have even linked to my blog for the first time following the link in that evite. If you are reading this for the first time, welcome! Please come back from time to time.

Why am I leaving Oxfam, do I hear you ask?

I'm a little burned out after nearly four years at Oxfam. One sign of that burnout is that I have four weeks of not-taken vacation. I took only one week off last year and that was my honeymoon in May.

I'm also very interested in several opportunities both full-time and consulting. I already have some consulting work lined up and I'm applying for jobs around the country. More about my interest in San Francisco and Washington DC in a later post!

I will receive my untaken vacation time as cash. That gives me some time and a bit more of a cushion while I relax and do a proper job hunt.

The week of March 11-18, I will spend the week acting as the advance man for Ko Bo Kyi, a Burmese former political prisoner, who is doing a speaking tour of New England that week:

The week of March 20 is when I start some consulting work.

That's all for now. I'll post later as I embark on a serious job hunt.

I'm definitely landing on my feet.

Playlist: Talking Heads "Sand in the Vaseline"

Friday, March 03, 2006

All Talked Out

I'm always happy to have an opportunity to quote Margaret Mead.

Check out the transcript from my on-line talk about Amnesty International USA's SHARE POWER campaign and Business and Human Rights program.

If you didn't submit anything for the talk, post a question to my Amnesty blog.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Grill Me Online This Wednesday, March 1st

Ask Amnesty: SHARE POWER: Using Grassroots Shareholder Activism to Hold Corporations Accountable for Human Rights

All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights in their operations, but all too often they are contributing to human rights abuses – either directly or indirectly. You can hold corporations accountable - morally and legally - for violations within and connected to their operations. SHARE POWER is a new Amnesty campaign based on the idea that no matter who you are, where you work, where you study, or where you live, you can find your connection to multinational corporations, and use that connection to influence them to change.

Join Simon Billenness and Larry Dohrs, two longtime Amnesty volunteers and experts in shareholder activism, on Wednesday, March 1st to discuss SHARE POWER and learn how you can get involved in this campaign.

» Submit a question in advance


Monday, February 27, 2006

Ash Wednesday Etiquette

When I moved to the United States in 1985, I spent my first few years in Albany, New York. Like many American cities, Albany is heavily Catholic.

1986 was my first experience of Ash Wednesday in a predominantly Catholic town. At the time, I was working as a teller at the headquarters of Albany Savings Bank. I remember serving a woman with a conspicuous dark grey stain on her forehead. I distinctly recall thinking that it was probably a stain that she accidently smudged on her face after reading a loose-inked newspaper.

To this day I am so glad that I did not remark on the stain.

With this in mind, I thought it important to try my hand at a little parody entitled:

Ash Wednesday Etiquette ... in Massachusetts

Here's the appropriate etiquette for this Wednesday when you meet total strangers in Southie or the North End of Boston with ash on their forehead.

Adopt a pleasant Jewish grandmotherly kind of voice. You know, like the character played by Mike Myers on "Coffee Tawk" on Saturday Night Live.

Smile at person with smudged forehead. Lick your thumb. Say in pleasant Jewish grandmotherly kind of voice: "Wait. There's some schmutz on your lovely face. Let me wipe that off you."

Use your spit-wetted thumb to try to erase the ash from stranger's forehead.

As you wipe your saliva on the person's forehead, say this: "You know you shouldn't be reading those messy free newspapers. That Metro newsprint gets all over your hands. Why don't you read a nice glossy magazine instead like Cosmo, The Advocate, or Vanity Fair? Or even a free paper, such as Bay Windows, that won't end up messing your clothes and face."

If the stranger has not run away, called the police, or assaulted you before you finish, finish by saying: "There! That's better! You have such a lovely face. You should meet my son/daughter/intersexed offspring (use whichever is appropriate). He/she is an accountant/doctor/dentist/fetish model/same-sex marriage activist."

Repeat with every forehead-smudged stranger as needed or until you are exorcised or have your arm broken.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Simon and Ann kiss

Simon and Ann kiss
Originally uploaded by kimberkit.
More from Kim Wand...

Hard At Work

My friend, Kim Wand, visited us over the weekend and took this great photo.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tell me what you think of me...


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Win Some, Lose Some

Yesterday, I took a vacation day and helped Claire Naughton get out the vote in her race to become a Massachusetts state representative.

I learned about the race from my good friend, Dan Cohen, who served as Claire's campaign advisor and strategist. When Dan tells me that a local candidate has a good chance to win, I give money and I often fundraise too.

In this race, I gave the maximum: $500. Then I used Evite to send a call for volunteers and money to over a thousand of my friends, colleagues, contacts and even people I met one time at a party. I estimate I raised a couple of thousand dollars.

Despite winning narrowly in Norton and Mansfield, Claire Naughton came up short in Foxboro. Overall, she narrowly lost the election to the Republican by 55% to 45%.

She was by far the best candidate and she fought an excellent uphill race in conservative Republican territory. I have no regrets and I have told her that I will continue to support her if she runs in the general elections for the State House in November. She has a future as a progressive Democratic leader in Massachusetts.

I'm certain that the time and money that I and others spent on this campaign was not wasted. Although it wasn't enough to win this race, we have helped to further build the progressive Democratic movement in Massachusetts. We will win the next race wherever that is. Maybe it will be the Deval Patrick campaign for Governor.

But I have to say that the Massachusetts Democratic Party completely blew it with the Claire Naughton race. With additional money and volunteers from the state party, Claire would have taken this previously Republican seat. But the state Democratic party did virtually nothing.

Shame on them.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Online Quizzes: More Fun Than the Superbowl

Your results:
You are Will Riker
Will Riker
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Deanna Troi
Mr. Scott
Jean-Luc Picard
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Geordi LaForge
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Mr. Sulu
Beverly Crusher
At times you are self-centered
but you have many friends.
You love many women, but the right
woman could get you to settle down.
Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

Pretty Good For a Brit, eh?

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Where Are The Young Men...A Weight on Their Shoulders?

Sully in Under the Golden Dome asks where are the young Democrats of Massachusetts? He notes that the Massachusetts Democratic Party can't even seem to find them.

I know where I find them.

They are to be found in the Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts along with other web-savvy veterans of the Dean and Reich campaigns.

They are to be found in the State House (state rep. Carl Sciortino) and the Somerville City Council (Alderwoman Rebekah Gewirtz).

And they are to be found in groups like Drinking Liberally. I recently received an invitation to drink and mock George Bush's State of the Union speech through an evite with over 500 invitees.

The Massachusetts Democratic State Party isn't reaching these young Democrats. But MassEquality, Neighbor 2 Neighbor Massachusetts, and State House campaigns like those of Carl Sciortino, Rebekah Gewirtz, Tim Schofield, and Pat Jehlen sure knew how to mobilize them.

I will be in Mansfield and Foxboro on Tuesday, February 7, for a special election to fill a vacant state representative seat. Come down and you will see an army of mostly young Democratic activists help Claire Naughton take a formerly Republican state rep. seat.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blast From The Past

I was just ego-surfing and I found my old friend, Pete Birks, explaining on his Livejournal - Everything Has A Limit - why he utterly failed to find me at a restaurant in London over Christmas.

Loping around his LJ reminded me of when I used to read his zine, Greatest Hits. It's too full of poker stories for my taste. However Pete is the still the master of the self-deprecating vignette. This piece below for instance had me in fits.

"I'm developing my theory that a blog is (at least for me, and probably for quite a few others), a kind of "imaginary friend" for grown-ups. Men, in particular, can't emote with other men, mainly because other men get very uncomfortable when it happens. Women can emote with other women and, sometimes, men can emote with other women, although if the man is heterosexual there are always complex undertones that never quite go away. But a blog, well, you can emote to your blog just like you can do it to your psychiatrist. On the minus side, the whole world gets to know about it. On the plus side, it's a lot cheaper."
My Other Blog is a Porsche

At my other blog I'm having a little fun too.

The other blog is my Amnesty board member blog. I originally created it last year for my election campaign for the Amnesty International USA Board of Directors. However I only bothered to write two postings. Somehow I still managed to come second out of fourteen candidates.

I've just rejiggered the blog to become my new soapbox on issues pertaining to Amnesty in particular and the human rights movement in general. Come on over sometime and see how mean I can be to poor Google.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Season's Cheer

Yesterday morning I awoke to a thin covering of snow. I normally become quite excited at the first snowfall of winter. This year I'm not so amused.

Like many other Bostonians I'm fighting a low-level cold that just won't quit. The symtoms include a stubborn sore throat, nagging sinus pain, and an amazingly renewable source of green phlegm.

I'll spare you the pictures.

I hope I'm fully recovered in two weeks. This year, Ann and I are spending Christmas in London and New Year's in Paris!