Everything but the Pizza

 

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Those of you who spend time with me and are aware of my obsession with London may be interested to read this entry. You might call this is just a slightly belated love letter to Boston‘s recently departed and beloved Mayor, Tom Menino.

I have spent the past couple of years trying to find my place in my adopted home of Boston. Now, I’m not going to bitch about the weather, which is obvious (the weather just plain sucks here) or the restaurants, which are amazingly mediocre for such an affluent, educated, and diverse city.

It’s just that I missed the incredible intellectual, ethnic, cultural, and gastronomic diversity of my former home. It was in London that I realized that New York may be the financial capital of the world, but it is far from the world’s greatest city.

Today I am here to say that with each passing day Boston becomes more and more of a fantastic place to live, a world city. The diversity here across many parameters continues to surprise me in a positive way. I am beginning to feel like I did in London. Not a day passes in which I don’t have multiple interesting conversations on a world of topics with well-informed, thoughtful people. Most of these conversations involve people with ideas of how to make the world a better place. This desire is found in both the private and public sector and is something I usually found missing in New York where it is always about the money.

Every day with I meet people from different disciplines, different countries, different races and religions. Most are drawn here by the fact that unlike many other places in America, Boston welcomes different types of people and ideas. We have yet to fall into the myopic, nativist dialog that has gripped much of America.

This diversity and the fact that it’s welcome here has been highlighted to me twice in the past month or so. On the first occasion, I was looking at an apartment that was for sale in Brighton, a part of Boston. When I arrived the place was packed with twenty prospective buyers more than half of who were of Asian origin. Why were they there? Well it was to purchase a residence for their children who may attend one of Boston’s diverse colleges, or to move here for a career, or as an investment in a city with strong and stable real estate values, or perhaps, like London, Boston is one of the few global landing zones for people who’s homes are in places that may not always be so safe. This is increasingly the case for people from many places.

The why doesn’t really matter. All of these people add to our intellectual capital, they add to our diversity, and they make Boston a more interesting place to live. Oh yeah, they sure help real estate valuations. That apartment I was looking at sold for 15% above the asking price that day!

The second example of this diversity came this week. I had the pleasure of attending Tech Stars, which is an annual event in which 12 of the best new innovators get to pitch their ideas to an audience of investors, media, and other innovators. Boston is riddled with these events, from Tech Stars, to Mass Challenge (which now has international spinoffs), to Social Innovation Forum, run by Root Cause for innovations for with social benefit.

We got to hear twelve pitches, eight of which came from innovators born outside of the United States. The innovators came from five of the seven continents. It was great to see that all of these innovators came to Boston to pursue their dreams. Their ideas, hard work, and just their presence enrich Boston in many ways.

But why Boston? Well we have the greatest concentration of top universities in the world. We have access to capital both here and through New York a mere 200 miles away. We have a government led by people like Tom Menino, Deval Patrick, and our Senators Ed Market and Elizabeth Warren, who all understand that the nurturing of intellectual capital IS Boston’s and Massachusetts’s advantage and we don’t care where it comes from as long as it comes here and stays here. 10% of area college students are local products. 30% of all Boston area college graduates make their home in the area!

Perhaps most importantly Boston has a very large number of seasoned individuals from a diverse group of disciplines. An amazing number of them not only are willing to fund, consult, and mentor to people with ideas, we actively seek to do so. This passion for paying it forward is not only altruistic,  it keeps us fresh and involved, and it sets Boston apart as an area where we don’t care who you are or where you come from, what we care about is what you bring to our community.

So after two years, I get it. Boston is a small but very special place. Now if I could just get a decent slice of pizza…….

Using Campaign Dollars to Support Democracy

Given the results of this weeks mid-term elections I am re-blogging a post from earlier this year

The battle to restrict big-ticket campaign contributions seems to have been lost. Perhaps there is a way to put some of this money towards supporting our democracy

I am waiting for the phone to ring. I’m a supporter of the Democrats and as of Friday my money is needed. The inevitable entry of Scott Brown to the New Hampshire Senatorial race will significantly up the cost of the election. In fact, the number whispered to me was $30 million. In 2008, the winner, Senator Shaheen polled just over 350,000 votes. Assuming that most of the electorate has already decided, that $30 million will be spent swaying 30,000 voters.

We should have the donors just write checks to the undecided and eliminate the need for a campaign.

Our American concept of representative democracy is under threat.

There are two primary threats to our democracy. First is the way we finance campaigns. America is the only major democracy that allows substantial contributions directly to candidates and indirectly to Political Action Committees. We are living in a pay-to-play system dominated by the super-rich, large corporations, and labor unions. Private equity pioneer Tom Perkins recently stated in an interview seen on CNN Money, “But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How’s that?”

The second threat is declining voter participation. Participation levels are as low as 55 percent in Presidential elections, with much lower turnout in off-year elections. For example, in 2013’s special election to fill John Kerry’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, for example, just 25 percent of eligible voters voted.

This combined with the way we finance campaigns leaves a small group defining and selecting who governs us. This is a significant challenge to the preservation of our democracy, and indeed to the greatness of our nation.

I propose that we use one threat to solve the other. Instead of restricting campaign contributions, which would take a constitutional convention, let’s tax them and use the revenue to create a dedicated fund to educate voters and drive up voter participation rates. This tax should be in the 30-50 percent range on all money spent by anyone on political speech, including self-funded candidates. There would be no exceptions. This would help ensure a level playing field.

Before screaming about more taxes or the fact that this will violate the right to free speech, just think about the possible impact.

First, a tax may give pause to some donors. Too much money invades our political process from a small group of people. If a tax slows the flow, then all the better.

Second, tax revenue spent on voter participation would have the most effect on voters having different views than those of the high-dollar donors. According to the US Census Bureau, voter turnout for individuals earning over $150,000 is almost 75 percent. For those with incomes under $30,000 it’s 45 percent. Using political donation taxes to fund voter participation and education programs will help restore balance to our political process without restricting political speech.

The money raised by taxing political contributions, which would amount to billions of dollars during a Presidential election year, could be used in at least three ways:

First, I would fund the teaching of civics in all public schools. Amazingly this isn’t part of the regular curriculum in most schools. People need to know how our system works for them to want to be involved. The good news is that there are groups that provide civics education. These organizations are small and dependent on private largess. Tax revenue would facilitate a broader rollout.

When I was in school perhaps most important was learning about our process of government: the three branches of government; the division between state and federal responsibilities; and the essential fact that Americans lived in a representative democracy. This was and remains central to our belief that we are the greatest nation in the history of mankind,

Next, we could use the funds for non-partisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. Instead of having campaigns roust their perspective voters, there should be a bipartisan effort to get everyone to vote. Thanks to studies by behavioral scientists, we have much more effective and less expensive ways to get people to vote. This includes helping people plan their voting (where will you vote, when will you vote) through commitment devices and making individuals voting habits public, which levers individuals’ sense of social responsibility.

Finally, the dedicated tax revenue should be used to provide tax credits to those who vote. Give every voting age American a tax credit. This idea also comes from the field of behavioral science. Give voters enough tax incentive to take action, but not enough to be too costly, say $50. If people vote, they keep the credit. If they don’t, they lose the credit. We know that people dislike losing money more than they enjoy gaining the same amount of money. This should provide a strong incentive to the potential electorate.

Our democracy is suffering. My proposal is not a panacea to what ails America. However, if we can increase voter participation by even just 10 percent, funded from some of the more egregious campaign finance abuses, it would serve to offset some of the imbalances that have grown significantly in the past 30 years.

I am certain of one thing: if corporations and labor unions don’t like this proposal, then I am certain that I am on the right track.

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How Uber and the Sharing Economy Can Win Over Regulators

Harvard Business Review:

Interesting given the current discussions in Brookline and other cities.

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

Sharing economy firms are disrupting traditional industries across the globe. For proof, look no further than Airbnb which, at $10 billion, can boast a higher valuation than the Hyatt hotel chain. Uber is currently valued at $18.2 billion relative to Hertz at $12.5 billion and Avis at $5.2 billion. Beyond individual firms, there are now more than 1,000 cities across four continents where people can share cars. The global sharing economy market was valued at $26 billion in 2013 and some predict it will grow to become a $110 billion revenue market in the coming years, making it larger than the U.S. chain restaurant industry. The revenue flowing through the sharing economy directly into people’s wallets will surpass $3.5 billion this year, with growth exceeding 25%, according to Forbes. The business model – where peers can offer and purchase goods and services from each other through…

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Channeling the Founding Fathers

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Someone doesn’t want YOU to vote. Don’t let them steal YOUR vote!! Don’t let them steal YOUR voice!!!

Another election season approaches and the forces of voter suppression are out in full force. While there was good news today from North Carolina where the US Court of Appeals struck down two key provisions of that state’s “Voter Suppression” law, the forces seeking to restrict the ability to vote for all but White Christians are hard at work making certain that only certain types of people find it easy to express their constitutional right to vote.

Perhaps it is true that the Founding Fathers never intended anyone other than White, Christian, landowners to participate in our democracy. Of course, there is some evidence that we had moved forward from that including Women’s Suffrage (1920) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

The Supreme Court’s striking down some of the provisions of the 1965 act has led to a spate of new laws purportedly aimed at curbing voter fraud. This is a case of the cure being worse than the disease, especially if you are a minority voter. More than 30 US States have attempted to implement some form of restrictive voter regulations.

While much of this is common knowledge, there is a much more insidious effort to suppress voter turnout. This is a concerted campaign of misinformation targeted at minorities, the poor, and college students. Now, I can’t prove that one party is responsible for this but the groups targeted do tend to vote a certain way.

College students have become a favorite target of voter misinformation. They vote largely Democratic, are new voters, and may be able to choose where they vote; either in the domicile of their parents homes or in the domicile of their college.

Certain political forces have undertaken to spread the word that if a student registers to vote in the domicile of their college, the will be subject to loss of financial aid. This is a big LIE!! Voter registration has nothing to do with financial aid. No federal loans and grants are tied to the state you vote in.

It’s just an attempt to scare college students into forfeiting their vote.

Now here’s why they lie. Take New Hampshire as an example. There is a US Senatorial election this year in New Hampshire. In the last Senate election, in 2010, 439,000 New Hampshire residents took the time to vote. In 2008, which was a presidential election year, 672,000 people voted in New Hampshire. That year Jean Shaheen a Democrat won election by 42,000 votes. For a small state New Hampshire has a lot of college students. Approximately, 80,000 to be exact. If we assume that these students vote 70% for the Democrats, then fully suppressing college students’ votes could reduce the Democratic plurality by 32,000 votes (56,000 D vs. 24,000 R). That’s huge in a state where there will be a close election with a relatively small number of votes cast.

The votes of college students in a state such as New Hampshire are incredibly valuable.

By the way, this isn’t just about New Hampshire. Voter suppression through legal as well as through coercive means is happening in EVERY state in the US.

So how do you get the facts and exercise YOUR right?

There are a few sites that are set up to make it easy to learn the facts and exercise your rights.

First, try Claim Your Vote, there you will find people that you know giving you the straight facts.

Then try Fair Elections, all the facts about your rights on a state by state basis are here.

Finally, check out Turbovote, everything from information, to easy registration, to reminders about voting are at this amazing site.

Someone out there wants to deprive you of your legal rights. Are you going to let them?

Only In America

I know that I have been absent from my blog for quite some time. The summer has a way of keeping me from doing anything that resembles work. As we spend our last week in Cape Cod before returning to the reality of Boston, we have been been blessed by the best weather imaginable and a dearth of houseguests, finally.

Into this bliss comes the intrusion of yet another “Only in America” moment. This latest moment is the accidental killing of a weapons instructor by a nine year old girl firing an Uzi for fun. All this in the presence of her doting parents who were so proud of their daughter that they videotaped the whole thing. That’s the good news. Aside from the killing the bad news is the scarring of a child. I suspect that this child may have already had issues given the outstanding level of parental supervision.

No, I am not about to go on a rant about gun laws and the ridiculousness of giving private citizens the right to own and use military weapons. I have already discussed my views on this matter at length. The reality is that from a legal perspective, everyone from the innocent child, to the instructor, to the owners of Bullets and Burgers acted in a completely legal manner. These individuals acted within their legal rights as defined by legislatures and courts throughout our nation. While some of us may wish to quip about people in Nevada, the reality is that the parents of the child are from the Blue State of New Jersey. Also, according to Trip Advisor, Bullets and Burgers is the number one tourist attraction in Las Vegas. Apparently many people like to play with Uzis and grenade launchers.

Some have blamed the instructor for carelessness. While that may be the case, The instructor didn’t bring the child 2,500 miles to play with weapons of war.

My question is, what exactly led a nine year old to be holding and firing a military weapon with automatic firing capability? As the parent of two daughters of similar ages I have spent much of the past two days trying to imagine the process through which parents brought a nine year old to Las Vegas to play with an Uzi.

Perhaps this girl begged her parents to bring her. “I hear that Las Vegas is beautiful in August. there’s so much for kids to do and even though I’m not tall enough to go on the roller coaster at New York, New York, we can at least play with an Uzi or two. Thats so much better than going to the beach!” Unlikely.

Or perhaps these parents were just a couple of over-worked, under-vacationed parents (typical Americans) who wanted to go on their annual holiday to a place that they could drink, gamble, and work out some of their frustrations at the range with a grenade or two. What to do with the child? What the heck, bring her along. Nothing like some adult fun! Maybe.

Of course this child could have been the off spring of a couple of individuals who find themselves living in a country with a Black President, in a state with many Blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc. This child may have been the child of people who see government as the enemy and a need to “be prepared to defend their liberties”. Perhaps these parents felt a need to teach their child to be ready to protect what’s “her’s”. Hopefully this isn’t what happened but if I was asked to place a bet, it would be on this scenario. Sadly we see that the number of people with these beliefs seem to be on the rise. After all why did legal gun sales spike in the years following the election of Obama?

So we have a person dead for absolutely no reason. We have a nine year old permanently scarred by her killing of another human being. Of course, its possible that she was already damaged goods.

I know that everyone operated legally.

Can anyone tell me where the common sense is?

Can anyone tell me where the parenting is?

How Not to Run a Restaurant

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Having worked many years in the service sector, I have learned at least one thing. Your customers have options and you need to try really hard to make your business THEIR option!

As the wrap up of the HKS mid career year continues deep into its second month, an intimate group of 45 or so descended upon the Living Room in Boston the other night.

I have spent much of this year organizing dinners with my classmates. Its been a great way to get to know as many of them as possible. It’s also been a great way to get to know some of the better restaurants of my newly adopted hometown.

These dinners have run the gamut from four people at the best Japanese restaurant I’ve ever been to, to 35 people having BBQ and booze in large quantities in a basement. It’s been a great experience all around and each dinner was fun and easy to organize. That is until the other night.

With so many of my classmates staying in town post graduation we decided to have one last dinner. As of a week ago we had 50 people wanting to join. I wondered where could I make a booking for 50 on short notice. After a bit of research, I came upon the Living Room.

When I called I was greeted by a friendly and accommodating person. After about a minute I was informed that they indeed could accommodate 50. I should have questioned what kind of place could accommodate so many on such short notice but I was happy to have a place.

Then things got more and more difficult:

The next day I was told that we must use a prix fixe menu. No big deal thats normal for a large group

The following day they told me we needed to preselect our appetizers and our desserts.

The day after that we were told that we all had to have the same dessert.

The day before the dinner I was told that I had to guarantee the maximum amount, that i couldn’t add anyone that I hadn’t already confirmed and I was liable for the maximum number.

It seems that the manager, John wanted to be totally riskless with a group that was going to fill his restaurant on a Tuesday night. I balked and we came to something of a compromise.

The dinner was actually quite a success. The company was as always excellent. Great conversation and laughs. The food was pretty good even if some of us didn’t get exactly what we PRE ordered. The venue was kind of cool. The best part about it is that it has its own ATM.

Why was that the best part? Well, John had a bit of an issue with us paying with multiple credit cards. The story was that the “system” couldn’t handle it. Now we’ve had groups in excess of 30 at least five times and this has never been an issue. It usually involves me managing the process but heck everyone has a skill. After about 20 minutes of trying, John looked at me and said, “If I had known that you were going to try to pay with more than one credit card I would have refused the reservation.” He said this to someone who just spent $3,000 in his restaurant on a night that otherwise would have been virtually dead. We than began the pride of HKS Alumni to the ATM.

I can only wonder what he would have done if a party of 20 had walked in without a reservation!

Its a shame that I felt compelled to write this negative review about what was essentially a good meal at a reasonable price.

Moral of the story is that the Living Room needs a new manager.

PS: Kudos to Amy who was pleasant and helpful regardless of what her boss did or said.