Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Police review board up and running

After a long wait, the Boston Police Department's citizen review board begins reviewing complaints this week. A story in today's Globe outlines the creation of the panel and compares the group to a similar one in Atlanta, where it operates with fewer restraints and more transparency. At least one observer thinks the limitations that Boston's board is working under will cause its rather quick demise. We'll see.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Not a dumping ground

The web site South Coast Today published something this morning that I found a bit insulting. Don't put a casino in Middleborough, was the gist of a letter from a gentleman named Lew Dabney. Rather than "pollute the outlying countryside," we should stick the casino at Suffolk Downs because in East Boston "law enforcement already deals with the problems" such as "traffic, crime, prostitution and pollution."

I responded with my own letter to the editor:

"I was insulted by Lew Dabney’s letter of July 30th in which the author doesn’t want to “pollute the outlying countryside” of the state with a casino, but feels it’d be perfectly fine to set such a place — and the “traffic, crime, prostitution and pollution” that go with it — at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. I’m a lifelong resident of that neighborhood, and we certainly have our share of urban issues (traffic, pollution), but we have relatively little of others (crime, prostitution). However, the idea that the state should dump more of those problems in our laps while the entire Commonwealth benefits from the cash return is outrageous. Suffolk Downs does very little business right now, while locating a casino here would mean even more “traffic and other ancillary results” in my community 24 hours a day. Despite Mayor Menino’s proclamation, quite a few residents of East Boston are against the idea. We already have our quality of life impacted daily because we live with the leviathan that is Logan Airport. We don’t need another unwieldy monster next door."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Hubster Forum: Week #1

As I indicated yesterday, I will post questions on a new topic each Sunday for the four candidates in East Boston's race for state representative to respond to if they choose to. We'll see how this works, and if a reader or candidate believes that the format needs to be tweaked then email me and we'll adjust if the suggestion makes sense. Here is today's question(s):

Casino gambling has quickly become a major issue in Massachusetts. The residents of Middleborough approved an agreement that would allow the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to locate a casino in that town, pending approval of Gov. Patrick, the state legislature and the US Department of the Interior. The governor is also debating whether to legalize such operations under non-Native American ownership. Just recently Mayor Menino said that he’d like to see a “full-blown entertainment complex” at Suffolk Downs, including a casino. If elected, would you vote to allow casinos in Massachusetts? What are the biggest factors that lead to your decision? Are you in favor or opposed to locating a casino at Suffolk Downs? What are the positives and/or negatives of such a facility for residents of East Boston?

The big daily gives our little race a look-see

Today's Boston Globe has a piece on the race for East Boston's open House seat, outlining the candidates and their backgrounds, with a particular focus on Gloribell Mota and the challenge she faces running against a pair of well-connected guys (Carlo Basile and Jeff Drago) while her theoretical base (Eastie's Latino community) has only turned out in small numbers to date (fewer than 400 voted in last year's special election for City Council) either because they are not citizens, not registered or disinterested.

The story praises Mota, saying, "With a serious policy background and winning manner, Mota may be the most articulate candidate in the field," but also quotes a local observer, who says he's "not sure how the numbers can work for her."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rough day in Eastie

Several weather-related incidents befell East Boston today. First, the electricity went out from the middle of Chelsea Street, between Porter and Marion streets, right up through Orient Heights, all the way to Suffolk Downs. From around 1:30 to 3:30 this afternoon we were off line, including a number of stoplights at busy intersections. The outage was attributed to trouble in a manhole in Everett, according to Boston.com.

At around 4 p.m. a deluge hit the region, with at least one clap of thunder sounding like it was quite close by. When I took to the roads half an hour later, McClellan Highway was backed up in both directions because of flooding in several spots. On the northbound side, just over the Revere line, there were three places where the water was more than a foot deep, causing all of the vehicles to slow down and a couple to break down. (Top photo by me.)

That same thunderstorm caused part of Orient Ave. to collapse and swallow a car. According to Boston.com, a ruptured storm drain was the culprit. Eventually the hole was about five feet deep. (Bottom photo from Boston.com.)

Thunderstorms and high humidity are expected to last until Tuesday.

Starting tomorrow: The Hubster Forum

More than one of the candidates in the race for the 1st Suffolk seat, representing East Boston in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has expressed an interest in having me post questions for the prospective state reps to respond to on this blog. I will, therefore, post a question on a different issue each Sunday, beginning tomorrow, until the election. The question will be posted in the morning and the candidates will be able to post their responses as comments at any time over the following week.

I ran into each of the candidates at the recent Italia Unita feast, and—to my surprise—all of them appear to check this blog from time to time, so I am confident that they will see the question and will be able to respond if they choose to do so. If the candidates want to make a point about the logistics of the format, they can email me at that address on the right of this page.

I am developing the first question right now, but would appreciate suggestions for future questions. Any reader who would like to propose a question or topic can also use the email address on the right to send me his or her thoughts

On another matter, I have deleted two comments recently that were posted about this race because the content in each case inappropriately discussed the personal lives of one of the candidates. The candidates should be praised for the time and effort involved in running to represent our community, and their thoughts on the issues—and any actions that they take or have taken that may further clarify their political points of view—should be open to discussion and dissection. However, personal attacks, name-calling and references to family members in contexts that are irrelevant to this race will be deleted immediately.

Winthrop Beach to finally get more sand

An editorial in today's Globe outlines why getting new sand at Winthrop Beach has become a 10-year process involving state and federal agencies, a deal with some lobstermen and legislative blackmail. It now looks as though the sand may be coming soon. The article also extols on the charms of the beach and neighboring Deer Island.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Web site update

Well, I was apparently looking in the wrong place for Jeff Drago's web site (though I was using a URL that had his page before), and Gloribell Mota's went down yesterday just after I heralded its arrival. Anyway, all four announced candidates for the vacant 1st Suffolk seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives have functional web sites (as of right now):

Mary Berninger
Carlo Basile
Jeff Drago
Gloribell Mota

Interestingly, at the top of Drago's page it says, "A TRUE Democrat...for East Boston!" which seems to be a poke at Basile's past support of some Republican candidates.

Drago's site lists a fundraiser Tuesday and a campaign kick-off on Aug. 3 at the Beachmont VFW. Mota's kick-off, which was listed for this Saturday, has apparently been moved back, but she will be at Meridian 155 for a meet-and-greet next Tuesday. Berninger's site doesn't appear to have a spot to list upcoming events, while Basile's needs to be updated.

Flag down on the play

Back on Jan. 1, Ian Johnson seemed to be starring in a Disney movie: score touchdown on trick play to help small college beat perennial power in bowl game by one point to complete unbeaten season AND keep running through end zone over to girlfriend/cheerleader, get down on one knee, produce ring and propose on national television. If Chrissy Popadics had said no, it would have been quite a letdown, but she did say yes, and the couple is scheduled to get married on Saturday.

Here is where the plot moves from family feel-good story to reality in America today: Because Johnson is black and Popadics is white the groom has received death threats, forcing them to hire security for their wedding.

No fool, Johnson is aware of the irony here: "It's really sad because a lot of people that are probably [making threats] are the same people who were cheering me on."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Three up, one down

House candidate Gloribell Mota has her web site up this morning, with a bio and a page of voter resources. The font seems a bit small to me and there is only a cursory mention of her stances on the issues, but hopefully that will come soon. Mota's campaign kick-off, the site notes, will be Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at Constitution Beach.

One feature that her site has that the others, so far, don't is the option to read the information in Spanish. Of course, that is a no-brainer for Mota, who hopes to draw heavily from East Boston's Latino community, but the other candidates should consider doing the same or else they are writing off a chunk of their prospective constituents.

Mary Berninger's web site is still the only one with some specific information about her stand on issues in the campaign, while Carlo Basile's web site is easily the best looking. Though the candidate assured me otherwise recently, I'm still getting nothing at Jeff Drago's site.

Discovering the Blue Line

In today's Globe, a reporter rides the Blue Line from Bowdoin to Wonderland to explore the line that "remains shrouded in mystery to many MBTA riders." The story says, "Once you exit the first station in East Boston, the Blue Line adventure truly begins." Indeed, it does.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Candidates' contributions

The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance has a web site that can be searched to find information on contributions that people make to candidates in Massachusetts. To help me understand better the political viewpoints of the four individuals who are running for the vacant 1st Suffolk House seat, I checked to see which campaigns each has given money to.

Mary Berninger has contributed $700 to several candidates, $300 of that to East Boston's former state senator, Bob Travaglini. She also gave to former rep. and current senator Anthony Petruccelli, Suffolk Superior Court Clerk Maura Hennigan, SJC Clerk Maura Doyle and unsuccessful City Council candidate Edward Flynn.

Carlo Basile has given $2,475, including $750 to Kerry Healey's failed gubernatorial campaign, $500 to Petrucelli, $400 to the 2002 run Dan Grabauskas made for the state treasurer's office and $200 to former governor Mitt Romney, also five years ago. He also gave to Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald, Boston City Council hopeful John Connolly, at-large City Councilor Stephen Murphy and Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin.

Jeff Drago donated $1,240, of which $640 went to Petruccelli and $300 to Travaglini. Interestingly, Drago has only given $125 to his boss, Mayor Tom Menino. He also gave to at-large City Councilor Michael Flaherty and the Democratic State Committee.

Gloribell Mota has made a single contribution and that was the $35 she gave to the Deval Patrick campaign for governor last year.

All information is from the state web site, and I apologize if any of its data is incorrect. I encourage voters to go to the site and to do their own research.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Accident prone?

I wouldn't know if 614 accidents in two years is a high number on a heavily-traveled stretch of roadway like the the Tip O'Neill Tunnel, which carries 1.5-miles of I-93 beneath downtown Boston. It seems to be a lot, but then again, it's fewer than one accident among the more than 100,000 cars that pass through each day.

Vincent Zarrilli, a civic activist, recently gathered information comparing the O'Neill Tunnel smash-ups with those of the Sumner and Callahan tunnels, which totaled 28 accidents in the same period. Yikes, that is a huge difference. However, it occurs to me that there is less traffic in those tunnels, there are two lanes through each (while the O'Neill Tunnel has three or four), there is no (legal) lane changing allowed, the tunnels are shorter (each is about a mile long) and, on one side, drivers have to stop or slow down to pay tolls (and I think that drivers entering either tunnel need to slow down because of the configuration of the access points to the tunnels).

But here's my problem: When Zarrilli presented information on the number of accidents to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which administers all three of the tunnels, officials seemed shocked:
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has launched an evaluation of the accident data and the geometry of the highway and tunnel," authority chief of staff Stephen Collins wrote in a July 20 letter to Zarrilli. "This engineering evaluation includes an assessment of the pavement condition, horizontal and vertical curvature, sight distances, signage, lighting, and all engineering aspects of the roadway and tunnel," Collins wrote.
Is there no one at the Pike who should be monitoring such things? Or, at least, someone who would have noticed if this is a huge discrepancy? I would understand a response that said, "Due to a number of logistical issues and the sheer number of vehicles, this is the number of accidents we'd expect," or a response that said, "We're aware of the high number of accidents and have been investigating the matter." What I don't want to hear is, "No kidding! Wow, we'll have to look at that."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thoughts on Italia Unita

I stopped by the Italia Unita festival on each of its three days, and I saw a number of people that I hadn't seen in years, as well as all four of the candidates for the open House seat. The weather was nice, so it was the perfect weekend for such an event. I do, however, have a few items that I'd like to point out:

1. The food was much too expensive. I bought very little to eat at the feast because I decided not to pay more than I would regularly pay for something. A bowl of ziti for $8? Are you serious? A street festival is not a license to rip people off, but that's what happens. My understanding is that vendors pay $800 for a booth at Italia Unita, which makes it difficult for them to break even, never mind make a few bucks, during this relatively small-scale feast. It's too bad. I would have liked to try a sausage, some pasta or a slice of pizza, but I'm Italian American, so I eat those all the time. I'm not going to pay a ridiculous amount because it's a feast.

2. The bocce court was a dangerous place. In past years I remember seeing old Italian men playing bocce all weekend, but this year all I saw were kids throwing the balls around. At one point Saturday night there were a handful of youngsters wantonly heaving the solid spheres back and forth. The group I was with moved away for fear of being clocked. Here's a suggestion: Have someone on hand to supervise the court and to give bocce lessons. It'd be nice to see those same kids learning the rules and technique of the game. Now that would be spreading Italian culture, wouldn't it?

3. The featured musical performer was annoying. Why were Frank Stallone and his band playing loud rock and roll? How does that connect me to my heritage? I'm sure it's difficult to line up and pay for quality, interesting entertainment, but I just wasn't feeling it this year.

Having said all that, I'm glad there is a feast in East Boston, and I give credit to the Italia Unita organization.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Game of chance

As Middleborough residents prepare to vote on allowing the Wampanoag tribe to build a casino in their town and Massachusetts decides on the wisdom of legalizing casino gambling in general, today's Globe takes a look at the effect that Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have had on the Connecticut towns that surround those two casinos.

When it comes to the merits of developing such an enterprise at Suffolk Downs, we have to keep in mind that the logistics and their consequences would be different here in an urban setting. We already have people, traffic, crime, etc. Still, there would be new challenges in each of those areas and, therefore, we should carefully consider the positives and negatives before embracing the idea.

As for Middleborough, I haven't seen polls on the matter, but it wouldn't surprise me if a significant number of people in the town concluded that a resort casino would change their community permanently -- and not necessarily for the better.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Feast Boston

The Italia Unita street festival continues today and tomorrow in Central Square and along Meridian Street in East Boston. Today's schedule includes a sausage-eating contest and entertainment from Frank Stallone. Be wary: Most of the food is ridiculously expensive.

Our own personal alarm clock

The first planes woke me at 6:25 this morning. Without getting out of bed I could tell that the wind was coming from the west (because that would have aircraft taking off and landing over East Boston) and that the sky was at least mostly sunny (when you live most of your life next to an airport, you learn that airplanes sound different in different types of weather).

The gentleman who answered the phone a short while ago at Massport's Noise Complaint Line (617-561-3333) was courteous and listened to my complaint ("The planes woke me up!") and took my name.

A glance at the Massport web site brought me to a chart that tracks the number of complaints registered by the Complaint Line. This year, so far, there have been more than four times as many calls by Eastie residents. There's an even bigger jump -- 1,500% --in calls from residents of Chelsea. It is possible that this year's weather patten has caused the huge increase in calls, but more likely the culprit's name is Runway 14-32, which went into operation late last year following a 30-year court battle.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The text and subtext

We would all agree that anything that requires some of our attention while driving would more than likely slow our reaction time, but most of us have probably eaten and talked on our cell phones while behind the wheel. With the rise of text messaging, this new task is becoming a major distraction -- especially for young people, who are most in tune to that technology AND are the most accident-prone drivers.

In upstate New York, five girls -- all recent graduates from the same high school -- died in a head-on collision in late June. Records show that someone was texting from the driver's phone right before the accident -- probably the driver herself. Meanwhile, in Britain, a 19-year-old is going to prison for killing a woman in a car crash. The teen sent nine text messages during the course of her 15-minute drive.

I think we should remind ourselves -- and parents should remind their children -- that being in control of an object that weighs a ton or two and is moving 30, 40 or 55 miles an hour puts in our hands the lives of anyone who comes across our path or even near our vehicle. No one's life is worth a text message.

FEMA: Let them breathe toxins!

In an infuriating and criminal lack of common sense, compassion and morality, the government agency that was universally ripped for responding lackadaisically to Hurricane Katrina allowed the disaster's victims to live in trailers that they knew were emitting dangerous fumes.

For more than a year FEMA -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- ignored the warnings of employees working to help the hurricane's refugees resettle that there were high levels of toxins in the trailers that people were being housed in. It turns out that there are levels of formaldehyde gas, a chemical that causes cancer and respiratory ailments, 75 times higher than the maximum allowed by law in the workplace.

"One man in Slidell, La., was found dead in his trailer on June 27, 2006," the Boston.com story says, "after complaining about the formaldehyde fumes," and in a conference call various officials from six different agencies recommended a deeper look into the circumstances. "But FEMA lawyers rejected the suggestions, with one cautioning that further investigation 'could seriously undermine the Agency's position' in litigation."

Are you kidding me?! This is outrageous! This is beyond incompetence, but rather criminal negligence, and it's about time that Congress is following up on its oversight obligations on such matters. This should be turned over to the Department of Justice for prosecution, and then something needs to be done immediately for the 66,000 families still in these trailers.

These revelations come as the Globe reports today on a Harvard study that shows how doctors unconsciously treat blacks and whites different in emergency rooms, often not prescribing the potentially life-saving treatments to African Americans that they would to Caucasians. Are these stories related? Just try telling me that race and class aren't real issues that impact the health and well being of people in America every day.

Time to panic?

The Red Sox have lost three in a row, and the Yankees are now seven games behind us. I haven't pushed the red button yet, but I am moving my finger toward it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Language police

While the US is mired in Iraq and one-third of our food supply comes from notoriously-unregulated China, a Senate committee today was working to keep obscenity off of our radios and televisions. Are they serious?

It is ludicrous that our society believes there are words that are "bad," and it is outrageous that one can be prohibited from using those words in certain situations. If we stopped treating some words as if they are forbidden, it wouldn't be long before the shock of hearing them would dissipate and we could all move on.

Government limiting free expression is far worse than hearing a few four-letter words. What children hear on the radio and TV is the responsibility of their parents. The rest of us are old enough to make our own decisions about such things.

Sunrise Shuttle service

According to the Herald, a shuttle service between various points in East Boston and the terminals of Logan Airport that'll run from 3:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. will begin service on August 1st. Seems like a good idea for people from the neighborhood who work at the airport in shifts that start before MBTA service begins running at 5:30.

One issue that the new service makes clearer is that the T's lack of service between 12:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. is ridiculous. That has always been obvious on the back end of that equation, where people who are in Boston's bars until 2 a.m. are left with the choice of taking an expensive cab ride or driving their cars in and out of town. Of course, people should know better than to drive drunk, but it is foolish to make that choice more appealing.

On the front end, we also see that people need public transportation to get to and from work at odd hours. Having the subway and buses shut down just after midnight is just plain stupid, and it flies in the face of Boston being a "world-class city."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Is there an alert higher than red?

"Al-Qaida likely to attack US, intel says," is the headline of an Associated Press story this afternoon, based on the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which is the consensus of the 16 US government intelligence agencies. My first reaction is, "No kidding." The radical Islamists are not going to go away and, in fact, have been empowered by America's invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The best part of the story, however, is when Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, responded to a question about the political expedience of releasing some of the classified report while Congress is debating the war in Iraq. "'"We don't keep it on the shelf and say, 'Let's look for a convenient time,'" Snow said."

That's funny, because when George W. Bush's daily security briefing was titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" in the summer of 2001, the Administration did exactly that.

East Pier update tonight

There's a small piece in today's Globe that says Massport will give East Boston residents an update this evening on the East Pier project, the $275 million dollar luxury condo and apartment complex on the waterfront that seems to have stalled. As best I can determine, the meeting will be held at the Sacred Heart Church hall on Paris Street.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Big smash-up

If you live in East Boston or any other urban area in Massachusetts prepare for your car insurance to skyrocket in the near future. Nonnie S. Burnes, the state insurance commissioner, announced today that she plans to partially deregulate the auto insurance industry.

As the story at Boston.com says, "Drivers aren't clamoring for change," but Deval Patrick has indicated he'd like to see some competition among insurers. Massachusetts is the only state in the country where all of the auto insurance rates are set by regulators, and as a result many companies bypass the state rather than have their profits limited by the system here.

The rates for urban drivers will rise because there are more accidents in densely-populated areas with narrow, crooked streets. Residents of Eastie pay among the highest rates in the state already. Burnes said she'll have at least one public hearing on the new "managed competition" plan. Gee thanks. How about some hearings before you reached a decision?

Italians in Boston

East Boston's Italia Unita will hold their 13th annual Italian Festival this coming weekend in the neighborhood's Central Square area. Having been away from the city for a few years I missed recent incarnations of the festival, so I plan to attend and take some photos this year. As in the past, I'm sure that most of the food prices will be outrageous. Unfortunately, many vendors see this as an excuse to rip people off. However, the fun is seeing people I haven't seen in years.

In today's Globe, Kevin Cullen notes that former Boston mob boss Jerry Angiulo will be in for quite a surprise when he returns to the North End in September after completing a 24-year jail term. Fewer than 30 percent of that neighborhood's residents are of Italian descent, according to census date that Cullen cites. The North End, by virtue of its European-style street layout, plentiful restaurants and short walk to downtown and the financial district, is extremely desirable to young people with money. (Photo above is from the North End celebration of Italy's World Cup victory last summer.)

Eastie, if I remember correctly, is around 50% Italian American. This neighborhood also presents convenience to the city via car or subway, as well as a killer view from Maverick or parts of Jeffries Point, so we have our share of young professionals, but this community's bread-and-butter has always been immigrants looking for a foothold on a better life. English, Irish and Jewish immigrants came in waves before the Italians, and now waves of South and Central Americans follow the same path.

For a look back at the impact of Italian culture in this city there is The Boston Italians, a book written by Stephen Puleo that was published earlier this year. I have not read the book -- and I was unable to attend Puleo's reading at the Orient Heights Branch Library -- but I've read good things about it.

There was a time when it seemed that all of the political leaders in city and state were of Irish descent and that South Boston had an unfair amount of influence, but recently we've had an Italian American governor (Cellucci) and senate president (Travaglini), and we still have an Italian American mayor (Menino) and house speaker (DiMasi), and the Globe and Herald seem to be filled with stories about East Boston. The winds do shift, and there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when Latinos will hold many of the key political offices. That's the way of the world.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hard knocks

Today's Globe has a story on Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard football player and professional wrestler, who has written a book on the long-term affects of concussions. Widespread in all contact sports, concussions used to be routinely dismissed as "getting your bell rung," but as a doctor once told me, "Concussions are brain injuries."

As far as I know, I've never had a concussion, but I did write a story on the subject in the fall of 2005, when I was a sportswriter in Maine. It was probably the best story I wrote in my two years covering high school sports in suburban Portland, and it was chosen as the top sports story in its category by the Maine Press Association.

I spoke with doctors, trainers, coaches, nurses, athletic directors, principals and athletes who'd had concussions, and I learned how serious the injuries are and how they sometimes affect the recipient for months. It seemed, however, that most of the coaches, trainers and ADs were up to speed on concussions and treated them appropriately. Pro sports is a different story, and I doubt such macho environments will ever address the issue properly.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Casino now the top issue?

The possibility of casino gambling at Suffolk Downs has become a leading topic of conversation and news coverage since Mayor Menino came out in favor of the idea on Thursday. One consequence seemed to be the resumption of negotiations between the town of Middleborough and the Mashpee Wampanoags over the building of a resort casino on several hundred acres of land that the Native American tribe recently purchased in that town. On Wednesday it seemed as though the discussions between town and tribe were deteriorating, but both sides were back at the table Friday, Menino's comments seemingly pushing Middleborough officials to be more accommodating.

Today's Globe and Herald both have stories on the reaction to the proposal from East Boston residents and elected officials. Residents seem wary, especially of the increased traffic that would flow into Eastie at, theoretically, all hours of the day and night. Both City Councilor Sal LaMattina and state Senator Anthony Petruccelli have adopted a wait and see attitude. It is highly unlikely that the Wampanoags would ever be able to build a casino here because there is a "50-mile rule" that the Department of the Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, generally uses, insisting that casinos run by Native American tribes be located within 50 miles of their tribal lands, which in this case is Cape Cod--farther from Boston than the allowed distance.

There is, of course, the possibility that the state could make casino gambling legal, which would allow non-Native Americans to own gaming establishments. Gov. Deval Patrick has shown some interest in backing this proposal, and he is expected to receive a report in August from a "study group on gaming" that he established. The governor has said he'll make an announcement on the matter by Labor Day, though officials in his administration have already made clear that the governor can't make this decision alone: They believe that the state legislature must pass a measure to legalize casinos.

The people who could be impacted most in the short term by all of this talk of gambling at Suffolk Downs are the four candidates for the vacated 1st Suffolk seat in the state House of Representatives. Suddenly, it would seem, the wisdom of putting a casino right here in East Boston becomes the number one issue. Mary Berninger, Jeff Drago, Carlo Basile and Gloribell Mota will need to take a position because I'm going to guess that residents will want to know pretty quickly where everyone stands.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What happens in Eastie, stays in Eastie?

As I indicated in the previous post, I don't think casinos in Massachusetts are a good idea. There's an excellent chance, however, that I might be getting one right in my back yard. According to a story on the Herald's web site today, Boston Mayor Tom Menino envisions "a full-blown entertainment complex” at Suffolk Downs, the struggling racetrack that straddles the East Boston/Revere line. Such a complex would include "a casino, with restaurants, hotels and other development."

Gov. Deval Patrick will soon be receiving a report on casino gambling from a commission that he appointed, and if Patrick and the mayor are on board, the road will seemingly be paved. Suffolk owner Richard Fields has been courting local politicians on the idea, and he apparently gets a quick payoff when he steps up to the table.

Taking issue

I have no idea why, but in recent days web sites for 1st Suffolk candidates Carlo Basile and Jeff Drago have gone down, while Gloribell Mota's has yet to go up. I'm sure the pages will all be working soon with information on those running for the recently vacated House seat representing East Boston, but in the meantime, the other candidate in the race, Mary Berninger, has outlined a little about her positions on some issues at her web site.

Glancing over the positions on 10 issues that Berninger discusses there are a few points I disagree with. Berninger says, "Gambling is simply a private choice matter," and that she would work to bring casinos to Massachusetts, but I'd rather not see that happen. One of the more persuasive discussions I've read on the matter was written by Dan Bosley, a Democratic state representative from North Adams, and was posted in May at a political web site called Blue Mass Group. Bosley argues that legalizing casinos is an economic issue and that it would cost the state money. Maybe his reasoning is faulty, but until I see fact-based counter-arguments I will advocate keeping casinos out.

Berninger believes that auto insurance should be deregulated in Massachusetts and that drivers in this state are "held hostage to a select group of companies." From what I've read, the cost of car insurance for drivers in the most urban settings who already pay the highest rates, including East Boston, would rise even higher under deregulation. Those companies that have continued to do business in this state do so despite the regulated prices, and rather than residents being "precluded from purchasing insurance from certain companies," as Berninger writes, the firms that refuse to do business here stay away because the profit margin isn't high enough. They are the ones behind the latest push to deregulate, and I am staunchly against it.

Finally, Berninger writes, "I believe in elected judges," but says that policy is "too lofty an ideal" for Massachusetts. That is ridiculous. One needn't look far to note the foolishness in the way that most elected officials conduct themselves to see that politicizing judges is a terrible idea. Do we really want a referendum on every unpopular decision that each judge makes? Would anyone, guilty or not, want to stand before a judge who has been called "soft on crime" in the midst of a difficult campaign? I know that a number of states elect their judges, but I think it's clearly a misguided policy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Learning the hard way

Lessons learned and/or reinforced by America's experience in Iraq:

1. The UN weapons inspection team’s approach worked just fine and their conclusions were correct.

2. The country we call Iraq was cobbled together foolishly by the British after World War I and has only been relatively peaceful under strong-arm dictators.

3. Occupying a foreign land when you know little to nothing about its history, customs and language is an extremely difficult task.

4. The Germans and French were correct in their opposition to the invasion and, as friends are supposed to do, they tried to tell the US as much. George W. Bush would not listen.

5. Members of the military and their families are loyal and dedicated to their service, and they will sacrifice greatly when asked to do so. Therefore, they should never be asked to do so unless absolutely necessary.

6. The Powell Doctrine, which holds that overwhelming force must be used and an exit strategy must be in place before taking military action, was a set of beliefs formed by the experience of military service and not a policy developed in a think tank.

7. There was no terrorist network in Iraq plotting to launch attacks at the US, but the invasion has created one.

8. The Bush Administration is completely incompetent.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Public policy held hostage

Gun control advocate John Rosenthal has used his 252-foot billboard along the Mass Pike quite effectively in recent years, displaying messages that are both eye-catching and true. The new one, which Boston.com says will be unveiled today, uses letters that appear to be cut from newspapers, as in a ransom note, and says, "we have your president & congress -nra."

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association has already called the new billboard "a shameless publicity ploy," but what else is he supposed to say? Should he admit that the NRA is such a powerful lobbying group that most politicians are afraid to vote against the organization's wishes? That the money the NRA contributes in House and Senate races -- nearly $2 million in the last election cycle (90% to Republicans) -- guarantees that serious gun-control legislation will never be passed by Congress?

The NRA has brilliantly exploited the vagueness of the Second Amendment to the Constitution because they like to play with their toys -- but also because many of the group's members don't trust the government (this is understandable to some degree) or people of other races (this is, sadly, ignorance). If we had more than a handful of people with moral clarity and conviction in Washington then we might stand a chance of getting our gun laws in line with the rest of the Western world. Until then, these are the statistics: firearms kill 30,000 people and injure another 75,000 each year in the United States.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Off and running in Suffolk race

First Suffolk House candidate Carlo Basile has his web site up and running, and -- except for several typos -- it looks like the most accessible of the four announced candidates so far. I like the easy access to voter information that the site provides, and I applaud that state campaign finance regulations are noted on the page soliciting contributions. The Basile campaign has a pair of upcoming fundraisers scheduled.

A comment posted recently on this blog notes that Gloribell Mota's web page is now up, though there is no information at the site as of this morning. Two readers posted comments over the weekend saying that Mota was knocking on doors in East Boston on Saturday. Boosting her name recognition might be key for her campaign.

Candidates Jeff Drago and Mary Berninger have each had their sites up for a bit. Drago's is currently in flux; Berninger's, like Basile's, has some information and photos. None of the sites have much information regarding the candidates' stands on issues. However, the date for this special election hasn't been announced yet, and I don't believe that Anthony Petruccelli, the outgoing holder of the 1st Suffolk seat, will even been sworn into his state senate seat until Wednesday.

Look for each of the candidates to be visible at Eastie's Italia Unita feast in two weeks.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Maverick model

On Tuesday, the Nashua Telegraph reports, local leaders from New Hampshire's second-largest city toured Maverick Landing, East Boston's recently refurbished public housing development. (See photo.) Nashua's sprawl and lack of affordable housing are two issues that the southern NH city is battling with.

Alan Manoian led the tour, which also included Station Landing, an upscale, mixed-use development in Medford. Manoian, the story says, "is leading the push to bring this 'New Urbanist' type of development to Nashua in his new role as the economic development officer for Hampshire First Bank, a relatively new local bank."

What the story fails to mention is that 40% of Hampshire First Bank is owned by Meridian Interstate Bancorp., the parent company of East Boston Savings Bank. I'm not implying anything improper about this, but only that it is an interesting connection.

Maybe EBSB officials told their friends in southern New Hampshire that the revitalized Maverick looks like a big success and could be an example for officials in Nashua to follow. The follow-up is that Hampshire First stands to benefit financially if Nashua undertakes a huge development project of this sort, and so does EBSB.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Drinking problem

An item at Boston.com notes that one quick and easy way to personally take a positive step for the environment is to stop using bottled water. Americans spent $15 billion last year for a product that flows from their kitchen sink for pennies.

Nearly 40,000 18-wheelers a week transport bottled water across the US, and if the gasoline used in that process isn't enough, the petroleum used to make the plastic bottles, which are then often disposed of in landfills, should convince Americans to turn on the tap for their drinking needs.

Bottled water is generally no safer than tap water, and one-quarter of the bottled water sold is just repackaged tap water. Bottoms up.

Move it or lose it

The most common gripe I hear perennially from Boston residents is that the streets are dirty and the City should do more to clean them. Maybe 20 years ago the big street sweepers were made more effective by having parking restricted on certain days at certain times so the sweeper could get all the way to the curb. Cars that weren't moved were given parking tickets of $40.

Living on Chelsea Street in East Boston, I had to remember that I couldn't park on the even side on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to noon and the odd side on Wednesdays at the same time. This required parking strategically the night before if I wasn't going to be up for work before 8. On occasion I forgot and received tickets. Now, however, the City tows every vehicle that is in the way, causing a bigger hassle and expense ($130), and today's Globe notes that some residents are complaining about this.

I understand the City's viewpoint, which is that people constantly rant about cleaner streets and this helps solve that problem, but I have to come down against the policy. Dennis Royer, who runs the city's public works department, says in the story, "I don't want to tow a car. But we're still towing, because there always seems to be people who forget or don't know what's going on," and if his assessment of people's motives is correct -- and I think it is -- should we really be penalizing people this much because they forget or don't know?

Towing should be reserved for people who block hydrants, driveways, handicap ramps or who double park and leave the car. Those are egregious violations. If the City raised the fine for the street-cleaning infraction to $60 or $75 that would be more appropriate, but the towing policy is a bit extreme.

Glasses filling = less drilling

A study by Italian researchers indicates that drinking wine regularly may prevent cavities and reduce sore throats. Red wine is already believed to lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. Now here is another reason to drink up.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Fourth festivities now a dud

When something becomes popular there is always a chance it will be ruined by such favor and attention. Restaurants are often a good example of this, especially when they expand to more locations. The original concept and execution may have been wonderful, but attempts to replicate it -- often because the owner has now become a businessman and not the cook or even the proprietor of a single location -- result in a less than genuine experience of inferior quality.

Bertucci's was once a pretty good place for a casual meal of pizza and some pasta, then they expanded and now have 92 eateries. Each level of expansion -- just as in baseball -- weakened the overall product. There's a story at Boston.com today about how Bertucci's, now owned by a New York holding company, is ready to start expanding more after a two-year moratorium (because of subpar sales...I wonder why?). Maria Feicht, Bertucci's senior vice president of marketing, is quoted in the story as saying, "...it's all about getting [market] share." I'm sorry, Ms. Feicht, but it's all about the food. When your restaurant started thinking in terms of market share, that's when it became lost.

Imagine Santarpio's expanding to 50 or 100 locations. That would kill it. The pizza would become like everyone else's. The same goes for East Boston Slush. If that lemony goodness was for sale on every streetcorner, then the production would have to shift from a back room in a doorway on Bennington Street to a factory, and then what do you have? I'll tell you: Richie's Slush. The unique quality of things is often lost when they are tampered with, and such tampering almost invariably occurs when businesses grow and try to become all things to all people. Look at the transformation of Harvard Square, which is now filled with chain stores and upscale eateries.

These thoughts occurred to me as I watched the Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and fireworks last night on television with friends. A cherished Boston tradition seems to have been butchered and rendered as flavorless as a boiled hot dog. Now it's all about the national telecast, the guest host, the mega-star musician and the phony attempts at elevating the new "product" into something special. Host Craig Ferguson claimed excitedly that the fireworks display we were about to witness was going to be "unbelievable." Not only do I believe that such fireworks are possible, but this particular exhibition was lackluster at best.

There's a reason that we often pine for "the good ol' days." Whenever we attempt to move forward there should be an assessment of what we are giving up with such a move. If losing the essence of something may be the cost, then why do it?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Political site seeing

House candidate Mary Berninger has got her web site up, which tells us a little about who she is and how she became involved in community issues. In a section called "Issues & Positions" there are almost a dozen letters that Berninger has sent to newspapers and public officials throughout the years, which is nice, but the letters are generally brief and they don't really tell us much beyond the fact that she is willing to speak out. That is, of course, rather important, but I'd like to learn more about her thoughts on issues that she could face as a legislator: casino gambling, auto insurance regulation, health care, education, same-sex marriage, taxes, etc.

Rival candidate Jeff Drago has had his site up for a couple of weeks, but it apparently hasn't been updated since then, with some photos of the candidate and supporters at a fundraiser. Also, there is a spot for users to log in, and I don't understand why I would need to do that to find out information about the candidate.

I've seen a web site listed on signs for candidate Carlo Basile, and as of this morning the site exists, but has no information related to the candidate or the campaign. A search of the Internet found no signs of a site for potential fourth candidate Gloribell Mota.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Different laws for different people

Tomorrow we mark the adoption, 231 years ago, of the Declaration of Independence, a document revered among our citizenry and used as a model for similar declarations by other peoples around the world. The words of Thomas Jefferson gave voice to the colonists' grievances against Britain's George III and served notice that the people of America would not be ruled by tyranny.

Now, 11 score and 11 years hence, we are governed by another tyrant, and he is fittingly named George as well. Bush's commutation of Lewis Libby's sentence is outrageous, making a mockery of the rule of law. Forget all of the specious arguments; Libby lied, under oath, to a grand jury. A high official of the Bush Administration believed that it was OK for him to mislead an investigation that was paid for by taxpayers and that dealt with issues of national security. In return for Libby's not rolling on other Administration personnel, he gets his sentence wiped away. We're worried about T-shirts that advise our children to "Stop snitching," but Libby adopted that mantra and was rewarded.

Over at the Justice Department there are more than 3,500 applications for commutations and pardons. Bush, the "compassionate conservative," has signed off on just three and each of the people involved served more than 10 years in prison. Libby's crime is worse -- much worse -- than petty drug offenses that carry mandatory sentences of years and years in federal prison, yet we lock up thousands of poor or working people for those transgressions and label the offenders "miscreants" responsible for many of society's ills.

A president can pardon a crime or commute a sentence; the power is clearly in the Constitution. Still, this action by George W. Bush tramples on the precept of "equal justice under law." It is a disgrace.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Photographic interlude

There was some nice warm sunlight falling on a tree in my neighbor's backyard a little before 8 p.m. this evening, so I went out and took some photos. The one above, a study of the candleholder on my porch with the quality light in the background, was the nicest of the bunch.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Burgers at 3 a.m.?

The Boston Herald is reporting that three McDonald's restaurants across the city are hoping to keep their drive-through windows open all night, including the East Boston location.

Sal Napoli, who owns the Golden Arches in Eastie's Central Square, as well as one on Boylston Street, is seeking approval from the Boston Licensing Board to keep both open 24 hours. Napoli cites customer requests, but could he be a little nervous about the Burger King that is going up in Maverick Square, just a few blocks away?

Being that the East Boston eatery is not in a residential area, it seems likely that the request will be granted.

Thunder and smash

At about 1:15 a.m., a heavy but fast-moving thunderstorm passed through East Boston, and five minutes into it a car smashed into a light pole on the median strip of Bennington Street, just a block past my house. The rain had already woke me, and the flashing ambulance lights intrigued me, so I went outside to see if I could get a decent photo of the scene.

In the fall, not long after I moved into this Orient Heights apartment, there was a horrific accident on my block that took out two light poles and damaged several cars. One of those small SUV-type vehicles -- a RAV4, maybe -- flipped over and dragged one pole into a second, spraying chunks of concrete all over the street. The sound was frightening, and I ran outside to find a scene that looked like a bomb had exploded. The driver and passengers apparently weren't hurt too badly, but the word I got is that the driver was clearly intoxicated.

I wonder if this stretch of street is always so accident prone?