Friday, August 31, 2007

Hubster interview: Mary Berninger

The second of four interviews with candidates vying for East Boston's open House of Representatives seat is with Mary Berninger. The 51-year-old mother of three has been active for many years on a wide range of community issues.

Berninger and I spoke Monday at her home, interrupted a couple of times by jets whose flight patterns took them right over our heads. Click on the headline above or on "comments" below to see the entire interview, which I recorded and transcribed in whole.

Interviews with all four Democratic candidates will be completed by the end of this week; however, it will take me a several days to transcribe each one, so please be patient.

The Leone family speaks

After receiving requests from readers on this blog and an email from Frank Leone, I went to see him, his wife Patty and her 85-year-old mother Mary today at their home on Wordsworth Street to allow them to offer their side of the story regarding their attempt at building an addition to their home a few years ago.

I feel that it is only fair to give them space here after posting state rep candidate Jeff Drago's version of the events in an interview I did with him that was posted nearly a week ago. You can find Mr. Leone's written statement describing the events if you click "Comments" below or the headline above. Their description of the way things unfolded is disturbing, including a city hearing in which they were not allowed to speak and a total of $26,000 lost.

Frank's mother-in-law Mary spends part of the year with a daughter in Florida, but when she is here in East Boston with her daughter Patty's family, Mary has to sleep in a crowded, partitioned room with her 16-year-old grandson. (See photo above.)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Light! Camera! Eastie!

The Hollywood pic Bachelor No. 2 was filming at East Boston High School yesterday. In the morning I saw signs just outside Day Square that read "CREW" and "SET," pointing people to where they were supposed to go. I'm not sure if there's more filming to be done in the neighborhood today or in the future.

The Boston Herald reports that Kate Hudson was here yesterday (see photo) as part of the film. The actress was reportedly under "heavy security" because her ex-boyfriend, Owen Wilson, attempted suicide over the weekend.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

ICE storm

Federal agents and state law enforcement personnel raided a number of addresses today in several communities, including East Boston, looking for gang members with outstanding warrants. reports that "a multijurisdictional task force that includes local police; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Middlesex Sheriffs Department; and police from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority" joined agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency looking for members of MS-13, a street gang with an increasing presence in Greater Boston, including Eastie.

The police had a list with 50 photos and names on it, but the story has no information about arrests. A more detailed story appeared in the Globe on Wednesday morning.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The witch -- OK, one of them -- is dead

Looks like Alberto Gonzales, our embarrassing excuse for an attorney general, is finally taking the hints -- OK, demands from Democratic and Republican legislators alike -- and beating a path out the back door. Good riddance.

The New York Times is reporting that Gonzales called President Bush, his old pal from Texas, on Friday to tell the Decider that he was done. This comes not long after Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff and architect of Bush's political strategy, announced that he is leaving at the end of this month. That leaves the sneering, Vader-like Dick Cheney as the last of Bush's high-ranking inner circle, and it'd take an act of impeachment -- or the concentrated power of the Force -- to unseat the Evil One.

Gonzales had no supporters left on Capitol Hill after repeatedly lying in testimony before Congressional committees on both his role in the illegal wiretapping program and in the firing of nine US attorneys for political reasons. He also paved the way for American violations of the Geneva Conventions when, as chief White House counsel, he opined that torturing detainees sounded like a good -- and legal -- idea. Seriously, did he get his law degree via mail order?

My guess as to Bush's appointment to fill the AG's spot: crazed gun advocate and right-wing rocker Ted Nugent.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Hubster Forum: Week #5

Though I am in the process of interviewing each of the Democratic candidates for the open state rep seat, the weekly questions still give the four hopefuls a chance to air their views in detail on specific policy areas. It also gives the constituents, me included, a way to highlight our concerns and offer our points of view on issues. This weeks topics:

With the Supreme Court firmly in the hands of conservatives, it's not unrealistic to imagine that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion is the US, could be overturned soon. That would not make abortion illegal, but rather it would leave the decision to individual states. Are you pro-choice or anti-abortion? How would you cast your vote in the legislature on this delicate and divisive issue?

Another polarizing issue nationally is same-sex marriage. Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex couples to marry. Do you believe that this is sound policy or not? Would you vote to repeal same-sex marriage or keep it as is? Would you be in favor of letting the voters decide the issue via ballot question? Would you allow out-of-state gay couples to marry in Massachusetts?

A pair of aces

In the City Weekly section of today's Boston Globe there are a pair of stories that highlight East Boston's past and it's future. First there is a look back at Rosa DePasquale, who died in June at 83 after running Tony's Restaurant on Sumner Street by herself for 30 years.

When I was 17 years old I worked at Festa Liquors, on the corner of Cottage and Sumner, and I had dinner at Tony's a couple of times. There were no menus. Customers ate whatever she was cooking and drank from large jugs of red table wine (which we delivered from the liquor store). As the story says, Rosa -- above in a photo from Boston Magazine -- was "hostess, waitress, cook, bus person, and dishwasher." The walls were covered with pieces of neckties that her husband Tony -- who died in 1977 -- had cut from guys, many of them celebrities and politicians, who couldn't finish their meals.

The other story is about Ariana Nunes, a 17-year-old incoming senior at East Boston High School, who volunteered at a community center in Brazil over the summer. Nunes is now an excellent student, though she struggled a few years ago when she was "under the influence of the people around me." Nunes now has big hopes for her future. Too many teenagers never have that "a ha!" moment.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hubster interview: Jeff Drago

The first of our interviews with candidates vying for East Boston's open House of Representatives seat is with Jeff Drago. The 28-year-old has spent a number of years working as an aide to Boston's mayor, Thomas Menino.

Drago and I spoke at his headquarters yesterday. I asked him about a pair of incidents that have been mentioned on this blog, as well as his viewpoint on a number of issues. Click on the headline above or on "comments" below to see the entire interview, which I recorded and transcribed in whole.

Two of the other candidates have already scheduled interviews with me next week. I will do the best I can to get those up, but I am not the fastest of typists and, also, I do at times have other obligations.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Candidate interviews

I interviewed Jeff Drago, one of the four Democratic contenders for East Boston's open House seat, today, and the transcript of that interview will be published on this blog as soon as I can finish typing it. (This may take a couple of days.) Drago talked about the issues in the race, as well as a pair of incidents that have been referred to in many comments at this site.

Each of the other candidates is extended the same offer: an interview of about 15 minutes with my digital recorder on and no conditions on the questions. I make no judgment about who takes part and who doesn't, and -- as I frequently point out -- I have never appointed myself as moderator or arbiter of this campaign. As has been the case with The Hubster Forum questions or the idea of a debate, I am happy to assist in a discussion of the issues in any way I can.

Courting the different constituencies

Today's Boston Globe has a front-page story on East Boston's open state rep seat, focusing on the ethnic backgrounds of the candidates and how that translates into votes in a community with a growing Spanish-speaking population.

Gloribell Mota has been trying to break out of "the Latina candidate" label, and strikes that chord again, saying, "I'm not here to represent one section or another." The article notes that Carlo Basile and Jeff Drago are actively courting the Latino vote, while paraphrasing Mary Berninger's position like this: "immigrants should learn English and get more involved in neighborhood causes."

The piece also points out the neighborhood's history of voting "for the candidate whose last name ends in a vowel," as well as how far some coffee and donuts can go at a gathering of senior citizens. As anyone who has been at a polling place on election day for any length of time knows, the turnout in the morning and afternoon is mostly elderly women. Courting them with charm is a campaign necessity.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Woman assaulted

A woman told police that she was raped yesterday on the way home to Bennington Street from her job at Logan Airport, the Globe reports. It happened "after a man flashed a knife about 12:30 a.m. in an alley or walkway" as she walked home.

The article notes that there have been a dozen rapes or attempted rapes in East Boston so far this year, which is down 33% from last year. In another story in today's paper, the police commissioner, Edward Davis, announced that there would be more foot patrols in a number of city neighborhoods, including Eastie.

I know that the Logan Employee Transportation Management Association began an early morning shuttle this summer, which picks up employees between 3:00 and 5:30 at eight stops in the neighborhood and drops them at the four airport terminals for $1 a ride. I wonder if it'd make sense to do the same for employees returning home after dark?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bushwacked beyond belief

Just before the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000, John McCain and George W. Bush were being interviewed by Larry King on CNN. McCain had won a 19-point victory over Bush in the New Hampshire primary the week before and if the Arizona senator could take South Carolina, the race would likely be over. Not so fast. Bush’s people, led by Karl Rove, unleashed viscous attacks on McCain, with phone calls, flyers, leaks to the media and other “whisper campaign” tactics that said that the Vietnam War hero, who spent more than five years in captivity in Hanoi, was a traitor who gave information to his captors and was a spy for the Soviets, that his time as a POW had broken him psychologically, that he was gay, that his wife was a drug addict and that he fathered a mixed-race child out of wedlock.

When McCain brought up Bush’s dirty campaign in the Larry King interview, Bush responded that he had nothing to do with it and that he didn’t appreciate McCain impugning his character. Then came the moment when, I believe, McCain lost the election. He should have, at that instant, fired back with fury in defense of his reputation and in the face of Bush’s lies. (People like that. Remember Ronald Reagan saying, "I paid for that microphone," at one of the debates.) Instead, McCain laughed nervously, allowing Bush to appear to be the candidate sticking up for his good name. Soon after, McCain lost South Carolina and his race was over.

I was thinking of McCain because he was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week. It was his tenth appearance on the program and, just like the other times I’ve seen him on there, he was funny and straightforward, clearly not reading from talking points, not on guard to avoid saying something he’d regret. I don’t agree with McCain on most issues, especially the invasion of Iraq. However, he does seem to be more honest than most politicians, speaking more from his gut. Personally, he seems like a good guy, and when reading the story of his military service you can’t help but see that he is a hero. You also can’t help but feel disillusioned by the fact that the Republicans nominated Bush instead of him, and that the Administration failed to listen to him on the issue of torture, which he knows about first hand.

A US Navy pilot, McCain was almost killed in the summer of 1967 when an accidentally-fired rocket hit the fighter plane he was preparing to launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier. McCain jumped off the aircraft onto the burning deck of the ship seconds before ordnance on the plane exploded, killing 132. Three months later, McCain was shot down over enemy territory, breaking both arms and a leg. An angry mob then crowded around, kicking him and spitting on him.

At the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison McCain was interrogated, beaten and tortured daily, but when it was discovered that his father was the admiral in charge of all American military personnel in Vietnam, McCain was offered the chance to be released. He refused special treatment, telling his captors that he would not go unless every man taken prisoner before him was set free as well. Instead of being held for months, McCain was a POW for more than five years. As a result of his torture he cannot lift his arms over his head. He was finally released in 1973 (see photo of President Nixon greeting McCain as he returned to the US) and retired from the military in 1981, having received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, the Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Where was George W. Bush while McCain refused preferential treatment and was tortured instead? He was receiving preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard, forgetting to show up and getting soused instead. It’s a travesty, made all the more depressing by Bush’s enthusiasm for heading blindly into war in Iraq and then compiled by his supporters twisting and ridiculing the military record of another war hero, John Kerry -- a guy who was not drafted but signed up out of a sense of duty, served nobly and then came back and spoke honestly, publicly and intelligently about the American effort in Vietnam.

And, by the way, that mixed-race child that South Carolina voters were warned about? It's a girl that McCain and his wife adopted from an orphanage in Bangladesh that was founded by Mother Theresa.

Boys of summer

No matter what happens today, Michael Rando and his Walpole teammates will always have the memory of a spectacular catch and an exciting win Friday, the opening day of the Little League World Series. After "the catch" saved their 3-2 win over Hamilton, Ohio, the squad representing New England lost 1-0 yesterday to Lake Oswego, Oregon. Today, at 6 p.m., Walpole faces a do-or-die situation when they square off against a team from Georgia. [The game has been postponed to tomorrow because of rain.]

I take a bit more interest in the LLWS now because I was at the 2005 edition, covering the team from Westbrook, Maine, as a sports reporter for that community's weekly newspaper, the American Journal. Me, another reporter and a photographer hastily made plans to head down to central Pennsylvania from southern Maine in the aftermath of Westbrook's improbable come-from-behind wins at the state and regional tournaments, which the other reporter had been covering.

It was a long ride, but we found the Williamsport area relatively uncrowded and the Little League facilities were quite nice, with free admission for fans and modestly priced food and souvenirs. Of course, as part of the working media, I never paid to attend sporting events. In fact, the media room had complimentary sandwiches for lunch and hot food for dinner. Pretty sweet.

Westbrook went 1-2, and headed home after the "pool play" round. We beat them back to Maine, ready to capture the heroes' welcome they received, and we had some excellent stories and photos in that week's paper, as well as a special section the following week. It was a fun story to cover, and we were able to go above and beyond what the Portland daily did -- a testament to what community weeklies can and should do for their readers.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Hubster Forum: Week #4

What is your opinion of the current business climate in Massachusetts, and -- if you feel that it is lacking in some way -- what kind of changes would you advocate making? Are there any steps the state should take to help out small businesses? The Commonwealth's unemployment rate is currently 5.1%, which is a half-point above the national rate. What can be done to create more jobs or to better prepare those out of work for the types of jobs that are available?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sticking to the rule of law in a dangerous world

Jose Padilla is not a very nice guy. As a juvenile, he once participated in the killing of another gang member by kicking the guy in the head. Still, his arrest, detention and trial on terrorism charges concern me.

Even before the verdict was rendered by a federal jury two days ago, Padilla -- an American citizen arrested on American soil -- clearly had his Sixth ("speedy trial") and Eighth ("cruel and unusual punishment") Amendment rights violated. He was held for more than three years as an "enemy combatant" before being transfered to the civilian court system, and during his stay in the military brig he was tortured.

The trial rested on an application to train at an insurgent camp that Padilla allegedly filled out. The jury deliberated less than two days, and Padilla will likely get life when a sentence is handed down. I'm not saying that this guy isn't dangerous. He may have met with actual terrorists, and he may have been in the process of planning some violent acts. What I'm saying is that there is a process here in the United States, and that the rule of law has to carry the day every day or we risk becoming more like the enemy whose ways we claim to abhor.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

On the campaign trail

There are less than six weeks to go in the campaign for East Boston's open state rep seat, and it appears that Carlo Basile is running the best campaign so far.

I drove through a Basile stand-out Tuesday at Wood Island and there were dozens of supporters holding signs. In fact, Basile seems to be winning the sign wars all around. It looks like he matches Jeff Drago throughout Orient Heights and easily tops him in the rest of Eastie. There is a small bastion of green Mary Berninger signs on a few streets just off the beach, while I’ve seen only a couple of placards for Gloribell Mota.

I’ve received a mailing and several flyers from the Basile campaign, his web site is the best looking and easiest to maneuver, he’s got several union endorsements, and the July issue of Eastie Latino magazine has a big cover story on the candidate. I’ve been told that the Basile campaign has a well-respected Latino managing its inroads into the neighborhood’s Spanish-speaking community.

The Basile web site does have an “On the issues” pages, but besides vigilance against Massport and opposition to casinos in East Boston, we are told that Basile “will continue to be diligent about issues that matter” to us. There is no discussion of his positions on education, healthcare, public safety, taxes, same-sex marriage, auto insurance, etc.

The same is true for Drago, who has a page on his site called “Press releases,” which is empty. From the start, Berninger’s site has listed her thoughts on a number of topics under the headings “Issues” and “Positions,” and she deserves credit for that. Mota recently added an “On the issues” page that outlines her thoughts on the areas most important to her.

So it appears that the two candidates generally recognized as frontrunners -- Basile and Drago -- are the least eager to share their points of view with the electorate. One way that voters can learn what the candidates think is a debate, which I’ve heard a whisper about from one of the campaigns.

On a final note, it seems that there may be a Republican opponent for the winner of the Sept. 25 Democratic primary. I’ve been told that a woman named Jacqueline Smith was gathering signatures in the neighborhood recently. The deadline for submitting the names was Tuesday, so we should know soon if she made it on the ballot.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Eastie at center of anarchist plots?

In reading a New York Times review today of a book called Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders and the Judgment of Mankind, I came across this: "Both men belonged to the Gruppo Autonomo, an anarchist cell in East Boston that favored the violent overthrow of the government."

I did a little research on the Internet and found that Il Gruppo Autonomo di East Boston was formed in the early part of the 20th century as part of an influx of Italian anarchists coming to America. There was a Gruppo Autonomo di New York, as well as others in urban areas of the Midwest and Eastern seaboard. One of the most highly-regarded anarchist newspapers, Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle) was published in Lynn (until supressed by the US government in 1918).

After a number of bombings and a failed plot to send bombs through the mail, a pair of anarchists were arrested in New York City in the spring on 1920. Gruppo Autonomo -- including Sacco and Vanzetti -- met on April 25 "in a hall" in Maverick Square (I wish I knew where) to rally support for their comrades. The group also met in Eastie on May 2, the day before one of the men held in New York fell to his death from a 14th-floor window during questioning. The police said he jumped.

On May 5 Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested for the daylight murder of two payroll guards in Braintree that took place on April 15. They were convicted after a trial that featured flimsy evidence, an incompetent defense lawyer and a biased judge. They were executed via the electric chair seven years later.

Few believe today that these two immigrants were the trigger men in the Braintree killings. However, there is evidence that Sacco and Vanzetti were involved in some of the violence attributed to the Italian anarchist movement, and some of their activities were likely planned by the group that met 87 years ago here in East Boston.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Report from East Pier meeting

Local activist Neenah Estrella-Luna was at a meeting hosted by Massport this evening to update residents on the Portside at Pier 1/ East Pier project. She was kind enough to summarize the event for all of us:
The meeting was at 6 p.m. at the Piers Park sailing center. It was freezing but quite a lot of people showed up and many stayed until the very end. Basically the meeting was framed as Massport's update on the Portside at Pier 1 development. Basically, the costs of strengthening the pier in order to build 4-5 story buildings have turned out to be much higher than expected. One of the proposals Roseland Property Company has suggested is to develop the condos on the Piers Park II land and wrap the park around and along the pier. Anyway, the claim is that, given the increased construction costs and the softening condo market, they expect a loss of anywhere between 11-15% (the numbers kept changing throughout the meeting).

In short, most people felt that Roseland should have known about the costs of strengthening the pier before going through this process. That they didn't know (or say they didn't know) amounts to what most people characterized as either mismanagement or malfeasance. It was interesting to learn that the expected return on investment originally was 3-4%, which is significantly lower than the 15-20% that is typical of these kinds of developers. The Massport guy (I never caught his name) made it clear that Roseland is still costing out its options. They have not received any notice of proposed project change or anything like that. Roseland has until November to do something or else they have lost their bid, and the $20 million that they've put into the project. Roseland is still interested in the apartment development part of the proposal. It's the condo development on the pier that is the problem. There was a comment that I didn't quite catch entirely and needs to be confirmed, but I thought I heard them say that if Roseland pares back the development to just the apartments, their ROI will be in the range of 12-16%. As it happened, a plane flew over right as this comment was being made, so I could have easily misheard what was said.

I would like to give credit to Massport for keeping residents up to date on the status of the project, although it was made clear that the meeting was requested by the residents, so it's not like they took the initiative here. I really wish they had let more people know about this meeting. I learned about it third-hand and only because someone who learned about it second-hand knows that I do research on these kinds of public participation processes (and I like to know what's going on in my own neighborhood). It wasn't even listed on Frank Conte's website []. It appears that you had to be on the Piers PAC list to get the notice. East Boston can be very balkanized and that really plays into the hands of developers.

Unfortunately, Roseland's conspicuous absence made Massport appear to be more than a messenger but also a proponent of Roseland's takeover of Piers Park II. It also made people even more angry. It really kind of felt like MassPort feeling out the community response rather than an objective presentation of what's going on. I also feel like MassPort is approaching this site from a particularly narrow framework. At one point the MassPort guy said that this development "will only work as condos." I put out the suggestion that maybe they think a little more broadly about developing this site, like doing eco-lofts (they are building them in Chelsea, I can't imagine why it couldn't be done here). But ideas like these just don't fit their narrow mindset of what can be successfully developed on this site.

Suffice to say, no one was happy. The residents in attendance were frustrated. Sal got up and suggested that MassPort go back to the drawing board and then left shortly after. A lot of complaining, a couple of histrionics, and a lot of questions that simply could not be answered.

Power and reason

Via the progressive political web site Blue Mass. Group and Newsweek magazine, I came across an insightful and relevant quotation from Robert Jackson, a highly-regarded Supreme Court justice who was appointed the chief US prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal at the end of World War II. In his opening statement, Jackson said:
That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.
Those are brilliant and profound words. Christopher Dodd, the Democratic senator from Connecticut whose father was an assistant prosecutor to Jackson at the war crimes trial, says that Nuremberg is "the place where America's moral authority in the second half of the 20th century was born." Now, Dodd fears, the US has squandered that authority in Iraq.

The aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan (and their allies) led to six years of war, unrivaled destruction and at least 60,000,000 dead, yet America and her allies had the principles and the foresight to use the rule of law in dealing with its enemies -- something the Axis powers had not done. In this era of secret detention sites, indefinite terms of imprisonment and acceptable degrees of torture, our nation would do well to take note of the examples that our war-weary forefathers set for us and to aim at nothing lower than the bar that they so wisely and courageously set.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Eastie round-up

Several items regarding East Boston have been in local newspapers in the past couple of days:

***BostonNow reports that Logan Airport's "back door" is going to be closed down to drivers who don't live in the neighborhood. Years ago that route, at the end of Maverick Street, was blocked off with a booth and a gate, and there was a sign saying it was for Eastie residents only. Over time, however, nobody was assigned to the booth, and the gate was always in the up position. Recently the booth and gate were dismantled. Now, apparently, there will be a new, electronically-operated gate and residents will get a "smart card" that opens it.

***The Boston Globe had a story yesterday about attempts by McDonald's to open their drive-through windows 24 hours a day at locations throughout the city. The eatery in Central Square has been one of the spots hoping to bring in late-night customers. The story says that McDonald's was attempting to bypass meetings with community groups, but local leaders became wise to their plan and now the fast-food purveyor is meeting with them. Interestingly, the lawyer who tried to sneak the plan past residents is Steven Baddour, who is also a state senator from Methuen.

***The Boston Herald had a story yesterday that combined two of my recent postings here. On July 21 I wrote that noise complaints to Massport are up and on Aug. 6 I wrote that delays at Logan Airport are no better despite the new runway. The Herald story says that complaints about increased noise are "coming from outraged Cambridge, Charlestown, Chelsea, Somerville, Everett and East Boston residents and politicians." Massport claims that wind shifts are behind the increased flight traffic over those neighborhoods. Blah blah blah. They have never been straightforward with us, so why would we ever believe anything they say?

***An interesting story in today's Herald notes that the first Boston Police officer to be killed in the line of duty was
Ezekiel W. Hodson, who was shot down on Oct. 18, 1857, at the intersection of Maverick and Havre streets, just outside what is now Maverick Square. A granite memorial is scheduled to be unveiled on the spot in October. Crime reporter Michele McPhee, who always goes out of her way to show her street cred in her stories, sullies up the fascinating slice of history by attempting to tie it together with current news.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Hubster Forum: Week #3

Crime is always an issue that is of great concern to most citizens. What is your assessment of current efforts to combat crime, and are there laws or policies that you’d change? Gov. Patrick is currently reviewing the state’s criminal sentencing regulations. Do you think that mandatory minimum sentences are a good idea? Would you revamp the CORI check system or do you feel it is fine as it is? Do we need to overhaul the procedures regarding jury duty? Massachusetts has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. Are you an advocate of gun control or do you think every citizen has the right to carry a weapon? Would you vote for or against restoring the death penalty for capital crimes in this state?

Forum update

In case you haven't scrolled down lately, two of the candidates in the special election for East Boston's open state rep seat responded to this week's question on education, while some other readers are adding their comments as well.

Look for Hubster Forum Week #2 or just click here.

The question for week #3 will be posted tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The wisdom of "tax holidays"

This is a tax-free weekend in Massachusetts, and while it seems like a good idea, you should check out this column by an employee at a locally-owned small business. He writes:
I simply do not understand the rationale behind these "tax holidays." The state throws away revenue, small businesses suffer, and the only people that benefit are some of the big stores that aren't even based in Massachusetts.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The honor roll keeps on rolling

The Newshour on PBS ended tonight the way it does most nights: with the faces of Americans who have recently been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anchor Jim Lehrer reads the same introduction, telling us that soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are shown as their names and photos become available. Then the cavalcade of photos begins in silence. I make it my business to watch.

For me, this evening's "honor roll," as Lehrer calls it, was particularly solemn for two reasons. One, there were images of 24 dead servicemen, when most nights there are less than half that. Second, I saw a film today at the Kendall Square Theater called No End in Sight, which documents the arrogance and incompetence of George W. Bush and his top advisors in the early stages of the occupation of Iraq. Quite a few people who were part of the Administration or in the military at the time went on camera to tell us what happened and why.

If you've been paying attention all along, then many of the mistakes won't surprise you -- having the Department of Defense instead of State in control of the occupation; not having nearly enough troops to occupy a country of 26 million people; having few Middle East experts and almost no speakers of Arabic as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority; allowing lawlessness right after the fall of Baghdad; securing the oil ministry but none of the others; not securing dozens of weapons caches; deBaathification; disbanding the army; and the list goes on.

What the film demonstrates is that there were people in our government who knew what to do and there was a voluminous plan (in the State Department) laying out how to do it, but Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz and CPA head Paul Bremer didn't want to hear it. They already knew the answers -- or so they believed. And now, as a result, more than 3,000 Americans are dead. I have been opposed to the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, but even for those who have supported the policy all along it is sickening to see the consequences of such hubris and malfeasance.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bridge facts

We don't realize how many bridges we cross in our travels each day, so hearing that there are more than 5,000 in Massachusetts and that more than 500 of them are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete sounds crazy -- and scary.

The focus on bridges is, of course, because of the disaster in Minneapolis. It has sparked all kinds of coverage in the media, including information I found at the MSNBC web site, which lists bridges that carry more than 10,000 vehicles a day that have been found deficient or obsolete by inspectors. The list is arranged by state and divided by county, and I went through and tried to determine bridges in East Boston that are there. Because of the limited information and the shorthand used to display it, figuring out exactly what the entries are saying is not always clear, but it appears to me that there are 13 bridges in Eastie on the list.

All but one of those bridges is classified as functionally obsolete, which means that some aspect of its construction isn't up to modern standards and older design features make it unsuitable to carry the traffic it's currently carrying. One of the easiest structures for me to identify on the list is the bridge that carries vehicles between Eastie and Winthrop. That bridge was rated 41.3 out of 100. Several of the entries seem to refer to the ramps that carry Route 1A above the neighborhood. Other listings are more difficult to decipher.

The bridge on the list that is classified as deficient and may be partly in East Boston is one that spans the "Chelsea River" and is on the "Chelsea line," according to the document. That could be either the Meridian Street (or McArdle) Bridge or the Chelsea Street Bridge. However, it may indicate a different bridge. I'm not sure. The rating for whatever bridge that might be is a frighteningly low 2.0, which seems like it must be a typo.

Overall there appear to be more than 100 bridges on the list that are located in Boston (although it does look like there are times when the same bridge is listed more than once).

Church festival Saturday

The Sacred Heart Festival will take place from 12 noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday in the lot adjacent to the rectory, located at the corner of Brooks and Paris streets in East Boston. There will be games, food, a silent auction and entertainment from the local teens at Zumix as well as Tiny Tavares.

The event will raise money for the youth programs at Sacred Heart Church, which is where I received most of my sacraments as a kid.

Patrick obfuscates casino question

Transparency is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. For seven years we've seen the Bush Administration violate that idea repeatedly, but who would expect Gov. Deval Patrick to trample on it as well?

The Boston Globe requested copies of the study on casino gambling that Patrick commissioned and then received in late July. In a ridiculous reading of the law, officials in the Patrick Administration have said that the reports are similar to "interagency or intra-agency memoranda" that are protected by the state's public record law, even though that law goes on to say that it doesn't apply to "reasonably completed factual studies or reports."

The Globe has already appealed to the secretary of state's office and, if that doesn't work, I'm sure the newspaper will go to court. It seems clear to me that the study must be released to the public. What isn't clear is how Patrick could interpret the law this way and what he has to gain by doing so.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The waiting game

The US Department of Transportation reports today that flight delays across the country are the highest they've been in 13 years. Well, here in Boston things must be different because the honest people at Massport assured everyone that Logan Airport needed to add a fifth runway to lessen the number of delays, right?

Let's take a look. According to statistics at the DOT site, 59.53% of the arrivals at Logan were on time in June of 2006. One year later, in June 2007 -- six months after Runway 14-32 was put into action -- 59.37% of the planes arrived on time. Well, departures fared better: 67.59% left on time last June and 68.41% were on schedule this June. Hey, a jump of 0.82% percent isn't worth sneezing at.

Actually, it's worth laughing at, as is much of the other data. Now, of course, we're being told that the centerfield taxiway will make everything run smoother. Well, the good folks at Massport wouldn't dismiss our quality of life concerns without good reason, so it must be true, right?

Survey says...

I got a phone call yesterday from a Beacon Hill firm conducting a political survey about the 1st Suffolk race. I was asked whether I had favorable or unfavorable opinions about the four candidates (as well as the mayor and governor) and which candidate I'd vote for if the election were held today.

I'm guessing that none of the candidates paid for this, but I'd also be surprised that any of the media outlets would commission a poll for a single House race. Anyone else get a call? Any thoughts on who might be behind the survey?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Hubster Forum: Week #2

A quick scan of the state web site shows that hundreds of bills have been introduced in this legislative session that include the word “school.” While municipalities administer our public schools, the state provides a significant amount of the funding and enforces certain statewide standards (MCAS, No Child Left Behind, curriculum frameworks).

What do you foresee as the major challenges for Massachusetts with regard to education? Are we currently heading in the right direction? Do you believe that charter schools are a good idea? Does too much emphasis on the MCAS take away from areas such as art, field trips and physical education? Should the MCAS be abolished as a graduation requirement? Has No Child Left Behind helped or hurt public education? Would you support a law, such as one passed in Utah, which allows local authorities to ignore provisions of NCLB if they conflict with the goals of school districts?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Beware of tunnel

Work is going to be done Sunday through Thursday nights starting tomorrow in the Sumner Tunnel, which will have one lane closed at 9:30 p.m. and both shut down from 11:30 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Vehicles may be restricted to one lane at times during the day as well.

When the tunnel is completely closed, traffic is diverted into the Callahan Tunnel, which becomes a two-way road. The work, scheduled maintenance on the tunnel's ceiling, will continue into September.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Three candidates respond (so far)

Mary Berninger, Carlo Basile and Gloribell Mota have responsed to this week's Hubster Forum question for the 1st Suffolk race, and it's refreshing to see the candidates talking (writing) about the issues. I am trying to make sure that the campaign of Jeff Drago is aware of the forum. This week's question is on casino gambling and you can scroll down to see it, or click the direct link right here:

Responses from Berninger and Mota follows that link; Basile's response is the first comment for this post. I appreciate each of the candidates taking the time to address the question. The week 2 question will be posted Sunday morning. Suggestions from readers are encouraged. I hope this helps us understand who the candidates are and what they stand for.

We've got to pay the piper

In light of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the Boston Globe reports today that more than 500 (of more than 5,000) bridges in Massachusetts are rated as "structurally deficient," the same classification as the I-35W bridge in Minnesota. Many of those bridges are in the Greater Boston area, and -- though it is hard to tell from the graphic -- I believe some are in East Boston. (I say this because the Globe did a story on bridges needing repair a number of years ago and they mentioned one of the two that connect Eastie to Chelsea.)

Two weeks ago an underground steam pipe exploded in Manhattan, killing one and injuring dozens. The pipe, which was 83 years old, and the bridge, built in the 1960s, push into the spotlight the disrepair that America's infrastructure suffers from. It'll take $20 billion to fix the bridges in Massachusetts alone, including the 101-year-old Longfellow Bridge pictured above. Imagine the cost of fixing all of the bridges, pipes, roads, etc. that need to be renovated or replaced. Now add that to the money needed to actually secure our ports and airports, to fix our schools, to make Social Security solvent and to do everything else that we say we must to keep the country strong and safe. It's a daunting amount, and the 2001 Bush tax cut ($1.35 trillion) combined with the war in Iraq (estimates are a total price tag of $1 trillion) don't leave us in a good position to handle these colossal costs.

I'm a Democrat, and our political adversaries like to hang us with the "tax and spend" label, but the only solution I see to solving some of these problems is higher taxes. No one enjoys paying taxes, but most of us would agree that the cost of maintaining and securing the nation should be paid for collectively and that's why we pay taxes. Of course, there is massive waste and corruption, and we need to do a better job of getting a handle on that, but before we build more and grow more we should fix what we've got so that nobody gets killed by an exploding underground pipe or by driving off a bridge and into a river.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fresh markets

There are many health, economic and environmental reasons to buy locally grown produce directly from the folks who do the growin'. One way to do so is to take advantage of farmer's markets that are held throughout the greater Boston area, including one here in East Boston at Constitution Beach on Saturdays from, I believe, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (There is also one on Thursdays at Revere Beach from 12 noon to 6 p.m.)

Last week I stopped by the Eastie market and took the accompanying photos. There were three tents set up toward the northeast end of the beach with sweet corn, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, peaches, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers and a number of other fruits and vegetables for sale. I'm hoping more people turn out in the coming weeks so the farmers keep returning. I'd rather directly support local growers instead of giving my money to supermarkets, most of which are owned by giant national and international corporations.

Another way to support local farmers is called community-supported agriculture, which has caught on in many places around the country in recent years. An individual pays an up-front amount of money (usually between $200 and $500) and then receives a weekly share of the vegetables, fruits and herbs that a farm produces. While that is a good chunk of money, "subscribers" receive a pile of fresh food each week, generally from mid-spring deep into autumn. If one is raising a family or splits the bounty with friends then that is a fair amount and a good investment to insure receiving top-quality produce.

With growing concern about food imported from places with regulation that is frighteningly lax (such as China) and a growing realization that processed food products often contain substances that just are not good for us to eat in large amounts (an absurdly large percentage of items in supermarkets contain, for example, high fructose corn syrup), it is time that all of us looked more closely at what we eat and insist that it be good and good for us.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cab cost

Need to take a taxi in the city and want an estimate of the fair? Go to, plug in the starting point and destination, and you'll get the price of your ride. The calculation does seem to take into account that half the tunnel fare is charged to passengers going to Logan Airport, but not to those dropped off in residential parts of East Boston.