Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Signing away the Constitution

The Founding Fathers created three separate branches of government, each with its distinct role, to prevent power from being concentrated too tightly in one place by one person or small group of people. It was a wise move, and though the executive branch has always been the most visible and most driving force in our government, no president has moved as far in the direction of tyrant as George W. Bush.

The Globe reports today that Bush issued another "signing statement" this week. These are documents released after a president signs a bill -- thereby making it law -- that in the past have been used sparingly by presidents to indicate their interpretation of the new law. Bush has used such statements far more than previous occupants of the oval office -- more than 1,000 times -- and in them he often indicates certain parts of new laws that his administration will not follow.

This is clearly illegal. It completely ignores the structure of the United State Constitution, which presidents swear to "preserve, protect and defend" when they are inaugurated. The president's job is to enforce the laws. If he doesn't agree with a proposed law then his duty is to veto it. If he thinks it violates the Constitution, then the courts will make a decision. All three elements of power cannot and should not be concentrated in one branch and in one man (or two, considering Dick Cheney's influence).

The Globe's Charlie Savage won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Bush's use of signing statements, which the American Bar Association has determined as "contrary to the rule of law." Republican Senator Arlen Specter has twice filed legislation that instructs all state and federal courts to ignore signing statements.

This latest signing statement, you should know, was filed after Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008, which contains a provision forbidding the US from spending taxpayer dollars to build permanent military bases in Iraq. The president, after signing the bill into law, then issued a statement that says he does not have to abide by that section, as well as several others. It's clear from recent negotiations in Iraq that this administration is planning on such bases, and in another end-around the legal process, Bush has said that the eventual agreement with Iraq will be a "compact" and not a treaty, which means he can bypass the ratification process in the US Senate.

Goerge W. Bush is making a mockery of the rule of law. His violation of the Constitution and of his vow to uphold it are unethical and criminal.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Local food spotlighted

Two East Boston eateries are mentioned in today's Boston Sunday Globe magazine section under the heading, "Best of the New: Food." The blurb notes that Off the Boat Seafood, at 26 Porter Street near Central Square, has "fresh fish at fair prices," adding "it's in the Italian dishes that the place really excels."

303 Cafe gets props right at the top, lauded for the "Euro-inspired caffeine fixes, breakfasts like crab cakes Benedict and Nutella French toast, and light lunches and dinners," as well as the "rotating art exhibits and spoken-word nights." I read a couple of poems at last week's spoken word event and I hope to do so in the future. The cafe is located at 303 Sumner Street, outside of Maverick Square.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kudos to a couple of local guys

***Today's Globe has a piece on Bontoni shoes, which are handmade in Italy and start $1,000. Lewis Cutillo, who is from East Boston, and a friend started the company in 2004 while working together in Milan. Though I've seen him sparingly in recent years, I've known Lewis since he was a kid and he was always a great guy. (Put me down for a couple pairs, Lewis.)

***The Boston Phoenix web site has high praise today for Bobby Travaglini. The Eastie native and former president of the state senate donated much of the money left in his campaign war chest to charities, many of them here in our neighborhood. (Scroll down to find story on Phoenix site.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


We don't need a study to tell us that the Bush Administration lied repeatedly in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, but having the statements of top government officials reviewed and quantified is a good idea.

The Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism did just such an analysis and found 935 false statements about Iraq that were made between 9/11 and the start of the Iraq War by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.

The study, released this week, said that the false statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."

There's another term for "false statements" -- lies. George W. Bush and his cohorts boldly lied directly to the American public and as a result 3,931 members of our military have been killed, 307 have been killed among other coalition forces, somewhere between 50,000 and 250,000 Iraqis have died, and the overall cost of the invasion and occupation is estimated to total $2 trillion.

Now does anyone think we should not have slowed down in the late autumn of 2000 and counted those Florida votes a little more carefully?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Meeting tomorrow on the Boston East project

Reader StarLuna asked me to pass along the following:

This Wednesday there is a meeting of the East Boston Municipal Harbor Plan Advisory Committee in the Maverick Community Room in Maverick Landing (on London Street) from 6-8 p.m. They are going to be discussing the proposed Boston East development and the substitutions and offsets that the developers are proposing. People can get more info from Valerie Gingrich at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (email: or phone: 617.918.4292).

Hold the soda

The Globe reports on a city initiative that aims to get teenagers eating less junk food. The city's health commission is working with convenience stores located near middle schools, asking the businesses to offer healthier snacks and to post signs promoting them.

While the goals are laudable, it's hard to imagine that such efforts could possibly make much of an impact next to the boatloads of cash spent marketing sugar-laced beverages, salt-filled snacks and other junk food. Coca-Cola alone spends approximately $2 billion a year for advertising and promotion of their products.

In probably the most beneficial move I've made, I gave up soda nearly three years ago. I don't miss it, though I have replaced the caffeine in a daily Coke with a daily double espresso.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Today marks the start of George W. Bush's last year as the nation's chief executive. As 2008 is a leap year, we have 366 days remaining in what is certainly the worst presidency of my lifetime and will likely be regarded as being among the worst in American history.

Bush's comments that future historians will be a better judge of his tenure are a fairy tale, like most of what he says he believes. His administration, characterized by decisions made by a small group of twisted ideologues, has done vast damage to the country and the world in ways that will take decades to repair -- if repairs are indeed possible.

It is enormously disturbing that Bush and his people were able to filch the 2000 election from the arms of democracy; then, in 2004, it was equally upsetting to see that any Americans would actually vote to reelect someone who was clearly so incompetent and disingenuous.

Look around: the US military is mired in Iraq; the economy is tanking; we've gone backwards on the environment, healthcare, consumer safety, etc.; and America has virtually no credibility throughout the world. Are you better off than you were eight years ago? Is the world a safer place?

There's no argument that Iraq has become less violent since the surge of US troops arrived there last spring, but it doesn't take a genius to agree that more soldiers on the ground make it easier to control the insurgency. The success of the surge only emphasizes how badly Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld screwed up when they dismissed estimates, some by career military men, that more troops would be needed in post-war Iraq.

But the fact that Baghdad is a little quieter these days distracts from the point of the surge, which was to provide stability so that Iraq's politicians could come together to solve the large and numerous issues that keep their government from working. So far there has been little progress there, with the country's legislature even taking off last summer because of "the heat," even while American soldiers were out in that same heat in full gear -- and even while some of those soldiers were being killed and wounded.

Speaking of vacations, here is a point that has not been discussed enough, yet is a microcosm of Bush's time in office. Back in the summer of 2001, after about half a year in office, the president left Washington for a month to vacation at his Texas ranch. From Aug. 3 to Sept. 3 he was out of the nation's capital, even as Mohamed Atta was receiving money wired from al-Qaeda, rounding up the other hijackers and purchasing a utility knife at Wal-Mart. On Aug. 6 -- the day that the he was given an intelligence briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" -- Bush was so concerned about the implications of that memo that he played golf that morning.

We can't be positive that the 9/11 plot would have been stopped if the president were less disengaged and more vigilant, but I don't think it is a stretch to imagine that if Al Gore had been in office on that day -- even if he was working on the problem of terrorism all his waking hours -- the Republican Congress would have not only blamed him, but would have immediately initiated impeachment hearings.

George W. Bush should never have been elected, even once, to the White House -- and wouldn't have if it weren't for large sums of money, dirty tricks and a conservative Supreme Court. He should never have received his party's nomination in 2000. At this point we can only hope to survive one more year with him in charge, and we can only hope that our fellow citizens have seen enough of what happens when we fail to scrutinize closely our choices in the ballot box.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A moral recession

This week nearly one million Americans are homeless. It's not because anything in particular happened recently, but rather there are about a million homeless people in this country every week and 3.5 million over the course of a year.

Also this week the news media is filled with talk of recession, economic slowdown, the credit crunch, financial companies with quarterly losses, falling stock markets and rising oil prices. In response, members of Congress, the presidential candidates and the Bush Administration are tripping over each other to offer up stimulus packages to "get the economy moving again." Some of the suggestions: cutting corporate taxes, sending out $250 rebates to people and making permanent the Bush tax cuts from a few years ago.

Why is it that as soon as corporate profits or economic growth slow down there is action, but when poor citizens are in need almost no one in government lifts a finger? Where is the emergency plan to help them? Political leaders are talking about spending $50 billion, $100 billion, even $150 billion to avoid a recession or to end one if it has already begun. That money would go either to corporations (say the Republicans) or to taxpayers (say the Democrats). But what of the guy who is sleeping on a park bench tonight? And what of the woman who is collecting cans right now?

Where is the goddamn outrage on their behalf?

Hear ye, hear ye

Tonight the 80 Border Street Cultural Exchange Center hosts its second Poets Moon Cafe Open Mic Poetry Night with Nicole Terez Dutton the featured guest poet. I was at last month's reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to David Surette read poems about growing up in Malden. I hope to be there and to read a piece or two this evening. Sign up is at 6:30 p.m. and the reading begins at 7. The building, at 80 Border Street in East Boston, also hosts the Atlantic Works art space.

Next Thursday will find another chance for locals to read their work. Cafe 303 will host a Spoken Word Night from 7 to 10 p.m. The cafe is located at 303 Sumner Street, not far from the Maverick T stop. I expect to be there as well.

Sorting out the casino issue

A pair of stories on the Boston Herald's web site today discuss the proposal to bring a casino to Suffolk Downs. One is about the forces that have been hired by pro-gambling interests to push their agenda, while the second talks about the prospect of a local referendum on the idea, which is part of Deval Patrick's plan. The question is: Does "local" mean a citywide vote in Boston or balloting limited, for example, to East Boston and Revere?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Misreading the past

Much of the commentary and spin I've read and heard in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's recent remarks about the Civil Rights movement miss the problem with her assessment. She said, "Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ... the power of that dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it."

Of course, Congress passed the act, not Lyndon Johnson, though he was a strong advocate for it both as vice president and then, after John Kennedy was assassinated, as president. JFK's death also made it easier for Johnson to get the late president's desired legislation passed.

The problem as I see it is not really any attempt to diminish the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, but rather not understanding that all change starts with the people. Movements move, if you will, from the bottom up. Johnson didn't wake up one day and decide that he wanted to rid the South of Jim Crow laws.

The parents from Topeka, Kansas, that brought the Brown v. Board of Education case (eventually decided by the Supreme Court in 1954); the brazen murder of Emmett Till for speaking to a white woman in Mississippi (1955); the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955); the integration of Little Rock Central High School by nine black teenagers; the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins (1960); the Freedom Riders (1961); Birmingham authorities turning fire hoses and German shepherds loose on children who were peacefully marching (1963); a quarter million Americans marching on Washington (1963) -- each of these and hundreds of other events and actions are what made the difference.

Many people -- black and white -- were beaten, humiliated and some of them were killed before our political leaders decided that something had to be done. So don't tell me that Lyndon Johnson's signature is what made things happen. The will of the people is what made our "leaders" take action. That is what is wrong with Hillary Clinton's statement.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Political jostling for City Hall?

Is former Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph Martin considering a run for mayor of Boston? There's a piece in the Globe today by political reporter Michael Jonas that says Martin is meeting with leaders in the public, private and non-profit sectors to talk about issues facing the city, though no one -- Martin included -- is saying publicly that he will run.

Mayor Menino, first elected in 1993, has not indicated a desire to step down at the end of this term two years from now. The 65-year-old Menino wields considerable power and unseating him would be a difficult task. The story says, "there are many who think the city would benefit from a change and see a crying need for fresh ideas and a fresh start in City Hall," but "virtually no one in the city's leadership class will say so publicly."

A Martin candidacy would likely be the strongest Menino has faced. The former DA, who lives in Jamaica Plan, is currently a partner at a Boston law firm and chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. City Councilor Michael Flaherty is another name I've heard as a possible competitor to Menino. One tidbit that may or may not mean something: Flaherty once worked under Martin in the Suffolk DA's office.

Casting history

Today's Globe has a nice little story on the Donald McKay bust that is a centerpiece of Bremen Street Park, with some discussion of McKay's significance in the development of East Boston and the art of shipbuilding. (I mentioned the bronze statue on this blog back in June, and the photo here is one I took that day.)

As we admire the bust of McKay, let us not forget whose hands and sweat actually built his ships: workers -- many of them immigrants -- whose names we will never know and whose likenesses we will never look upon. I am reminded of the poem "A Worker Reads History" by the German writer Bertolt Brecht:
Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ba'athing beauties

On May 16, 2003, Paul Bremer -- the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the US entity that ruled Iraq between the fall of Saddam Hussein and the empowering of the Iraqi interim government -- issued an order banning members of the Saddam's Ba'ath party from serving in the various government ministries, as well as holding posts such as leaders of state-run companies or university professors and department heads.

The result -- de-Ba'athification -- has been a disaster, with one American official in Iraq noting, according to The New Yorker, “We were left dealing with what seemed like the fifth string … Nobody who was left knew anything." Bremer's decision -- followed a week later by another disastrous move: disbanding the Iraqi army -- was done without discussion with or approval by experienced members of the US military and diplomatic core, many of whom could see the foolishness of such policies.

Today, nearly five years later, the Iraqi parliament voted to restore party members, excepting those who committed violent crimes, to government jobs. The law was passed at the behest of the United States, which realized along the way that it had screwed up royally. As the film No End in Sight so clearly pointed out, President Bush and his political leadership made blunder after blunder, refusing to listen to people in the state and defense departments who knew what they were talking about.

While we cannot be positive that things would have gone smoother in Iraq if hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Ba'ath party members weren't thrown out of work and left fuming -- and, in the case of the former, armed -- this latest action by Iraq's government indicates that this might have been the case. Several thousand American soldiers and many thousands of Iraqi citizens have died in the time between the original Bush Administration decision and the current attempt to reverse it. Weren't each of those people owed a competent and well-informed leadership, both in Washington and in Baghdad?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

School forum tonight

I just received notice that there is a forum tonight at East Boston High School to discuss ways to prevent students from dropping out of school and to prepare them for college. The forum starts at 6 p.m., and the Boston Public Schools superintendent as well as school committee members are scheduled to be there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ballot bullies

The Republican Party has proven before that it will do anything to win elections -- redistrict illegally (Texas, 2003), jam phone lines (New Hampshire, 2002), create a false sense of hysteria in order to stop votes from being counted, challenge every voter of color to intimidate the minority vote, and use local elected officials to render partisan decisions (all in Florida, 2000).

In recent years the GOP has also employed another strategy: getting states to pass laws that require citizens to show government-issued identification when voting. The ID law in Indiana has been challenged by Democrats and others, and today the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case.

It seems likely that this conservative Court will uphold the law, but it should not. This is a bald attempt by Republicans to deprive American citizens of the right to vote, a most sacred action in our democracy. Forcing people to show ID may seem innocuous, but there is a part of the electorate that may be intimidated by such a process, may not have IDs and/or may be unable or unwilling to fill out the form necessary for their vote to count if they don't have an ID with them. Those people will generally be elderly, young, poor or minority -- all core Democratic groups.

Cases of voter fraud that the proponents of this law claim to be concerned about are minuscule, and no one in Indiana has ever been convicted of voter fraud. Make no mistake: Such laws are attempts by Republicans to increase their chances of winning office by depriving some Americans of their Constitutional right. It is a despicable strategy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fish and sips

The city's Licensing Board will hold a hearing on Jan. 23 at 10 a.m. to hear a liquor license request from Off the Boat Seafood. The beer, wine and liqueur license in question would be transfered from the El Cafetal Restaurant in Allston.

Off the Boat, at 26 Porter Street just outside East Boston's Central Square, opened in November 2006 in the renovated storefront of an old fish store. Thanks to Joe Mason for forwarding me the announcement of the hearing.

Hunting in Eastie?

The Globe reports that a Colonial-era law allows people to hunt ducks at the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, which borders East Boston, Revere and Winthrop. After Eastie resident and bird watcher George Cumming saw a hunting blind and a guy decked out in camouflage, he contacted local authorities, who told him that the practice is legal under an existing state law that allows the public to hunt and fish in tidal areas.

Officials at Logan Airport are apparently not concerned, saying that the idea that hunting could be a threat to airplanes is "silly," which sounds a bit too dismissive, especially in light of concerns over a recent incident that involved a bottle rocket shooting off near a plane landing at Logan.

Cumming, who has a blog called OrientSee where he displays his birding photos, said that he is "flabbergasted," adding: "It goes against common sense that you would allow that sort of thing to go on in a place that's so very close to people, activity, and especially the airport."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Granite State challenge

The exchanges were nasty at times during last night's presidential debates, held at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, and televised on ABC. Several of the Republican candidates attacked Mitt Romney, while on the Democratic side John Edwards and Barack Obama went after Hillary Clinton. In both cases it wasn't because the target had won Thursday's Iowa caucuses, but rather because both Romney and Clinton were once front runners who had been tripped up in the opening contest of the presidential nomination calendar and their opponents smelled blood in the water.

The former Massachusetts governor and the current New York senator were both leading in New Hampshire until just recently and are now vulnerable. John McCain has surged ahead among GOP voters and Obama seems to now have a small edge in recent polls of Democratic voters in the Granite State. With large national organizations, Romney and Clinton could both bounce back if they do well in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, where other, lesser candidates would be out of gas if they were to lose the first two contests. (Romney did win the small and mostly-ignored Wyoming Republican caucus yesterday.)

It's hard to see how Mike Huckabee, who topped the GOP caucus in Iowa, does well in New Hampshire or nationally. While the Christian conservatives who make up his base will help him in some Southern states, his lack of foreign policy experience, overt religiosity and the question of electability would seem to be obstacles for many mainstream Republicans. The people of that party in the Live Free or Die state are rather different than the Iowans who supported him. Among non-Evangelicals in the Hawkeye state, Huckabee finished fourth.

McCain's surge could be the big story Tuesday night if voters aren't drawn to Huckabee or Romney. Rudy Giuliani is off pursuing his big-state strategy, while Fred Thompson is about as exciting as a mailbox. He reminds me of the vapid Southern governor that Jed Bartlett ran for reelection against on The West Wing.

On the Democratic side, Clinton is far from out of this thing, while Edwards -- despite snagging second in Iowa -- needs to do well Tuesday and to come back with a strong finish in South Carolina. Otherwise he'll again be relegated to the sidelines. All eyes are on Obama, who has momentum and star power. By winning in 92%-white Iowa, he's proven to the black community that he is electable, which will hurt Clinton quite a bit.

Regarding last night's debates, I was disappointed that ABC was allowed to limit the field of debaters. While it admittedly does make for a less-harried event, it just isn't fair. Networks, and the large corporations that own them, should not get to decide who the viable candidates are -- not after just one state has voted and not after the network's parent company (Disney in ABC's case) has donated money to campaigns and causes.

The other item that struck me -- though not for the first time -- is the honesty of Republican candidate and Texas Congressman Ron Paul. He said, correctly, that America's troubles with the Muslim world can be, to a large degree, blamed on many awful US foreign policy decisions, especially propping up unpopular dictators and blindly supporting Israel. The other GOP candidates openly laughed at him, but they are -- excepting McCain -- morons. I am not on board with Paul on a whole host of issues, but he says what he thinks and what he thinks is based on actual thoughts, not a desire to kiss up to segments of his party or to express some foolish ideology.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Most crime in the city is down

The Globe reports today that Boston Police Department statistics show that crime in the city in 2007 was down in most areas from the previous year. While there was a 2.5% rise in the number of larcenies committed, murder (-10.8%), rape (-5.9%), robbery (-17.2%), aggravated assault (-4.3%), burglary (-7.2%) and car theft (-16%) all fell. Overall, serious crime was down 4%.

In another story, the city's police are wondering what happened with the evidence in nearly 1,000 drug cases. While there is the possibility that some of it was legitimately destroyed or misplaced while being moved, it seems clear that at least one officer was dipping his or her hand in the cookie jar for a number of years. While this kind of thing adds to the cynicism that some feel about the police, it looks like the department and the commissioner conducted the audit and opened an investigation -- along with the FBI and the Suffolk County DA's office -- in a manner that should ease some of those concerns.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

On the waterfront

The Globe reports today that more residential development is in the works on East Boston's waterfront. This project -- on New Street at the far end of Maverick Landing -- would create 150 residences and cost $90 million, according to the story. The property is owned by the Ohanian family.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Fixing the process

At a recent family holiday brunch I looked up from my plate to see a colorful plastic container on the table with the words "Great Buttery Taste!" shouting out at me. Why, I wondered, do we need to use a processed product that tries to be butter when we can use actual butter? What has a better buttery taste than that?

This popped back into my head yesterday as I read that some recent studies connect low-fat and non-fat milk to an increased risk of prostate cancer. I don't drink milk at all, but more and more these days I try to avoid foods that are processed in any way, and when I do buy such items I avoid any containing high fructose corn syrup, which is a ubiquitous ingredient in processed foods. The average American consumes 41.5 pounds of it per year.

In the 1950s margarine began to outsell butter and it still does today, though now we know that it is not healthier. For several years I used eggbeaters when cooking, but now I've gone back to actual eggs. I just eliminate a yolk or two from recipes, keeping my cholesterol level in mind.

In many ways we've broken the cycle between food production and consumption, allowing giant corporations to make billions as middle men while, in the same instant, feeding us poisons and other unhealthy things. We need to get back to eating fresh foods and cooking them ourselves from basic ingredients as much as possible.