Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Food, folks and fun

Let's take a moment here to send out props to East Boston's two fairly new cafes.

Meridian 155 recently celebrated its first anniversary. The bright and unpretentious spot serves coffee beverages, smoothies, baked goods, panini sandwiches and soup, and the location -- 155 Meridian Street -- guarantees a good amount of foot traffic. I look forward to sitting by the open windows once the warmer weather arrives. Owners Dave and Jodi are super people, and I count myself as a frequent customer.

303 Cafe has only been open for a few months, but it seems like the Boston Globe can't get enough of it. There is another review of the "hip cafe" in the paper today. This place, at 303 Sumner Street, has a much different vibe than 155, with a funky look and an eclectic menu. I was there just last night and had a wonderful time. Owners Tom and Melinda are also quite friendly, and I may go back tomorrow night for the monthly open mike.

Both places are still getting settled and making some changes, and each is a welcome addition to the community and worthy of our patronage.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Immigrants jailed less often

A study of the California prison population concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes in that state than people born there.

The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that US-born males are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated than foreign-born men. (The study made no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.)

This, of course, seems to fly in the face of fears that some people have of an invasion by immigrant criminals.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Clouding the real story

I was about to jot down some comments on the recent hullabaloo surrounding a controversial New York Times story on John McCain's ties to lobbyists, but just now I read a column by the Times public editor, a person (some newspapers use the title "ombudsman") who represents the reader by looking into what is behind editorial decisions, newspaper policy, etc.

The current Times public editor is Clark Hoyt, and his column today makes the same two points that I was going to make. First:
A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.
Two unnamed sources in the story -- both former aides to the senator who admitted they were "disillusioned" with him -- said that they thought there might be a romantic relationship between McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman. In order to print that accusation against a presidential candidate, as Hoyt writes, a newspaper should have unassailable evidence.

Hoyt's second point:
The pity of it is that, without the sex, The Times was on to a good story. McCain, who was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee in 1991 for exercising “poor judgment” by intervening with federal regulators on behalf of a corrupt savings and loan executive, recast himself as a crusader against special interests and the corrupting influence of money in politics. Yet he has continued to maintain complex relationships with lobbyists like Iseman, at whose request he wrote to the Federal Communications Commission to urge a speed-up on a decision affecting one of her clients.
McCain, running on his integrity, was party to a savings and loan collapse that caused the federal government (our tax dollars) more than $3 billion to bail out, and, more recently, his injecting himself into a matter involving one of Iseman's clients before the FCC aroused the ire of at least two of the agency's commissioners, who've said they feel that the senator acted improperly on the matter.

These are both old stories, but the fact that McCain's current campaign -- one that is built around the man's integrity and his advocacy of clean government -- is managed by lobbyists would have been the logical lead for this article.

Now, of course, the story for several news cycles has been the Times rather than McCain. In fact, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been given a bump in fundraising from this episode, as the Times -- a rather moderate newspaper from my perspective -- is reviled among conservatives as an organ of the liberal elite.

The paper had an important story, but the thrust of it was watered down by some muddy thinking. We all should, and do, expect more from the country's paper of record.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mind the gap

Roland Merullo has a column in today's Globe on the gap between the haves and have-nots in America. He writes, is both morally repugnant and socially destabilizing to encourage too wide a gap between the working and investment classes, the poor and the rich. More than any other single factor, it is government policies -- the philosophies and actions of the people we elect -- that determine the size of that gap.
Merullo grew up in Revere and is the author of Revere Beach Boulevard, Revere Beach Elegy and In Revere, In Those Days, among other books.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Obama's string continues

Barack Obama swept another pair of states last night, giving the Illinois senator victories in 10 primaries or caucuses in a row (or 12 if you count the US Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, which do award delegates). He is now the undisputed front runner, and Hillary Clinton needs to stop him in both Texas and Ohio on March 4 or her campaign would be over.

Obama took the Wisconsin primary last night by 17% and the Hawaii caucus by a whopping 52%. The Associated Press delegate tally now has 1,319 for Obama and 1,245 for Clinton. The latest poll in Texas shows the New York senator in a virtual dead heat with her opponent, where she had been leading comfortably all along.

Is Obama's momentum too powerful to overcome? Will Clinton pull out all the stops to damage her opponent, risking the Democratic Party's chances in November?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Unions, Menino unite for casinos

The hard push for bringing casinos to Massachusetts has begun. There was a press conference today with union leaders and a few mayors touting the necessity of state-sanctioned gaming in the Bay State. "This is so important to the vitality and vibrancy of our cities and towns in Massachusetts," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, according to

Suffolk Downs and several unions are funding a group called the Massachusetts Coalition for Jobs and Growth, but if -- as the group claims -- 80% of the people in this state support their goal, then why don't they call themselves the Massachusetts Coalition for Casino Gambling?

I've received more than one email asking me to publicize Monday evening's meeting of the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council. The meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the youth center at 58 Ashley Street, is about casino gambling and local elected officials are scheduled to be there.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Where's the beef?

So, it seems that the US Department of Agriculture has just recalled 143 million pounds of beef ... except you can't bring it back or even throw it out because, well, you've already eaten it. You and kids from school districts around the country and recipients of food through federal nutrition programs.

It's the largest meat recall in history, but the USDA said it's nothing to worry about. I guess they mean that if there was a problem you'd be dead already.

The beef is two-years worth of production from a company that committed "egregious violations" of laws designed to protect the public, including slaughtering animals that were too weak or sick to walk or stand. Of course, that could possibly be a symptom of mad cow disease, but -- as we said -- you almost certainly have nothing to worry about ... regarding the beef you may or may not have eaten.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Godzilla to step on us again

The newest proposal that Massport is going to stuff down East Boston's throat is a consolidated rental-car facility, which would double the number of vehicles (to 9,000) parked in lots that abut the Jeffries Point neighborhood. A public meeting was held Monday, and the Globe reports that community leaders and elected officials are skeptical of Massport's usual chorus of, "We are trying to be a good neighbor."

Of course, the quasi-independent authority and quasi-monster that is Massport has never been honest with Eastie residents and has never taken our pleas seriously. Did the community's efforts to block Runway 14/32 or the centerfield taxiway ever give pause to the agency and cause it to do anything but push harder?

According to the article, a Massport representative at the meeting said that the proposed consolidated rental-car facility is "a trend that other major airports are following in terms of providing services that travelers have come to expect." Well, how about the things that local residents have come to expect, like air that is safe to breathe?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Death for the Seville?

Joe Mason sent me a copy of a public notice regarding development at 248 Meridian Street by Global Property Developers Corporation. The notice, published in yesterday's Boston Herald, says that "a Project Notification Form for Large Project Review" has been filed with the Boston Redevelopment Authority for a project that would include 65 residential units, 15,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and 45 parking spots.

The property, according to the City of Boston web site, is owned by Lombardo Companies, LP. A quick search on that site shows that various incarnations of the Lombardo name own big chunks of land in and around Central Square, including parcels adjacent to the development proposal. Joe Mason points out that this project would involve tearing down the Seville, the historic 1,500-seat atmospheric-style theater built in 1929. Mason also adds that Vincent Lombardo has refused to take down the ugly rusted metal frame next to the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel because of a zoning dispute with the city.

It appears that a public meeting on the proposed development of 248 Meridian Street was held in the neighborhood back in November. Comments to the BRA are due by March 17. Is East Boston being overdeveloped? What do you think?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Can you hear me now?

Why is the Democratically-controlled US Senate siding with the Bush Administration on current legislation that would offer immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted the government in spying illegally on Americans?

The warrantless wiretapping program clearly violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against "unreasonable searches and seizures," and lawsuits against industry giants like AT&T and Verizon should be allowed to make their way through the courts, which are the proper forum for a judgment on whether the government should be eavesdropping on our phone calls and emails.

Among the presidential candidates, John McCain voted in favor of the bill, while Barack Obama voted against it. Hillary Clinton was on the campaign trail. The House version of this legislation does not contain immunity, and the president has threatened to veto any telecommunications legislation without it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Massport slot filled

James Aloisi, who grew up in East Boston one block over from me, will fill the vacancy on Massport's board of directors. He has been appointed by Gov. Patrick to take the place of Lois J. Catanzaro, who recently resigned. Aloisi will finish out the term, which expires in June, and then he'll serve a full seven-year term.

Aloisi, who has held various positions in state government in the past -- including general counsel for the Mass. Turnpike Authority -- is a director in the law firm Goulston & Storrs, where he specializes in transportation law. Massport's board has seven members, among them the state's transportation secretary, Bernard Cohen. They are all appointed by the governor and receive no salary or benefits.

East Boston's city councilor Sal LaMattina, State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli and State Rep. Carlo Basile recently sent a letter to Gov. Patrick asking that the Massport vacancy be filled by someone from East Boston. I don't believe that Aloisi still lives in the neighborhood. Does he fit the bill?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The battle rages on

For many years Americans paid little attention to the majority of primaries and caucuses that make up the modern presidential delegate selection process. We didn't have to. Nominees were almost always chosen after the initial contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, or relatively soon after. The party conventions, held toward the end of the summer, only served to formalize things and to give each candidate a bump in national polls. This time around, however, we have a real race, and -- now that there's a reason to look more closely at this -- we're realizing how complex and crazy this whole format is.

After yesterday's contests in Washington state, Louisiana and Nebraska -- which all fall into the Obama column -- the candidates are neck and neck in the delegate count. The Associated Press tally, which the Boston Globe and other media outlets rely on -- has Hillary Clinton with 1,095 delegates and Barack Obama with 1,070 (with 2,095 needed to secure the nomination), but other counts have differing totals and the so-called "superdelegates" -- Democratic officeholders and party officials -- are a wild card. Though the AP interviewed them to as to their preference to add their votes to the total, whose to say that they don't change their mind before the convention? Couldn't they conceivably be swayed by the happenings over the next half-year? For example, one factor that I think Democrats must consider is that Obama tops McCain in the latest national polls, while the Arizona senator beats Clinton in that prospective match-up.

Part of the confusion surrounding this process is that different states have different rules for things like delegate apportionment (winner-take-all or not? split up by state total, by Congressional district or some combination?) and who can vote (only registered party members or unaligned voters as well?). There are other rules as well: In Louisiana on the Republican side, for example, a candidate needs 50% of the vote to win any of the delegates or those delegates are not committed to anyone (as happened last night).

Back on the Democratic side, there is a second wild card. The primaries in Michigan and Florida were moved up before the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday vote, even after the Democratic National Committee told those two state parties not to make such a move. In response, the DNC stripped both of their delegates, meaning they would have no vote at the convention, and had candidates -- including Clinton and Obama -- agree not to campaign or advertise there. Clinton, ahead nationally and in those two states when the campaign in each was effectively stopped, won both. Now, her campaign is setting in motion attempts to undo the sanctions so that the delegates, 174 from Michigan and 210 from Florida, would count. "The seeds of a massive fight have been planted," one political science professor said.

Today: the Maine caucuses.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A super day for McCain; good for Dems, too

It appears that John McCain is going to be the Republican presidential nominee. Mike Huckabee, though he won some states tonight, cannot win nationally, and Mitt Romney needed California tonight or some other combination that gives him viability, and that just didn't happen.

Things are a lot closer for the Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama split the 20-odd states, with the former first lady taking the biggest prizes of California and New York. The Dems, however, use a proportional format to distribute delegates, so both candidates will gain a chunk tonight and move on. The primary line-up looks good for Obama for the next couple of weeks, with March 4 -- the day of the Texas and Ohio contests -- possibly being the decisive day.

Clinton and Romney had solid wins here in Massachusetts.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Obama is the better choice

Massachusetts is one of the Super Tuesday primary states, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. A total of 24 states will have a primary or caucus on Tuesday, with 51% of Democratic delegates and 41% of Republican being selected.

I am going to vote for Barack Obama. Not only do I believe that he has a higher chance than Hillary Clinton of being successful in the general election, which is of utmost importance to Democrats this year, but I believe that he would make the best president of anyone in the field.

Columnist Frank Rich, in today's New York Times, points to a few reasons why Obama is the right person for the job.

Setting up shop in Eastie

Today's Globe has a story about entrepreneurs in East Boston. According to one local small business owner, "The momentum is here. The demographic has definitely arrived, and we all want something good to happen." The story also says:
East Boston has always been home to hard-working immigrants, many of whom have opened restaurants, delis, and other businesses. According to a study conducted in 2005 by professors from the University of Massachusetts at Boston for the Immigrant Learning Center in Malden, 8.2 percent of Latino households in East Boston report income from self-employment, compared with 6.2 percent for the general population.

Friday, February 1, 2008

There will be...profit

Yesterday it cost me $28 to fill up the tank on my crappy little Hyundai at the Mobil station at the intersection of Meridian and Condor streets. Today I hear that Exxon Mobil announced that its profit for 2007 was just over $40 billion. That is profit, not sales (which were more than $400 billion).

And still, America's oil and energy companies -- including Exxon Mobil -- receive billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies from the US government. So they screw us at the pump and then they screw us again via the tax code.

Nice work -- if you have no soul.