Monday, March 31, 2008

Syrup prices jump

I've seen a number of stories lately about the rising cost of various foods because (a) the price of gasoline has skyrocketed, and (b) the opening of markets and increased demand in places like China and India. Today the Globe notes that maple syrup is cracking the $50 a gallon mark. That's more than ten times the price of a gallon of regular unleaded at your local filling station!

Pure maple syrup is wonderful stuff. It was first produced by Native Americans, who then taught early European settlers how to make the sweet, smoky, golden-brown goodness from the sap of maple trees. Soon it may be too expensive for the average Joe to buy. O, the tragedy of it all!

Looking anew at social ills

A piece in Sunday's Globe called "The Sting of Poverty" draws an analogy between the sometimes illogical choices of poor people and the decision of a person attacked by several bees to not bother treating any one of the stings because there will still be pain from the others. According to a book called The Persistence of Poverty, by the philosopher Charles Karelis, the issue can be looked at like this:
One doesn't have enough money to pay rent or car insurance or credit card bills or day care or sometimes even food. Even if one works hard enough to pay off half of those costs, some fairly imposing ones still remain, which creates a large disincentive to bestir oneself to work at all.
The analogy in the article that I like better is this: If I have a number of dents on my car and I don't have the money to get them all fixed, I am less likely to fix any one individual dent with the money that I do have. It makes sense to me and, in fact, I do have several dents in my car and have not had them fixed for that very reason. As Globe staff writer Drake Bennett points out,
Compared with the middle class or the wealthy, the poor are disproportionately likely to drop out of school, to have children while in their teens, to abuse drugs, to commit crimes, to not save when extra money comes their way, to not work.
Such behavior does seem irrational, the story says, but Karelis believes that the way most have viewed poverty is preventing us from fully understanding how it affects people.

A piece in The New York Times called "Race and the Social Contract" draws on various studies to conclude that an obstacle toward our country spending on public resources and social programs is America's diversity. People seem to be more willing to part with cash if they believe it's going to others of the same race, religion and/or ethnic background. The story goes on to say that,
Americans are not less generous than Europeans. When private charities are included, they probably spend more money for social purposes than Europeans do. But philanthropy allows them to target spending on those they personally believe are deserving, instead of allowing the government to choose.
I'm sure that some who consider themselves right-of-center will look at these two articles and dismiss them as excuses or whining or academic thumb-twiddling. Those of us on the left of the political spectrum who claim to have all the answers are incorrect, but both groups should be willing to examine the ills of our society with open eyes and to think in terms we might not have considered before.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

New owners at Saigon Hut

In the mid-1990s I stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Saigon Hut, at the corner of Meridian and Lexington streets. The small Vietnamese eatery seemed to pop up at a time when a number of families from Southeast Asia were moving into East Boston, and I enjoyed the inexpensive dishes and fresh ingredients.

Over the years I've been to Saigon Hut dozens of times, with my usual order including fresh spring rolls and pho -- Vietnamese noodle soup. Sometimes, if I didn't feel like soup, I'd get lo mein noodles with chicken and vegetables. At one point I was eating there frequently with a colleague from Savio High School, and the waitress -- sweet, though a bit clumsy -- knew our names and our orders.

Once I ordered the same dishes at Pho Pasteur, Boston's most well-known Vietnamese restaurant, and the food was more expensive and not as good.

My cousin, who I introduced to Saigon Hut, called me yesterday to say that the place was under new ownership, the prices had gone up and the food was not as good. I wasn't feeling well, and I wanted some soup to soothe me, so I got an order of pho to go (OK, and the lo mein noodles, too -- I was testing it all for this report!). I didn't notice much of a difference in the quality of the food. Any readers visit Saigon Hut recently?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hearts in darkness

Today, at locations around the world, cities and citizens are shutting off lights from 8 to 9 p.m. local time to show support for energy conservation. Of course, Earth Hour is only a small gesture, but we have to start somewhere -- and we should have started long ago.

The event began last year in Sydney, Australia, and has now spread to a number of places around the world, including more than 100 cities in North America. Though Boston is not one of those, we can all do our part as individuals to take this symbolic action and to pledge that it will be the start of a serious effort to shrink the carbon footprint for each of us.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bill Clinton as Jeff Gillooly?

There's growing sentiment that this protracted Democratic nomination process has become "a two-way Democrat suicide pact" that is making John McCain's chances of winning the White House significantly stronger.

Today's Globe mentions polls that show the GOP's presumptive nominee has grown even among voters nationally in a showdown against either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, and -- sadly -- that a chunk of either Democratic hopefuls' supporters would jump parties in November if their candidate loses. Party leaders, the story says, are concerned.

New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that developments over the last week have doomed Clinton's campaign, and he wonders whether she is capable of doing what is best for the party and stepping aside. Meanwhile, another Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, speculates that it may be in the New York senator's persona to take down everyone around her. Dowd makes reference to “'the Tonya Harding option' — if she can’t get the gold, kneecap her rival."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Gated community

In less than a month access to Logan Airport's "back door" will be restricted to East Boston residents who have electronic key cards. An automated gate is being installed at the end of Maverick Street, and it's scheduled to be up and running on April 15.

To get a key card, local residents can request a form by calling 617-568-3718 or the form can be printed out from here. The vehicle's registration and a utility bill of some sort are needed to prove residency.

It makes sense to restrict access to that entry point, but it seems to me that -- instead of another application and key card -- there must be a way to use the Mass. Turnpike's Fast Lane transponder to gain entry. Eastie residents already have a different transponder from everone else because of the reduced tunnel toll. Why can't it be reconfigured to open the gate?

Update: The Globe reports that some Eastie residents feel that the gate is a waste of time.

Archdiocese threatens punishment in afterlife for locals

Bishop Robert Hennessey's visit to Mount Carmel Church for Easter Mass drew some media attention, with a story in The Globe and a report on NECN. The newspaper article says that hundreds filled the pews at the East Boston church, which was closed by the archdiocese in October 2004 and has been occupied by parishioners since then.

Hennessey surely squandered a good bit of the good will his visit generated when -- referring to weekly services that Mount Carmel's faithful hold using lay ministers -- he said, "It is my firm belief that what happens here on most Sundays is not a good thing, that it could even put your souls in peril."

Yikes. Sounds a lot like, "Stop your occupation or you're all going to hell." I guess we've learned to expect that from an institution that still treats its followers like it's the Dark Ages.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

In the news

*The Globe has a piece today saying that the casino proposal was always a tough sell in East Boston.

*The sagging economy hasn't slowed growth along Route 1 in Saugus. A Globe article lists new development projects and businesses that'll soon be popping up on the venerable stretch of highway, including Trader Joe's, which would be cool.

*Our friends at EastBoston.com have a story on East Boston resident Anthony Fiorino, recently honored for his 50 years of service to the city's Emergency Medical Services department.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Procession marks holy day

Today I crossed paths with a Good Friday procession of perhaps 300 or so marching down Chelsea Street at about 11 a.m. The group had a police escort and was reciting the "Hail Mary."

"Oh My Golly!"

It was 20 years ago today that one of the coolest and most influential albums in modern rock music was first released. Founded by a couple of UMass/Amherst dropouts, the Pixies coalesced in Boston in 1985. Two years later they released an EP titled Come On Pilgrim, and then in March 1988 a collection of 13 songs was released on an album called Surfer Rosa. The lo-fi sound and the offbeat subject matter would influence many bands in the future, including Nirvana. Rock 'n' roll has rarely been this cool.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Casino bill voted down in House

The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted to send the bill that would legalize casino gambling in the state to a "study committee," effectively killing the proposal for this year. The vote -- which followed yesterday's marathon hearing on the issue before a joint legislative committee on economic development -- was 108-46.

It's 60 for number 4

Today is the 60th birthday of Boston sports legend Bobby Orr, who helped the Bruins to a pair of Stanley Cups and permanently changed the game of hockey.

Orr was signed by the Bruins when he was just 12 years old and came to town six years later as the golden boy who would change the fortunes of the lowly B's, and he delivered. Boston won titles in the 1969-70 season -- capped by Orr's winning goal that is immortalized in the photo -- and again in 1971-72.

Orr won eight straight Norris trophies as the league's best defenseman and set records for scoring from that position, but bad knees in the pre-arthroscopic surgery era meant that his career was eventually cut short.

Back in the early 1970s the Bruins were the team in Boston. Orr was, in the words of Globe columnist Bob Ryan, "a rock star," as were teammates Phil Esposito, Derek Sanderson, Gerry Cheevers, John Bucyk, Wayne Cashman, John McKenzie and Ken Hodge. The most popular game that we played back then was street hockey, with an orange "Espo ball" and a cheap hockey stick (just as the kids are in the flashback scene, filmed in East Boston, from the movie Mystic River).

The Bruins may be overshadowed now by the Red Sox, the Patriots and the Celtics, but for a while this was their town and it started with Bobby Orr.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nothing accomplished

There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. The world has not become a safer place. Hell, the price of gas hasn't even gone down. So why did US forces invade and occupy Iraq, and why are they still there?

Five years ago the American military launched an attack on Iraq that began with "shock and awe" and was followed by a quick, successful ground campaign. Less than three weeks later the world saw images of US soldiers pulling down the statue of Saddam in Baghdad's Firdos Square.

However, it seemed that no one in the Bush Administration had given much thought about what to do after that. On May 1 -- the day that the president landed on an aircraft carrier and spoke before a banner that declared "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" -- the US had suffered just 139 deaths in Iraq. Today that total is about to reach 4,000, and thousands of others have been badly injured.

The Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein was brutal, and no one weeps about his fate, but there are brutal governments in Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. What justified this action more than attacks against those countries? And what justified breaking with historic policy and common sense to launch a preemptive war?

Incompetence and dishonesty at the very highest levels of our government have brought us to where we are now: stuck after five years without a viable plan to extricate ourselves. The fact that these people -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice -- are able, presumably, to sleep at night is stunning.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lights, camera, Eastie!

Location scout Raine Hall was in East Boston a couple weeks ago, working out the logistics for the Martin Scorcese film Ashecliffe, which is shooting some scenes in the neighborhood. She asked around and found that a good place for crew members to park would be the lot at the Boys & Girls Club (which has moved operations to Savio Hall) on Paris Street.

The production is in Eastie this week, shooting near the water off New Street, behind industrial buildings that are next to the Maverick housing development. There are a number of 18-wheelers and vans parked all around there. The photo is from a sign posted at the end of Sumner Street to direct the film's crew members.

The movie is based on the novel Shutter Island, by local novelist Dennis Lehane, who wrote the book Mystic River, which was also made into a film that had some scenes shot in East Boston. Ashecliffe features Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams and Max von Sydow. It's scheduled to be released in the fall of 2009.

Update: Winds cause trouble on the set, according to the Herald.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fact checking

In the most recent issue of the Post-Gazette newspaper, there is -- as in every issue -- an article under the byline of Mayor Menino, though the weekly column is almost certainly written by someone on the mayor's staff. At the end of the first paragraph the piece says, "On March 17, 1776 the British Army finally left 'the colonies,' by way of Boston Harbor after being beaten in the American Revolutionary War."

Actually, the war was in its early stages and would go on for more than five years. The British didn't again threaten Boston, but they did attack New York, Philadelphia and many other places throughout the fledgling nation. The last enemy troops didn't leave until Nov. 25, 1783. We all make mistakes, but if it's a front-page story with the mayor's name on it, somebody has got to check the facts.

Eastie in the news

There are a pair of stories involving East Boston in today's Boston Sunday Globe:

*Bishop Robert Hennessey will say Mass on Easter Sunday at Mount Carmel Church, which has been occupied by parishioners since the archdiocese closed it in the fall of 2004.

*East Boston-based freelance writer and Globe contributer Elizabeth Gehrman catches up with state Rep. Carlo Basile a little more than four months into his term to see how it's going.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Checking the numbers

Boston.com notes that House Speaker Sal DiMasi is circulating an analysis by state Rep. Dan Bosley about the economics of bringing casino gambling to Massachusetts.

In it, Bosley -- a North Adams Democrat who chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which will be holding a hearing on Gov. Patrick's proposal to legalize gaming next week -- disputes the governor's claim that casinos will bring in $400 million in new state revenues.

The analysis concludes that, "Casino gambling is not long term, sustainable, economic development policy. The costs simply outweigh the benefits in both short and long term analysis." Some of the factors that Bosley says contribute to this conclusion are:
* The Governor’s revenue numbers are based on a static, non competitive appraisal of the gambling market in Massachusetts, when in fact, the market is overwhelmingly competitive
* The Governor did not consider the realities of state gambling markets through the United States
* The Governor’s proposal overstates the amount of gambling revenue that the Commonwealth can recapture from Connecticut
* A significant portion of the Governor’s projected revenues will be derived from money that is already spent in the state economy
* The casino license auction will not be as competitive or lucrative as the Governor imagines
* The loss of Lottery revenues due to the advent of casino gambling will be extensive
Maybe this is not a sound analysis, but I'd like to see it refuted with facts rather than made-up figures -- like "30,000 new construction jobs" -- before we rush headlong into this. Read the entire analysis here.

Update: It seems that Speaker DiMasi is having some success convincing House members that the governor's plan is not all it's cut out to be.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's only natural

Some of you thought I was kidding last month when I raised the issue of John McCain's eligibility to be President of the United States. I am serious -- not that I think he should be counted out, but that it is an issue that is legally unresolved and may need to be reviewed by the courts. Well, it looks like it's going to happen. A complaint has been filed with a federal judge in California.

McCain was born in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone, then a US territory. His father was stationed there by the US Navy. There's no doubt that children born of American parents on US military bases or at US embassies are American citizens; however, that is a designation made by law or government regulations. The qualifications for president are written into Article II of the US Constitution:
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
Two other men who have been serious contenders for the presidency have had similar questions raised: George Romney (Mitt's dad), who was born to American parents in Mexico; and Barry Goldwater, who was born in Arizona when it was a territory. Neither was elected, so the concept was never tested. The Supreme Court has never looked into the matter of who is or is not "a natural born Citizen."

To err

In the wake of the self-destruction of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, The New York Times web site has a piece today that wonders aloud why politicians at all levels "engage in clandestine sexual entanglements...[and] all too often, their stealthy frolics then poison their political careers." The writer implies that those with political power entrap themselves in these ethical snares more than the rest of us.

However, I think the article misses the point. People of all incomes and religions, of all occupations and political persuasions, and of both genders, make terrible decisions all the time, and pretty frequently those miscues come back to bite them in the ass. We're human, and we're flawed. That's not to excuse away Spitzer's transgressions or those of anyone else; yet, he is no different than the rest of us. The misunderstanding is thinking that he, or anyone else, is above such things. Anyone familiar with human history for the past few years or the past few millennia knows that no one is.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Say it ain't so!

Word has it that Caffe Italia -- the East Boston restaurant, cafe and bar owned by Tony and Donna Olivierio -- is being sold. Speculation is that the business, located at 150 Meridian Street, is going to be converted into a Colombian eatery.

What's in your water?

The Associated Press tested public drinking water supplies around the country and found that many had traces of "a vast array" of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. While the concentrations were minuscule, no one knows the long-term effects of ingesting these substances.

Pills taken by people are not completely absorbed in the body, the story says, and eventually small amounts of these medications make their way into the lakes, rivers and reservoirs that supply our drinking water. Doctors write 3.7 billion prescriptions a year and consumers buy another 3.3 billion packages of nonprescription drugs.

Municipalities don't test the water for pharmaceuticals and neither do bottled water suppliers. Meanwhile, antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, sex hormones and other drugs are being ingested in the US and around the world every day. It's another unforeseen -- or disregarded -- consequence of "progress" run amok.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Seville plan in the news

The Globe has a piece today on the proposed development of the Meridian Street property that once housed the Seville Theater. The Boston Redevelopment Authority is scheduled to hold a hearing on the project -- site to be determined -- on March 19.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Democrats should choose and unite

Coming into this presidential primary season, Democrats in Pennsylvania (April 22) and North Carolina (May 6) had no reason to think that their late-in-the-calendar elections would do anything more than ratify the candidate that voters in earlier states had selected, but now even South Dakota and New Mexico (June 3) will apparently have a voice in these proceedings.

Absent an unrecoverable revelation (Anyone remember a yacht named Monkey Business?), even big margins by either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in all the remaining contests will not apparently be enough to convince the other to concede. This is troubling to many Democrats because GOP-nominee John McCain gets to rest, raise money and lob grenades -- as well as benefit from his rivals’ interparty grenades -- while this fight continues, conceivably all the way to the convention in Denver during the last week in August.

Most Democrats agree, I think, that it is of paramount importance that the incumbent party be evicted from the White House, and Democrats were able to select from a strong field of candidates, of which several would have been solid choices to carry the mantle in November. Of the duo remaining, I believe that Sen. Obama is the better candidate, and I am convinced -- not only for the good of the party, but for the good of the nation -- that voters whose primaries have yet to take place and superdelegates who have yet to make a decision should rally behind him sooner rather than later.

First, in most national polls, Obama has the edge over McCain, while the Arizona senator tops Clinton. If we are adamant that winning the general election is the top priority, then we need to select that candidate who can do that. An Obama candidacy gives him an advantage on a number of issues against McCain, most notably Iraq. Also, Obama’s youth, eloquence and charisma will set him apart from McCain, who is 71 years old and not a smooth public speaker or magnetic figure. Clinton’s strengths against Obama -- experience and knowledge of security issues -- are weaknesses against McCain, and her vote to authorize force in Iraq makes the contrast on that issue less visible. It has been said that she is a polarizing figure, and it’s true. Conservative columnist David Brooks said that every Republican he has spoken with would rather run against Clinton than Obama, and with good reason.

Second, Obama brings new people to the party. He has demonstrated an ability to get young people, African Americans and unenrolled voters to come out to cast their ballot for him. Democrats need these groups to turn out in force in November. He’s also been able to motivate people to the point where they will give money -- and lots of it. For the first time that I remember, Democrats are able to generate more contributions than Republicans, and the amounts are staggering. While Clinton raised an impressive $35 million in February, Obama surged well beyond that figure, collecting $55 million. Unfortunately, that type of money may be needed to beat the GOP, which will close ranks and open wallets for McCain in the coming months.

Third, Obama leads the delegate count and it will be difficult for Clinton to catch him via pledged delegates in the remaining primaries. It also seems less likely that she will have enough of an edge among superdelegates to move ahead, but even if that were possible I don't think we want party insiders to step in and reverse the will of the people. A coup such as that -- or one involving legal proceedings and backroom machinations in regards to the seating of banished delegates from the states of Florida and Michigan -- could throw the party into chaos and poison the waters nationally.

Clinton supporters advocate “the big-state argument.” She’s won primaries in the country’s most-populous states -- California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Florida -- and all of these are states that the Democratic Party needs to win in November. I don’t think this line of reasoning holds water. California, New York, Illinois and Michigan are going to go Democratic in November no matter what. Ohio and Florida have been swing states, but with the current political climate I think they are the Democrats to lose (and in the case of Florida, that might just happen because of the controversial stripping of the state’s delegates). In fact, Texas may even be in play this time around (and if Democrats take the Lone Star State the winds of change really are blowing across the landscape).

So, it is time for the Democrats -- not unjustly referred to, at times, as “the party of disorder” -- to get together and rally behind one candidate, and that candidate is Barack Obama.

Friday, March 7, 2008

No end in sight

The Democratic presidential nominating process could have been wrapped with Tuesday's contests. Victories in Texas and Ohio by Barack Obama would have been decisive blows to the campaign of Hillary Clinton, but the day went to the New York senator and brought her campaign back to life. In fact, though she was written off by many as recently as Monday, it now seems that she has, as one pundit put it this evening, "a 50-50 chance" to be her party's nominee.

This, even though Barack Obama went into Tuesday's voting with a roughly 100-delegate lead and came out with the same. Clinton's popular-vote margin was impressive in Ohio (10%), and she gained nine delegates (78-69) there. Texas gave her a smaller margin (4%) and, with its labyrinthine system of primary voting followed by caucuses, a one-delegate edge (103-102) so far. (The caucus results still haven't been completed.) Throw in her win in Rhode Island and his in Vermont and Clinton won the night by 13 delegates (208-195).

The Boston Globe has Obama leading overall, 1,571 to 1,462. Neither candidate, it seems, can reach a majority of 2,095 with the remaining pledge delegates alone, which means the superdelegate vote will be key. Clinton's argument is that she can deliver the big states to the party in November, and her primary wins in California, New York, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and Florida seem to back that up. Obama, on the other hand, has the most delegates, has won the most contests, has raised record amounts of cash, and has brought many new voters to the party. Those points are difficult to ignore.

In another confusing situation, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is calling for "do-over" voting in Florida and Michigan, two states that the DNC penalized for moving their primaries by stripping them of delegates.

What all this means is ... damn, it's anybody's guess now.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Candidate visit

One of the presidential candidates was in East Boston on Saturday. No, not Clinton or Obama; and not McCain or Huckabee. You're not getting any warmer, so I'll tell you: RĂ³ger Calero, the candidate of the Socialist Workers Party.

As the Bay State Banner points out in a story on the candidate, not only is Calero extremely unlikely to get more than several thousand votes, but even if he were to miraculously win he couldn't serve. He was born in Nicaragua, and the Constitution requires that a president be "a natural born Citizen."

And maybe this is the time to bring up an interesting point: Republican candidate John McCain was born on Aug. 29, 1936, in the Panama Canal Zone, which was controlled at the time by the United States. Are we sure that Sen. McCain falls within the Constitution's guidelines?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Green Mountain justice

On this election night voters in two Vermont communities passed resolutions to indict George Bush and Dick Cheney for crimes against the Constitution. Voters in Brattleboro and Marlboro each approved the non-binding articles. The text of the resolution is:
Shall the Selectboard instruct the Town Attorney to draft indictments against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for crimes against our Constitution, and publish said indictments for consideration by other authorities and shall it be the law of the Town of Brattleboro that the Brattleboro Police, pursuant to the above-mentioned indictments, arrest and detain George Bush and Richard Cheney in Brattleboro if they are not duly impeached, and prosecute or extradite them to other authorities that may reasonably contend to prosecute them?
Of course, many will laugh this off as eccentric, liberal Vermonters being wacky, but the truth is that Bush and Cheney have, on several fronts, violated their oaths to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution, and in some cases the damage they've done to the nation may be irreparable. They should have been impeached several years ago.

Preying on fear

Men disguised as police officers are ringing the doorbells of immigrant families in East Boston, Chelsea and Everett and then robbing the households -- assuming that undocumented workers would be too frightened to report the crimes.

A Globe story says that, "...at least a dozen times in the last four months, the man with the chipped tooth and his partner with the mustache have used their bogus status as authority figures to gain entry into a home, push everyone into a room, and go from room to room pocketing jewelry, cash, and ATM cards."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Neptune would be a great name

Two Boston Police officers delivered a baby just after midnight at the corner of Bennington Street and Neptune Road in East Boston when the mom went into labor in her car. Boston.com reports that mother and child are in good condition.

Follow up: The Globe has a Tuesday story on the delivery.

A semi-nice word about an evil giant

I never shop at Wal-Mart. Certainly, it is not the only corporation that is reckless and inhumane in its policies, but it is among the biggest (while ExxonMobil is again the world's largest corporation, Wal-Mart held that role for a while, and it's still the largest retailer) and most high profile.

There are a whole number of areas where Wal-Mart's policies hurt the planet and its people, but company executives aren't totally blind and deaf to the image of their company, and it is in their best financial interest to counter the constant stream of negatives. Like McDonald's, Wal-Mart has taken some small steps in recent years to be more green, more sensitive and more responsive to the public. Today's Globe notes that the retail giant has a blog -- supposedly honest and unedited -- where some of its buyers comment on products and solicit feedback.

Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Exxon (still fighting the nearly 20-year-old Exxon Valdez court decision) are still terrible corporations and they are motivated completely by the bottom line rather than any sense of decency, but when they make the slightest gesture toward being more decent entities I am not against offering a word of praise.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Governor touts phony number

Today's Globe takes a look at Gov. Deval Patrick's boast that new casino construction in Massachusetts will create 30,000 jobs, and every way the figure is sliced it seems to be greatly exaggerated.

Turns out that the governor's number is based on an estimate by Suffolk Downs, which of course stands to make bundles of cash if casino gaming is made legal in the state. Suffolk's estimate is that a casino built on its property would create 10,000 new construction jobs. Patrick took that figure as gospel truth and multiplied it by three in anticipation of a trio of casinos being built. The Globe points out that this is "almost double the number of workers on the Big Dig at the height of construction..."

The story uses several other methods to come up with a more accurate number and each is significantly less than 30,000. The whole casino issue -- from the rushed and shady vote in Middleborough to Patrick's state budget, which includes money from casinos that haven't been built and aren't even legal -- stinks to the high heavens. Something is rotten in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.