Sunday, June 29, 2008

Missing the target

I was hoping that the Supreme Court would come down on the other side of the gun control issue, but there wasn't a whole lot of surprise when this conservative court ruled that Washington, DC's ordinance -- which virtually prevented residents from owning guns -- violated the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

The National Rifle Association and many Republicans cheered the ruling, but upon inspection the high court's majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, has quite a bit for gun-control advocates to be happy about. Scalia, possibly the most conservative member of the court, wrote: "Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Newspaper accounts went on to say that,"
The opinion also said that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons would be upheld, and suggested somewhat less explicitly that the right to personal possession did not apply to 'dangerous and unusual weapons' that are not typically used for self-defense or recreation. Justice Scalia added that the court’s list of permissible restrictions was not exhaustive."

So, in this landmark ruling for the rights of gun owners, the Supreme Court's top defender of such rights was quite clear that local governments are well within their rights to place numerous restrictions on citizens when it comes to the right to bear arms. The NRA has, for years, been advocating for virtually no such limits, and the organization now plans to challenge all sorts of municipal ordinances and state laws in court, but it seems to me that only those regulations that are as tough as DC's -- and few are -- will be struck down. In other cases, I believe, lower courts will interpret Scalia's opinion as supporting tough prohibitions, and that is a good thing.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Exploring Neptune and beyond

It is great to see teens from ZUMIX, the Eastie-based arts program, delving into journalism. Today, the web site Open Media Boston posted an interview that Gabriela Silva of ZUMIX conducted with a gentleman who lived on Neptune Road back before Wood Island Park was bulldozed by Massport.

The interview and some other reports on the long-running conflict between East Boston residents and Logan Airport can also be found at the ZUMIX Radio Journalism blog. (The photo, taken from the ZUMIX site, is of the last house on Neptune Road.)

The Times isn't a-changing

In this week's East Boston Times there is a piece under the heading "Mr. Boston" that says city councilor-at-large Michael Flaherty took offense to a piece published on the Times' opinion page last week and came into the paper's offices "hot" and "serious as a heart attack." The column describes the inaccuracies that Flaherty pointed out in the previous story, published under the "Eastie Watch" heading, which said that the "word on the street" is that there are connections between the councilor and the Barletta Engineering Co., which has worked on the construction of East Boston Memorial Park.

The "Mr. Boston" piece laughs off Flaherty's objections, tossing out the old cliche that newspapers "never let the facts get in the way of a good story." In this instance, where the paper's credibility is being questioned, such a comment comes off as flip and foolish. Why, then, should we believe anything in the Times? The information that Flaherty says is not true is listed, but there is no attempt made to determine whether the councilor was being honest or whether the paper had the correct facts.

Shockingly, "Mr. Boston" goes on, according to the column, to tell Flaherty "not to get bent out of shape" because last week's piece was not in "a news column or editorial" and "he would never be treated in such a speculative way in an editorial or a news column." Huh? Every bit of a newspaper needs to be based on truth. Of course, editorials and columns contain opinion, while news stories are supposed to be objective accountings of fact. There is no place in any of those for untruths, and either the Times had the facts correct or it didn't.

Further, toward the end of the piece, it says that Flaherty would be treated differently if and when he announced his run for the mayor's office and that if he is elected "he would be treated with the deference the way (sic) Mayor Menino is treated." Why would a newspaper treat anyone differently? From top elected officials down to homeless panhandlers, what matters is publishing stories that are important, interesting and true. There is no other standard.

The whole tone of the piece is one prevalent in the unsigned "Mr Boston" columns: "Hey look ... I'm pals with all the politicians and the other big shots in this area" -- as in last week's adulation of outgoing EBSB chief Bob Verdonck. Meanwhile, we see photo spreads of those same few people every week. If someone who'd never visited Eastie looked through the Times each week he'd think that 15 people lived here.

Michael Flaherty is a top contender to be the next mayor of this city, and the residents of East Boston deserve to know about his connections to Barletta. If there are none, then the Times should apologize to him. Which is it?

Thursday, June 26, 2008


NBC newsman Tim Russert was being treated for coronary artery disease before he collapsed from a heart attack and died nearly two weeks ago, but he was following the treatment plan of his doctors, exercised regularly, kept his cholesterol and blood pressure down, and recently passed a stress test.

The New York Times looks into the factors that killed Russert, who was 58, and what doctors say about his sudden death.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Festival on tap for weekend

The annual Sacred Heart Festival will take place this weekend and will feature music, food, games and activities for kids. Scheduled to perform are Tiny Tavares, Harold Melvin's Blue Notes, Franco Ingraiti, J. K. M. Rico, ZUMIX, and dancers from local dance studios.

The festival takes place Friday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 12 noon to 11 p.m. Sacred Heart is located at the intersection of Marion and Brooks streets in East Boston.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Eastie notes

*The Donald McKay School is lauded in the Globe for the achievement scores of its Latino students. The 675-student school is located on Cottage Street.

*East Boston Savings Bank is looking for a new president, as Robert Verdonck retired earlier this month. The blurb on reminds us that the bank relocated its headquarters to Peabody in 1999. Those bank executives apparently tired of mixing it up with the riff-raff of the neighborhood that graces the company's name.

*Ecco, on the site of the former Sablone's Veal n' Vintage, is scheduled to open in July. Meanwhile, Jessica Sablone-Maffeo and her husband chef have opened an eatery in Marblehead called Trattoria Sablone's.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Same as it ever was? Or no?

A pair of Associated Press writers today opine that the entire world seems to have lurched out of whack. War and terrorism, weather-related disasters, the sinking economy, the rising price of oil, the cost of food, etc.

Are they right? Or are these just the normal ups and downs that civilization has always faced and endured?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Throwing oil in our eyes

Much like the summer gas tax holiday, opening new oil fields to drilling off the US coast will do nothing to lower gas prices, according to everything I've read. John McCain, however, has proposed both ideas, not because they are sound but because he assumes that we are stupid. Let's hope Americans are smarter than to fall for this kind of campaigning.

Life without bananas?

Within a generation the banana may disappear from American homes. Certainly they will get more expensive -- something that is already happening.

Dan Koeppel, author of the book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, writes in today's New York Times about a disease that once wiped out the variety of banana that our grandparents ate and is now turning its sights on the Cavendish, the type of banana that we are all familiar with.

In the piece Koeppel notes that the banana is the most popular fruit in America and has generally sold for half the price of apples despite the fact that it comes from thousands of miles away while apples are grown much closer to markets. In addition, apples can keep for months while bananas bruise easily and don't last for more than two weeks.

Despite their being more than a thousand varieties of banana, most Americans only know the Cavendish, which apparently does not taste nearly as good as the varietal that was wiped out in the 1960s by Panama disease. Will Chiquita -- formerly called United Fruit, a US conglomerate that used violence against workers and overthrew governments to keep its business flowing smoothly -- diversify its banana crops in Latin America or are bananas on their way to becoming "an exotic tropical fruit" that most of us can no longer afford.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Restaurant opening

Word is that La Hacienda -- the restaurant opening in the space of the former Caffe Italia on Meridian Street -- is opening Friday and offering free food. (It's a rumor ... Don't hold me to it!) The new owners put significant money into the place, moving the kitchen to what used to be the back dining room and opening up the whole left side to the rear bar. I've peeked in and it looks nice.

Update: Sources tell me that La Hacienda is moving back the opening date due to some issues with the city. They should be settled soon.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Very classy

The New York Times web site has a piece on the 75th anniversary of the federal minimum wage, which was initially opposed by business and now has fallen well behind inflation. More expansively, The Nation magazine has given over an entire issue to economic inequality -- what has been referred to lately as a second Gilded Age.

Though Americans often refrain from the subject as part of the public discourse, I have for a long time believed that class -- rather than gender, religion, ethnicity or even race -- is the great issue of our country and our world. "Blah, blah,'re a communist," is bound to be the response from those more interested in superficialities and labels rather than ideas and discussion, and I can't change that.

The world's resources are finite and the development and consumption of those resources is a zero-sum enterprise. Here is one staggering statistic that The Nation points out: "The richest 1 percent of Americans currently hold wealth worth $16.8 trillion, nearly $2 trillion more than the bottom 90 percent." It is worth noting that the last time we had such inequality was just before the Great Depression.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nine Reasons to Vote for Obama

The Democratic primary was bloody, and quite a few Democrats and independents who supported Hillary Clinton are reluctant to switch their allegiance to presumptive nominee Barack Obama. If you are one and if you chose Clinton because of her personality or the particular set of skills that she possesses or even because she’s a woman, then I can understand how you’re vote might not automatically transfer to Obama.

However, if you backed Clinton because you had common ground with her on any of the issues, then you are choosing to abandon those positions if you vote for John McCain. The two leading Democratic contenders are quite close on most policy questions, and it seems to me that the goal this November for progressives is to eject the Republicans from the White House. George W. Bush and the GOP have caused considerable and long-lasting damage to our nation, and we need to make the bleeding stop.

While it’s true that McCain is not Bush, it is also true that the Arizona senator is quite close to the current administration on many issues – and certainly much closer than Obama. Here are nine reasons that you should vote Democratic in November:

1. The occupation of Iraq.
There are no easy answers here, but we are well past the time when we need a fresh, open-minded approach to extracting our overstretched military from Iraq and refocusing the mission in Afghanistan. I am less concerned about timetables than I am about a president who is going to sit down with the Pentagon leadership to ask tough questions and then to listen to what they say. For all their bellicose bluster and flag waving, the Bush gang did not listen much to the counsel from the top generals. While McCain would probably listen more, he is also married to his past statements and to his support of our presence in Iraq, and he has said – metaphorically or not – that he would keep the US military there 100 years if need be. Obama has said that he will start planning the withdrawal as soon as he gets into office and it will certainly take some time – maybe two years – to complete such an operation, but I believe that he will face the task head on while listening to the uniform leadership’s concerns.

2. Rebuilding international relations.
Bush’s clumsy rhetoric and clumsier foreign policy have made even our best allies weary of us. We’ve broken treaties, angered allies and infuriated everyone else, and it is time for America to put its best face forward to rebuild our standing in the world. Talking with less-than-friendly heads of state is not a sign of weakness, but rather an attempt to use all available options. McCain would continue the tough-guy approach; Obama would be more flexible. If that keeps us out of another war, then we should embrace it. Look at Obama’s willingness to open up US policy toward Cuba. For 50 years we’ve banned trade and travel to that nation because of the Castro regime, and what do we have to show for it? Nothing changed on the island politically, but the Cuban people suffered.

3. Ending the imperial presidency.
Bush, Cheney and their advisors have stomped on the Constitution, advocating and executing their radical ideas of expanded presidential powers. Despite schoolchildren across America learning about the three co-equal branches of the federal government, the current administration has brought to life the twisted precept of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” In their view, the president’s powers are virtually unlimited. Bush has ignored laws passed by the Congress and, in one instance that we know about, actually suspended part of the Constitution. The administration has also, stunningly, ignored the Geneva Conventions. This travesty and treason must stop immediately.

4. Keeping some balance on the Supreme Court.
Bush’s two conservative appointments have tilted the high court far to the right, with Chief Justice John Roberts, a relatively young jurist, running the show conceivably for decades to come. Since he and Alito joined the Supreme Court we’ve seen many conservative opinions – siding with big business and the government against the people – carry the day with 5-4 decisions. Aging liberal justice John Paul Stevens is presumably hanging on for a Democrat to take the White House and appoint his replacement, but if McCain becomes president he will likely appoint Stevens replacement – and that would certainly be someone in the Scalia/Thomas/Alito mold. This would insure an ultra-conservative court, which would probably limit free speech, shrink the separation between church and state, and possibly overturn Roe v. Wade.

5. Fairness on taxes and spending.
The Bush tax cuts favor the wealthy and McCain wants to extend them, while Obama wants to eliminate them, but to give tax relief to working folks. The Republicans will try to frame the issue differently, but it’s all spin. If McCain is elected, he will likely attempt to straighten out some of the budget mess caused by the tax cuts and the war, but he will do so by cutting important and effective programs. This he will sell to the public by citing, as an example of government waste, some research study looking at the breeding habits of insects. He will not mention the hungry children, homeless veterans or freezing elderly that he’ll propose casting aside.

6. Purging partisan civil servants.
For the past eight years the federal government has loaded its ranks with people loyal to Bush rather than individuals who are qualified for certain positions. Though this is not a new practice, it has been utilized to a far greater degree under this administration, leaving us with a government filled with incompetents. The most public example of this was Michael Brown’s lack of leadership at FEMA during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, but the most far-reaching may be at the Justice Department, where hundreds of lawyers were hired based on their fealty to Republican principles, rather than their qualifications as lawyers. Professionalism has to be reinstituted there and everywhere else in the government, and politics among the career civil servants has to be sidelined.

7. Strengthening consumer agencies.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Agriculture are woefully understaffed and we’ve seen the results, with toys, vegetables, fruits and meat being recalled like never before. Republicans generally defer to corporations on such issues, but the effects of globalization demand that federal authorities are more vigilant than ever when it comes to protecting citizens. An Obama administration would do a better job on this than McCain would.

8. Being part of the solution on the environment.
Under Bush, the US government spent seven years denying that climate change was actually happening – often by rewriting the reports of its own scientists. Recently they’ve admitted that global warming is a problem, but they still refuse to seriously address the matter. McCain is more realistic on the issue, but only slightly, and it’s hard to imagine him doing much of anything substantial on climate change, as industry lobbyists will exert their influence every step of the way. Obama would almost certainly address the matter head on, which is what the situation demands.

9. Revamping healthcare
. America needs a drastic remake of the way healthcare is administered in this country, as the skyrocketing prices are swamping families and businesses alike. Republicans, as is often the case, are beholden to big business on this issue. Obama is willing to rethink the whole matter and to make the necessary changes. We can no longer tolerate a society in which millions of citizens have no healthcare.

For all these issues and more, Democrats, independents and open-minded Republicans need to come together in November to make sure that our next president will be intelligent and willing to listen to new ideas. Barack Obama is clearly the candidate of change at a time when America desperately needs to break from the ruinous policies of the past seven and one-half years.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Teamsters attack Basile

State Rep. Carlo Basile is one of four Massachusetts House members targeted for replacement by Teamsters Local 25 because each voted against bringing casino gambling to the state.

The East Boston legislator, who won his seat in a special election last fall, joins three other Democrats -- Mark Falzone (Saugus), Paul Donato (Medford), and Jeffrey Sanchez (Mission Hill) -- on the union's list of state reps who they want replaced. All House seats are up for reelection in November.

It's unclear why the four are being selected for retribution out of the 108 legislators who voted against the proposal, which died at the hands of House Speaker Sal DiMasi despite the support of Gov. Deval Patrick.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Celebrate our favorite creek

The 5th annual Chelsea River Revel will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. along both sides of the Meridian Street Bridge (officially it's the Andrew P. McArdle Bridge). The schedule includes live music, local talents, dance groups, food, moon bounces, boat rides, arts and crafts, rock climbing, a puppet parade, kayaking and more.

Admission is free, except for the 5K road race; the kids race (15 and under) is free. The event is hosted by the Chelsea Creek Action Group, which seeks "to build public awareness; promote public access; seek environmental justice; and transform the neglected, polluted Chelsea Creek into an environmental, recreational, educational and economic resource for East Boston, Chelsea and the region."

The forecast for Saturday is partly and 75 degrees, which should be perfect. For more information, check out the event web site here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lost in the desert?

A Boston University professor recently did a survey of the city's neighborhoods and concluded that, "There are areas around Boston that can legitimately be called food deserts," and he named Mattapan and East Boston as fitting that profile.

Dr. John Cook, according to an article in an alternative newspaper called The Weekly Dig, believes that some neighborhoods don't have easy access to healthy foods. As a result, Cook says, the residents -- usually working class or poor -- buy cheap food, which is usually the least healthy, from convenience stores.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Symphony of horns

Turning onto Saratoga Street today I was greeted by a horn blaring for about five seconds because the driver of an SUV was driving a bit too fast and therefore felt that I had cut him off. He drove right up my bumper with his gas guzzler in a ridiculous attempt to, I guess, intimidate me.

Later, while I was outside grilling in my aunt's yard there was another long horn burst when a pick-up truck came to a complete stop on Porter Street (or, technically, Visconti Road). The driver of the pick-up jumped out and went to the window of the stopped, beeping vehicle and started screaming that he had been cut off. He added, of course, a few curse words and the usual ignorant "go back where you came from."

Are tempers flaring because of the heat, or have we lost any sense of public decorum?

Onward and upward

Hillary Clinton is smart and tough, and because of her there are multitudes of girls who are growing up in an era where it will be normal for them to aspire to one day be president -- and possible that they will succeed.

However, it's been clear for quite a while that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee in the 2008 presidential race and only after Clinton stepped aside could he move forward to begin his general election campaign.

Current national polls show Obama with a small lead over GOP choice John McCain, but it is the electoral map that counts and this year the Democratic nominee will be battling in a number of states (Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alaska, Montana and maybe even Texas) that Republicans have owned in recent presidential elections.

Meanwhile, between the unpopular war and the sluggish economy (which, unfortunately it seems to me, angers people more than Iraq), I think Obama will hold the Rust Belt states (Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania) with hordes of blue-collar voters that have so far not taken to the Illinois senator.

In any head-to-head match-ups (debates, town halls), Obama will blow McCain out of the water. As the summer turns into fall I think we'll see a clear lead in the polls for the Democrat, and in November we'll see Obama win a solid victory. For the well being of the nation and the world, this needs to happen.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not getting involved

In March of 1964 a public stir was caused when Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman living in Queens, NY, was stabbed and raped while a number of people -- at the time 38 was the number cited, but that is disputed today -- heard or saw part of the crime and did nothing. Famously, one neighbor said, "I didn't want to get involved."

A week ago, pedestrians and motorists on a busy Hartford, Conn. street looked on but did not rush to the aid of a 78-year-old man who was hit by a car and lay bleeding in the road. While police say that four people quickly dialed 9-1-1, video from a surveillance camera -- which seems to show a reluctance to offer help -- is drawing outrage from the public.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Happy days?

It appears that Hillary Clinton is going to get behind Barack Obama during an event on Saturday. Hopefully, Democrats around the country will unite behind their nominee, as the most important task has always been to unseat the party that has, for eight years, brought us down a road of ruin.

If there are Democrats who, out of spite, refuse to vote for Obama -- despite his policy positions being quite similar to Ckinton's -- then their willingness to cast aside the fate of the nation for a little misguided revenge is rather sad -- and careless. If there are number enough to cost Obama this extremely important election, then I will find myself a new party.

However, I don't believe that will happen. In fact, I foresee a solid victory in November. Eight years of Republican incompetence and tyranny have destroyed whatever faith people had in the GOP. Obama will be elected and Democrats will increase majorities in both houses of Congress. Happy days will be here again.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Park work

A standoff over who is responsible for what has slowed the finish of East Boston's Memorial Park -- what we grew up calling "The Stadium" -- according to today's Globe. Contractor Barletta Engineering has been slow to finish its work, but apparently some of the company's employees have been cutting grass and doing some other jobs there in recent days.

While on the subject of Eastie's parks, a reader emailed to ask about the work being done on the wading pool at the Bremen Street Park. She heard jackhammers and noted that, for a while last week, fencing was put up around the perimeter. Why was the work on the pool taking so long? Was the original construction, she wondered, flawed in some way? Does anyone know the story?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Telling her story

Today's Boston Sunday Globe has a sad but wonderfully written front-page story on the life and death of Acia Johnson, the 14-year-old killed along with her 3-year-old sister Sophia in a South Boston fire on April 6.

The story pieces together the chaos that surrounded Acia's upbringing, concluding that her parents -- who had substance abuse problems and rap sheets that spanned several pages each -- and the state failed in their responsibilities to the girl, a high-achieving student who had sparked interest among some local high school basketball coaches.

As Dan Kennedy points out in his Media Nation blog, the story "is as fine an example of long-form narrative journalism as you'll see in a daily newspaper," especially with the layoffs that have forced papers to cut back in recent years. A piece like this needs time to be researched and written, and it's a credit to the Globe that editors and reporters believed that Acia's story needed to be told.

Tidying up Eagle Hill

The Sunday Globe reports on efforts by Eagle Hill residents to actively address problem properties in that section of East Boston. At least one resident was skeptical at a recent meeting, according to the story, but others said that some properties have already been dealt with effectively.