Thursday, July 31, 2008

Alert fever?

We've had two Amber Alerts in Massachusetts in the past few days, each in tandem with New York State, where the non-custodial dad went in one case and appeared to in another.

This morning we have a case that seems like it could have been the third in four days, when an estranged father grabbed his two-year-old daughter in Chicopee and headed for the Mass. Pike. However, would you believe there is squabbling among the two states' Amber systems?

Authorities asked police in New York to issue an Amber Alert for the toddler after learning that her father was headed for that state. Chicopee police said the girl is in danger because she requires medication.

Authorities in New York said the case did not meet their requirements for issuing an Amber Alert, particularly because an alert was not issued in Massachusetts.

State Police said an alert was not issued here because authorities acquired information showing that the father was headed out of state.

Beyond the double-take that this story produces is the article that was in the Sunday Globe on July 27, entitled: "Abducted!: The Amber Alert system is more effective as theater than as a way to protect children."

The piece, by Globe staffer Drake Bennett, looks at a study by the University of Nevada that concludes that Amber Alerts give people a false sense of being an effective tool, where in reality it almost never helps save children.

After looking at hundreds of cases in recent years the study confirmed that all but a handful of these are non-custodial parents and most of those were solved within a week even before the Amber system was created. In the nightmare case of a stranger kidnapping a child with intent to do harm, the alerts are almost never effective because the crime usually occurs within the first three hours.

Of course, any time we can do something that will save a child's life we should. However, our society has created this climate of fear because it's good for law-and-order politicians and because it's good for TV news profits. America's Most Wanted, Amber Alerts, tabloid newspapers, the Lifetime Network and local news stations feed into the mentality that the stranger down the street is coming for your kid.

In reality, of the hundreds of thousands of kids reported missing each year (according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, with the vast majority being teen runaways), fewer than 100 (according to FBI numbers) are abducted by strangers, a total that has been falling in recent years, despite public fears. And one wonders how many of those are teenagers who went to meet someone they connected with online, rather than someone grabbing a child in a bedroom or forcing him into a van.

The same atmosphere of fear is what causes an elderly woman I know to dangerously store gasoline for her lawn mower in the cellar of her home. When told of the escaping fumes and the danger of explosion, she said that if it was stored in the back yard a stranger might come along and burn her house down. She was willing to accept the real danger for fear of the one created in her mind by crime shows.

The story goes on to say that other policies -- like "three strikes" sentencing and sex-offender registries -- are political in nature, create false calm, are costly and do little. I am not advocating eliminating the latter (while the former is clearly outrageous) or of discontinuing Amber Alerts. The study's author, Tim Griffin, says that his research is preliminary, and what I am saying is that we should continue to study, discuss and think about such public policies now and in the future.

What annoys me to no end is the idea that we cannot question, study and discuss this or any program or policy, as though it's become some type of sacred cow. The Globe immediately received a letter from Texas in response to the story that said, "It's beyond comprehension that someone who is looking at statistics and a spread sheet can conclude that there is no value in Amber Alerts..." How else would we determine that?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another ideological attack

To those who might consider allowing Republicans in any shape or form to keep their hands on the levers of power, take a look at this Boston Globe editorial: "A new attack on birth control."

The current administration has proposed new regulations that would limit the flow of birth control information to patients at hospitals and clinics across America. They can implement these rules without the approval of Congress.

John McCain is going to need religious conservatives to get elected, and if he wins in November he will need to pay them back by enacting some policies that force their anti-Enlightenment beliefs on others. These ideologues must be stopped.

Turf battle amongst police

WBZ-TV has a special report on a story that I'd read somewhere once before -- that Boston Police have no jurisdiction in areas of the city that are owned by Massport. Instead, the State Police control those sections of Boston, which include Logan Airport and Piers Park in East Boston, 285 acres in South Boston and another 90 in Charlestown.

The story speculates that the regulations were instituted so that the State Police would benefit from lucrative detail work, but -- as South Boston state rep. Brian Wallace says in the story -- "This should be about public safety, not about dollars."

Apparently no one from either police agency or Massport would go on camera for the story, but reporter Joe Shortsleeve does say that the agencies are trying to work out a deal that returns police power in those areas to local law enforcement.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fr. McLaughlin dead at 74

Fr. Bernard McLaughlin, pastor at Holy Redeemer in East Boston from 1983 to 1995, passed away yesterday after a long illness.

Fr. McLaughlin was quite active in the community while serving here, and under his leadership the Crossroads Family Shelter was founded. After leaving Eastie he was transfered to a parish in Canton, from where he criticized the archdiocese during the clergy abuse scandal and called for the resignation of Cardinal Law.

He had a stroke in 2006, which forced his retirement. He was 74.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Addressing Iraq

With Barack Obama’s overseas trip, the US military action in Iraq is being discussed more intensely as a political and policy issue. A few points:

1. Invading Iraq was clearly a gargantuan mistake, but John McCain’s position is still that it was the right thing to do. Americans were intentionally misled by their government to gain support for the action; international laws were violated; a new doctrine of initiating a preemptive attack was put forth; hundreds of billions of dollars have been squandered; 4,124 American soldiers have been killed, more than 30,000 have been injured and possibly hundreds of thousands Iraqis have been killed as a result of the invasion and sectarian violence that followed. How can McCain stand by this decision?

2. The “war” was over when Baghdad fell. This is an occupation. The US military did its job quite quickly in 2003. The first rockets were fired on March 19 and the tanks rolled across the Iraq/Kuwait border soon after. On April 9 we all saw the state of Saddam Hussein toppled in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. After that the US military became an occupying force, which is an extremely difficult position in which to put soldiers – especially when no one had bothered to come up with a plan on how to do it. McCain keeps talking about Iraq in terms of winning or losing, but American military forces won the battle in three weeks and have been left to dangle since then when the focus should have been on getting them out.

3. The goal of the surge was to allow for political reconciliation. This was how it was presented to Congress and the American people back when the strategy was proposed. Sending in 30,000 more US troops would restore some type of order in Baghdad so that the political issues facing Iraq could be addressed. No one ever doubted that sending in more troops would make it somewhat easier to control the insurgents; the questions dealt mostly with the inability of Iraq’s government to work together and solve problems. Not long after the final surge troops arrived last summer, Iraq’s national legislature had the nerve to take a month off because it was too hot to work in Baghdad. Since then there has been limited political progress, but some – if not the majority of the credit – has to go to the Sunni tribal chiefs, who decided to cooperate with US forces before the surge; the ceasefire ordered by Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army; and the show of force in Basra by Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. McCain is campaigning hard on the idea that the surge was the right policy and that he was its strongest Congressional supporter, while Obama opposed it. The surge was somewhat helpful to short-term political goals in Iraq, but being that Obama’s stated position is to remove the troops as soon as possible he was correct to oppose it.

4. McCain has said that Obama is willing to "lose a war to a win a campaign." It is outrageous and offensive that one major party candidate for president would accuse another of treason, but that seems to be McCain’s latest strategy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The sausage kings

I grew up a few doors down from DiLuigi Sausage on Chelsea Street. The company left Eastie seven years ago for the North Shore, and now they are opening their first retail store on Route 1 in Danvers, according to the Salem News.

The company, which started as an East Boston butcher shop in the 1950s, is scheduled to open the 5,500-foot shop by the end of the month.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Teen shot by police

An 18-year-old was shot by the police on Princeton Street tonight, according to The suspect was part of a drug arrest.

Eastie eats has a little piece today on Meridian Food Market, which has been owned by the Noviello family -- including Paul, who was a student of mine at Savio -- for the past nine years. The blurb mentions "great little pocket-size calzones," which are pictured here.

I must add that someone brought steak tips from Meridian Market to a recent cookout and they were quite good.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You can't always get what you want...unless you are Massport

NECN has a report on Logan Airport's centerfield taxiway -- Massport's latest cure-all. It's scheduled to be completed by 2010 at a cost of $43 million, though the report says that part of it will be in service by the end of the year.

Throughout the report Massport's hype is repeated without question, while East Boston resident and activist Mary Berninger gets the obligatory few seconds to point out her concerns about the effects on the community.

Peter Howe, a former Globe reporter now at NECN, should know better than to buy the Massport line that the taxiway will mean fewer delays. In fact, a report on NECN just yesterday noted that the biggest reasons for planes sitting on the runway are weather, "the antiquated air traffic control system" and delays at the New York City area airports.

I was hoping that James Aloisi, Massport's newest board member and a guy from East Boston, would add a little conscience to the organization, but maybe I am asking too much.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Feast photos has some photographs taken at this year's Italia Unita festival. Right now they are the first eight images here, but may get moved as more photos are added.

Guests of the nation

Antonio Taguba, a retired US Army major general who was in charge of investigating whether detainees were mistreated by our military, recently said that "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes." That a two-star general would offer an open pronouncement such as this should be a wake-up call to all of us, as well as one of the biggest news stories of the year.

One former administration official has publicly recommended that some high-ranking officials -- those implicated in the flawed and illegal process that decided that the Geneva Conventions were obsolete and that torture was a good idea -- would be wise to not travel out of the country, as they may be arrested and tried before a foreign court or international tribunal.

A new book by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer is titled The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, and it is generating quite a buzz. I haven't read it, but I did hear Mayer on NPR last week and I watched her on C-SPAN this evening. Part of what she writes about are the Bush Administration officials who risked their careers with unsuccessful attempts to undo a policy on torture that they clearly saw as illegal and immoral. New York Times columnist Frank Rich says that the book "connects the dots ... to portray a White House that ... savaged its enemies within almost as ferociously as it did the Constitution."

McClatchy newspapers has a lengthy series online that describes some of the treatment prisoners received at Guantanamo Bay and concludes that the actions of the US have "turned the prison ... into a school for jihad."

New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof has called for a "Truth Commission, with subpoena power, to investigate the abuses in the aftermath of 9/11." Kristof adds that, "many of the people we tortured were innocent: the administration was as incompetent as it was immoral," and he notes that, "Thomas White, the former Army secretary, [said] that it was clear from the moment Guantanamo opened that one-third of the inmates didn’t belong there."

Will our nation demand that individuals be held accountable?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Boy dies after Eastie power outage

I noticed this morning that my electricity went out for a couple hours while I slept, but the outage had terrible consequences for an East Boston teenager who was dependent on a ventilator.

The Boston Channel is reporting that Fernando Vargas, 15, who lived in the Orient Heights projects, was found dead this morning, though it isn't clear how much of a factor the electrical outage was.

NStar said the power was out from 4:50 to 6:47 a.m.

Update: More details from The Boston Globe here.

Follow up: It looks like the ventilator had been recalled, but nobody told the family. A Globe editorial points out the state's responsibility.

Festival time

Italia Unita's 14th annual Italian Festival starts tonight and runs through the weekend. The food and entertainment take place in East Boston's Central Square and up Meridian Street towards Maverick Square. From the Maverick MBTA stop the festival is a three-minute walk.

The festival's schedule can be found here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Questioning the "good war"

Some people are currently rethinking the standard approach to the Second World War. Most Americans have always believed that history's largest and deadliest military confrontation was a "good war" that had to be fought and that the Allies -- France, Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States, et al. -- were the morally superior force.

Tonight, on Channel 2 at 8 p.m., is the last of a three-part series hosted by Scottish historian Niall Ferguson and titled The War of the World, which questions some of those ideas. At least one of his points is more semantic: that what we call World War II began not on Sept. 1, 1939, with Hitler's invasion of Poland, but in the summer of 1937, when full-scale hostilities began between China and invading Japan. A television critic for The New York Times disagreed with some of Ferguson's more controversial conclusions. (If you miss the program tonight, it -- and the other episodes -- will be repeated in August. Check the WGBH web site here for days and times.)

What attracted my attention is that this series is airing just as two Americans -- conservative Pat Buchanan and pacifist Nicholson Baker -- have written books that argue similarly. Buchanan's book is called Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, while Baker's is Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. I'm left to wonder why suddenly, some 60 years later, several people have reached similar conclusions.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cover story

There's quite a little firestorm that's been unleashed over The New Yorker magazine's cover illustration on the issue dated July 21, which depicts Barack Obama and his wife as though they are the insidious America-haters that some have ridiculously made them out to be.

I've been reading The New Yorker for 25 years. There are many wonderful periodicals and I try to read interesting stories from wherever I can online, but The New Yorker is the only one that I subscribe to and have for years. The writing is exceptional and the wit is brilliant. This particular cover, said Art Spiegelman -- a former New Yorker cartoonist himself who was commenting on an NPR broadcast this afternoon -- holds a mirror up to some of the rumors that are floating around out there so that we can see how outrageous they are. He's right.

There are some who worry that such a depiction may hurt Obama in the presidential campaign because some voters may believe that he and his wife want to destroy the country from the inside (as if that hasn't been happening for the past seven years anyway), but that is not The New Yorker's problem. We cannot and should not declare humor, satire and irony off limits because some Americans don't get it, and I am glad that The New Yorker felt no obligation to hold its tongue -- even though most of the readership is college-educated with incomes above $40,000, a group that is backing Obama big time.

If nothing else, the cover has initiated a discussion that shouldn't be shied away from: the right is trying to destroy Obama's candidacy with wild, baseless rumor and innuendo that should not be allowed to fester. I still believe, as a critic once wrote, that The New Yorker is "the best magazine in the world."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A nation's shame

A New York Times editorial today is titled “The Shame of Postville, Iowa,” but it's about an issue that has become the shame of our nation. The federal government has stepped up raids of undocumented immigrants and charged them unfairly with crimes that lead to jail time as opposed to deportation. The accused almost always come to America to work so they can feed their families and now we are putting them behind bars, an outcome that does no good for anyone.

The Times editorial makes reference to an essay by a translator who worked on a case involving the arrest of 390 workers in May at a Postville, Iowa, meat processing plant owned by Agriprocessors, Inc. The workers were charged with identity theft, but as the editorial points out, “there is a profound difference between stealing people’s identities to rob them of money and property, and using false papers to merely get a job.”

Further, most of the workers just filled out the papers they were presented with when they showed up to work, so many had no idea what they were doing, and -- in a twist that I hadn’t considered before, but which is something that puts the entire immigration saga in context -- many of those arrested not only couldn’t speak English, but they were illiterate in Spanish. The essay points out that most of the workers were from Guatemala, but were part of local indigenous tribes. In other words, these are Native Americans, whose ancestors were conquered by the Spanish and who have been pushed to the margins in those societies, and when they come to the only place where they can find work to feed their children they are thrown in jail by another country founded on the trampled lands of native peoples.

Unsure of what was happening around them, most of the immigrants accepted the “deal” that was worked out on their behalf -- five months in prison and then deportation -- because pleading innocent would have likely led to more jail time and they need to get back home as soon as possible. Meanwhile, their children remain unfed, our tax dollars pay to house and feed the prisoners, and the flow of people crossing the border looking for work does not slow in the least. The background for all of this is that American economic and foreign policy has often led to widening poverty for our neighbors to the south. We are culpable for some of the reasons that people migrate here for work, we benefit from their willingness to work at dirty, tough jobs for low wages, and then we arrest, jail and deport them.

The interpreter, Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas of Florida International University, said that nearly everyone involved in the proceedings -- the clerks, the guards, the judges -- felt that this was an awful miscarriage of justice and an inhumane undertaking, but everyone’s hands were tied by federal laws and the policies of the Bush Administration. Of course, Agriprocessors -- a giant corporation that has recently been guilty of violating child labor, environmental and animal cruelty laws -- will get off with a fine and none of the company’s management will be held otherwise accountable for breaking laws on the employment of undocumented workers.

One of those workers, a Guatemalan peasant, said that he reached the US after walking “for a month and ten days until I crossed the river.” The essay goes on to say that the man “crossed alone, met other immigrants, and hitched a truck ride to Dallas, then Postville, where he heard there was sure work. He slept in an apartment hallway with other immigrants until employed. He had scarcely been working a couple of months when he was arrested.” Imagine walking 40 days, Most Americans, me included, don’t walk 40 seconds if we don’t have to.

Our nation’s vilification of immigrants is shameful, all the more so because we are a land of immigrants. How quickly we have forgotten our roots -- and lost our way.

Book signing today

Former Boston Herald and NY Daily News crime reporter Michele McPhee will be signing copies of her latest book today at 2:30 at 303 Cafe.

McPhee, who is now a talk-radio host on WTKK, has written a book called Heartless: The True Story of Neil Entwistle and the Brutal Murder of His Wife and Child, about the 2006 high-profile murder case of a Hopkinton woman and her nine-month-old daughter.

The cafe is located at 303 Sumner Street in East Boston. McPhee, who currently lives in Eastie, previously wrote Mob Over Miami.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Keep your seat

Mayor Menino continues to advocate building a new city hall on the South Boston waterfront, with $2 million in this year's budget to study the new location. The best case against moving the seat of government from where it is now -- whether in the current building or in another -- is the location, today's Globe points out.

Though there are some architects who gush about City Hall as a brutalist-style landmark, very few people -- including city workers and elected officials -- care for the structure's look or ergonomics. However, there can be little argument that it is located in one of the most convenient places possible for most Boston residents, with easy access from all four subway lines.

Building a new structure, while providing sweet new digs for the mayor and leaving a monument that would certainly have his name on it, would cost us a big chunk of money and make it harder for people who need to visit City Hall for routine business. Moving it is a bad idea.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The tyrants and terrorists are winning

Why doesn't the Bush Administration just blow up the National Archives? None of them pay any attention to the Constitution any way. It's despicable, infuriating and depressing. The terrorists have won.

This time the Democrats have gone along, giving Bush, Cheney and the Republicans what they wanted on warrantless wiretapping and immunity for telecommunications companies that assisted in spying on Americans.

Here is a good blog piece from on what is happening and why it matters. The 4th Amendment has just been completely ignored by two of the branches of our government, and the conservative Supreme Court would likely agree.

How can we claim to export democracy when we live under tyranny?

Contents may unsettle

Tomorrow evening is the opening reception for the Atlantic Works Gallery latest exhibit -- a provocative collection of members new work called "Unsuitable Content."

The gallery's web site says of the exhibit: "Consider yourself warned: this work is inappropriate, in bad taste, unbecoming, and not conducive to good moral development. It is a collection of political tirades, obscenities, childish exhibitionisms, and vulgar gags unbecoming a dignified gallery." Now how can anyone pass that by?

The reception will run from 6 to 9 p.m. and will include a DJ, food and drink, and a free outdoor screening of a short film by Peter Pizzi. Atlantic Works is located at 80 Border Street in East Boston.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The place to be

Today's Globe has a story on development in the neighborhood -- specifically, the Boston East project, which would put 196 units on Border Street along the waterfront. The piece says that, "Developers, state and city officials, and residents are united in their enthusiasm for the project," which will include 26 units of affordable housing, an art gallery and "plenty of public-access space."

Elizabeth Gehrman, a freelance writer who lives in Eastie, goes on to say:
...the buzz on East Boston finally seems to be translating into action. Boston East is not the only new housing development that's moving forward: The 65-unit Seville at Boston Harbor and the 148-unit New Street residential project are also steaming ahead, and several other projects have been approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
In her column today, the Globe's Yvonne Abraham writes about things to do this summer in the city and notes:
There are great spots all over East Boston, an enormously diverse magnet for new arrivals to the city. But here in Orient Heights, you have a kitschy 35-foot copper and bronze Madonna, set in a tranquil plaza, and it is truly something to behold.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Thinking about patriotism

Famously, British writer Samuel Johnson once said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," and American writer and cynic Ambrose Bierce followed up on the subject with, "I beg to submit that it is the first."

Last night, as my attempts to fall asleep were repeatedly interrupted by fireworks being shot off on Bennington Street (I wasn't upset; after all, it was the 4th), I was thinking about the how the term "patriotism" is regarded by most Americans. Unfortunately, many have come to conflate meaningless gestures with this principle.

If some enjoy flying an American flag or wearing one on a lapel or slapping a yellow-ribbon bumper sticker on a car or even saying the Pledge of Allegiance, that's fine, but it's not patriotism. Likewise, it's ridiculous that our presidential candidates feel the need to appear on stages with umpteen flags behind them, as though more stars and stripes means more love of country.

It's also nonsensical -- and outrageous -- that any American should shout another down by saying that he or she isn't patriotic. The "love it or leave it" argument is infantile and irrational. Nothing would ever be improved if that idea were embraced by everyone.

In fact, those who are really patriotic, I think, are people who are constantly questioning the policies and actions of their government and their fellow citizens. The most patriotic path one can follow, as far as I am concerned, is to keep oneself up to date as to what is going on in the country and the world -- to read, listen, watch, discuss and think about public policy, foreign affairs, politics and the actions of local, state and federal governments -- and to advocate for what one believes is right.

I think that Theodore Roosevelt had the same thing in mind when he said, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is Iran next?

According to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker this week, there was a meeting earlier this year in Vice President Dick Cheney's office to come up with a "casus belli" -- a justification to go to war -- against Iran.

In fact, the article, titled "Preparing the Battlefield," discusses the covert operations that US Special Forces are already carrying out in Iran, crossing the border from Iraq. One part of the mission involves vast quantities of money, used to encourage opposition against the current Iranian government.

In this piece, and earlier Hersh stories, top leaders at the Pentagon have expressed their disagreement with the Bush Administration's plans to attack Iran, but those generals and admirals are either ignored or rushed into retirement.

Could our government be foolish enough to open up a full third front in this war?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Right from the farm

There will be a farmers' market in East Boston's Central Square on Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. starting tomorrow, according to the state's Department of Agriculture web site.

Farmers' markets have grown in popularity in recent years and there are dozens in the Boston area. There was one in Eastie last year at the beach (see photo), but it looked sparsely attended when I stopped by. Hopefully, more people will check it out this year.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

'Cleaner, brighter and safer'

South Coast Today, the web site of the New Bedford Standard Times, has a story online titled "Immigrant-focused commerce plays strong role in local economy." The piece makes reference to a report by the Boston Redevelopment Authority called The New Bostonians:

A 2005 study of immigrant entrepreneurs in three Boston communities found that their new businesses revitalized neighborhoods and stimulated the local economy by reviving commerce, creating jobs and spin-off businesses, and enhancing public safety. The study, which covered East Boston, Allston Village and Fields Corner, was commissioned by the Immigrant Learning Center, an advocacy group in Malden that provides free English classes to adult immigrants and refugees.

When Central and South American immigrants opened new businesses in East Boston, they made the neighborhood "cleaner, brighter and safer," said Marcia Hohn, executive director of the center.

"Storefronts were boarded up and there was trash on the streets," she said. "It was dirty and dark. They came in and opened up businesses and made it attractive. ... The story might be being repeated in New Bedford."

I have many friends and relatives -- some who have stayed in Eastie and others who've moved away -- who view the influx of Latino immigrants in completely different terms, but in my view the newcomers have filled a void, as second- and third-generation Italian Americans moved on to the North Shore suburbs. The "there goes the neighborhood" view also ignores the fact that the Italians arrived here after waves of Irish, Canadians, and Russian Jews made Eastie their home.

The fact is that storefronts are occupied from Maverick to Jeffries Point, from Central Square to Day Square, and beyond. There is lots of foot traffic and bustling local businesses in these areas, and crime is still relatively low. There is a growing arts community in the neighborhood, and young professionals are moving in as well. East Boston has become a model of diversity.