Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailing out the rich

It's difficult to know what to think about the so-called "bailout bill" that Congress has struggled with for the past 10 days and will likely vote on today. Plenty of people on the left and right (Newt Gingrich and Michael Moore, for example) are saying that such an allocation of the treasury is unnecessary, while many others whose opinions I take into account (George F. Will, Paul Krugman, Barack Obama) are saying that, despite the odiousness of this proposal, something has to be done.

Many in Congress -- including the Democratic leadership in both houses -- apparently feel they cannot sit by and not be part of a remedy when there is a chance of economic disaster on the horizon -- and that is the way that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke have described the future without the $700 billion bailout.

This roundtable on This Week with George Stephanopoulos was particularly interesting yesterday, with Will, Gingrich, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein, and several of them talked about Americans living above their means for the past decade or so. Pearlstein said that the rest of the world is tired of lending us money to do so.

Another truism here is that unfettered capitalism always leads to a feeding of swine at the trough. The deregulation pushed by the Republican Party beginning with Ronald Regan and escalating under George W. Bush -- always with the support of John McCain -- is partly to blame here, and whether we need to rescue Wall Street to save Main Street or not, it should be clear that the greed of the ruling class is much more of a threat to our way of life than earmarks, welfare or any of the culture war issues that the GOP routinely distracts Americans with around election time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Facts again take back seat

The East Boston Times is dead wrong when it says, in a front page story in the Sept. 24 issue, that the Salesian religious order "evicted Savio Prep High School from its property on Byron Street two years ago." In fact, Savio's board of directors voted to close the school. I know because I was there.

The school actually had another year on its lease with the order, but decided to pull the plug at the end of the 2006-07 school year. The Salesian Society did make clear that they would not be renewing the lease with Savio after June of 2008 -- for reasons that do make sense -- and at least one priest was not very civil to the school down the stretch, but there was no eviction.

The whole sordid story of the demise of Savio is something I've avoided wading too deeply into here, as it's a complex web of mismanagement at several levels -- possibly including the misappropriation of funds. Suffice to say that when I returned to the Savio faculty in the fall of 2006 the school was on life support and more than one person said to me that the place should have been shut down the previous June.

Having worked for both the Salesian (note to Times: there is no "s" at the end) Boys and Girls Club, as well as Savio -- and after having passed through both institutions as a youngster and teenager -- I am not predisposed to take the side of one or the other, and recognizing Fr. John Nazzaro with a story is commendable. He is a good guy who I've known for years.

However, on an issue as emotional and recent as the closing of Savio, I'm not sure how a key fact was bungled so badly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Quality pet products

Dog and cat owners might want to check out Lucky Dog Organics, a locally-owned Internet business that sells quality pet foods, toys and other items. My favorite toy on the site? The big, spooky eye -- stuffed with catnip!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Something wicked this way comes"

Consider, for a moment, a noble warrior who becomes consumed with ambition to the point that he casts aside the values he once believed in; when he senses that he is in reach of the seat of power he abandons all restraint and does whatever it will take to eliminate his enemies and to solidify his control. Consider, also, a scheming, amoral woman at his side.

Who is it that you see? William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth just over 400 years ago, and it is arguably his most frightening work. The Scottish general who lusts after the throne becomes ever-more consumed with naked ambition as his wife encourages his terrible deeds.

It occurs to me that there are clear parallels between the play and the actions of John McCain. Of course, there are no blood-filled scenes, but "the Thane of Arizona" has clearly sacrificed principles that he seemed to embody back when George W. Bush was doing the smearing and lying. One can imagine a rendezvous with three witches who told McCain that they've seen the future and he can be president -- but only if he is willing to do whatever it takes.

Meanwhile, central casting appears to have been a bit unsatisfied with Lady McCain in her role, so they sent us Sarah Palin, who we can easily imagine grabbing a bloody dagger to finish what her partner began -- just as though she were gutting a moose. In Shakespeare's work, however, guilt consumes Lady Macbeth. Palin does not seem to possess a conscience, and therefore will likely never feel remorse.

Ecco opens

I was unable to make it to Ecco's complimentary-meal soft opening last week, but the doors opened for real last night. Does anyone have feedback on East Boston's newest hot spot?

Today's Globe has a piece on Ecco that isn't a restaurant review, but rather an examination of how a "martini-tapas bar" like this reflects the influx of young professionals in the neighborhood.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Grover Norquist should be drowned in a bathtub

Republican ideology calls for shrinking government and loosening regulation. George W. Bush came into office and followed through on some of that. Nearly eight years later, what are the results?

*When Hurricane Katrina struck, federal agencies tasked with responding to such events were unprepared and badly managed.

*When toxic food and dangerous toys flooded American stores from overseas, there few inspectors to stop these products from entering the country.

*When financial services giants stuffed their pockets while exposing the nation's economy to great risk, there were no regulators to rein them in.

Ronald Reagan, now the second-worst president of all-time, famously said, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." I say that a Republican-run government is not the solution to our problem; Republican-run government is the problem.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Incoming choppers!

A reader emailed me and expressed anger at Mayor Menino's recent comments that he's considering locating a heliport at Logan Airport instead of Marine Industrial Park in South Boston, where it was originally planned to be.

On a recent talk radio program Menino mentioned that a Southie legislator was against the plan and the mayor wanted to work with him, though business leaders wanted the heliport closer to downtown.

This raises a pair of questions: Will the mayor be equally deferential to the wishes of East Boston's elected officials? And does the will of "business leaders" trump the will of the local citizenry?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Privatized gains; socialized losses

In America, poor mothers with children are sometimes vilified as "welfare queens," while the executives of our largest financial firms emerge unscathed after nearly running the economy into the ground and forcing taxpayers to pick up the pieces. The punishment for these CEOs and other top management? Millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other compensation.

For all of the right's talk of free markets, the reality is that Uncle Sam is there to put the house in order and pay off the bills whenever the boys get drunk on the profits of some extremely precarious investments, putting the world economy at risk. Meanwhile, the GOP shows no mercy for many poor and working class citizens, such as families in colder climes who need to decide between paying soaring prices for home heating oil and buying food.

John McCain is blah-blahing about putting Wall Street's house in order, but the truth is that he and his political allies are part of the reason for the disorder. McCain's top economic adviser, former Sen. Phil Gramm, was the architect of legislation that deregulated the financial services industry in 1999, and the GOP nominee voted for those laws. Another top McCain adviser, Carly Fiorina, has been privy to the kind of compensation that the Republican ticket now claims as reprehensible.

Voting for McCain is keeping the foxes in charge of the henhouse even after they've been feasting on the occupants.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sox regain first place

With a dozen games left in the regular season, the Red Sox have fought their way back to first place, albeit in a tie with the not-so-devilish Rays. Boston pounded their Florida rivals 13-5 on the road this evening, regaining a share of the top spot that they relinquished just after the all-star break.

The Sox could win their second consecutive AL East title by outplaying Tampa Bay over the next two weeks, but Boston would have to crash and burn to lose out on at least the wild-card spot.

Manny who?

Update: Spoke too soon?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wall Street laying another egg?

The most famous headline in American newspaper history was printed atop the front page of Variety on Oct. 30, 1929: WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG. The US economy was in free fall and more than a decade of hard times lay ahead.

Today, news comes that Lehman Brothers, a major American investment bank, can find no buyers and will be liquidating assets and filing for bankruptcy, while Wall Street pillar Merrill Lynch, insurance giant A.I.G. and Washington Mutual, the country's largest savings and loan, are all in dire straits.

The New York Times website has a story titled "In Frantic Day, Wall Street Banks Teeter," and this comes just a week after the US government stepped in to save mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This summer the feds had to prop up Bear Stearns, another giant financial institution that went belly up.

I know little about economics, so I cannot speak to the finer points of how this happened, what it all means and when it's going to end, though I have attained some basic fluency in discussing sub-prime loans, the credit crunch and mortgage-backed securities. I'm not sure how much of a hand the federal government has in these matters as a result of the lack of regulation and oversight, but I do know that primal, green-eyed greed is likely at the heart of the problem.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Palin is not ready

On Thursday and Friday I saw much of Charlie Gibson's interview of Sarah Palin, the GOP VP nominee who just two years ago was mayor of West Nowhere, Alaska. She seemed uncomfortable, uninformed and unwilling to deviate from the script that her handlers clearly had her memorize. It's seriously frightening to think that in a few months this person could be within a few feet, and a few breaths, of the American presidency and all that entails, including international diplomacy, military leadership, economic stewardship and the nuclear launch codes.

Take a look at this exchange:
Gibson: “What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of [Alaska] give you?”

Palin: “They’re our next-door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska. From an island in Alaska.”

Is she serious? This isn't a skit on Saturday Night Live? I wasn't alone in my assessment, as several people I spoke with yesterday -- and the editorial page of The New York Times -- were all in agreement: this may have been a smart political choice, but it could be catastrophic for the nation, and it reflects quite badly as to the judgment of Republican nominee John McCain.

Still, as many have been saying, it's the top of the ticket that counts most. The Nov. 4 election is between McCain and Barack Obama. Of course, I believe that the Democratic nominee is a better choice when it comes to all the issues, and the GOP knows that voters would see the same thing if they were to look at the facts. Therefore, the right is doing what it always does best: obscuring the truth (or just telling straight-up lies) and repositioning the focus. An example of the former is McCain's current ad that says Obama supported a law while a member of the Illinois state legislature that taught comprehensive sex education to kindergarten students when the law really helped those children to defend themselves against sexual predators. An example of the later is the faux anger displayed at Obama's "lipstick on a pig" remark.

While Republicans are gold-medalists when it comes to smearing people, the last seven plus years have shown that they aren't much for governing. The choice for the country should be clear, but recent national polls show that McCain has caught or surpassed Obama. More importantly, as I look this morning at the newest polls in a half-dozen swing states, the margin is less than 3% in each (four for Obama; two for McCain). We're in for a bloody seven weeks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Never forget

While we pause to remember the terrorist attacks of seven years ago and to mourn those Americans -- and the nationals of 89 other countries -- who were killed on 9/11, we should also never forget ...

...that a briefing entitled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US" was given to President Bush 36 days before the attacks. The report included this: "FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York."

...that the 9/11 attacks were used as a political tool to win public support for the invasion of Iraq, even though that country had no role in the attacks and despite serious questions being raised throughout the Pentagon and administration as to the veracity of the intelligence put forth to make the case.

...that the Iraq invasion seriously compromised American efforts in Afghanistan and, as of today, Osama bin Ladin, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar have still not been captured.

...that the same president and administration that manufactured a case for war and wraps itself in the flag is not willing to demand the best in medical care and other assistance for veterans when they return home.

...that the world has become more dangerous under the current administration.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Here I go again...

I'm not sure what the point might be of the editorial in the Sept. 10 edition of The East Boston Times other than to attempt to sound a solemn tone regarding the horrific events of seven years ago that we commemorate tomorrow. While that may be justification enough, when the author of the piece veers into comments on the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, speaking of the two as if they are equally necessary operations, I cannot help but quibble with the premise.

The terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks did so with the support of Al Qaeda, which was given sanctuary by the Taliban in Afghanistan. No investigation, including those by the US government, has found a link between the terrorist attacks and Iraq. Most honest assessments of the events between 9/11 and the spring of 2003 have concluded that the Bush Administration trumped up intelligence to win public support for invading Iraq. To say, as the editorial does, "The world may dislike us for our incursion into Iraq and for our presence in Afghanistan, but at least we are going after the bad guys," is a simplistic rendering of the facts, and to dismiss the civilian casualties at the hands of all parties (estimated to be around 90,000) since the invasion began -- the editorial says that "much fuss is made," but "how could it be any different" -- is callous and ignorant.

Saddam Hussein was certainly a ruthless dictator, but there is no shortage of those in the world. With America's decision to launch a military invasion without provocation and over the objections of most of our allies, the landscape has been irrevocably altered for the worse. The US has ignited Islamic fundamentalist terrorism rather than contained it, and George W. Bush has made the entire world a less safe place.

I also can't help but take issue with the way parts of the editorial are written. The opening sentence says, "Nowhere is the legacy of the tragic 9/11 attacks more prescient than it is here in East Boston." Huh? "Prescience" means "foresight." I'm not sure what this sentence means. Also, after reading "...we once again look back," "We have no idea exactly what the future holds," "Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words," and about others "wanting to destroy our way of life," I'd like to suggest that, next time, we leave the cliches behind.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

To drill or not to drill?

The Republican party has succeeded in making offshore drilling a political issue, forcing the Democratically-controlled Congress to take up legislation on opening more coastal areas to oil exploration. However, they will almost certainly not approve any such measures, and with good reason. More offshore drilling -- just as with drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- will not do anything to lower the price of gasoline or home heating oil, and it won't do anything to wean America off fossil fuels.

Of course, the GOP doesn't want people to understand this. As is often the case, Republicans twist the truth and then use ignorance in their favor. As every economist or oil expert I've read and listened to has made quite clear: there are currently many offshore drilling licenses that are not being used; no one is sure where there is and isn't oil; if drilling is approved in places where it is currently prohibited it'd take ten years or so to start getting oil from those places -- assuming it's there; all oil is sold on a global market and even if newly approved sites were producing oil it would have virtually no effect on the price. The Bush Administration estimates that increased offshore drilling will contribute 1% of our daily oil usage in some 20 years.

These are the facts that John McCain, Sarah Palin and the Republican party don't want the American people to know. Because they don't have the facts on their side, they bang the table and shout slogans, such as "Drill, baby, drill." They are infantile, but they are not stupid. Their strategy frequently works.

Of course, a real energy policy would be a national commitment to conservation and the development of alternative energy sources. Remember Barack Obama's suggestion that Americans inflate their tires properly? That small step, according to Time magazine, would increase gas mileage by 3%, yet McCain jumped all over that earlier this summer, ridiculing the idea.

Here's another statistic the GOP doesn't want you to know: only about 15% of our oil comes from the Middle East (according to information from various sources on the Internet). About 44% is produced domestically and, of the imported oil, about one-third comes from Canada and Mexico. Our reliance on oil from the unstable Persian Gulf is surely something we want to lessen, but it's not anywhere close to the source of the majority of the petroleum that we use.

The American people should demand an honest and rational discussion on issues that are before us, but the Republican party is in the business of hiding the truth.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eastie wrap-up

*In a story in today's Globe on the local real estate market, Tony Giacalone, owner of Tony's Realty, says that demand in East Boston is "very, very strong" for certain types of housing in the neighborhood, and he notes that 40 condos have sold in Eastie in the past two months.

*In light of John McCain's attempts to brand himself as a maverick, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle delves back to a Texan named Sam Maverick and then to a likely forefather: Samuel Maverick, one of the first residents of what is now East Boston.

*The local resident who killed a cat, set it afire and tried to toss it through a window last summer was sentenced to 30 months in jail, of which he has served more than a year already.

*Fast food apparently makes people crazy. In recent days there have been violent incidents at both McDonald's and Burger King in Eastie. (Scroll down the page for each.) Also, four people were stabbed on Trenton Street toward the end of last month, and I've heard about a number of apartment break-ins.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Portuguese Feast this weekend

I received an email about this weekend’s Portuguese Feast at Sacred Heart Church:

"It is a continuation of traditional feasts that reach back for centuries in Portugal and into early last century in East Boston. Saturday is most popular with folks as festivities include a ceremonial “Blessing of the Pensons,” DJ and Portuguese Folk Dancers. We also have food and drinks available, while complimentary red wine and sweet bread flow pretty liberally.

On Sunday we process from our club location on Putnam Street, with all of the girls dressed in white carrying the symbolic crowns and flowers, followed by a Portuguese band and the club membership. The route takes us down Chelsea Street, through Day Square, winding up to Saratoga Street and down Brooks Street to Sacred Heart. The 10 a.m. Mass will culminate in a blessing of the crown and an offering of sweet bread to members of the congregation. Immediately following, we will process once again but will wind up back at church hall, where we will have dinner. I have provided the schedule below and hope to see you and lots of new folks there!

Saturday 9/6:

5:00 Holy Ghost Feast Begins

7:00 Blessing of the Pensons

8:00 Traditional Portuguese Folk Performance by Folklorica de Alto Minho Dancers

11:00 Saturday Evenings activities wrap up

Sunday 9/7:

9:30 Procession leaves 196 Putnam St .

10:00 Procession Arrives at Sacred Heart Church and Mass Begins

10:50 Procession Departs Sacred Heart Church

11:30 Procession Returns to Sacred Heart Church

12:00 Dinner Begins in Church Hall

All Feast activities, aside from the procession, will be held at Sacred Heart Church.”

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Time to pony up

After watching GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin deliver her remarks last night at the Republican National Convention I fought off the urge to vomit and went immediately to the Obama campaign's web site to make a donation.

Almost everything that Palin said was a mischaracterization of the truth, if not an outright lie. She's against earmarks and lobbyists? She says she is now, but when she was a mayor she hired Wasilla, Alaska's first lobbyist, who brought back $27 million in earmarks to the city. She killed the infamous "bridge to nowhere"? She did, but only after it had become a political nightmare. Before that she supported the project. The pollsters and pundits counted McCain out of the race? They reported the truth -- that at the end of last summer he had no money, few staffers and little national support.

Palin's snarky attitude and disregard for fact, however, mean nothing to the party loyalists she wowed in St. Paul. There's no denying that she delivered the speech with more pizazz that the entire McCain campaign had shown up to then. She also did some of her running mate's dirty work, taking several shots -- none of them true -- at Obama, despite the fact that Democrats were quite respectful of McCain at their convention.

One particularly sickening aspect of her campaign is that she continually uses sons Track (soon to be deployed to Iraq) and Trig (born with Down syndrome) as political chips, while McCain's campaign makes a fuss of anything written or said about daughter Bristol (she of the baby bump), despite the fact that the any mention of the 17-year-old that I've seen in the legitimate media (not the National Enquirer or Us magazine) has not been critical of the girl's pregnancy but rather of her mom's positions on abortion and sex education as they relate to young women such as her daughter -- all within the range of acceptable topics.

Having Sarah Palin in the White House is a scenario that actually scares me. This is a woman who says that the US invasion of Iraq is a "task that is from God" and that the same divine being supports her efforts toward getting a natural gas pipeline built through Alaska. Unlike George W. Bush -- who put on a show of religious faith to get elected -- Palin is a real evangelical Christian, and having her anywhere near America's nuclear arsenal should frighten everyone. If elected, will her policy advice include instigating a war in the Holy Land? Many evangelicals believe that this is destined to happen soon and that when the Armageddon comes only they will be saved.

I hold to my initial reaction: John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate is irresponsible at best -- and it may even be dangerous. Who knows? America has so little information about her and the GOP campaign won't let her loose with reporters or the general public because even they are unsure of what she might say. I'm sure I'll be giving more money to Camp Obama before Nov. 4.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The party of nonsense

Steve Schmidt, a high level McCain campaign adviser, said today that the press was unfairly attacking VP choice Sarah Palin. "The nonsense is over," he said in a written statement.

The nerve of these people. John McCain makes perhaps the most irresponsible decision ever made by a major party candidate for president, choosing Palin for purely political reasons -- in front of a banner that actually said "Country First" -- and then the campaign seeks to stymie inquiry into who the potential future commander-in-chief is.

Vilifying the press, a reliable and oft used Republican tactic, has become one of the McCain campaigns talking points as of late. Forget issues, forget that the 72-year-old Arizona senator is endangering the nation's future here to get elected, but blame the press because they are doing their job.

It's infuriating, and it's a disgrace.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"...the worst are full of passionate intensity"

While the country has serious matters at hand -- war, energy, the economy, healthcare, the environment -- John McCain's campaign manager said today, "This election is not about issues." This, of course, is the fervent hope of Rick Davis and others who support McCain, because the Republican Party would have no chance. They are on the wrong side of the issues.

Davis went on to say, "This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." So if the GOP and their mudslingers can sully the image of Barack Obama in the eyes of enough voters -- as they did with Al Gore and John Kerry -- then just maybe they can steal another election while advocating policies that work against the interests of most Americans.

They will stop at nothing. What October surprise, its hour coming round soon, slouches toward Washington to be born? (Many apologies to W. B. Yeats.)

Primary election in two weeks

There will be a primary election on September 16, and I received a letter today indicating that my polling place has been moved. has a list of several changes in the locations where local residents will be voting.

While on the subject, I noticed that there are several of those placards reminding people to vote in the primary are around the neighborhood. It seems strange that the sign is printed in English and then what appears to me to be Vietnamese. Why isn't the second language Spanish?