Sunday, November 30, 2008

A glimpse of Eastie's past

I came across these on an Internet site about old postcards. These four are of East Boston about one hundred years ago.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I'm buying nothing today

While some have been out since before sunrise to scoop up bargains and begin their holiday shopping, I am going to adhere to a small but growing movement that has taken Black Friday and turned it into something smarter and less stressful: Buy Nothing Day.

In the Western World, especially in the Unites States, we consume and throw away an obscene amount of stuff. The Internet video called "The Story of Stuff" does a nice job demonstrating how unsustainable our current path is. Buy Nothing Day attempts to ween us from our corporate-marketing driven impulse to collect more stuff -- of at least the day symbolically highlights the issue at a time when Americans are hitting the malls and commercial sites online.

One of the problems that is currently facing our financial system is that many people in this country are in debt. With our SUVs, plasma TVs, iPods, cell phones and all kinds of other gadgets, we are eating up the planet's resources, poisoning our environment and burying ourselves in debt. On top of that, some people went out and bought houses that they couldn't afford.

As I said, today is symbolic -- so don't shoot me if you see me out getting an espresso (I will not, however, be at any mall, big-box retailer, chain store, etc., for now or the foreseeable future) -- but it's what we do day-to-day and throughout the year that matters. I personally have a number of things I do to live a less throwaway life, but I will let today serve as motivation to do even more.

Update: On Long Island a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by the savage crowd that entered the store at 5 a.m. Meanwhile, in Southern California, two men killed each other when a gun battle broke out in a Toys R Us. Looks like the holiday spirit is upon us.

I saw a woman who had been waiting outside a store since Thursday afternoon the Newshour last night, and she said that her family was angry with her for missing Thanksgiving dinner, but she felt that shopping for bargains was more important. Consumerism has robbed many of us of our humanity.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the most New England of the major American holidays. It is the holiday where the meal is the central event, not the gifts or the fireworks or anything else. As such, it is my favorite holiday, and as I did last year, I am hosting the family today.

Here's hoping that everyone has an enjoyable day, and that those of us who are lucky enough to be surrounded by family and friends, and who are, relatively, healthy and happy, and who have a job and food and a home -- that we spend a moment thinking of those who aren't as lucky and let us go forth trying to make the world a happier and more just place.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eight weeks to go writes about the virtual absence of President Bush from the national scene since...well, it seems like months now. Barack Obama is, to some degree, filling the void of leadership that's been left.

The president-elect introduced another member of his economic team today and has another press conference scheduled for tomorrow. Salon's Mike Madden writes that, "For 30 minutes every day, [Obama is] the virtual president."

Bush's approval rating is so low that it's better for the country that he stays out of sight. Whenever he's popped out from his hole to reassure us about the financial crisis the market tanked. (And has anyone seen Cheney? Is he even alive any more?)

It almost seems like Bush & Co. have realized that the clock struck midnight long ago on their fantasies of a new world order, deregulation, tax cuts, etc. The whole lot turned to rotted pumpkins, and even they want to get away from the stink.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Eastie in the news

Today's Globe has several stories referencing our neighborhood:

**Giordana Mecagni and Peter Chipman moved to East Boston three years ago, and they make hard cider from apples they find locally. A couple after my own heart! They've found fruit trees around the beach, Piers Park and Belle Isle Marsh, crushed them and made homemade alcoholic brew. I've been fermenting cider for six years now, but I use unpasteurized cider that I get at orchards, which means a drive and a few bucks. I've thought about crushing my own apples, but as a renter I'm not sure how feasible that is space and mess-wise. I'm jealous of these guys, who -- like me -- also make mead (fermented honey and the beverage of choice for Vikings).

**Eastie resident and freelance writer Elizabeth Gehrman starts off her piece on the nightmares that sometimes come with home ownership with a story about a house on Sumner Street that was purchased by a pair of brothers and, not long after, condemned when a work crew busted a water main just outside. (Gehrman also has a nice piece on a New Hampshire couple who built a beautiful off-the-grid home.)

**Transportation beat reporter Noah Bierman writes, in the "Stops & Starts" column, about the proposal to increase tolls for the harbor tunnels and how that would affect East Boston. He mentions a pair of Internet sites that have popped up in protest: Stop the Hike and Stop the Pike Hike.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'Heavy toll' on Eastie

The Globe's Noah Bierman writes in today's paper about the impact that increased tunnel tolls could have on East Boston's businesses and residents. He touches on the taxi issue: as it is now, cab drivers don't want to take you back to this neighborhood, and when they do they attempt to illegally tack on the toll to your fare. This, of course, will get much worse.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dumb as a ... Post-Gazette

The insipid, homely, narrow-minded weekly fishwrap known as the Post-Gazette claims to be "The Italian-American Voice of Massachusetts," yet a number of recent issues have had front pages dominated with anti-Obama screeds written by a Lebanese-American syndicated columnist who lives near Washington, DC.

My first beef is that the columns by Paul Ibrahim are full of fabricated issues, misrepresentations and out-and-out lies. His piece titled "Fifty Reasons to Vote Against Obama" -- available here at his syndicator's web site -- takes the same few topics and pummels the reader with senseless drivel. Ignorant loudmouth Rush Limbaugh has said good things about Ibrahim, which affirms that he's a moron.

The second problem is that this front-page space should be given over to articles about Italian-Americans in Massachusetts. Isn't that the publication's mission? Are there no stories to be told about the lives, accomplishments and culture of those who share my ethnic background that the Post-Gazette can give us? The current manifestation of the paper is a joke -- a bunch of cranks grumbling about the same stuff each week.

If they insist on publishing right-wing rants, the Post-Gazette should at least toss it on the inside and label it as commentary. And do us another favor: try varying the layout a little bit. I've seen junior-high newspapers that look more interesting. The front page is a travesty. Give us an Italian-American voice that we can be proud of.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ready for your close-up, Eastie?

According to a Globe story, South Boston is looking a bit too spiffy to play the rundown neighborhood it once was, and so film and TV productions that need the hardscrabble look have to shoot elsewhere -- including East Boston.
"They said Eastie looks like Southie," said state Representative Brian P. Wallace, a South Boston Democrat. "I cracked up. Eastie's always been 15 years behind us, so that's no problem."
Ouch. There are some spots in this neighborhood that haven't physically changed much since Bill Clinton first took office, but there are plenty of pricey condos and renovated properties in East Boston. Maybe Rep. Wallace doesn't get here often, but we'll take his comment as a harmless poke and laugh it off.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Crime surge

***There is a brief story on the WCVB web site about two people being stabbed in East Boston this morning.

***Sacred Heart Church was robbed earlier this week, thieves making off with items valued at $50,000.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

He might have been their only shot

Close to two years ago, on this blog, I predicted that Chuck Hagel would be the next president. Of course, I was wrong -- and I couldn't be happier about the actual outcome.

But Hagel, a two-term US Senator from Nebraska who is stepping down when his term expires in January, is an honest, intelligent and decent fellow. He is a Republican that Democrats almost universally respect, if not agree with.

Recently The New Yorker magazine ran a profile on Hagel, an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration's shortcomings in Iraq and elsewhere. Because of widespread disagreement with Senate colleague John McCain's approach to foreign policy, Hagel would not endore his friend and fellow Vietnam veteran for the presidency. In fact, Hagel accompanied Barack Obama on his trip to Iraq during the campaign and has been mentioned in discussions of the new president's cabinet.

In the magazine article, by staff writer Connie Bruck, Hagel tells a story that, I think, reinforces the view that many people have of George Bush's presidency:
During the Clinton Administration, [Hagel] began writing letters to the President on foreign-policy issues of signal importance. “Clinton used to call me and we’d discuss it, or he’d ask me to come talk with him,” Hagel recalled. In the past eight years, he has written to Bush a number of times, including, most recently, letters about Russia and Iran. But he said that he has never received a response from the President.
From day one, Bush & Co. knew it all. Why would they seek advice or listen to the opinions of others?

Bruck writes, "In some ways, Hagel is far more of a maverick than McCain has ever been..." It's true, and it is why I thought that the winner of two Purple Hearts from rural Nebraska who spoke the truth about America's occupation of Iraq would have been a logical choice as the GOP nominee, and he might have been the only shot they had in the general election. Hagel decided not to run because he knew he'd never get his party's nomination. Honesty and reality are not valued among the modern Republican Party.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Babbling fool

Intellectually challenged Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin was fond of repeating the phrase "city upon a hill" during the recent presidential campaign, in reference to America's place in the world. Although she attributed it to Ronald Reagan, those of us she would likely not consider "real Americans" know that it comes from a sermon by John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (and he was paraphrasing the Bible).

The real irony is that during the same campaign stops Palin would criticize Barack Obama's plan to cut taxes for working and middle-class Americans and to raise them on those making more than $250,000 a year. Meanwhile, Winthrop -- in the same 1630 sermon, entitled "A Model of Christian Charity" -- said, "We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities."

Sounds like spreading the wealth to me, no?

Transportation shake-up

For years I thought eliminating the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was a good idea. In fact, I believe it was supposed to be dissolved after paying off its initial bonds, years ago, but we know how state government tends to work toward self preservation.

While the Pike and MBTA have been in debt for years, Massport makes money, so my idea was to bring them all together under the umbrella of the state's Executive Office of Transportation, which includes the Mass. Highway Department and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The other reason I consider this a good idea is that having Massport under the direct control of elected officials would make the authority more sensitive to public opinion. is reporting that Gov. Patrick has a plan to dismember the Pike, turning everything west of Route 128 over to the state highway department, while Massport would take over the roadway from 128 to the airport. The Port Authority, which already controls the Tobin Bridge, would gain all three harbor tunnels.

I guess this is an improvement on the current state of things, though I'd like to see the entire plan and to hear feedback. The first concern that I see is that I don't trust Massport and this proposal gives the agency more power. Quasi-government authorities can be monsters, and through the years this particular one has been monstrous.

This reshuffle seems to do little to help the MBTA, which provides valuable services to many people. At a time when more residents are turning to public transportation, the state should shore up and help out that agency. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see a lot of cushy white-collar jobs associated with the T. It's here to serve, at a reasonable price, people who don't have vehicles or who are leaving those vehicles at home. Shouldn't we support that mission more aggressively?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Heights mess highlighted

The Globe shines a light on a couple of eyesore properties in East Boston today. The GlobeWatch column reports that the lots on either side of 111 Boardman Street are "strewn with old cars and debris or have been used as an illegal parking lot and storage site for construction materials with no intervention from city officials, despite numerous complaints."

Mike Cintolo, a friend of mine who works in the city's Inspectional Services Department, is mentioned in the story. He has apparently spoken with the property owners, who've been warned to clean the mess up or get fined by the city.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Transition issues

An article about the transition in Washington yesterday on's Political Intelligence blog elicited a comment that said, "Looks like Bush is going to leave the WH with a lot more class than the Clintons did. Doubt we'll see reports of juvenile pranks and outright thefts like we did when the hicks vacated the WH."

As one of the later comments pointed out -- OK, it was me -- all of those stories were later found to be untrue. They'd been spread by incoming Bush staffers, who were immediately proving that they were the juveniles here. Of course, the truism about news is that the second story -- the correction or the explanation -- never quite gets the traction of the first one. So the rumors remain stuck in some people's minds as the truth.

Another comment below the story reminded me of something I'd heard back then. Many Bush staffers were uncooperative with the Clinton staff's attempt to brief them and help them with the transition. In their arrogance they believed, like their boss, that they knew it all. Think they should have listened a bit closer?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A food 'find' in Eastie

East Boston's Oran Cafe has a nice review in the Boston Phoenix. The small eatery at the corner of Marion and Bennington streets is owned by a Moroccan and Algerian couple, and it offers good food from that region of the world and a decent espresso as well. The Phoenix says that "Oran might be 2008’s find of the year."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's morning in America

I wasn't sure that I'd ever get to see a (fairly) liberal Democrat elected as president in my lifetime -- certainly not after the way the electorate disappointed me in 2000 and 2004. Now, however, my faith has been renewed. The nation chose the better candidate and the better ideas yesterday, and it's one of the proudest moments I've had as an American.

Back when I was deciding who to support as the primaries and caucuses were approaching I found Barack Obama to be the most to my liking. Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich are both closer to me politically, but I knew that each had no chance. As for Hillary -- there were some things I liked about her, but she voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq. I couldn't get beyond that. Declining to give President Bush that power should have been a no-brainer. I also felt that Obama would be more likely to win in November.

Along the way I've been impressed by Obama's intellect, calmness and integrity. No other candidate at any level has ever inspired me to the degree that he has, and I believe that he can be an excellent president. We need a change, and we need a leader. In 10 weeks we will have both.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Happy days are here again!


***The latest compilation of national polls at Real Clear Politics shows Obama up 7.3%. Their latest electoral map shows him up by 138 electoral votes.

***Obama leads early NH voting, 32-16.

***Want to make calls for Obama? There is an election day phone bank in East Boston beginning at 10 a.m. at Air Transport Workers Local 1726, located at 830 Saratoga Street.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Making my case, part 3: candidates

The polls are singing a happy tune, but I'm nervous. Between Republican dirty tricks and all this talk of "the Bradley effect," I won't be reassured at least until hard numbers start coming in tomorrow night.

Of course, from my point of view I cannot understand how a rational person could choose John McCain tomorrow. Whether the Arizona senator was a "maverick" back in 2000 is debatable, but he most surely is nothing of the sort now. He's frittered away whatever integrity he had in this campaign by bringing some of George W. Bush's mudslingers on board -- despite the hatchet job they did on him eight years ago. The entire tenor of McCain's campaign -- questioning patriotism, implying guilt by association, misrepresenting facts, and outright lying -- is a disgrace and falls directly on McCain's character.

While some like to talk of the media going easy on Barack Obama, we should be asking this: What if Obama graduated 894 of 899 in his class (as McCain did)? What if Obama has displayed an ugly temper in public toward those around him, including his wife (as McCain has)? What if Obama was materially involved in a scandal like the Keating Five (as McCain was)? The reality is that McCain has been treated with kid gloves.

The word that has been used lately to describe the Republican nominee is "erratic." It's an apt description of the 72-year-old, and nowhere is this more obvious than in his choice of a running mate. Selecting Sarah Palin did fire up the GOP base, but probably isolated a significant number of independent voters. Much more important than the political consequences are the ramifications of placing such an ignorant lunatic in the number-two spot of our government -- and possibly setting her up to be president. As I've written, this was an irresponsible choice and one that clearly put the welfare of the country second, behind political ambition.

Obama is not perfect. He is not some savior, and few of us who support him ever believed that. He is, however, not a socialist and not a Muslim and not the Antichrist. He's an extremely bright guy, a thinking man and an eloquent speaker. He graduated from Columbia and Harvard Law School, served on the boards of several non-profits, wrote two books, and worked with poor and working-class people as an organizer.

Despite GOP tactics, Obama has refused to lie down with dogs. His campaign has been brilliantly conceived and nearly-flawlessly executed, and it has been focused mostly on the issues that are important to America at this moment. He represents a new voice and a different approach to national politics. At this crucial time it is almost insane to again select the party that has governed abysmally for eight years. It is time for a change.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Making my case, part 2: issues

Two days ago I made my second donation to the campaign of Barack Obama. Both of my contributions have been small, but I do feel that it is my duty to step up with whatever resources I have to try to save my country. This election is that important.

This post represents the resource that I have more of than money, and so I am putting words to use to describe why I see Obama’s candidacy as the clear choice. He is, on the issues, the logical selection.

*An American commander-in-chief should never send our military into a battle as carelessly as was done in Iraq. The cost –- in lives, injuries, atrocities, resources and money –- is far too great. John McCain has supported this illegal invasion and occupation from the start. Obama opposed it and, though it won’t be quick or easy, he will get US troops out.

*Unfettered capitalism, as we’ve seen recently, is a threat to the stability of our nation. McCain has supported less regulation his entire career. Obama will strengthen regulation where it is needed.

*Millions of Americans have gone without health insurance for far too long. Most industrialized nations have universal systems that are far less expensive than ours, with citizens who are pleased with the way those systems work. Obama will give us the best chance of having a healthcare system that works better.

* The wealthiest Americans didn’t need a tax break, but they got one under George W. Bush and how well has that played out? It’s time to repeal those cuts, as Obama proposes. McCain wants to extend them. His talk of socialism is ridiculous. The top tax bracket was 94% during World War II and the Depression, and it was 70% into the 1980s. Now it’s 35%. Wealthy people benefit tremendously from a stable social order, a public education system that works and solid infrastructure. They need to kick in more to make sure America has those things.

*The US needs to lead the green revolution, which will create jobs and help the planet. Obama will be far ahead of McCain on this issue.

*America needs to rebuild ties with allies and to try new strategies with enemies. Obama will bring different ideas and fresh leadership to world affairs.

On these and many other issues, Barack Obama brings vigor, brains and optimism. With America in need of leadership, John McCain rehashes allegations that are tired, silly and an insult to the intelligence of the electorate. I believe that voting for Obama will make America stronger.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Making my case, part 1: parties

For nearly eight years America has been led by a Republican president, and for most of that time there was a Republican Congress as well. The GOP implemented policies that are at the core of its catechism: a government bureaucracy less intrusive toward big business; a tough-guy, go-it-alone stance around the world; and a consolidation of power in the executive branch. Disaster followed.

Today, few would argue that the nation is better off now than it was before noon on Jan. 20, 2001. It’s difficult to understand how anyone would decide to respond to this calamitous period – one that has done severe damage to the country – by rewarding the party in power with another four years at the helm.

An incomplete list of what the presidency of George W. Bush has wrought:

1. At best, Bush distorted the truth to bring the nation to war in Iraq, and once there almost every aspect of the occupation was botched, our allies were ignored, the Geneva Convention was violated, Iran was strengthened, and America was made less safe.

2. The Bush tax cuts inflated the national debt while mostly benefiting the wealthy, and under this president the dollar plummeted, the price of oil skyrocketed, and unregulated greed took over on Wall Street, which is now being rescued with taxpayer dollars.

3. Government agencies were filled with incompetents whose only qualification was loyalty to the president, resulting in politics infiltrating the realm of career civil servants and agencies being unprepared to respond to events like Hurricane Katrina; action was also taken to weaken government programs like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.

4. The Constitution has been considered an impediment by the current administration and therefore has been ignored, and as a result Americans are being spied upon, habeas corpus has been suspended, and Bush has exerted the right to ignore more than 750 laws using presidential signing statements, which are clearly illegal.

It’s hard to think of much good that has been done during the two terms of George W. Bush. The latest poll shows that a record-high 89% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. Isn’t it time for a change?