Monday, March 30, 2009

"Your country needs you now"

I don't know about you, but Paul Krugman has become the voice I trust most when it comes to navigating the economic morass we find ourselves in. An unyielding critic of George W. Bush's policies -- fiscal and otherwise -- Krugman has of late been skeptical of parts of the Obama Administration's economic policies. This week he's on the cover of Newsweek.

A Nobel Prize-winning economist, academic at Princeton and New York Times columnist, Krugman thinks that the stimulus package was too small and that nationalizing the large, faltering banks is the only way out. About the banking plan proposed by Treasury chief Tim Geithner, Krugman wrote, " fills me with a sense of despair."

Krugman can frequently be found opining on television. I see him on the NewsHour or as part of the roundtable on Sunday morning's This Week. I get a kick out of how uncomfortable he looks on camera. His Times' column runs Monday and Friday, and I also check his blog every day for his latest comments and explanations.

And now Krugman has really been cast into popular culture by a video bouncing around on YouTube. A guy named Jonathan Mann wrote and recorded a song call "Hey Paul Krugman (A song, A plea), " which is hilarious -- and more than a little true. The tune is a bit catchy, and the best part of the lyrics is when Mann sings:
For Godsakes man you won the Nobel Prize
Timothy Geitner uses Turbo Tax

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eastie real estate touted again

The Financial Times, the London-based international business newspaper, has a story on real estate in East Boston, with one person calling our community "a cool little neighborhood." Eastie's diversity, proximity to downtown and moderately priced housing stock are mentioned as selling points.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"All the news that we see fit"

The local weekly seems to have morphed into an incarnation of Pravda. This week's edition is gushing with praise for all of our elected officials -- and even a former elected official. Are they even capable of reporting on any issue from a critical, evenhanded viewpoint rather than a cozy one?

I don't have any particular critique of my elected officials at this moment, and in fact it seems that their efforts have saved the residential exemption (I'd link to the weekly's story on the matter, but their site seems stuck on February) and that is welcome news for the people of East Boston.

But how will I ever know if there are reasons to be critical of those representing me if all I ever read about in the local news is their heroics and all I ever see is photos of them surrounded by smiling supporters?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuned in

Ratings are up for National Public Radio, which is a wonderful source of information and entertainment. I am a big fan.

I only listen while in the car, which is 20 minutes to and from work on weekdays and roughly the same amount of time in my travels on weekends, but I learn an incredible amount of information in that time. I can often be found sitting in my car after I've parked, listening as a story finishes. Locally, WBUR-FM -- 90.9 -- is the local NPR News station.

Turn off your engines!

Channel 7 did a story on city vehicles left idling for long periods of time, in violation of the law, including a meter maid whose "city car [was] running in East Boston, unattended, while writing parking tickets for an hour."

I believe that leaving a vehicle idling for more than five minutes is subject to a fine, but all of us -- especially city emplyees -- should know better in these times of fiscal and environmental stress.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Uncle Pete R.I.P.

I just received news of the death of Pete Cucchiara, the owner of Uncle Pete's Hickory Ribs, which opened originally in East Boston and then relocated to Revere a few years ago. Those who visited the restaurant know that Pete was a familiar sight, stopping to chat with people at every table. His wife, Pha, is friendly as well, and hopefully she will carry on with the business.

Update (4/1): I went to Uncle Pete's with friends this evening and Pete's wife, Pha, confirmed what we'd heard: that the restaurant is shutting down. This Saturday, April 4, is the last day.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Seeing one tree and not the forest

"Suppose you were an idiot," Mark Twain once wrote, "and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." This bit of Twain's wisdom comes to mind at times like this week, when members of Congress are tripping over themselves to find a microphone where they can express outrage, and even in an instance like this, when outrage is appropriate, any and all reasonable thought is quickly abandoned so as not to be seen on the wrong side of an issue that is clearly resonating with the public.

The A.I.G. bonuses look terrible -- and they are terrible -- but the week-long furor they incited distracted all of us from a number of other items that are as important, if not more so. I didn't hear a single member of Congress weigh in on the high-ranking Bush Administration official who said that the government and the military under the former president knew from day one that most of those held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay were innocent. Hundreds were held for up to seven years, and some are still there! Where is the outrage?

On the financial front, economists repeat the warning that the Obama Administration has not adequately addressed the banking crisis and that the recovery will not begin in earnest until then. The bonus debacle, in fact, makes it much less likely that the public will tolerate any more attempts at anything that can be tagged with the term "bailout," and Congress has rarely shown the nerve to stand up and do what needs to be done in the face of widespread public disapproval.

When I look at the bonus issue from a broader view, my reaction is to wonder if all these people shouting have been paying attention to our economic system and the inherent disparities lo these many years. This is what capitalism does: resources and people are exploited for the benefit of a small class of individuals. It's worked that way from the start -- and now, suddenly, there's an uproar over a tiny piece of the inequity?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Demonstration planned in Eastie

The lunatics from Westboro Baptist Church bring their disgusting little hate-filled circus to our community on Friday, demonstrating outside East Boston High School for 45 minutes beginning at 7 a.m. They are the people who go to the funerals of soldiers to hold signs that proclaim god's hatred for the deceased.

The Kansas-based group came out to Massachusetts this week to demonstrate at Reading High School, whose students are performing The Laramie Project, about Matthew Shepherd, the 21-year-old who was murdered because of his sexual orientation. The WBC has also been at a high school in Cambridge, Hanscom Air Base and Lexington High School, where residents of that community greeted them with silence.

I'm not sure if a counterdemonstration is planned, but you have to wonder if ignoring such people might be the best way to make them go away.

Update (3/22): Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham writes about the WBC visit.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beware the end of March

Jim Aloisi is turning out to be a liability for the Patrick Administration as well as for his old neighborhood. His latest episode of jamming his foot in his mouth came when he posted on a political blog and then had to retract his statement the following day.

Meanwhile, Aloisi -- born and raised in East Boston -- seems content to allow tunnel tolls to be raised on residents of this neighborhood. So far he hasn't lifted a finger to undo the proposed changes, which are scheduled to go into effect on March 29. If the governor or his transportation secretary believe that the cancellation of the residential exemption program is justified then why haven't they countered the arguments made by City Councilor Sal LaMattina in his open letter a couple weeks ago?

Sure, it may seem to some that we are whining about paying an amount that would still be less than the actual toll; however, the original agreement was that Eastie residents would be permanently exempt from the toll. That was a promise from the state to the citizens of this neighborhood. We are now being betrayed -- and one of our own has a hand in it. Et tu, Aloisi?

Damnable words

The pope's remarks upon arriving in Africa are going to cause people to suffer and die. Benedict XVI said that the use of condoms "increases the problem" of AIDS, an untrue and irresponsible thing to say on a continent where the disease is virtually an epidemic. An editorial in The New York Times goes easy on the pope, but one activist was more to the point: "...his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A passage to Chelsea

The state transportation blog has an entry about the building of a new Chelsea Street Bridge, which is scheduled to be completed by 2012. According to the Governor Patrick, some of the money for the project is coming from President Obama's stimulus package.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Straight A's for EBCCS

Just over a month ago a first-grader collapsed in gym class at the East Boston Central Catholic School on London Street. Teachers Bob Casaletto and Kathleen Carabine responded and performed CPR for seven minutes, which likely saved the child's life. The Globe was there yesterday as the pair, and Lauryn Rozzi, the girl's first-grade teacher, visited the hospital to see six-year-old Olivia Quigley. (Check out the video, too.)

As I mentioned when this story was in the news in mid-February, I've known Casaletto since he was a boy and I worked with him for many years at the Salesian Boys & Girls Club. What strikes me most about this episode is not that he responded instantly and did what he had to do, but that he still teaches at a small Catholic school -- which, by the way, I graduated from in 1977 -- despite many opportunities through the years to jump to public school, where he'd be making twice as much money. The fact that he was there that day is as much a testament to his character as his ability to take action in a moment of crisis.

The same is true, I'm sure, for the other faculty members at EBCCS -- including Rozzi, who was a student of mine at Savio a decade ago (and you could not find a person with a better disposition to be a first-grade teacher). At a time when small Catholic schools are closing all around us -- including, here in Eastie, St. Mary's elementary school and Savio High School in the past few years -- EBCCS is still there and still doing wonderful things, and the credit for that goes to its dedicated teachers, administrators and staff.

Study on pollution proposed

The Globe reports that the governor's transportation bill does have a provision that would require the state to conduct "a comprehensive study of the health effects of air pollution caused by air, road, and rail transportation." According to the article, this could be a monkey wrench in Massport's plan to build a new parking garage right next to the Jeffries Point neighborhood.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another acre lost to the Evil Empire

The house that used to be 18 Neptune Road is now a pile of wood. Massport, which purchased the last building on the stretch of the street that heads toward Logan Airport in 2007, had the structure torn down yesterday, and I just noticed it as I came of the highway exit nearby. According to the agency's web site, the land will be used as a "buffer" with some type of "interactive display."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Statements should be discontinued

Barack Obama's memo that government officials should confer with the Department of Justice before abiding by any of George W. Bush's signing statements is an adequate first step, but the president should really announce that his administration will not adhere to any of the statements and that the he will not be issuing any such statements.

Instead, Obama said he'd use them sparingly and wisely, but the Constitution allows only one course of action for a chief executive who disagrees with a law passed by Congress -- the veto. While there is limited precedent for signing statements to clarify the application of a newly passed law, there is none at all for reinterpreting or ignoring statutes passed by the legislative branch. The president cannot decide when a law is unconstitutional; that is the work of the courts.

Update: Upon reading Obama's memo I am more satisfied with his policy toward signing statements. The president also made another good move today by overturning the Bush policy on embryonic stem cell research, one of several steps he's taking to end the previous administration's war on science.

Swatting a gadfly

Jim Aloisi, the state transportation secretary, is on record referring to Turnpike Authority board member Mary Connaughton as "a distraction" and "a gadfly" in today's Globe. Well known for her outspokenness, Connaughton is the only rank-and-file board member who is regularly quoted in the media.

Aloisi, as a result of his cabinet office, is the chairman of the Pike board. He said of Connaughton:

"Respect is a two-way street," Aloisi said, a few days after cutting Connaughton off repeatedly during the Feb. 24 meeting and removing her from a spot on the authority's audit committee, where she had freer access to agency documents. "And I wasn't treated with respect and I haven't been treated with respect by her since the first day I took this job."

"She's a distraction," he continued. "She's a gadfly. And I have more important things to do."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Patrick's bill puts kabosh on toll discount

Deep within Governor Patrick's transportation bill, sitting quietly in Section 43, is a provision that eliminates the residential toll exemption, which lowers the cost of traveling through the harbor tunnels and over the Tobin Bridge for residents of neighborhoods that are affected by those projects. Instead, residents of East Boston, South Boston, Charlestown, the North End, Winthrop and Chelsea "shall pay a toll fixed at $.50 above the one-way full rapid transit fare as established from time to time" by the MBTA.

Currently, the full fare -- not the CharlieCard fare -- is $2, which means the tunnel tolls for Eastie residents would immediately jump from 40 cents to $2.50, and then the price would go up with T fare increases.

City Councilor Sal LaMattina, in an open letter to the governor, notes the impositions that the state's transportation infrastructure has directly placed on these communities for decades (well, except for Winthrop, which seems to have been added in a nod to the new House speaker). The councilor also rightly points out that residents of Eastie, Southie, Charlestown and the North End aren't going "into the city of Boston" -- in the language of Section 43 -- but, rather, moving around within their city.

This provision is the first real test to see if Jim Aloisi, the new transportation secretary, has forgotten about his old neighborhood, or if he is willing to step up and to defend a community that has been kicked around by big transportation interests for decades.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

'It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls'

Just 40 days into Barack Obama's presidency and I've already had it with ignorant, loudmouth conservatives and their nonstop blather, obnoxious whining and shameless outrage. Are they going to keep this up for four (eight?) years?

In 2000, conservatives elected George W. Bush to the first of two terms, during which he and his ilk deeply damaged the nation and the planet. Have they no shame? Their guy -- and their policies -- screwed up or made worse everything from the economy to the environment to America's standing in the world. They tilted the tax code to favor the wealthy, allowed corporations to pollute without consequences, stuffed government jobs with unqualified loyalists, hurt people all worldwide by imposing their reactionary morality on social policies, unilaterally seized unprecedented levels of executive power, and even committed war crimes.

As a result of all of this incompetence and criminality, the American people turn away from the Republican Party and elect Democrats in large numbers, including a young, relatively unknown candidate with historic racial make-up and a funny name as president. Barack Obama and his administration are tasked with the unenviable job of fixing the damage wrought over the course of eight years (or, in essence, the 28 years since Reagan took office).

The reaction of conservatives is stunning. I want to bang their heads together to make them stop spouting the endless streams of piffle that assault my ears, as well as the rules of logic. There are some on the right who I read and listen to and admire for their intelligence and honesty -- for example, David Brooks and George F. Will (and even, sometimes, Pat Buchanan). These, however, are few and far between.

To hear House minority leader John Boehner say that Obama's budget raises taxes on every American when, in fact, it raises taxes on those making more than $250,000 -- and the stimulus just cut taxes on 95% of working people -- is completely dishonest. Whether taxes should be raised on the wealthiest Americans is certainly worth discussing and I concede that logical arguments can be made on both sides, but Republicans rarely traffic in logic. Witness Karl Rove this morning on ABC's This Week, or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's ridiculous comment on volcano monitoring during his televised response to Obama's speech last week. (I went back and reread his remarks. Jindal said, "...$140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.'" One wonders which of the two words escapes his understanding.)

If Obama's actions with regard to the economy, taxes, health care, education and the environment are "radical," as some in the GOP have been saying, it is only because their party has screwed up everything so badly -- or, to be fair, in some instances, we as a nation have allowed those areas to drift for far too long. The citizenry elected as president a man whose clearest slogan throughout the campaign was one word: "Change." Get ready, America. The times, as Bob Dylan sang, are a-changin'.