Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A pair of local deaths

An East Boston man died last night after being "pulled from the waters off of Winthrop Beach," according to the Boston Herald. The 39-year-old, who has yet to be identified, apparently drowned. Emergency personnel responded after "residents walking the shore heard 'screams for help,'" the story says. Jake Wark, press secretary for the Suffolk County DA's office, said, "The drowning is not being treated as a homicide investigation."

Also, a body was found in or near Piers Park on Sept. 18, according to Universal Hub on a tip from a tweet by photographer Rick Nohl. I apparently missed the original reports, but stumbled across the story yesterday.It appears that whatever happened was an accident, according to a comment on Universal Hub left by Wark:

Passersby discovered the body last night. The man, apparently homeless, was tangled up in a bicycle as if he had fallen while riding. There were no obvious signs of foul play, but an autopsy will be conducted today to determine cause and manner of death.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Eastie's continued significance

Alvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia, was in the US last week to attend the opening session of the UN General Assembly. While in the States he took a side trip to Massachusetts and spoke to about 500 of his countrymen and countrywomen yesterday at East Boston High School.

The Globe described the event as a "town meeting" and said that Uribe (pictured during the playing of the Colombian national anthem) spoke for more than an hour. Most of the people who came out, the story says, expressed support of the conservative president, who has sharply reduced the violence in his country. There were some protesters outside and at least one angry questioner inside, as Uribe's law-enforcement crackdown has apparently gone hand-in-hand with human-rights violations.

The appearance of a South American president in our neighborhood reaffirms something I realized a couple years ago: East Boston is the New England capital for Latin American immigrants. This may be old news to some and surprising to others; I'm just saying it's interesting to me. The regional Salvadoran consulate is in Eastie, as is the New England Gallery of Latin American Art. Recent May Day and immigrants' rights marches have started or ended in Central Square.

I recently wrote a piece on the importance of East Boston to the Jewish immigration experience, and before that the Irish -- including the beginnings of the Kennedy clan -- came here to flee famine and build ships. Between the Jews and the Latinos, the Italians came and made the neighborhood their own. Today the significance of our little dollop of land continues.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A losing hand

The East Boston Times has an editorial on Page 4 of this week's paper that is long on praise for putting a casino in the neighborhood, but short on facts and logic. I don’t believe that it’s a good idea for the state and especially not for East Boston. From everything I’ve heard and read, most of the upside to legalizing casinos is wiped away by the numerous downsides.

***Hundreds of millions of dollars will be wagered, but most of that will go to casino owners and developers, many of them from out of state (like Suffolk Downs owner Richard Fields). This is yet another example of the rich getting richer. Whatever retail and food options a local casino provides could take money away from local small businesses. A study on introducing casino gambling to the state from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government said that “general merchandise earnings among businesses in a 50-mile radius … [of] commercial casinos reduced such earnings by 13 percent and Foxwoods-style Indian casinos did so by 57 percent.” So we’d be taking money from local business owners and giving it to millionaires.

***Millions of dollars in taxes will be generated, but much of that will be needed to pay for more police officers, redesigned roadways and other infrastructure adjustments. The study said that “the introduction of a commercial casino corresponds to a 21 percent increase in motor vehicle thefts and a 27 percent increase in robberies,” and that, “In Ledyard, Connecticut [the location of the Foxwoods casino] the total number of crimes increased 632 percent” from 1991 to 1998. To combat this, the study said, the “average police expenditures in the 16 largest recent casino counties increased …39 percent faster … across the states in which casinos were located.” The Times editorial says that the state lottery “will be affected a bit,” but remember that most of that money goes right to cities and towns, so whatever is lost will be cut from municipal budgets and put into the wallets of wealthy casino owners.

***Jobs are created when people are hired to build the casinos and then to staff them, but most of the long-term jobs are minimum-wage positions cleaning toilets, selling merchandise, dealing blackjack, etc. (Before praising multi-millionaire Richard Fields as a champion of labor, ask him why the jockeys at Suffolk Downs have no health care.) Sure, people will take those jobs, but let’s not make a future casino out to be a fountain of good-paying jobs. Also, according to the Harvard study, “Casinos could also reduce local employment (or at least redistribute jobs away from local businesses) if people come to a casino instead of patronizing local businesses.”

***A local casino would increase traffic. “Ledyard’s Planning Director calculated a 4-fold increase in traffic on roads in their jurisdiction since the casino opened,” says the Harvard study. McClellan Highway is congested at rush hour as it is, and vast numbers of cars would be headed toward Suffolk Downs if there were slots or a casino there. Some of those cars would spill onto local streets in order to avoid the highway. More traffic means more accidents; more accidents in East Boston means that our auto insurance rates go up. The Ted Williams Tunnel reduced the back-ups that we saw every day on neighborhood streets. Would we be inviting all of that back?

***The study also says that, “residents of communities near casinos were twice as likely to have pathological gambling problems” and “counties with casinos also experienced 10 percent increases in personal bankruptcies.” It’s not true that local residents who gamble at a nearby casino would have just spent that money on a trip to Connecticut. The study notes that, “the presence of a casino within 50 miles was associated … with an increase in average per-capita casino expenditures from $52 to $178.” People drop three times as much at a casino if it’s more convenient to get to. Also, the study points out, “Large quantities of cash may also attract organized crime, money laundering, and petty corruption.”

There seems to be little doubt that gaming in some form is coming to Massachusetts soon, as Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Bob DeLeo are all on board on the matter. Mayor Menino has also expressed support of a casino in East Boston (though strangely, not in Readville).

There may be more facts and opinions to review and discuss on this matter, and reasonable people can disagree, but the East Boston Times editorial takes an issue that is of major importance to this neighborhood and cavalierly dismisses the negative issues. The concerns raised by those opposed to legalized gaming in Massachusetts have merit and should be addressed seriously by the media and by those in power.