Sunday, February 28, 2010

Truth and consequences

Despite Republican talking points that the Democrats' health-care legislation was assembled under cover of darkness, contains dangerous surprises and has been rammed through the chambers of Congress, the president and the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate should get on with passing a reform bill that does what needs to be done for the good of the nation.

Finally, it seems that the party with big majorities in both houses is going to take some decisive action, using in the Senate the process known as "reconciliation," which means that a simple majority -- 50 senators plus the vice president in his role as the tie-breaking chair of that chamber -- is needed to pass the bill. The country is sinking under the weight of swiftly rising health care costs, while at the same time there are tens of millions without health care at all.

Let us not forget that Democrats have been trying to reform health care and to bring in the uninsured since FDR, and that Obama's plan is less far-reaching that the plan Republican President Richard Nixon put forward during his time in office.

Elections have consequences, the saying goes. For eight years Americans were forced to live (and are still living) with the terrible consequences of George W. Bush's two elections. The Democrats won decidedly in November of 2008. It's time they start acting like it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eastie notes

***Thursday night's storm did some damage and knocked out power throughout the region, and some of the most powerful winds were recorded in the neighborhood. The Globe said that "sustained wind speeds of over 50 miles per hour were recorded in East Boston" and that gusts "blew over 60 in East Boston," among other places.

***Our friends at have posted a link to a fascinating bit of history: the published proceedings of a civic-group meeting that was held in East Boston to honor Abraham Lincoln within weeks of the 16th president's assassination. The local council of the Union League of America met at Sumner Hall on Elbow Street on May 8, 1865, and the program included the recitation of a dirge by J.W. Turner of East Boston and music from the East Boston Sumner Glee Club. Then the Rev. Warren H. Cudworth, the pastor of Eastie's Unitarian Church, delivered a long eulogy, which included this excerpt:
Abraham Lincoln! upholder and defender of the Union, purifier of the Constitution, friend and emancipator of the oppressed, the people's choice and champion; fearless amid dangers, steadfast in uncertainties, uncorrupted by temptation, faithful in trial as in triumph, faithful from the beginning to the end, faithful in life, faithful even unto death! the noblest patriot, the purest politician, the grandest man, the greatest benefactor, the most glorious martyr, of the age.
Pretty sweet.

***There have been several stories in recent days about tenants evicted from 22 Princeton Street by the building's new owner, Paul Rolff, a real-estate developer and business owner. We don't need well-heeled speculators flipping houses in the neighborhood and tossing poor and working folks into the street.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Local group hopes to clean up Eastie brownfield

There's a story on the WBUR web site about a proposal to turn an East Boston brownfield along the Chelsea creek into wetland. The eight-acre site is owned by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, but members of the Chelsea Creek Action Group hope to tap funds made available as the result of a settlement after an Exxon-Mobil tanker spilled 15,000 gallons of fuel into the waterway four years ago. There are, however, quite a few hurdles in their path.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Meeting announced on new health center project

A community meeting sponsored by the Boston Redevelopment Authority is scheduled to be held at Maverick Landing on Thursday, March 4 at 6:30 pm to discuss the proposed $20 million, 49,000 square foot East Boston Neighborhood Health Center building in Maverick Square.

Paperwork filed on the project with the BRA says that the new four-story building would "create 200+ health-care jobs over 5 years" and would allow for "[e]xpanded hours and new providers in clinics with 31 new exam rooms..." Also, "The new facility will provide improved patient flow, a welcoming environment, and an easily accessible location. Well-designed Primary Care, Vision and Dental clinics and modern equipment will give clinical teams the tools needed to improve health services and outcomes."

The proposal will go before the BRA's board on March 16 and the city's Zoning Board one week later.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Democracy woes

There's quite a bit of anger at Washington these days. The citizenry appears to be up in arms and the voices getting the most media play are those associated with the libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement. After President Obama was able to get a stimulus package passed by Congress a year ago, everything seems to have ground to a halt. Have we come to a point where the structures of government have completely failed?

First, it's important to remember that all of this is nothing new. Mark Twain, writing in the late 19th century, took frequent shots at Congress -- "Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can," and Congressmen are "the smallest minds and the selfishest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes," and "there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."

Going back further, the nation was so divided by 1861 that more than one-third of the states opted out of the union, resulting in the Civil War. Go back more than two centuries -- when the Founding Fathers were still running the show -- and there were political games, savage personal attacks and governmental dysfunction. Don't forget that Aaron Burr, then the sitting vice president, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton (and was indicted for murder in two states) in a duel precipitated by attacks on Burr's character and politics.

The country has always had its political tensions, its unhealable divisions, its calculating demagogues, its divisive leaders, its obstructionist blocs, its fringe elements, its existential threats. The names and faces have changed -- as have the speed and breadth of communication channels -- but the machinations of those in elected office and the fickleness, and sometimes foolishness, of the general public remain intact.

While no one is happy that the nation's unemployment rate is hovering close to double-digits, a look at the dramatic slowing of job losses in the past year would seem to indicate that Obama's economic policies are on the right track, yet polls show people increasingly unhappy with the president. The mainstream media allows the discussion to be dominated by cranks like Sarah Palin, who seems absolutely incapable of rendering even a single truth constructed as a complete sentence, and Dick Cheney, who is clearly wishing, hoping and praying for a massive terrorist attack on American soil so he can say that he told us so. (Oh, and what was his job during the last massive terrorist attack on American soil?)

As for what the people want -- Who can tell? I agree with a recent piece in The New Yorker by James Surowiecki, which says:
...this new populism has stitched together incompatible concerns and goals into one “I’m mad as hell” quilt. The people may have spoken. It’s just not clear that they’re making any sense.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Eastie summit Saturday

The East Boston Community Summit on Substance Abuse is scheduled for this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Harborside Community Center, 312 Border Street. Residents will be able to "voice concerns about substance abuse and other issues" in the neighborhood and receive information on the signs of substance abuse and addiction; get free H1N1 flu vaccinations; find job resources; find information on the city's recycling programs; and pick up other information from city and community organizations.

The summit is sponsored by the mayor's office, the Boston Public Health Commission and the East Boston NoDrugs Coalition.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow job

Well, the snow didn't come when it was supposed to and when it did show up it packed not a wintry punch, but rather a wee pinch. Now there are grumbles all over Greater Boston about how the forecast was blown and how meteorologists don't know what they're doing. In these situations, I often rise to the defense of weather professionals.

It's true that we were expecting close to a foot in the city today, and as a result schools were closed, public employees were told to stay home, the plows were ready to go, and all eyes were on the sky. However, forecasting the weather involves multitude of factors, any of which can change suddenly, causing storm systems and other meteorological phenomena to alter their course or behave differently. The fact that most forecasts are on target is often overlooked.

There is significant snow to the south of Boston, and a number of places -- most notably, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington -- got walloped today. Airport closures caused nearly 6,000 flights to be canceled, the National Guard was called out in DC, and Maryland's governor is asking that his state be declared a disaster area.

Newscasts said that 100,000,000 million people were affected by the storm, which ranged from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic and into the Northeast. Just because it didn't snow on my house is no reason for me to whine about the forecast.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Not my cup of tea

I did see a couple of excerpts from Sarah Palin's remarks at the National Tea Party Convention, held in Nashville over the weekend, although to save myself from becoming physically and intellectually ill I avoided watching the speech itself. In just those small bits there was enough ignorance, cliche and deception to keep me shaking my head for a while.

Through fluke, cynicism and John McCain's abdication of his moral duty to the nation, Palin has played her way into some serious money. So be it. I don't care how rich she gets off the dollars of the insane rabble fringe. However, I hope that everyone possessing a modicum of common sense keeps her away from any type of higher political office. (Sorry, but governor of Alaska hardly counts.)

In reality, she's likely to hurt the Republican Party in the long run, but I honestly don't think she intends to seek political office ever again. She probably cannot win, she doesn't possess the brains or fortitude for a real campaign, and she will have more influence as an outsider until she fades from the national spotlight -- or until Levi gives us the real dirt on his former future mother-in-law that we all know he has. (Get that boy a bodyguard.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A way to remember

In the week since the sudden passing of my friend Wally Bowe, a number of people have suggested ways to memorialize him. The one that seems the most logical and doable -- and that is gaining momentum quickly -- is renaming Bremen Street Park in his honor. This tribute would make sense for these reasons:

*The park is not currently named after anyone.

*The park grounds and the YMCA located there are utilized by large numbers of children and teenagers -- the same groups that Wally spent more than three decades working with.

*The park is just one block from the house where Wally lived for years and isn't much farther from the Boys & Girls Club site, where he was a positive influence on the lives of hundreds of young people.

Massport owns the park property, but I'm guessing they'd go along with recommendations from the City of Boston, and Wally is certainly extremely deserving of this honor. I'm open to listening to other suggestions, but right now this seems like a no-brainer. There is a Facebook group in support of the idea, and if you agree you should join it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Eulogy for Wally Bowe

Delivered by Jim Correale
at Sacred Heart Church on February 4, 2010

Wally Bowe was my friend, my colleague and my mentor. We grew up a few doors apart just two blocks from here, and we worked together at the Salesian Boys & Girls Club and later at Savio High School. There was a stretch of time -- from the day in 1975, when I first signed up as a member of the Boys Club, to June of 2001, when I finished my first stint teaching at Savio -- when I saw Wally almost every day. In those 26 years I saw up close what a remarkable, caring and dedicated person he was. I also saw how tough, smart and incredibly funny he was. I watched and I learned.

Wally understood people at some deep psychological level that is imperceptible to most. He was an unfailing judge of character, and he could relate to just about anyone. He was confident enough in himself that he didn’t need to treat others with anything less than genuine decency. He was exceptionally humble. He had no desire to be publicly recognized or to be in the spotlight. He was happy if those who he respected understood his work and his value and respected him in return.

Wally handled discipline with children and teenagers better than anyone else I ever worked with or saw. He was the absolute and unquestioned law in any room he was in or at any event he attended. The toughest kids wouldn’t tangle with Wally because they knew that he was tougher. He was big and he was strong, and just a few sharp words or even just that intense stare – eyes narrowed and mouth in a tight, disapproving grimace -- would quickly grab the attention of an individual who might be up to a little mischief or even an entire classroom.

But behind that tough exterior was a gentle and thoughtful man. Wally was upbeat and encouraging to those teenagers who were making an effort to get back on track after being in some kind of trouble. He never gave up on someone willing to try. You knew that he was in your corner if you lived up to his expectations. And if you were a quiet kid or not very athletic or lacking a bit in self-confidence -- well, then Wally was in your corner, too. He attempted to engage every club member or every student with a few kind words or a joke or even the creation of a nickname -- and some of those have stuck permanently.

Wally was hands down the best coach I’ve ever seen. He could coach anything -- basketball, floor hockey, flag football … even soccer. What did he know about soccer? Not a thing. One team tries to kick the ball into the other team’s net. That’s it. But after a particularly undisciplined season, Savio put Wally at the helm of the boys’ varsity soccer team -- and they went to state tournament. He knew that coaching is much more than X’s and O’s. He was an absolute master at motivating young athletes, with an ability to reignite their passion for every game … even every practice. You were never sure what strategy he’d employ, but he was ready with an approach and a few words that brought the most out of his athletes.

Wally was also, of course, a fierce competitor. I played against him enough to know, and I usually came out on the losing end. He was an incredibly smart athlete, especially on the basketball court. I played for many years with a bunch of guys on Sunday night at Savio and more recently Sunday morning, and everyone wanted Wally on their team. I watched as he dominated entire games without taking a shot, controlling the flow of action with his passing or rebounding.

Wally was the most genuine person I’ve ever known. He was straightforward with everyone. He said what he thought, and he did what he thought was right. Wally was as dependable as anyone I’ve ever known. One time I had a flat tire on Route 1, I called Wally. Whenever I needed help moving, I called Wally. He was also as loyal as anyone I’ve ever known. He would do anything for people he knew, whether close friends or casual acquaintances. He was also loyal to this neighborhood. Sure, he lived his early childhood years in Michigan and later he, Darlene, Janae and Jillian moved to Saugus, but his heart never left East Boston. And everyone in Eastie knew him. You couldn’t take a drive with him in this neighborhood without people waving him over; you couldn’t sit down to eat somewhere in East Boston without someone stopping at the table every few minutes to greet him.

Of course, Wally’s life was dedicated to the young people of this community. For more than three decades he worked with the children and teenagers of East Boston -- first at the Boys & Girls Club, then at Savio and, most recently, at the Umana Middle School. Hundreds and hundreds of people were deeply affected by his guidance, his advice, his encouragement, his compassion, his kindness, his enthusiasm, his support, his unwavering belief in the ability of each to be a good person and to find success on whatever path he or she chose. He knew the impact that his life had on those around him. He understood that he was planting seeds that in some cases wouldn’t blossom for years.

Now, in the past few days, anyone who may have been unaware of what Wally means to East Boston has started to understand. Those who’ve seen the Facebook page dedicated to him have witnessed an outpouring of affection that surpassed even what those of us who knew him well expected. More than one thousand people joined the online group within 36 hours. Dozens and dozens of comments mourned, praised and remembered. Some said they were about to drop out of high school until Wally pulled them aside and, with a few words, set them back on course. Others mentioned his presence during difficult moments in their lives. Still others admitted that that they were not easy to deal with as teenagers, and that Wally stayed on top of them and that now, as adults, they are able to appreciate all he did.

Last night, of course, there was an incredible turnout at the wake. People waited in line in the cold for as long as two hours because they just had to pay their respects. From his family members to his childhood friends, from past Boys & Girls Club members who may not have seen Wally in 20 years to the students he worked with more recently at Savio and the Umana – they cried and laughed as they talked about the impact that one man had on so many of us.

The last time I saw Wally was -- no surprise -- at Santarpio’s a couple weeks ago. I walked in with some friends and, as happened frequently there, a waiter said to me, “Hey, you know Wally’s back there.” He came over to sit with us and, as usual, he and I prepared for an exchange of insults. “Big Wall,” I said, my usual greeting, and he smiled back, “Big Jim.” And then one of us would begin. I might say, “How many pizzas did you eat? What … did they run out of dough?” He’d fire back without missing a beat: “Actually, they asked us to leave when you walked in because the weight limit is maxed out.” We could go on like that for quite a while. In addition to all his other admirable qualities, Wally was often hilarious.

Back in the spring of 2007, when Savio High School was shutting down for good, Wally’s presence was probably the key factor in keeping order down the stretch. As the year wound to a close, all of the faculty members were busy trying to find jobs for the next school year. One of my colleagues at the time, Tim Ferrari, said to all of us, “Wherever I go, I want there to be a Wally Bowe there.” I think Timmy got it exactly right.

Monday, February 1, 2010

R.I.P.: Wally Bowe

1957 - 2010

Wednesday, 3 to 8 p.m.
Rapino's, Maverick Square

Thursday, 11 a.m.
Sacred Heart Church

Online notice

In lieu of flowers,
donations in Wally’s memory may be made to:

Jillian Bowe Educational Fund
c/o East Boston Savings Bank
320 Central Street
Saugus, MA 01906