Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Che pasa?

The new Arizona immigration law is unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment prohibition against "unreasonable searches and seizures." It should be struck down as soon as a case hits the courts, and the municipal governments of Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff are considering filing suits against the law. Meanwhile, an effort is underway to get a referendum question onto Arizona's November ballot to repeal it.

Conservatives use immigration as a political issue -- both in Arizona and nationally -- but the truth is that without undocumented workers the US economy wouldn't be able to function. To look at one example, the cost of fruits and vegetables would skyrocket if immigrant laborers weren't doing the harvesting for low wages. The same is true in the restaurant business, among construction crews and a number of other fields. America needs immigrants.

Further, it's completely unrealistic to think that the country could gather up the 12 million undocumented immigrants to send that back to their point of origin. It's logistically impossible, and it'll never happen. So let's start thinking about real-world approaches to this issue instead of political sloganeering and vilifying people who are, overwhelmingly, just trying to feed their families. And, it must be said, that sometimes it is the effects of American government policy that has put some Latinos in a position where they must walk through a dessert or stuff themselves into a trunk to find work. (Check out the consequences of US government agricultural subsidies on farmers in Mexico.)

The big picture is that human beings have been migrating around the planet in search of food, shelter, security and a better climate for as long as we've been a species. Borders drawn by men, only a function of the past century or two, will never stop this. We can play political games with the issue -- as the Republicans are bound to do -- or we can approach the subject rationally and attempt to create policies that make sense. Stopping every brown-skinned Spanish speaker in Arizona is a giant step backwards.

Photo of a man being apprehended near the Arizona/Mexico border from the San Francisco Sentinel.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Curiouser and curiouser

Three bishops resigned this week for their roles in clergy abuse cases -- one for sexually abusing a boy, one for beating youngsters at a Catholic home for children, and the third for covering up cases of sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, the National Catholic Reporter has a disturbing story about a cardinal who had "intervened, against the wishes of a U.S. bishop, on behalf of an American abuser priest" who'd "sexually abused dozens of minor boys." The story goes on to say:
Moreover, [Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos] implicated the late John Paul II in that decision. "After consulting the pope ... I wrote a letter to the bishop congratulating him as a model of a father who does not hand over his sons," [Castrillon was quoted as saying]."
Also, at least one US lawsuit has named Benedict XVI as a defendant for the Church's negligence in protecting children who were sexually abused. In a response that said the suit is "without merit," the Vatican also invoked the pope's "diplomatic immunity from prosecution in other countries." It's funny how legal principles suddenly matter to the Vatican ... oh wait ... it isn't funny at all.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sumner Street food court

Mehak, a restaurant serving "Halal Pakistani and Indian Cuisine" at 329 Sumner Street in East Boston, opened just a few days ago, and the first reports are just making their way to the Internet. To summarize: the food is good and inexpensive, but some kinks need to be worked out. I haven't made it there yet, but I hope to check it out soon.

I was across the street from Mehak last night, at Italian Express, just after 10 p.m. It was late, but I was in the mood for a snack, so I stopped in for a slice. The guys were cleaning up, but they're always friendly and they heated me up one of their giant slices. As I was about to leave, they loaded me up with three more slices "on the house" (one of which didn't survive the drive home).

Used to be that you could get slices of pizza all over East Boston, but not any more. I'm happy that I can pop into Italian Express for a slice that is both sizable and tasty. The chicken parm sub I had there a few weeks ago was good as well. Check it out.

Update (4/22): I made it to Mehak last night and found the early feedback on target. The food was delicious and inexpensive -- and the waitstaff was friendly -- but there are a number of logistical wrinkles that need to be worked out. I will certainly be back.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Moving forward with an eye to the past

Those who would commit mass murder on American soil don't all live in faraway failed states. Sometimes they are closer than we want to believe.

Fifteen years ago today, Timothy McVeigh -- born in upstate New York and decorated with a Bronze Star for his actions in the US Army during the Gulf War -- killed 168 people and wounded more than 600 when he exploded a truck outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.

America's political atmosphere today is increasingly hostile. The Secret Service is fielding threats like never before, and in February Andrew Joseph Stack flew his single-engine plane into an IRS office building in Texas, killing himself and one federal employee. Conservative talk radio and Fox News bear some of the responsibility for this explosion in anger across the country. They've gone too far and this is the result.

When I see people on TV saying, "I want my country back," I want to tell them to look down at the ground. It's still there. Barack Obama -- unlike George W. Bush in 2000 -- was elected by an undisputed majority of electoral and popular votes. I wish that Obama was as radical a president as those on the right complain that he is. He is a pragmatic incremental moderate and closer to the previous administration on a number of national security, presidential powers and privacy issues than I imagined. He is not a socialist or a fascist -- and most of the people I see using those terms have no idea what they mean. He is, however, the legally elected chief executive of this country.

So, let's have a spirited debate on issues -- one with facts and opinions, but without hysterics and violence.

AP photo via

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The House always wins

The Massachusetts House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would bring casino gambling to the state, including slot machines to racetracks. Speaker Bob DeLeo pushed hard on the legislation, ramming it through quickly without public hearings, and the vote was 120-37. It remains to be seen what the Senate version of the bill will look like, as Senate President Therese Murray has indicated she is not in favor of slot machines at the tracks, a position echoed by the governor.

Among those who voted for the proposal, which I think is a terrible idea for East Boston, is our state Rep. Carlo Basile. Here is an excerpt from my September 2007 interview with Basile published on this site:
Hubster: I’ll throw out a few issues, and you tell me in a few sentences what you think. Casino gambling?

Basile: I don’t know enough about it. Don’t know at what cost. What’s East Boston going to get in return? Can our infrastructure support it? We’re a blue-collar neighborhood. People get their checks once a month. We don’t want them running to the casino and giving it up all in one day. We’re going to pay for it anyway, so what are we getting in return? Are we going to hurt more people? I know it’s going to create jobs, but at what cost? At this point I can’t say that I’m for it and I can’t say that I’m against it. I just need to educate myself more about it.

Hubster: What if it wasn’t at Suffolk Downs, but in Massachusetts in general?

Basile: I believe in the whole general concept of casino gambling. Massachusetts residents are running to Connecticut and making Connecticut rich, but I just don’t know if Suffolk Downs is the place to put it. We already have a major airport. We have three tunnels. We’re dealing with a lot already in East Boston.
Basile had many good questions then, and maybe he's received satisfactory answers to them. It would be nice if those answers were shared with the rest of us.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A look at the Immigration Station has a story, photos and a video about the East Boston Immigration Station, which saw tens of thousands pass through between 1920 and the mid-1940s. At that point the Marginal Street facility was used to intern people of German and Japanese descent after the United States entered World War II.

Today the structure is decrepit and it's owned by Massport, which is considering tearing it down, though some in the neighborhood are hoping to save and rehabilitate this slice of Eastie's history. One web site is behind the idea. As usual, I expect no attempt by the Evil Empire to consider what local residents think when making a decision that affects our neighborhood.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mayor's office responds to Eastie library concerns

The trustees of the Boston Public Library voted yesterday to accept one of the three plans presented to them to close this year's budget shortfall -- a proposal to shutter four branch libraries, including the Orient Heights branch in East Boston -- and the mayor has accepted their decision. There has been significant public outcry against the plan, and the Boston Globe story says that, "Some on the City Council are vowing a fight."

, the mayor's liaison to East Boston, released a letter that says Eastie residents should be mindful that part of the plan is also to build a new branch for the neighborhood in an as-yet-undetermined centrally located site. He adds:
In the short term: most of the non-library services performed in the Barnes Ave. building -- reading for preschoolers; senior activities; book discussions; etc .-- will be moved into the Orient Height Community Center. **We will maintain the same level of these types of services as before and coordinate with the Elderly Commission; Boston Public Schools; BCYF; and the private sector to expand services and try new programming.** If there is something new you'd like to see, let me know and we can try it. Also, at that location you will have parking unlike at Barnes Ave.

All specific library functions will be merged into the Meridian Branch. Meridian will NOT have services cut further thanks to the building consolidation and overall pay/workforce reduction (i.e. layoffs of individual library staff). We can arrange for book return pick up in the Heights and will experiment with delivery services for seniors who cannot walk to Meridian.

In the medium term: last July we completed a feasibility study for a new "lead" library in East Boston. The building will have over 20,000 square feet which is nearly twice the usable space of the existing (Meridian/Heights) buildings combined. We are currently looking for a site and then will proceed with design and ultimate construction. East Boston has one of the fastest growing youth populations in the City and we need a modern building that can accommodate our needs.
will be a great benefit to East Boston."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heights branch on chopping block

The president of the Boston Public Library supports a plan that would shut down the Orient Heights branch and three others across the city to save $3.3 million. The other branches closed under one of the three plans the BPL trustees are considering are in Brighton, Dorchester and South Boston.

There are also two other plans, one closing seven branches and the other closing none, but cutting hours throughout the library system. Each proposal cuts the same number of jobs and saves the same amount of money. The trustees, the mayor and the city council would have to approve the changes, and the council sent to Ryan a letter signed by nine councilors -- including East Boston's Sal LaMattina -- who object to closing branches. The BPL trustees vote on the plans tomorrow.

Photo of the Heights branch from the BPL web site.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Video of US attack on civilians leaked

Am extremely disturbing video of an American military helicopter shooting up Iraqi civilians, including journalists and children, has been posted on the site and its authenticity has been confirmed, according to The New York Times, by sources inside the American military.

Among the approximately eight people killed in the July 2007 attack were Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, both employees of Reuters, an international news agency based in London. Two children appear to have been wounded in the shooting as well.

Many of those targeted in the attack appear to be unarmed, including the journalists, who have what look like cameras slung over their shoulders. The audio of US military personnel is sickening, with one soldier hoping that a desperately wounded journalist picks up a weapon so the Apache helicopter can "engage" again. When a pilot is informed that children were wounded he is overheard saying, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

But there was no battle -- at least not in the square where the firing takes place. There were a number of men walking unhurriedly, and then when a van pulls up to collect the bodies of those killed in the initial attack the soldiers call excitedly for permission to shoot up the van, where two children were sitting in the front seat.

This video, which Reuters has been trying to get hold of and which was leaked to the WikiLeaks site, should be the subject of an investigation by Congress. It alone should make each of us question the use of American military power in Iraq as well as elsewhere.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spotlight on Eastie toasts some of East Boston's charms with a story in the Boston Visitors' Guide section that's focused on the neighborhood's active artists' community and a half-dozen local eateries. The piece says, "East Boston has yet to be declared chic — or even bohemian — but its art community has been putting down roots for the last decade." There's also a small slide show.

Photo from

Friday, April 2, 2010

DeLeo doubles down

Bob DeLeo, the House speaker, smiled and listened to cheers from union members yesterday as he announced his plans to expand gaming in Massachusetts with two resort-style casinos, plus 3,000 slot machines at the state's four racetracks. DeLeo hopes to have the bill up for a vote in two weeks without allowing the public to be heard on the matter. “Everything has been studied thoroughly, and we’re ready to go,’’ said the Speaker, according to The Boston Globe.

Of course, everything has not been studied thoroughly and not everyone in the state believes that "we're ready to go." There are many legitimate arguments against casinos and slots, and not allowing for an open and fact-based discussion is clearly undemocratic. DeLeo is apparently pressuring House members to vote with him, but it remains to be seen whether Gov. Deval Patrick and Therese Murray, the Senate president, will stand up against DeLeo, as they have frequently expressed skepticism about allowing slots at tracks (though both back casinos).

As I've written before, step one should be a thorough and unbiased study on the costs, benefits and consequences of expanded gaming. Secondly, state Sen. Anthony Petruccelli's proposal to have referendums in the communities where slots and casinos would be located would seem to make sense. There's no reason for Massachusetts to rush forward on this potentially far-reaching legislation. Let's make the right decision and not go "all in" without looking at the cards we've got.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Musical branches

The Globe reports that statistics on branch library use were released yesterday and a look at the information would seem to put the Orient Heights branch in the running for cutbacks or closure, depending on the plan approved by the BPL trustees. Many in Eastie are against such a move, and there is a Facebook group that objects to cuts at any of the branches.