Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Hallows' Eve

I wrote this when I was in high school. Corny, but what the heck:

All Hallows’ Eve

As darkness falls across the land,

Crowds disperse from streets and

Kids conspire, scheme and plan

As wind blows the fallen leaves.

The sun now gone, it gets quite cold

And timid souls become more bold.

At least that's what I was told

About All Hallows' Eve.

In darkness, spirits do arise,

Camouflaged by the blackened sky,

Hidden from the naked eye;

But they are there, I do believe.

They wander about, aimlessly.

They glide along, effortlessly.

The world is theirs, briefly,

On All Hallows' Eve.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Midterm madness

The midterm elections are just a few days away and the overwhelming plot thread is that the electorate is angry -- most notably, about the state of the American economy. Well, we should be angry -- we should be furious, in fact -- but voting for Republicans to express that anger would seem to be an antithetical response to the situation. I believe that, just two years ago, we swept Democrats into office mostly because of the GOP's mishandling of the economy. It appears that Americans are ready to cast their lot with Republicans again. How soon we forget!

Several points to keep in mind:

1. TARP -- the bank bailout -- was a Bush Administration program. Yes, it was passed by the Democratic Congress, but only after Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson actually got down on one knee to beg House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her support, telling the Democratic leadership that the entire economy would collapse if the bill wasn't passed.

2. Despite GOP rhetoric, every analysis I've seen of Obama's stimulus bill indicates that it did save a significant amount of jobs and helped the economy begin its recovery. Now, we all agree that this recovery is moving too slowly and that an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent is unacceptable. However, many economists at the time said that the stimulus needed to be larger than the $787 billion, but considering the political mood, that was the best that Obama could get from Congress.

3. More than one-third of the stimulus ($288 billion) took the form of tax cuts. Again, the misinformation that Republicans are running on is that taxes have been increased under Obama.

4. While a recent poll showed that a small majority of Americans were not in favor of the health care reform bill that Obama and the Democrats passed this year, the survey noted that when asked about the major provisions individually people overwhelmingly supported the reforms! As usual, the right has done a better job framing the issues to their advantage -- with little concern for the truth.

5. Though it isn't as tough as many would have liked, the Democratic Congress did pass a bill that toughened regulation on Wall Street and created the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which will in theory advocate and regulate with the citizenry's interests paramount.

Make no mistake: The recession that the US is still pulling itself out from is the result of Republican policies -- tax cuts for the wealthy, a financial sector operating like the Wild West, regulatory agencies controlled by Bush-appointed former lobbyists, expensive and poorly planned military forays, and, more broadly, an abiding belief in unfettered capitalism as the answer to every question.

Democratics have their weaknesses, and I am never at a loss to point them out, but it was Republicans who put us in the hole. Do we really want to hand them shovels again?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jury duty

For the third time in my life I was on a jury, this trial lasting for parts of two days, and for the second time I was the jury foreman. This was a fairly simple case of domestic assault and our verdict was "not guilty." It seemed to be a family squabble that should never have reached the courthouse, but the other jurors and I deliberated thoughtfully and patiently to arrive at our decision.

I know that people generally try to avoid jury duty, but I've always enjoyed it. I like seeing the justice system from the inside, and I've been reassured by the seriousness and intelligence of those who've sat on juries with me -- and this time was no different. I've been called to serve four times, but only once did I not get on a case. On that occasion I knew the young victim, who was from East Boston, and had met the accused stepfather, so I had to remove myself from the jury pool.

I arrived at the courthouse in Roxbury (pictured above) yesterday at 8:30 a.m. and was pointed to a small room where 14 others sat quietly, some reading, others looking blankly forward. The room was quite warm, and one guy was sweating profusely. The court officer made a call to maintenance, but the heat was not on. He opened all the windows for some relief, and it was unseasonably nice outside.

One young woman who sat across a narrow aisle from me appeared to have walked off of the video shoot of Olivia Newton-John's 1981 hit "Let's Get Physical." She must have been 18 or so, and she wore black spandex, a white T-shirt, sneakers with neon pink socks, and a headband with her hair up. Was this a ploy to appear so unserious that she'd never be chosen for a jury, or did she really believe it was alright to decide the fate of another person looking like that?

There was a young man with a big beard, slouchy jeans and a T-shirt, tattoos on his arms and a ring through his nose. The prosecutor seemed to have him removed from the jury. I couldn't hear the bench discussion too well from across the room, but it appeared that he'd had some brush with the law fairly recently. Either that, or the fear was that the guy was just generally anti-authority and wouldn't believe the cop who was scheduled to testify.

The judge in the case was Kenneth Fiandaca, and right away the name rang a bell as familiar in East Boston. It turns out that he grew up here and was three years ahead of me at Savio High School, graduating in 1978, according to this story in the Winthrop Transcript. Fiandaca did a fine job presiding at the brief trial, and he stopped by the jury room just before we left to thank us and answer questions. If I knew we were both sons of Eastie I would have mentioned it.

So my civic duty is done for a few years. I don't mind playing my part to ensure the rule of law in our system. Those of us, especially, who like to complain, disagree, actively dissent and argue against policies of our government have, I think, an obligation to participate in the levers of democracy, and voting and serving on a jury are two small ways to do so.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The truth on Iraq

The pile of documents from the Iraq war that was released by WikiLeaks seems to add evidence to the argument that the supposed success of the so-called Surge touted by the Bush Administration and Sen. John McCain is a myth. Other factors had already come together to slow the violence in Iraq even before the first extra troops arrived and the political reconciliation -- for which the Surge was intended to create breathing room -- has never happened.

Speaking of Iraq, a new book by Gen. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, says that George W. Bush was dead set against invading that country when Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld came to him not long after 9/11. Bush, according to Shelton, wanted to deal only with Afghanistan, but Rumsfeld went ahead and had the Pentagon draw up plans to invade Iraq and kept beating the drum -- presumably with Dick Cheney at his side -- until Bush agreed.

As blogger Andrew Sullivan writes of Iraq:
This whole enterprise designed to rid the world of danger has increased danger in the world; an attempt to end a torture regime led to widespread torture by Iraqi government forces, and, of course, by the US itself; a bid to encourage democracy will in all likelihood lead to either chaos or a Shiite strongman; an endeavor seeking to weaken Iran has ended in empowering it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Election nears

Election day is about a week and a half away, and nationally the story is that Republicans have a good chance of taking control of the House. Just two years ago the big question was, How can the GOP ever recover? Well, it's the economy, stupid. Plus, Republicans have always been better at crafting their message for public consumption because -- let's face it -- they'll say anything, no matter how far removed from reality it might be. (Death panels, anyone?)

Locally, it's shocking to see Jeff Perry in a close race with William Keating in the 10th Congressional District. Perry, a former Wareham police officer and current state rep., was on the scene in two separate incidents in the early 1990s when a fellow cop illegally strip searched teenage girls. Perry did nothing at the time and later lied about the cases. The other officer eventually pleaded guilty to civil rights violations and indecent assault of a child.

As for my ballot, no candidate who backs bringing casino gambling to Suffolk Downs will be getting my vote.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why we still need newspapers

***The Globe has a wrenching article about the night five months ago that two men jumped into the Charles River from the Mass Ave. bridge:
Put yourself in this horror for a minute. Despite your best efforts, your closest friend has just jumped off a bridge, right before your eyes. What do you do? Call 911? Scream into the night for help? Collapse in a heap of despair?
Vilgrain Richemond, a 27-year-old father of two, chose a different option: He jumped in to try to save his friend. The Globe's Neil Swidey tells the harrowing story.

***Today's Globe also has the first of two parts on improvements to athletic programs in the Boston schools, a response to a Globe series last year that chronicled the woes of athletics programming in the city's public school system.

***Eastie freelance writer Steve Holt has a piece on being married in his 20s in today's Globe. Steve and his wife are also in the process of adopting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

For art's sake

The front of the Metro section in today's Globe has a story with the sub-head, "East Boston blossoming into arts community of note." One local artist says that the neighborhood "is really accepting of the artists from other neighborhoods." Another says that Eastie is "the last unspoiled bastion of Boston for artists."

Monday, October 11, 2010

The real Columbus

From "Examining the Reputation of Columbus," an essay by Jack Weatherford, a professor at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota:
After he failed to contact the emperor of China, the traders of India, or the merchants of Japan, Columbus decided to pay for his voyage in the one important commodity he had found in ample supply -- human lives. He seized 1,200 Taino Indians from the island of Hispaniola, crammed as many onto his ships as would fit, and sent them to Spain, where they were paraded naked through the streets of Seville and sold as slaves in 1495. Columbus tore children from their parents, husbands from wives. On board Columbus' slave ships, hundreds died; the sailors tossed the Indian bodies into the Atlantic.

Because Columbus captured more Indian slaves than he could transport to Spain in his small ships, he put them to work in mines and plantations which he, his family, and followers created throughout the Caribbean. His marauding band hunted Indians for sport and profit -- beating, raping, torturing, killing, and then using the Indian bodies as food for their hunting dogs. Within four years of Columbus' arrival on Hispaniola, his men had killed or exported one-third of the original Indian population of 300,000.

This was the great cultural encounter initiated by Christopher Columbus. This is the event celebrated each year on Columbus Day. The United States honors only two men with federal holidays bearing their names. In January we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., who struggled to lift the blinders of racial prejudice and to cut the remaining bonds of slavery in America. In October, we honor Christopher Columbus, who opened the Atlantic slave trade and launched one of the greatest waves of genocide known in history.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Columbus Day weekend

***The late John White, brigadier general and a son of East Boston, will be honored with a plaque in Maverick Square on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. Details here at

***Columbus Day breakfast at Spinelli's on Sunday morning.

***East Boston hosts this year's Columbus Day parade, which leaves from the Suffolk Downs parking lot at 1 p.m., moves along Bennington Street to Day Square, then along Chelsea Street to Maverick Square and, finally, along Meridian Street to Central Square.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eastie notes

***A Globe editorial today advocates for development of the former Hess tank-farm site along the Chelsea Creek, which a local community organization is seeking to have converted to wetlands. The Chelsea Creek Action Group is attempting to secure funding to restore the seven-acre parcel to salt marsh and bird habitat. The Globe, however, feels that the spot would be better used for economic development.

*** notes that the new Santarpio's on Route 1 in Peabody is regularly mobbed. The new place has the same limited menu -- pizza, lamb, sausage -- as the East Boston landmark. The piece touches on the history of the place and mentions the longtime pizza maker who I knew as "Joe Fat" and who always wore what seemed to be the same stained T-shirt.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

If we want to dance...

No one wants to pay taxes, but unless we're willing to return to an earlier form of civilization, taxes would seem to be here to stay. A think tank called Third Way has a logical idea about how to inform taxpayers about the ways in which our money is being spent: give us a receipt. I think it makes perfect sense.

In the example given, the median American taxpayer in 2009 made $34,140 and paid the US government $5,400 (including payments into the Social Security and Medicare systems). More than $1,000 of the pay-out went to Social Security benefits and nearly another $1,000 went to Medicare and Medicaid. Defense spending, fighting wars and veterans' benefits totaled around $500, and interest on the national debt was $287.

Nothing else costs the average taxpayer more than $70 a year, including highways ($63.89), NASA ($28.09), the FBI ($11.21), the EPA ($11.67), the DEA ($3.14), the national park system ($4.27) and funding for the arts (24 cents). Recent polling shows that about half of those surveyed believe that the US government spends more on foreign aid than Social Security; in reality, of course, we spend more than 20 times on Social Security than the $46.08 that goes to foreign aid.

The Republican Party loves to tell us that they want to lower our taxes and cut spending, but in reality the discretionary elements in the federal budget are relatively small and most pay for important programs. The GOP's pronouncements are a charade and they know it. There's no denying that there is waste in the federal bureaucracy and some things -- subsidies to agribusiness and the oil industry, for example -- should be cut. However, stripping out all of the excess spending is likely impossible in a country this size.

What we really need to do in America -- as unpopular an idea as it is to all of us -- is to raise taxes. Someone once said that if the citizens of this country were truly patriotic they'd celebrate April 15 as a national holiday. I won't go that far, but I do want to see the Bush tax cuts expire and the marginal tax rate raised to pre-1980 levels (70%).