Sunday, January 30, 2011

The only solution to the debt

During his State of the Union address last week President Obama called for a five-year freeze of non-security discretionary spending in the federal budget. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress proposed that spending be returned to 2008 levels. It's possible that one of those plans will be enacted, or something similar, but it's also possible that the two parties won't come to an agreement on the matter. What is certainly true is that either move would have, at best, a tiny effect on the country's incomprehensible $14 trillion national debt. In fact, despite the alarm bells being struck by Democrats and Republicans alike, no one appears anywhere near ready to take action that will actually begin to reduce the ocean of red ink the US finds itself in.

Every day on TV and in print elected officials bemoan the unfair burden that is being handed down to our children and our children's children, but the reality is that no one is ever going to make cuts and adjustments in the budget of the magnitude that would make meaningful reductions in the debt. No one. Ever. Not now, not soon, never. Neither party possesses the political courage to do what really has to be done: decrease defense spending and reform Social Security and Medicare. The non-security discretionary spending that the US government does, while the target for symbolic cuts, is not the problem. It is the areas that both sides are leery of confronting that are the problem.

So let's be honest, then. If we really want to get our financial house in order, if we really want to spare future generations from paying for our spending, then there is only one logical and effective thing to do: raise taxes. As I say, drastic decreases in spending are never going to happen, so the US government must increase tax revenues. It's got to happen at some point and, therefore, if we refuse to do it now we really are passing on the costs of today to our children.

Let me say this plainly: If we accept that major cuts in entitlement programs and defense spending are not going to happen (whether you are for or against them) -- and, based on everything we know about how Washington works THEY ARE NOT -- then those of us who do not advocate for tax increases are accepting that we will hand off a debt of some $15 trillion or $20 trillion to the next generation. I'm tired of hearing about the unfair burden we are passing on. Let's  take the only course open to us and stop the melodramatic whining.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Time's winged chariot rolls on

Jan. 31 will mark one year since our friend Wally Bowe passed away. Wally was one of the good guys, and everyone who knew him still feels the pain of his absence. There will be a Mass in his memory this Sunday at 10 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church in East Boston.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The big chill

I have a sweater -- an  LL Bean Norwegian fisherman's sweater -- that is so warm I only wear it on days that are below zero (or quick trips outside in blizzards). I think I'll bust it out today.

It's currently -1 in Boston (wind chill -22) and may drop another degree or two before the sun rises enough to pull us toward 10 or 12 degrees -- the day's forecast high in Boston. Out in Orange, a town on Route 2 that is often the coldest spot in the state, the air temperature is -20 right now.

I remember Christmas Day, 1980, as being the coldest day in Boston in my lifetime. It was -7, and when I walked the short distance from my apartment to my aunt's house, carrying some dish my mother made for dinner later that day, I inhaled and felt the chill in my lungs. A half-dozen years ago I was out in central Massachusetts when the forecast called for extreme cold. It was -13 that morning, and I went outside to feel what that was like.

There is something I find intriguing about the cold, something alluring, spellbinding. Of course, that's only the case when one has somewhere warm to retreat to. Otherwise, the cold can be painful and dangerous pretty quickly. When I was growing up on Chelsea Street in East Boston I remember crowding up against the side of our kitchen stove, the main heat source in our apartment, on cold winter mornings. Do they still make stoves that are also heaters?

Our cold snap won't last long, but there's an icy mix forecast for midweek. The weather always has the power to get our attention.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Glaring inequality

I've generally stayed away from blogging about John Forbes because I've known him and his family for years. John was a student in my senior honors English class at Savio back in 1997-98, and even before that, when I worked at the Boys & Girls Club, John had been a Club member and coached little kids in our wiffle ball league. I followed the news like everyone else and waited to see the sentence that was handed down in federal court earlier this week, and now I'm happy for John and his family.

I glanced today at the Eastie Watch piece in this week's East Boston Times about Forbes and that spurred me to pull together some thoughts I had on the matter. I agree with the author's (though, for some reason, this weekly feature is unsigned I believe it's written by Times reporter John Lynds) contention that the Boston Herald's story on letters of support for Forbes -- specifically from City Councilor Sal LaMattina and former State Sen. Robert Travaglini -- is a bit snarky and off-base. These guys have both known the Forbes family forever, and if they had sacrificed that friendship in order to protect their political reputations, then that would have been a less-than-noble act. We're not talking about a backroom conversation with the DA or the judge to influence an outcome; this is the normal process of writing letters of support. People, including politicians, do this all the time.

What the Times doesn't confront -- and what I've only seen passing reference to in any local media in light of Forbes' sentence of probation -- is the broader picture, which this case has made even more clear: In America, the justice system is skewed by socioeconomic class. This isn't a novel or groundbreaking conclusion, but I can't help but think about it in these circumstances. Let's put aside the specifics of Forbes case because, as I said, I am pulling for him, and I want him to get on with his life. Speaking in objective terms of no one in particular, in the US, if one is white, middle class and is connected to the infrastructure of a community, one has a huge advantage in the criminal justice system. Conversely, if none of those are true, one has none of those advantages and is treating much differently in the courts.

Currently in the US there are more than 250,000 people in federal prisons and local jails for drug offenses. It's likely that many of them didn't have structured childhoods, good schools and connections to community organizations, and as a result they were locked up, often for years. Human Rights Watch has concluded that "blacks are 10.1 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for drug offenses." I'm not, however, fixated on race, but class is a different story. OJ Simpson is black, but he got away with murder because of his money.

America has spent more than a trillion dollars on the so-called War on Drugs in the past 30 years. We don't seem to have received a good return on that investment. It's time to revamp drug laws so that everyone is able to receive treatment and everybody is able to get on living their lives with strong support structures in place. It's good economic policy, but it's also the right -- and fair -- thing to do.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From doctor to artist

If you were a pediatric patient at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center from the 1970s into the 2000s you know Dr. Peter Stringham. The good doctor retired three years ago and now he's creating graphic novels. The story is here.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


***Tonight there is a meeting on plans by Excel Academy to renovate and move to the building formerly housing the St. Mary's Star if the Sea School, at the corner of Saratoga and Moore streets. The meeting is at the Salesian Boys & Girls Club on Byron Street and begins at 6 p.m.

***On Wednesday there's a meeting on the redesign of Central Square hosted by the city's Transportation Department at the East Boston Social Center in Central Square. That meeting also begins at 6 p.m.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking Ike's warning seriously

Three days before leaving the White House in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a farewell speech to the American public. That was 50 years ago today, and part of the one-time five-star general's remarks warned future generations of the dangers of the immense defense and weapons corporations that had been created after World War II:

    This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. 

Today, the United States spends almost as much on defense as every other country in the world combined, and there are somewhere around 1,000 US military bases OUTSIDE American soil. Defense contractors like Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics and others have raked in hundreds of billions of dollars since Eisenhower's speech -- and they play no small role in beating the drum when opportunities arise for the use of their weapons systems.

Aside of all other geopolitical concerns, just the cost of this military behemoth is going to end up leading to America's downfall if left unchecked. The US government needs to get it under control, and the people need to insist on it. As Ike said, the only remedy is "an alert and knowledgeable citizenry." Are we ready yet to heed his words?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wikipedia turns 10

Wikipedia is 10 years ago today, and though some criticize the site for inaccuracies, there was a study that showed the site to be roughly on par with Encyclopedia Britannica, the industry standard for many years. Few today would think of plopping down dollars to buy a huge set of books when the all of that information and more is available on the Internet.

I've written the first drafts for about a dozen articles on Wikipedia, but the nature of the site means that all of them have been revised and extended since I first introduced the topics. I'm most proud, of course, of the entry I wrote on East Boston. It's much longer now than when I first broached the subject in the fall of 2003, but I will forever be the person who was there first.

I refer to Wikipedia almost every day, often several times a day. It's good for a quick check of some bit of information or as a starting point for research. It seems like one of the natural uses of the Web and it often forces me to ask the question, What did I do before the Internet?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

This and that

***An East Boston cat has been called for jury duty, according to a story on the WHDH web site. Sal Esposito is expected to report to Suffolk Superior Court on March 23. I wouldn't expect Sal to get on a case, however, as he has exhibited bigotry toward mice. (Photo of Sal the cat from

***Nail salons in Boston will now be inspected by the city, mostly to protect the young women who often work there from the dangerous chemicals on hand.

***There will be a meeting next Wednesday on the impending redesign of Eastie's Central Square. The meeting runs from 6 to 8 p.m. and will be at the East Boston Social Center.

Gas pedal blues

In mid-December I received a citation from a Revere police officer for going 42 mph in a 30 mph zone while approaching the Beachmont School. About one minute earlier, as I took the curve that leads into the straightaway that passes the marsh I thought to myself, "Slow down. There are often speed traps here." And seconds after slowing down, the thought drifted from my head until I saw the cop standing in the middle of the road waving me over. He grumbled at me, walked away and came back with a ticket.

Of course, it's not the heat that gets you, it's the humidity. In this case, the $120 are less troublesome than the insurance surcharge. (Is it still on my record for six year?) While my experience has been that hearings for speeding tickets result in a lower fine, the surcharge still sticks like a bur, and therefore taking a day off from work to save $60 or so doesn't seem worth it.

Today I went online to pay the infraction, and after going through all the motions I got an email that said the ticket information I entered was not on file and therefore I should call or go to the Registry. Now this is the stuff that makes one annoyed. I called and then waited 28 minutes on hold until someone handled my ticket. The Registry has made great strides in recent years, but there's no reason why the automated system can't tell me how long the average wait is. I would have called back another time if I knew I was going to spend half an hour listening to passionless music interrupted by a voice every minute thanking me for patience that I didn't have.

The officer, apparently, hasn't turned in the ticket yet. Maybe it should become void if he doesn't enter the information in a certain amount of time. Anyway, I know the moral: Don't speed. Yeah, but was a sunny day, the road was empty and it's a nice, open straightaway. I never felt like I was going too fast. I certainly wasn't driving dangerously. I do slow down on that stretch now, which I guess is the point, right?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Something wicked this way comes

Even before Saturday's shooting in Arizona I was going to comment on the disturbing direction of the political discourse in the country in recent years. I'd seen that a woman was removed from the House chambers when she shouted negative comments about Barack Obama while the Constitution was being read. As Rep. Frank Pellone read Article II, Section 1 of the document -- the part that says the president must be a "natural-born citizen" -- Teresa Cao yelled out, "Except Obama! Except Obama! Save us, Jesus!"

It turns out that Ms. Cao is a well-known "birther" crackpot who isn't dissuaded by legal documents from the state of Hawaii and, therefore, is never going to be convinced of Obama's legitimacy, and so my first reaction was that her outburst was disrespectful and reprehensible. However, I had to admit that if someone shouted out comments that criticized Republicans for their theatrical embracing of the Constitution while they seek to trample on it legislatively, or even if there was your basic chanting that the wars should be ended and the troops brought home, I would have applauded the actions.

While her ignorance is disturbing, it's not Teresa Cao's actions that give me concern. It is the fact that there are some people who want to go farther than she did. Whatever TV she watches (presumably Fox), radio she listens to, blogs she reads, and whatever other media she consumes -- and believes -- if, in the end, it only inspired her to yell out some foolishness, then so be it. There is, however, a certain percentage of the population that listen to, watch and read similar rants and diatribes, and who then decide that violence is the proper course. Those people are being incited by Beck, Palin, Rush, Coulter, O'Reilly and the rest of the moronic right-wing instigators, and some of them are bound to be dangerous.

That's what I was thinking Saturday morning, and then came the news that Jared Loughner, 22, walked up to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords with a gun and shot her in the head. Six others were killed, a dozen wounded and Giffords clings to life. In a press conference hours after the shooting the Pima County sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, looking exasperated at the day's events, said that he believes the political bitterness has gone too far. Calling Arizona "a mecca for racism and bigotry," Dupnik added:
...people tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.
We can live with Teresa Cao. Heck, she's even a little entertaining, but somewhere out there are delusional souls filled with ignorance and rage, and they are willing to take things into their own hands.

Photo of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and House Speaker John Boehner courtesy of the Associated Press.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Going once...

Image courtesy of
Two properties in East Boston will be auctioned off to the highest bidder on Jan. 24, per order of the state's Division of Capital Asset Management. The bigger lot is 20 Addison Street -- 1.4 acres along the Chelsea Creek; the smaller is less than a quarter acre and it's at 600 Chelsea Street.

Property tours are scheduled for Thursday. Individuals may bid online. For more information check out this listing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

To save or not to save

The Globe reports on the demolition of the East Boston Immigration Station, located on the harbor waterfront. The site was open from 1920 to 1959 to process and detain immigrants, but was relegated to use as storage by various entities after that. Massport now owns the structure, which was denied protection by the city's landmarks commission.

A couple weeks ago the Globe had a story on historic sites in the neighborhood that would be protected. The groups involved will release a report this month "intended to provide a roadmap for future redevelopment." One site recommended for preservation is the First Presbyterian Church (in photo, courtesy of

Update (7:15 p.m.): A blog post advocates preservation of the immigration station.