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Warren Takes Steps Toward Possible Senate Bid

By The Associated Press   |   Thursday, August 11, 2011
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Aug. 11, 2011

Elizabeth Warren testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 16, 2011 before a House subcommittee on Financial Services. (AP)


WASHINGTON — Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren is taking the first steps toward launching a possible challenge against Republican Scott Brown, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts and a top Democratic target in 2012.

The 62-year-old Harvard law professor began contacting top Massachusetts Democrats on Thursday, including party Chairman John Walsh, about a potential candidacy.

Warren plans to make a decision after Labor Day and will spend the next few weeks talking with voters and party activists, a Democrat close to the national leadership told The Associated Press. The person was not authorized to speak publicly, and requested anonymity.

"I left Washington, but I don't plan to stop fighting for middle class families," Warren wrote in a posting Thursday on Blue Mass Group, a popular blog among Massachusetts Democrats. "I spent years working against special interests and have the battle scars to show it — and I have no intention of stopping now."

A favorite of consumer groups and liberals, Warren was tapped by President Barack Obama last year to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Congressional Republicans opposed her becoming the bureau's director, and Obama in July decided not to pick her to head the new agency, sparking speculation that she might challenge Brown.

Top national Democrats desperate to find a strong challenger to take back the Massachusetts seat long held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy have been urging Warren to run for months. A poll in March showed Brown as the most popular politician in the state.

Warren, who lives in Cambridge, has never held elective office. She left the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this summer, and recently returned from a vacation with her family to consider running.

Warren did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

In a move that appeared to underscore her seriousness about the race, two prominent Massachusetts political strategists - Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan — are assisting her as she decides. Rubin is the former top political strategist for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Democrats say her image as a crusader on behalf of consumers against well-heeled Wall Street and corporate interests would be a boon to her candidacy. Party leaders also believe her national profile would help her raise the money needed to topple Brown, who has more than $10 million in his campaign account.

Faced with a crowded field, Democrats worry that a long, costly and divisive primary could dash their hopes of reclaiming the seat after their embarrassing loss to Brown in 2010.

There are several Democrats already running, including Setti Warren, the first-term mayor of the affluent Boston suburb of Newton and the state's first popularly elected black mayor; City Year youth program co-founder Alan Khazei; and Robert Massie, a former lieutenant governor candidate.

How To BBQ, Four-Seasons Style

By Toni Waterman   |   Friday, August 5, 2011
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Aug. 8, 2011



BOSTON — It’s not often you get the chance to share the kitchen with a five-star chef, but once a month, Four Seasons Executive Chef Brooke Vosika opens his doors and recipe book to the public with a cooking class.

“Tonight we’ve got a BBQ class. It’s probably one of our most popular classes,” said Vosika. “We’re going to touch on gas barbeque verses charcoal barbeque, we’re going to touch on the different varieties of barbeque, whether it be a southern style, it can also be a Kansas City style, Texas style, North Carolina style.”

For $150, these eight students get a personal lesson on the art of barbequing. It's a lesson student Sarah Donovan said can’t come soon enough.

“I just got married and someone gave me a grill and it’s sitting on the deck. I haven’t even taken the tarp off,” Donovan said as she put on her apron. “So I’m here to learn how to grill.”

The classes are held in the middle of the Four Seasons Aujourd’hui kitchen. Everyone quickly finds their place around a square table, butcher blocks in front them and a glass of wine in hand.

First up, a lesson on Vosika’s self-described “volcano” sauce. For the past two weeks, Vosika has kept the chilies buried under mounds of salt. He says the salt draws the moisture out of the chilies while at the same time adding some saltiness to them.

“The process then is to wash off as much of the salt as possible, pick the stems off and then we’re going to blend it,” Vosika explained.

Everyone pitches in, in between sips of wine, pinching stems before the chilies are blended with vinegar and water.

Next up, the main course is the ever-daunting ribs. The first thing Vosika shows are baby-back ribs.

“The difference between the baby-back and the regular ribs is that it’s a smaller animal they come from,” he says. “And also they’ve been trimmed down so it’s the center of the rib. You’re not leaving that fat portion on the bottom.”

Vosika boils his ribs for 40 minutes before throwing them on the grill, giving him just enough time to get his Kansas-City-style barbeque sauce together. He starts by chopping some garlic.

Ketchup is the next one and that’s our base,” he says while pouring it all into a mixing bowl. “Adding our vinegar, chili powder, paprika, olive oil which is important for coating and of course, our volcano sauce,” Voskia says, laughing.

Now it's time to hit the grill. Vosika says this is the point when people make their biggest mistake, using either too much heat or too little heat.

“There’s a fine line between burning something and char-grilling it, really making something so charred that that flavor takes over everything,” Vosika said.

Student Ernie Jones says he's definitely made that mistake. “Not paying attention to the grill when I was doing a low, slow cook and it just got way past the point of when it was done,” Johnson said.

After dousing the ribs with sauce, Vosika grabs them with tongs, demonstrating perfect technique.

“So I’m going to take this side, the side that we’ve done that has the BBQ sauce on it. We’ll lay that right on top. While that’s there, we’ll take some more barbeque sauce.”

After a few minutes sizzling on the grill, it’s time for the best part of the class. Chef stands at the table, doling out the goods: Baby back ribs-regular ribs, wings, homemade potato chips and good conversation.

At the end of the night, students say they’re taking home a lot more than just leftovers. “It was really easy to see how to make different things and with recipes I will actually be able to follow,” says Kara Silvia.

“I loved it,” adds her sister, Kristina. “It was so good, but we’re so full at this point,” she adds, laughing.

Full with a meal that’s finger lickin’ good.

Union Oyster House Turns 185

By Adam Reilly   |   Wednesday, August 3, 2011
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Aug. 3, 2011



BOSTON — After nearly two centuries of existence, Union Oyster House has its own unique body of lore: From JFK’s favorite booth to a plaque honoring Boston’s first female waitress. And as the restaurant celebrates its 185th anniversary Wednesday, business remains brisk.

Danny Martinez is a teacher visiting from San Diego. During Tuesday’s lunch hour, he enjoyed oysters, cherrystones and a beer. 

Mussels are served at the Union Oyster House. (avhell via Flickr)

“I did my homework because I’m a teacher,” said Martinez. “I did a lot of yelping, go to Yelp.com, and this definitely came up as one of the top one to two (seafood restaurants) in the Boston area.”
 
Sitting a few yards away, Joe King of County Galway, Ireland was wrapping up a meal of his own — his first since arriving in Boston earlier today. King gives the Union Oyster House’s namesake specialties his stamp of approval, but adds that the legendary oysters from his hometown are even better.
 
“Well, they’re good here,” King said. “But I think we have better oysters in Clarinbridge.”
 
With customers from as far away as the West Coast and Europe, it’s no wonder the Union Oyster House has a bit of a reputation as a tourist magnet. Its amply stocked gift shop indicates the restaurant is happy to play the part.

Still, after 185 years in business, there are a few regulars with strong local ties.
 
“I’m from Charlestown, Mass., originally,” said Tom Roche, as he sat at the Union Oyster House’s legenday U-shaped oyster bar. “I live in California now. Came here for the oysters clams and scallops today... I come back here every year, and this is the place I come to.”
 
On August 3, the Union Oyster House will celebrate its 185th year of existence with a special menu featuring thirty dollars worth of food for just $1.85. That price is only good from 11 AM to 3 PM, but if you miss it,  take heart. This isn’t the Union Oyster House’s first anniversary special, and chances are it won’t be its last. 

Roxbury Bank Under Fire For Ignoring Surrounding Community

By Phillip Martin   |   Saturday, July 30, 2011
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Aug. 1, 2011


BOSTON — A new report finds the wealth gap between whites and blacks and Latinos in America is the widest it’s been in 25 years. The National Urban League Conference, which took place last week in Boston, discussed how to recapture the financial gains made by African Americans.

Roxbury's One United Bank. (via Google Maps)

Marc Morial, the President of the National Urban League, said the Pew Center report points to a growing crisis in America.
 
"What it does is push people who had economic security, it pushes them down further on the economic ladder and it affects the people that they support.  So in real terms, does it mean we are back where we were thirty years ago when it comes to the economy?  We have a responsibility to tackle it, to try to confront it and to try to build a plan to restore wealth," Morial said.
 
Minority-owned banks have traditionally played important roles in propping up the black middle class, lending when others would not. But one such institution in Roxbury has come under fire for its alleged hands-off approach to the community surrounding it.   
 
One United, with branches in Massachusetts, California and Florida, grew by gobbling up other black-owned banks in those states, including the Boston Bank of Commerce in the mid-1990’s. That institution was led by Ron Homer, who at a Roxbury press conference in December 1989 announced what was called the Home Ownership Loan Pool, to encourage homeownership loans for qualified residents of minority neighborhoods.
 
"We had actually publicly been against concessionary-rate lending over the long haul. It’s not sustainable. It doesn’t benefit everyone. It’s a cutoff. They’ll be a first-come-first-serve by the very nature and we don’t think that’s the way to service the community over the long haul," Homer said.
 
Over the short haul, the bank believed that by reducing interest it would encourage home buying, stabilize minority communities and improve housing stock in the Roxbury-Dorchester-Mattapan neighborhoods. But a decade later, Homer was ousted as Boston Bank of Commerce chief executive by a businessman named Kevin Cohee. The takeover was part of a strategy to grow One United, which describes itself as “the premier bank for urban communities." 
 
Yet, many in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan are asking if the bank truly invested in those communities.
 
Bruce Bickerstaff sits on the Roxbury neighborhood Council. Previously, he was a board member of the Roxbury Trust, a neighborhood investment group charged with improving conditions in Roxbury. He says he has long been concerned about One United’s lending history.
 
"I cannot find anyone in my circles who have a home mortgage, their kids going to school on an educational loan, a car loan. I know people who have savings accounts there. I know people who have savings accounts there. But I don’t know any who have gone to that same institution to broaden their own capital," Bickerstaff said.
 
According to a 2009 Boston Globe report, One United loaned money only to a handful of wealthy individuals in black communities around Boston, including for the construction of a 7,000-square-foot home near the Brookline Country Club and $1.1 million in 2006 for a condo across the road from the Public Garden.

One United has also been plagued by allegations of self-dealing by its executives, specifically the questionable use of a house in Malibu, California. Bickerstaff says before these issues came to light, the Roxbury Trust tried to channel neighborhood re-investment funds through One United.
 
"We had $1.6 million. We approached One United. It was over 30 days before we got a call back. It was another 25 days before we got notice that they could not manage the trust because they do not have the financial tools in place in the bank. So they were going to farm that service out and that was too tenuous," Bickerstaff said.
 
Boston-based One United has also had difficulty paying back money it borrowed from the government — a loan arrangement that has led to an investigation of one of Congress’s most senior members, California Representative Maxine Waters. The bank was facing major financial difficulties when the Troubled Assets Relief Program was being put in place, and Representative Waters came to the rescue.

Waters, a civil-rights stalwart,  said she was merely trying to help a minority owned institution that had fallen on hard times.  The problem, in the view of ethics investigators, was that her husband, a former One United executive, owned stock in the bank and would have suffered huge losses if it failed. 
 
Representative Waters was concerned about what might seem to be a significant conflict of interest if she intervened. So she reportedly sought advice from Representative Barney Frank, who at the time chaired the House Financial Services Committee. Frank says he advised Waters against intervening on behalf of the bank and suggested that his staff would work on making One United eligible for $12 million in TARP assistance.

The ethics committee, four Republicans and four Democrats, thoroughly studied that and found nothing negative to say about my role. 
 
Congressman Barney Frank told WGBH that he tried to help a minority owned bank in his district, but says he tried to help other institutions as well.  
 
"I tried to help Fidelity, I tried to help Putnam, State Street bank, and I tried to help Bank of America. Tried to help Liberty Mutual. And I did find it interesting that after I helped some of the largest financial institutions in Massachusetts in a legitimate way none of that was controversial," Frank said.
 
It’s a double-standard, says Frank, who was attacked by conservatives for coming to One United’s aid. WGBH made several phone calls to the bank, but they explicitly declined to comment for this report. However, One United   is on record as saying “We are actively engaged in raising capital to develop new programs to serve urban communities, and to repay TARP funds."

RI's Voter ID Law: Disenfranchisement, Or Good Security?

By Abbie Ruzicka   |   Thursday, July 21, 2011
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Jul. 21, 2011

BOSTON — Earlier this month, Rhode Island became the latest state among a handful that has signed a so-called voter ID law that requires all Rhode Island voters to show valid identification at the polls. Many Democrats say the law could suppress voters and disenfranchise minorities, students, the poor and disabled, but Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee says it will ensure accuracy at the polls and keep voter fraud at bay.

Are voter ID laws a threat to voters' civil liberties? A good way of keeping voter fraud away from the polls? Where's the outrage? Should there be outrage? To explore these questions, WGBH's Callie Crossley opened up the phones and spoke with Laura Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative Office at the ACLU; Michael Pitts, a law professor at the University of Indiana who specializes in election law; state Rep. Jon Brien, the Democratic Rhode Island legislator who has been the primary sponsor of the law; and Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, the founder of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee.

Murphy said voter ID law is a form of voter suppression and the closest thing to a poll tax since the 1960s. “I feel like there’s been an information gap in the American consciousness about what these requirements really do,” Murphy said. “There are a lot of people who we don’t normally think of who would have a problem getting a voter ID.”

She cited evidence showing that voter-ID requirements disproportionately hurt African-Americans, low income people and the elderly.

Brien said the law was meant as a security precaution — and, in his view, is actually one of the nation's more liberal voter ID laws. “The notion that this is somehow a return to the Jim Crowe laws and a poll tax are nothing more than hyperbolic arguments that try to create the notion that this is a Democrat versus Republican issue,” Brien said. “Rhode Island has just shifted the entire paradigm in that debate.”

Brien noted that the law won't be fully phased in until 2014 — and that voters who do not have IDs will get a provisional ballot at the polls.

But Pitts cautioned against the efficacy of provisional ballots, which may or may not be included in an election's final count. In a study, Pitts found that only 15 to 20 percent of the provisional ballots cast in Indiana were counted in the 2008 election.

Part of the problem with provisional ballots, Pitts said, is inconsistency. “There’s a lot of people who will walk into a polling place and either not be offered a provisional ballot by the poll worker, or they’re offered the provisional ballot and they don’t want to take the 20 to 25 minutes it would take to fill out that provisional ballot.”

Pitts added that there are very few cases of voter identity theft when it comes to voting. Dr. Pablo Rodriguez agreed voter fraud is not a widespread problem in Rhode Island.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” he said. “If this was a problem that needed a solution, then we would support it.”

A number of studies have shown that voter ID laws alienate Latino voters in particular, Rodriguez said. He sees voter ID laws as politically motivated, not racially motivated, as some have suggested. 

“Incumbents that are concerned about the number of Latinos moving into their districts and threatening their own positions as legislators. It’s something that doesn’t necessarily mean that these people are racists, but it means they see this as an opportunity to suppress some of this vote."

Do you think voter ID laws are a good precaution? Do you think they could disenfranchise voters? Leave a comment or join the conversation at Callie Crossley's Facebook page.

Brian O'Donovan Hosts The Lowell Folk Festival

By Brian McCreath   |   Thursday, July 14, 2011
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Listen Live

Broadcasting LIVE on 89.7 WGBH, 3-6pm
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The members of the traditional Irish band Dervish, who hail from County Sligo, in the northwest of the island.


2011 Lowell Folk Festival Saturday, July 30, 2011 Noon to 6pm Downtown Lowell, Massachusetts The Lowell Folk Festival is about as eclectic as they come: performers from around Lowell and around the world descend on the downtown area, where hundreds of thousands of spectators are treated to everything from Inuit throat singing to Ethiopian funk to Louisiana zydeco. Even for the interests of "A Celtic Sojourn" alone, there will be a lively Irish band and a corps of Highland-style bagpipers from Worcester.

Brian O'Donovan will broadcast live from one stage of the Lowell Folk Festival on Saturday, July 30 at 3:00pm. This year the Lowell Folk Festival celebrates twenty-five years of world music, ethnic food and family fun. Things kick off with a parade on Friday evening, July 29 at 6:40pm, and the festivities continue through Sunday, July 31. A full schedule can be found here.

Among the stellar lineup of world musicians is the Irish band Dervish. Hailing from Sligo, in Northwest Ireland, and led by the strident vocals of Cathy Jordan, this group packs a big sound. For over two decades, Dervish has brought an initmate touch to their performances, a quality embedded in traditional Irish music.

In this video, they give us a terrific Celtic-tinged cover of Bob Dylan’s "Boots of Spanish Leather":

 

There is enough diversity in Lowell, though, that the huge ethnic food selection will be distinct even from the ethnic lineup on stage. To expand your horizons a bit beyond all this fine Celtic music, you'll be able to sample a spread featuring favorites from Brazil, Jamaica, Burma, Portugal and many, many more.

All of the ethnic foods are provided by the respective community organizations from Lowell or the surrounding area. And all of the proceeds will go to support worthy causes and programs in those communities.

And there will be plenty of opportunities to cool down from the rich selection of music and food. This year, the festival is hosting a tribute to apprenticeship and its role in sustaining traditional arts in New England. There will be nine master artists on hand to lead workshops on their areas of expertise. You can stop by to learn a bit about traditional instruments from a Puerto Rican luthier, about ancient Khmer ornamental design from two Cambodian artists, or about old metal printing techniques from a Boston press owner.

Among the other Celtic-influenced musicians on hand will be the bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland, seen here performing the 1920s standard "Lee Highway Blues":

To round out the weekend, there will be all kinds of artworks for sale, an activity area for families and small children, and more; here's a rundown of some of activities happening on the side. And many cultural institutions around Lowell are participating, from museums and theaters to Native American groups, hoping to encourage the broader public to explore the depths of Lowell's historical and cultural life.

So for now, while you wait for the Celtic-themed broadcast, or wait to go check out all the music from around the world in person, here's one more video of bluegrass artists featured at the festival. Guitarists Eddie and Alonzo Pennington hail from Kentucky, and play with a complex, traditional style called "thumb picking":

About the Authors
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at liftedveils.org.
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath


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