Thursday, March 28, 2013
Monday, October 31, 2011
October 31, 2011
BOSTON — This month, Democratic candidate Alan Khazei did what he vowed not to do: End his bid for United States Senator. Acknowledging that Elizabeth Warren has quickly become a force to be reckoned with in the race, Khazei became the third challenger to bow out of the race, not to mention out of her way.
Khazei sat down with Greater Boston's Jared Bowen just hours after announcing his decision at his Boston campaign headquarters where as part of his announcement he said:
"In the past few weeks, it has become clear to me while talking with my family and friends, that the best way for me to be of service now is to bring this campaign to a close. Elizabeth Warren has struck a chord with citizens across our state and across our country, at all levels of the political process, and I congratulate her on doing that so quickly. I've said throughout this campaign that Scott Brown does not deserve to be re-elected because he has failed to lead when our country is crying out for game-changing leadership. I don't want to do anything that could prevent the defeat of Scott Brown in 2012. And so I believe the best way for me to be of service is to exit the race."
By Adam Reilly | Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Oct. 26, 2011
This story was done in conjunction with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, an investigative-reporting collaborative based at Boston University.
HUDSON, Mass., — Two years ago nearly a million people lost electricity, some of them for weeks, after a devastating ice storm hit Massachusetts. This past August, Tropical Storm Irene caused another crippling round of power outages. But in sleepy Hudson, the damage done by Irene was undone within a day.
"That Sunday night," recalled Yakov Levin, general manager of Hudson Light & Power, "by midnight, 99 percent of our customers had their power back."
Levin credits that to his colleagues. Because they know Hudson inside-out, the town was able to rebound faster than communities served by big utilities like NStar and National Grid. Hudson Light & Power has provided that town with electricity for more than a century.
"Our employees maintain service lines that feed their houses, their parents' houses, their friends' houses," Levin said. "They grew up in town; they know every street."
Levin added that because Hudson Light & Power is accountable to the town instead of to investors, there's no pressure to make a profit, which lets the people of Hudson save money, too.
"We don't have to report to a corporate headquarters," he said. "We report to our customers. All they expect from us is good service and lowest possible rates."
Now a bill under review at the State House would make it easier for communities to follow Hudson's lead by forming their own power companies. Current state law essentially allows big utilities to veto any such move. But House Bill 869 would change that, and let up to three communities annually switch to the municipal model.
Supporters say that would mean better service — and lower rates.
"Every NStar customer pays 23 percent more for the same electricity than the average municipal utility charges in the Commonwealth," said Patrick Mehr of the Mass. Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice.
The bill's prospects are murky at best, however. Similar legislation has languished on Beacon Hill for a decade. Mehr contends that's because the big utilities have so much political clout.
"NStar has been spending the equivalent of $100,000 over a six month period to defeat this legislation," said Merh. "Our budget is zero."
Mehr may have a point. A recent investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found that the major utilities have spent nearly $200,000 on State House lobbying in the first half of 2011 alone. They've also showered key politicians with money, like former energy committee co-chair Mike Morrissey, who got $27,000 over four years, and his counterpart Brian Dempsey, who received $14,000 in roughly the same period.
Dempsey, who's now the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says those donations only represent a small portion of the money he raised during that period, and that his skepticism about previous versions of the so-called "muni choice" bill stemmed from substantive concerns.
Municipal-choice supporters like Patrick Mehr are skeptical of such explanations. But even though they think the political deck is stacked against them, they're holding out hope.
"We don't believe that in America in the 21st century there ought to be any kind of monopoly," Mehr said.
NStar didn't respond to Greater Boston's request for comment. In a statement, National Grid said that when it comes to rates and customer service, its size is actually an asset.
For their part, though, devotees of the municipal model insist it's the only way to go.
"I've seen our crews go along the street getting high fives from residents," said Levin, Hudson Light & Power's GM.
And that's not something most Massachusetts residents see every day.
By Jaclyn Cashman | Friday, October 14, 2011
Oct. 14, 2011
BOSTON — When the news came earlier this week that, under an amendement in the casino bill, discounted drinks could return to the Bay State, some excitment ensued. An unscientific Greater Boston poll of 106 Bostonians and found 70 percent want to bring Happy Hour Back, 19 percent said no and 11 percent just don't care.
The amendment passed 25-to-13 with bipartisan support, although Senate President Therese Murray warned that the provision could get tied up in the House. The idea, lawmakers said, is that since casino operators often provide free or discounted drinks restaurant and bar owners should be able to do the same to level the playing field.
Senator Hedlund said he is not a fan of discounted drinks but simply wants to ensure that restaurants and bars can compete. In fact, he voted in favor of a failed amendment that would have banned free alcoholic drinks at casinos altogether, joining critics who said they feared it would lead to an increase in drunk driving and related accidents. He said he would prefer not to offer drink specials at his own restaurant, Four Square, in Weymouth.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen voted down the measure saying that allowing free drinks at casinos would put thousands of bars and restaurants at a competitive disadvantage, and that the amendment to ban free drinks was backed by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
By Toni Waterman | Thursday, October 6, 2011
Oct. 6, 2011
BOSTON — Starting every morning at 5:30am, Regina Logan can be found at her small dinning room table, hunched over the newspaper looking for a job.
Logan is desperate. After leaving a cushy job in Maryland a few years ago to help one of her daughters, she's bounced around from temp job to temp job. But she's been out of work since January — and it hasn't been from a lack of trying.
"Like my license, I don't leave home without my resumes. I'm distributing them everywhere I go: To bus drivers, T-personnel, people that I see in Dunkin' Donuts, people that I see on the train going downtown, my elected officials. All of these people have it," she said.
Logan says it's a darn good resume too, loaded with years of experience as an executive secretary, plus, a recent addition: a Bachelor of Science degree from Springfield College.
"I've done all the right things up until this point, and where has it gotten me?"
It's gotten her in the same boat as millions of other Americans; educated, but long-term unemployed. It's the exact group President Obama is targeting in his $447-billion Jobs Bill, which he laid out to the joint Congress on September 8, 2011.
"Pass this jobs bill and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than 6-months looking for a job," Obama said.
It sounds like a good deal, but Medfield, Mass. business owner Thomas Erb says it just won't work. He's been in the clock-making business for 30 years, and many Electric Time clocks grace town squares across the globe.
Erb said he'd love to hire more workers, but it wouldn't be for a tax credit. It would be because he needs them.
"We look at our staffing requirements based on our sales. If you're a manufacturing organization, you know what you need for staff," said Erb. "And throwing a little money at it won't make a difference as far as hiring someone."
In fact, Erb said he's been doing the exact opposite, slashing employee overtime and cutting back on outside costs.
"We clean our own offices. We cut our own lawn. We go outside and fix the roof ourselves. We really brought a lot of these things that used to be done outside, inside, and have been able to save a fair amount of money that way."
Besides, Erb said, the one-time $4,000 tax credit offered in Obama's jobs bill is just a drop in the bucket compared to how much it costs to hire and keep an employee on the job.
"For the health insurance, it amounts to about $5 per hour per employee, which is a lot of money. It can cost up to $10,000 an employee per year," said Erb.
Robert Baker is the President of the Small Business Association of New England. He says one big thing the President's Jobs Bill doesn't address is job training.
"It takes a while to get someone skilled if you're doing fabrication or metal bending or braising. It takes training and training takes money," said Baker. "Believe it or not, employers in Massachusetts are having trouble finding skilled labor and I think training money helps them bridge that gap."
The bigger problem with the President's bill, says UMass Dartmouth Professor of Public Policy Michael Goodman, is that it doesn't address the country's and individual's overhanging debt.
"Doing something to resolve a lot of this debt that we're dealing with, not just in the public sector, but in the private sector and our households, will be necessary if we're going to return to something approximating normal," said Goodman.
Goodman said it's going to take bringing creditors and debtors together and recognizing that both parties are going to have to take some loss at some point.
"The inability to do that here in the U.S. and certainly in Europe has been prolonging this crisis," said Goodman. "And I think while a short-term stimulus is welcome and necessary, we're going to find ourselves in a similar situation a few years down the road if we don't take real action."
Not good news for Regina Logan. She said she's hoping the President's bill passes soon. In the meantime, she's going to keep on looking for a job.
"Versus nothing that's out there already, this is another opportunity. I have to stay hopeful."
By Toni Waterman | Wednesday, October 5, 2011
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — There's a new and controversial philosophy at Harvard University this year. All incoming students have been asked to take what has been dubbed "The Kindness Pledge." It reads:
"As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to make the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment."
It sounds innocent enough, but the pledge is sparking debate. For one thing, says former Harvard College Dean Harry Lewis, the school has a 375-year-old tradition of rejecting pledges.
"If you go back and read about Harvard in the 17th century, it talks about how, unlike Oxford and Cambridge where the founders had been educated, Harvard didn't have any religious oaths and that's kind of persisted over the years," said Lewis.
He said Harvard isn't a particularly unkind place to begin with, so he was surprised when he heard about the pledge. Apparently, the pledge is the result of a few unhappy incidents between students and staff last year.
Still, Lewis finds ‘kindness' an odd value to pick, considering the schools history.
"We actually value nonconformity. And nonconformity, you know, can sometimes seem to be unkind if the person you are disagreeing with finds you disagreeable," he said, adding, "So I began to worry a little bit about the sort of thought control tendency."
Lewis said asking freshman on their very first day of school to sign a pledge to control their thoughts undermines the school's stated objective — and Roman model — Veritas, the goddess of truth. Lewis thinks there's perhaps been some confusion between civility and kindness.
"They're not the same thing. I actually do think that it's reasonable to ask people to be civil," Lewis said. "But kindness means going beyond the call of duty, you know, to do something extra."
As for the students on campus, reaction has been mixed, one senior said that all the students are prescreened before they arrive, so the school already knows what its getting. "In my class, I feel most of the kids are very kind. So I don't think it's necessary," he said as he hurried off to class.
A sophomore added, "They shouldn't have to sign a pledge to do that. They should already want to be like that, or be like that in general."
But some Harvard students think the pledge is a good thing.
"I think it's a good thing to reinforce moral values in people and remind them that Harvard is a place that expects you to act and to be a person of character," said one senior. Another one added, "If it starts a discussion, I think sometimes, you know, it's a good place to start making change."
Lewis doesn't say that change is a bad thing, but says "The Kindness Pledge," like most moral postures, is a bit hypocritical.
"It seemed odd to expect freshmen to pledge to do something which not everyone among that professorial and deans and presidents always show. We did after all have a notable former Harvard President who referred to some students during the summer using a seven-letter word, which began with "A" said Lewis.
Lewis is, of course, referring to the July incident in which President Larry Summers called the infamous Winklevoss twins a disparaging word.
"And was there any statements from the deans and the presidents and the faculty about how the former president, the university professor, should be kinder to students? No," said Lewis. "They expect the most powerless, sort of the bottom people on the totem pole to pledge to something that is neither exhibited nor pledged to by the people who have greater power in the University."