By WGBH News | Friday, April 13, 2012
BOSTON — If you've taken even one trip on a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority bus, train or ferry, you have an opinion. As part of our April news focus on the MBTA, we want to hear your ideas to improve the system. From the small irritations of everyday commutes to the big $100-plus million budget gap anticipated for next year ... if you ran the T, what would you change first?
Call us at 617-903-0840 and leave a message with your idea. (Please leave your name, because we may play your response on the air this week during Morning Edition or All Things Considered.) Or you can add your voice here:
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 Phillip Martin | Friday, April 22, 2011
Apr. 22, 2011
BOSTON — A New York man is beginning 10 years behind bars in Rhode Island after pleading no contest to three counts of human trafficking earlier this month.
Twenty-three year olds Andy Fakhoury and Joseph Defeis enticed two young women from Yonkers to come to Providence with promises of jobs and love. Once the women arrived, they were forced into prostitution, according to the state attorney general’s office.
|Andy Fakhoury is serving 10 years in prison after pleading no contest to three counts of human trafficking.|
Fakhoury’s conviction marks the first successful prosecution of a human trafficking case since Rhode Island closed its infamous indoor prostitution loophole two years ago.
Detectives in Yonkers were already looking into the disappearance of a young middle-class woman when they received information that she was forced to prostitute herself on the Internet. Although the telephone number traced to her was a Massachusetts exchange, the woman was believed to be housed somewhere in Providence.
Lt. Mike Correa heads the Providence police Narcotics and organized crime bureau, and explained how his team found out what was happening on a Cragslist-type website called backpage.com.
“We had received some information that there was a potential human trafficking organization, we’ll call it for lack of a better word, in the city,” Correa said. “For ten days, we tried to initiate contact with the female that was listed on the Internet. Eventually we were successful and we were able to get a date with that female that was on the Internet.”
But it wasn’t easy getting the alleged victim to fall for the sting operation, says Lt. Correa.
“We were persistent, which paid off and eventually we did get a date with that girl. We sent an undercover in. He was, in fact, solicited by the female and then we went in to try to arrest her,” Correa said.
Correa said there was marijuana in plain view and that one of the suspects in the human trafficking case was present. They managed to find his roommate on the same day.
The quantity of drugs in the house was relatively insignificant, says Lt. Correa. But the arrest gave police access to someone potentially willing to testify against the two-suspected traffickers, which is often the most challenging aspect of prosecuting any human trafficking case.
The forced prostitution ring was run out of a house in this middle-class Providence neighborhood, near Providence College, surrounded by unsuspecting neighbors. The young victims could blend in in a town full of college students.
Why Fakhory and Defeis moved from Yonkers to Providence in 2008 in the first place had everything to do with a loophole in the state’s laws, say police.
Until January 2009, prostitution was allowed to operate legally — as long as it was indoors. Once the loophole was closed, some pimps closed shop and skipped town, but others like Defeis and Fakhourry continued business as usual.
They even flaunted their $1500 dollar per day enterprise that prosecutors say was derived on the backs of others. On summer nights, they could be spotted driving around town in a black souped-up SUV and blasting their own self-created theme music that celebrated thug life and pimping.
Eight months before their arrests in October of last year, Fakhoury and Defeis, operating under the pseudonyms’ Kash and Jemz, posted their rap video on You Tube.
The video shows an unidentified woman gyrating around a stripper pole as Fakhoury and Defeis count money and brag.
“She didn’t know it was this good,” they sing. “I get what I want, I don’t have to say a thing…”
And what about the known victims of the sex-trafficking ring? Two of four women, now in their early twenties, presented victim-impact statements to the court.
The woman from Yonkers, on whose testimony the police relied upon to make their initial case, was 17 when she was lured to Providence on the false promise of love and a waitressing job. Lt. Mike Correa says her life changed for the better the night she was arrested.
“After speaking with the Attorney general, it was decided that we would release the female that evening pending further investigation. That night, that very night we were able to have her reunited her with her family,” Correa said.
In a courthouse in Providence in early April, the woman in question was allowed to address her former captor, Andy Fakhory. Emotionally, she recounted five months of beatings, sexual abuse and forced addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Police say treating many prostitutes, especially minors, as trafficking victims, is an evolving sensibility.
“I think the police officers involved their eyes have been opened. We tend to be at times a little bit cynical and I think that it’s kinda opened our eyes a little bit as to just this kind of victimization that’s going on,” Correa said.
As for the two defendants, Fakhoury, has begun serving ten years at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institutions for three counts of human trafficking, with another 10 year suspended sentence.
Sources say he is cooperating with the prosecution against Defeis. To avoid federal prosecution, Defeis is also expected to plead guilty to most charges. If so, he will join his alleged partner in crime in the same prison sometime soon.
By Sarah Birnbaum | Wednesday, July 18, 2012
July 18, 2012
BOSTON — A fight is being waged on Beacon Hill over a newspaper’s request to keep tabs on the comings and goings of lawmakers — and the controversy has provoked additional press criticism of Gov. Deval Patrick.
After press time, the governor's office submitted the following statement: "The governor and his entire administration are extremely accessible to the public and the press on a regular basis. From daily public events and press briefings to consistent compliance with public meeting and records laws to putting the state budget and finances online, we are by far the most transparent administration in recent memory."
Patrick appears tonight at 7 p.m. on Greater Boston.
By Val Wang | Friday, July 6, 2012
July 9, 2012
BOSTON — When Lisa Li moved in with her sister’s family in Boston 4 years ago, the job prospects were dismal, especially for someone who didn’t speak English. What she did have was 15 years of experience running Chinese restaurants in Colombia.
“When we watched the news or read the paper, we saw that so many Americans didn’t have jobs. So we said, ‘Let’s work together to open a restaurant!'” she said.
She and her family set out to buy the perfect takeout. One in Somerville was too small; another in Walpole was too far away from the home they share in Malden. In March, they found something promising in the Savin Hill section of Dorchester, called Hong Kong Chef.
“We were here scouting the place for a good week and we saw that it does have really good business,” said Li's niece Mei Chen. “So we came and we were training with the owner for about a month, just seeing how things work and his interactions with his customers. And we kind of fell in love with this place because it’s spacious, there’s room to grow. It’s a packed neighborhood, so we figured that, why not? Give it a try.”
A neighborhood institution
By April the Dorchester takeout was theirs. After 5 years, the previous owner had become tired of the long hours and was moving on to run a laundry.
And even before him, Hong Kong Chef had been a neighborhood institution. Crystal Stanish, 28, remembered it well.
“It’s been a neighborhood place," she said. "It’s been here since I’ve grown up, since I was a kid. We always have it. I don’t live around here anymore so we make a habit, when we come to visit the parents, we come in and get it and have it for dinner. It’s just good, and it’s home.”
What really makes it home is the deliveryman.
“He knows my mom, he knows the family, he knows our address and it’s always right there really fast. And he’s so funny and he comes in," Stanish said. "It’s neighborhood, it’s the same people. There’s not a high turnover. You recognize people. I like that about it — and I like the food.”
Turning a customer into a regular
What the Li family has been finding out is that food quality can sometimes be secondary to the relationships with customers.
Chen said that since they’ve taken over, the flow of customers has slowed. She suspected it was because people miss the old owner and don’t trust the new owners yet. It couldn’t be the food, since the chefs are the same, as is the menu, for the most part. They’ve even added a few new dishes — like fried plantains, which some customers had asked for — and tweaked the recipe for others like chicken wings and crab Rangoon.
Chen had paid attention to the previous owner’s interactions with his customers.
“The customers would come in or even call and he would recognize their voice and he would say, ‘Oh do you want a D25 or a D2? Oh, no onion in your fried rice.' Something like that. He would just know from looking at them or just hearing their voice. That’s great. That’s something that we want to accomplish as well, because it seems like it’s one of the things that really brings customers back into the restaurant,” she said.
Ted, who declined to give his last name, has lived in the neighborhood his whole life and remembered the old owner fondly. “He was just genuine and kind and the whole family seems to be — the whole group just seemed to work together so well,” he said.
For Li, running the takeout has become a family affair too: Her nephew runs the counter several days a week and Chen works there when she’s not working as a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her mom helps out after her job at a dollar store. And they both pick up produce by hand several times a week.
While Ted isn’t quite sure about the new staff, he said he was willing to give them a chance: “Let’s see how the food is, how the comfortability factor is, and go from there.”
When I told regular customer Crystal Stanish that the takeout had changed hands, she said she'd noticed having a harder time ordering on the phone. But she said the food hadn’t changed and most importantly, neither had the deliveryman.
“He’s a great, fun guy and he literally has been delivering since I can remember. He’s been here forever, so hopefully they keep him,” she said.
Can the takeout evolve?
But is it any easier to start a takeout from scratch? I went to Wok N Talk on the border of Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain to find out. It doesn’t look like a traditional takeout: The walls are painted a cheerful lime green and orange, and udon noodles and pad Thai sit alongside lo mein on the menu.
Owner Nathan Long and his business partner borrowed $300,000 from relatives 2 years ago to set it up. They didn’t want to open just another run-of-the-mill Chinese takeout.
“You go to a traditional one, and you usually see hundreds and hundreds of items. I go to there and I have a headache ordering,” Long said.
So Long and his partner stripped down the menu. Only five appetizers. The main dish was stir-fried noodles: Customers could choose their noodle, their sauce and their meat, and it would be cooked up right in front of them.
But customers found the menu too sparse and business suffered. So crab Rangoon, chicken wings, boneless spareribs and around 20 other takeout standbys reluctantly went back onto the menu.
Still, Long didn't include any "very traditional" dishes like egg foo young. "Because I think the way people are eating, they’re already slowly, slowly changing,” he said.
A new generation with old tastes
Long hopes Wok N Talk is welcoming to busy young professionals in the neighborhood. He's hired non-Chinese waitstaff and installed a comments box, which overflows with tiny pieces of paper.
Some the comments affirm that Wok N Talk is fulfilling one of the basic functions of the traditional Chinese takeout: supplying the neighborhood with greasy food until 3 a.m. One customer wrote, “Late-night food is essential to the functioning of a proper society and you, you provide this — be proud!”
Wok N Talk has also found itself part of the gentrification of the neighborhood.
“Some people tell us, before, at nighttime, [the neighborhood] was quite scary. So I think that as we come in, as more and more businesses come in, and the community does more work at this, to keep the place clean, it will change the neighborhood. It will change the neighborhood,” said Long.
Where are you a regular?
We want to hear your side of the story. What’s your relationship with your local takeout? Do they know your order when you walk in the door? Do you know your deliveryman? Is Chinese food a late-night indulgence for you?
To tell your story, call 617-477-8688, or go to the Planet Takeout website to leave a story or upload photos. And stay tuned for the next installment of Planet Takeout, where we’ll explore more deeply the tensions between takeouts and the neighborhoods they’re in.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
June 28, 2012
BOSTON — The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Here's some of the analysis airing on WGBH radio and television.
> > Complete WGBH coverage of the decision
Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts:
"We're finally going to, I hope, move ahead with decent, affordable health care, especially for working families in this country — unless of course Mitt Romney, who's done his 125th 180 — in this case on health care — gets elected! If he does, then forget it." Listen to Bob Seay's interview with Dukakis on Morning Edition on June 29.
Jonathan Gruber, MIT economics professor who helped write Massachusetts' health care law, on the significance of upholding the individual mandate:
"The most popular and important part of the law is ending discrimination by insurance companies. No longer allowing insurance companies to deny people insurance or charge them more for insurance just because they're sick. You can't do that piece without the mandate."
Kerry Healey, Mitt Romney's lieutenant governor, on negative public opinion of the act:
"I just think the voters aren't stupid … there's nothing free coming from the government. Someone is paying for it, and that's the taxpayers."
Andrew Dreyfus, President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts:
"I think today's Supreme Court ruling really validates almost a decade's worth of work here in Massachusetts to expand health care for everyone in the country and now all Americans are going to have the same health care benefits and protections that people in Massachusetts have enjoyed for years. So we're excited about the ruling and supportive of it. … Not knowing how the Supreme Court was going to rule created a lot of uncertainty for employers, for health plans like ours, for hospitals and physicians because we really didn't know what the rules were. Now we have a clear message."
Renée Landers, professor at Suffolk Law:
"One of the unanswered questions ... is the extent to which the court has really imposed some greater restrictions on Congress using the power of the Commerce clause to legislate." Landers talks with Bob Seay on Morning Edition on June 29.
Dr. Paula Johnson, chair of the Boston Public Health Commission board, on why the federal law matters here:
"Through the Affordable Care Act we've seen elders getting rebate checks [and] physicians being able to get higher reimbursement rates for primary care ... We've had all the public health dollars that have come into our state ... so it absolutely has been a plus for Massachusetts."
Dr. Vivek Murthy of Brigham and Women's, president of Doctors for America:
"I think this is a victory for the country, for patients, and it’s also a victory for providers like me who see patients everyday and who realize that many of our patients aren’t getting what they need because they are in a broken system. And this law being upheld gives me hope that we can now have a real shot at fixing the broken system. ...
"In this law, there are a number of provisions including wanting to set up health insurance exchanges like what we have here in Massachusetts which will place downward pressure on premiums because it will promote transparency in terms of pricing and information and also create more competition among insurance companies so that patients have more choice."
Elizabeth Warren, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate:
"This is really about bringing health care into families in a way that works and starting down the line of trying to bring costs under control. … I think the Democrats are saying we've helped solve a problem. It may not be perfect but we have sure moved in the direction of getting it a lot better."
Arnie Arnesen, N.H.–based political commentator:
"This was just an amazing piece of ballet on the part of the chief justice. It was genius. I wish I could have choreographed it."
Robert Whitcomb, editorial page editor of The Providence Journal:
"This is going to enrage people on the right — and they're going to pump vast quantities, even more money, into Romney's campaign."
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, in a statement:
"The federal health care law may be constitutional, but it is wrong for jobs and the economy. In Massachusetts, we had already dealt responsibly with the problem of our uninsured without raising taxes or cutting care to our seniors. All we got out of this massive new federal entitlement is higher taxes, cuts in Medicare and additional debt at a time when we can least afford it. The bottom line for me is this law makes it harder for our economy to add jobs and for that reason I continue to oppose it.”