Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reporter apologizes for timing of story

I don't know if I've ever seen anything like this before: a reporter taking to the comment section of the online newspaper to apologize for her editor's decision to sit on a story.

The Telegram and Gazette published a story this morning on the state of negotiations between the town of Sterling and Comcast. The selectmen's meeting which triggered the story was held last Wednesday, July 23.

Readers getting the story in their morning paper would probably think nothing of it, but readers of the online T&G have the opportunity to share comments; the first comment posted to this story is this:
Sorry for the delay, Sterling residents. This story was submitted last Thursday.
Pat is apparently Patricia Clark, the correspondent who filed the story.

As a reader and a Sterling resident, I guess I appreciate the apology. It would be nice if the T&G covered our selectmen's meetings as they happen and not treat our news as though it were something to get to whenever the T&G gets to it. But I can't imagine the section editor is too pleased that his reporter is throwing him under the bus.

Update: In the 90 minutes since I first posted this item, the comment has been removed.


Monday, July 28, 2008

The Messianic President

No, not Barack Obama. As today's report from the Department of Justice reminds us, true believers already have their messiah. What did it take to get a "non-political" appointment in the DOJ? For one, an applicant had to go through the interview process:
Among other questions, the list included the following...
  • [W]hat is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?
Reminds me of a childrens' hymn we used to sing at church:
Serve Him, serve Him,
Serve Him in the morning,
Serve Him in the noon-time,
Serve Him, serve Him,
Serve Him till the sun goes down.
Maybe the conservatives and right-wingers are right when they say Obama is being set up as some sort of Messianic figure. They would know. They've been serving their Messiah for seven years.


Flowers from Varitek

Regarding the latest Manny Ramirez controversy, Terry Francona had this to say:

I'll take a guy hitting .500 that's miserable, as opposed to somebody who seems like they're passing out bouquets of roses to teammates and they're hitting .145."
Like the universally-loved Jason Varitek, whose is hitting .148 since June 1 with all of four extra base hits. Yet he keeps coming up with men on base late in games and there is nary a pinch hitter to be found.

Bouquets of roses indeed.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Steve Kerrigan forum rewind

Thursday night, the Sterling Democratic Town Committee hosted the second of a series of candidate events, a conversation with Steve Kerrigan, a candidate for state representative in the 12th Worcester District. I ended up "hosting" the events and asking most of the questions. As such, until I get a chance to really watch the video I can't say one way or the other what I thought of Kerrigan's take on the issues.

I'll probably get the chance over the next few days, as I've loaded the segments to YouTube. Below is the first segment and links to the other segments. You can watch these as well as the video of our earlier State Senate debate on the Sterling DTC YouTube channel.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7


Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The Fitchburg Fitchburg Sentinel Sentinel botched the name of a cop cop in a story this morning on a wreck wreck in Lancaster:
LANCASTER -- Two men were transported to HealthAlliance/Leominster Hospital on Tuesday after their cars collided on Lunenburg Road, near Oakridge Farms.

According to Lancaster Police Officer Ron Ronknoll, who responded to the accident, 80-year-old Lancaster resident Roger Hart was turning his 2001 Chevrolet pickup into Oakridge Farms at about 3 p.m. when he was hit nearly head-on by a 1993 Dodge Shadow driven by 42-year-old Fitchburg resident Stephen Nezuch.
I'll bet long time officer Ron Knoll is looking forward to his comrades calling him "Ron Ron" when he reports for duty in the morning.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Knuuttilla-Flanagan Debate look back

While you are gearing up for Thursday's forum with state rep. candidate Steve Kerrigan, video clips of the earlier forum, a debate between state senate candidates Brian Knuuttila and Jennifer Flanagan, have been posted to the Sterling Democratic Town Committee's YouTube channel for your review.

Or, if you prefer to read a review rather than watch the whole thing, my brother weighed in on the event in a guest post.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11


Monday, July 21, 2008

State Rep. Candidate Stephen Kerrigan in Sterling Thursday

If you have even the remotest interest in the issues facing our communities and the commonwealth as a whole, you need to get down to the First Church in Sterling Thursday night at 6:30 to take part in a discussion with Steve Kerrigan, candidates for state representative.

Bring friends, loved ones, supporters, enemies, whoever. This will be an open forum, so if you or someone you know have some issue that is near and dear to your heart, come on down and ask the candidates what they think about it.

Here is the official release:
The Sterling Democratic Town Committee will host a forum with Stephen Kerrigan, Democratic candidate for state representative, on Thursday, July 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the First Church in Sterling, 6 Meetinghouse Hill Road, on the Sterling Town Common. The event is open to the public.

Kerrigan, who was formerly a selectman in Lancaster and has served on the staffs of Senator Edward Kennedy and Attorney General Tom Reilly, will discuss the issues facing the 12th Worcester district and answer questions from voters.

Kerrigan is running in the Democratic primary against Representative Harold Naughton, who is seeking reelection. The winner of the September 16 primary is expected to be unopposed in the general election.

The 12th Worcester district includes the towns of Boylston, Clinton, Northborough, and parts of Lancaster and Sterling.

For more information, visit the Sterling Democratic Committee on the Internet at www.sterlingdems.org.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

This is my brain on vacation

I've been back from the Cape for a couple of days now, but my brain apparently hasn't made the trip.

I've got nothing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cape Cod

We are spending the week on the Cape and so far, so fabulous. The weather has been great, the water has been warm, Jackson is having a great time, and Michelle and I have been able to kick back a little bit and just relax. Here are a few pics from our first weekend here...

Cape 039b
There are a pair of ospreys who have been feeding in the lagoon where our beach sits. I had waded about 100 feet out in the water when I took this photo of one of them overhead. Just after I snapped the picture, she dove into the lagoon about 15 yards from where I was standing and emerged from the surf with a fish. It was fascinating and a little bit awe inspiring to see such a majestic bird hunting from that short distance. Michelle and I have been watching birds for a while, and it is definitely one of the coolest things I've seen.

Jackson kicking it in the hammock swing.

Cape 029
Jackson looking for someone to take him out in the Kayak.

Cape 032
Jackson helping me paddle out into the lagoon.

Cape 016
Jackson and Michelle enjoying the beach.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mass GOP misleads on Benson, Tsongas

I realize that any headline that starts with "Mass GOP misleads..." is like reporting "Dog bites man," but this item on PolitickerMA.com in response to Congresswoman Niki Tsongas's endorsement of State Rep. candidate Jen Benson was just too much of a lie to pass up:
"It's no surprise that Niki Tsongas would endorse a fellow tax and spend liberal like Jen Benson," Barney Keller, spokesman for the Massachusetts GOP, told PolitickerMA.com. "Niki Tsongas voted for the largest tax hike in American History, which would raise taxes on those making as little as $31,850."
There are two good whoppers in the span of one short paragraph. First, how exactly has Barney determined that Jen Benson is a "tax and spend liberal?" Certainly it can't be based on her record in the Lunenburg School Committee. Benson and the school committee doesn't have the power to tax, and they can only spend what they are given by town meeting. I suppose that the Mass. GOP just assumes that every Democrat must be a "tax and spend" candidate, but they can't really be that lazy, can they?

What's that, you say?

Secondly, the attack on Niki Tsongas is demonstrably untrue. The national GOP has attacked Barack Obama using the exact same $31,850 mark. Just three days before the PolitickerMA.com story, FactCheck.org revealed that the claim was incorrect:
What Obama voted for was a budget resolution that would have allowed most of the provisions of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire. In particular, the resolution would allow the 25 percent tax bracket to return to its pre-2001 level of 28 percent. That bracket kicks in at $32,550 for an individual or $65,100 for a married couple. (The McCain campaign relies on an AP article which puts the cutoff at $31,850, but that figure is from 2007, not this year.) So the McCain campaign claims that anyone making "as little as $32,000" would be affected by the rate increase.

But as those of you who have filled out a 1040 know, that's not actually how income taxes work. We don't pay taxes on our total earnings; we pay them based on our "taxable income." The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center's Eric Toder told FactCheck.org that "people with taxable income of $32,000 would have a total income greater than that." In 2008, anyone filing taxes with single status would be entitled to a standard deduction of $5,450, as well as a personal exemption of $3,500. So to have a taxable income high enough to reach the 25 percent bracket, an individual would need to earn at least $41,500 in total income, while a married couple would need a combined income of at least $83,000.
So it turns out that not only did Tsongas not vote for a tax increase--in fact she voted to uphold the law that President Bush signed in 2003--but the tax bracket would not change for someone earning only $31,850. Only singles with no dependents and no itemized deductions who earned over $41,500 would be affected by the change in tax policy that President Bush signed in 2003.

I suppose it would be too much to expect the state Republican machine (the Edsel that it is) to at least be the slightest bit accurate in their attacks, but I would hope that a political news site such as PolitickerMA.com would at least acknowledge that the claims of the GOP's press flack had been discredited in the days before the attack.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Not enough corruption in Worcester

Apparently the biggest problem facing the city of Worcester is that there isn't nearly enough corruption and crime at the highest levels of government. That's the only explanation I can think of for this letter to the editor in Thursday's edition:
Worcester needs a Buddy Cianci. Worcester needs someone who is in charge, really in charge.
There's nothing that says good government than a man who was once indicted for racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, witness tampering, and mail fraud.

Previous T&G Letters to the Editor:
Best Letter Ever
In God we trust, in e-mails we don't
"suspiciously left-wing"
T&G Readers are off their meds again
"I like Jasmine Guy"
BREAKING: Election fraud in Auburn
"The sting of unboozed Democrats"
"Why is Mitt Romney ashamed of Massachusetts?"
"hot condiments cause them to be...interested in sex"
Disgust with that nasty Francona grows
It's that dirty Francona's fault
T&G reader takes on terrorism
Worcester: the San Diego of the East
Is State Senator Barrios a Bush Crony
Rem-Dawg Debate Rages in Worcester
Jerry Remy has "lost all touch with reality"


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sentinel gets it right on baseball in Leominster

It must be time for a vacation or a visit to the doctor. I read an editorial in the Sentinel and Enterprise this morning and agreed wholeheartedly with the premise.

I know.

The Sentinel opined this morning that Leominster should only pursue the minor league stadium plan if it includes an affiliated franchise:
We've been very supportive of a plan to put a professional baseball stadium on the landfill in the past, but worry about the prospects for success of an independent baseball team in Leominster, particularly with independent teams already in Worcester and nearby Nashua, N.H.

And while Nashua's team started out strongly, they have struggled in recent years. We think a big part of the reason for that is because they are an independent team and not associated with a professional baseball team...

No one would like to see a professional baseball team come to Leominster more than us, but we'd like to see a team affiliated with a Major League team make Leominster home, not an independent team.
Other than the poor "Bad team could strike out in Leominster" headline (just because a team is affiliated doesn't mean it won't be awful...and besides, I can't read anything in the Sentinel without something bothering me), I heartily agree.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bring the Spinners to Leominster

Last weekend, the Sentinel and Enterprise rolled out their periodic story about the plans to build a minor league baseball stadium at the old landfill in Leominster. The story is strikingly similar to 2006 reports, right down to Mayor Dean Mazzarella's still-moronic suggestion that the field could be used for Little League games when the pros aren't using it (note to the mayor: a Little League diamond and a minor league diamond are dramatically different sizes).

I have opposed the plan because I believe the city will be left with an empty stadium in short order if they build it for an independent league team like the Worcester Tornaodoes. The only way I see it as a success is if a team with a major league affiliation (like the relationship the Lowell Spinners have with the Red Sox) is the tenant.

Did I mention the Spinners? The single-A club is nearing the end of its lease with the city of Lowell and rumors are that the city will be holding out for more money in the next agreement. This is the break Leominster has been waiting for. If the city is serious about building a minor league complex, they should jump into the bidding for the Spinners and offer to let them lease the proposed stadium at no or minimal cost. Get the Spinners on board in Leominster and build the stadium now.

According to the Lowell Sun, city leaders are frustrated that they are seeing very little revenue from the Spinners' current lease:

Under the terms of the Spinners' current deal with the city, which expires Dec. 31, the team retains all ticket, advertising and concessions income but has to cover operating expenses and field maintenance....

[According to City Manager Bernie Lynch], while some Spinners fans include a stop at a local restaurant or other business with their trip into Lowell for a game, many just go to LeLacheur Park and leave. The visitors also require the city to pay for special police details and constitute wear and tear on Lowell's roadways.

"All of those things cost the city taxpayers money," Lynch said. "Based upon that logic, we think there should be some revenue that comes back to the city as a result of that."

Since the current deal took effect, for the 1998 season, the team's only payments to the city have been an annual contribution of $25,000 toward a repair and improvement fund for the park.
This is the big issue in all stadium projects and negotiations: Are the collateral benefits of bringing more commerce to the restaurants and businesses in the city enough to offset the artificially low rent paid by the teams? Some say yes, some say no (for a small city like Leominster I'd say yes, for a metropolis like Boston, I'd say no).

Lowell-based blogger Richard Howe is afraid that the Lowell city council are among those that say say no:

Be sure to get out to LeLacheur Park and catch a Spinners game this summer because the team will be playing elsewhere next season....

Every city in New England (except, perhaps, Boston, Pawtucket and Portland) would do anything to land this team. Anyone who thinks the Spinners could not find a new deal as lucrative to the team as the current lease with Lowell in another city just doesn’t understand the economics of professional baseball (and the motivations of civic leaders who hunger for a civic asset like the Spinners). But it looks like there are plenty of folks (on the council and at the [Lowell Sun] newspaper, for starters) who think they know better.
This is Leominster's opportunity. The problem, of course, is that the city probably can't build a stadium in time for June, 2009 when the Spinners (or whatever they'd be called in Leominster--the Flamingos? the Appleseeds?) open their season. But man, if they ever want to make a big splash with a ball team, this is the chance.

If the city is really serious about bringing minor league baseball to Leominster, they should do whatever it takes to get the Spinners to come to town. Otherwise, Leominster should stay out of the baseball business altogether, or at least until another affiliated minor league team becomes available.


Monday, July 7, 2008

"Love that dirty water...oh, Greenfield, you're my home"

Just doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? And as great a singer as he is, James Taylor might not have had as much success had "the turnpike been covered from Stockbridge to Greenfield" (because the Turnpike doesn't go to Greenfield, for one). But looking at the map of Deval Patrick's town hall meetings this summer, someone in the Governor's office must have the idea that the seat of power in the Commonwealth is along the Mohawk Trail.

Here is the list of town hall and cabinet meetings across the state:
Town Hall Meeting Schedule:
Tuesday, July 8th: Salem
Thursday, July 10th: Hull
Wednesday, July 16th: Amesbury
Thursday, July 17th: Holyoke
Monday, July 21st: Milton
Wednesday, July 23rd: Webster
Tuesday, July 29th: Rehoboth
Wednesday, July 30th: Athol
Monday, August 4th: Great Barrington
Monday, August 11th: Hyannis
Saturday, August 23rd: Boston

Governor's Cabinet Meeting Schedule:
Thursday, July 17th: Amherst
Tuesday, July 22nd: Lowell
Tuesday, July 29th: New Bedford
Wednesday, July 30th: Worcester
And here is the map from the governor's web site; I've labeled the pins in the map based on the list of meeting places:

We got a pin out there in Greenfield and no pin marking the Boston event. Can only mean one thing...the state capitol must be moving west! Now that Boston is west of Worcester, maybe we can finally put to rest the belief Bostonians hold that everything west of 495 might as well be in California.


Chocolate Frosted Bag

Note to the otherwise pleasant attendants at the Dunkin Donuts in Sterling:

When putting my two dounts in a bag, do not put the chocolate frosted one in first. And for the love of all that is holy, do not put it in face down. If I want a chocolate frosted bag, I'll order one.


Friday, July 4, 2008

The Declaration of Independence

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Naughton's Wekepeke earmark in final budget

Thanks to Representative Hank Naughton, Senator Steven Brewer and anyone who lobbied on its behalf, Naughton's $250,000 proposal to help with dam repairs and other upkeep at the Wekepeke survived the conference committee and will be headed to the governor's desk.

The only remaining hurdle is the governor's line item veto. Unless Governor Patrick strikes the line from the final budget and the legislature sustains his veto, the Department of Conservation and Recreation will have the money to spend. Here's the earmark (page 53 of the budget):
...provided further, that not less than $250,000 shall be expended for the purpose of aquatic management for the Wekepeke Reservoir in the town of Sterling
In the last two weeks, Clinton has agreed to the Conservation Restriction on the property and the state has come through with money to help maintain the property. After a lot of discussion and even a few hurt feelings, the Wekepeke land remains free from commercialization and a public resource for the communities of Sterling and Clinton.

Previous coverage of the Wekepeke:
June 19: Write the state house to support the Wekepeke
June 19: Clinton signs Wekepeke restriction. Now what?
May 2: Naughton secures funds for the Wekepeke
April 29: Might the Wekepeke restriction have teeth after all?
April 25: What would Sterling accept at the Wekepeke?
April 11: What does the Wekepeke Restriction actually say?
April 11: Clinton does the right thing
April 9: Sterling should offer to buy Wekepeke at Nestle's price
April 6: Sterling selectmen to oppose Wekepeke plan, but to what extent?
April 4: Vermont looking to restrict Wekepeke-style projects
March 27: This can't be helpful
March 25: Tough decision ahead for Clinton
March 21: Nestle's proposal could change everything
March 21: Nestle nominated for "Corporate Hall of Shame"
March 19: Sterling Selectmen disappoint at Wekepeke forum
March 16: Sterling should oppose Nestle...the right way


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Missing the point on pregnancies in Leominster

The Sentinel and Enterprise followed up their coverage of the “shocking” rise in teen pregnancies with an editorial in today’s paper decrying the problem and presenting absolutely nothing new or innovative as a response to deal with it. Fair enough; since I don’t read their editorial page in hopes of being enlightened I can’t say I’m disappointed.

But I am disappointed in a couple of things. First, the Sentinel has completely overlooked a real crisis in the report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health which provides the basis for the articles: Leominster had the highest infant mortality rate in the state among cities and towns with over 500 births in 2006. And secondly, the editorial writer at the Sentinel is so lazy that he or she couldn’t be bothered to at least rewrite Sunday’s article when including the statistics presented in the first piece.

Addressing the second point first…is it that hard to present old information in a new fashion, when using it in an article or editorial for the second time in four days? Here is what was written in reporter Kate Czaplinski’s piece on Sunday:

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health listed Leominster and Fitchburg in the top 25 highest cities for teen births.

Fitchburg, number 7 on the list, saw a 47 percent increase in its teen birth rate from 2005 to 2006.

This indicates that for every 1,000 female teenagers between the age of 15 to 19, 58.2 had babies.

Leominster, number 20 on the list, saw a shocking 73 percent increase in teen births. The number for 2006 totals 30.3 women per 1,000 having babies.
Here is the relevant portion of today’s editorial:

…The Massachusetts Department of Public Health listed Leominster and Fitchburg in the top 25 highest cities for teen births.

Fitchburg, number 7 on the list, saw a 47 percent increase in its teen birth rate from 2005 to 2006.

This indicates that for every 1,000 female teenagers between the age of 15 to 19, 58.2 had babies.

Leominster, number 20 on the list, saw a shocking 73 percent increase in teen births. The number for 2006 totals 30.3 women per 1,000 having babies.
Honestly. Can you at least try? Perhaps the editors correctly assume that the readers of the Sentinel and Enterprise are lucky to remember anything printed in it from day to day (never mind items printed in different sections), so it really doesn’t matter that much.

But what does matter is the breathless reporting on a crisis that really isn’t that much of a crisis. As I mentioned in my previous post, Leominster is one of the top two cities in the state in reducing teen pregnancy. That’s not the problem. The problem is that babies born to Leominster residents are dying at a higher rate than any other city.

The DPH report cited in the Sentinel article also lists infant deaths. According to the report, there were 532 births to Leominster residents and 14 deaths of children at birth or before their first birthday. Using those numbers, the infant mortality rate was 2.63%, nearly twice the statewide rate of 1.33%. Of the 35 cities and towns in Massachusetts reporting more than 500 births, none had a higher death rate. Here are the 10 worst:

            Births   Deaths   Rate
Leominster 532 14 2.63%
Revere 686 18* 2.62%
Marlborough 569 14* 2.46%
Holyoke 656 16* 2.44%
Taunton 784 18 2.30%
Malden 843 18 2.14%
Springfield 2,523 53 2.10%
Everett 640 13 2.03%
Haverhill 904 18 1.99%
New Bedford 1,460 29 1.99%
Fitchburg would be 19th on the list with a death rate of 1.44%, marginally higher than the state average.

Looking further into the demographics, the closest match to Leominster among the 35 cities and towns in Massachusetts reporting more than 500 births is Salem (in many ways, the cities are remarkably similar). Both had around 530 births in 2006, both have a population of around 43,000, both have a median income around $54,000, both are between 85 and 87% white, both around 3% black, and both 11% Hispanic. Yet, the one area where the similarities diverge is in their infant death rate. In Salem, only half as many babies died as in Leominster:
           Births  Deaths  Rate
Leominster 532 14 2.63%
Salem 523 7* 1.34%
If the Sentinel is looking for a real shocker, this is where they should be investigating. Why does Leominster have the highest rate of infant death in Massachusetts? Why is it twice that of another city with nearly the exact demographic profile? What is happening in Salem to protect newborns that is missing in Leominster?

That’s where the Sentinel should be looking, not trying to drum up a sensational story where there is none. That, and an editorial writer without copy and paste.

*The DPH does not report an exact number of fetal deaths if the count is between 1 and 4, presumably for privacy reasons. Where the number was unreported, I arbitrarily chose to include 3 fetal deaths. The actual number may be between -2 and +1 different from this estimate (i.e. the actual number of infant deaths in Revere is between 16 and 19).



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