News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Focus on facts instead of fury of the few

Despite local media reports about alleged, overwhelming anger directed at Congresswoman Niki Tsongas at yesterday’s senior women’s breakfast in Chelmsford (Seniors take Tsongas to Task), the other perspective on the story is that the anger was media hype combined with a dash of mistaken identity. Apparently, it was not female senior citizens who had the most strongly worded comments for Tsongas and who took up most of the time allotted for questions, but instead, a group of vocal Tea Party crashers, most of whom were not women. (See this video of the event.) That’s not to say you can’t have concerns about the sweeping legislation or that there aren’t folks out there with them, but the most important aspect of all this is to get the facts. Tsongas explains here in today’s Sun how health care reform will reduce the deficit, cut waste in medicare, and end taxpayer subsidies for private insurers’ overpayment and inefficiency. Another Sun article explains the medicare costs in detail, quoted in part, below (my bold):

Nearly $500 billion in cuts under the health-reform package include no direct reductions to traditional Medicare benefits, Tsongas said. Instead, the cuts will come largely from limits to growth in future Medicare spending over the next 10 years and lower government funding of private Medicare Advantage plans. About 25 percent of all Medicare recipients get health care through these plans, including 7,400 in the 5th Congressional District, that generally reduce what people have to pay from their own pockets for medical services.

‘The small premiums are from the government paying out about 14 percent more for Advantage than it costs to cover seniors in traditional Medicare,’ Tsongas said. ‘You have to say what’s fair and what’s wasteful,’ Tsongas said. ‘Paying more for a select group is not fair to the majority receiving traditional Medicare and it’s misspending taxpayers dollars.’

While premiums for Advantage plans are likely to rise next year, ‘insurers cannot offer fewer benefits than the original Medicare plan, whether you’re on traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage,’ Tsongas added. AARP Massachusetts, and other advocates for seniors, support health-care reform and insist the landmark bill will strengthen the overall Medicare program and benefit seniors.”

posted in Local Politics, National issues | 0 Comments

Should we worry about the Tea Party movement?

We’d like to introduce a new contributor to our blog. Mark is a friend and middle school math teacher who doesn’t live in the area, but whose varied interests in history, education, politics and economics (and baseball) always spark lively conversations. He’s agreed to post periodically, and we hope you’ll enjoy his insights as we do. Welcome, Mark!

The Tea Party movement has filled the political frame for parts of the last year. They’ve worked hard to scare Americans into thinking that socialism, fascism, or communism is around the corner. In doing so they almost derailed Obama’s health care bill. Many Democrats worry that the Tea Party folks are going to inspire a right-wing return to power – first in the mid-term elections this fall and then in 2012 when Obama runs for reelection. I think these fears are overblown.

For one, the Tea Party philosophy is so incoherent as to be hard to even discern. They are against growth in government and at the same time they want the government to create jobs. They are against “socialized” medicine but they defend (and use!) Medicare. Watch a series of interviews with folks at a Tea Party protest and it appears that a fair portion of them are literally unable to answer the simple question: “What is your program?” A crowd of angry people with neither focus nor leadership is quite capable of riling things up for a while but they rarely get anything accomplished over time.

Will they develop a clear focus that might allow them to carry out a plan? I doubt it. They want to take over the Republican Party but they actually oppose many of the ideals of the Republicans. The GOP has for decades been the party of Wall Street and corporate America while the Tea Party crowd maintain that they hate the power and influence of bankers and financiers. If they take over the GOP, they will disable it for a few years much the way the Goldwater “success” crippled the GOP in 1964. More likely, the Republicans will absorb and co-opt them and they will disappear the way so many movements have over the years.

It’s not that I think the Tea Party movement is going to simply disappear. More likely it will fade away slowly without accomplishing much. How could it accomplish much? The movement is mostly an angry reaction to the way American society is changing. And the Tea Partiers are powerless to change those trends.

posted in National issues | 0 Comments

State not awarded federal education funding

Today’s breaking news in the Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts was not named as one of the recipients for the first round of federal education money under Race To-The Top (RTTT) funding. Many folks were surprised to discover that Massachusetts, considered to have the best public schools in the nation based on national test scores, was not included in this first round of awards. The Commonwealth had been selected as one of 16 finalists among 40 state applications; yet, according to the Globe report, only Delaware ($100 million) and Tennessee ($500 million) won in the first round, with another $3.4 billion remaining to be awarded in June.

With the Massachusetts legislature indicating cuts in state aid for schools, the federal money is highly coveted. Lowell has been told it could see a four percent reduction in chapter 70 funds, state aid for education, which means the district will face an additional $7.5 million shortfall for next year. This on the heels of more than $8 million in cuts last year as well as eight years of consistently reducing positions (about 400 less positions) as revenue has not kept pace with costs.

posted in Education, Money Matters, National issues | 0 Comments

Avatar amazes

I never go to the movies, hate animation, and wasn’t interested in a 3-D movie at all; however, I did finally go out to see Avatar. I’m glad I did. The 3-D wasn’t just for over-the-top action and violent special effects, it added so much to the beauty of the planet and the believability of a wholly-created world. I heard that Cameron held off from making this movie until he thought the technology could do it justice, and he was right. (Watching an older sci-fi movie, “Stargate”, recently, the whole concept nearly fell apart with the appearance of a goofy looking alien animal).

Probably at this point, anyone who was going to see the movie already has done so; however, I’m thinking of people like me who might shy away from going because it’s in 3-D. It’s also long – I went in thinking that 2 hours and 40 minutes was going to feel endless. Wrong. It is tightly plotted, and it doesn’t assault you every minute with action sequences so the length wasn’t an issue for me. Sure, it’s somewhat predictable, but it is also a very beautiful and powerful movie in a lot of ways, and it’s not too late. Avatar is still showing in Arlington, Boston and elsewhere around the hub.

posted in Movies | 3 Comments

Senator Panagiotakos not running for re-election

I just got off the phone with Jen Myers, reporter for the Lowell Sun, who is trolling to find out who may run for the open seat left by State Senator Steve Panagiotakos, chair of ways and means, who announced late this afternoon that he will not be seeking re-election this fall. Add this democratic seat to the other 23+ that are open this fall and you have a watershed moment in Massachusetts politics. According to Myers, one name that keeps coming up as a likely candidate for the seat is former city councilor Eileen Donaghue. Many see Donaghue as an excellent candidate and one who would run a good campaign. Readers may recall, she ran a solid campaign for Congress, losing in the primary to Representative Niki Tsongas.

posted in Local People, Local Politics | 0 Comments

Health insurance reform brings hope and despair

Watching the votes for healthcare reform last night brought a mixed bag of hope and despair—hope that finally we would begin to move in the right direction, and despair that this issue would continue to divide our nation in harmful ways. The negative voices will not be silenced, and as always with criticism, the no voices appear louder and are more destructive. Today’s media coverage continues to be filled with the doomsayers and their horrific predictions about cost, bankruptcy, and cries of socialism as well as promises to repeal the law. I can’t help thinking back to the decision to invade Iraq when there was little talk of outrageous costs, or the number of lives that would be lost or damaged, or any plan for how it would end.  Aren’t many of today’s naysayers the same people who supported that expensive act of aggression, and who now claim we can’t afford to provide decent healthcare to our citizens? This bill, as imperfect as it is, is where we begin because without it, we have no national starting point (see today’s Boston Globe for the bill’s impact on the Commonwealth’s healthcare reform).  

Amid all these accusations and predictions of doom, however, there is another very real and great loss we all share. That is, the loss of belief in our system of government.  Both sides of the aisle have become so divided as to be nearly paralyzed except for exchanging barbs, and citizens are disillusioned with the prevailing sense that all government is corrupt, all politicians self-serving, and there is little to be hopeful about. For that reason, I was comforted by James Carroll’s column about spring and moving forward, about human spirit, and our ability to change. As hopeful as Carroll seems and as much as I applaud the healthcare reform bill, there are many who are strongly opposed, who gather strength in their own negativity and promotion of fear. Somehow we must find a way to come together as Americans, regardless of party, to solve the difficult challenges ahead. To do that, we need true leadership that will inspire people to believe in democracy again, to insist we work together, and to show that better days lie ahead for all of us. During an election year, that will not happen unless citizens demand it.

posted in In the News, National issues | 0 Comments

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

As I rush off to two school committee meetings (finance subcommittee at 6 and regularly scheduled meeting at 7), both televised live from LTC cable channel 10, I wanted to take a moment to share an Irish blessing on this, the very American holiday of St. Patrick’s Day. Celebrating the day has always been a big tradition in my family, mostly because my father made it so, with his green attire and accessories (right down to shamrock boxer shorts). For me, the day will always be about family, wearing green, and eating corned beef and cabbage, and especially remembering my father, who died on St. Patrick’s Day 17 years ago. In that spirit and on this glorious feels-like spring day:

May the road rise up to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

And the rain fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

posted in Just life | 0 Comments

Rainy day for a train ride

I was listening to WCAP this morning, so I heard about the delays on the commuter rail line from Lowell to Boston. I checked online, phoned for an update, and sure enough: Due to flooding, the trains were stopping in Wilmington to unload passengers and shuttling them by bus to Anderson, where they would get back on a train for the rest of the ride to Boston.  This supposedly would make the trip only 30 minutes longer. Even with that hassle and having to allow extra time, the thought of fighting traffic and paying to park in Boston rather than sipping coffee and reading the paper made the train/bus/train option still my first choice. Fortunately, by the time I left on the 12:15, they had resolved the flooded-track issue somehow, and we took the train straight into North Station, albeit slower than usual.  As we rode, we passed wetlands of trees standing in small ponds, backyards that had become dark lakes, above-ground pools encased in water, and homes floating in puddles halfway up garage doors.  Alongside the tracks, a rushing gully of dark water kept pace with a current of tiny waves. Later, when I left North Station for the 15-minute walk to Beacon Street, the wind savagely ripped my umbrella into a deranged tangle of metal and torn cloth, rendering it useless, while rain sliced through my coat and stung my face. I was soaking wet and cold when I got to my meeting, and as much as I dreaded the walk back to North Station and the slow ride home, I knew I would dry easily. Not so, for those folks whose homes and businesses had been deluged.

posted in Just life | 1 Comment

Not everything bad under the Sun

Despite an out-of-left-field attack on me in today’s “Chat” by Kendall Wallace, good friend and staunch ally of  LHS Headmaster Bill Samaras as well as chairman of the Sun board,  I’m sticking with my compliment regarding recent changes to the paper. Yesterday I visited Jim Campanini, the managing editor of the Sun—a man known to dish out his own criticism with wild abandon while also taking his share of written abuse, particularly in the blogs.  LiL can be especially harsh, so can Dick Howe on his blog, and I’ve certainly written a litany of critiques. One thing about Campy, no matter how pointed my criticism, he always gave me ink in the paper when I asked for it. (For a review of my past letters to the editor, check out the Published Articles page; here is a recent one.)  When Campanini greeted me outside his office yesterday morning, I held out a small bag and announced:  “I baked you muffins because I heard it would get me good press!” Someone laughed behind me, but Campy’s face froze. “It was a joke,” I said. “I’m kidding.” He retorted, “So, you believe what you read in the blogs!? Where’s the gown?”

Along with being critical, I like to give credit when it’s due, and I have noticed a marked improvement in the paper’s substance and coverage of local issues over the past several months.  For instance, instead of running one story after a school committee meeting (usually the most controversial), the Sun now publishes several stories over the week, or the paper will run an additional article that gives a synopsis of other issues discussed at the meeting. Providing this space to inform readers about issues in the schools is an important community service. The paper’s enhanced coverage has included more substantive articles on other local issues as well, such as the vocational school and city council concerns. I had noticed the change and wanted to let him know I appreciated it. He accepted my praise graciously. We then went on to have a heated debate on various topics, school related and otherwise, as we both tend to vent our opinions stridently and seldom agree. (The lowfat, high-fiber muffins remained uneaten.) Despite better local news coverage, however, I suspect the slurs from Mr. Wallace will continue as long as I keep pushing for improvements at the high school, which, by the way, is nothing personal against his dear old friend, but simply the job I was elected to do.

posted in In the News | 0 Comments

Family in television ads

We have triplet nieces in California who have become quite the hit in television ads (picture three tow-headed four-year olds).  You may have seen them last year being pulled in a wagon together for a Dunkin Donuts commercial that aired during the Super Bowl and President Obama’s state of the union address.  Last fall, they appeared in raincoats and umbrellas for H+R Block ads. Their latest venture is a series of story ads currently airing about a family who loves their Toyota Sienna (“modern, stylish, super good looking—like us”). The ads appear regularly on television, but also can be seen on youtube.  Check out the Meet the Parents,  Daddy Like Help, and Daddy Like Bonding Time and see if you can tell the difference: The girls appear individually, each playing the same role as the daughter in the family. Despite requiring a grueling time commitment—sometimes hours of shooting over several days—the girls apparently love the spotlight, and can’t wait until it’s their turn to be in front of the camera. The money, of course, will come in handy for the girls’ college tuition, but the ads themselves—a series of funny short stories about a narcissitic couple obsessively in love with themselves and their car—are creative in their own right.

posted in Just for Fun | 0 Comments

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