Friday, July 26, 2013
This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, July 26, 2013.
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
It is now late July, and the weather has been overly warm. That tends to slow down the finely-tuned brain of your local columnist, which has never been all that swift to begin with (as many would no doubt eagerly confirm).
But around this time each year I perform what has been termed a “brain dump”. This is where all the loose facts, opinions, questions and stray thoughts rattling around in my rather large head that have not yet resulted in specific columns are flushed out of my system. It’s not a glamorous process, but it has to be done.
So as I settle in and turn up the air conditioning, please step back just a bit from your newspaper or computer screen so as not to be dazzled by the brilliance about to be unleashed. If you have sunglasses, I suggest you put them on.
If you are a bookie doing business in Foxboro, do you think you could qualify for mitigation money from Plainville by claiming your company is being impacted by the proposed slot parlor?
How is it that some of the same people who are fighting for Voter ID laws are also complaining that we need to keep government out of our lives as much as possible?
I believe I have now officially seen every episode of “NCIS” at least six times. I still can’t believe Gibbs stood there while Kate got shot. But on the plus side, Zeva is really cute too.
Is it me or does Mayor Dumas remind you of that really smart, smug kid you knew in school? You know, the one that was almost always right and you were afraid to argue with, but if you could have gotten in one good head slap and run away, you would have done it?
If George Zimmerman’s gun had gone off during the struggle with Trayvon Martin and killed an innocent bystander – do you think one of them would have faced charges for that death? And if so, which one do you think it would have been?
Wouldn’t it have saved a lot of money if the Mansfield Selectmen had just asked Sheriff Hodgson to have his chain gangs –er, I mean work details – paint the mural near the train station? That would be a totally different way to discourage advertising.
You often hear people complaining that the big box stores like Walmart are killing small businesses, and preaching that everyone should shop locally. Yet somehow Walmart is always crowded, and they keep building more. America today is all about convenience and price.
Has anyone seen Kevin Paicos? Finding Waldo is a cinch compared to looking for the current (or is it former?) Foxboro Town Manager. The taxpayers and citizens of that good town deserve to know what’s going on.
In Seekonk, some politicians find it strange the Town Administrator is looking for another job while still under contract. Anyone who has watched Seekonk’s local politics for any length of time is wondering how she could not be looking for another job.
The Red Sox have the best record in the American League, are playing exciting baseball, and seem like a bunch of genuinely nice guys. So why am I still having trouble taking them seriously as World Series contenders?
And speaking of the Sox, watching Norton’s own Adam Pellerin on NESN makes his hometown folks very proud.
There is no truth to the rumor North Attleboro selectmen will put a non-binding question on the next local election ballot asking voters if they would like to stop seeing non-binding questions on the local election ballot.
Any day now I will become a grandfather for the third time. This has to be nature’s reward for getting older.
If you don’t laugh at the satellite TV commercial featuring “The Hoppa”, you just don’t have a sense of humor. Same goes for the “Hump Day” commercial with the camel.
It has been almost 40 years since I graduated from Norton High School. Now with the much needed building renovations nearing completion, the school finally looks better than I do. But come to think of it, that bar was really never set very high.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
Monday, July 22, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 21, 2013.
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
Imagine for just a moment you are on a leisurely stroll to your local drugstore to fill your prescription and pick up your beloved daily issue of The Sun Chronicle. You are looking forward to catching up on the events of the area and the world, and naturally reading the latest offering from your favorite columnist.
But when you get there, you discover that day’s newspaper has been pulled from store shelves. When you inquire as to why, you are told management of the private business didn’t like the front page and exercised its legitimate right to simply refuse to sell it.
So maybe you walk to a different store. Perhaps you go home and read it online. Or maybe you just decide to take a break and not read the newspaper that day. No matter what, your life is not greatly affected and no harm is done to anyone, right?
Wrong – oh so very wrong.
When a large number of retail stores and chains made the decision to pull Rolling Stone magazine from their shelves because they thought the cover photo of the accused Boston Marathon bomber was too “glamorous”, they substituted their judgment for that of their customers. They decided it was not enough to let consumers reject the magazine should they choose to, they assumed that choice should be theirs as retail outlets.
They also made what was probably a shrewd and sound business decision. By publicly banning the controversial issue from their shelves, they endeared themselves to a large segment of the population. It was an apparently irresistible opportunity to cash in on the notoriety of the photo, then resume selling the magazine next month and no doubt pick up some extra customers along the way. It probably made them some money – and there is nothing wrong with that.
Many people have praised the integrity of these stores for not allowing this “trashy journalism” in their establishments. That praise rings pretty hollow however, when you look at the other publications they readily display on their shelves and near their checkout stands in hopes you will spend your money on them.
Take a glance at some of those front pages. “Kate’s Baby Really an Extraterrestrial”, “Obama’s Love Child Speaks Out”, and “Dick Cheney Really a Robot” (I kind of liked that one) were some of the more memorable ones I have seen in some of these businesses. Apparently they meet management’s lofty standards for journalistic integrity and don’t offend any sizeable portions of the population.
The bombing is a very emotional topic, and it is easy to understand how tempers may be running high and tolerance levels low. The victims and their families are foremost in the minds of everyone, and there have been countless stories and photos celebrating the courage, heroism and just pure emotion of that awful event.
But there also has to be a place in our country and our society for some type of objective, rational and reasonable study of what happened, who did it, and why. That is a painful and distasteful process, and not one many wish to become involved in performing. But that does not diminish the need to do it.
Why can’t we just honestly disagree in America anymore? The collective mindset both in government and society seems to be that opposing views and the people who espouse them must be destroyed rather than debated. We can’t just refuse to buy the magazine we don’t like, we have to ban it or burn it. We can’t just support the candidate of our choice, we have to discredit and disparage the opponent.
Willingness to discuss and learn is not a weakness. We cannot hide the fact that monsters sometimes look like rock stars by simply hiding all their pictures. Attempting to understand evil and how it is created is neither an endorsement of that evil nor a condemnation of its victims.
So to those who are celebrating the unavailability of Rolling Stone in their local stores, just remember – praising people for limiting your choice is a dangerous thing. If that becomes the norm, you might soon find only the issues of The Sun Chronicle those who own the store shelves think you should see.
Friday, July 19, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, July 19, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOKBy Bill Gouveia
The trial of George Zimmerman ended when a jury of his peers returned a verdict of not guilty. The case is over, Zimmerman has been judged an innocent man, and the system has spoken and must be respected.
Of course that is much easier for all of us than for the friends and family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old boy killed by Zimmerman on that fateful night in Florida. No verdict was going to bring Martin back, and his loss is something those who loved him will feel as long as they live.
It is impossible to question the jury’s verdict unless you were privy to all the evidence, information and options supplied to them – so I won’t do that. But there was a lot of talk about whether or not this trial was about race. That subject is not going away, and there are a lot of legitimate arguments supporting the idea it was.
Many believe Zimmerman would never have been charged except for the fact Martin was an African-American. Many others believe Zimmerman would have been easily convicted had he been black and his victim white. There is no way of knowing if either point of view is more valid than the other.
But unless you are a young African-American male in this country, it is hard to understand how chilling and frightening this case and this verdict really are. When all is said and done, Trayvon Martin is dead today for a number of reasons. Chief among them are he was wearing the wrong kind of clothing in the wrong section of a community, and despite doing nothing illegal drew the attention of a man with a gun who followed him against the advice and direction of police.
Some facts are undisputed. Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman followed him against the expressed wishes of authorities. A physical altercation occurred between the two. Zimmerman suffered some injuries. Martin was killed when Zimmerman fired his lawfully-owned gun into Martin’s heart.
Race should not be a factor in any of that – but it was. And then it became even more so.
Local authorities initially did not charge anyone in the case, and the federal government got involved. Eventually Zimmerman was charged after the racial aspects of the situation became nationwide news. Then a jury of Zimmerman’s peers (not a single one of them African-American) was chosen to decide his guilt or innocence.
There was a “Million Hoodie March” to support Martin. Conservatives and others rallied around Zimmerman and tried to disparage the reputation of the slain youth. And after the verdict, Zimmerman’s defense attorney speculated that if Zimmerman had been black, he never would have been charged in the case.
Oh yeah – this was as much about race as investigating a violent death.
Zimmerman’s story was that he killed Martin in self-defense. He was armed, followed Martin because he thought he looked suspicious, and then killed him because Martin was winning a struggle between the two and he was in fear for his life. We will never know what Trayvon Martin’s defense of his actions would have been, what version he would have told about how that fatal struggle began.
So in the end, the verdict of the judicial system was Trayvon Martin was ultimately responsible for his own death. Or at least, the man who shot him bore no legal responsibility. The jury said it was not murder, and did not even rise to the level of manslaughter. Martin simply “approached the wrong guy” as someone recently told me.
Is the lesson here that it’s not what you are doing but what you look like that can seal your fate? Had Martin been white and wearing a sports jacket, would George Zimmerman have followed him with a gun and felt threatened? No one but Zimmerman knows for sure.
The verdict is being respected. Sure, there are protests – but with few exceptions they have been peaceful in nature. Let’s hope they remain that way
But it cannot be denied that race factored into this terrible tragedy. If you are young and black, it would be understandable if your belief that if you obey the law our justice system will protect you has all but disappeared.
Monday, July 15, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 15, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
If you are a local business in Mansfield, you might not exactly be “feeling the love” from your Board of Selectmen. And you certainly might be thinking twice about donating any money for the very worthwhile purpose of painting a mural along the blank wall on Route 106 near the MBTA station.
The mural is being done by a professional artist with local volunteer help. It is a collaborative effort supported by the Mansfield Music and Arts Society and other civic organizations as well as the town.
Some selectmen were very upset to learn the organizers of the project had agreed to offer small spaces on the wall for the name and logos of eight local businesses who would contribute $5000 each. They were concerned it was contrary to the wishes of the townspeople, and worried it would send the wrong message.
“It degrades our town. Mansfield isn’t for sale,” Selectman Doug Annino told the Mural Committee folks at last week’s board meeting. He added he believed the concept of corporate sponsorship and advertising should have been brought up at Town Meeting when the project was approved there. “I don’t think it’s right and I don’t think it’s fair to voters. It’s not the bill of goods they were sold.”
Selectman Kevin Moran also expressed his concerns about logos as part of the mural. He said he was afraid it would appear “more like NASCAR”. He and other selectmen asked the organizers to come up with a more “tasteful” way to recognize donors.
Mr. Annino and Mr. Moran may well be correct in their belief the sponsorship issue should have been mentioned with more clarity at Town Meeting. But it is totally unfair when anyone infers local businesses are in any way trying to buy Mansfield by participating in the beautification of what has long been a Mansfield eyesore.
At the time of the presentation to selectmen, three sponsors had agreed to make the considerable donation that would qualify them to place their business on the wall. One of those entities is a local bank that has been serving Mansfield and area residents for over 100 years. Another is the area’s local hospital where many of the residents of town were born. A third is a local fabric business with deep roots in the community.
Wow, that sounds like just NASCAR. Oh wait – it doesn’t.
The mural is supposed to be representative of the history of the great Town of Mansfield. It is in no way “selling out” the town to have local businesses represented in that depiction.
Businesses are a part of the town’s glorious history, not a threat to it. Businesses contribute to the fabric of a community, they don’t make them look like NASCAR (with apologies to all you left-turn fanatics out there). Good businesses that are loyal and involved in their community are to be celebrated, not hidden away in the attic like that crazy rich uncle everyone knows about but doesn’t want to admit they depend on.
This is not Coca-Cola dropping a few thousand dollars to increase their worldwide corporate image. These are local businesses, in some cases owned by Mansfield residents, who seek to do what they are continuously urged to do – support and give back to their community.
Selectmen have in the past asked businesses to pay higher tax rates than the residential homeowner. The town has often benefited from gifts provided by local firms both large and small. That didn’t seem to be “degrading” to anyone.
Tastefully done logos would recognize the generous contributions of local businesses to the town that has supported them. It is completely different from contributing to a park for a war hero. People looking at that wall 25 years later would know these entities were an active and integral part of the town at the time.
To the Mansfield selectmen I say – get over yourselves. If you don’t want the logos, that’s fine. But don’t insult the businesses you should be thanking. Recognizing them on a wall honoring the history of Mansfield would be far from selling out or degrading. In fact, it would be quite proper.
Let’s hope the mural winds up being a fitting tribute to a great town.
Friday, July 12, 2013
This column orginally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, July 12, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
Part of getting older is reminiscing about “the good old days”. Maybe that accounts for my recent wistful longing for the politics of the 1970’s and 80’s. It has to be more than the fact I’m rapidly approaching qualification for a series of senior discounts.
You seldom hear folks speak glowingly of the politics of those particular decades. We all thought it was a rough and tumble climate back then, with candidates too wrapped up in themselves to pay proper attention to the public good. But compared to the self-serving political world today, they were on a par with the founding fathers. (That’s sarcasm, in case any of their descendants are insulted).
Back three or four decades ago, it was still possible for government to achieve something. There were elected and appointed officials working towards a practical end, and trying to accomplish reasonable goals in a respectable manner. Sometimes they were successful, and sometimes they were not.
When they couldn’t get their legislative proposals approved, they moved on. They worked out compromises with those across the political aisle. They still complained and whined and pontificated, but also understood the people’s business had to be done – and constant deadlock was simply not an option.
That is not the case today.
Politics in the last 20 years has become a giant game of Tic-Tac-Toe between Democrats and Republicans. Actual victories by either side are extremely rare, but both players have become experts at blocking the other from winning. They keep making X’s and O’s in the hope that just once the opposition will make a mistake. But the ultimate goal is no longer victory – it is just not losing.
Now it is easy to blame that on the officials themselves. They are the ones who get drunk on the power, fame and money that comes with high-level politics. They are the folks who often decide the need for votes is more important than the need to do the right thing.
But is it really their fault? Are their actions influencing the public, or is the public creating the monsters they have become? As it usually does, the truth no doubt lies somewhere in between.
During the 1980’s this country had real leaders. Ronald Reagan was the conservative President, and Tip O’Neill the liberal Speaker of the House. President Reagan was considered pretty far to the right of the political spectrum, and Speaker O’Neill was his left side counterpart. They did not always refer to each other in the most glowing of terms.
But behind the scenes, each knew and understood the true role of leaders. They treated politics like it should be treated in a democracy – as the business of running government. Sometimes they won, sometimes they lost, and each was always looking ahead with an eye towards the next battle. But despite protestations to the contrary, neither ever really took it personally.
Today each of these elected officials would be considered moderates in the overall scheme of things. But would either have been able to continue to be themselves in this cutthroat political environment, where even the hint of being willing to compromise is considered a weakness of the highest order?
I don’t know. But I’m not sure it is our leaders and their backbones (or lack of same) that has brought about our current political climate. I think it might be us.
We the voters (in many areas of the country at least) are why politicians have to run to the extreme end of their party’s limits. When people of moderate views stay home and leave voting to extremists, we get the government they want and we so ignominiously deserve. When we reward obstructionists and punish those who are willing to consider opposing views, the result is officials who govern based upon fear rather than wisdom.
Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were no more or less principled and dedicated than many of today’s leaders. But they existed in a world and a nation where doing and accomplishing nothing was not considered enough to get re-elected.
We have lowered our standards in this country when it comes to leadership. We are rewarding and almost requiring extremism. And that is nobody’s fault but our own.
Monday, July 8, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 8, 2013
GOUVEIA: Foxboro can blame itself for licensing dispute
Posted: Monday, July 8, 2013 12:00 am
BY BILL GOUVEIA | 0 comments
The situation between the Foxboro Board of Selectmen and the Kraft Group involving the licensing of events routinely approved for many years at Gillette Stadium has reached the point where it is beyond both serious and ridiculous.
While the full details are known only to those directly involved, the general situation is as follows: The town's insurance company has increased the deductible on each liability claim from $7,500 to $50,000 largely due to a pending class-action lawsuit against the town and its police chief alleging the civil rights of thousands were violated through a detention policy put in place by the chief and carried out under his direction.
Selectmen believe that is an unacceptable financial risk and have thus far refused to license certain events such as Revolution soccer games and concerts by artists such as Taylor Swift. They have asked the Kraft Group to assume the increased financial liability, despite the fact it is not their responsibility or under their control. The Kraft Group has refused, but offered some alternative solutions which have been rejected by selectmen.
In summary: Selectmen are refusing to license something they have regularly approved for many years because their insurance deductibles have been sharply raised. This is primarily due to a detention policy instituted by their police chief. They are asking the licensee to assume financial responsibility for claims arising largely from this detention policy even though they, not the licensee, are responsible for its existence and administration.
The problem of drinking at large venues like Gillette Stadium is serious and difficult. Foxboro and its police chief have worked diligently to solve it. However, there is no indication the problem became appreciably worse recently.
What has changed is the town no longer has insurance coverage it is comfortable with, largely because of this questionable policy of detaining people for allegedly being impaired. Foxboro voters have twice approved a public intoxication bylaw, only to have the state attorney general rule it illegal.
It is understandable selectmen do not want to open taxpayers up to large increases in insurance deductibles. But perhaps they should achieve that by investigating and reviewing the detention policy, as opposed to trying to make the Kraft Group pay the liability costs for it.
Selectmen have sent mixed signals at best that they are truly trying to be reasonable in resolving this problem. They refused to take the advice of their own attorney, who suggested lawyers from all involved parties get together to work out a solution. Chairman Mark Sullivan and Selectmen James DeVellis both said that would just drag things out.
This has been going on for many months. The fear of "dragging it out" has long been realized. If selectmen are going to pay an attorney with taxpayer dollars, they might want to take his advice and/or let him do his job.
If you are wondering why the town doesn't just tell the Kraft Group to get their own security and incur the liability themselves, there are several reasons. Chief among them is that current town bylaws do not allow it.
Another reason is the stadium details provide a lot of money to the town and the police officers who work there. The cost for local and state police alone - paid primarily through the Kraft Group - is staggering. While they no doubt earn their pay, stadium events do put a lot of money in the pockets of a lot of employees. The town also gets a cut of every ticket sold.
Chairman Sullivan actually suggested the Kraft Group "pony up the deductible" for the first event, saying "it doesn't seem like a lot to ask to me." Those comments illustrate the lack of understanding that is a big part of the problem here.
There has been no public threat of legal action by the Kraft Group, but that could change quickly. From a layman's point of view, it is difficult to see how they would not prevail given the circumstances. They have done nothing wrong. It is hard to understand why they should pay for a problem between the town and the town's insurance carrier.
Perhaps Foxboro selectmen should stop flexing their political muscles and start listening to their own attorney. The town is in a bad position here, and the attitude of selectmen is not helping.