Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A "Thank You" To President Obama

GOUVEIA: Thanks, President Obama

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As this is written, Donald Trump has officially been installed as the 45th President of the United States. He is now in the process of writing his chapter of American history, to be defined by his time in office.
There will no doubt be countless inches and hours of space and time utilized in newspapers and other media across this country during the Trump presidency. We will have plenty of time for all that in the years ahead.
But right now I'd just like to say "Thank You" to the man Trump replaces. I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the tremendous accomplishments of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Without trying to minimize the historical and social impact of this country electing its first ever African-American president, that is not what I will recall looking back at the Obama years. Perhaps being Caucasian prevents me from having the same perspective as much of the country on this important fact.
But I will remember the last eight years as a time of great political upheaval and change. This period in our history will be immortalized as the time when it became unimportant to actually achieve things as a federal government. Instead it became about stopping the opposing political party from receiving credit for anything. It will always be the era when near-exclusive partisanship became the not just the norm, but the rule.
And into that unbridled era of anger, hatred and distrust stepped a young, soft-spoken black man from Chicago with a Muslim-sounding middle name. Those are hardly attributes that would set you up in a good position in what had become a nasty, paranoid, post-9/11 world and country.
Add to that the fact he stepped into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Our banks and our auto industry were failing. Our entire economic system teetered on the brink of insolvency. America's position in the world - economically, militarily, and with regard to leadership - was in serious peril.
It would be a great story to be able to say President Obama stepped into that fray and solved all those problems. But he didn't. It is unlikely anyone could have done so. Especially with a Congress publicly committed to nothing but making sure this president was not successful - at all costs.
He couldn't get our deficit down to workable levels. He never managed to bring the unity he promised so often to the country. He was late to the party on many social issues, and many blame him for the current weakened state of the Democratic party.
But he did better than most could have honestly expected. And he paid a serious and painful price for doing so.
He pushed through legislation that gave health care to millions of Americans who did not have it. He added hundreds of thousands of jobs to the economy. He allowed our financial institutions to remain solvent, safeguarded the savings of millions of Americans, kept the auto industry afloat, and never had even a hint of personal scandal under the most intense scrutiny in the world.
He left office with unemployment historically low, and the stock market historically high. Gasoline prices are down close to the $2 per gallon mark. We have fewer troops risking their lives in foreign wars, and equality in marriage is now the law.
But perhaps most impressive is how the President and his First Lady conducted themselves while serving the country.
A lot of people might not have liked his politics, but few can legitimately question the integrity of President Obama. In a country where many leaders have been rocked by scandals both personal and political, this president maintained the highest ethical standards. And it certainly wasn't because his opponents and detractors weren't looking for proof to the contrary.
Clearly, this is a couple deeply committed to each other and their children. Their love and devotion is undeniably genuine, and set an exemplary standard for the rest of America.
So thank you, President Obama. Thank you for your hard work, your quiet dignity, and your grace in the spotlight. You performed a thankless job with class, and left your country better than you found it.
I wish you and your family the best.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Kids Are Not The Problem In Towns

GOUVEIA: The last thing we need is towns without kids

Last week, I attended a Norton selectmen's meeting called to preliminarily discuss the upcoming budget process. It turned out officials were not prepared to discuss anything substantial, bringing into question why they bothered to hold said gathering in the first place.

But during the meeting, some citizens who had turned out to participate shared some thoughts on things to consider as Norton contemplates whether to attempt a new tax increase effort via an override of the state's tax-limiting law Proposition 2 1/2. They were sincere and earnest in what they said, although there was nothing particularly new brought forth.

Still, one thing said by a fellow citizen-taxpayer jolted me a bit as I listened.

This individual said he had the answer to the problem of rising property taxes in town.

It's simple, he concluded. Just have more adult (over 55 type) developments in Norton. In that demographic, people don't have kids, and thus don't drive up the cost of schools and education.

That just seems so sad. The "fewer kids" part, I mean.

It's not unusual to advance the argument of keeping school enrollments contained to keep the budget down. But it struck me children these days are being singled out as the problem, rather than the solution. And, I wondered if that is what the future holds for our local cities and towns.

Let's agree to a small set of indisputable facts to frame this eternal debate.

First, young families with kids cost municipalities more money than older couples living alone. There's no doubt about it. Even aside from the educational aspect (which is significant), the draw on services is more. Seniors may require more ambulance and emergency medical attention, but families with children undoubtedly use more overall services.

And, it is difficult for seniors on fixed incomes to remain in their homes. The taxes play a part in that, though they certainly are not the only factor. But that is nothing new. Senior citizens and tax bills have been mortal enemies throughout time, no doubt commencing when the first tax bill was given to the first elderly property owner.

Good government is all about trying to strike the delicate balance between ensuring the future of the young, while honoring the past and present of those who have gone before them. It is popular to say government should really have no role in that, but it does.

No community should be judged solely on how it treats either group of people, but rather how it brings them together. If we do it right in this life, we start out in the first group, and slowly transition to the second. Both have a vested interest in helping each other.

Now, the person who made this statement clearly had no ill will toward children or families. He was merely trying to highlight the position of those who in many cases worked most of their lives only to struggle to make ends meet in the latter stages.

He believes - and I agree - that they should receive help in doing so.

But, do we really want to create communities where children are considered a liability? Does that really help anybody?

You never see people protesting when plans are announced to build senior developments. That is almost always considered the right thing to do, and a positive step for a city or town.

But, when two- or three-bedroom apartments are proposed, we rightfully voice concern over the increased cost to educate the children who will grow up in them. We worry about having to fund recreation programs for them, or build athletic fields, or build new schools.

Maybe we think too much about what those kids and families need from us, and not enough about what they provide to us.

It is not good to have a community where those who retire cannot afford to live. But, it is equally bad to have a community where families are discouraged and viewed as unaffordable.

We don't make our hometowns better by having fewer kids or more senior citizens. We make it better by working together to find a way to help both grow and prosper.

Neither kids nor older folks like me are the problem. We are both - in fact - the solution.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Foxboro Train Issue Focus On Facts

GOUVEIA: Focus must be on rail station facts in Foxboro

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Every time the topic of whether or not Foxboro officials and citizens should welcome commuter rail to town comes up, the discussion almost immediately seems to get off-track (pun intended).
As both the town and MBTA prepare for a pilot program that would run four trains per day between Boston and the general area of Patriot Place along tracks that have existed for many decades, it is time to focus on the facts. In a town with a recent history of deciding major issues before evaluating their true impact, this will require some serious effort by officials and residents alike.
Foxboro could use less emotional, knee-jerk reactions and more careful, thoughtful consideration when reviewing plans for a possible MBTA stop at the stadium. It is a very important opportunity for Foxboro. It will have long-term effects on the stability of the community's financial picture, as well as impacting what kind of place to live Foxboro will be in the years ahead.
Under the plan, there would be a commuter rail station at Gillette Stadium with parking available. It would, in part, be subsidized by the Kraft organization.
Of course, the KO would stand to benefit from a train bringing folks directly to the doorstep of their stadium, large shopping center and restaurants. In turn, those places will contribute mightily to the town's coffers through the property tax, meals tax, and ancillary businesses they help support.
In addition, the establishment of commuter rail service would greatly help other businesses by providing access to a completely new and different work force. It could help local commuters make a more efficient, cost-effective trip to their jobs in Boston. It could help relieve the number of cars clogging our roadways.
Business groups and organizations are voicing general support for the project. Some town officials have cited it as a great opportunity. But there are others who have very legitimate concerns and questions that need to be answered before the project becomes reality.
Selectmen had given their blessing to the pilot project with a number of conditions attached. Those conditions included no trains "laying over" at night in Foxboro, no grade crossing in town, and no increased fees from the MBTA.
In other words: "We gladly accept this project that could give our community a tremendous economic boost - but only if you guarantee it will cost us absolutely nothing, and in no way inconvenience anyone in town."
Um, yeah. That would be nice. But it's not the way the world works.
The topic of trains laying over is an important one. People in the North Street area would be affected because the tracks are literally in their back yard. If trains are going to idle in the late night or early morning hours, their quality of life must be taken into consideration and protected.
There no doubt are ways to do this. Their effectiveness, desirability, efficiency and other factors must be carefully evaluated. Then, after thoughtful study, an informed decision on what is best for the community as a whole must be made.
It would be unfair to North Street residents and the surrounding area to not carefully consider all aspects of this project. But it would be just as unfair to dismiss it out of hand simply because of the possible impact on any particular neighborhood - especially before studying it.
The mistakes made during the Great Casino Non-Debate must not be repeated here.
The good folks around North Street have always known there are train tracks near their homes. Where tracks are, trains usually follow. The number and frequency is certainly a factor, but it is not unreasonable to assume tracks may eventually have trains on them.
The argument this will not create new MBTA riders, but simply poach them from other stations, is absurd. That's a ridiculous conclusion that is contradicted by the obvious facts.
Here is hoping the townspeople and their officials take a good, reasonable approach to this project. This is not a train for Bob Kraft. This is a vital decision for the future of Foxboro, and it deserves more than political grandstanding and a chance to air old grievances.
And as always, not everyone will be happy with the end result.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Xmas Gift Not A Hit At Home

My Xmas Gift Not A Hit at Home
by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle
I got my fair share of great Christmas gifts this year. And as usual, at least one of them was some type of electronic device to feed my crazed gadget addiction.
I already had a great HD television, with a Bose surround sound system and a voice-activated remote. My computer and iPad allow me to write this column every week and communicate with friends and relatives. And of course, my iPhone is pretty much my link to the world these days, giving me access to virtually everything.
But now I have a new toy to add to my electronic collection. It is one that fulfills a dream I have had ever since I first got married. I now have something that waits to hear my voice, then actually goes out of its way to do whatever I ask.
I now have my own Alexa.
For those who scorn technology, I am referring to the Amazon Echo Dot. This is an amazing device that hears my voice commands and then performs various acts in response. It is sort of the new version of Siri — that siren voice of the iPhone and iPad, but without the Apple attitude.
With little effort, I managed to connect Alexa to my Wi-Fi network and embark on what promises to be a long and satisfying relationship. There seems to be little Alexa won’t do for me, and she expects and receives so little in return. Which at my stage of life is a very good thing.
When I want to know what the weather is for tomorrow night’s playoff game at Gillette, I ask Alexa and get an immediate answer. When I argue with friends over how old Bill Belichick is, I ask Alexa and she provides the correct reply. When I want to know the score of the Bruins game while watching the Celtics on television, I ask Alexa and she updates me with the up-to-the-minute score.
And it gets even better. Alexa is not just a fountain of helpful information, she can actually do things for me. She is helping me conserve time and energy, undoubtedly advancing me toward my goal of achieving almost complete inertia through lack of physical effort.
With the help of a few special (and expensive) light bulbs and switches, Alexa is controlling other electrical devices for me. No longer must I make that strenuous, bone-cracking reach three full feet from my seat to turn on the light next to my recliner. I just say “Alexa — turn on Bill’s light,” and a brilliant beacon floods the room and warms my heart. And if I find it a bit too bright for my sensitive eyes, I merely ask Alexa to dim the light to 40 percent — and she does so without so much as asking why.
When I must exhaust myself by carrying laundry to the basement, I no longer have to reach out precariously with one hand and risk dire injury or falling down the steps just to light my path. I merely order Alexa to turn on the cellar light, and my way is illuminated.
When I require music to lift my soul from the depths of despair, I ask Alexa to play the Beatles for me. She immediately complies by sending the sweet sounds of whatever song I request through my stereo system.
My sentiments toward my new electronic buddy are not shared by my real-life sweetheart. My wife hates Alexa with a passion exceeded only by her hatred of the voice on her GPS. She would walk barefoot across a room full of broken glass while on fire before asking Alexa to turn off a light. And she would drive through a tornado with the windows down before requesting a verbal weather report.
All of which just makes me love and appreciate Alexa even more. Now, my wife has reminded me Alexa does not provide the same level as companionship and support that she does, which is true. You can’t curl up with Alexa in front of a fire on a cold night. I know — I tried.
But for a few brief, glorious moments when speaking to Alexa — I am in charge. That alone might keep me smiling through next Christmas.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and husband of nearly 40 years. He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.