Monday, February 27, 2017

North Attleboro Citizen Steps Up

GOUVEIA: Laurie Lawes a voice for good in North Attleboro

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There is a distinct difference between complaining about a situation and actually doing something about it. And there is no better recent example of that than Laurie Lawes.
Lawes is a resident of North Attleboro who saw a problem last year when then-RTM member Paul Couturier was found to have posted racist, bigoted memes on his Facebook page. Unlike most of the elected officials in her town, she didn’t just sit back and fret about it. She took action.
Lawes organized a protest outside town hall that drew about 40 people and put pressure on Couturier and others to renounce the disgusting posts. Although few town officials actually joined the event (none of the current selectmen or state Rep. Betty Poirier attended), the statement made clear that North Attleboro citizens would not stand for such conduct. Couturier eventually resigned his position.
But just a short time ago, more bigoted posts appeared on the Facebook pages of town officials and candidates.
Selectmen candidate James Lang was one of those, with anti-Muslim posts featured on his Facebook account. He at first admitted to them, then claimed they might be the work of “hackers.” He initially dropped out of the race, then popped back in. He finished dead last in the recent preliminary election and was eliminated.
At the same time, posts mocking Muslims and Mexicans were found on the account of current Selectman Paul Belham. The veteran official also claimed hackers were responsible.
But Lawes — and no doubt many others — aren’t buying his story.
The local activist went to the selectmen’s meeting last week and addressed officials directly, including Belham. She did not pull any punches when she told them they needed to do more and be better on the issue of bigotry in their community.
Lawes pointed out that nearly a year after the Couturier incident, there is still no official social media policy for town officials. Selectmen have discussed it, but failed to actually come up with one. She also noted not one of the board members had “stood with us” at the March protest, and then took deliberate aim at Belham.
“This is my home. I have a right to expect more from my elected officials,” she said. “Mr. Belham, respectfully you have given a great deal to our community. But I respectfully ask you to resign.”
It was noted selectmen Chairman Patrick Reynolds has responded to the most recent incident by arranging a meeting with the Islamic Center of New England in Sharon, and inviting town officials to join him and learn about the Muslim faith. Lawes was not impressed.
“Patrick, with the whole Islamic thing you have set up — I wish I could believe it,” she said. “It would mean more if you had stood with us.”
Any meeting between town officials and a group representing citizens designed to further understanding and respect is a good thing. But Lawes is right when she says it would have been nice if it happened after the first incident rather than now. Whether true or not, it makes the gesture look like political expediency.
The problem here is not that some in North Attleboro and elsewhere don’t understand Muslims, but rather that they just don’t like them. Instead of the word “Muslim,” you could insert any of the following: Catholic, African-American, Jewish, Portuguese, Caucasian and more. The act would still be awful, even if the perpetrator claimed they didn’t “understand” the victims.
Give Reynolds and those who may attend such a meeting credit for at least reaching out. But in the end, it is a rather shallow response to a very deep problem.
Hate is the issue here. Who it is directed at is secondary. It is just not OK for public officials, or those seeking public office, to participate in hateful acts or posts. They must be held to a higher standard, despite the political mood of the country.
But there are also people like Laurie Lawes who are unafraid to stand up and say it has to end. Who demand more from the people elected to serve the community. Who say hate simply isn’t going to be accepted.
That’s what it is going to take to stop this. And it shouldn’t be this hard.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, February 24, 2017

President Wrong On His View Of Press

GOUVEIA: Just an amateur ‘enemy’


I’m just a guy who writes a local newspaper column twice a week. I’ve been discussing local affairs and working with local newspapers on and off for over 40 years. I’ve also been a panelist or guest for political discussions on at least a dozen local news or cable outlets.
But I don’t consider myself to be part of “the media.” Why, you ask?
Because compared to what real journalists do, I am a part-time amateur. And my respect for them does not allow me to elevate myself to that status.
Which is why I bristle every time our president talks about “the dishonest media,” and refers to the members of the press as “dishonest people.” With his broad brush of insults used for his own self-serving purposes, he demeans an entire profession full of hard-working, honest people who perform a job that existed long before his current one.
Look, I don’t personally know the high-priced “talent” that works for newspapers like the New York Times, or the on-air personalities that star on CNN, Fox News, or any other major network news divisions. And frankly, they are big and powerful enough to defend themselves.
But for every one of them, there are hundreds of other individuals who make what they do possible. There are editors, producers, writers, copy people, schedulers, beat reporters, correspondents, camera operators, photographers and newspaper delivery people — all who conduct themselves with more honor than the president has displayed recently.
I won’t spend time highlighting how Donald Trump became the president largely because the media he hates went out of its way to cover him. That has been well documented. He shrewdly used them to get elected.
He continues to use them now, but differently. In a manner as frightening as it is familiar, President Trump tries to elevate himself by stepping on the backs of good people who work hard and provide a service to the American public.
Don’t feel sorry for the news anchors or the highly visible reporters unfortunate enough to be covering his sideshow on a daily basis. But please, be fully aware what Trump is doing to the concept of a “free press” and to the underpaid, under-appreciated working class people who keep you informed about more than what your political leaders — from all parties — want you to know.
Most reporters don’t make large salaries, whether they work in print or other media. I’m talking local reporters here, too, like the ones who work for this newspaper or the other local daily and weekly papers throughout this state.
The president of the Unites States is telling you the news is fake and dishonest, and so are the people who bring it to you.
It’s not a new approach. I’ve listened to local politicians slam newspapers and reporters around here for many decades. “They just want to sell papers.” “They only write what is sensational.” “They never get things right.” “They have their own agenda.” “They are lazy, incompetent, or just plain dishonest.”
And every once in a while, they are correct. Not every newsperson gets it right every time. Sometimes papers can have an agenda. Media are hardly infallible.
But I have been privileged to know many decent, honest, talented journalists. They do this in part because they love it. They know they will never get rich, and probably never make “the big time,” but still treat their job with the respect and dignity required for a press to truly be free.
They work long and difficult hours. They deal with people who often don’t want them there, and deliberately make their jobs harder. And in the case of reporters, even when they feel outrage and disgust, they must force themselves to objectively report what actually happened — as well as how it happened.
Those leaders who seek to get around the press usually do so because their actions can’t stand up to real scrutiny. So they demean those who bring you the news, in order to make sure you only know what they want you to know.
If I was good enough to be part of “the media,” I’d consider it an honor.
I thank them all for allowing us the chance to read and hear them, and make our own judgments.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, February 13, 2017

North Attleboro Candidate Disgraceful

GOUVEIA: ‘Ethical’ behavior not what it once was

We are living in pretty amazing political times.
Many of the long-standing and accepted rules regarding “ethical” behavior for both candidates and incumbents have been tossed out the proverbial window. These days, it seems like almost anything goes.
Not that the general behavior of people has changed that much. There have always been folks who served or tried to serve in government who have done or said things that should probably disqualify them from participating. But today, with social media chronicling our every thought and move, it becomes much easier for mistakes or unwise past actions to turn up.
We are much more accepting today of behavior that would not have been tolerated in the not-so-distant past. A couple of decades ago, hiring a nanny who was not a legal citizen was enough to keep you from being appointed to a cabinet position.
Today, you can be on video bragging about how you grab women by their genital area and still be elected President of the United States. And if you are comparing Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, remember — he was already in his second term when that broke and never had to run for office again.
Which brings us to the local scene, where yet another disgraceful display of intolerance and ignorance has affected North Attleboro politics. The town is hardly alone in having suffered outrageous behavior by people holding or running for office. But now such a situation has popped up there twice in the last year.
In 2016 an incumbent RTM member was found to have posted discriminatory, bigoted, racist posts on Facebook involving the Muslim religion and now-former First Lady Michelle Obama. He initially claimed he did nothing wrong before eventually resigning his position and being defeated in a re-election bid (it was too late for him to withdraw his name from the ballot).
Now James Lang, a former Finance Committee member and candidate for selectman, has also been found to have bigoted and prejudiced comments about Muslims on his Facebook page. We won’t recount the vile, ignorant things said and/or endorsed here because there is no reason to further publicize them. It is enough that he made them.
Last week Lang apparently dropped out of the race specifically because of the posts, but now says he is staying in. He indicated he may not have made all the posts, that some could be the result of “hackers.”
While dropping out would have been the right thing to do, it seems clear Lang’s only real regret is his actions were discovered.
The former candidate initially said his remarks resulted from “thoughtlessness.” At the same time, he readily admitted he tried to remove the postings before running for selectman.
“Obviously, I didn’t do a good job,” he said, adding “ it is without a doubt a strike against me for alluding to something that could and has been inappropriately conveyed as being who I am.”
He’s absolutely wrong about that last part. Our words and actions are perhaps the very best indication of who we truly are. We all make mistakes and do things we ultimately regret, but in the end our actions are generally indicative of our true selves.
You can make serious mistakes and recover. Almost all of us do. But trying to hide your bad behavior to improve your chances of running for public office speaks volumes about your character and suitability to represent people.
If Lang had truly wanted to be a leader, he would have admitted his mistakes right away and stuck to that. He would have apologized, presented himself as an example of how things must change, and made a stand for transparency and ethical behavior.
But he didn’t. And he deserves what he is now getting.
On the more positive side, the reaction of other North Attleboro officials and candidates to this situation is markedly better than a year ago. Rather than trying to ignore it and hope it will go away, some have actually stood up and called it what it is.
Now we will see what the voters of North Attleboro think about Mr. Lang and his comments. I hope they reject both Lang and his hateful posts.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Cautionary Tale of Super Bowl Trips

Money, time, aggravation ... the Super Bowl is all worth it

If you are considering going to the Super Bowl, please read this first.

I've been a Patriots season ticket-holder for 45 years. I've been to three Super Bowls - 1987, 1997 and 2002. Coincidentally, each was in New Orleans.

Those three trips included all of the following:

Six sets of game tickets, two visits to the French Quarter police station, a ruined 20th anniversary celebration, being pickpocketed, two six-hour car drives, broken-down buses, an interview with NFL security, a terminally ill friend on his last trip, conversations with several shady ticket scalpers, crappy hotel rooms, crooked ticket brokers and a person in my section dying of a heart attack just before game time - and finding out later I knew him.

And, that's just some of the crazy stuff.

My first trip was at the end of the 1986 season. There were only about 15,000 season ticket-holders back then, so every one of us had the chance to buy Super Bowl tickets. They were $75 each - I still have mine hanging on my mantle.

I flew out with three friends, but had to go into Houston. The morning of the game, we rented a car and drove to New Orleans. We had no time for sightseeing, getting there just a short time before kickoff
We were all fired up for the franchise's first Super Bowl. The Patriots jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and we were really into it.

Then the Bears scored 46 unanswered points. After the blowout, we immediately drove back to Houston. The next morning, we heard the Space Shuttle had tragically exploded.

In 1997, I wanted to go see the Pats play the Packers in the Super Bowl. But I had to find a way to talk my wife into sanctioning another trip.

Our 20th wedding anniversary was coming up. I slyly suggested we make the Super Bowl trip an anniversary present to each other. The two of us, a weekend in New Orleans, nice dinners, the game - how could she resist?

She couldn't, and we booked a package, including tickets, through a reputable travel agent. We checked references, paid our money and got ready to celebrate.

But when the bus taking us from our cheap motel room in Baton Rouge to New Orleans broke down at a Popeye's restaurant, we started expecting trouble. Then came the news - the ticket broker our agent used had absconded with both the money and the tickets.

We were now stuck in New Orleans with no tickets to the big game. Happy Anniversary.

So I tried scalping tickets, figuring I would eventually get my money back. I wound up buying some from a gentleman of questionable appearance, doing my level best to make sure they were real.
They got us inside the stadium. We got to our seats, and quickly discovered four other couples had exactly the same tickets. One set was real - and it was not ours.

That led to a visit to the police station. They took our information, then we headed back to the stadium. We found the officials who had helped us after the seat fiasco, and they were sympathetic. Taking pity on us and our anniversary disaster, they offered to sell us yet another set of tickets. I had to run some distance to an ATM o get the cash, and by the end of the first quarter we were in our seats - watching the Pats lose again.

Five years later, my wife was incredulous that I wanted to go again. But I was selected in the season ticket lottery, and knew this might be my last chance.

One of my good friends had just discovered he had terminal cancer. We were devastated. After talking it over, we decided to ask him to go with me to the game. Another friend helped with his expenses, and we were off once again to - yep, New Orleans.

Our trip there was uneventful. The people at the hotel desk warned us not to leave the game tickets in our room. I packed them carefully into my pocket, and we went out to Bourbon Street.

And we had a ball - right up until the moment I realized the tickets were no longer in my pocket. I had been pickpocketed. I wound up back at the same French Quarter police station.

Now I had a terminally ill friend, no game tickets, and a lot of explaining to do to my wife. I fearfully called home.

Amazingly, she simply sprang into action. After an initial few choice words, she got on the phone to a ticket agent friend of ours. Soon she had it arranged for me to meet him and pick up two tickets, albeit at an expensive price. My friend and I were able to get into the game.

I know your next question: Was it worth it? All the money, the time, the aggravation? Having seen two losses and one win, would I do it all again?

My answer is - in a heartbeat.

When Adam Vinatieri's kick sailed through the uprights to give the Pats their first-ever world championship - well, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. It validated decades of devotion to a team that had never done it before. Years of sitting on cold aluminum benches in a second-rate stadium. Being laughed at by fans of teams that had experienced actual success.
And, I shared it all with my good friend, who passed away just three months later.

So my advice to those considering making the trip? Go, if at all possible. Take the chance. There's a lot that can go wrong, but the possible reward is better than can you ever imagine.

Just look around the plane first and make sure I'm not there. That would be a bad sign.

Bill Gouveia is a 45-year Patriots season ticket-holder and cursed traveler. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.