Massachusetts Must Move Forward on Our Own

With the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, coming on the heels of the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, it is clear that the America as we have known it for the past 70 years, a time in which the United States attained and maintained its supremacy in the world and achieved unprecedented prosperity for its people, could be coming to an end. That may sound dramatic, but we don’t think it is overstating the case.

In our view, the principal reason why America has prospered since the end of WWII, despite our many missteps (Vietnam, Watergate, and Iraq being the top three) is because we have expanded the rights of all of our citizens and we have welcomed people from all over the world to partake of, and contribute to, our wealth and our democratic ideals.

As regards the latter point, we would note that the majority of the Nobel prizes awarded to Americans in recent years have been won by persons who were immigrants. And let’s not forget that Steve Jobs’s father came from Syria and the parents of one of the founders of Google emigrated from Russia. They came to this country, as immigrants always have and still do, to create a better life for themselves and their families and to contribute to their new country.

However, there should be no doubt that the newly-constituted Supreme Court not merely will take us back to the pre-1930s, but rather will be in the vanguard of a new movement.

The court in recent years already has eviscerated the Voting Rights Act and (via the Citizens United case) has entrenched the ability of the ultra-rich to throw unlimited amounts of cash into our electoral system.

Now, with the ascension of two more conservatives, the Supreme Court may turn back the clock on much of what most Americans have taken for granted for the past three generations in the realms of the rights of women, persons of color, and persons of different sexual orientations.

Hopefully, the Democrats will gain control of the House of Representatives in the fall — and we say that not so much because we love Democrats, but because we need at least one house of Congress to act as a check on the White House — but that will not change the direction of the Supreme Court.

So what does that mean for us in Massachusetts and the other states on the coasts (with a few pockets in between)?

In concrete terms, let us be welcoming to all people; let us be the safe harbors for a woman’s right to choose (when the Supreme Court eviscerates Roe v. Wade, as it surely will); let us increase the minimum wage and be supportive of unions; let us prepare for the effects of climate change; let us enforce strict gun laws (to keep crime and mass shootings down); and let us make our states’ educational systems world-class.

We need to be everything they are not

Think of it this way: Let’s build our state’s economy to take advantage of what they are giving up.

This will require two things: Out-of-the-box thinking by our elected leaders and an unprecedented partnership between the state and the business community, which must be convinced to partake of a partnership with the state in order to pursue our common goals.

In short, we must take our future into our own hands as we never before have imagined.

It will require  lot of hard work and sacrifice — but given what is happening at the national level, we have no choice.

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Hearing Continued for Rincon Latino Restaurant

Hearing Continued for Rincon Latino Restaurant

It’s the case of the cases of Corona going in and out of Rincon Latino Restaurant.

Following a histrionic licensing commission hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 25 that saw the lawyer for the restaurant’s owners compare the proceedings to those in Russia and referred to the hearing to “a lynching,” the commission continued the hearing until its next meeting next month.

As the last hearing on a busy commission agenda, everything started calmly enough, as the commission heard a police report from officer Augustus Cassuci detailing two incidents he witnessed just outside the Washington Avenue Restaurant on June 22 and 23.

The officer stated that on Friday, June 22, he was passing by 373 Washington Avenue when he saw about 10 people crossing the street, with one carrying a case of Corona beer. The next day, Cassuci said he saw a customer carrying a case of Corona into the restaurant.

Where the hearing raised the ire of attorney John Dodge, who was representing the restaurant, was when Cassuci raised a number of issues at Rincon Latino Restaurant that were not included in the two-paragraph police report.

“On several occasions, there have appeared to be intoxicated patrons in front of the laundromat next door blocking the sidewalk,” said the officer. “Male parties have also been seen urinating on the sidewalk.”

Additionally, police Captain Keith Houghton said the restaurant often appears to surpass its occupancy limit of 17 customers and the curtains of the establishment have been closed, in violation of the law.

Police officials also showed the commission a photo taken from the restaurant’s security camera that they said showed the establishment as being over capacity.

“How am I supposed to represent (the restaurant) when all I have is a two-paragraph police report?” asked Dodge, who asked that the hearing be continued to the commission’s next meeting since evidence was introduced that he had not previously seen.

Dodge said the allegations leveled by the police had nothing to do with the original report of customers taking out or bringing in cases of beer.

“I don’t know what evidence is being presented,” he said. “We were not provided with any photos or any video, and Officer Cassuci is now testifying to public intoxication, urinating on the sidewalks, and closed curtains.”

Licensing Commission Chairman James Guido said a public hearing does not follow the same process as a court hearing and that the information being provided during the hearing was due process.

“Maybe due process in Russia, in America we are given the evidence before a hearing,” said Dodge.

Commission member Roseann Bongiovanni asked for calm, and suggested the commission continue the hearing for one month. The commission approved the continuance, as well as a request that the restaurant provide video of peak hours during the past several weekends to help determine if there has been overcrowding or other issues at the restaurant.

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Avellaneda Brothers Take in the World Cup at Fortaleza

Avellaneda Brothers Take in the World Cup at Fortaleza

The Ameican soccer team had a good run, but ended up coming just short of advancing last week, but it wasn’t for lack of cheering on the part of Chelsea’s Roy and Nicolas Avellaneda.

The two brothers spent two weeks in Fortaleza, Brazil taking in the various World Cup Group Play matches – including games featuring the U.S. and Argentina, where the Avellanedas’ parents are from.

Roy, who is a candidate for state representative this September, took a few weeks off from the campaign to take part in one of his great passions – soccer. Avellaneda and his father, Tito, have been instrumental in founding and continuing the Chelsea Youth Soccer League.

“It was great to get to go to Brazil and see such great games and meet fans from all over the world,” he said. “The Brazilian people were very friendly and adored Americans. If you had an American jersey on, they would come right up to you and want to take a picture with you. However, I got a completely different response when I wore my Argentina shirt, of course. I fully expected that, though. They are arch rivals.”

Avellaneda said he has been to only one other World Cup, but that was only in 1994 when Foxboro hosted World Cup matches during the U.S.’s only hosting bid. However, he and his brother really wanted to take in the full measure of the cup this time.

“We did watch matches in Foxboro in `94, but that really doesn’t fully count,” he said. “My brother and I had been planning this for years and we said if the U.S. and Argentina both qualify, we would go to Brazil. In November, when they both qualified, we decided to make it happen. I was hoping the U.S. could have done better, and really wish they had beaten Portugal. However, they showed the rest of the world what they had and earned a lot of respect from players, coaches and fans from around the world. We’ll see what happens in Russia in four years.”

Avellaneda said he is hoping that the U.S. might be able to nab the host duties for the 2018 World Cup, as there is talk that host Russia might have their host status revoked due to its actions in Ukraine.

He said it is preferable to have such huge events in established countries like the U.S. because infrastructure in places like Brazil is not at the level that it is in countries like the U.S.

“With all due respect to Brazil, there were a lot of issues about them being prepared and having the infrastructure to support a world event,” he said. “It’s not as easy in some of these places in other countries to get around. We have the infrastructure, the roads and hotels, and we have 32 professional football stadium ready right now that could easily host a World Cup match. They only need eight of them. We would be ready very quickly, so I’m crossing my fingers that it may happen.”

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Oil Boom Likely to Lower Heating Bills in Coming Years, but Not Quite Yet

Oil Boom Likely to Lower Heating Bills in Coming Years, but Not Quite Yet

Northeast Oil deliverymen Brian Hartman and Joe Imbrescia are seeing prices remain rather high for heating oil this winter, even though predictions say prices in Greater Boston will slightly decrease. Natural gas is predicted to increase this year. However, in light of the recent oil boom, lower prices for both heating products in the next several years looks very realistic.

Northeast Oil deliverymen Brian Hartman and Joe Imbrescia are seeing prices remain rather high for heating oil this
winter, even though predictions say prices in Greater Boston will slightly decrease. Natural gas is predicted to increase this
year. However, in light of the recent oil boom, lower prices for both heating products in the next several years looks very
realistic.

Just five years ago, America seemed to be at a crisis point when it came to its energy needs, and nowhere was that more apparent around here than in home heating bills – whether for heating oil or natural gas.

In fact, during the presidential election of 2008, both candidates preached about the need to achieve energy independence – and just about anyone with a heating bill would have attested at the time that energy independence was a prime concern for most Americans.

Now, just a few years removed from that election, the United States has flipped the script and become the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world by using the new drilling techniques of hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”). Using that technique to tap into previously unattainable oil reserves in the Dakotas, Texas and Pennsylvania, American is seemingly on its way to energy independence almost overnight. Already, natural gas prices have gone down and American oil refineries report having a glut of crude oil at their doorsteps.

It is one of the most underreported stories in the nation, and it could end up saving residents thousands upon thousands of dollars in the coming years on their heating bills – but as for this year, don’t pop the cork on that champagne just yet.

Out of Left Field

Experts in both the natural gas and heating oil industries said the new situation was nearly unfathomable just a few years ago.

“This is really something new and dynamic for us on the gas side,” said Liz Arangio, director of gas supply planning for National Grid. “You know, I would have to say I didn’t expect it. Just five to seven years ago, the long view for the U.S. was to import LNG (liquid natural gas). There were probably in excess of 50 LNG projects (proposed) to import gas to the U.S. Just five to seven years later, no one is filing to import and developers are filing to export. It’s a fascinating time to be in the field. Everything is changing so fast and we think that is very good for our customers.”

Just this past October, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. would overtake Russia in 2013 as the top producer of oil and natural gas products (combined). U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) figures showed that the U.S. is producing 22 million barrels of product every day, while Russia is estimated to produce about 21.8 million barrels per day.

Add to the fact that imports of crude oil and natural gas are down significantly in the last five years, and it equals something rather unbelievable.

In the Wall Street Journal article, EIA Director Adam Seiminski said, “This is a new era of thinking about market conditions, and opportunities created by these conditions, that you wouldn’t in a million years have dreamed about.”

Michael Ferrante (no relation to the School Committeeman), director of the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association, said America’s energy output is so new that its effects are still unknown.

“What we’re seeing is the production of a lot more petroleum product in the U.S., which loosens the grip of foreign oil,” he said. “It really hasn’t shown it’s true value yet…It’s probably still years away from its full effect on prices.”

Fracking Is Controversial

While ‘fracking’ seems to have transformed the petroleum markets, and possibly reversed the decade-long trend of skyrocketing home heating bills, it hasn’t gotten rave reviews by everyone and some wonder if the negatives outweigh the positives.

The process accesses petroleum products embedded deep down in solid shale rock formations. Oil developers drill deep wells and then use large amounts of pressurized water to break the rock and release the oil and gas. It’s an expensive proposition, but one that has been paying off for companies so far.

“I don’t think this came out of left field,” said Ferrante. “New drilling techniques like ‘fracking’ – which have been known for many years – are just now coming to fruition in the shale areas. That isn’t surprising really. What is surprising is the vast amounts that could come here…The simple fact remains there is a large amount of petroleum being discovered and drilled for in states as close to us as Pennsylvania.”

Many nearby residents and environmentalists, however, have not taken so kindly to the transformations the oil boom has brought upon their sleepy rural towns. Colorado voters in a state ballot question recently banned ‘fracking’ from being conducted and public opinion polls of ‘fracking’ continue to show low approval ratings.

This Year’s Prediction Not As Good News

Though the future seems to be bright, the oil boom won’t be saving anyone from a pain in the wallet just yet.

The state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is predicting a rise in heating costs this year, especially for natural gas customers. Heating oil customers – while still confronting high prices for that product – will see little to no increase over last year.

“Based on colder winter weather predictions and EIA price and consumption projections, DOER is projecting that all Massachusetts residential heating costs will rise this winter, with propane rising the most at about 8 percent and heating oil rising the least at less than 1 percent,” read the department’s annual statewide prediction.

National Grid predicted that the average Boston area gas customer will see at least a $5 increase per month starting in November. However, due to supply issues based on the Boston area being the final stop on the pipeline, natural gas could be prone to price spikes this winter if demand goes really high.

The federal EIA is predicting that natural gas customers in all of New England could see 13 percent higher prices over last year, and that heating oil customers could see prices about 2 percent lower.

Nonetheless, Ferrante said that doesn’t mean heating oil is by any means cheap – despite favorable predictions or oil booms.

“This industry is still under pressure despite the increase in supply and resources,” he said. “Right now, we’d certainly like to see lower prices. They’re still quite high and it’s still expensive to heat your home. That said, I am starting to be more optimistic about the price of crude oil.”

Prices for heating oil in this area are still in the range of $3.50 per gallon, and depending on the size of one’s home and the overall temperatures, residents who use oil can spend upwards of $3,000 on oil per winter.

Pipeline Problems

Part of the reason consumers in the Boston area are not seeing the fruits of the petroleum boom is due to pipeline issues.

Most of the area’s natural gas comes directly from the Marcellus Shale region in central Pennsylvania, which is now producing seven times as much gas as it was in 2010. Tapping into those lucrative reserves are what originally caused gas prices to begin to go down so much five years ago. Last year, the EIA announced that Marcellus Shale gas was directly responsible for making gas much more affordable and plentiful in New England – which has not traditionally been a natural gas market.

The larger supplies though, are now being threatened by problems with the pipeline.

One of the major problems is that Boston is at the so-called “end of the line.” Simply put, it means that all of the supply coming from the Marcellus area gets dropped off at numerous locations – including New York City – before it reaches Boston.

Another problem is that Massachusetts switched most of its electrical power plants over to natural gas years ago. That means that on the coldest days, there isn’t as much supply because a good deal of it is eaten up by electric power plants.

This causes price spikes in both natural gas and electricity prices (electricity is expected to increase this winter by $13 per month according to National Grid).

Unfortunately for Boston, New York and New Jersey are now beginning to reap benefits of cheaper gas as they have pipeline expansion projects that are going online this winter. Other pipeline projects will continue being constructed for that region through 2015.

It isn’t until 2016 that Massachusetts customers could see relief, according to the EIA.

“New England consumers, however, would not significantly benefit from currently planned pipeline expansions until 2016,” read an EIA report from last month. The Algonquin Gas Transmission (AGT) pipeline, which takes gas from Marcellus and other sources to consumers in New England, has traditionally operated at near-full capacity during periods of peak winter demand. The next planned expansion on AGT is the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project…The target in-service date for the AIM Project is November 1, 2016. The difference in construction activity for New York and New England markets is reflected in market prices for natural gas.”

Another threat also looms nationwide for gas customers – that being the threat of large amounts of exports that reduce supply greatly and strip away any savings from the petroleum boom.

“Because of the success of the fracking process, there is a lot [of natural gas],” said Ferrante. “There’s a chance we could see it shipped overseas, which could lead to higher prices.”

Future Looks Slick

Despite some current setbacks – such as pipeline capacity issues and continued high prices for heating oil – experts seem to agree that there isn’t an end in sight to the glut of newfound American oil and natural gas. While many foreign experts believe it to be a short-term bubble, those close to the domestic industry routinely predict that the boom isn’t going to end in the foreseeable future.

Ferrante said it means there is good reason to be optimistic that high home heating prices could be a trend that burns off quickly.

“More product in America could mean lower prices for natural gas, diesel fuel or heating oil,” he said. “I would  absolutely say we’re optimistic about the future of supplies and how they will affect pricing.”

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