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Community Celebration of Black History Month

February 24, 2014 02:15 PM







Adrienne Williams has shared her love of recitation, storytelling, song and drumming with people of all ages since the "70s." She has often integrated this passion into her career work in education, child welfare and juvenile justice, and has used interactive performance to engage audiences of all ages.

Sponsored by: Sharon Recreation Department
Sharon Adult Center



Striar Hebrew Academy honors internationally acclaimed author

January 21, 2014 03:47 PM

100 Ames St. / Sharon, MA 02067
phone: 781-784-8724 / fax: 781-793-0654


January 21, 2014 (781) 784-8724

Norton Juster at school’s Annual Celebration on January 26

SHARON--Striar Hebrew Academy is rolling out the red carpet for internationally acclaimed author Norton Juster, who is the guest of honor at the school’s annual celebration this coming Sunday evening, January 26. For the past four years, Juster has opened his home to the school’s sixth grade class. After reading Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, the students have traveled to Amherst, MA, where Juster discusses the book with them, answers their many questions, and entertains them with personal stories of his past. At the end of each visit, Juster autographs each student’s copy of his book.

Through their discussions over the years, students have learned that Juster’s professional training as an architect inspired him to write The Phantom Tollbooth, which has been published in 22 languages over the past 50 years. Thinking back to the impetus for the book, Juster said he thought about how great it would be if there was information out there for kids to help them understand cities and city planning. He started writing, and his idea evolved into The Phantom Tollbooth.

When asked where he got the ideas for the characters, or if any of the characters were based on himself, Juster responded that there was a piece of him in everything within the book. He said that, in many ways, he's like Milo, the main character. Like Milo, he is a constant daydreamer. Juster also mentioned that, as a boy, he lived in the shadow of his older brother, who was very accomplished and successful at everything. The Milo character shows that people who think that they, and their lives, are ordinary may not be so ordinary after all, and they can really do extraordinary things.

“Striar Hebrew Academy is proud to recognize Norton Juster for the personable, face-to-face learning he has offered our students,” says Rabbi Yehudah Potok, Head of School at Striar Hebrew Academy. “We are excited to welcome him to our community this Sunday, as we pay tribute to the outstanding contributions our honorees have made to Striar Hebrew Academy.”

Also being honored are Pam Dressler and Leisa Glass, teachers of the Toddler class. For more than 10 years, Pam and Leisa have worked together in nurturing and educating the school’s youngest students. Their blend of enthusiasm, creativity and love for early learning has been at the heart of the Toddler program, which is expanding in the fall to include toddlers from 15- to 23 months old.

Striar Hebrew Academy is a coeducational, Modern Orthodox day school in Sharon, MA, serving students toddler-age through Grade 6. For more information, see

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Nearly a dozen Massachusetts towns raise age for cigarette sales

December 26, 2013 06:43 PM

Nearly a dozen communities across the state within the past year have raised the age for tobacco sales higher than 18 years old, evidence of a slow-spreading movement that activists say will reduce cigarette use among teens.

Most states, including Massachusetts, allow 18-year-olds to buy tobacco products. Alaska, Alabama, Utah and New Jersey are the exceptions, all of which have pushed the legal age to 19.

Until last year, Needham was the only community in the United States that prohibited sales to anyone under 21 years old – a change the town made in 2005, according to D.J. Wilson, the tobacco control director at the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Since then, a handful of other Bay State communities have followed behind. Brookline, Belmont, Sharon, Watertown, Westwood, Walpole and Sudbury have all outlawed the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21 within the past year, according to Wilson.

Canton, Ashland, Dedham and Arlington also changed their bylaws to prohibit sales of tobacco to anyone under 19, with Arlington planning to push its age restriction up to 21 years old over a three-year phase-in plan.

“In those towns we hope to see it is actually harder for kids to get their hands on tobacco products,” Wilson said, adding it is too soon to gather any data on smoking rates in those towns.

Other cities and towns across Massachusetts and the country are also looking to ban tobacco sales to young adults. This past spring, New York City became the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21. In Massachusetts, the board of health in Newburyport is currently debating a measure that would outlaw sales to anyone under 21. The move faces resistance from the city mayor and some retailers.

“It is interesting in that it kind of cascaded pretty quickly,” Wilson said about the age restriction for tobacco sales.

Critics argue local officials are overstepping their authority, and anyone over 18 is an adult capable of making their own decisions about whether to smoke.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, called the moves “an overreach” by local governments. Anti-tobacco activists are attempting to take the path of least resistance by pushing age restrictions at the local level rather than face a more difficult battle to do it statewide, Hurst said.

“They try to pick off cities and towns here and there,” he said. “Local officials have to know that they are putting their own consumers and employers at a disadvantage.”

Activists credit Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Lester Hartman, a pediatrician in Westwood, with spearheading the change one community at a time.

Winickoff said a slow, steady approach will have a major public health impact statewide.

“I think community by community is what we are going to do for a while, and that’s the way to have this move forward,” Winickoff told the News Service.

Winickoff said he thinks part of the reason the change is spreading is because local town officials have seen the data from Needham. In the eight years since the age-restriction went into effect, the smoking rate for Needham high school students dropped precipitously, according to Winickoff.

The smoking rate for adults who live in Needham is 8 percent compared to 18.1 percent statewide, according to data collected by the Tobacco Control Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Deaths from lung cancer among men from Needham is 24 percent lower than the state average, while women from Needham die from lung cancer at a rate 33 percent lower than the statewide average for women, according to DPH data.

Approximately 90 percent of all smokers begin the habit before they are 21, according to Winickoff and other anti-tobacco activists.

Tami Gouveia, executive director of Tobacco Free Massachusetts, said she is not sure if age-restrictions will continue to catch on in other cities and towns as a way of reducing young people’s access to tobacco. “It is really at the beginning stages of folks starting to take a hard look at this,” she said.

Gouveia compared it to when the legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21.

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said she thinks increasing the legal age to buy tobacco is unnecessary and an inappropriate issue for the board of health to focus on.

“The legal age is 18. It is the age when you are an adult. You can fight in our wars. You have the right to vote. You can marry. And now we are going to tell you, ‘You can’t buy a pack of cigarettes if you want one,’” Holaday said.

Holaday said she will not dedicate any police resources to enforcing an age restriction on tobacco sales in Newburyport, leaving the question of how effective it might be in that city.

Increasing the legal age for cigarette sales will only hurt local retailers and send consumers to convenience stores in neighboring communities, Holaday said.

Hurst, from the Retailers Association, agreed. If cigarette sales are banned to anyone under 21 in one town, but legal in the next town, residents will buy them in the neighboring community, Hurst said. Secondly, he said, different rules on consumer products in the 351 cities and towns around the state will cause problems.

“I think our local officials have to be willing to stand up to these advocates who are pushing these agendas and tell them, ‘Go hop in your car and go to Boston to push a statewide agenda.’ It has no business being considered at the local level,” Hurst said.

A new name coming for that place known as Comcast Center

December 11, 2013 09:10 PM

Some of us remember when Mansfield outdoor amphitheater was called Great Woods. Now it’s been newly christened as the Xfinity Center, the fourth name in 27 years.

Now, stay with us here because this gets a bit confusing. Comcast in 2008 bought naming rights for the venue — then called the Tweeter Center after the now-bankrupt electronics chain—and immediately dubbed it the rather obvious Comcast Center. On Wednesday, Comcast and concert promoter Live Nation changed the name again, to the Xfinity Center, a nod to the company’s television and Internet business. Got it?

“We are excited to place the name Xfinity on one of the most-loved entertainment venues in New England,” said Steve Hackley, senior vice president of Comcast’s Greater Boston region. Full story for subscribers.

Raw milk dairies in Foxborough and elsewhere at center of regulation debate

December 5, 2013 11:35 AM

An agricultural group is sticking up for state regulation of raw milk dairies, as the town of Foxborough weighs local oversight.

"Massachusetts sets tough standards for its dairy farmers and every day our farmers rise to meet those challenges and produce the best raw milk available anywhere,” said Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Mass Raw Milk Network, in a statement.

Unpasteurized milk has a following around the country as gastrophiles seek out the unadulterated flavors of the beverage, according to news stories over recent years. There is also a patchwork of regulation in different states, with 33 states allowing raw milk sales, and opposition to its sale by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Milk and milk products provide a wealth of nutrition benefits. But raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family,” the FDA said on a webpage. The FDA said between 1993 and 2006, 1,500 people in the country were sickened from raw milk or cheese and raw milk is 150 times more likely to cause illness than pasteurized dairy products.

State regulations allow dairies to sell raw milk as long as it is cooled soon after it is milked, it has low levels of bacteria, the milk bottle is dated and permitted for sale for five days after bottling, and it contains a warning label. According to NOFA, the Department of Agricultural Resources has a “stellar” record of ensuring product safety, with no illnesses attributable to raw milk in two decades under the current regulatory structure.

“The state regulations attempt to ensure that the production of milk is done using healthy animals, that the activity is conducted in such a way as to prevent the introduction of contaminants, that the product is handled appropriately to inhibit spoilage in an effort to mitigate the risk of any consumer being exposed to harmful pathogens,” state Energy and Environmental Affairs spokeswoman Krista Selmi told the News Service, saying 28 farms sell raw milk retail. According to the Boston Globe, Lawton’s Family Farm’s owner has said the proposed raw milk rules in Foxborough could put the farm out of business.

- A. Metzger/SHNS

Governor Patrick announces $27 million for Massasoit Community College health building

November 25, 2013 03:29 PM

The following is a press release from the Massasoit Community College

Brockton, MA (November 22, 2013) - Governor Deval Patrick announced on Wednesday at the Metro South Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, held at the Massasoit Conference Center, a $27.4M appropriation for Massasoit Community College to construct a Health Sciences building. This new building will provide much needed teaching and lab space and will allow Massasoit to expand its allied health programs. Additionally, with the new space, Massasoit will be able to introduce students to the latest technology in laboratory, diagnostic, and medical simulation in Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Respiratory, Polysomnography, Medical Assisting, and Phlebotomy programs. It will also enhance the College’s capacity to meet projected workforce needs and to explore the possibility of new programs and courses. “Growth requires investment, and these investments in education, infrastructure, and open space will bring growth and opportunity to the Metro South area and beyond,” said Governor Patrick.

Massasoit Community College President, Dr. Charles Wall said, “The College has been given an unprecedented and unique opportunity to expand our main campus in a way that we have not been able to do since the second phase of building construction in the late 1970s. Though our growth has taken our physical presence to Canton and to Middleborough, and though we will continue to reach to places in the region where we are most needed, this funding creates an expansion possibility right here at the Brockton campus.” Massasoit offers the only Radiologic Technology and Respiratory Care Programs in the southeastern region of the state, and was the first to offer a 2-year Polysomnography degree program in the Northeast. 30% of the College’s 2013 graduates received Allied Health/Science degrees. Growth in the sciences is up 39% from the 2006 academic year and has outpaced overall College growth. The new building will allow the College to create new programs and courses in such areas as medical laboratory technician, biotechnology, and nutrition. There is a great need for additional laboratory facilities in general biology, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences. Having additional space for our health programs will enable the repurposing of converted space in the existing science building both to meet these needs and to expand current science programming. Anatomy and physiology and microbiology is also likely to move to the new building, which will further ease congestion in health and science programs and classrooms resulting from increased enrollments; Liberal Arts Transfer-Science is one of the College’s fastest growing programs, with a 35% increase over last year, and more than five times as many students as it had just four years ago.

Governor Patrick plots major public transportation projects in Chelsea, Medford and south of Boston

November 18, 2013 11:35 AM

In his seven years, Gov. Deval Patrick has steered the state toward major public transportation expansions into Chelsea, Medford and toward the South Coast, and in 13 months responsibility for the completion of those plans will fall to his successor, to varying degrees.

Patrick, who has railed against the enduring, burdensome debt of the Big Dig project burying Interstate 93 beneath downtown Boston, campaigned in 2006 in part on his support for the Green Line Extension and the South Coast Rail. Critics have said those projects would add to the state’s indebtedness and the cost of running an MBTA system already struggling with an antiquated fleet and infrastructure.

While funding is being lined up for the Green Line trolley to Somerville and beyond and the project appears inevitable to transportation experts, other projects such as extending the Silver Line bus to Chelsea, expanding South Station and stretching the commuter rail to Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford, face challenges in funding, logistics, politics and labor relations.

“Everything we’ve announced will be on track, and we’ll have some progress against before I leave, and I think whoever the next governor is, their understanding of the value of investing of in education, innovation and infrastructure will be key to the future growth of the Commonwealth, so it would be hard for me to imagine that the next governor would turn away from these investments or the people that they benefit,” Patrick told the News Service earlier this month. He said, “The responsibility to see that the next governor is held accountable for delivering on these belongs to the voters.”

The governor’s transportation priorities, along with earmarks for scores of smaller projects around the state, could emerge for consideration in the House this week as part of a $12.1 billion transportation bond bill, although House leaders were unable to say Monday if the bill would come up for debate.

Fred Salvucci, a lecturer at MIT who was Gov. Michael Dukakis’s transportation secretary, said the South Station expansion would require moving the United States Post Office facility next door, which employs many people, and running the Silver Line to Chelsea faces logistical hurdles in the buses, which currently switch between gas and electrical power.

None of the major projects in the pipeline faces as steep a climb as the South Coast Rail, which faces some opposition from environmentalists for its routing through the Hockomock Swamp, carries a $1.8 billion price tag for construction that would be borne entirely by the state, and an additional federal requirement to electrify the trains rather than use diesel.

“If the next governor doesn’t see any priority, that’s one it’s pretty easy to not implement,” Salvucci told the News Service. He said, “It’s got the longest way to go, plus I believe some opposition, so that’s the toughest.”

Asked which projects would be past the “point of no return,” Patrick said, “My hope is that they will all be 14 months from now.”

That sentiment was troublesome to Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, who has warned of the state’s high level of indebtedness.

“One of the guiding principles of our state government has always been not binding future legislatures to future expenses, and certainly not binding future administrations to certain courses of action, and to depart from that now I think is an indication that we may be seeing some effort in building a legacy,” Tarr told the News Service. “The question is at what expense is that legacy going to come for the folks that have to follow and pay for these things and deal with their consequences.”

By sinking enough money into a project, an administration can virtually ensure its eventual completion.

Sen. Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican and longtime member of the Transportation Committee, said the state “can afford” to extend the Green Line, but had greater doubts about South Coast Rail, saying he believes the administration’s estimate of a $40 million operating subsidy once the project is completed is low.

Hedlund said past administrations have nudged projects past the “point of no return” by getting construction started, but said the Patrick and prior administrations have played a different game with the South Coast Rail, funding environmental studies and permitting as a means to push off the actual construction.

When Gov. Mitt Romney took office, he froze capital spending, and scored transportation projects on their necessity, finding the ongoing Greenbush commuter rail line into Hedlund’s South Shore district was “dead last.” Despite the finding, Romney was unable to halt the project, Hedlund said, because so much of the work had already been completed.

The advent of a new administration can bring new hopes and worries for those whose pet projects have not yet crept past the point of no return.

“It’s kind of a barbaric system in some respects,” House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, told the News Service. “When the new administration comes in it’s a fight to make sure they look at your project favorably.”

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey told the News Service that the merits of projects undertaken by the Patrick administration should power them onto the next governor’s priority list.

“I think the bottom line is, it’s less about having the ink dry on a contract by January ’15, although that will happen in many instances, but it’s choosing the right projects that anyone in their right mind will continue,” Davey said.

“For any person who’s elected governor, they would have to think twice about rolling back anything we put in place because we’re not choosing these projects will nilly,” Davey added. He said, “We’re still working on our final permits for South Coast Rail. South Station’s a little more complicated; there’s a lot more moving pieces to that proposal.”


The Green Line Extension, which is mandated by a court settlement between the state and the Conservation Law Foundation, is far along the track to completion.

On Oct. 21, MassDOT officials signed a $393 million contract extension to rebuild the current terminus Lechmere Station in East Cambridge and construct brand new stations in Somerville’s Brickbottom and Union Square neighborhoods.

Those three stations comprise the first leg of the first phase of the project, which would continue on to stops in Gilman Square, Lowell Street, Ball Square and College Avenue in Medford. CLF contends the state must bring the trolley line out to Route 16, near the Arlington border, and notes that the further extension was included in the Boston Region Transportation Improvement Program with funding programmed for fiscal year 2016.

Though Republicans have warned of the financial implications expanding the system would have on an agency that already runs deficits and features major maintenance backlogs, Hedlund said the project is worthwhile and affordable.

“I think that we can afford to do the Green Line Extension. I just think it should have come a long time ago,” the Weymouth Republican told the News Service.

The Green Line’s completion, which had been recently considered unlikely by several Somerville pols, is now nearly set in stone, according to Salvucci.

“It seems to me that a new governor would be very unlikely to stop the Green Line. It’s a good project; some people might have different priorities, but it’s a good project,” Salvucci said. “I don’t think anyone’s against it, per se, and it’s so far along it seems unlikely anyone could stop it.”

The state recently submitted an application for federal New Starts funding, which officials hope would provide nearly half the $1.3 billion cost of bringing the trolley out to College Avenue. A federal award would add to the inevitability of the project.


Having secured a bus-only route into Chelsea from East Boston, Patrick recently announced plans to extend the Silver Line into the mostly water-bound city, creating a terminus that would include a new commuter rail station near the Everett line.

The most significant remaining hurdle is the buses themselves, according to Salvucci and Chelsea Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty.

The Silver Line buses ferry passengers on overhead electric power in underground tunnels through the South Boston Seaport before shifting to gas to make the trek through tunnels to Logan International Airport.

The line is in need of new buses, the manufacturer is now out of business, and the electrified catenary wires cannot be strung through the Ted Williams Tunnel, and gas engines cannot be-used in the subways beneath the Seaport, Salvucci said.

“They’ve got to solve the equipment problem,” the former transportation chief told the News Service.

Salvucci said hybrid gas-electric vehicles might be a solution, or the route could bypass the South Boston leg driving through the tunnels directly to East Boston, where it could continue on to Chelsea.

“Chelsea really wants it,” Salvucci said. “I think the Chelsea priority is likely to have legs with any governor if they can solve the vehicle problem.”


The expansion of South Station faces mightier hurdles, as the new platforms could go right where a major U.S. Postal Service station is currently located.

“The post office has a lot of jobs,” Salvucci noted. Noting some opposition from advocates of linking North and South station by rail, Salvucci said said an agreement with the Postal Service to acquire the land would head the project on a trajectory toward completion.

“South Station is quite full, and there’s lots of people who want more commuter rail service, and who want more inter-city Amtrak service,” Salvucci said. He said, “It’s got a lot further to go, and the biggest significant hurdle, I think, is working out a deal with the Post Office. If that happens it still will not be at the same status as the Green Line, but it will be in stronger shape.”


For lawmakers in the coastal regions off Buzzards and Mount Hope bays, the announcement this fall that the state had secured approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for construction of a rail link through Taunton to Fall River and New Bedford may have triggered déjà vu.

When Patrick came into office, he inherited state permits for the long-awaited return of rail service to the South Coast from the Romney administration, though Gov. Mitt Romney had not yet secured approval of the Army Corps before passing the reins of government to Patrick.

“When Patrick-Murray came in, they said, ‘Well, in order to really make sure that it’s going to be done right, we want to do all this stuff all over again, because it’s under our jurisdiction now. We want to make sure all the T’s are crossed, all the I’s are dotted, and so on and so forth,’” said Sen. Marc Pacheo, a Taunton Democrat. “I think in part it was done for that reason; I think in part it was done because nobody had the money.”

Pacheco was one of a few Democratic lawmakers from the region who voted against the July tax bill because he believed it was insufficient to fund the project.

The transportation bond bill that passed the Transportation Committee last week fully funded the rail line at $2.2 billion, an increase from original estimates of $1.8 billion earlier this year. House Transportation Chairman William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who represents part of New Bedford, said the administration said the $12.1 billion 5-year-bond bill could be supported with the roughly $340 million in new taxes.

While skepticism has taken hold among some lawmakers in the region, several noted the efforts undertaken by the Patrick administration, which have extended beyond environmental studies and permitting to include upgrading bridges along the corridor and rehabbing of the tracks, which are in use by freight companies.

“I would encourage Gov. Patrick to undertake those projects that have independent value immediately,” said Straus, noting there is a bridge along the rail route, which would need to be upgraded for the train and also occasionally jams up trucks.

Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who describes himself as a “cautious pessimist” about the project’s completion, said tens of millions have been put into bridgework and track upgrades.

Pacheco, Straus and Montigny all said the Patrick administration has demonstrated its commitment to the project.

That “money in the ground” could inch the project toward the point of no return, but it is unlikely to reach inevitable status during Patrick’s tenure, said Salvucci.

Pacheco noted the rail had already passed through the swamp when it was in service about a half century ago.

“Electrification on commuter rail is a huge deal. I mean, in some cities commuter rail is electrified, and in Boston none of our system is electrified. It would be nice to have it be electrified, but that’s a lot of money and a lot of engineering and a lot of time,” Salvucci said.

Added to South Coast Rail’s challenges is the requirement to expand South Station to accommodate the increased rail service, and the $40 million operating subsidy to run the service once it is built.

“You’re going to get to the point where you’ve got to make a decision,” said Hedlund. “You can’t just build something and not know how you’re going to pay to run it once it’s built.”

Hedlund said administrations dating back to Gov. Paul Cellucci in the 1990s have appeased South Coast officials and business leaders by funding studies for the rail line, without actually funding the much heftier cost of construction.

“They announce they’re releasing some money for environmental work or what have you. There’s all these little milestones, but it’s all small amount of dollars that get released, and get sunk into the project. It’s nowhere near comparable to what had happened with Greenbush, where they were actually undertaking land takings and actual digging and ground work,” Hedlund said.


While Hedlund holds up the Greenbush rail line to the South Shore as an example of a project handcuffing an incoming administration, the halting of the Inner Belt highway project in the 1970s has been held up as a triumph of one administration squashing the plans of its predecessors.

Salvucci, who was transportation advisor to former Boston Mayor Kevin White and worked to stop the highway, said it took courage for Gov. Frank Sargent to scrap the proposed highway through Somerville, Cambridge and Boston neighborhoods, but it was not as far along as it seemed and had substantial opposition from the people whose homes would be demolished to make room for the highway.

“The Inner Belt had not gone through its environmental impact statement, for instance, which was a brand new requirement. The law requiring environmental impact statements came in in 1970,” said Salvucci. He said, “It seemed imminent because everyone was talking about it. It actually had a fairly long way to go in procedural terms . . . There was federal funding available, which made it pretty courageous, very courageous, I’d say, for Sargent to stop it.”

Hedlund said Gov. Mitt Romney found the Greenbush line scored “dead last” of all the ongoing transportation projects, but it was so far along that he allowed the construction to continue.

“The problem was that the Cellucci administration had gone ahead using some nefarious language that was put in a transportation bond bill, giving the MBTA authority to do a design-build on one quote-unquote ‘pilot project’ and they chose Greenbush to do that, which was not the legislative intent. So what the Romney administration found that was there was too much money sunk in the ground already to kill the project, and they weren’t even at full-design phase. They were only at 30 percent design, but they were using that design-build language that was given to them in a bond bill,” Hedlund said. He said, “The intent was it was going to be for a minor project, not anything controversial. That way they could kind of try it out, and of course they picked extremely controversial, expensive project to do it on, so I felt that was a deliberate strategy to get money sunk in the ground before a new administration came in and had a chance to really look at that, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Pacheco said when Romney froze capital spending upon taking office it put plans for a judicial complex in Taunton on ice for the remainder of Romney’s term in office.

“He pulled it from the list, so we had to wait until Deval Patrick came into office,” Pacheco said.

Onions move to the forefront in Indian politics

October 31, 2013 10:59 AM

India, with its 1.2 billion people, is home to 25% of the world's hungry, according to the United Nations, and a third of its poor, according to the World Bank. And for the majority of the poor other than the staple food of rice or wheat, onions form the important component of regular diet.

A spike in Onion prices in India is bringing on a bit of a stire in India, especially in the days before Diwali, the Festival of Lights. "The price spiral has created a crisis of epic culinary proportions in middle class kitchens as the country goes into its biggest festival season of the year,'' says Forbes.

Onions are an incomparable ingredient in most cuisines and not surprisingly and symbolically often individual personalities are likened to the layers of an onion. As is well known, onions are a major source of polyphenols in general, and also of flavonoids (a very important subdivision of polyphenols). They can also vary greatly in their polyphenol and flavonoid content. In general, red onions are higher in total flavonoids than white onions, (with yellow onions falling somewhere in between).

Within the US, data suggests that onions range in size, color, and taste depending upon their variety. There are generally two types of large, globe-shaped onions, classified as spring/summer or storage onions. The former class includes those that are grown in warm weather climates and have characteristic mild or sweet tastes. Included in this group are the Maui Sweet Onion (in season April through June), Vidalia (in season May through June) and Walla Walla (in season July and August). Storage onions are grown in colder weather climates and, after harvesting, are dried out for a period of several months, which allows them to attain dry, crisp skins. They generally have a more pungent flavor and are usually named by their color: white, yellow or red. Spanish onions fall into this classification. In addition to these large onions, there are also smaller varieties such as the green onion, or scallion, and the pearl onion.

India is one of the largest producers of onions in the world and is usually a net exporter. The price of a kilogram of onions has more than quadrupled from last year to a record 90 rupees-100 rupees ($1.48-$1.65), despite government predictions that prices would drop following good monsoon rains. Inflation data showed that wholesale onion prices shot up 245 per cent in August compared with a year earlier, driving the wholesale price index up 6.1 per cent.

The unrelenting monsoon rains this year have also caused some damage to the crop. A good monsoon leads to bountiful harvest resulting in increased agricultural incomes, boosts rural consumption and drives the economy. A weak monsoon - and droughts, in extreme cases - hurts farm workers, raises food prices, encourages hoarders and generally creates havoc in the economy. India's is very dependent on monsoons to irrigate the farmlands. The country receives 75% of its yearly rainfall between June and September. Some 70% of Indians depend directly or indirectly on farming. Also, agriculture accounts for 14.5% of India's $1.83 trillion GDP, and though its share is declining, agriculture still accounts for 58% of the total employment in the country.

But nothing explains the astronomical price. The Indian farmer certainly isn’t enjoying a windfall. Everyone knows that middlemen are hoarding onions. Even when the produce is plentiful, traders and middlemen hold back stocks to keep prices artificially high. India has a 19 percent share of global onion production, second only to China. Amid protests from angry lawmakers, the national government has been forced to announce steps to curb price rises including measures aimed at limiting exports. And with many states holding provincial elections this month and a national election next year, opposition parties have been quick to get on the offensive.

This year it has imported onions from Egypt and China, and it is looking elsewhere too. And the government is also considering importing onions from neighboring Pakistan -- India's arch-rival. That being said Indians have not experienced onions – raw or cooked in some time. For the economically challenged, food has remained bland without the pungency of the delectable onion and for the affluent have had to do without the browned and crisped up onions in various dishes. As Elizabeth Pennell states, “Banish (the onion) from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends color and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair.” And most of all, this crisis of onions is an unsavory economic trend that deprives the poor of access to quality food and source of income.

Rajashree Ghosh is a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham.

Survey seeks opinions on Norfolk County judges

October 21, 2013 10:00 AM

DEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — The state’s highest court is sending questionnaires to attorneys and court employees in Norfolk County, seeking input on 35 judges as part of an ongoing program to evaluate judicial performance.

The Supreme Judicial Court’s survey covers several categories including a judge’s knowledge of the law, fairness and impartiality, temperament on the bench and treatment of litigants, witnesses, jurors and attorneys.

Lawyers who have appeared in court in the county over the last two years will receive questionnaires.

All questionnaires are confidential and do not ask for the names of the respondents. The resulting reports also will be confidential and are given only to the judge being evaluated and to the chief justices of their courts.

Questionnaires will be accepted by the SJC through mid-December.

Governor Patrick pushing head on south coast rail project

September 24, 2013 03:25 PM

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick said Monday he’s pushing ahead with plans to build a commuter rail along the state’s south coast after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final environmental review of the proposal.

The announcement marks another milestone for the long-debated project, which still faces many hurdles, both practical and political.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Richard Davey called the report’s release ‘‘a critical step forward in obtaining the environmental clearances’’ needed to bring commuter rail service to south coast residents.

Davey said the state supports a proposed rail route that would take trains through Stoughton, Easton, Raynham and Taunton before branching off into two lines, one for Fall River and one for New Bedford. He said the route provides the best transportation, environmental and development benefits.

The state had weighed two other possible routes. One would use electric or diesel trains on an existing route through Attleboro. The other would create dedicated rapid bus lanes on Route 24 and portions of I-93.

Davey said once the environmental process is completed the state can begin developing final design plans for the project, which will provide a link from Boston to New Bedford and Fall River. The MBTA will take the lead in coming up with a final design.

Patrick, a Democrat who’s announced he’s not seeking a third term as governor, praised the release of the report.

‘‘Residents of the south coast have been waiting for 20 years for a reliable transit system that connects conveniently to Boston and everything in between,’’ Patrick said in a written statement. ‘‘We are making it happen.’’

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, however, said he remains skeptical about whether the state could get the necessary environmental permits and whether the project’s price tag is worth the investment.

‘‘It’s a $2 billion project, and the big question in my mind (is) is that the best way to spend $2 billion’’ in southeastern Massachusetts, Baker said earlier this month.

The latest cost estimate for the project is $1.8 billion.

Democratic candidates for governor, including Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steven Grossman, are more supportive of the project.

Grossman said the rail line will ‘‘boost economic growth and dramatically enhance quality’’ in the region. A campaign spokesman for Coakley said she believes the project is ‘‘a critical infrastructure investment that will pay dividends in jobs and economic growth.’’

Another Democratic candidate, Wellesley selectman Joseph Avellone, said if elected governor he'd make sure the project is completed.

State transportation officials say they've already taken steps to lay the groundwork for the rail project including the rebuilding of three New Bedford bridges, funded by a $20 million federal grant.

The environmental report released Monday details what effect the project could have on noise levels, aesthetics, wetlands, air quality and historic and environmental resources. It describes measures to avoid or minimize those effects.

The state will hold two public open houses to discuss the environmental report and will accept public comments through Oct. 26. The open houses are scheduled for Oct. 8 in Taunton and Oct. 17 in Fall River.

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