Thursday, December 25, 2014

Grotesque Ineptitude

Ken O’Brien

What Tuesday’s meeting of the Southbridge School Committee lacked in substance it made up in illustrating the ineptitude of its members.

The starting point, of course, was the absence of Superintendent Gardner from the dais. This naturally leads to speculation as to the result of the Flick report and whether we are in for yet another change in district leadership.

Let us hope that, if this is the case, there will be a return to the “best practice” of appointing a committee consisting of appropriate stakeholders to recruit and evaluate candidates.

Merry Christmas 2014

Ken O'Brien

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Southbridge School Committee Meeting - December 23, 2014

The Interview Available On YouTube Now

The Interview starring Seth Rogen and James Franco is available for rental on YouTube now.

The price to rent the movie is $5.99

You can get it by going HERE.


Track Santa's Flight With NORAD

Obama Ends Year On An Upswing

Ken O’Brien

Americans are more optimistic about the U.S. economy than they have been in years, and that upbeat mood has pushed President Obama’s job-approval level to its highest point since the spring of 2013, according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll released Tuesday afternoon.

The poll showed 51 percent of Americans with a positive view of the economy, up from 38 percent in October.

It was published on a day that the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 18,000 for the first time, with the economy’s growth rate up to 5 percent in the fall. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Biggest GDP Growth in More Than a Decade

Ken O’Brien

Real gross domestic product -- the value of the production of goods and services in the United   States, adjusted for price changes -- increased at an annual rate of 5.0 percent in the third quarter of 2014, according to the "third" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The number marks the strongest pace of U.S. economic growth since the third quarter of 2003. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also traded above 18000 for the first time on Tuesday. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 4.6 percent. 

The Colbert Report Is Gone But Truthiness Lives On

Ken O‘Brien

I used to say that you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

I have come to realize, however, that such an observation is no longer valid.

Whether on a national or local level, what pass for facts are entirely a function of the purveyor of information and the decibel level provided by their supporters.

We live in the age of truthiness, a concept introduced by Stephen Colbert in the first episode of his show “The Colbert Report”.

Monday, December 22, 2014

New York Times Calls For Torture Prosecution

Ken O’Brien

The New York Times editorial board has called on President Barack Obama and the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into the CIA's use of torture, in a scathing editorial published Sunday.

The board demanded that the investigation look into involvement of former Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as several other former Bush officials, with regards to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report detailing the CIA's post-Sept. 11 torture program. The 500-page report, released in early December, examined the tactics inflicted upon terrorism suspects, whom interrogators waterboarded to the point of near drowning and rectally rehydrated.

Below is the New York Times editorial. What do you think?

Outfoxed • Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism • FULL DOCUMENTARY

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Presidential Weekly Address: America's Resurgence Is Real

Paul Revere's Time Capsule

A time capsule buried in 1795 by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams was unearthed Thursday, December 11, in Boston at the Massachusetts Statehouse, possibly the oldest such U.S. artifact ever uncovered. 

The copper container — green from oxidation and caked in plaster — was found in the cornerstone of the "new" statehouse on Beacon Hill, which was completed in 1798. 

As Boston Museum of Fine Arts Conservator Pam Hatchfield chiseled away for hours to free the box, five silver coins spilled from the stone block — measures of good luck tossed in when the capsule was entombed by the revolutionary heroes 219 years ago, officials told the Boston Globe. At the time, Adams was known as the governor, not a beer.

We are fortunate to be able to present the first look inside.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Coal Ash Labeled As Nonhazardous Waste

Ken O’Brien

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday the first national regulations for the safe disposal of coal ash from power plants.

The new rules categorize coal ash as a nonhazardous waste.

"These strong safeguards will protect drinking water from contamination, air from coal ash dust and our communities from structural failures, while providing facilities a practical approach for implementation," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a release. 

How Far We Have Fallen

Ken O’Brien

In 1940 Charlie Chaplin released his film The Great Dictator. At the time of its first release, the United States was still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin's film advanced a stirring condemnation of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini's fascism, anti-Semitism, and the Nazis.

Can you imagine if this film had been withdrawn prior to release because Hitler objected to it?

What has happened to us?

Southbridge School Committee Agenda - December 23, 2014


LOCATION: Robert G. MacKinnon Council Chambers, 41 Elm Street

DATE: Tuesday, December 23, 2014

TIME: 7:00 PM

*6:30 p.m. Musical Holiday Performance by the 
Southbridge Middle/High School Band*


I. Welcome and Pledge of Allegiance

II. Public Input*

III. Call to Order/Roll Call 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

EPA Expected To Decide On Coal Ash Friday

Ken O’Brien

At the October 20th meeting of the Southbridge Town Council resident John Pulawski kicked off a new round of controversy regarding the town’s landfill. He alleged that toxic materials were being used as cover for the site. Specifically he referred to coal ash as the culprit.

Subsequently representatives of the Board of Health disputed Mr. Pulawski’s claims. The stated that the EPA had not defined coal ash as a toxic substance. Therefore, they contended, it was just one more instance of Mr. Pulawski crying wolf.

Rajon Rondo Traded To Dallas


The Boston Celtics are in the process of finalizing a deal to send Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks, according to league sources.

The Celtics and the Mavericks have an agreement in principle to send the All-Star point guard to Dallas for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson and a future first- and second-round draft pick.

The Mavericks' starting point guard trio of Jameer Nelson (33 games), Devin Harris (three games) and J.J. Barea (1 game) have ranked in the bottom of the league in several categories. On the other hand, Rajon Rondo leads the league with 10.8 assists per game. 

Telegram Reports On School Committee Executive Session

Brian Lee, writing in a Telegram article titled Southbridge school board probe's [sic] superintendent's behavior, reports that the School Committee met behind closed doors Wednesday for more than two hours "to receive, consider and act on an investigative report" pertaining to complaints made by employees about Superintendent Patricia Gardner.

After the meeting, Chairwoman Lauren C. McLoughlin told a reporter: "The committee has recessed the matter and will continue to meet regarding the matter."

Asked if Ms. Gardner remained the superintendent, the chairwoman said, "We are continuing to meet on that." 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

North Korea Behind Sony Hack

U.S. officials believe the North Korean government was behind the computer hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, a massive security breach that embarrassed several executives and led to the cancellation of the planned Dec. 25 release of "The Interview."

The officials told NBC News the hacking attack originated outside North Korea, but they believe the individuals behind it were acting on orders from the North Koreans.

"We have found linkage to the North Korean government," according to a U.S. government source. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Southbridge Town Council Meeting - December 15, 2014

Festivus Is A Week Away – Air Your Grievances

Ken O’Brien

Once again that time of year is almost upon us.

The pressure of locating just the right tchotchke that will pacify that annoying relative for another year.

Relentless repetition of saccharine yule time ditties that make you wish you’d been run over by a reindeer.

In summary all the angst and loathing of an entire year crammed into a thankfully brief period.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

You Get A Day Off, And You Get A Day Off, And You… Oops! Never Mind

Ken O’Brien

During Councilors Forum at last Monday’s Town Council meeting, Councilor Carrasco revealed the plan to close school administrative offices during the period from December 24th to January 5th.

This wasn’t some rumor that the Councilor latched onto and ran with. He attempted to contact school department personnel. He had the Town Manager contact the Superintendent. All got the same message that administrative personnel would be given an additional 5½ days off with pay, a perk not afforded to other non-union town employees.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Are Town Councilors Wavering On Budget Pledge?

Ken O’Brien

This year, like every year, there was the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth over setting the tax rate.

And this year, as I have done for the last three years, I will point out that the time is long past to attempt to backpedal. The time to act is not in December but in April when the budget is voted upon.

Therefore I was optimistic on November 17 when Councilor Vecchia read a pledge signed by him and four other councilors to cut the FY 2016 school and departmental budgets by 1% from their FY 2015 levels.

Now, however, there appears to be some waffling and an effort to walk back the conviction expressed in that pledge.

New England Journal of Medicine Comments On Court Challenge To Obamacare

The U.S. Supreme Court's surprise announcement on November 7 that it would hear King v. Burwell struck fear in the hearts of supporters of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At stake is the legality of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rule extending tax credits to the 4.5 million people who bought their health plans in the 34 states that declined to establish their own health insurance exchanges under the ACA. The case hinges on enigmatic statutory language that seems to link the amount of tax credits to a health plan purchased “through an Exchange established by the State.” According to the plaintiffs in King, that language means that consumers who buy insurance through federally run exchanges don't qualify for subsidies. The Court's decision to hear the case without a split between appellate courts suggests that at least four justices harbor serious doubts about the IRS rule's validity. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Was That About?

Ken O’Brien

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Southbridge School Committee may have broken new ground in the neighborhood of the bizarre.

There was, of course, no mention of the Flick report regarding charges leveled against the Superintendent of Schools.

There was the question of the Central Office staff being given five additional days of vacation (more about that later).

But far and away the rant by committee member Brent Abrahamson during member forum was a piece unto itself.

Please feel free to submit your suggestions as to what you think he was talking about.

Southbridge School Committee Meeting - December 9, 2014


Southbridge Town Council Meeting - December 8, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Southbridge Landfill Fined $220,000

Ken O'Brien

The Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park landfill will pay nearly $220,000 to settle claims that improper maintenance and monitoring of a large soil stockpile caused a landslide that damaged adjacent wetlands, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

The complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court with the consent judgment, alleges that a portion of the stockpile became unstable and caused a landslide in August 2013, which inundated the banks of a stream in Charlton with up to a foot of sediment and covered more than half an acre of vegetated wetlands with mud and silt, ranging from a fine coating to a half foot of muck. 

Republican War On ACORN Continues – Even Though ACORN Has Been Dead For Four Years

Ken O’Brien

On Tuesday, House negotiators unveiled a bill to fend off a looming government shutdown that included the following ominous provision:
None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.

Fear not, America. House Republicans have resumed their war on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an anti-poverty nonprofit staffed by low-income people, a scant 4 1/2 years after the organization officially folded. 

Senator Warren Blasts Spending Bill

Ken O’Brien

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is not happy about the plan to weaken regulation of big banks that Republicans managed to insert in the spending bill. She's so unhappy, in fact, that she's calling on Democrats to oppose the overall bill unless that provision is removed.

“Who does Congress work for?” Warren said in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. “Does it work for the millionaires, the billionaires, the giant companies with their armies of lobbyists and lawyers, or does it work for all the people?” [...]
“Now, the House of Representatives is about to show us the worst of government for the rich and powerful,” she continued. “The House is about to vote on a budget deal, a deal negotiated behind closed doors that slips in a provision that would let derivatives traders on Wall Street gamble with taxpayer money and get bailed out by the government when their risky bets threaten to blow up our financial system.” 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How Teacher Agustin Morales Got His Job Back

Sarah Jaffe in Salon

Agustin Morales’s first day back at school came a little bit late this year. On November 24, he began his fourth year as English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to congratulations from his students and colleagues.

Morales had to fight to return to school at all this year. As Salon reported in October, he was let go last spring, after his evaluations took a sudden turn at about the same time as he joined fellow teachers and parents to protest so-called “data walls” in the classroom; teachers had been instructed to post students’ names and test scores on a public wall as a motivation tactic. Parent Paula Burke called the walls “public humiliation.” 

Einstein On Race In America

Ken O’Brien

In 1946 Albert Einstein addressed what was called, “the Negro question” in a document belonging to the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls of physics.”

He began by noting that as a newcomer to America he might not have the right to speak. “I am writing seriously and warningly about things which concern [Americans] alone, and which no newcomer should touch[.]” 

Senate Torture Report Released

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released the highly anticipated 500-page summary of its report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, providing a sobering glimpse into one of the darkest chapters in the U.S. government's history.

In the report, a product of a 5-year investigation, Senate investigators reveal torrid details of the systemic and individual failures by the agency personnel who ran the enhanced interrogation program during the George W. Bush administration. The program involved capturing terrorism suspects and shipping them to secret overseas prisons, where they were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Racism, Misogyny and Privilege: The Basis Of Modern “Conservatism”

Ken O’Brien

The Dow Industrial Average is approaching 18,000. Job growth in November hit a fifteen year high. Unemployment is below 6%. Gasoline prices are approaching $2.50 per gallon. And we are finally making progress in achieving universal health care – first proposed by Harry Truman over 60 years ago.

By any objective measure the Obama Administration has been a success.

This is especially true by comparison to our sister economies of Western Europe, which have consistently teetered on the brink of resurgent recession. 

Retirement Security May Be Sacrificed To Avoid Government Shutdown

Ken O’Brien

As defined-benefit pensions gradually disappear from the U.S. workplace, workers are increasingly relying on 401(k) plans for retirement security.  One casualty of the House budget talks to avert a government shutdown may be a proposed rule requiring investment advisers to act in the best interests of their clients, according to multiple House Democratic sources.

Backers of the fiduciary rule say it would give workers some basic protection by discouraging 401(k) brokers from pushing plans based on the fees going to those brokers' firms -- fees that, over the course of a worker's career, can significantly eat into a retirement plan's potential growth. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Conservatives’ Pockmarked Past

Conservatives can't name one previous policy of theirs that helped the nation

Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg in Salon

Republicans are determined to dismantle Obamacare, not because they have any chance at succeeding–the president’s veto can’t be overridden–but because it’s of a piece with everything else they’ve been doing to embarrass this two-term chief executive.  They do so, they say, in the name of conservatism.

Now, name one program since Eisenhower, initiated by conservatives in Congress, that the nation looks back on and breathes a collective sigh, on the order of: “Whew, we dodged a bullet when we reversed that progressive misstep.” The left reflects proudly on the strongest part of its history: 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Orion Spacecraft Completes Successful Test Flight

Nasa successfully launched its new Orion spacecraft on a mission that the US space agency hopes will foreshadow the first human expedition to Mars.

At 7.05am ET (12.05pm GMT) on Friday a dense bloom of fire and smoke shrouded the launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as the Orion capsule rose into clear skies on the Delta IV heavy rocket.

Southbridge School Committee Agenda - December 9, 2014

Southbridge School Committee Meeting

LOCATION: Robert G. MacKinnon Council Chambers, 41 Elm Street

DATE: Tuesday, December 9, 2014

TIME: 7:00 PM

I. Welcome and Pledge of Allegiance

II. Presentations
            A. Student MCAS Awards
            B. John & Abigail Adams Scholars

III. Public Input* 

Southbridge Town Council Agenda - December 8, 2014

Southbridge Town Council Meeting

MacKinnon Council Chambers

Date: December 8, 2014

Time: Following Tax Rate Public Hearing


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Have We Learned Anything?

Ken O’Brien

Members of the Southbridge School Committee now have the results of the so-called Flick report regarding allegations made by school personnel against the Superintendent.

It is doubtful that the public will ever learn the results of this report.

Is it not time to ask whether this is appropriate?

After our miserable experience in this district with the administration of our school system the time has come to ask whether the results of such investigations should remain private. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Southbridge Crime: 30th Out Of 351 Communities In Massachusetts

NASA Set To Test Orion Deep-Space Capsule On Thursday

Ken O’Brien

NASA announced on Monday that it is set to test the spacecraft that it says will eventually deliver astronauts to Mars.

The agency announced on Monday that the Orion space capsule will get an uncrewed test flight early Thursday morning.

FOX Impacts Local News

Ken O’Brien

There are a disturbing number of places around the U.S. where you don't have to turn on Fox News to end up watching it.

That's because Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes' 21st Century Fox owns and operates 28 stations in major media markets across the country. And while these stations might seem independent, Fox uses them to push misinformation to viewers like you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Foreclosures In Massachusetts Rise Again

Ken O’Brien

Foreclosure starts across Massachusetts in October reached their highest level in nearly two years and marked eight consecutive months of year-over-year monthly increases, according to The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

Lenders filed a total of 965 foreclosure petitions in October, compared with 504 during the same month a year ago. This marked the eighth consecutive month of year-over-year increases and is the highest number of starts since November 2012. A total of 6,384 foreclosure starts have been filed so far this year, a 36.5 percent increase compared with 4,678 petitions recorded during the same period last year. Petitions mark the first step in the foreclosure process. 

Will She Still Want It Public?

Ken O’Brien

At the October 28th meeting of the Southbridge School Committee Dr. Raymond Page read a redacted complaint by school personnel against Superintendent Patricia Gardner.

That reading of the complaint followed the vote to enter executive session and a request by the Superintendent that the executive session be conducted in public.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Prospect For Winter: CBS Boston

Progress? Really?

Ken O'Brien

"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."

So said John Lennon.

Recently the Town Council discussed the state of affairs in Southbridge schools.

Members of the School Committee present at the meeting protested that the latest report on the schools’ Accelerated Improvement Plan (AIP) offered hope of making progress in escaping from the town’s Level IV status. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

What Happened To The Charter Review Committee?

Ken O’Brien

As we pointed out in an earlier article, the Town Council has jumped the gun in its call for the landfill reimbursement receipt study by over six months.

On the other hand, it has been derelict in its responsibility to fulfill a recurring provision of the town’s home rule charter. That is the obligation to name a Charter Review Committee every fifth year following the adoption of the Charter.
12-5-2: The chairperson of the town council shall appoint a charter review committee every five years. The committee shall consist of five members, and shall report its recommendations to the town council within one year from the date of its appointment.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Official Teaser

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Introducing Santa's Little Helper

Ken O'Brien

Now that we've had our fill of turkey and all the fixin's, attention turns to the next big task.

That, of course, is the compilation of gift lists for the Christmas holiday.

Going into our first holiday without a daily local paper, The O'Zone is making an effort to offer an alternative diversion.

We've launched Santa's Little Helper.

Happy Thanksgiving

Southbridge School Committee Meeting - November 25, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Having It Both Ways

Ken O’Brien

Late in tonight’s meeting School Committee member Erin Quinney added an item to the agenda.

She sought to amend the existing School Committee Policy by placing the call to order of the meeting at the start of the meeting.

She explained that as a result of circumstances that arose at the November 12th meeting she had contacted the Attorney General’s Office to seek clarification as to when the Committee’s meeting was considered to be in order. Through a rather tortured explanation she ended up expressing the view that, even though the call to order followed Public Input, the meeting was actually in order as soon as the committee assembled on the dais. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sarai McNeill Speaks Out

Sarai McNeill

My name is Sarai McNeill, I'm 17 and I go to Southbridge Middle/High School.

On November 12, 2014 I spoke during Public Input at the Southbridge School Committee meeting. I wasn't able to get everything out that I wanted because I was told I was not allowed to say it during Public Input.

As soon as the school committee meeting ended, Mrs. McLoughlin asked if I wanted to tell her anything and I agreed so that way I could explain what I was originally going to say at the podium. She pulled me aside to an area outside of the Council Chambers and she advised me to wait until the people passing by were gone and once she gave me the go ahead, I began. 

It’s Time To End The Lawlessness

Ken O’Brien

It is fair to assume that publicly elected bodies will act in concert with the law, their policies as well as the will of those who have elected them.

The current School Committee has failed on all counts.

It began almost immediately following the resignation of former Chairman Patricia Woodruff.

The (then) Vice-Chairman invoked a little known clause in Roberts Rules of Order to succeed to the Chairmanship without the election called for at the time in the Committee’s policies. This was done despite the provisions of one of the other policies (specifically policy BEDD) which said, “Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised will govern the proceedings of the Committee, except when those rules are in conflict with the Committee's approved policies and regulations.” 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

It’s Time To Put Benghazi Nonsense To Rest

Ken O’Brien

The latest findings, released Friday, into the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, has refuted claims that there was a cover-up or that officials didn't do all they could at the time to save the four Americans killed that night.

The declassified two-year investigation by the Republican-dominated House Intelligence Committee, which conducted an exhaustive probe into the incident, debunked claims that the White House cooked up phony talking points for then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice.