Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mark Knoller (@markknoller)

I am pretty active on Twitter, and there are a few people who have mastered the art of reporting on Twitter. Mark Knoller is one of them. The CBS News White House correspondent tweets a few times a day, usually in the morning with an overview of the President's schedule, and then during the day with periodic updates.

I read Twitter feeds in Tweet Deck, and have Tweet Deck open at work during the day. So each new tweet from Knoller shows up in the upper right corner of the screen (a standard feature on Tweet Deck). Reading Knoller's Tweets is both informative and entertaining. His rolling commentary makes one feel like they are actually following the President and his staff around.

This was particularly the case this past Thursday, when Knoller posted tweets quite often about the President's summit on healthcare. When he made his first few tweets, I sent him a direct tweet, noting how I trust him to post tweets "of value." Within minutes, his reply came:
@rosslevanto if i only tweeted items of value, you might not hear from me ever again.
I can't imagine another platform that allows someone to interact directly with a White House correspondent. I applaud Mark Knoller for his use of Twitter. His updates show his personality. Previously, I would not have thought of watching CBS News (I prefer NBC and MSNBC). But I just might start now.

You can follow Mark (yep, we're on first name basis, now) on Twitter at @markknoller. If you are a political junkie like me, following him should be a requirement.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Worcester Bound

I was honored Saturday to be elected by fellow Democrats to represent my ward at the Democratic State Convention this June in Worcester.

I have some work to do before I go. I plan to study up on the candidates running for state-wide offices so I can best represent fellow Democrats.

We have a great group of delegates coming from Ward 5, Boston. Watch out, Worcester!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Best Birthday Gifts

Slogging through the snow
Beacon Hill, Boston
February 16, 2010

I have noticed that as I get older, I appreciate more practical gifts. Last year, my mom bought me an awesome birthday gift. It wasn't tickets to a UCONN basketball game (which is all I really wanted as a kid). No, it was a pair of black Die Hard Oxford shoes (shown above).

The shoes are waterproof. On the sole it says they are also oil-proof, though I have never had to test that. I have used them quite a bit on snowy, cold days.

Happy birthday to anyone born on this day. It's a great day to have a birthday. I wish you all very warm, dry feet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Democracy in Action

Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee Chairman Rob Whitney at the podium during a regular meeting of the committee, held in Boston on Feb. 16. Attached to the podium is a list of females interested in being on the committee's slate of state convention delegate candidates. The Ward 5 Democratic Caucus is scheduled for this Saturday, Feb. 20 at the Community Church of Boston, 565 Boylston Street, at 9:30 a.m.

Monday, February 15, 2010


It's my birthday this week. I get a bit nostalgic around my birthday, so you will have to bear with me.

Today I want to talk about Caldor. There's a Facebook group I am a member of called "I was a Norwichtown Mall kid growing up," which is "exclusively" for anyone who knows what the Norwichtown Mall is. The profile photo for the group is a picture of an empty mall hallway, with closed up center-isle clothing stands. Anyone in the know would recognize it, instantly, as the Noriwchtown (Conn.) Mall.

Caldor was the anchor store at one end of the mall. (A supermarket is at the other end.) My mom would take me to Caldor quite a bit as a kid. It's one of those stores that sells bikes and windshield washer fluid next to "designer" clothing. It really was the precursor to the modern-day Walmart or Target. Then again, it's possible those stores existed back then, too, and they had just not made it to Connecticut. At the end of the day, Caldor wouldn't survive.

Caldor had a nifty song that played over and over again inside. It went something like "Caldor, your everyday discount store... we save you money... everyday low prices... Caldor, your everyday discount store."

Yes, it is scary that I remember that. It is interesting, however, that I have never ever seen another Caldor anywhere on the planet.

Sadly, Caldor is no longer there. But it's theme song lives on in the heads of many Norwichtown Mall kids.

Running to Be a State Convention Delegate

The Democratic Caucus for Ward 5 in Boston is scheduled for this coming Saturday, Feb. 20. During that caucus, I very much hope to be elected as a delegate to the Democratic state convention, to be held in early June.

During my two years on the Ward 5 Democratic Committee, I have had many conversations with residents in Ward 5. I feel as though I have a good handle on what the concerns are in the neighborhoods. I know I would represent Ward 5 Democrats well at the convention.

If you are attending the Caucus, or the Ward 5 Democratic Committee meeting Tuesday night, I humbly ask for your support, and I would be happy to talk with you more about what I have learned.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Major Step For Cleaner Neighborhoods

Laura Sargent in Representative Marty Waltz's office emailed me this week to tell me great news. Governor Deval Patrick has signed into a law a bill that will help make Boston streets cleaner.

Now, those of you who read this blog know that one issue I am fairly passionate about is trash. When I first became a member of the Beacon Hill Civic Association back in 1999, I was asked shortly thereafter to represent younger Beacon Hill neighbors on the infamous "trash committee" (which is now called the City Services Committee). Spending one night each month talking about creative ways to make Beacon Hill's streets cleaner became, I admit, somewhat addictive.

Given the time I have spent studying the issue, I hope you will trust that I do have some insight into how the streets could be cleaner. Last year, I wrote a post that outlined three main initiatives that would help significantly.

1) Towing on street cleaning days. Street cleaning only works if cars are not in the way of the street sweeper. That's why Mayor Menino administration's maximum enforcement of posted street sweeping signs is so important. Move your cars, neighbors!

2) Switching to 2 + 2. We have three days of trash pick up on Beacon Hill. That means trash is on the sidewalk far too often. I suggest moving to two days of pickup, plus an additional day of recycling (with trash pick up and recycling happening on the same day).

3) This is the issue that Laura phoned me about. The law that is now in place (whoo hooo!) will allow the City to better penalize trash scofflaws. The City will now be able to put in place procedures that attach unpaid trash violation fines to a property's tax bills. This will give those violations weight. It will also wake up absentee landlords throughout the city (building owners who rarely visit their properties and check on their tenants).

Kudos to all who helped the "green ticket" law become a reality, including Representative Marty Walz, Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Mayor Menino and his administration, and the Boston City Councilors who supported this effort. Thank you all!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

You Have to Root for the Saints

Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

My good friend Tracy is from Indiana and is a huge Colts fan. I certainly respect that. But I don't know how anyone not from Indiana could root for the Colts today.

I was in New Orleans in October of last year, the first trip to the Bayou since I was a little kid. New Orleans is a a great city, and I stayed at a hotel just off Bourbon Street. The mixture of cultures, excellent food, and tawdry series of drinking establishments in the downtown areas of the city make it a unique tourist experience.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans
October 21, 2009

But underneath the pomp and circumstance, you feel sadness in New Orleans. Almost as if the city is unable to live up to its potential. I had always known New Orleans has its fair share of poverty, and my friends who went to school there say the "sadness" I sensed has always been there, but you have to assume the city is still struggling with its future post-Katrina.

The hotel I stayed in had just reopened after being gutted and rebuilt. The hotel was flooded by Katrina, and the mold from the deluge made the entire building uninhabitable. When I left the hotel, I was reminded by hotel employees to stay in groups after dark. "Many are still angry," they would say. I did not go to the Ninth Ward to witness the rebuilding efforts, but Katrina was on everyone's mind. Rather than feeling a surge of rebirth, however, what I sensed was more of an understanding of dejection. Kind of like New Orleans is always on the short end of the stick. Of course, I was only there for a week.

There was one thing that was a rallying cry while I was there, and that was the New Orleans Saints. At the time, they were still undefeated.

Today is the New Orleans Saints first trip to the Super Bowl. Before this season, the Saints had won just two games in the playoffs, in the history of the franchise. The team has been in the NFL since 1967. In that same time period, the Dallas Cowboys have won 33 playoff games and five Super Bowl championships.

Consider this-- despite all the great games played in the Louisiana Superdome over the years, including Super Bowls, college bowl football games and NCAA basketball Final Fours, the Saints win two weeks ago was the first time an NFL conference championship game was played there.

You can't be a bigger underdog than the City of New Orleans has been, and the New Orleans Saints are today. The country is rooting for them.

Enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

No More SUM for Citizens Bank

It's hard to believe there was a time when there were no ATM fees. A time when you could go from bank to bank and use their ATMs without fear of charges at either end of the transaction. At least, I know there was such a time in my life.

ATM fees are a permanent part of life now. And one last vestige of what that old time was like faded away quietly in recent months. My bank, Citizens Bank, has left the SUM ATM network.

Started in the late 1990s by US Trust, the SUM Network was the small banks way of battling back against BankBoston. Remember BankBoston? BankBoston ATMs were everywhere in Boston. And BankBoston charged fees to use them if you were not a BankBoston customer.

In an attempt to stand up to the BankBoston giant, US Trust collected together all the other small little banks and created an alliance. Use any ATM at any of the smaller banks, and you don't pay a fee. It was a fantastic populist reaction to the move of the evil banking empire, and it worked. US Trust was rewarded with loyalty. That certainly was the case for me, a US Trust customer by accident (the regulators made me a US Trust customer when my first bank, Bank of Boston, was eaten up to make BankBoston).

Except US Trust wasn't around that much longer. Citizens Bank bought US Trust right about the turn of the century. To the delight of US Trust customers, Citizens stood by the SUM network and said it would remain a part of the small bank alliance.

That ended late last year. Citizens has pulled out. I emailed Citizens to ask why, and I received the note at the end of this post. This is a sad event for the little guys who just need a bank to keep their money safe.

Citizens is crucial to the SUM network, in my opinion, because the bank offered more ATMs than any other SUM participant. Without Citizens, the options for SUM participants are dramatically smaller. I wonder how much longer SUM will be around.

Every time a bank merger happens, the resulting entity says the merger is completely about offering better service to customers. If that were the case, than Citizens would have remained a SUM network member forever. At the very least, it would recognize that it technically owns the originator of the idea (notice in the email below they try to make it sound like the SUM concept was someone else's thing, anyway).

Regardless of the consumer advocate arguments, the bottom line right now is the ATM I used before every time I walked to my car in the morning is no longer free. And that's a shame.

Dear Ross Levanto,

Thank you for your recent email regarding the SUM Network. Citizens Bank has made a business decision to no longer participate in the SUM surcharge-free program offered by the NYCE network. Customers were notified of this change in their November 2009 checking account statement.

Please keep in mind; you enjoy free access to more than 2,600 ATMs operated by Citizens Bank or Charter One. You may search for an ATM or branch in your area by visiting our website at and choosing the Branch/ATM Locator on the right side of the page. This will direct you to a page which requires the city, state or zip code of the branch you are looking for. Once this information is entered, you will be brought to a page which will list the five closest branches, along with their hours, phone numbers, and directions.

If you have any further questions, please contact us via email or by calling our 24-hour Customer Service Center at 800 922-9999. Thank you for using our Online Banking Services.


R. Ventura
Email Team Advocate