New England

A selection of Jason's work as New England Bureau Chief from 2005 to 2009

Kennedy death puts family dynasty in doubt

BOSTON (Reuters) - Senator Edward Kennedy’s death marks the twilight of one of America’s most fabled political families, with no heirs to the Kennedy name poised to emerge with the same mix of gravitas, ambition and celebrity.

Kennedy, 77, one of the most effective lawmakers in U.S. history and the brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, died late on Tuesday after battling brain cancer.

He died just weeks after his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics and

As recession bites, some swap homes for hotels

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Some Americans are swapping homes for motels as the ranks of the homeless swell during the recession, crowding out shelters and forcing cities and states across the country to find new types of housing.

In Massachusetts, a record number of families are being put up in motels due to high unemployment and the rising number of homes going into foreclosure, costing taxpayers $2 million per month but providing a lifeline for desperate families.

“I feel like this

In Maine, a pulp-maker pioneers new biofuel

OLD TOWN, Maine (Reuters) - From the outside, the rustic red-brick mill on a bend in Maine’s Penobscot River resembles any other struggling American pulp and paper mill.

But along with its usual business of pulp-making, the century-old mill is doing something unprecedented: Developing technology to produce bio-butanol, a jet fuel, from parts of trees that would otherwise go to waste, one of the world’s first to do so.

Production is still two years away, but the reinvention of Maine’s Old Town

In downturn, Rhode Island worse-off than most

PAWTUCKET, Rhode Island (Reuters) - The city of Pawtucket in Rhode Island offers a vivid glimpse into the depth of America’s worsening recession -- and a warning of the dangers of rising unemployment.

About 50 miles south of Boston, Pawtucket was a pioneer in America’s industrial revolution. Now more than 11 percent of its workforce is jobless, the worst anywhere in a state that rivals economically battered Michigan for the highest unemployment rate in the country.

Main Street is pockmarked by

U.S. Catholics pray for more priests

WELLESLEY, Massachusetts (Reuters) - The sign outside St. James Church in the affluent Boston suburb of Wellesley sums up Catholicism’s deepening struggles in the United States.

“Still searching for a priest,” it reads. Another sign affixed to its thick doors pleads: “Save St. James.”

Facing dwindling congregations, shifting demographics and a drain on cash from settling sexual abuse lawsuits, Roman Catholic churches are shuttering at a quickening pace in a traditional stronghold, the U.S. Nor

Some in U.S. replace oil heat with wood stoves

BOSTON (Reuters) - It’s summer in the United States, but many Americans are already fretting about winter.

Record prices for home heating oil are rippling across America’s northern regions, stoking demand for wood stoves and other alternatives, and forcing some heating oil companies out of business.

In New England, which has the nation’s highest rates of heating oil use, homeowners are bracing for a near doubling in the cost to fill home oil storage tanks compared with last year.

The surging

Technology reshapes America's classrooms

BOSTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - From online courses to kid-friendly laptops and virtual teachers, technology is spreading in America’s classrooms, reducing the need for textbooks, notepads, paper and in some cases even the schools themselves.

She is one of 650 students who receive an Apple Inc laptop each day at a state-funded school in Boston. From the second row of her classroom, she taps out math assignments on animated education software that she likens to a video game.

“It’s comfortable

As homes foreclose in U.S., squatters move in

BROCKTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - They enter through a broken first-floor window each night to sleep on a moldy bed in the abandoned four-family house at 827 Main Street, part of a new generation of squatters emboldened by America’s housing foreclosure crisis.

“For squatters, foreclosed homes like this are like a camp-ground with free camping,” says real-estate broker Marc Charney, a foreclosure specialist, as he enters the home in Brockton, Massachusetts, and shines a flash-light at a mattre

Some homes worth less than their copper pipes

BROCKTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Shards of broken glass outside the basement window of 31 Vine Street hint at the destruction inside the three-story home.

Thieves smashed the window to break in and then gutted the property for its copper pipes -- a crime that has spread across the United States as the economy slows and foreclosed homes stand empty and vulnerable.

“They cut it here and then pulled it right out of the wall,” real estate broker Marc Charney said, pointing to broken plaster nea

Cities grapple with surge in abandoned homes

WORCESTER, Massachusetts (Reuters) - On Lagrange Street in New England’s second-largest city, two brick apartment buildings stand side-by-side in varying stages of decay -- boarded up, “No Trespassing” signs affixed, paint peeling.

Across the street, a condominium complex is on the brink. Three of its eight apartments are in foreclosure.

Like many cities in the United States where the home vacancy rate has scaled its highest since records began in 1956, the former textile mill city of Worceste

Piles of rocks spark an American Indian mystery

NORTH SMITHFIELD, Rhode Island (Reuters) - In a thick forest of maple, willow and oak trees where 17th century European settlers fought hundreds of American Indians, algae-covered stones are arranged in mysterious piles.

Wilfred Greene, the 70-year-old chief of the Wampanoag Nation’s Seaconke Indian tribe, says the stone mounds are part of a massive Indian burial ground, possibly one of the nation’s largest, that went unnoticed until a few years ago.

“When I came up here and looked at this, I

Boston's gritty Irish enclave goes upmarket

BOSTON (Reuters) - Few U.S. neighborhoods celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the fervor of South Boston, a fiercely proud, Irish-American enclave with powerful political connections and a history scarred by race riots and gangsters.

But as residents unfurl green, white and orange Irish flags and hang banners reading “The Luck of the Irish” from their windows in traditional preparation for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, major social and political changes are afoot.

The clout of

In Boston, Hispanics press for cultural recognition

BOSTON (Reuters) - The grocers sell chili pods and sugar cane. Salsa dance rhythms boom from cafes, and people crowd into sidewalk restaurants for batidos, empanadas and other Latin delicacies.

Boston’s Spanish-speaking Jamaica Plain neighborhood, which teemed with European factory workers in the 19th-century, is now the city’s unofficial “Latin Quarter” -- and its residents are flexing their political muscle.

The city, one of America’s oldest and still closely identified with the country’s Eu
Photo by Brian Snyder

Salem's witches fight for civil rights

SALEM, Massachusetts (Reuters) - She brews potions, wears flowing black caftans and says she can speak with the dead and cast spells with a gentle wave of a wand.

Laurie Cabot is a proud witch, and she’s fighting for her civil rights.

At age 73, the official witch of Salem says her craft is stronger than ever, as she sits in an overstuffed chair behind a pink table where she does psychic readings -- and where, she says, spirits of the dead often “pop through.”

“I can’t see them with my eyes,

Push Afoot to Open Church's Books to Scrutiny

A group of lawmakers in Massachusetts is trying to press the Roman Catholic Church to open its financial books, an unprecedented step in the scandal over pedophile priests.

Under a proposed law, the state's churches would need to disclose the health of their finances, a move resisted by religious leaders, who say it contravenes the separation of church and state enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

The proposal, debated this week in the chambers and corridors of Boston, follows a sexual abuse c