bookmark_borderCollege admissions scandal does not justify affirmative action

I don’t think anyone would dispute that committing fraud in order to help your child get into college is wrong. Cheating on the SATs is obviously unfair, as is and bribing coaches to designate a student as a star athlete when he or she is not. Parents and college consultants who commit fraud should be punished, as the U.S. Attorney’s office is doing by bringing charges in this case. But it is wrong to draw the conclusion, from the actions of a few dishonest people, that all rich people are privileged and undeserving of the success that they have achieved.

For example, Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham writes, “There’s no greater system of affirmative action in America than the one designed to benefit the wealthy and well-connected, especially if they’re white.” She preposterously states that “unless it all comes undone – which is maddeningly rare – a rich kid’s success is always chalked up to his or her hard work and personal sacrifice.” In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The media is filled with stories lauding people from disadvantaged backgrounds who achieved success, while people from wealthy backgrounds are stigmatized as lazy, entitled, and lacking in grit. It is assumed that their lives are nothing but ease and luxury and that their success is a result of their family connections and access to expensive lessons, summer camps, and college admissions counselors.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham argues that the college admissions scandal shows why affirmative action is needed. But this would just be replacing one form of unfairness with another. Yes, the actions of those arrested in the fraud case are wrong. And other, perfectly legal advantages that benefit rich students, such as giving preference to children of donors, are also unfair to other applicants. But why is the answer to this yet another form of discrimination? Giving preference to people simply for being non-white is equally unfair. In today’s college admissions system, those at the top and those at the bottom of the income ladder receive unfair advantages, the former group through money and social networks and the latter group through programs, admissions policies, and financial aid policies designed specifically to benefit them. It is those in the middle who are disadvantaged, with access to neither the social networks that many wealthy people have, nor the charitable and government programs for which the poor are eligible. Both of these forms of unfairness should be abolished.

A Boston Globe editorial went so far as to criticize the fact that colleges take athletic achievement into account in the admissions process. “Reserving spots for athletes is often a way of rewarding the rich,” the editorial states. “While there may be some inner-city squash or fencing or water polo teams, we’re going to go out on a limb and say there are probably not many…  Reserving spots for sailors may not officially be the same thing as reserving spots for rich people – but c’mon.” This is just insulting to students who excel at these sports. Admitting athletes in sports played by a high percentage of rich people is not the same as reserving spots for rich people – these students are being rewarded for their athletic ability, not for their family income. To dismiss fencers, squash players, polo players, and sailors as being granted admission merely because they tend to be rich minimizes these athletes’ talent and achievements.

No one chooses the economic circumstances into which they are born. It’s not as if a person is doing something wrong by being born into a rich family. Why should people who have the fortune (misfortune?) of being born to wealthy parents be punished for something over which they have no control? Yet that is exactly what happens when people treat wealthy students as inherently undeserving of success.

Why not have a system where colleges simply admit students based on merit, without regard to their race, ethnicity, or economic circumstances? Of course, merit is difficult to define, and it would be impossible to reach a unanimous decision about how the various factors – grades, test scores, musical, artistic, or athletic talent, extracurricular achievements, essay, and interview, just to give a few examples – should be weighed. But everyone should be able to agree that race has nothing to do with merit, not do social networks or parents’ decisions to donate money to a college. We should be striving to have a college admissions system that judges students on their individual merit, not one that adds one form of unfairness on top of another.

bookmark_borderNew National Civil War Memorial is exactly what America needs

In Taneytown, Maryland, plans are afoot to possibly build a brand new Civil War memorial. Sculptor and historian Gary Casteel is lobbying to build a timeline of the war  – which he hopes will become America’s first official national Civil War memorial – including 20 sculpted panels, 17 bronze statues, and 32 portraits of various significant people from the war, including Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, George Meade, and John Wilkes Booth.

It is the inclusion of Booth that has caused some controversy.

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bookmark_borderMemorable moments from the World Alpine Skiing Championships

The 2019 World Alpine Skiing Championships wrapped up Sunday in Are, Sweden. In addition to outstanding skiing, the competition featured emotional and moving moments from skiers of a wide variety of backgrounds and at different stages in their careers. My favorites are below:

“Attacking Vikings” share the podium in downhill – These World Championships were the final competition for Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. At 35, he has been one of the most successful and entertaining personalities in alpine skiing over the course of his 17-year career, with two Olympic gold medals and five world titles to his name. He announced his upcoming retirement on Instagram: “I’m writing this with some butterflies in my stomach, but also a smile on my face. I think that’s a good sign that this is the right decision.” In the World Championship downhill, fighting through chronic knee injuries and a hand injury, he managed to finish just 0.02 seconds behind his teammate and friend, Kjetil Jansrud. Watching the two aging “attacking Vikings” smiling and laughing atop the podium together was heartwarming. (Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria finished third.) “It was a little poetic in that we’ve shared so many hours of training together,” Jansrud said. “With all the previous wins we’ve had and to be able to be on the podium together one last time, it’s like a fairytale.” I will miss Svindal’s amazing skiing and calm, laid-back personality.

Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant retirement – After she crashed in the super G, many people doubted Lindsey Vonn would be able to compete in the downhill. Due to numerous knee injuries over the years, Vonn had announced that these World Championships would be her final competition. “I’ve got a bit of a shiner,” she told the media after the crash. “I feel like I’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler, but other than that I’m great.” Not only was Vonn able to ski the downhill, but she pulled out all the stops, took the lead, and her time held up for a bronze medal. Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia won gold and Corinne Suter of Switzerland won silver. Vonn celebrated her retirement with family, friends, boyfriend P.K. Subban, her dog Lucy and most importantly to Vonn, retired Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark, who holds the record for most career world cup wins. Vonn wore blue and yellow in honor of Stenmark, whose total of 86 wins she was trying to surpass before being derailed by injuries. He gave her a bouquet of flowers at the finish line in a rare public appearance for the reclusive athlete. Vonn called her final race “probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life.” To head into retirement with a crash and a medal in her final two races perfectly sums up Vonn’s gutsy, all-or-nothing style of skiing.

Mikaela Shiffrin’s historic and gritty victory in the slalom – Mikaela Shiffrin is widely regarded as the best skier in the world, having dominated the slalom and giant slalom races for several years and beginning to notch victories in super G and downhill as well. At 23, she has amassed 55 world cup wins and is on pace to easily surpass Stenmark’s record of 86 She has demonstrated tremendous talent, hard work, and a methodical approach to training and competition that has paid dividends. One thing Shiffrin has not particularly been known for is having to overcome adversity. Until Saturday, that is. Fighting an illness that made it difficult to breathe without coughing, Shiffrin finished third in the first slalom run. But her outstanding second run propelled her to victory. In an emotional interview with NBC’s Andrea Joyce, Shiffrin explained that she and her mom were considering withdrawing from the competition, but she decided against it: “I’m out here. I want to do it and whether I win or not, I just wanted to try. And when she said ‘you don’t have to,’ then I was sure that I wanted to.” With this win, Shiffrin became the first skier in history to win the same event at the World Championships 4 years in a row. And she showed courage and determination that not everyone knew she possessed.

bookmark_borderBack pay for federal workers is an issue of fairness

Since the government shutdown (temporarily, at least) came to an end, Representative Ayanna Pressley introduced a bill – known as the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act – which would provide back pay to  contract employees just like those who work directly for the federal government.

“This is about dignity, this is about fairness, this is about justice,” Pressley said.

I agree with this statement, but not in the way Pressley meant it. True fairness would be for none of the employees furloughed during the shutdown to receive back pay.

After all, during the five weeks the federal government was shut down, neither contract employees nor federal employees were working. For them to get paid as if they were working this entire time is not fair to all of the other workers across the country – in the private sector and for state and local governments – who were not affected by the shutdown. It is even less fair to the government employees, such as TSA agents and air traffic controllers, who were forced to work without pay during the shutdown. Nor is it fair to taxpayers for the government to take their hard-earned money and use it to pay people for work they did not perform.

Yes, it is inconvenient to suddenly be furloughed from work. For people who do not have savings in the bank, it can be difficult or impossible to pay bills. But there is no right to receive continuous employment and pay from the federal government. The government has every right to discontinue, either temporarily or permanently, any federal job(s). This is disappointing for the affected employees, but it is a risk that people assume when they work for the federal government. There is nothing unfair about  it.

Additionally, for people to temporarily or permanently lose their jobs is something that happens in the private sector all the time and is not treated as a tragedy but simply part of the economy. Every day, companies go out of business, lay off workers, cut their hours, or furlough them based on changing market conditions. The vast majority of time, newspapers do not run front page articles about the suffering faced by these workers and their families. Restaurants did not offer free meals to racetrack employees when it was announced that Suffolk Downs lost out on the casino license and was going to be closing. No one has suggested paying workers at the now-closed Necco plant for all the weeks they would be working had the factory remained open. But that’s exactly what is happening for federal employees. Being out of work is a hardship for anyone. Why should government workers be exempt?

Supporters of back pay say that government employees should be compensated for the wages that they missed out on. But giving people full pay for not working goes way beyond compensating them. It is the equivalent of giving them five extra weeks of paid vacation. It is a windfall, a boon, a reward, a huge extra benefit, delivered at taxpayers’ expense and denied to the federal employees forced to work without pay as well as to all other workers across the country. Furloughed government employees got to have five weeks of free time, which they could spend pursuing their hobbies, resting, exercising, or doing anything they wanted. True, they did not choose this free time and most would likely have preferred to continue working than to miss out on their paychecks. But this does not change the fact that to pay them for this time is completely unfair to everyone else who spent the time working.

bookmark_borderRest in peace, Whitey Bulger

On the morning of Tuesday, October 30, 2018, James “Whitey” Bulger’s life came to an abrupt and violent end. The day after being transferred from U.S. Penitentiary Coleman in Florida to U.S. Penitentiary Hazleton in West Virginia, he was murdered by at least two inmates, allegedly including mafia hitman Freddy Geas. The 89 year old Bulger, sitting in his wheelchair, was beaten to death with a padlock wrapped in a sock, leaving him unrecognizable.

Whitey in 1953

Prison officials had given Bulger the option of being placed in protective custody to keep him safe from potential enemies from the organized crime world, but he opted to stay in general population, where conditions were less restrictive.

Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney, said, “I was proud to be appointed by the Federal Court to represent James Bulger. He was sentenced to life in prison, but as a result of decisions by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that sentence has been changed to the death penalty.”

Whitey in 1984

His other lawyer, Hank Brennan, described how Bulger was looking forward to teaching himself how to walk again after getting out of solitary confinement.

Whitey Bulger and Chris Nilan with the Stanley Cup

Bulger had expressed his wish to be buried next to his love, Catherine Greig, and hoped to live two more years to see her released from prison. Greig stuck with Bulger throughout his life of crime and their years on the lam, receiving a 9-year sentence for helping him evade capture and refusing to testify against him.

Numerous people have expressed indifference, satisfaction, and downright jubilation at Whitey’s death. But I, for one, consider this a sad occasion. Yes, he was one of the most notorious criminals in history and had been convicted of 11 murders and numerous counts of racketeering. But no one deserves the death that Whitey suffered, especially someone too old and frail to be able to defend himself. Whether intentionally or not, someone certainly failed at their job by allowing this to happen.

Whitey was one of a kind, and there will never be another quite like him. Rest in peace.

James Joseph Bulger Jr.

September 3, 1929 – October 30, 2018

bookmark_borderRed Sox Parade of Champions 2018

Today the Red Sox and their fans took to the streets of Boston to celebrate their outstanding, 119-win season and World Series victory. Before tens of thousands of cheering, sign-waving, beer-throwing fans, the rolling rally inched its way from Fenway Park, down Boylston Street, past the Boston Common, to City Hall plaza, spewing confetti in its wake. Check out my photos of the celebration below:

Pedro Martinez proudly holds the 2004 World Series trophy

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bookmark_borderAnti free speech bullies strike again

On Saturday, anti free speech bullies staged another shameful display of intolerance in Boston. About a year after 40,000 people decided to protest against a small free speech rally on the Boston Common, a similar demonstration of bullying happened at City Hall Plaza, where 300 members of “Stand Against Hate Boston” attempted to drown out about 30 free speech advocates.

According to news reports, the counterprotesters’ goal was to disrupt the rally and to shout down its speakers. They chanted “cops and Klan go hand in hand” at police officers. One berated a reporter who was attempting to interview a rally attendee, shouting “There aren’t two sides here; they’re Nazis.” Anti free speech protest organizer Peter Berard said, “We’re trying to show that Boston is no place for their hate.”

These words and actions are completely hypocritical.

There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with the views expressed at the rally, but disrupting the event and attempting to drown out its speakers goes well beyond expressing your own views. It is an act of aggression and intolerance against people whose only crime is holding different opinions than you.

By openly stating that Boston is “no place for” the free speech rally, the protest organizer displayed his intolerance for anyone who happens to hold different beliefs from him. So did the individual who yelled at the reporter that “there aren’t two sides here.” Even if the rallygoers were Nazis, which they aren’t, there are always two sides, and to claim otherwise is the ultimate in bigotry. The entire point of freedom of speech is that there is a variety of possible opinions on every issue, and everyone should have the opportunity to make their views heard. Counterprotesters openly voiced the sentiment that their opinions are the only legitimate ones and that people with different opinions do not belong in the city of Boston. I can’t think of anything more intolerant or more hateful than that.

Even the coverage by the Boston Globe was biased, with the words “free speech” appearing in quotation marks within the headline and throughout the article. Obviously, the reporters are perfectly welcome to question the opinions expressed at the rally. But to question what the rally is even about? For every political event, protest, or rally that I can remember, the media has simply taken at face value the event’s stated topic. To refuse to do so here conveys a tone of contempt and ridicule that is not appropriate for a news article. Saturday’s event was not a “free speech” rally. It was a free speech rally. A concept that too many people in Boston and beyond don’t seem to understand or value.

bookmark_borderDismissal of inauguration protest charges is a defeat for justice

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia recently dismissed charges against all remaining people arrested for the destructive protests against President Trump on his inauguration day. Originally, 234 people were arrested for allegedly participating in acts of vandalism that included setting fires and smashing storefronts with bricks and crowbars, resulting in injuries to 6 police officers. Some of those defendants pleaded guilty, some went to trial and were either acquitted or had hung juries, and the rest had their charges dismissed.

The reason why so many of these people were allowed to go free makes sense: the government was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the people arrested were actually the people who committed the acts of vandalism. Videos from body cameras, cell phones, and security cameras were not clear enough for jurors to definitively identify the vandals, and the defendants successfully argued that they were just protesting peacefully and shouldn’t be blamed for other people’s actions.

However, it still remains true that someone set the fires and smashed the storefronts in Washington, D.C. on inauguration day. And it’s a defeat for justice and fairness that the people who did that – aside from one defendant who was sentenced to 4 months in prison – will escape punishment.

The wrongfulness of the vandals’ conduct has been largely ignored by anti-Trump folks in their celebration of the dismissal of the charges. For example, Natasha Lennard at The Intercept praises the protesters’ “united front” which “meant the government could not weaponize co-defendants to bolster their weak case.” She mentions that the innocent defendants must have been tempted to “assert that they were in fact the law-abiding ‘good protesters,’ while actively condemning and drawing attention to the actions of a few window-breakers” and praises their decision not to do this.

But condemning the actions of the window-breakers is exactly what the other protesters should be doing. To destroy the property of innocent people is morally wrong. By failing to condemn the property damage, the anti-Trump movement is essentially saying that the property damage is okay. No one should be okay with, or want to be associated with, people who decided that their hatred of Trump and his policies was more important than the rights of innocent people.

The arrested protesters complain about the “trauma” that they have “suffered,” but did any of them think for a second about the suffering of the innocent people whose property was destroyed?

Countless people have been arrested and imprisoned for “victimless crimes” that should not be crimes at all, such as drug use, driving without a license, gun possession without a license, and failure to pay taxes. Destroying innocent people’s property, on the other hand, is precisely the type of action that the legal system was created to punish. It’s unfortunate that in this case, there wasn’t enough evidence to determine with certainty who perpetrated the barbaric actions of inauguration day. But that doesn’t make those actions any less wrong. As D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said, “In the American criminal justice system, sometimes the bad guys win. That’s what happened in this case.”

bookmark_borderFrank Salemme mob boss trial: closing arguments

Frank Salemme is 84 years old and shuffles slowly into the courtroom each morning, wearing a suit and tie and smiling and chatting with his lawyer. He looks no more intimidating than your average dapper, good-natured older gentleman. But decades ago, he was the leader of the Boston mafia, and a murder that took place during that time is the reason why he’s currently on trial in federal court.

Salemme and his co-defendant, Paul Weadick, are on trial for the murder of their one-time business partner, Steven DiSarro. The trial began last month and featured emotional testimony from DiSarro’s family members, bickering between various attorneys, f-bomb filled transcripts of mafia members talking shop, and an appearance by Whitey Bulger’s partner in crime, Stephen Flemmi. I attended the closing arguments, which took place today.

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