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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bookmark_borderRacism in action

Renee Graham’s latest Boston Globe column, entitled “You can read the white rage in their MAGA hats,” might just be the most ridiculous thing I have ever read.

In it, she criticizes as racist a group of “white teenage boys” for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. “Clearly, this was meant as a provocation,” she huffs, immediately prior to admitting that the group “did nothing disruptive” other than simply existing and moving through the museum. Graham characterizes this horribly inappropriate behavior as “trolling” and “denigrat[ing] African-American history.” She describes how African-American museum visitors shook their heads at the group, rolled their eyes, and gave them “side-eye.”

“African-Americans survived the Middle Passage, centuries of enslavement, families torn apart, systemic sexual abuse, lynchings, racist Supreme Court decisions, police violence, and Jim Crow,” she pontificates. “Every effort to dim our light has only made it burn hotter and brighter. We’re still here, unbowed…. We won’t be intimidated by people in MAGA hats – or the noxious president they represent.”

I, for one, am in awe of Graham’s courage. A grown woman was brave enough not to be intimidated by teens – gasp! – holding political views that are different from hers! What incredible grit and strength it must have taken to survive something so horrific.

In all seriousness, Graham’s opinion about the Trump-supporting teens is inaccurate, bigoted, and hypocritical:

Inaccurate because she characterizes the teens’ wearing of MAGA hats as racist when there is absolutely no evidence that this is true. There are plenty of reasons to support Trump, most of which have nothing to do with race.

Bigoted because she assumes the teens must be racist because of their race and political orientation and criticizes them merely for existing in a public place. Graham treats it as an act of aggression for people to wear a particular hat while minding their own business, while in reality Graham and the museum-goers who gave dirty looks were aggressing against an innocent group of people.

And hypocritical because Graham purports to advocate against racism and discrimination while herself being more racist than most of the people she criticizes. It’s past time for Graham to stop using blatantly racist terms such as “white rage” and to start thinking about being tolerant, for once, of people who are different than her.

bookmark_borderStarbucks protests are much ado about nothing

In today’s society, there are so many things to be outraged about, from the medical system to taxes to technology’s erosion of privacy rights. It’s puzzling to me that out of all the outrageous things happening in the world, so many people are outraged about the fact that two people, who happen to be black, were arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave a Starbucks.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the two men were at Starbucks, where they were planning to meet someone. They asked to use the restroom and were told no, as store policy is not to allow people to use the restroom unless they buy something. A little later, an employee went to their table and asked if they would like to order something. They said no. Because they didn’t buy anything, they were asked to leave. They refused. They were asked to leave two more times and continued to refuse, and eventually a manager called the cops.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has called this incident “reprehensible” and people have been boycotting and protesting the coffee chain, saying things like “Shame on you Starbucks.”

In my opinion, this reaction is completely excessive. Perhaps calling the cops was a bit of an overreaction, but it’s entirely reasonable to kick someone out of a café or restaurant if they aren’t buying anything. Perhaps the cops wouldn’t have been called if the two men were white; perhaps they would have been. There’s no way to know. The Starbucks protests are an example of the tendency to assume, that if anything bad happens to someone black, it must have happened because they are black.

An opinion piece by the Boston Globe’s Renee Graham exemplifies this attitude. “To be black is to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time because, in America, there is never a right place for black people,” she wrote. “Everything black people do is weighted by irrational white fear. It’s mentally exhausting to always be on guard, even during mundane moments.” About an incident where a person, who happened to be black, was tragically shot by a suspicious homeowner after knocking on the door to ask for directions, she wrote, “Even with my lousy sense of direction, I wouldn’t run the risk of ending up in jail or dead because somebody criminalized my blackness.”

This is completely nonsensical and has no basis in reality. All of America is the right place for black people, as well as people of any race. No one “criminalizes blackness.” There is no reason for people of any race to feel that they need to be constantly on guard to avoid ending up dead or in jail. Police brutality can happen to people of any race. So can tragic misunderstandings. It’s no fun to be mentally exhausted, but Graham is mentally exhausting herself for no reason.

“Nothing will ever change until a majority of white people in this nation stop perceiving black existence as sinister and suspicious,” Graham continues. “Talking about racism may hurt white people’s feelings, but their unchecked racism continues to endanger our black lives.”

But a majority of white people has never perceived black existence as sinister or suspicious. Graham is seeing racism where it does not exist, and she is insultingly dismissing differing opinions as “hurt feelings.” Not to mention the fact that by writing of “irrational white fear” and white people’s “unchecked racism,” Graham is actually being racist. Something is wrong with our society when anything that even remotely resembles racism against blacks – such as being kicked out of Starbucks – is considered “reprehensible,” while blatant racism against whites is considered perfectly fine.