Rest 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

Red 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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Anti 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.

Dismissal 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.”

Frank 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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Racism 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.

Starbucks 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.

Gun rights supporters are not prostitutes

In today’s Boston Globe, Kevin Cullen wrote what is possibly the most offensive column that has ever been written, by any author, in any newspaper or publication.

“If only we really could throw a red challenge flag in the Congress to demand that the paid prostitutes for the NRA would be forced to sit and watch a ceaseless loop of video, replaying every school shooting since Columbine,” he writes. “Maybe a long, extended viewing of this madness, like a video waterboarding, would persuade the frauds in Congress to do their duty.”

He accuses members of Congress of “taking NRA money like gimlet-eyed hookers” and calls people who support the Second Amendment “morally bankrupt,” “utterly corrupt,” and “as nuts as Nikolas Cruz.”

It is infuriating to read and hear again and again, in newspapers, online, and on TV, these repeated personal attacks on people who support gun rights. Some people believe that the answer to mass shootings is to pass laws restricting individual rights in order to make our society safer; some (including myself) believe that individual rights come first. Regardless of what you believe, there is absolutely no reason to call people who hold different opinions “prostitutes” or “hookers” or to suggest that they be subjected to torture. This type of language is beyond offensive and unacceptable.

Enough with the all-too-common assumption that members of Congress who oppose new gun control laws are acting either out of cowardice, or because of donations from the NRA. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible for another person to actually hold an opinion that is different from your own? As difficult as it is to believe, some members of Congress actually believe that their duty is to uphold individual rights, not to sacrifice them in the name of safety. As shocking as this may be, it is possible for a human being to engage in deliberate, rational, independent thought and arrive at a belief that is different from yours. The fact that someone has different moral beliefs than you does not make them insane, corrupt, or morally bankrupt (sticking to one’s beliefs in the face of insults and criticism is the exact opposite of morally bankrupt), and it certainly doesn’t make them a prostitute.

 

Harvest Box idea does not equal “trashing the poor”

In the Boston Globe yesterday, columnist Yvonne Abraham made an unjustified and hypocritical attack on the idea of giving food stamp recipients a monthly box of food instead of EBT cards. The Trump administration came up with this proposal, called “America’s Harvest Box,” which would involve replacing at least part of recipients’ EBT benefits with food delivered to their door.

There are legitimate differences of opinion about whether this would save the government money, and there’s definitely an argument that this would inconvenience recipients by providing them with food that isn’t necessarily to their liking instead of allowing them to choose what they want from the grocery store.

However, Abraham is out of bounds when she claims that the Trump administration’s reason for introducing this proposal is not to actually enact it but to “set a useful tone, furthering the narrative that those on public assistance are morally dubious, lazy, and not to be trusted.” Disagreeing with a policy idea is fine, but Abraham is ascribing motivations to the Trump administration with absolutely no evidence. She calls supporters of the Harvest Box idea “policy sadists,” motivated by a “nasty stereotype.” She calls the idea “patronizing,” “ugly,” and “insulting.” She criticizes Republicans because they allegedly “balloon deficits by giving tax cuts to the rich even as they trashed the poor” and tells them to “lay off SNAP recipients.”

Personally, when it comes to my opinions about welfare programs, the main thing I care about is for the government to spend as little money as possible. This is also the motivation behind the Harvest Box. There’s nothing sadistic, nasty, patronizing, ugly, or insulting about wanting to save money. It has nothing to do with any stereotypes and nothing to do with how hardworking or trustworthy recipients are. It has nothing to do with trashing anyone. It’s simply about what financially makes the most sense.

To make things worse, when discussing corn and sugar subsidies, Abraham writes, “Only the poor are stigmatized for eating the dreck marketed relentlessly to all; not Trump, whose diet is appalling.” First of all, this statement is false: when Abraham, a columnist in a major newspaper, describes Trump’s eating habits as “appalling,” then Trump’s eating habits are indeed being stigmatized, at least by one newspaper columnist. Additionally, this is hypocritical. Abraham uses words such as “nasty” and “ugliness” to describe a policy idea that she disagrees with, yet by choosing to call another person’s eating habits “appalling,” she is the one being nasty and insulting.

How about voicing and arguing for your opinions without personally attacking those who disagree with you?