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Bulger capture leads summer news cycle

By Bill O'Donnell, July 5, 2011

By Bill O’Donnell

Bulger Capture Leads Summer News Cycle—
No matter how you slice it, the Federales have achieved a stunning high performance perfecta in recent weeks. On May 2 it was the Navy Seals surprising Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad and taking him out. Some 51 days later it was the FBI, with a tip from Iceland (purportedly), ending Whitey Bulger’s 16-year Santa Monica retreat. Throw in the Bruins’ Stanley Cup win a week before the Bulger bust and you have a blogger’s delight.

There are still some unanswered questions about exactly how the FBI discovered Whitey’s location. Was it, as the Bureau asserts, the new marketing magic of targeted TV ads that pushed someone’s button and prompted the long-awaited phone tip? Or was it, as the noisy and contentious defense attorney Harvey Silverglate contends in the Boston Phoenix, something or someone else that landed Whitey? Silverglate, no stranger to the brackish back stories of the law enforcement establishment, suggests in his Phoenix piece that the Feds knew before the TV ads ran where Bulger was hiding out and used the ads as cover to protect their informant, who might have reasons (safety, close ties) to stay anonymous. Maybe it will take a posse flying to Iceland to track down the lucky (but media-shy) presumed winner of the $2.1 million Gotcha Whitey sweepstakes.

A peek into the fantasy closet of Whitey’s World as divined by Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph was presented in that paper’s June 24 edition, to wit: That Whitey, “immensely proud of his Irish heritage,” had a number of Irish links that enabled him to evade the law all these years, even having a “new identity provided especially for him by the IRA.” That has a somewhat Celtic urban myth ring to it, but not much in the way of truth.

The Whitey Bulger legacy is sadly far more than the sum total of the murders he is accused of and his vile management of the Southie drug trade. For many young people in South Boston, Whitey was (God forbid) a role model, a virulent pied piper of evil. And what of his strong identification with Southie the community, a few square miles that once boasted of being a neighborhood of priests and patriots? In its day, it is said, South Boston contributed more young people to the priesthood and the US armed forces than any community of its size in America.

During Whitey’s pre-flight reign, South Boston suffered an identity crisis that still haunts it to this day. All too often Southie was cruelly and unfairly defined by the lawlessness. As author and columnist James Carroll wrote in The Boston Globe on June 24, “Whitey Bulger was a one-man plague, infecting his own turf with mayhem, murder and drugs, poisoning the very streets and projects that honored him as protector.” Amen.

Boston College Challenges Oral History Grab—
The legal impasse between the PSNI in the North of Ireland joined by the US Attorney’s office in Boston against Boston College is, at this writing, almost certainly headed for the courts. And not implausibly; given the high stakes involved in the oral history archives project involving former Irish Republican Army members, that’s most likely where it belongs. The fishing expedition by the Northern police, (and it is that) has at its core as I noted earlier, a blatant double standard. Authorities there can demand recorded testimony and recollections of former IRA army members, yet there is no reciprocal agreement by the British to furnish files involved, for instance, in the Monaghan-Dublin bombings, or the murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, or details or identity of British Army Paras involvement in Bloody Sunday.

Writing in the Irish Echo last month, Ray O’Hanlon, a talented and resourceful veteran of that New York-based paper, expressed the strong opinion that the BC oral history situation, “which carries a bag-full of implications for academic and journalistic freedom, might already be on course for the United States Supreme Court.”

There is growing concern by university oral history research programs such as BC has established that the current BC-British subpoena stand-off will end up in court and that could have a chilling effect on any reasonable assertion of confidentiality when gathering critical, first-person accounts of key historic events.

Unless BC pulls a rabbit out of the hat, we know for sure that this is a crucial moment for historians and other academics who appreciate the invaluable contribution by key players in agreeing to interviews under a contributor lifetime seal. Absent that guarantee, Anthony McIntyre, a BC oral interviewer, says “The damage it would do to research at the university would be unimaginable. People would hold onto their secrets forever.” Stay tuned.

Polls Show Declining Support For Irish Unity—Results of a recent Northern Ireland Life & Times survey (a joint initiative of Belfast’s Queen’s University and the University of Ulster) clearly shows something less than a burning desire by Catholics in the North to embrace a united Ireland. The survey reflects a desire by a majority of Catholics (52 percent) to remain in the North as a part of the United Kingdom. One in three Catholics (33 percent) want a united Ireland. Only 16 percent of the overall population favor unity.

Sinn Fein, understandably disappointed with the low pro-unity numbers, criticized the credibility of the poll, pointing to the strong 26 percent Sinn Fein vote received in the latest election. Sinn Fein Assembly member Barry McElduff said in disputing the results, “The vast majority of citizens on this island, republicans and nationalists, support the goal of a united Ireland,” suggesting that a date be set for a referendum on Irish unity.

Sensing a political opening, Peter Robinson, the North’s First Minister, says he wants to turn the Democratic Unionist Party, founded by the retired Ian Paisley, into a cross-community party. Robinson, still flush with the DUP’s success in the recent election, went on to say, “My task is to make voting DUP as comfortable a choice for Catholics as anyone else.” He suggested that could happen by “building up DUP’s center right, pro-business credentials.”

It seems to me that the DUP, with its close ties to the anti-Catholic Orange Order, either has to convince the Orangemen to temper their bigoted ways or move the DUP away from the Order. There is little chance of either of those things happening in my lifetime. Dream away, Peter!

Democrats Whistling Past The Graveyard—
At least it seems that way to this observer some sixteen months before Scott Brown has to defend his US Senate seat against a Democratic opponent. I don’t see anyone in the current declared Democratic field or even Martha Coakley (touted by the Globe’s Joan Vennochi in a June 12 Globe column) as garnering enough money or grass-roots support to defeat the popular Republican. Brown has tap-danced his way into the hearts and minds of the Massachusetts electorate. And I doubt, after her first, less-than-spectacular go-around, if the attorney general has any stomach to try for redemption via a second campaign. And in all probability Brown is just as likely to be dropped by the tea baggers as he is by large numbers of Bay State independents.

Earlier in the spring, the junior senator did very well indeed when matched up in the polls against several high profile Democrats. Against Joe Kennedy (who has since said a definitive “no”) Brown won 45 to 40 in the closest matchup. He trounced Victoria Reggie Kennedy (the Senator’s widow) 52-30, Congressman Mike Capuano 52-26, and Governor Deval Patrick 52-37.
It could very well be that Massachusetts, as in the long-gone Leverett Saltonstall Republican days, is destined to have a split party vote from the two Senate spots.

Magdalene Laundry Survivors Nearing Justice—The Irish government —after a movie highlighting the abuses and a rising crescendo of complaints —has finally agreed to set up an independent committee to report on the fate of thousands of girls and young women who were detained, often against their will, in the state sponsored institutions.

Four religious congregations that ran the Magdalene laundries have joined with the former residents in the quest for justice. They are The Sisters of the Lady of Charity, The Sisters of Charity, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Mercy. Research by the Justice for Magdalenes group confirms that the religious orders held contracts with the laundries and the Irish courts sent women there on probation or remand. As late as the 1980s so called “problem girls” were sent to the Magdalenes. During their time at the laundries many young women were abused by the religious administrators. This is all clearly a part of the record.
The Irish Human Rights Commission has also taken an active role in urging the state to act. It is hoped that the former residents of the Magdalene Laundries will receive, at the least, apologies and compensation or pension benefits for their unpaid labor.

New York AG Investigating Donald Trump School—The attorney general of New York is looking into allegations that a for-profit vocation and training school set up by real estate mogul Donald Trump has been bilking thousands of dollars from unsuspecting young people. There have been over a dozen “credible” complaints that the Trump school misrepresents courses, future job opportunities, the quality of the instruction, and also charges inflated costs for inferior courses.

So good people, while the self-promoting Trumpster has had his hand deep in the pockets of poor and working class hopefuls, and with his companies often in chaotic reorganization, he found time to go public with his baseless charge that Barack Obama was probably not born in the United States. When a birth certificate was produced by the White House, Trump, a belching “Birther,” then announced that maybe the Obama educational record deserved more scrutiny. This foolish publicity hound and bottom-feeding jackass has disappeared from newscasts in recent weeks, his voice dim if heard at all, and his brief public flirtation with a presidential run merely an embarrassing sideshow. Good riddance to America’s biggest phony!

Padraig O’Malley, Peacemaker & Film Subject—
After years quietly toiling in the vineyards of reconciliation and new beginnings for historic enemies, Padraig O’Malley is beginning to attract the attention and the celebrity he eschews but genuinely deserves. In May in Derry, Northern Ireland, O’Malley presided over the second annual Forum for Cities in Transition. Attendees came from four continents and a dozen divided cities to seek solutions, or maybe just a first step in the painful journey to a more peaceful society.

Shadowing O’Malley, the Professor of Peace & Reconciliation at McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, was documentary film-maker Jim Demo of Boston, who is following and filming O’Malley, focusing on the Peacemaker’s life, philosophy, and work. That work by O’Malley, an Eire Society Gold Medal winner in 2008, has taken him to Northern Ireland, Iraq, South Africa, eastern Europe, and similar troubled locales, all in the interest of bringing people in conflict together in search of shared solutions.

Demo continues to film Professor O’Malley at work and occasional play, and hopes when “The Peacemaker” is completed that it will be released on a global basis. For more details on “The Peacemaker” and Jim Demo, turn to kickstarter.com.

The Myth Of The Irish-American Vote—
Trina Vargo, former top aide to Senator Edward Kennedy and now Director of the US-Ireland Alliance that, among other duties, administers the George Mitchell Scholars Program, wrote an intriguing article for the Huffington Post. Her thesis was the much over-rated, non-existent Irish-American vote. For years now, and the Obama visit was no different, the Irish news media have suggested that American presidents and would-be presidents visit Ireland chiefly to make points with Irish American voters back home. And at one time in our history there was, especially in urban areas, a distinct Irish vote. Maybe Bill Clinton caught the last wave of it in the nineties, but as Vargo points out, if that was so then it no longer is.

More than half of Irish America is Protestant, Vargo says. And the Irish are but one segment of the ethnic vote, which today is in large part Latino. The Catholic vote, as distinct from other religious blocs, includes Italian, French, and Poles. The Irish voter is many things, depending on education, location, urban-rural, and the factors that drive Irish are the same ones that motivate all voters —the economy, Medicare, jobs, Social Security, abortion, guns, Afghanistan, and on and on. In 2011 there is a Jewish mayor in Chicago, an Italian mayor in Boston and Tip O’Neill, Ted Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan are all sadly gone—and we have an African-American president. The Irish vote, per se, is as dead as the dodo bird.

RANDOM JOTTINGS

With back-to-back US Open golf championships hailing from there, shouldn’t Northern Ireland be the capital of golfdom? ... At 90, Maureen O’Hara is still putting in a tough day’s work organizing her $11 million Legacy Centre set to open in 2013 in Glangarriff, West Cork. … Hurling in the Shankill with two teams from the Falls Road and the Shankill playing in that loyalist stronghold. A first ever. … When will the airline industry stop gouging passengers for greed-driven luggage fees that are out of control? … Irish-born Niall O’Dowd runs a couple of Irish publications out of New York and is looking to parlay that into the Irish Presidency (honest). … Irish music’s signature band U2 made almost $200 million in the 12 months up to May this year. … Ireland next year will chair the world’s largest regional security group as part of the EU. … That pint of Guinness downed by President Obama while in Hayes Pub in Moneygall is worth millions to the parent company in marketing and sales. … Some 15,000 Irish workers are owed $55 million in tax rebates for work done while in Australia in 2009 amd 2010.

A sprawling French style chateau in Killarney donated to Ireland by wealthy Irish American John McShain is being considered as a summer vacation home for the next Irish president. … One-half of all the income tax now collected by the Irish government is used to pay interest on the country’s staggering debt. … The newly elected young Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Fein’s Niall O’Donnghaile, accepted an invitation to attend the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly and he is the first mayor to visit the Shankill. … To mark the centenary of the launch of the Titanic, Conor McClelland’s Co. Down restaurant Rayanne House is offering an exact reproduction of the last meal of the ill-fated liner. … In case you missed it, Sinn Fein Assembly member Paul Maskey has been elected MP for West Belfast replacing Gerry Adams. … Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told colleagues that the British have refused again to hand over further files of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. … A revival of sorts is in the works for Ireland’s Irish language theatre, with more plays in Irish being staged then there have been in years. … I have two words for Bank of America customers who were hit last month with a package of new fees: credit unions! … The arrival of Vatican officials in Ireland early in June has renewed speculation that Pope Benedict will visit the old sod next year.

A memorial garden displaying all the names of those who boarded the Titanic on her maiden voyage is being built in Cobh to mark the centenary. … The North’s enterprise minister, Arlene Foster, is saying that reducing the North’s corporate tax rate would add an additional 58,000 jobs. … Today’s report is that the IMF is backing Ireland’s intention to assess losses on bondholders of several large defaulting banks. … Little has changed in the Galway Airport situation: the Irish government will no longer fund it after January 2012 and the Galway chamber is looking for alternate funding. … Colum McCann has won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and its 100,000 euro purse.

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