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The Ubiquitous Talent of Our Small Town (South Boston’s Authentic “Will Huntings”)

Remember Good Will Hunting?–Specifically, do you remember the character Will Hunting? Let me refresh your memory: While at a bar with his loyal Southie friends, he notices a pretentious Harvard student trying to make his friend (Ben Affleck) look stupid in front of a group of attractive girls. Will comes to his friend’s aid. After kicking this arrogant bastard’s ass intellectually, he offers the following bit of wisdom:

The sad thing is in about 50 years you’re going to start doing some thinking on your own, and by then you’ll realize there are only two certainties in life … One don’t do that. Two, you dropped $150 grand on an education you could have received for $1.50 in late charges at the public library

After embarrassing this smug Harvard student, Will adds, “And if you got a problem with that, maybe we can step outside and deal with it that way.” (Damon, Matt; Affleck, Ben; Good Will Hunting: 1997) That scene truly reflects the many talents and virtues of Southie. It says, “Yes, I’m an intellectual, but I’m a fighter too. And my loyalty to my friends is absolute.” It is a loyalty that grows from the empathic/survivalist nature of Southie folks–people whose cultural roots are planted firmly in Ireland, so much so that we often jest that South Boston is the western-most county of Ireland.


Is this character merely a fictional character? Is it possible that the “genius old school Southie kid” has a non-fictional counterpart?

Of course, a lot of outsiders will say no. To these folks, one is stereotyped as an idiot when they either detect a “Southie accent” or hear one say, “I’m from Southie–I and 8th St.”

There are folks who will cite sociological reasons that a non-fictional Will Hunting is a fantasy. They will cite socioeconomic reasons. And they will cite cultural reasons. And they are wrong.

Anyone that knows Southie, knows that our culture is the reason why we not only survived, but thrived.

Oppressed by the English at home, the Irish diaspora began a great migration to Boston. There is but one reason why Boston and many other parts of the country claim Irish ancestry: The Irish Famine. The Irish people literally starved. The English iniquitously deprived the Irish of the crops that the Irish themselves farmed and harvested. The English brought the food home to England, and left the Irish starving to death.

The Irish Famine Memorial – Boston

Thus is the genesis of the prominent Irish diaspora in Massachusetts (Plymouth County still has the highest concentration–outside of Ireland–of those with Irish ancestry); the diaspora that took “blue-blooded” Boston by storm; the diaspora that mastered the blood-sport of Boston politics; the diaspora that within a couple of generations, proudly elected one of their own as President of The United States: President John F Kennedy.

In my office, there is an authentic sign that reads, “No Irish Need Apply.” There is a simple reason I keep that sign on display. It motivates me. Oppression is the great motivator. And the oppression of the Irish, both in Ireland and in America, affected our culture immensely. We had to work harder; we had to study harder; we were inculcated by our parents and grandparents with the belief that hard work and education cut the key to freedom.

With cultural beliefs such as these, one can theorize that Will Hunting from Southie is a non-fictional character. But we do not need to speculate when one can cite the multiplicity of Will Huntings from Southie.

Let’s start with Senator Joseph Moakley: a man from the Old Harbor Housing Projects in Southie (today it is often called Mary Ellen McCormick). Moakley grew up in public housing and fought for his country in World War II, even though he did not have to–he lied about his age when he enlisted.

He went on to graduate from Suffolk Law School (Suffolk Law School named their new library after The Honorable Joseph Moakley). He was a state representative, a state senator, and then a Congressman who labored his whole career for the working man, never forgetting the oppression in the collective Irish memory.

The talent of folks from Southie is all-encompassing. Although we do have numerous political heroes, we have sports heroes too. For instance, Southie is home to the first winner of an Olympic Gold Medal in 1500 years, James Connolly. He won the triple jump.

Stanley Cup Champion, Brian Noonan, is also from Southie’s housing projects. Never forgetting where he first got his start, after winning the cup, he brought it to Southie’s Murphy Rink, where I got to behold the most cherished trophy in sports. His gesture made every Southie hockey player believe in himself and herself.

“Wait,” you’re saying, “Will Hunting is an intellectual genius. The people you listed are talented, but not one of them is a rocket scientist.” True. Let’s amend this careless oversight.

Southie is proud to call Eugene Lally a native son, and he is indeed a rocket scientist. He assisted NASA with their Apollo Programs and pioneered digital photography.

Southie folks are not just characters in movies–they are also Hollywood Actors. Brian Goodman became an actor after spending 20 years in prison. Authenticity is his hallmark. He actually included former “marks” (the drug dealers and underworld folks that he robbed) as characters in movies. Goodman’s filmography is incredible: Catch me If You Can, The Last Castle, The Fast and The Furious, etc. One could go on forever with his filmography.

The Irish are well-known for their talented writers: James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw. My hero Michael Patrick MacDonald belongs in that pantheon of great Irish writers.

MacDonald grew up in the Old Colony Projects in Southie. His book, All Souls – A Family Story From Southie, illustrates the great Southie paradox. Although there are many blessings bequeathed to the Southie’s young people, there are dark elements at play in this neighborhood.

Irish culture forged under the heavy yoke of English oppression had arrived in Southie. Souhie’s Irish diaspora suppresses painful memories and obfuscates the true past to “outsiders” (Freud said that the only race impervious to psychoanalysis is the Irish because of their propensity to keep their problems hidden).

However, the world is now aware of the dark elements at play in Southie. My family knew James “Whitey” Bulger, Senate President Bulger’s brother (one the most powerful gangster–the other the most powerful gangster) ended up becoming the FBI’s most wanted man. And not too long ago he made international news after getting caught in Santa Monica with hundreds of thousands of dollars and an arsenal of guns hidden in the walls of his apartment.

Organized crime is a scourge in ethnic, urban neighborhoods, especially black, Italian, and Irish neighborhoods. Each of these cultures faced violence and oppression from those that who were supposed to keep the peace and promote justice.

Speaking of social justice, Michael Patrick McDonald has done community work for every part of Boston suffering from violence, drug epidemics, or any type of despair. Michael Patrick MacDonald now spends his life trying to improve the lives of the working-poor people of Boston. He helped to start Boston Gun Buy Back Program. He is Writer and Residence at Northeastern. He is someone, as a firm believer in Jesuit Principles, that I emulate.

Southie is also the hometown of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, lyricist, and screenwriter, David Lindsay-Abaire. He won The Pulitzer Prize for his 2007 drama, Rabbit Hole. He hails from West 5th St.

Obviously, the Irish are prolific writers, and I cannot mention all of Southie’s writers.

The last two “Will Huntings” are special to me for different reasons, but I hold them both in the highest regard.

Speaker of The House John McCormack served in The United States House of Representatives from 1928-1971. He served in World War I. In 1940, he became House Majority Leader. “You’ll never get anything done without Democratic help,” he often yelled across the aisle to his Republican colleagues in the 1950’s during the Eisenhower Administration.

Any student of history or politics must note that during the passage of The New Deal Legislation, he was serving in the party leadership (the second highest-ranking Democrat). He became Speaker for 9 years, and the legislation passed under his Speakership makes for one of the finest legacies of any Speaker.

He was an early advocate of Civil Rights and the Speaker of The House when The Civil Right’s Act of 1964 was made law (I only wish that that the The self-professed liberals I’ve met who are so quick to generalize Southie as racists knew that it was under the auspices of our native son, John McCormack, that Civil Rights Laws were passed). Speaker McCormick also advocated for and signed laws protecting early education, health care, and elderly welfare. McCormack was a legislative giant who helped pass Great Society’s Reforms. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Speaker McCormack became next in line for the presidency.

The next giant that I am to mention comes from the housing project in Southie named after Speaker John McCormack’s mother, Mary Ellen McCormack. His name is Senate President William Bulger. He and most original Old Harbor families like mine would most likely call our neighborhood Old Harbor; although none of us forgot what the McCormack family did for us.

William Bulger is a true Jesuit-trained intellectual. At Boston College High School, by the time we graduate, we are ready to “be men for others.” In other words, we will spend our everyday to help those in need. And Senate President Bulger always heeded the virtues that The Jesuits taught him to strive for.

And after going to BC High, BC, and BC Law, earning the honorable title Triple Eagle, his Jesuit education was bound to influence the rest of his life. He became a public servant: First as Massachusetts State Rep, then State Senator. As state senator he was elected Senate President. He served from 1971-1994, which is the longest tenure ever held by someone in that position.

He was a political mastermind. But the reason folks love him still to this day is because of his renowned constituent service–another example of Southie’s loyalty and empathy at work. Bulger would field calls on his own and get back to people on his own. That is unheard of now in the Massachusetts State House. The proudest day of my life was when William Bulger, who graduated exactly 50 years before me at BC High, and ironically handed me my B.C. High diploma.

One would be hard-pressed to find such ubiquitous talent in a town of this size. Good Will Hunting should not be seen as a story about a genius whose Southie upbringing makes him an anomaly in a town that is bereft of talented people and intellectuals. Indeed, the opposite is true. Southie, a town with a culture influenced by the oppression of our ancestors; it is a town full of talent. But most importantly, Southie’s educated political leaders proved that a neighborhood of empathy and compassion underlies the rough exterior.

Dirty Dems

The more research I do on the subject, the more I realize that Clinton’s ruthlessness and her psychosis-like need to be president were her undoing. The emails sent back-and-forth from her top advisors going all the way back to 2007, demonstrate Hillary’s unquenchable thirst for power; her psychosis-like need– not desire–to be president. It was her campaign that first contemplated a racial attack on the president; it was her campaign that started the birther movement; it was her campaign that created the hateful fiction that lead to paranoia among working class whites that President Obama was not an American and possibly a Muslim (God forbid).

Not learning anything from 2007, her strategy among her top advisors was to continue this ruthlessness, especially when Senator Sanders ideas began to catch on. So instead of debating Senator Obama and Senator Sanders on the issues, she chose to adopt their rhetoric and to character assassinate. I don’t know if these ideas came from the very top; I don’t know if Hillary Clinton hatched these egregious campaign strategies. But I do know this: she must have given the okay. She ran her campaigns.

So when President Obama is called a socialist and a Muslim–when Senator Sanders is called a self-hating Jew–don’t blame the conservative movement. Blame the Clinton machine for opening the doors to this despicable style of campaigning. She opened the door for Trump. She created the hatred and disrespect that our president has faced. And her ruthless campaigning, her attempt to cover it up, and her inability to step off the national stage for the good of the country has lead to the ugly partisanship that whipped up the racist frenzy that lead to the election of President-Elect Trump.

Hillary Clinton created Donald Trump. She created his narrative for him; she created the white working class backlash that ultimately destroyed her; karma is a… you know!

So maybe we should stop blaming conservatives and take a good hard look at our own Democratic Party and the damaged, amoral candidates we trot out there for our nominees. (Okay my liberal friends–I’m ready for the hate posts).img_0319

Unity and Hope to Division and Despair

Yet another election in which we are holding our noses while we vote. Yet another election that further divides the country. Yet another election of vitriolic and slanderous speech. Yet another election of divisiveness, dispassion, and desperation. 

It is hard to believe that only 8 years ago, I was going around the country campaigning for a man who talked about what unites all of us–conservatives and liberals; Democrats and Republicans–as Americans. Only 8 years ago, the sensation of hope was palpable; hope that we could come together as Americans to elect a transformative leader who would unite us in promoting social justice; in saving the worldwide economy; and in hunting down and killing all those responsible for 9/11. 

We accomplished all those things as a united America. We promulgated a law, which required some Republican support, which provided health insurance to 20 million uninsured Americans; both Democrats and Republicans voted for Obama’s stimulus package and together we saved the worldwide economy; through Obama’s drone program , which enjoys bipartisan support (Although he received severe criticism in the left, even from former supporters, i.e., Cornell West), we decimated al Qaeda and gaining ground on ISIS. When President Obama gave the order to take out bin Laden and it succeeded, we united in celebration. Both conservatives and liberals joyfully took the streets in celebration of an American victory. 

Throughout the course of this long (way too long) presidential circus… I mean contest, we have taken giant steps backwards. Not one candidate on either side of the primary process picked up Obama’s mantle of unity. There were no impassioned speeches about the values that we all share as Americans. There we’re no message of hope; no calls for bipartisanship; no passion in general.
Instead, politicians saw the potential opportunities to win an election by seizing and magnifying the issues that divide us: class, race, and religion. Both parties’ candidates are responsible for destroying the opportunity to build upon the transformation that this country underwent during the 2008 election. We overcame class divide, racial bigotry, and religious intolerance in that election cycle. After the election, intellectuals and pundits spoke of the post-racial era. We were united as Americans.

There was not one hero who served to unite us in the 2016 election. Even Senator Bernie Sanders, who shares some of the more progressive components of the President’s ideology, utilized class divide to garner support. He rightfully highlighted the maltreatment of the working and middle classes in this country, but some of the most important progressive figures in this country are members of the upper class–figures who call for the upper classes to pay their fair share.

Hillary is more concerned about winning the election by appealing to certain segments of society than she is about promoting a message of unity. She does not talk about what unites us as Americans. Instead she talks about how Trump insults the segments of society whom she is trying to appeal to. And that is why she is having difficulty with certain demographics such as working class white men. Although Sanders and Clintons diveseness are subtle, the ramifications are not.

Trump, however, is not so subtle in utilizing divisive speech and tactics. The vicissitude that American Politics underwent in four years is surreal. Obama spoke of unity, and that progressives can win elections when we refuse to campaign as black people or white people, or any other specialist interest group, but as progressives united by our shared empathic values. Demagogues like Trump often divide people with shared economic interests with subliminal racist rhetoric. This lifelong racist did not even both with the subliminal component of that strategy. He called Mexicans murders and rapists; categorized all Mus

,.i.Za; Trump dividedbrought about by the rise of the American Far Right in the . Racists I’m h.ave come out from under their scum laden rocks and into the mainstream. David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK, is running for Louisiana’s US Senate seat and has not been shy in spewing his hateful, racist speech. Senator Kirk of Illinois attacked his opponent–a Daughter of the American Revolution–at a debate for having an immigrant parent. Donald Trump retweets tweets from Alt Right–a white supremacist hate group. He has a cozy relationship and even hired Alt Right’s racist media consultant, Steve Bannon. Trump called Mexican immigrants murderers and rapists; made anti-semetic comments at the Jewish American Republican Conference; and has called for Muslims to be banned from immigrating to the United States, serving as a great soundbite for ISIS to recruit more terrorists. He has done more to divide us in this election than any other candidate in United States History. 

The 2016 election is the antithesis of the 2008 election. We have reverted to a state of tribalism on both sides of the partisan divide. The candidates do not deserve all of the blame (just most of it). The media napped through the primary process and highlighted  the divisevess of this election only after the damage had been done. We the people deserve some of the blame as well. We reverted to our more base nature of selfishness and tribalism. We wonder which of the candidates will serve our most immediate needs–which candidate represents my demographic. 
A message of hope and unity brought us together in 2008, and through that unity we overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We saved the American economy, beat al Qaeda and killed bin Laden, ensured that 30 million formerly uninsured Americans received health coverage, etc. This election begs the question: what is it that makes us American? Are we just separate, competing demographics in constant confict? Or are we one people, united by our shared values: love of democracy and freedom, love of country, and our belief that as a united people of great ingenuity we can overcome anything?

MCconnel’s obstructionsim

The obstructionists are at it again. From day one, Republican majority “leader” (I use that in quotes because all that he’s lead is a consistent, childish movement in his party to make Obama fail–to make him a one term president). It’s shameful that the Senate Majority Leader (Holder of one the highest federal offices) has reduced our national dialogue to a petulant, vindictive, and an undemocratic plan to simply refuse to compromise and maintain a sense of civility. Never has a president, since Abraham Lincoln, been faced with such withering, brutish attacks from the right. Yet what makes him a great man, is the fact that these attacks do not slow him down; they do not stop him from doing the next right thing; they are unable to engage him at that childish level.

It is obvious with all the talking heads on the press circuit this weekend, that Mitch McConnel will continue to behave as a petulant child. He will do everything possible to deny the majority of the voters their right to have the president that they voted for to use his Constitutiional right to appoint a new Supreme Court justic. Yet these hypocrites have the audacity to say that President Obama has no respect for the Consitition–a man that has dedicated his life to Constiutional Law. A complete absurdity and evil hypocracy. Take a look at all the judges that have been blocked from their appointments due to Republican filibustering and refusal to compromise. That is what most would call sever abuse of the Constitution and the democratic principles we subscribe to as Americans. We will not let the McConnel pack dictate who the next SJC will be.

Which candidate will be the Lord of The Flies?

We have a Lord of The Flies situation in our presidential politics. We have “Jack” in Donald Trump. Jack is the character that declares himself chief by being the most loud and obnoxious. Then you have “Ralph”–the rationalist, the utilitarian–who is chosen as the leader of the marooned boys because of his leadership abilities and his intelligence. I see Bernie as the most Ralph-like character. Then you have the Twins, Eric and Sam. The Twins become the prisoners of Jack and his ululating tribe of savages. They are tied up with rope and are impaired from emiliorating the deteriorating situation. They remind me of  the Hillary Clinton folks, so tangled up with corporate interests that it makes is impossible for them to do battle with the institution at the root of the problem: Corporate America. 

In Lord of the Flies, the whole island is burnt down–society fails. We have the opportunity to conduct a non-violent, political revolution by electing a candidate with no ties to the corporate elite–a way of changing things before the island is consumed by the conflagration that surely is to come if we do not do something about economic injustice right now. 

If Hillary wins the nomination, she’ll have a tough road ahead of her and a lot to answer for: Benghazi, personal email use as Secretary of State. Republicans will have a field day if she is nominated. She is what they expect, and they are ready to destroy her and any hope for the Democrats to win back the White House. Let’s give them something completely unexpected. Let’s see them try to do battle with the political revolution that is the Bernie Sanders Campaign.

Econonic Injustice, African-Americans, and Bernie Sanders

We are never going to forge ahead in this country if we do not realize that we are all part of the story. There is no “my story.” There is no “our story.” It is “the story.”

And the story is that corporate plutocrats have created economic injustices in this country. The only candidate that is willing to stand up for all of us is Bernie Sanders. How can working class people–both black and white–expect a person who is a part of the plutocratic elite to fight for us against these economic injustices? 

I think many African-Americans are still unsure about Bernie Sanders because he sees it as “the story” and not the African-American story. However, he has plainly made it known that he believes that African-Americans are suffering disproportionally at the hands of the plutocratic elite. 

We have a rare opportunity here for poor blacks, whites, and Hispanics to come together and actually do something about economic injustice. This revolution will not take place without one of the most important demographics of the winning Democratic Coalition: African-Americans.  Bernie Sanders believes (and I can see how this can be taken the wrong way by some) that all of our stories are important, but to be a true progressive, to be a compassionate human being,, we cannot see this as my story; we cannot see this as your story; to win, to get ahead, we have to see this as the human story! 

Can Rubio Save The Republican Party?

The number of candidates in the Republican Field has the Party establishment a bit worried. A dinner party was held a couple of weeks ago ostensibly to discuss what the Ohio convention would look like if none of the candidates reaches the required 1237 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

How many political junkies are really falling for that spin? One doesn’t have to be a “James Carville” to know what was being discussed over the filet mignon. The quandary that Republicans face is not a contested convention; it is figuring out how to save the historic GOP and the two-party system from the malady that is the Trump campaign. And that was by far the most important topic discussed at the dinner party held by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus for his 20 guests that together make up the “Who’s Who” of the Republican Establishment. 

The oddity of Trump’s success as a candidate for an office that would make him the leader of the free world, frightens both Democrats and Republicans alike (and the Free World). Republicans know they cannot win national elections by relying on the vote of the “angry white man” demographic, and Trump’s message does not appeal to the demographics Republicans must garner support from in order to be a party that can win national elections.

For the past 8 years, Republicans have been courting the Latino vote. It is the only demographic that Republicans can peel away from the winning Democratic coalition. There has not been much courtship between African-Americans and the GOP. And the Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood have not endeared the Party to young women. The Latino demographic is socially conservative on issues like abortion and gay marriage, making them the only segment of the Democratic Coalition not completely at odds with the GOP.

Trump is the antipode of what a Republican Presidential candidate needs to sound like in 2016. If the GOP wants to remain a viable national party in the years to come, they cannot have their leading candidate spewing xenophobic insults at Latinos. Trump’s antics, his racism, his ignorance, and his unfortunate decision to interpose his crude and arrogant “Apprentice” TV personality into the Republican Primary process, might have extirpated years of hard work by The Republican Party to win over Latinos, who sympathize with a number of conservative principles. Trumps loud, obnoxious, shock and awe style of campaigning consumes Network TV’s earned/free media time and makes it difficult for the actual conservatives (Trump is not a conservative) in the Republican Field to get any traction with Latinos or even the electorate at-large.

The one conservative candidate that Democrats are truly fearful of is Senator Marco Rubio. Not only is the youthful Marco Rubio a moderate who can appeal to the “undecideds” in the general election, he is Latino. And his moderate conservatism is palatable to his fellow Latinos who might have voted Democrat in the past couple of presidential elections, but are socially conservative enough for Rubio to win over in this 2016 presidential bought. The fact that he hails from Florida is another glaring strength of a Rubio general election ticket.

A Rubio/(name of a prominent Evengelical/Tea Party candidate that won’t scare off moderates and undecideds) ticket would put the GOP within reach of taking back the executive branch. Republicans would officially become a big tent party with a winning national coalition that could usher Rubio into the Oval Office. As dreamy as this sounds to my conservative friends, a dream is all this scenario is right now. Rubio’s potential second place finish in NH could very well be his best showing in this 2016 Republican Primary. Real Clear Politics has Rubio down by 7 points in South Carolina—not 7 points behind Trump, but 7 points behind the second place Cruz. The story is the same in the most important Super Tuesday states: Rubio a distant third, Cruz a distant second, Trump a commanding lead. 

Can Republicans still save their party from the embarrassment and ruination of a Trump Republican Primary victory? If New Hampshire and South Carolina thin out the herd enough for Republicans to coalesce around their best candidate–Senator Marco Rubio–then, yes, it is conceivably possible for Rubio to start competing seriously with Cruz and Trump on Super Tuesday and beyond. However, it is difficult to envision the Republican Party pulling off such a rational and winning strategy in the face of such an irrational election year in which the conservative ideology of the Republican Party is being replaced by fascism.