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Treating Amnesia in the William Bulger Era

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm

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The preceding post on this blog is entitled, “The Pursuit of Journalistic Truth and Justice.”  That pursuit is elusive at times, as Scot Lehigh’s article about William Bulger in the August 9, 2013 issue of The Boston Globe attests.  To illustrate, allow me to address its substance.

The article rejoices in how “Both Bulgers Can Soon Be Forgotten,” joining together the name of James Bulger, whose trial formally ended today with the jury’s guilty verdict on 31 of 32 counts, with that of his younger brother, William Bulger.

Lehigh proclaims that the end of the trial will “…help push the Bulger era further into Boston’s past.”

Yet, what is “the Bulger era”?  That question will be answered last.

First, let us address Lehigh’s assertions.  He blames Whitey Bulger for how he “managed to corrupt the FBI, turning the once-proud bureau into an enabler of his criminal reign.”  Yet during the series of congressional hearings by the House Committee on Government Reform, it was determined that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself was aware of impending murders and not only took no action, but also approved affirmative steps to ensure that the true murderer was protected while innocent men served decades in prison, some of whom died there.

Testimony from U.S. Representative John Tierney (D-MA) is excerpted below.

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In short, James Bulger did not “manage to corrupt the FBI.”

As Tierney noted in 2002, it was an endemic problem — all the way to the very top.  Is it possible that the FBI used James Bulger and, by its failure to prosecute or act far earlier, had a hand in enabling him?  If J. Edgar Hoover himself knew of impending murders and failed to act — and subsequently protected those responsible, and even allowed innocent men to serve time, how did Whitey Bulger manage that?

Lehigh is simply wrong.  He misinforms us all.  The FBI was proud once, before the public knew what really went on behind its closed doors.  Why else would more than one member of Congress seek to remove the name of J. Edgar Hoover from its headquarters?  How much of that pride was an illusion?  Even U.S. Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), to his credit, lamented how his perception of the FBI was forever shattered due to facts which emerged during the Committee’s work:

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Next, Lehigh calls William Bulger “dishonorable.”  This comes after the facts establish that members of Congress called J. Edgar Hoover dishonorable and call for the FBI headquarters to be scrubbed of his name.  Somehow Lehigh neglects to mention that.

Instead, he opines that William Bulger is dishonorable, because he told the truth to a grand jury and candidly stated in one random excerpt The Boston Globe chose to publish in December 2002, that “It’s my hope I’m never helpful to anyone against him.”   There was no context for when this was uttered, or what else William Bulger uttered during that testimony.

He also hoped “the worst of the charges would be proved groundless,” an unrealized hope as today’s jury verdict indicates.  Having a hope is not a statement of fact or even of intent; it is an emotion.  Imputing wrongdoing to a person’s feelings is a wrong unto itself.   Contrary to what The Globe assumed, that expression of hope was no refusal to cooperate.  Throughout life, a person hopes for many things, as much as the reality may be otherwise.

Importantly, omission is a common modus operandi of The Globe.  Beginning on page 222 of his memoir, While the Music Lasts: My Life in Politics, William Bulger describes one anecdote in which he sat for an in-person interview with none other than Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill from The Boston Globe‘s “Spotlight Report Team.”

Described in the first person, it was in the Fall of 1988 that William Bulger agreed to sit for an interview and respond to questions even though he was about to leave for vacation in Europe.  On that occasion, Bulger was also asked about the 75 State Street matter, which was investigated exhaustively by five levels of state and federal review.  Bulger also promised to provide follow-up information when he returned from vacation, and O’Neil promised not to print anything until continuing the interview upon Bulger’s return in twelve days.

Yet, it was a day or so later, while William Bulger was in Belgium, that Lehr and O’Neil authored a front page Globe report proclaiming, “Senate President William M. Bulger has benefited from a trust bankrolled with money that a Boston real estate magnate claims was extorted from him in 1985…”

In short, Lehr and O’Neil lied to Bulger and waited until they knew he would be out of the country to publish their report; are not lying and deceit dishonorable?

Lehigh lies to us, too.  Below is an affidavit submitted by HAROLD BROWN himself, expressly noting the “five levels of state and federal review” — investigations — and even his own statement sworn under penalty of perjury declaring once and for all (or so one would think) as follows: “The truth is simple: Mr. Bulger played no role in connection with my [75 State Street]  project.”  Instead of reading Scot Lehigh’s misinformation, go ahead and read the truth from Harold Brown himself:

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Whom do we believe?  Scot Lehigh invokes “the allegation that he and his law associate extorted $500,000 from developer Harold Brown during the mid-1980s…” but here, we have developer Harold Brown expressly stating that William Bulger was not involved at all.  Do we believe Lehigh reporting on Brown, or do we believe Brown?  That journalistic truth is self-evident.

In our pursuit, we have choices about which way to go.  Reader, I hope you tread where the light shines brightest; it may be hard to see, but it is there if you dare to open your eyes.

Lehigh further associates William Bulger with John Connolly, to whom he goes so far as to poetically refer as a “fawning acolyte.”  According to the dictionary, the primary definition of an “acolyte” is “one who assists a member of the clergy…”  So now John Connolly was William Bulger’s altar boy.  Without citing any source, Lehigh recounts an anecdote in which John Connolly purportedly advised William Bulger to cooperate with federal investigators and agree to be interviewed.  How is cooperating with an investigation somehow insidious or dishonorable?  How does that support Lehigh’s point?

Lehigh also mentions Jeremiah O’Sullivan’s role in “the second investigation” but fails to mention the third, fourth, or fifth investigation — or the sworn statement of Harold Brown himself.  If Lehigh really knew the facts, he would report that O’Sullivan participated in the “tertiary” investigative review.  We learn that directly from Harold Brown.

Finally, Lehigh notes how “It’s also long been whispered…” that the indictment and subsequent trial of Senate Majority Leader Joseph DiCarlo in 1977 paved the way for Bulger to become Senate President.  Of course, Kevin Harrington was still serving as Senate President at the time and he chose Bulger to be Majority Leader prior to his own resignation in 1978.

This investigation into construction contracts with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts actually prompted widespread ethics reform and led to the establishment of the first Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for any state in the United States, to oversee state business.  The Ward Commission was a big deal at the time and issued a substantial twelve volume report  by the end of 1980.

In his capacity as Senate President, William Bulger played a pivotal role in pushing this oversight reform bill through.  To suggest that Bulger somehow masterminded the indictment of DiCarlo is to similarly suggest that Gerald Ford was secretly responsible for the investigation of Spiro Agnew which led to his own selection as President Nixon’s Vice President.  To say that Ford had a hand in Agnew’s criminal indictment and that it “paved the way” for Ford to become President of the United States would surely draw curious glances from any rational person.  Yet this is exactly what Lehigh proffers here in regard to William Bulger.  Think about it.  Does it make sense, just because he says it does?

Wrongdoing is wrongdoing, no matter who commits it.  DiCarlo was indicted because there apparently was evidence of criminal culpability; why is that nefarious in any way?  This lopsided logic suggests that those “whispers” which Lehigh mentions are perhaps attributable to voices in his own head.  Hopefully this posting will offer some level of help to him in understanding the extreme depth of his deficiency.

Also mentioned by Lehigh is “the phone call” in January of 1995 by which “Whitey and William arranged for a secret telephone call at the home of one of William’s associates, where it would go undetected by investigators.”

William Bulger spoke to that during his 2003 testimony as well during questioning by U.S. Representative Marty Meehan (D-MA):

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Thus, the official record states that it was Kevin Weeks who arranged the call, without William Bulger having advance knowledge.  Given the central role which Kevin Weeks had in the Trial of Whitey Bulger, surely he could have spoken to that if asked; yet I am unaware of that question being raised by either the prosecution or Bulger’s defense attorneys.

William Bulger also explained the reason for his concern for his brother, drawing reference to his religious faith and “The Good Shepherd story” — that no one should be turned away; he also recalls “society’s right to protect itself and to impose severe penalties on anyone guilty of such deeds.”  Specifically, the story originates directly from John 10:11-12 in the New Testament in which Jesus Christ declares, “A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep.”

There is no reason to believe his statement was not true, given his Catholic upbringing.  Where is the dishonor there?  The larger context of William Bulger’s statement follows:

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Taking the facts into consideration, it is clear that what Lehigh presents as fact in support of his opinion, is, in fact, fiction.  He is wrong on Harold Brown, on the phone call, on the “once proud FBI,” and he is also wrong about “the Bulger era.”  James Bulger and William Bulger are two separate people.

Today’s jury verdict may speak to the legacy of James Bulger, but the era of William Bulger will not end.  Whether Scot Lehigh likes it or not — and true to the spirit of public service — the shadow of William Bulger is a part of the Boston landscape, from Hynes Convention Center and Symphony Hall, to the Public Gardens and Boston Common, to the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, to the JFK Library in his own South Boston district, the Boston Public Library, the preservation and restoration of Castle Island, to the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General.  That era extends to new generations of leaders through the William M. Bulger Presidential Scholarship and William M. Bulger Classics Award at the University of Massachusetts.  On the national level, there is also the William M. Bulger Award for Excellence in State Leadership from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Like the story of his own life, the William Bulger Era is more than a name, and his living vision for the City on a Hill and its good people proves how that era is not a name at all.

In the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill, a portrait hangs in the Senate Reception Room depicting a bust of President Abraham Lincoln looking over William Bulger’s shoulder.  It is altogether fitting and proper that he has the last word here:

“I am glad I made the late race. It gave me a hearing on the great and durable question of the age, which I could have had in no other way; and though I now sink out of view, and shall be forgotten, I believe I have made some marks which will tell for the cause of civil liberty long after I am gone.”  — Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Anson G. Henry, November 19, 1858

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Why We Must Shun False Media Reports of William Bulger

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm

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In my last entry, I pointed out an indefensible error in the libelous headline of a British newspaper, The Independent.  I’ve even followed up by writing to the reporter and managing editor to correct and retract this egregious misstatement, but they have thus far failed to take any action.  Today, the drama continues, only much closer to home.

Boston Globe reporter Jeff Jacoby has written an article containing within its headline an ominous declaration: “Political elite should shun Bill Bulger.”  He then lays out his case, arguing that Mr. Bulger showed no allegiance “…to the people of Massachusetts, not to the law, not to Whitey’s innumerable victims, not to the truth — and not to God.”  Jacoby constructively asserts that Bulger should have been banned from attending the funeral service for former Governor Paul Cellucci and presumably should not venture outside into the public eye ever again.

As a preliminary matter, it’s important to note that Jacoby is a former assistant of the late Dr. John Silber, President of Boston University.  Ironically, Dr. Silber was one of those “political elite” who spoke out time and time again in support of William Bulger.  William Bulger spoke at Silber’s funeral service this past September as well, calling him “an independent spirit.”  Bulger further noted that, “He taught by example, he was determined to do that. He recognized people paid greater attention to what he did rather than what he said.”  In January, William Bulger also attended the funeral service for former Massachusetts House of Representatives Speaker Thomas McGee.

Yet his attendance at services for McGee and Silber went without this bold scrutiny.  William Bulger has a long tradition of attending the funeral services of his colleagues; indeed he even delivered the eulogy for U.S. Representative Joe Moakley in 2001.  On that occasion, he lamented: “Humility and pride, seemingly contradictory, coalesced in you, our Joe. Integrity. Justice. And useful service. It is wrenching to say goodbye.”

In these pieces, there is a recurring theme which dramatically contrasts that espoused by Jacoby.  As both his record and delicate choice of words show, William Bulger is a highly principled man who lives his life by certain core virtues.  The traits he admires in others reflect those which he holds so dear within himself.  If what Jacoby asserts was true, then surely he claims to know William Bulger far better than so many who are proud to call him a colleague and friend; these are the people who know Mr. Bulger.  Was Jacoby’s former employer, the esteemed Dr. Silber, wrong all along, too?

By insulting Bulger, Jacoby similarly attacks anyone in Bulger’s association circles, both living and dead: Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, John Silber, Joe Moakley, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and former Republican Governor William Weld.  Importantly, current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (also a former prosecutor from Middlesex County) wrote of William Bulger’s autobiographical memoir While the Music Lasts, “If you want to know what politics is all about — the joy, the sorrow, the purpose of public life — read this book.”

Famed historian David McCullough also wrote, “But it’s also a chronicle of an exceedingly intelligent twentieth-century American whose understanding of human nature is exceptional, and who apparently hasn’t an idea in the world of how to be dull.”  Even then-Governor William Weld (who served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts from 1981-1986) wrote that the book “…is a combination of hard-nosed politics and lyrical prose.  For the political insider, it is pure poetry.”  Indeed, it was Governor Weld who even recommended William Bulger’s appointment as President of the University of Massachusetts beginning in 1996.  Given that he was the former chief federal prosecutor in Boston and a member of the opposing Republican party, how was this possible if Bill Bulger is so sinister?

The real question then is, are all of these people really that corrupt themselves, or just naively stupid — and does Mr. Jacoby really know it all, while they apparently know nothing?  That is what he is saying — they really are Know-Nothings, whereas he is a Know-It-All.  Jacoby’s former boss, John Silber, is a Know-Nothing, too.  So is Ted Kennedy.  And don’t forget our current U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Needless to say, these meritless attacks on William Bulger always seem to escalate in gravity and frequency following the death of another of his colleagues; the most recent onslaught began soon after the death of former U.S. Representative Joe Moakley (D-MA) in 2001, and has resurged in intermittent waves ever since.  Not only is this approach sleazy and misleading, but it also tactfully dillutes the truth by attacking William Bulger at a time when those who know the the truth have died.

Jacoby urges that the death of his revered colleagues is not enough; even Mr. Bulger’s living colleagues should shun him now as well.  Such tacit efforts to isolate targets are, in fact, a common tool of bullies.  One anti-bullying organization warns, “Bullies often feel threatened by good performers, because it increases their own feelings of inadequacy and shame.”  Is it possible that such ill-reasoned criticisms, like those of Jacoby, are more probably sprung from dark hearts of envy?  The facts clearly do not match up with his empty assertions —  words lacking in substance, unless we choose to believe in them.  Yet, to do that would be to debase and demean our own intellectual capacities.  To do that is to see a vile mirage which serves up poison, instead of water.

There is also the fact that clearly, the beating of William’s own heart led him to far different places than his older brother, James.  Indeed, it was during the June 19, 2003 hearing that he distinguished himself from his brother, noting “Truth to tell, over the years I was unable to penetrate the secret life of my older brother.  He marched to his own drummer and traveled a path very different from mine.  Jim had his own ways I could not possibly influence.”  Current U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose brother was a car thief who served time in prison, made a fortune selling car alarms, and was himself arrested on more than one occasion; yet today he is Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  In 2003, former Governor Michael Dukakis wrote how his own brother has had criminal problems as well in penning an article entitled “A Vote of Confidence for Bill Bulger.”

Moreover, with approximately 3.2% of America’s population currently living in prison or under some “correctional control,” that amounts to more than 10 million people, which doesn’t include those released from prison or parole.  Each of these “criminals” has a mother and father, and many have children and siblings.  Yet, unlike in more distant places and times, our blood does not define social stature, and “Corruption of Blood” is expressly prohibited by Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution even in cases of Treason.

The deeds of William Bulger’s own life exemplify public service, as those words etched into the cover of his memoir firmly attest.  One cannot “fake” virtue.  You either have it, or you don’t.  And as the achievements of his life plainly show, William Bulger knows a lot about what public service is, and what it isn’t.

Like his Irish immigrant forebears, William Bulger has proven beyond any doubt that we all live in a Land of Possibility.  Possible not because he cheated — but instead because he worked hard, he loves his family, he respects his enemies, and he has never stopped believing in what matters most: Humility, Integrity, and Justice.  The keystone is that bundle of core virtues which have so defined the bedrock of Bulger’s own life.  He is thus not only a model for public service but also exemplifies that immortal apparition which is the American Dream.

With all things considered, Jeff Jacoby may very well be the real Know-Nothing here.

William Bulger Is Not a “Ruthless Killer”

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2013 at 1:18 am

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Last week, I wrote about a recent news article which falsely stated that William Bulger had “lost his job as president of the University of Massachusetts.”  Yet today, I stumbled upon an article which left me far more speechless.  Published by a London-based periodical, The Independent, the article’s headline and web page header boldly declare as follows: “Ruthless killer or Robin Hood?  Mob boss William Bulger to stand trial.”

What’s wrong with that picture?

I initially stumbled upon it during a routine Google search of William Bulger’s name, as shown in this screenshot:

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As you can see, this website was listed on the first page of results out of more than 1.5 million hits.  The obvious problem is that, despite this misleading headline, the body of the article is about James “Whitey” Bulger, an older brother of William Bulger.

Why do I take a particular issue with this?

In short, William Bulger is a man who has committed more than 40 years of his life to public service from when he was first elected to serve in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives, to his election to the State Senate, and finally his leadership role as the longest serving Senate President in the lengthy history of Massachusetts.

Retiring from the State Senate, William Bulger went onwards to a new role as President of the University of Massachusetts in 1996, where he excelled and expanded that institution’s educational mission.  In the past, he has also served as a Trustee of the Boston Public Library, Member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Board of Overseers, Trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, and Trustee of Massachusetts General Hospital.

He did all of this — and more — while raising nine children who have produced a total of 33 grandchildren, living for most of that time in the same modest South Boston home with his wife of 53 years.  How can such a man, who has dedicated his entire adult life to improving the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, be confused for a “ruthless killer”?

It is quite impossible to imagine how the name of William Bulger could be confused with James “Whitey” Bulger.  When have we ever seen any other public figure’s name misapplied to the name of an accused criminal?  It’s like confusing Duke Ellington with Duke Cunningham, or William J. Jefferson with William Jefferson Clinton, or Bernie Madoff with Bernie Mac, or James Earl Ray with James Earl Jones.

Then, there are other family members like Victoria Gotti, daughter of Gambino crime family leader John Gotti.  For that namesake, Victoria secured her own reality television show entitled “Growing Up Gotti,” which frequently depicted the mischievous exploits of her three Gotti boys gleefully cruising around the grounds of their palatial mansion on ATVs.  As fate would have it, however, there was never any reality series in development for “Growing Up Bulger.”

The very fact is that the life of William Bulger epitomizes public service at a time when the airwaves, Internet, and ink media are regularly plagued by yet another report of government corruption.  Speaking of which, Bernard Kerik was recently released from the federal penitentiary.  This corruption pandemic proliferates all levels of government, from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, to Connecticut Governor John Rowland, to former New York Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, to former New York Senator Hiram Monserrate, to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, to New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook.  In such a sea of misdeeds, why is William Bulger such a target — why does it sometimes seem that we have come to expect corruption in our public servants, more than we expect integrity and honor?

Whatever the reason, it is inherently wrong and blatantly irrational for an individual to be so demeaned, after representing the highest standards of conduct which public service demands of anyone within its province.  Indeed, the National Conference of State Legislatures has even honored one of its most prestigious awards with his name: The William M. Bulger Excellence in State Leadership Award.

Perhaps part of the problem in public service today is the frenzied focus upon the many ways by which the People’s duly elected representatives do wrong and violate the public’s trust, instead of showcasing the road where a virtuous public service career should lead.

William Bulger still led us all down that road, even when there were few who thanked him.

The Day UMass Lost William Bulger

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2013 at 11:17 pm

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In Boston, the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger is underway, as widely reported in the news.  One such story was published about a week ago by Asma Khalid at WBUR.  This article contains one glaring inaccuracy which is so often misstated that justice demands a proper recounting of the facts.  Specifically, this article illustrates how James “Whitey” Bulger is the older brother of William Bulger — the former President of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) and the longest-serving State Senate President in the history of the Commonwealth.  Why is this important?

Well, for those who remember and especially for those who do not, there was quite a stir ten years ago when William Bulger was subpoenaed to Washington, DC to testify before the House Committee on Government Reform about the whereabouts of his brother.  He clearly and unequivocally stated, “I do not know where he has been over the past eight years, I have not aided James Bulger in any way while he has been a fugitive…”

Yet this reporter, Asma Khalid, goes on to declare, “But that wasn’t an adequate defense: Bill Bulger lost his job as president of the University of Massachusetts.”  Yet this is wrong.

After he testified before the Committee, William Bulger attempted to return to his duties as President of the University of Massachusetts, but then-serving Governor Mitt Romney instructed the UMass Board of Trustees to fire William Bulger from his position as President, because the Board holds oversight jurisdiction over UMass.  In reply, the Board consulted legal counsel and concluded, “In fact the evidence is that the quality of our students, our fund-raising, and research funding have all increased dramatically in recent years…It is the consensus of the board, although not unanimous, that President Bulger has the authority to lead this institution going forward.”  In response, Governor Romney — clearly displeased that the Board of Trustees had refused to do his bidding — subsequently “…said he will begin replacing board members, one by one, until his appointees have a majority – not until 2006.”

Indeed, because Governor Romney chose to establish his higher education policy platform on the issue of whether or not William Bulger should be UMass President, William Bulger chose to resign for the good of the University of Massachusetts on August 6, 2003.  In his resignation speech, President Bulger expressly referenced Governor Romney’s actions, noting how “…the attacks on dedicated public citizens who serve on our Board are being revealed for what they are. And every effort will be made to assure that trustees will remain independent and will be devoted to the betterment of the University of Massachusetts — and to no one or nothing else.”

He pointed out that the Board members had a duty not to serve Governor Romney, but instead to advance the interests of the University.  He continued, “These assaults — politically motivated to be sure — come at a time when the University of Massachusetts, like many public universities across the nation, is struggling to cope with the effects of painful budget cuts.”

Finally, President Bulger expressly declared that he had made a difficult yet noble choice for the betterment of the University: “Although we have met the challenges and are up to the task of meeting more, I increasingly believe that the University and its Board of Trustees should not be subjected to further assault.  I hope that the step I take today will be helpful in our effort to provide a measure of protection for the University.”

Subsequently, even President Bulger’s decision did not save those UMass Trustees who would not kowtow to Romney, as they were eventually replaced by new appointees as of September 2006.

So now going back to Khalid’s article on WBUR, how exactly did Bulger somehow “lose” his position as UMass President?  Asma Khalid writes that he had not proffered “…an adequate defense.  Bill Bulger lost his job as president of the University of Massachusetts.”

That simply is not true.  To the contrary, Bill Bulger’s selfless act was a loss for the University of Massachusetts.