Political wheeling and dealing flirts with criminal

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You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours has always been one of the rules of the political road in Boston.  Behaviors can be very subtle but still powerful, their meaning clear.  As alderman, state rep and state senator, Martin Lomasney used to say, “Don’t write when you can talk; don’t talk when you can nod; don’t nod when you can wink.”   The West End political boss knew the art of accumulating and wielding power. He knew how to play political hardball with a soft touch.  But you can be sure every quid had a quo.

Decades later, not every Boston official was as practiced in the subtleties of the art. When I was a little girl, my father and uncle owned a commercial building on Canal Street, next to what is now Government Center.  I remember one night when my father, as straight an arrow as ever existed, came home to tell of a visit from a city inspector who made it very clear that, unless my father paid him off, this hack would stand in the way of the building’s elevator getting a certificate of inspection.  My journalism gene hadn’t yet kicked in, and I never followed up to find out how my father, a model of probity, had dealt with the situation.

Sometimes the wheeling and dealing worked in one’s favor.  When Government Center was being designed,  our family’s building was threatened by eminent domain. Right across the street, however, was a small grassy triangle often used by the nearby Langone Funeral Home to park its hearses when they were not carrying dead bodies. The Langone family was huge in Boston politics for at least three generations.  When the plans for renewal of the area were being developed, Fred Langone happened to be City Councillor .  That grassy parking triangle was not going away, nor did my father’s building. Need I say more?

We all recognize when decisions, however positive, are made not on the merits but because someone knows someone on the inside or is wielding threats directly or implicitly. There seems to have been a lot of that in the case against City Hall employees Timothy Sullivan and Kenneth Brissette, found guilty this past week of extorting union jobs from Boston Calling music festival producers in 2014, that hiring in exchange for smoothing the permitting process.  The jury’s guilty verdict may have surprised some people because Sullivan and Brissette received nothing of value to them personally.  But couldn’t the more subtle payoff for them have been pleasing their boss, Mayor Marty Walsh, who had previously led the Building Trades Council and won office the first time with plenty of union support, including that International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees?

There are certainly gray areas in the deals cut to do business in this city. What about developers who get city approval for a large project in exchange for providing certain public amenities or affordable housing units?  Some might argue that hiring union labor is a comparable public good.  But at what point does strong-arming a person or company to do something become illegal?  It’s still possible that the verdict will be set aside by the judge, but the jury made a statement: the public is better served by clear rules of the road for conducting city business with transparent criteria for municipal decision-making and administration, and a  playbook that levels the field for all comers. No arm twisting; not even any winks or nods, with all due respect to the Lomasneys, Langones and James Michael Curleys who set the standards back in the day.

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Trump on gun violence: judge him by his actions

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In a speech prepared for him to read from the Oval Office, President Trump has condemned the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, calling for unity in opposing hatred, white supremacists, violence, especially on the internet and social media, and promising additional resources for the FBI in addressing domestic terrorism.  It approached presidential in content and tone, its language in stark contrast to the last three years of his behavior.

But even his improved rhetoric fell far short of serious gun safety reform and scarcely veils the same old same old.  George Conway, spouse of Trump adviser Kellyanne, called Trump an evil racist political leader, a narcissist and sociopath, whose twitter rants will resume quickly and obliterate his speech.   Senator Cory Booker’s assessment was even more to the point: “Such a bullshit soup of ineffective words.”

It is clear that two mass shootings in 24 hours, one shooter having published a manifesto railing against immigrants and Mexicans, seal our global brand as a leader in domestic terrorism.  It is also patently clear that the President is either clueless or simply deceitful about his complicity in degrading norms of behavior and giving license to the verbal and behavioral expression of racism, hatred and intolerance toward “others,” especially those who are different because of the color of their skin, ethnic heritage, or immigrant status.  This intolerance predated President Trump, but he has, for his own political purposes, encouraged white nationalism into the open. He has fanned the flames of division, notwithstanding today’s attempt to use the language of bringing people together.

Could this be a turning point?  History challenges that wisp of hope.  After Newtown, there were meetings at the highest level about changing gun laws. Nothing happened. After Parkland, some modest agreement seemed within reach, but the NRA had Trump’s ear, and he walked away.  Hope for change was rekindled, but, other than the narrow step of banning bump stocks after a terrible Las Vegas shooting, nothing happened.  (Bump stocks are an accessory that allows rifles to fire as rapidly as automatic weapons.)

As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, if the President is serious about meaningful background checks, he’ll get Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring to the floor two slightly bipartisan, House-passed bills achieving that goal. Donald Trump is mercurial, and one reasonably presidential call for unity in opposing hatred can’t hide the fact that his top priority is playing to the basest instincts of his base.

Trump is not alone in his cowardice.  CNN’s Jake Tapper has called out Republican officials in Texas who declined to speak out regarding the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, including Texas’ GOP governor, lieutenant governor, and two U.S. Senators as well as the Republican Governor of Ohio, all of whom dodged interviews.  Rare exceptions were Jeb Bush’s son Texas Lands Commissioner George P. Bush, who denounced white terrorism, and Republican state lawmaker John McCollister who called out his party for “enabling white supremacy.” “When the history books are written,” McCollister said, “I refuse to be someone who said nothing. The time is now for us Republicans to be honest with what is happening inside our party.”  He implored his GOP colleagues “to stand up and do the right thing.”

I doubt the once “grand old party” will respond to his appeal. I am not registered to either political party. I do believe, however, that, despite overwhelming public support, even among legal gun owners, for more meaningful background checks, the only chance for modest, let alone significant change will come when Donald Trump is kicked out of office and the Democrats regain control of the Senate. That’s where the focus for the next 15 months must remain, and where all of our energies must be directed.

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Summer reading and escape from Donald Trump

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer demand relief from the news, and summer reading could be just the antidote.  The following are some suggestions:

Non-Fiction:

Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is one of the most gripping books I have read in a long time, possibly ever. Against all odds, Westover grew up in a Mormon family in Idaho, her paranoid father a narrow-minded believer in the imminent end of the world, fearful enemy of government, especially the government that had perpetrated the Ruby Ridge massacre, and a rigid despiser of doctors and hospitals.  A survivalist, he denied his children both formal education and medical care, required them to work in the junkyard where he eked out a meager living, and abused them emotionally and physically. At the age of 16, Tara followed two of her six siblings in pursuing education, she to Brigham Young University, Cambridge University in England, a Harvard fellowship and back to Cambridge where she got a doctorate in history. Educated tells of her struggles to learn not just academics but who she was, rather than the distorted self her dysfunctional family would have her believe.  Educated is like Hillbilly Elegy on steroids and indescribably powerful.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity  by award-winning writer Katherine Boo is a searing portrayal of the daily struggles and degradations of people living on the edge in the Annawadi slum of Mumbai, India. The slum, near a toxic lake of sewage, belongs to the adjacent international airport, and Annawadi children earn a few rupees here and there by scavenging for trash containing recyclables. Not only must they endure grinding poverty but also violence, inter-ethnic animosities, injustice of the courts, predatory police, corrupt government officials, constant hunger, filth and disease.  Boo’s understanding of the residents’ hopes and dreams is so intimate it often reads like fiction, but the story and the characters are real, reflecting four years of research and hundreds of interviews.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers opens our eyes to the dramatic inequities in the global economy and underlines the need not to turn our backs on the countless other Annawadis around the world. A masterpiece!

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe starts with the abduction and disappearance of a young widow and mother of ten in Northern Ireland, a real-life mystery thriller that threads through Say Nothing while revealing decades of information about The Troubles. That euphemism applied to a decades-long war between Catholics and Protestants, republicans and loyalists, those seeking political solutions and those driven to violence. It is about murders, bombings, prison and hunger strikes, and, more broadly, family abuse, despair, alcoholism and dysfunction driven by grinding poverty. Keefe reveals the people behind the events – Gerry Adams, Brendan Adams, Bobby Sands, Dolours Price and many others whose lives were defined by the war. What was particularly revealing was the violence visited by the Provisional IRA, the so-called Provos, upon those Northern Irish willing to work within the political process, the contempt of the Provos for Gerry Adams, the IRA strategist whose Sinn Fein political organization the Provos saw as selling out. Informers, or touts, intensified the chaos on all sides by betraying their mates and allies.  Keefe worked from the Boston College Belfast Project, a collection of oral histories that went public before they were supposed to.  Nearly four thousand died between the so-called Troubles of the 1960’s and the 1998 Good Friday peace accords. Tensions are still not far from the surface, with more “troubles” feared because of the threat that Brexit implies for the relationship between North and South.

Becoming by Michele Obama is a rather enjoyable memoir, clearly written and often evocative. The first half focuses on her growing up on the South Side of Chicago, in a neighborhood destabilized by white flight.  Her extended family was hard-working and financially strapped. Her immediate family’s experiences were colored by her father’s ever-worsening health, due to MS. The strongest thread was her mother’s strength, emphasizing duty to one’s family, striving for educational accomplishment and belief in one’s ability to achieve, despite the odds. Obama goes beyond her dating years with Barack Obama, the occasional tensions between their different goals, aspirations and comfort levels, and the years of his community organizing.  We learn about her fertility treatments, her total focus on family and their two daughters, her search for work/life balance, her longstanding public commitments, her frustrations with politics and the media.  The most intriguing aspects of her memoir are the behind-the-scenes revelations underlying great public events of which we had contemporaneous knowledge.  At all times, her performance had to exceed that of the First Ladies who came before her.  It wasn’t easy, but Michele Obama succeeded, as does this book.

Fiction:

Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III tells the story of ex-con Daniel Ahearn, his daughter Susan and former mother-in-law, Lois.  Ahearn has been released from prison for a passion killing of his wife, Linda. Having set up a furniture caning business and gotten his life turned around, he decides to find his daughter, just three years old when he killed Linda with a kitchen knife. Lois, Linda’s mother, 82, raised Susan. The narrative is driven by his road trip from Massachusetts’ North Shore, where he lives in a trailer, to Florida, where Linda moved with Susan after Ahearn’s conviction. He is dying of prostate cancer and wants to make amends. Susan, an adjunct professor, is writing a memoir that details the many effects of her mother’s murder on her life and relationships.  Lois is outraged and incredulous that Susan would even consider meeting with the man who killed her daughter and vows to shoot him if he shows up. As Dubus peels the onions of their lives, the tension grows around the increasing inevitability of the father/daughter meeting.  All three characters constantly explore their pasts, and readers learn to empathize with all of them.  Well told, with Dubus’ painterly descriptions enriching the writing even while driving the narrative.  Not quite as special as Dubus’ 2011 book Townie, but still a good read.

Washington Black by Canadian writer Esi Edugyan presents as the memoir of an 11-year-old slave named George Washington Black (aka Wash) on the Faith plantation in Barbados. The names are intentional and ironic. The master of the plantation is Erasmus Wilde, recalling the Renaissance scholar and humanist but resembling him in no way. Erasmus is unparalleled in his cruelty to all his human property. Wash’s terror is alleviated slightly with the arrival of Erasmus’ brother Christopher (Titch), a scientist and a man capable of kindness, who takes Wash on as his assistant in developing an experimental balloon. The two escape the plantation in the balloon and a series of adventures ensue over more than a decade from the Arctic Circle to London, Amsterdam and Morocco. Wash becomes a brilliant illustrator with skills invaluable to the world of science in the 19th century.   Author Edugyan’s descriptive powers sometimes flirt with surrealism (or is that magical realism?) but not enough to deter my going forward.  In all, a spell-binding piece of writing about freedom, servitude, violence, guilt, humanity and community.

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An open letter to Democrats (and debate moderators)

Behold the flaming liberal, which devours its own if it strays too far from the nest!  Right now, the best thing Donald Trump has going for him is the divided Democratic Party.  The most left-leaning could hold sway in the primary but not reflect where the majority of the electorate is in November.  The most liberal, the minority pulling the party to port side, want wholesale restructuring of the health care system, including the elimination of private payers, which would frighten off many voters even among those advocating coverage for all.  The more pragmatic want to build on the Affordable Care Act and include a public option, sorely lacking in Obamacare.

Debate on issues between center-left Dems and far left  is all well and good if the debate is about nuanced policy contrasts and how best to achieve realizable goals, but we’re not well served by the show-of-hands, check-list mentality that colors these multi-candidate “debates.” Purity tests are a recipe for a second Trump term.

What’s particularly disturbing is when a candidate grabs for each shiny new thing and then backtracks the following day, as did Kamala Harris on the private insurer question or on the role of busing to integrate schools, an issue that she used to bludgeon a surprisingly ill prepared Joe Biden in the first debate. Note to future debate moderators: end the gimmick of one-word answers.

Note to candidates: when the slug fest becomes too personal, when the purpose is to destroy one’s primary opponent, it sets up the President for reelection.  There can be only one goal for Democrats and independents in 2020: the defeat of arguably the worst President this country has seen, a man whose behavior threatens the very foundation of our democracy and makes us a laughingstock around the world.  A man who exploits fears of “others,” whether they’re African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled, Mexicans, and anyone who disagrees with the President. A man whose only goal is self-advancement and personal gain.

In  1968,  a sufficient number of Democrats and Independents  refused to support Hubert Humphrey, enabling Richard Nixon to win that razor thin election. In  1972, a coalition of reform-minded Democrats calling themselves the New Democratic Coalition (NDC) engineered the nomination of Senator George McGovern to be the party standard bearer. He was so far left of the electorate that he went on to lose 49 states. (“Don’t blame me; I’m from Massachusetts,” the one state he won, along with the District of Columbia.)  The NDC exulted in pushing aside the regulars, like Senators Henry Jackson and  Ed Muskie.  So venomous were the intra-party divisions that many supporters of Muskie and other more centrist figures sat out the election. With 20/20 hindsight, NDC came to be interpreted as “November doesn’t count.”  It did then, and it does today.

Let’s hope that the moderators on Tuesday and Wednesday nights ask each candidate this question. Do you pledge to support the nominee of your party, even if you disagree with him or her, and do you commit to throw the power of your primary campaign organization behind that nominee with full-throated enthusiasm?  If the respondents can’t buy into that strategy, we’re into four more years of this horror show, a nightmare we can only begin to imagine.

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Ireland has something for everyone

Massachusetts is officially the most Irish state in the country, with nearly 22 percent of residents being of Irish ancestry.  Considering how many of the politicians I’ve covered are “Irish,” it is surprising that only recently did I travel to the Emerald Isle. The month of June changed that, and what a treat it was.

Ireland has everything –  natural beauty, fascinating history, literary giants, music, lively pubs and extraordinarily friendly people. We flew into Shannon, met our driver and went straight to the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher. We arrived before the tour buses and were virtually alone on the windswept cliffs in County Clare overlooking the sea. From there it was on to the Burren, where you can walk – albeit very carefully – onto the limestone karsts bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Galway Bay.  The rugged beauty is very humbling.

Little towns like Doolin and Leenane are quaint and welcoming, with travelers drawn to pubs and Irish music, substantial food and friendly people.   As you move up the west coast, it’s bodhrans, bouzoukis and ballads, rolling countryside, stone walls, black-faced sheep dotting the hills, Connemara ponies, prehistoric ruins, castles, ancient abbeys and walled gardens,  feeding baby lambs and lessons in falconry. Galway, too, is very welcoming, with  restaurants, shopping, street musicians, and all the casual activities one would expect in a university town.

And then it’s on to Dublin, on the east coast, where those so inclined can kayak downtown on the River Liffey or the sea at Dalkey, among the seals.  Here one can be immersed in Ireland’s history, its castles, cathedrals (especially including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, dating back to 1191, where Jonathan Swift was Dean), and museums (including the new EPIC  museum, the Irish emigration museum that has every interactive tool offered by modern technology to tell the story of how Irish people shaped the world).

Ireland embraces its literary giants in a way unimaginable in the United States.  Most remarkable, perhaps, is the annual celebration of Bloomsday, commemorating June 16, 1904, when the story takes place. It chronicles  18 hours in Dublin experienced by Leon Bloom, the fictional protagonist of Jame Joyce’s Ulysses.  The innovative stream-of-consciousness  technique heralded a new modernism in world literature, and the book, modeled on 18 episodes in Homer’s Odyssey,  is often tough to slog through.  But imagine any June 16th in Dublin where folks across the city turn out in  period costumes and walk in small groups from one to another of the locales so colorfully described in the novel, with leaders reading portions out loud to the delight of all who will listen.

Even pub walls are adorned with pictures of Swift, W. B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett,  and George Bernard Shaw.  (Seen less often are women writers like  Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Bowen, Anne Enright or Mary Lavin.) One can do a literary pub crawl, featuring readings by the writers who frequented those establishments back in the day.  One such literary pub crawl is at the 18th century establishment The Duke.  A plaque just outside commemorates a place where Leopold Bloom (remember, he’s Joyce’s fictional creation) stops to help a blind man cross the street.  Pubs in Ireland were once hiring halls for day laborers, the sites to which they returned at the end of the day to collect their wages. While that no longer happens, pubs remain community gathering spots, a place to get a pint and a good meal, and to experience a significant slice of Irish life.

From the 8th century Viking raids, to the 12th century Norman invasion, to British oppression and bloody responses, and 30 years of “The Troubles,” now bubbling up again, the Irish have had to endure unspeakable trials.  Nor should we forget the severe Irish potato famine in the 19th century that caused mass starvation and disease and drove the 1840’s Irish diaspora.

There was also the crushing power of the Church on daily life, the brutality of the Magdalene asylums run for two centuries by Catholic orders, which the government acknowledged only in 2001 to have viciously abused thousands of women. As a sign of change,  two years ago, due to the perseverance of amateur historian Catherine Corless,  discovery was made of a mass grave in Tuam, near Galway, where as many as 800 bodies of babies and children from the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home are buried. A small, spontaneous memorial has been created on the site, and excavations will be done there by the end of this year.

Much of the Irish experience is dark, but with the power of the Church diminishing and the country becoming more secular, Ireland is trending cosmopolitan and global.  A high level of education has attracted multi-national companies. The country has welcomed immigrants, including many from eastern Europe. Ireland’s laws have become more liberal, providing access to abortion and gay marriage.  (Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is gay.)

Ireland’s painful history makes it all the more remarkable that the wonderful features of the country are topped off by the people themselves, friendly, open to conversation, helpful to visitors, and given to humor.  When they say in Gaelic, “blessings until I see you again,” you know you want to return to the Emerald Isle and experience it again and again, perhaps starting with the exciting Museum of Literature, scheduled to open in Dublin this fall.

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Make it to the zoo this summer

Franklin Park Zoo isn’t my grandfather’s  zoo, or the one my father took me to eons ago.  It isn’t even the zoo I took my children and grandchildren to.  It’s becoming a jewel of a zoo, with animal attractions for people of all ages, from the entertaining antics of the prairie dogs to the graceful elegance of the giraffes, the gorillas (including famous silverback Little Joe), and lions to the calming beauty of the butterfly house.  Natural setting play areas  and  enhanced landscaping all contribute to the experience, making the visitor feel at one with the environment.

But the zoo today is much more than that.  It has thrived under the dedicated leadership of President and CEO John Linehan, who for 30 years has overseen the care and management of hundreds of animal residents and 155 zoo employees. (Some are at the smaller Stone Zoo in Stoneham.)  Today, in an era where climate change poses an existential threat to the planet and possibly thousands of species become extinct every year, Zoo New England is playing a role in preservation of species and sustaining biodiversity. Some sources predict as many as half of all species will go extinct by the middle of the century.

By integrating conservation, education and research into its programs, Zoo New England is doing what we can’t depend on our political leaders to undertake.  Animals are bred with careful attention to genetic makeup and can be sent all over the country to breed with suitable mates.  The zoo is collaborating with the Broad Institute on genomic studies of different zoological species. Veterinarians do research on parasites and disease that threaten the disappearance of one species, whose disappearance would then spur extinction of species related in its complex ecosystem. Amphibians, for example, are among the most endangered.

Zoo New England’s chief veterinarian Eric Baitchman has been dealing with the endangered Panama golden frog, threatened by the chytrid fungus. And that’s just one project. While most of us weren’t looking, giraffes have quietly slipped onto the list of endangered species, with fewer than 100,000 remaining. Who can imagine a world without these magnificent creatures?

Baitchman has also initiated the One Health Program, where fourth year Harvard Medical students do a rotation at the Franklin Park Zoo. The program explores the relationships among animals, people and the ecosystem. Medical students learn to use their clinical intuition to care for creatures who can’t tell them where it hurts.

When I was a small child, my father would take me to the Franklin Park Zoo. There were some bored camels and some unhappy looking deer.  The saddest of all, however, was the elephant house. The space was bare and smelly. Three miserable looking elephants were chained to the concrete floor, their exercise limited to swishing their trunks. Lifting one leg a few inches. Putting it down.  Lifting another leg a few inches. Putting it down. It was pitiful, and a far cry from what visitors find today.

Zoo New England (the formal name for the Franklin Park Zoo and the Stone Zoo) has been transformed. It is well worth visiting and, even more, supporting, even if your children and grandchildren have gone beyond the traditional zoo visiting days.  It is so much more than entertainment.  It is a player in the mission of saving the planet.  It is walking the walk, even when our national leaders are barely talking the talk.

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Bloodshed continues in Northern Ireland despite Peace Accords; could worsen

photo Irish Times

July 12th is a day to watch in Northern Ireland. The annual Orange Order parade– the highlight of a months-long marching season– commemorates the 1690 Battle of Boyne defeat of forces of Catholic King James II by those of Protestant King William of Orange. It was the beginning of Protestant control of Ireland and the heavy hand of the British on every Irish neck. This Friday there will be Ulster marching bands and carousers , unionists and to a lesser degree  nationalists marching provocatively near and through each other’s neighborhoods, and the evening before  lighting bonfires,  burning flags, other symbols and effigies. Some level of violence is expected. Weeks ago, huge piles of wood kindling were being assembled  in restive areas of Belfast, where “The Troubles”- the euphemism for the sectarian strife that caused more than 3600 deaths- still drive emotions.

Our trip to Belfast was profoundly disturbing. While tourists are flocking to Northern Island to visit the Giant’s Causeway, Game of Thrones sites and the Titanic Museum, a visit to the heart of The Troubles area in parts of Belfast reveals tales of enduring sectarian hatreds. [ According to the 2011 census, 48 percent of N. Ireland residents are or were brought up Protestant and 45 percent Catholic. Since then the gap has grown even smaller.]   At its core the conflict is less  about Protestants versus Catholics as much as cultural identity, pitting those loyal to Great Britain and the English language against those who want to unite with the Republic of Ireland and embrace two languages. More than two decades since the 1998 Good Friday peace accords, tensions are never far from the surface.

The city center may be neutral and people can walk freely among bomb-protected buildings; not so the outlying areas. In west Belfast, for example, graffiti on Bombay Street celebrates the martyrs of the traditional IRA and the newer, more violent Provisional IRA.  Billboards glorify violent activists, often shown in balaclava masks to conceal their faces.  “Prepared for peace. Ready for war,” proclaims one mural. Other paintings glorify affinity with Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela and the Palestinians. IRA “No Surrender” signs urge continued resistance to British occupation of Ireland.The Republican Network for Unity (RNU) declares “Our struggle continues.”

Paramilitary groups exert pressure on both sides.  Not far away is a loyalist neighborhood that  honors military heroes of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which ruled for the British with an iron fist. The UVF, UDA (Ulster Defense Association)  and other groups are still recruiting. Graffiti here lionizes authoritarian  leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu  and Donald Trump.  In a time of so-called peace, heavy iron gates between loyalists along Shankill Road and the republicans along Falls Road open at eight a.m. but close at six in the evening.

Gangs are restructuring themselves, partly defined by the level of violence their members embrace.  Many control explosives and guns never decommissioned during the peace process and are actively recruiting new members.

Each anniversary of a terrorist bombing or unanswered shooting even decades ago raises new anxieties about possible retaliation. Shootings have increased, with police officers and security forces often the target.  Journalist Lyra McKee, 29, who covered The Troubles for several publications, was gunned down  while standing near a police car 70 miles away from Belfast in Derry April 18. Riots there were spawned by a police action against dissidents in the so-called new IRA, which is opposed to the peace process.  More mainstream parties called the McKee killing a “futile and pointless” attempt to unravel the gains achieved by the Peace Process over two decades. As recently as a year ago, homes belonging to leaders of Sinn Fein, including Gerry Adams, were bombed to protest those who want to proceed nonviolently. In short, the situation is a dangerous mess, and we’re not getting the story here.

Coverage of the June 15th funeral of former Provisional IRA leader Billie McKee reflects the divide.  The more Catholic Irish Times quoted a mourner as saying “Billy remained steadfast to the end and had no regrets, despite all the hardship that he endured for  his republicanism.”  By contrast, the more Protestant, loyalist Belfast Telegraph declared “McKee died a bitter and twisted old man,” forever opposed to the Sinn Fein peace strategy. Throughout the divided community, children, we were told, are growing up imbued with the same hatreds that their parents and their grandparents bore toward neighbors with different loyalties.

Anxieties are growing about the implications of a hard Brexit for this tenuous situation. Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union but could be dragged in the opposite direction if/when the UK leaves the EU.  Growing fears focus on whether restoration of a militarized border crossing will undo whatever peace gains have been achieved through the Good Friday Accords.  Donald Trump’s cavalier embrace of good walls during his June visit didn’t help the situation, where danger lurks just around the corner.  It’s a story most U.S. media are not covering, but it is very threatening and terribly worrisome to anyone who cares about the people in that wonderful island.

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