1. The last straw in one marriage

    “I’m never doing anything this stupid for you ever again.” My wife Dale announced this to me last summer as we peeled out of the driveway, late to catch a plane.

    Blame the robins. A couple had built a nest and laid eggs in the rhododendron bush, inconveniently located for breeding and egg-sitting purposes between our back door and the garage – our noisiest and busiest possible location. Note to robins: you chose this neighborhood.

    But forget the traffic and the noise. Another problem loomed.

    Baby robins, we learned, don’t magically fly from the nests when they feel big and strong enough – about three weeks after hatching. Rather, the first time they try, they tend to fall and flop. If they land on soft ground, they get to try again. The basement metal bulkhead doors directly below our robins’ nest seemed to unduly diminish their odds, and Dale – having succumbed to my groveling and importuning – had driven that morning to Jaescke’s Farm Stand to pick up two bales of straw to spread over our bulkhead and the driveway.

    “Never again,” Dale repeated....

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  2. Weaning U.S. from jail binge

    Let’s correct a misnomer – a misconception, a euphemism. Life imprisonment does not just mean life in prison. An ACLU event this past week has caused me to reflect on how a life-in-prison sentence really means death in prison.

    Of course many inmates without life sentences also die in prison – from suicide, homicide, beatings, rape, AIDS and gross medical indifference. Living through a 20- or 30-year sentence requires survival skills most of us could not imagine, much less attain.

    And over the past four decades judges have been dispensing years in prison as if they were handing out parking tickets. Fifteen-, 20- and 30-year sentences have become a norm. The number of people incarcerated in America has exploded from 300,000 in 1972 to 2.3 million today. The United States locks up a larger percentage of its people than any other country on earth – by a lot.

    And another six million are subject to the control of the penal system – on probation, parole or supervised release. Mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines and political expediency bear much of the blame.

    Let’s not forget that racism constitutes a central pillar of our carceral system. No surprise there....

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  3. Candidate Trump is really a thing

    Late this past Tuesday night I was sitting in my family room staring at a blank, silent, switched-off television. I know – I grant you – at first glance this does not paint a picture of robust mental health.

    And, in truth, I was feeling more than a little anxious and depressed because the voters of Indiana had just anointed the mercurial, vacuous, unqualified, ignorant, racist and misogynist Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. That result made me extremely anxious. In addition, the mainstream media was reporting and repeating that notwithstanding Bernie’s victory in that day’s Democratic primary, his campaign effectively was finished. Hearing this drumbeat of finality made me depressed.

    Underestimating Trump constitutes one of my many political analysis failures this election cycle....

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  4. On GOP politics, call it global warning.

    On the flight from Boston to London last Friday I read the Daily Mail newspaper’s report on “How Trump lost cash in 18 of his 21 funds.” An English investor explained that the bad result “rather sums up Trump’s ability to lose rather than make shedloads of money.”

    “Shedloads" of money? Seriously – shedloads? You have to love the Brits’ sense of decorum. But I digress.

    The investor continued, “He’s just a spiv with a dodgy hairstyle. God help us....

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  5. Apple's righteous iPhone fight against the FBI.

    A legal battle is now raging between Apple Inc. and the FBI. Apple is right. The FBI is wrong. Here’s why.

    On Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, California, Syed Farook, with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, committed a horrifying mass murder, a terrorist attack. He killed 14 people and seriously wounded 22 more.

    Between the time of the killings and his death four hours later in a shootout with the police, Farook smashed his two personal cell phones into smithereens so that nothing could be recovered from them. His third cell phone, issued by his employer, he left untouched. That cell phone now occupies the epicenter of the legal struggle.

    The FBI asserts that it needs access to that phone for investigative purposes. It makes this assertion notwithstanding the improbability that Farook used his county government-issued work phone, and not one of his private ones, for anything related to his attack. The FBI demands access to the phone notwithstanding that all the device’s location data, calls, texts, and web searches are stored by the carrier and therefore readily available to law enforcement.

    The FBI, which has confessed to inadvertently locking Farook’s phone after seizing it...

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  6. Whose free speech display of Black Lives Matter banner on City Hall?

    Shortly after the Black Lives Matter banner was raised at Northampton City Hall on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the president of a city police union, denying any connection, requested that Mayor David Narkewicz fly a banner recognizing National Peace Officers Memorial Day in May.

    Other banner and flag-flying requests no doubt will follow.

    We’ve been down this — or a similar — road before....

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  7. What's in a name? On protecting even racist trademarks and the court of public opinion

    This column tells the story of the ongoing battle between the United States government on one side and the curious combination of the Washington Redskins football team and a group of 20-something musicians called The Slants on the other.

    For decades Native American groups and their supporters have demanded that the Washington, D.C., National Football League team stop calling itself the Redskins. Enough with the racist moniker they say.

    And racist it is. America has long classified “the other” by the color of their skin — black, brown, yellow or red. For centuries the term “red man” has been disparaging. Recall, for example, the overt racism accepted by the majority culture in the song “What Makes the Red Man Red” in the acclaimed 1953 Walt Disney production of “Peter Pan.”

    Today the Redskins’ owner, Daniel Snyder, insists that his team’s name offends almost no one, and he has vowed...

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  8. An anti-public act of concealment in Chicago

    Consider Chicago. There on a city street, police officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times — in the chest, back, neck and head — mostly while the teen was lying on the pavement. This was a cold-blooded execution.

    Hard to believe? Go watch the video, the Chicago police dashcam recording. fter the shooting, city officials engaged in a conspiracy of silence for 13 months. But a judge ordered the video released and this past week, the day before the release, the state charged the cop with first degree murder.

    Why was the video suppressed? Why was the public’s right to know so blatantly ignored and discarded? Aren’t police officers public officials subject to the same disclosures and bound by the same legal rules and standards that apply to all other public officials? ...

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  9. Into the Bernie Maelstrom

    At the recent Bernie Sanders rally in Springfield, a woman I met confided she hadn’t been as excited about a presidential candidate since Bobby Kennedy.

    Her enthusiasm was shared. Six thousand people jammed into the Mass Mutual Center on that Saturday afternoon to listen to Bernie.

    When introducing Sen. Sanders, Bill McKibben, the internationally renowned environmentalist, recounted that Bernie had announced his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in September. McKibben paused, the venue fell quiet and the crowd tensed. This event was taking place Oct. 3. September sounded really late and opportunistic.

    Then McKibben repeated “September.” He paused one more time before adding...

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  10. Innocence is Lost, Decency Found -- Thanks to Yogi Berra

    I miss Yogi Berra.

    A signed photograph of him, a Father’s Day gift from my wife Dale, hangs on a wall in my office, close to the one of Mickey Mantle, above the one of Bobby Kennedy, near the one of my late dad and our daughter Jo laughing together.

    The Yogi photograph captures him in full catcher’s regalia — his cap on backwards, flying forward about six inches above the ground, arms extended, his catcher’s glove in his left hand, the ball in his right, about to tag Ted Williams, who is sliding hard toward home with dirt flying from his spikes.

    Yogi’s death a week ago should not have shocked me. After all, he was 90. But it kind of did...

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