Friday, December 24, 2010

Lassoing the Moon

This summer, despite every tea leaf in it's favor, legislation to bring predatory gambling to Massachusetts went down in an eleventh hour defeat.

And in just the past few days, Congress chose not to pass a "Carcieri Fix" into law, a Massachusetts Appeals Court judge denied the city of Fall River's request to overturn a preliminary injunction stopping the casino land deal, and the CBS program 60 Minutes is preparing to air a segment on slot machines at the very moment the Mass Legislature will begin drooling once again over the prospect of gambling legislation.

It's a wonderful life.

Happiest of Holiday's to all the angel activists out there who've earned their wings.

Love, Gladys

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Can you imagine...

Photobucket
This is the Fourth Thanksgiving I've posted this picture, and I'm wondering if it's been a good luck charm.

Because on a warm night in May of 2007, I was told a casino was inevitable, a "done deal" and given a conservative date of only 18 months from shovel to slot machine.

And yet, here we are, on the brink of 2011, and there are still no slot machines, no casinos, and no Indian land in trust in Massachusetts.

You may believe that this been due to fortune, fluke or fate, or merely the unpredictable path of politics.

But rest assured, at it's heart, at it's center, has been the constant efforts of activists, experts, senators, representatives and concerned citizens providing the Commonwealth with a conscience and a reality check these past three and a half years.  Chipping away at myths and lies and the damage done by millions of dollars in influence.  Making differences in ways even they might find hard to imagine.

Because real success in America comes from hard work, not a roll of the dice.

And so, for all those who've done so much to keep Massachusetts slot machine and casino free, let's give thanks.



And if three people do it - three - can you imagine - three people walking in,
singing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out...  They may think it's an
organization.  And can you... can you imagine fifty people a day - I said
fifty people a day - walking in singing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and
walking out. And friends... they may think it's a movement.

- Arlo Guthrie

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Night on the Towne

I've often longed to be a restaurant critic. Quietly occupying at a new table every night, anonymously sampling food and drink and service - then sharing my findings with the world without so much as a single dish to wash in the morning.

Of course, being a restaurant critic on the South Shore is sort of like being the bolt inspector at a bolt factory. I mean, there are just so many ways you can go with it. Eventually you will run out of ways to describe the deep fried, carb-heavy, creatively-challenged sameness of the cuisine here in God's country.

And so last night's dinner at Towne Boston, a trendy new eatery on Boylston Street was a treat and a half for this weary palate.

It was a special occasion for the family, and I decided it was high time we celebrated in style. A few weeks earlier we'd been entranced by a restaurant segment on Chronicle, which featured Towne Boston, and highlighted it's unique fifteen-item Lobster menu - in addition to it's equally mouthwatering main menu. Sealing the deal, Towne was a collaboration between two local food icons who'd helped lift Boston out of the Bad Food Age - Jasper White and Lydia Shire. How could anyone go wrong with that?

And the experience was probably as close to I'll ever come to feeling like a guest judge on Top Chef. Even the three delicious tiny spreads that came with the bread basket required copious explanation from our heavily-accented server. But it was dessert, in the form of a sparkling foot-high beehive of brown sugar cotton candy that wafted onto our table like a fantasy ballet, which elevated our experience to another gastronomic level all together.

Because let's face it. You're never going to see that sort of thing at the Fireside.

And then, as if things couldn't get cooler for our swank-deprived family, a serious faced food magazine crew set up shop on the table next to us, aiming the most complicated looking camera lenses I've ever seen at bottles of wine and bowls of bisque and plates wood-fired crispy duck.

And that's when I saw it. The dapper elder statesman of the food crew was closely studying what looked like a little paper fan - with a picture of a lobster claw on it. The special fifteen-item lobster menu!

And I wondered why we hadn't been offered this menu. It was a special night for us after all, and I'd gone to the effort to inform the restaurant about it - hence the great table we were sitting at.

Then I remembered a review of Towne Boston I'd read - which mentioned that the restaurant staff had oddly neglected to provide the reviewer's table with the same, much-ballyhooed lobster-only menu.

Immediately, my well-honed sense of injustice kicked into gear.

Hey, what gives? Does Towne only provide the special menu to reviewers who show up with fancy cameras or TV crews, perhaps for the purpose of luring unsuspecting choice-deprived restaurant-goers from Hicksville like me to fill their expensive tables?

Yeah, it looked like it.

Since we were, at the time, finishing up with dessert, I attempted to suppress my disappointment, focusing instead on the fine food, good drink, fun time and otherwise great service we'd experienced. But still... it's not like we're going to go back to Towne next week. If you saw the prices, you'd understand. This was a particularly special occasion, after all, and we'd chosen to share it with Towne, only to learn that we and our special occasion were not special enough, apparently, to warrant a crack at the elusive lobster menu.

I contemplated interrupting the reviewer to ask if I might borrow the menu to take a look, if for no other reason than the hope that nothing on it would even appeal to me anyway. But alas, social anxiety got the better of me. I resigned myself to the fact that I may never solve the 15 item lobster mystery.

Back in Bridgewater, shortly after the polls had closed, the lobster menu was quickly forgotten as we found ourselves confronted with the depressing news that Deval Patrick had seemingly won another term.

A few hours later, I couldn't locate the TV remote and found myself unhappily forced to listen to Deval's victory speech.

Here was the same man who had famously striven to build three mega casinos across the Commonwealth, thus opening the door to a predatory vampire of an industry in the same State that had not only given birth to American Democracy, but could also still count itself among the precious few with the smarts and backbone to stand tall against the easy, sleezy lure of expanded gambling, and yet there he was - proudly, emphatically and without so much as a lick of conscious irony, contradicting all of it.

"To paraphrase President Clinton, there is nothing wrong about Massachusetts that can't be fixed with what's right about Massachusetts."

"Tonight Massachusetts chose to look up and forward and not down and to the past."

"We work to lift every corner, every community of this Commonwealth..."

"Now as always, I ask everyone in the Commonwealth to turn to each other, not on each other..."

"I'm not interested in what's easy, I'm interested in what's right. I'm interested in bearing our generational responsibility to leave a better Commonwealth than we found."

"We must be, all of us, about lifting the whole Commonwealth up, not tearing anyone down, and modeling for a nation hungry for something positive to believe in that we are once again the center, the leader for this country."


As I dug the remote out from between the couch cushions, I felt in real danger of losing the wood grilled portabello mushrooms with robiola crema and & sage crisps that I'd enjoyed earlier that evening.

Slamming the mute button, I decompressed in simmering silence, eventually realizing wearily that Patrick, like Towne Boston for that matter, was merely reciting a well-worn page from the politician's playbook.

The sweet nothing. The promise of something extraordinary that's only really real for the cameras.

So why wouldn't Towne think nothing of whispering it's own sugar-spun lobster nothings to get us in the door? Just one look at all those full tables... or at Deval's dewey-eyed victory night disciples - almost none of whom, I'd be willing to bet, live in a casino hot-zone or have an inkling of what those of us who do had to learn the hard way - and you'd know how insanely well it works.

But why do some of us fall for it so easily? Are we all so bored, so choice-deprived that we get stars in our eyes over something that just sounds different? Are we ultimately more satisfied with a tantalizing empty promise than an unfulfilling gritty reality?

At the same time, there are those of us who will just as inexplicably bypass the promising cutting edge for the disappointingly predictable.

I passed the house of an old friend the other day, spotting a lawn sign for a candidate who, two years earlier had grossly insulted him and others like him in return for a minor political gain.

And while there are people who'd never eat at the same restaurant where they'd once picked up a case of food poisoning, there are multitudes who will go back to the trough, time and time again, of the political candidate who only made them sick once or twice.

Fact is, in every town in Massachusetts, there are lots of places to eat - the good, bad and the ugly. But stellar political choices are as rare as a blue moon.

We can choose to eat at home - even learn to cook like a Top Chef - but unless we are willing to run for office - we are condemned to depend on others for governance.

And yet, ours has become a system that forces our candidates to pay to play, where an altruistic unknown is required to duke it out with millionaires and corporate-backed franchisees. The media and her pundits accept and enforce the system, while the rest of us, unless we have been painfully gifted by the reality that the media isn't, in fact, working for us, or even bothering to keep us all that well informed, fall in line.

And so, out of fear of the unknown or for the shiny sparkle of a continually broken promise, we check a box on a ballot next to something old or something new or something we hope just won't make us sick, coming to terms with our choices sooner rather than later.

Afterward, and without a lick of conscious irony, we'll lean back at our tables with cynical grins, longing for a white knight of change, of democratic salvation, clinging to a fading hope of term limits, deciding that OK has become good enough, accepting the notion that we are individually powerless, and probably never wondering when it was that the unthinkable became the inevitable.

Food for thought.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vote Your Voice.

No matter who you vote for Tuesday, please don't lose your voice.

Four years ago, I listened to all the debates and ended up voting for a candidate named Grace Ross, who was a member of the Green-Rainbow party.  I didn't know what the hell the Green-Rainbow party was, I'd never heard of it and frankly it sounded like something I would have eagerly jumped right into with both feet when I was 19. 

But in reality, and despite their name, the Green-Rainbow party turned out not to be the Birkenstock-wearing tree-hugging granola-loving solar-powered vegans their name might suggest (not that there's anything wrong with that) In fact, they turned out be sound a lot like, well, me.  Like a lot of us.

The candidate didn't just sound like she cared about me and my interests, but about the whole state. Not just about it's present, but also about it's past, it's future and it's lasting legacy.

The Green-Rainbows weren't fear mongers, finger pointers, a collection of sound bytes, partisan, or puppets of the special interests.  And in the next few years, we'd learn that these were the conventionally requisite political qualities we could all better do without.

Unfortunately, a lot of people, including some people I really like and respect, are telling me a vote for Jill Stein, the current Green-Rainbow candidate for governor, the only candidate to oppose expanded gambling, and to testify to that effect at this summer's State House hearings, will be a spoiler. 

Well, good.

Deval Patrick's spoiled the last three years of my life so the least I can do is return the favor. And besides, I'm sick of being warned that I have to vote for one evil over a lesser one for the strategic benefit of the greater good.

Case in point - a few months after Deval Patrick won the 2006 election, the casino circus came to town, and I was never so pleased to realize that, even without knowing a darn thing about the casino issue when I'd cast my vote for governor, I'd cast it for Grass Ross, the single 2006 gubernatorial candidate who showed up at a Faneuil Hall anti-slot protest rally last December.

If I were to teach a class on civics in 2010 I'd have to say, "Well boys and girls, a politician is someone we vote for who goes to work to work for us, but who eventually ends up really working for the professional lobbyists and special interests who line up at their door every day and who write them big checks so that they can run for office again. 

Those politicians who stand up to this pressure eventually get burnt out, leave office and never look back.  As you can see, it's very hard."
 
Fortunately, in Jill Stein, the Green-Rainbow candidate for governor, we have a gubernatorial candidate - in fact the only one - who, in practice and not just in word, has refused to take any money from special interests and lobbyists, making her the only candidate who is even remotely trying to avoid them right out of the gate.

Which is why I'll cast my vote for Jill Stein.

And my vote, just like my voice these last 3 and a half years, will once again be considered negligible.

Except by the one person for whom it matters most.

Me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You see a tomato...

 TIM CAHILL
 At least he's honest.

 This advertisement paid for by the 
Committee to Elect a Big Blonde Doofus for Governor.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not with a bang, but with a whimper

In the months and years to come, whenever the issue of expanded gambling heats up anew, newspapers, pundits, bloggers and columnists will invariably point to the fact that the 2010 round was won or lost (depending on what side you're on) by a nose.

And that the photo finish came down to the blurry lack of a no-bid contract for the State's racetracks.

Blurry, because, on the surface, it looked like the State's 4 racetracks would have to bid for the 2 racino licenses provided for in the legislature's final gambling legislation.

That's right.  Despite headlines and finger-pointing following the closing of Wonderland Dog Track, it turns out that Suffolk Downs and Wonderland have had plans to combine into one big fat 'destination resort casino' all along.

Which left two racetracks, Raynham and Plainridge, to “bid” over those 2 racino licences.

And that, my friends, is how we beat what many considered to be a sure thing.

Because in 2010, her Highness, Lady Luck dealt to the gambling industry a legislative Royal Flush - from Speaker to Senate to Governor.

And by the end of July and the legislative session, only the truly hard-core among us held out dwindling hope for a win. We prayed the Governor would veto, though it seemed unlikely - especially after he met gambling-nation half-way with one racino.

And then the clock simply ran out. The House and Senate fled the scene and weren't coming back.

The moral of our story?

That in the end, the battle was won, not over the growing realization that expanded gambling has failed to solve the fiscal problems of any state in the nation, or due to the lack of an independent cost/benefit analysis, or over the deep involvement of special interests, or because the public was excluded from the vetting process, or in fear of creating a regional gambling arms race, or from concerns that consumers would be exposed to a deceptively dangerous product, or because it would cut into the lottery, or could result in the creation of new Tribal sovereign nations and land acquisitions, or the introduction, in a state founded on high ideals, of an industry that harms families, hurts small business, disproportionally targets the poor, creates expanded government, brings increases in crime and addiction, and, not for nothing, comes with a suicide rate.

Nope. In the end, the battle was “officially” won because a.) the Governor didn't want want the citizens of the Commonwealth to lose out on the incremental cost of a competitive license fee, and b.) he didn't to be unfair to potential racetrack investors.

My hero.

But it doesn't matter.  While it may be the 'official' reason, it's not the real reason.

One perceptive article recently observed that, for the Governor, the expanded gambling issue "has become an albatross that will flap alongside him to the end of his term."

True.  Just look at the important things that didn't get done this session because of it.  Still, the article suggests that
The best explanation for why gambling failed despite all the votes in favor of it, is that the Democrats in the state house needed gambling to fail and they needed to vote in favor of it.
Sure they needed it to fail for all the reasons I mention above - though to suggest the majority of the Massachusetts Legislature actually staged it's failure is giving them way too much credit.

Which is not to say there weren't a few consciences twitching under the golden dome, but let's face it, if you really want something to fail, you're not going to overload the deck so completely in it's favor.  I also know for a fact that the anti-predatory forces on Beacon Hill were working their legislative butts off to the last minute to achieve even the votes that they got.

But the article does allude to something I've pointed out in the past - that legislators who are so quick to hop on the gambling bandwagon were doing their own campaign war chests a disservice – and posits that a lot of them
needed to be on-record as supporting mega-casinos because Patrick has turned the gambling industry into a lifeline of campaign funding for his allies. Slot machine companies, scratch card companies, racetrack developers, and others are among the biggest contributors to Massachusetts politicians. The companies contribute themselves, they hire lobbyists who contribute, and their employees contribute as individuals. In April the Boston Globe reported that the New Jersey-based consulting firm that the state paid to come up with the financial estimates for gambling also was being paid by DeLeo’s campaign
No kidding.  Pennsylvania lawmakers held out for $60 M in lobbying funds before approving gambling, whereas Massachusetts capitulated for a paltry $20M.

And then, there was the constant pressure from ever-present, loudly clamoring organized labor, which has
been kept on life support by the Big Dig, the largest highway project in the history of the country, at least if you measure it in dollars. Ted Kennedy won the Big Dig for metropolitan Boston in the late 1980s, and the money is only now running out. The leaders of the AFL-CIO and the Building Trades are clamoring for the jobs spigot to be turned back on. They are the loudest supporters of racinos, because DeLeo has convinced them that racinos are all the spigot they’re going to get.
Speaking of Labor, during it's interviews of departing Wonderland employees, NECN aired video of one woman stating that “if he were maybe a nicer governor” Patrick would have signed the gambling bill.

Now, this woman and I are probably polar opposites on the issue of expanded gambling in Massachusetts, but I tend to agree. Deval could be a 'nicer' governor. And better one, too.

For instance, I wonder if it might have made it just a little bit easier for this woman to lose her job knowing the governor didn't allow it to happen all over single no-bid contract -  but for all the other reasons myself and others have pointed out.

And wouldn't it have been 'nicer' for the rest of us to know that too?  To know that our lives and tax dollars were a little more important to those in charge than higher licensing fees and ensuring that racino investors got a level playing field?

Or that our potential addictions and suicides were considered unacceptable collateral damage even if they do come with construction jobs, a 10,000 seat auditorium, five star restaurants, upscale shops and table games.

But in the vacuum of special interests and campaign imperatives, we're left to scratch our heads or divine the tea leaves for our leadership's motivations.  And apparently, on Beacon Hill, we're all just standing on one side or the other on the scales of avarice. 

While the Massachusetts economy is doing better than most states, and has added over 60,000 private sector jobs since December, her leadership is populated with lawyers and professional politicians more concerned with sound bytes and mitigation than with leadership or justice.

Nothing demonstrates this better than the rush to throw Massachusetts under the special-interest driven expanded-gambling bandwagon this year, which, behind closed doors, exchanged lives for contributions and job buzz, and was justified with specious data provided by impartial sources.

Definitley not 'nice'.

And the gubernatorial candidates would seem to herald more of the same.

Deval Patrick weighs his support of gambling on the scales of avarice and re-election, Charlie Baker actually believes there's such a thing as a 'starter casino', and Tim Cahill would install Keno games in high school cafeterias if we'd let him.

Gambling issue aside, what kind of person do you want standing up for you on Beacon Hill?  A cartoon or the real thing?  Someone whose stake in the future means more than the next election?  Someone who just wants to give you something for the pain, or someone who actually wants to save the limb?

Fortunately, there is a doctor in the house.

A doctor by the name of Jill Stein, is running in this year's gubernatorial election, and I would urge you all, whether you are for, against or neutral on the issue of expanded gambling to check out Jill's web site, watch her in the debates, and seriously consider casting your vote for her.  Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised.

I've met Jill in person, and found her to be refreshingly honest and forthright in her positions.  Unlike most politicians I've met, she's really gone out of her way to get the facts on the gambling issue.  And you could have knocked me over with a feather to find her at a gambling hearing, holding onto testimony, waiting her turn in the cheap seats, and looking down the barrel of an unwieldy gavel with the rest of us.  Best of all, instead of having to guess where my family and I stand on her personal scales of avarice, I'm pretty confident that Jill doesn't possess such a thing.

Perhaps because doctors, as you know, live by the credo, “first, do no harm”, and frankly, after three and a half years of dodging lobbyists and divining tea leaves for answers, of getting ignored, gaveled and shut out entirely, that sure seems like a "nicer" place to start.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ephemera

The game is afoot.

A mystery in the form of several boxes of casino-related
"engineering studies, maps, deeds, plans, letters and public notices"
rests in assorted corners in the offices of Middleboro Town Manager Charles J. Cristello and Planning Director Ruth M. Geoffroy, awaiting public inspection.

No one is quite sure why.

But apparently, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe filed a public-records request last month for various ephemera relating to the Middleboro casino chronicles and paid $3,000 for the privilege.

Does this have anything to do with the Tribe's casino defection to Fall River?  Or the Town's claim's that the Tribe can't be trusted?  Could it be related to certain un-paid bills? A bizarre form of intimidation?  Or perhaps the fulfillment of some cryptic federal requirement triggered whenever a Tribe attempts to renege on a done-deal?

And wouldn't it be poetic justice if the Tribe's lawyers somehow end up using Article 3 or the slightly less than 2/3 vote on the intergovernmental agreement vote as their own 'get out of Middleboro Free" card?

The article sheds no light on the mystery, but being the Enterprise, that's hardly surprising.  Still... the Town seems equally befuddled, and Cedric Cromwell isn't talking.

And so that can only mean one thing.  That this is no great mystery, but yet another installment of our favorite, long-running soap opera, The Stupid and the Damned.

And while Stan Rosenberg may be glued to the screen, most of us have already changed the channel.

Because, just speaking for myself, it's difficult maintaining a suspension of disbelief having watched Cromwell insist his Tribe lives in dire straits, only to discover he's retained an attorney and shelled out three grand for a bunch of dusty crap from the era of inevitability.

If Cromwell, a one-man Peyton Place, wants to know why his Tribe keeps getting dissed left and right, he need only look in a mirror.   Between this pouty little intrigue and his other less than stellar actions, it makes it hard to trust him as the leader of a neighboring sovereign nation, let alone the captain of an industry so well associated with corruption and greed.

And, if he's waiting for the town fathers to figure out his mysterious motives, he may as well pull up a comfortable chair and have a nap.

Oddly enough, I too, have a box of ephemera collected during the last three years.  It contains, among other things, a handwritten letter from a State senator thanking me for building the USS-Mass web site, my crumpled and discarded testimony from the 2008 casino hearings, notebooks, a cherished t-shirt with the word "Honest" across the front that I received as a gift, an crumbling long-stem rose from a winter's evening at Faneuil Hall, political cartoons snipped from newspapers, highlighted reams of federal regulations, and a letter from a State Rep expressing his amazement that so few of his colleagues are willing to vote their conscience.

My collection reminds me that, while we wait for the next twist in the plot of this endless melodrama - or at least for the Cape Cod Times to flesh out the facts of the mysterious ephemera on view in Middleboro - there is at least one thing of which I'm already certain - and that is that there is more truth and integrity to be found among my collection of dusty little artifacts than was ever contained within that Pandora's box opened three and a half years ago.

And like sands through the hourglass, my friends, so are the days of our lives.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hang Fire - Day Ten

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hang Fire - Day Nine

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hang Fire - Day Six

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hang Fire - Day Five

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hang Fire - Day Four

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hang Fire - Day Two

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hang Fire

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lawmakers see eye to eye on gambling bill, fail to notice iceberg

Yesterday, members of the House and Senate conference committee reached an agreement on a gambling bill for 3 casinos and slots at 2 of the State's race tracks.

In other news, Wonderland and Suffolk Downs have decided to combine operations and bid for a single casino licence - ironically leaving only Plainridge and Raynham to "bid" for the remaining 2 "competetive" racino licences.

Governor Patrick, meanwhile, insists he can't sign the bill as it is now, preferring to reserve outrage for additional 750 slot machines, rather than the crime, addiction, corruption, tribal casinos, growth in government, reduction in the lottery, social harm and other collateral damage that any bill would cause.

As the session comes to a close the remainder of the State legislature appears anxious to head off on their 5-month paid vacation.  A majority profess complete confidence in number of lifeboats.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Legacy


A half a year back, I found myself standing, with a dozen or so of my colleagues, in the portrait-flanked reception room leading to the Governor's office.

As we awaited an audience with the man himself, our conversation turned to the gubernatorial portraits.  In the spirit of our non-partisan coalition, we tried to avoid speaking in the negative about any of the Governors, and found ourselves, oddly, left with little else to say.

Instead we critiqued the artwork, which, to us, seemed to range from shades of Singer Sargent (Cellucci) to advanced finger painting (Dukakis).

We raised a collective eyebrow at Bill Weld's crayola-colored choice of casual wear, and thought it was nice that Mitt Romney thought to include a picture of his wife - though were puzzled as to why the artist painted Mrs. Romney's head at such an awkward angle.

And, after that, there definitely wasn't much else to say. A room full of Massachusetts Governors, and the most we could accomplish was not to roll our eyes.

I suppose a Governor's real lasting legacy is that he or she gets to put "former governor" on their resume, and sit at better tables in restaurants for the rest of their lives.  For the most part, they and their administrations will be largely forgotten.  Their quirks and foibles, however, will endure - Jane Swift's expensive helicopter ride, Cellucci's defection to Canada, Dukakis's sweater during the Blizzard of '78, Mitt's insult to Massachusetts during his presidential campaign, and Ed King's distinction as Ronald Regan's "favorite Democratic governor.

As for Deval, I think it might be the drapes.  Unless, that is, he signs whatever gambling bill emerges from the deeply flawed process it has undergone between House, Senate and Conference Committee.

But I'm certain Deval will sign the bill.  So certain, in fact, that I personally think racino proponents would be insane not to include a maximum number of bid-free slots at all four state race tracks.

And when he does sign the bill, it will go like this.

Deval's hand will pause ever momentarily in midair as he cites the need to sign the bill, despite it's provision for slot parlors, in order to create badly needed jobs now, and so the legislature can move on to other important issues.  At some point, he will use the word 'desperate'. 

Putting down the pen, the Governor will then launch into lavish extensive praise for  conference committee members, legislative leadership, and every member of the House and Senate for their great work and exceptional diligence.  It's a job creation bill, he'll say, the best bill it could be.  With a nod to future addiction, he'll insist that we're 'doing it right'.  And don't forget -  we're just recapturing lost revenue and gambling is here already.

And then, in a truly groan inducing moment, he'll thank predatory gambling opponents for their tireless input and advocacy, because, thanks to them, the legislature was able to create a better bill.

And then he'll go home and sleep like a baby.

In a taped interview early this year the Governor admitted that he felt newly inspired after his wife told him he should go after the things he really wanted - that he shouldn't give up on them.  And I had the clearest impression that he was talking about casinos.

I mean, he couldn't have enjoyed having his beloved 3 casino plan go up in smoke back in 2008, could he?  It was probably embarrassing.  If, in the end, he succeed in bringing casinos in now, wouldn't that prove he'd been right all along?  Wouldn't that prove he is the great and powerful leader he has always believed he is?

It has nothing to do with whether it's right or wrong.  If it was orchestrated by gambling interests and lobbyists.  If it will expand government.  If it excluded the public and was hammered out behind closed doors.

Of course, the Governor could take a different path.  He could refuse to sign any gambling bill that falls on his desk.  We prefer our lawmakers to be more Jefferson Smith than Gorden Gekko after all, and any politician in search of a lasting legacy would be wise to remember the staying power of a Frank Capra film.

To that end, Patrick could cite the expert advice of folks from Harvard and MIT who've testified 4 times as to the growing evidence that slot machines cause an addiction on par with crack cocaine.  Or he could soberly agree on the need for a comprehensive and independent analysis of costs and benefits.  He could easily make points with voters by standing up to unions and lobbyists, and refer to the industry as predatory, with apt comparisons to Bernie Madoff and other masters of the universe who continue to collect multi-million dollar bonuses in taxpayer bailouts.

But he won't.

As long as it included casinos, Deval Patrick would sign any bill to expand gambling - even if it had provisions for 8 racinos, 4 stand-alone slot parlors and video slots at every single Dunkin' Donuts in the State.

From where I've been sitting, the Governor's casino obsession has always been clear.

Starting with a fast-talking fireplug of a politician named Tom Calter, a state rep whose district includes the town of Middleboro, and the tract of land where the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, in 2007 decided to it wanted to build a casino.

Calter had been a disappointing no-show on the issue that summer - despite frantic calls from constituents living on roads circling the area.  Until word got out about the stars.

Apparently the light never fades on these mega-casinos.  They are lit internally and externally 24/7/365.  And it was the thought of that alien ambient glow, rising up out of the trees to pollute what is officially the darkest night sky in Southeastern Mass, that sparked the ire of Plympton, another town in Calter's district, with a population of barely 3,000 souls - virtually all of whom are intensely involved in their community including a selectman who happenes to be an amateur astronomer.

But the potential demise of their nightly starscape wasn't the only thing. Plymptonites, who are fiercely protective of the quality of life in their their rural, horsey community, soon discovered that casinos come with more crime and traffic and a disturbing host of other problems - inciting them to pick up their rakes and pitchforks and descend, en mass, into Calter's Kingston office one afternoon to demand he oppose the Middleboro project. 

Faced with the loss of 3,000 votes, Calter readily complied, whereupon he was summoned to Middleboro, to stand before her stony faced board of selectmen and offer a rapid-fire explanation as to why, as a businessman, he had to oppose the casino plan. The costs, he said, would outweigh the benefits.  The benefits were overblown.  The contract lacked certain guarantees.

But now Calter had a bigger headache.  Because the Governor was, at that very moment, trying to grow legislative support for his 2008 casino plan.  And so he did what he also did recently with the Speaker of the House and Senate President - he invited himself to dinner.

Calter must have been on the moon to host the Governor at his own home, and one can only imagine what the Governor said to him that evening, but it must have been some powerful stuff.  Calter remained opposed to the Middleboro casino - in fact the Governor opposed it too - but darned if any other casino weren't just fine by him.  

I suspect the Governor sat down to dinner with Calter that night to make an offer - that in exchange for his support for his casino plan, a casino would never be built in Middleboro.  And, of course, to work the Patrick magic.

And powerful magic it must have been.  In what would be Calter's maiden speech at the House casino debate, he defended his position with a bit of gross overcompensation - going so far as to insult his own constituents, calling them "deluded" for believing the Mashpee Wampanoag wouldn't get land in trust for a casino.  (They weren't.)  But then, he probably figured his constituents weren't listening.  (They were.)

But the magic doesn't work on everyone.  During the casino hearings themselves, committee member Senator Mark Montigney revealed that, the Governor had actually gotten Monigney's own mother on the phone the night before, bending her ear for a quite awhile, in an effort to convince her to convince her son to support the casino plan. But Mark's mom stood her ground, and so, in the end, did Mark.

Nevertheless few months after the hearings, the Governor was at it again.  In an egregious case of putting the casino cart before the federal horse, and obviously timed to keep the myth of inevitability alive, Patrick told a TV reporter that he was prepared to negotiate a compact with the Mashpee tribe - a position on which he was subsequently forced to backtrack when the facts came to light.

Federal Indian law is confusing, but it's not rocket science.   The Governor has a Harvard degree and a staff of professionals.  He knows that tribal casinos don't make slots inevitable, but rather that slots make tribal casinos inevitable.  What Patrick did fail to recognize was that other people knew it too.  Which is why Therese Murray enlisted Stanely Rosenberg to carry the banner instead.

For three years I've put Patrick's every move on this issue under the microscope. No matter what else he has or hasn't done in office, I believe he is determined to get his destination resort casinos.  And if he has to lose a little ground on the slots issue, well hell, it's only a flesh wound.

Patrick knows it won't matter in the short run.  Even if he wins a second term, the nasty effluence of casinos and slot machines won't have had time to seep to the surface.

But there will be repercussions.  In fact,corruption cases will occur almost immediately.  It always does - even here in Massachusetts the Mashpee's Tribe's chairman was caught less than a month after he got what he wished for.  Slot machine addiction as well as government's addiction to slot machine revenue will become bigger issues in the near future.  Casinos in the Bay State will trigger a gambling arms race in the rest of New England, cutting into predicted revenue.

But for now the majority of his supporters will continue to support him, despite their differences on casinos.  There are other issues, they'll say.  A politician is about more than one issue.

It helps that the Governor is untroubled by the social issues that concern so many of his supporters.  By his own admission, his mom loved the slots.  So who cares about the other seniors without a Harvard educated lawyer in the family to bail them out when their social security and medication money is gambled away.

Let them eat slots.

Patrick has just returned from a well-covered visit with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I find myself wondering what he would think about a New England soldier named Erin Walsh, a helicopter pilot who killed himself after losing money at a Bangor Maine slot parlor.  Walsh became addicted to slots in the army, and couldn't escape them when he came home.

Would Patrick consider Walsh's sacrifice a waste since it didn't happen in the name of destination resort casino?  Would a 5-star restaurant and concert hall have made it all worthwhile?

No, it won't be Frank Capra and Jefferson Smith for this Governor.  It'll be the casinos he'll be remembered for - long after the temporary construction jobs are gone, when the human cost has touched every family, the recaptured wealth fails to reach our communities, and the legislature predictably spends every leftover dime and still insists there's not enough money.

But that is the lens of perspective.  In the present is an imagined portrait of a great leader - the victor in a war where the battle had once been lost.

And it hangs on the wall, not far from an expensive pair of drapes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Conclave: Still Waiting on the White Smoke

The Conference Committee on expanded gambling legislation continues it's thoughtful, closed-door deliberations into the third week.

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

The six members of the Committee are (from left to right):

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Putz for All Seasons

"You're gonna give the state of Connecticut $100 million a year and it's not going to cost us anything?" Weicker asked.
--From Without Reservation: How a Controversial Indian Tribe
Rose to Power and Built the World's Largest Casino
by Jeff Benedict
In 1993, facing a serious budget deficit, Governor Lowell Weicker of CT signed an agreement with the Manshatucket Pequots, giving them the right to plug in slot machines at their casino on a reservation in Ledyard Connecticut.

He didn't have to approve slots. There was nothing inevitable about gambling in Connecticut. It was all those dollar signs - dancing apparently guilt-free in the Governor's eyes - when, in his darkest fiduciary hour, he was promised a magical, cost-free source of new income.

For well over three years people have been saying that here in Massachusetts, federally recognized Indian tribes make expanded gambling inevitable, when the fact is, it's even less inevitable here and now than it was in Connecticut - a place where it wasn't inevitable in the first place.

Massachusetts Tribes do not have reservation land on which they can build casinos, and numerous new regulations have also been put into place since then which make the taking of new reservation land  into federal trust - especially for gambling purposes and especially for newly recognized New England tribes - Sisyphean at best.

Not the least of which is the February 2009 Supreme Court ruling in Carceiri v. Salazar.which states that the federal government cannot take any land out of a sovereign state (like Massachusetts) and give it to an Indian tribe recognized after 1934.

The Aquinnah were recognized in 1987, and the Mashpee in 2007.

A further Supreme Court ruling in Hawaii v. Office of Hawaii Affairs states that Congress cannot take any land out a sovereign of a state and give it away to anyone.

There's a whole bunch of other reasons tribal gambling in 2010 is a whole lot different in our state than it was in Connecticut in 1993 - where it wasn't inevitable at all - which I've outlined here and here and here and in lots of other places - and to a lot of people - for two very long years.

Including, that putz for all seasons, Stan Rosenberg, who currently sits on 6-person conference committee hammering out legislation to expand gambling in the Commonwealth.
We need to get this done," Rosenberg said, citing the need for a regulatory structure to be in place if the Mashpee Wampanoag, who hope to build a casino, are able to place land in trust.
- Stanley Rosenberg in State House News Service, July 23, 2010

Now, I can't tell if Stan's lying or just plain stupid, but neither of those options seem a particularly good reflection on our leadership on Beacon Hill.

But what I really can't understand is why he continues to go unchallenged on this by the media.

Not so for the Governor, who back in June of 2008 announced that he was ready to negotiate a contract with the Mashpee, and who was ultimately forced to backtrack on those statements to State House news when a TV reporter, armed with certain facts provided by local gambling opponents among others, called him on it.
"I'll be prepared when I have to be, but we don't have to be yet." Patrick said the tribe will "really drive" the negotiation timetable.  "It doesn't start until they say it starts. And there's not a lot of point in starting until the land-in-trust process is finished. Now, we're in regular touch with them, not me directly, but members of my team are, certainly, and they have expressed an interest in working with us when the time comes. But, no, there's no negotiation happening yet."  
But Rosenberg, on whose feeble grasp of the tribal gaming issue rests the future of the South Shore, Cape and Islands, gets off without so much as a raised eyebrow in the press.

Simply put, Rosenberg thinks he's smarter than everyone else, that his contacts, insider information and understanding of the issue are superior by mere virtue of his position - despite his transparently Kool-Aid tinged view of gambling in general.

Recently Rosenberg has justified his position on the inevitability of tribal casinos based on some calls he's made to Washington, a certain memo, advice from a competent legal council, and conversations with a couple of his fellow senators who also happen to have law degrees.

Allow me break Rosenberg's statements down, piece by piece.

Warning: Big Fat Ego at Work
Here is what the senator had to say to a Massachusetts citizen, who contacted him with information that dared contradict his own, and who, unbeknownst to the senator, is also an expert in Indian case law with over 30 years of first-hand experience, and who had a direct hand in crafting the winning Carcieri argument.   
With all due respect if you have not spoken directly with the BIA then you do not have all the information you need in order to understand the full scope. You are reading what you see accurately but you probably have not had the direct conversations with the BIA that I and others have had which provide the additional background.  If you have I would appreciate information about those meetings. Neither you nor I were part of additional meetings with Secretary's office and the BIA and the heads of landless tribes in which he committed to resolve the issues both of landless tribes and those seeking additional land. All of the meetings we have had and all of the reports we have received from Washington add up to a commitment to resolve land in trust issues in a timely fashion.

That's it for now. Thanks for the dialogue.
For the record, Rosenberg has also been contacted by, and likewise dismissed, other members of the grassroots opposition in Massachusetts - people who have made daily calls to the BIA, the Deptarment of the Interior, and several other Washington Bureaus.

People who have not only spoken directly to representatives of those organizations, but have traveled to DC on fact finding missions, even meeting with the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

People who have taken a great deal of time to research federal regulations, fully comprehend the historical and political climate in which they were created, and how they apply to the the situation here in Massachusetts.

People who became part of a national information-sharing network of activists - many of whom also happen to be experts in Indian law.

Unlike Rosenberg.  Who is just an ass.

Then the Law is an Ass!
Rosenberg has defended his statements by claiming to have 
consulted with competent legal council and with the BIA and they say the Mashpee will get land in trust within a reasonable period of time. They appear to be the only tribe in the foreseeable future that is expected to get there and be able to install gaming.
And that he's
not the only senator researching these issues. Senator Morrissey and Spilka both of whom are attorneys have also researched this exhaustively and have come to the same conclusions.
Jeez, where do I start?

Well, I, for one, would love to know the name of this "competent legal council".

I mean, for all  we know, it could be Dennis Whittlesey, the 'competent legal council' hired by the town of Middleboro who, a year and a half later was revealed to be an affiliated member of Casino Lawyer magazine, and a featured speaker at CasinoFest7.

Ladies and gentlemen, the truth is, experts in tribal law can often be found walking  both sides of the street.  And I'll give you one guess as to which of that street pays more.

Indian law or gaming experts seem to appear out of nowhere when the casino word is whispered - I recall attorney Dennis Whitten of Duxbury - the first lawyer on the scene after the Mashpee Tribe announced it's intention of building a casino in Middleboro who urged us to abandon all hope and sign an agreement with the Tribe ASAP.  Apparently, he was a lawyer, and had some dealings with the Mashpee.  Ergo, Indian law expert. 

In fact, after the negotiations in Middleboro were complete, former selectman Adam Bond became an Indian Gaming Lawyer too.

As for Karen Spilka, this is from her web site:
Prior to becoming a legislator, Senator Spilka was in private practice as an arbitrator and mediator, specializing in labor and employment law and community and court mediation.
And Morrissey?  Don't get me started.

Just a few months before the Carcieri ruling,  Morrissey represented the pro-casino sentiment at a debate in New Bedford, and readily admitted he didn't know a thing about the case after better-informed opponents filled him in.   He didn't seem to know much about anything, just kept repeating the word "inevitable".

So much for that exhaustive research, on the part of your colleagues, Stan.

I recall another expert, who was brought in by the state to testifiy that Massachusetts tribal casinos were inevitable at the 2008 casino hearings.  Clearly conflicted, she avoided the question a good five times before stating:

“It’s inevitable... in my mind... that it could.”
And that less than emphatic statement, my friends, was made before the Carcieri and Hawaii rulings came down.

However, there are Indian gaming attorneys who helped research and write the Carcieri amicus brief.  And, not for nothing, Theodore Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States, was the lawyer who argued, and won, the Carcieri case before the U.S. Supreme court.  But hey, what do I know?  Maybe Ted and Morrissey were college roommates. 

THE MEMO
In three years, I've never known Mashpee Tribal leadership to let the truth stand in the way of a casino.  In fact, their current leadership's refusal to acknowledge Carcieri has been going on since the ruling came down.  It would appear to be a strategy of sorts - just keep denying reality, keep saying you're coming and, eventually, some pompous ignoramus with a vote - like Rosenberg - will fall for it.

Take, for instance, the memo from Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Lary Echo Hawk stating that the Department of the Interior will continue to process eligible pending applications for gaming on Indian lands, that was referenced by Rosenberg at the Senate hearings as incontrovertible proof that Tribal casinos are on the move here in Massachusetts.

Since I find no reason for reinventing the wheel - I will defer to my friend and esteemed colleague, Carverchick who has already done the heavy lifting regarding this memo:
What our dear Senator doesn't seem to understand is that the BIA has no jurisdiction or authority to place land into trust...neither does the SOI at this point...in fact, the BIA is only responsible for determining if the applications submitted prior to the Carcieri decision are still eligible under the new rules.

By no means is the letter or any other "memo" that is circulating saying that all applications are being processed by the BIA...nor does it say any decision on land in trust is being made by the BIA.

In fact, the letters coming out of the BIA and SOI's office regarding the processing of applications are deliberately ambiguous. Let us all keep in mind here that they do consistently say that applications will be processed if and only if they fully satisfy the requirements of the law.

That's a big IF Senator and one the Mashpee and the Aquinna don’t meet.

Hey, I get it....the reason for these letters is understandable... frustration has been building with tribes who are awaiting decisions on applications - shortly after the Carcieri decision they were told to consult with their lawyers on the legality of their request. Nothing has moved forward since.

The only thing that's changed now is that the responsibility for determining eligibility for applicants has shifted from the tribes to the BIA and the BIA is only now evaluating the pending applications for applicable legal standards. After all..there were tribes that were recognized before 1934 and they may have applications awaiting a decision.
Because Rosenberg really wants gambling legislation to pass, he either can't understand the context of this memo, or wants everyone else to misunderstand it.  And that's the truth, plain and simple.

I realize that there is a great deal of conversation about overturning Carcieri.  But wishing and talking don't make it so.  Overturning a SCOUTUS ruling just isn't that easy.

Back in March of 2009 I tried to give some perspective on this by comparing Carcieri to another SCOTUS ruling, the controversial and universally reviled Kelo v. City of New London.
This was not a case that could negatively effect a percentage of 2 million Native Americans, some land claims and a handful of casino investors. This was a case that had ominous negative repercussions for every home and business owner in America.

And it still has not been "overturned".

So, putting things in perspective, a "fix" to Carcieri is neither imminent nor likely.

But since Rosenberg is fond of "real" experts like Spilka and Morrissey, I'll leave it to Matthew L.M. Fletcher, director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center at Michigan State University.
Some Indian country officials believe that a favorable legislative resolution for tribes must happen in short order. Otherwise, current and past Indian land claims will not only sit in possible jeopardy, but also more state and local interests will have time to make arguments to Congress members to try to sway their minds to leave the Supreme Court decision alone.

Fletcher cautioned that just because the Congress is now controlled by a Democratic majority does not mean a fix positive for tribes will sail through. After all, many Congress members hail from districts where Indian issues, especially gaming, are unpopular with non-Indian constituents. As a result, some legislators could see an opportunity to create a fix that might limit Indian gaming or other issues.

“There are so many political entities [including states and localities] that have just been waiting to go in and rehash a lot of things that have been going on in Indian gaming,” Fletcher said. “It doesn’t mean a quick fix is not doable, but you might end up with radical changes in the IRA.”
And I can guarantee that any changes in the IRA will include putting a stop to the odious practice known as reservation shopping like we've seen here in Massachusetts, used as a convenient device by politicians who count on us for ignorance, and the media for apathy. 
 

The Challenge
And so, I'm left wondering why the press appears so reluctant to challenge the great and powerful Rosenberg on this issue.

I mean, I would think they'd savor writing a story about some patronizing, uninformed lawmaker from Western Mass (senate pro tempore, no less) who's currently making heavily-biased and seriously flawed decisions that will effect the economy and quality of life from Cranberry Country to Nantucket.

Heck, I know I would.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Honestly...  it's how I cope.

You see, it wasn't necessarily the joke of a public hearing. Or the empty promise of a 'clean slate'. Or the $80,000 taxpayer-funded benefit-only report. It wasn't even the intentional misinformation regarding tribal casinos, or the all-around lack of empathy, or the outrage over the smoking ban, or the amendment to check parking lots every 2 hours to search for abandoned children.

No. It was all of that and the photo of Therese Murray with right-hand man Stan Rosenberg - perhaps the first politician in Massachusetts history to qualify for minion pay - in a State House corridor immediately after the 25-15 Senate vote to OK expanded gambling in the Commonwealth, leering with victory - that's what did it.


Because it wasn't enough that these two had just advanced the cause of crime, addiction, bankruptcy, foreclosures, suicide, domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect here in Massachusetts.

Nor was it enough to have assisted in the birth of a vast new state bureaucracy, opened the door to several federally-held sovereign nations, magnified negative impacts to local communities and small businesses, reduced revenue to the lottery, ignored the advice of experts from Harvard and MIT, escalated a regional gambling arms race, and exchanged what's left of the public confidence for corporate special interests.

No, they had to stop and smile about it, too.

Murray and Rosenberg, master and minion, had been caught off guard in that photo, their standard masks of political indifference slipped away in a triumphant dash back to the lair for some celebratory eye-of-newt mojitos.

Between all the back-slapping and self-congratulation that has followed both legislative process and deliberation on this issue, augmented by the fact that most of what they do goes unchallenged by the media, I'm not sure our lawmakers have a terribly good handle on how they actually look to the rest of us.
 

For example, the recent Senate debate on expanded gambling could easily have been mistaken for some casino megacorp's annual stockholder meeting - complete with gung-ho executive speeches outlining methods for maximizing revenues, strategies for staying competitive, optimistic economic forecasts, regional feasibility, consumer preferences, the latest employment figures, federal mandates, environmental roadblocks, and all manner of requisite minutia vital to running a vast industrial empire.

The only thing missing was a speech by Therese Murray, assuring us that 'Greed, for lack of another word, is good'.


The scene shifted back to reality only when one of the anti-casino senators stepped up to the microphone.  Suddenly we were no longer the ballroom at the Atlantic City Borgata.

We were back on the floor of the Senate Chamber, under the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House, and the speakers hadn't been hired by the human resources department at Harrahs - they were elected by us. To protect us – ostensibly from crime and addiction and having to turn out our pockets in perpetuity to fund a new hackocracy to protect us from them.

But if the Senate debate highlighted a legislative disconnect from reality, then the previous House debate was transparently grotesque.

Little more than an avarice-fueled bacchanal, this feast of impending victory was more  fright night than good fight. 


Unleashed from the shackles of good judgment, inspired by corporate influence, handed a convenient excuse courtesy of the economy, and shepherded by the speaker of the House into the mythical promised land of gambling plenitude, proponents swiftly sought to subjugate their former anti-casino tormentors by pillaging the House of it's conscience and plundering the spines of it's weakest members.

The only thing missing was a newly forged golden calf.

We don't need no stinkin' amendment to protect people on self-exclusion lists.
Let' 'em fry! 
Mwwwaaaaaa!!!!!!!!

For over three years, I've watched this horror-show unfold from rickety folding chairs in ancient town halls, to the nosebleeds in Gardner Auditorium, to a cushy seat around a conference table in the Governor's office, and pretty much everywhere in between.

And, looking back, I can almost forgive the fervor, the wanton ignorance, private agendas, overwrought egos and general disdain for procedure that erupted in Middleboro when the casino carnival came to town.

Because, the manner in which this issue has been handled for the past year, by some of our highest elected (and well-paid) officials, has been nothing short of despicable.

And they're not even trying to hide it. The House bill was introduced, without public hearings, on April Fool's day, a year to the day a young woman was murdered in a Boston hotel room so that her killer could go spend her money at a Connecticut casino.

So. I mean, when, exactly, did the General Court become the House of Slytherin?


This legislature has heedlessly and secretively conducted the introduction of a law which would so greatly alter our Commonwealth - from the creation of 300,000 new addicts to the creation new sovereign nations - from the shuttering of existing local businesses to the funding of generations of new state pensions – as if it were free black hat day at the annual bad guy convention.

So why not just eradicate all pretense?

Boris Badenov for Speaker of the House! ...Sharrup you mouth!!!

Gollum for Governor!  ...Give me the precious! 

Elmira Gulch for Senate President! ...Poppies will put them to sleep.


It's not as if they're even redeemable bad guys either - like the Grinch - whose heart grew 3 sizes bigger as soon as he heard the Who's down in Whoville singing when they should have rightly been crying over the loss of their who-stockings and roast beast.

Hardly.  You could show these folks a police photo of Cindy Lou Who and her little brother after 10 hours in a minivan two blocks away from a resort casino on an 80 degree day in July - and they'd just ask you to 'dial down the rhetoric.'

The conference committee, charged with coming up with a compromise between House and Senate bills, and desperately seeking the Governor's approval, does nothing to diminish the cartoon.

Not one anti-expanded gambling advocate, and not one representative from the South Shore or the Cape - where their deliberations and lack of expertise will create new tribal sovereign nations - sits on the committee.  Because, more important than serving the best interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth, was that the committee be stocked with solid casino and racetrack enthusiasts from other parts of the state.


The only thing the opposition has asked for is an independent cost-benefit analysis.  In other words, not a benefit report, not a report written by a gambling company or pseudo professors like Clyde Barrow, or paid for out of the campaign fund of the rabidly pro-slots speaker of the House.

Opponents don't fear what such a report would contain. But it didn't, and won't, happen.  And that's because, let's face it, the truth is exactly what the bad guys fear most.
Therese Murray, Senate president, said in a statement released after the vote that casino gambling was “a significant change’’ for Massachusetts that would ultimately pay dividends.

“We have produced a bill that is responsible to the public and will do what’s best for our overall economic interests, creating short-term construction jobs and permanent long-term jobs,’’ Murray said.

Since when do responsible bills require employees to check parking lots for abandoned babies.  Responsible bills don't create addiction. Responsible bills don't create jobs that come at the cost of the public. 

And that "Significant change"?  It's a change for the worse.  No state has solved it's fiscal problems, or become wealthy or even remotely responsible through expanded gambling.

The introduction of this industry simply gives state politicians an infusion of of money which is spent almost instantly, and leaves the taxpayer responsible the costs forever.

But hey, maybe that's what Murray means by "responsible."

"Overall economic interests?"  She must mean Beacon Hills' interests.  Not ours. 


Watching the gambling industry assure our leaders that it's just like any other business partner is like hearing a New Jersey Housewife claim that no, she's a lady and a really a nice person, two seconds before jumps off her chair to chase another housewife through the halls of a country club while calling her at 'crack whore' at the top of her lungs.

Watching our leaders embrace this unreality show is just depressing.

But hey, I could be wrong.  Maybe they're not just a bunch of cliche cartoon bad guys.

They could just be really dumb.

But the bright news - however late in the game it might turn out to be - is that when things get this bad - and things are this bad - the pendulum of public opinion invariably starts to swing opposite direction.  Because let's face it, there is a yin to every yang.

If you don't believe me, read the comments following an article about casinos or slots, not in your local newspaper, but from some on-line source in a state where there's already been gambling for a few years.

Apparently, once the gambling promised land fails to materialize, and crime and tragedy are on the rise, the tables turn on all those beneficent leaders who once championed jobs, recaptured revenue, and assured the populace they'd be fine (just fine). 

Because that's just the way these things play out isn't it?

Dracula bites one neck too many and gets a wooden stake to the heart.  Nurse Ratched will eventually have to face a board of inquiry.  The witch will be liquidated by a teenager.  Moses comes off the mountain to crash the party.  And, at the end of the movie, even the infinitely powerful Death Star explodes like a rotten tomato.

Come to think of it, so does the shark.

But until that day comes, you and I have already paid for the ticket and popcorn with our vote and our tax dollars.  And, seeing as how they're not letting us be part of it, or care what we think of it, we may as well just sit back with our sack of rotten tomatoes, and enjoy what's left of the show.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Man Behind the Curtain

When the Wizard of Oz sent Dorothy and the gang on a quest to bring back the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West, he figured that was the last he was going to have to see of them.

So imagine his surprise when they showed up at the palace a few days later, wearing expectant smiles and holding a blackened broomstick.  He'd have given them the brushoff again, too, had valiant little Toto not revealed that the Great and Powerful Wizard was nothing more than a nervous little man pulling levers behind a curtain.

I've often thought of my own 3-year journey down this yellow brick road much like Dorothy's.  I mean, there I was, standing in my own backyard one day, when a tornado picked me up and dropped me in a strange new place, with strange new rules.  Once there I made unexpected new friends, fought off flying monkeys, survived poppy fields, and just kept trying to do whatever it took to get back to my own backyard - only to find that, more often than not, the "great and powerful" someone to whom I'd turned to for help, was no more than a coward hiding behind a curtain pulling levers.

Then, in February 2009, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1, in the case of Carceiri v. Salazar, that tribes recognized after 1934 were not eligible under the Indian Reorganization Act.  This meant that the Indian Gaming Act did not apply to them either.  And shortly after, SCOTUS ruled 9-0 in Hawaii v. the Office of Hawaiian Affairs that the federal government could not take take property from within states and make it federal property. 

The broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West had been laid at our feet

Until now.  Because, just the other day, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the Senate President's appointed casino "guru", and self-appointed Master of the Universe, dug up the witch's corpse and dragged it onto the floor of the Senate.

"See," he shouted to the Gallery, while waving a mysterious memo in one hand and what little was left of the Witch in the other, "Obviously she is still a real threat to us!"

Claiming that the Tribes were about to install bingo slots, that the SCOTUS decision was about to be overturned, that tribes were about to get Land in Trust, and that casinos were about to be built on the South Shore, he proclaimed that
“We must anticipate that this is going to be real,” said Rosenberg, adding that he believes “it’s only a matter of time” before the Mashpee Wampanoag will get land in trust and be entitled to operate a casino.
And suddenly, it was as if  Rosenberg had set us all back at the other end of the Yellow Brick road, at the very start of our Journey, as if the past three years had never happened.

But it did happen, and we've run into our own share of "Rosenbergs" along the way.

I remember a full auditorium in Carver, and the head of a supposedly neutral casino-impact committee in Middleboro, who stood before the microphone and, with the resounding voice of authority, proclaimed Carver would be greatly helped by a giant casino in the town next door.  Yeah, sure, just like North Stonington and Preston were 'greatly helped' to the tune of millions in yearly negative impacts by Foxwoods.

But you could point out facts to this supposedly neutral committee chairman 'till the cows came home, and it wouldn't matter. He had the title. He was great and powerful.  And you were nobody.  The end.

And likewise, Rosenberg has been repeatedly dismissive to those who've lived through Middleboro and other nightmares, those who fought back, for years, against inevitability, hyperbole, egomania, vested interests, bureaucratic roadblocks, outright lies and more than a few Mr. Know-It-Alls - armed with facts - and won.

But what do facts have to do with a casino debate, anyway?

The other day my husband handed me a cartoon from the Sunday paper. It was Dorothy and Toto, facing the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion across the Yellow Brick road.  She is saying,
No heart, no brain, no courage.
How have you guys stayed out of politics?
The Massachusetts senate debates, which were supposed to have been conducted on a higher plane than the House debacle, with the ultimate goal of "doing it right", been a nothing more than a drawn-out circus act, showcasing a grotesque lack of empathy, understanding, or backbone among most of our elected officials.

Tribes do not make tribal casinos inevitable.  Legislators make tribal casinos inevitable - obviously through total ignorance, apathy or an affectation of completely undeserved intellectual superiority.

If the tribes could put in bingo slots, why haven't they?  SCOTUS decisions do not get overturned just because some people who don't know all the facts behind that decision, or those with a vested interest think they're wrong.  And mysterious memos are just memos, often written to address numerous, and not specific, situations.  But more importantly they are not legislation.  They are not the law of the land.

Along the Yellow Brick Road, we've learned to try and understand the motivations behind every power play.  The fact is, Tribal leadership wants casinos even more than Therese Murray.  They have been in a constant state of denial before and since the Carcieri ruling.  They produce memos and news articles and various other ephemera as "proof" that it will be shortly overturned, or ignored or minimized.  We realized this, we check the facts and we continue to rest easy. 

And if Rosenberg had come along on our journey, instead of getting comped at every casino in the U.S. and Canada, he might have been able to see the poppies for the trees.  But instead, he sees the world through poppy-colored glasses, dismissing our journey, our victories, and worse, the french-fried broomstick at his own feet.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let Them Eat Slots


Rosenberg said United to Stop Slots should commission its own independent study on costs. “Go do it,” he said. “But they have no intention of doing it.”
-- Senator Stan Rosenberg,
who recently used $100,000 in taxpayer funds to hire a
gambling company to perform a gambling benefits analysis report
Boston Herald, June 21, 2010
Hey, remember learning about the French Revolution and how it started partly as a result of the aristocracy being so out-of-touch with the common man?

Well, that's what comes to mind when I hear about gobs of taxpayer money going to fund a benefits-only study, or find out Suffolk Downs paid $100,000 for a pro-slots TV spot, or see a giant electronic billboard along Rte. 93 in Boston flashing "Casinos Now!  Jobs Now!".

It's also what comes to mind when I think about the only public hearing on this gambling bill, announced only 2 business days after the bill came out, so that the public was required to juggle their schedules, travel to the Senate's place of business, watch the Ways and Means Committee put casino developers, racetrack owners and paid lobbyists ahead of members of the public, people who'd showed up early, signed in first, and sat politely through hours of individual testimony that lasted way longer than the allotted 3 minutes, only to be gaveled and chastised when they themselves barely crossed over the three minute mark.  Or worse - having to leave before they even got the chance to speak.

And it's certainly what comes to mind when I recall all the behind-closed-doors meetings, and this whole rush job of a process including the strange emergence of Stan-the-man Rosenberg, a guy with a somewhat unique sense of what constitutes an "independent" and "balanced" study,  and who somehow became the Senate's resident expert on casinos by, you guessed it, going to casinos.

At the Senate's hearing on this bill yesterday, Stan justified creating three casinos in Massachusetts because Mass gamblers are already bringing their problems home, and we don't have enough money to treat them.

Jeez, Stan - it's Casinos 101 - proximity creates more addiction. In Iowa, 1.7% of the population were problem gamblers. Three and a half years later, that figure had more than tripled to 5.4%.  In Louisiana it's now 7%.  Before Hollywood Slots came to Maine, calls to the National gamblers hotline were zero - last year they totaled 1,263 - and remember these are just the people that seek help.  Those are NEW problems gamblers, and their problems don't stop at the mirror - they effect their family and friends and co-workers. 

Stan prides himself on going all over creation to study casinos - he looks - but he only sees what he wants.  He insists the process has been open and transparent.  But, unless you've been sitting in on those numerous legislative closed door sessions - this process has been murky and secretive, and inexplicably comes with a lot of back patting and self congratulation. 

And that's the power of Kool-Aid, baby!


I'm also not sure where a comment like Stan's, seemingly disparaging USS-Mass for not doing it's own study comes from, but it doesn't make me feel any more comfortable about his ability to understand both sides of this issue . 

USS-Mass is an all volunteer organization comprised of working-class citizens.  Some of us have been in the trenches for over three years.  We work endless hours, hunt down the facts, do the math and provide all our time, energy, and resources for free - just to be gaveled after slogging through a seven hour hearing or for the last quote on the second page of a news article. And, unlike Stan we don't have access to an endless tap root of funds to create reports to tell us what we want to hear.

Funny thing is, Stan used to be solidly against casinos, that is, until Senate President Therese Murray personally hand selected him to be her point man on the issue.  Wink wink.  Nudge nudge.

Speaking of whom, whatever happened to that "clean slate"  T. Murray promised? Whatever happened to "doing it right"?   Right for who? The gambling industry?

But then, maybe it's all too much to ask of our leadership.  Maybe that fact that the casino lobby sprinkled $20 M in influence on their cereal last year, or the knowledge that they can write a check on the taxpayer dime to an out-of-state company for a worthless study and still get away with it, makes them think they're... well... different.

Or maybe it's our Governor, who hobnobs with gambling industry big-wigs, blurring perhaps the truth that while gambling expansion has never helped any state out of a financial deficit, it will irreparably hurt the hundreds of thousands of Mass. citizens he represents.  But, then, how can a mom from Palmer or a Fall River small business owner compete with a private conversation between millionaires on the the 14th green?  Let's be fair.

Speaking of being fair, I've had a couple of people criticize me recently for insisting that Martha Coakley didn't go far enough the other day, after this news making event:
In an unusual break with ally Senate President Therese Murray, Attorney General Martha Coakley on Monday told senators that leadership’s  casino bill would “significantly limit law enforcement’s ability to protect the public” and urged them to strengthen the measure with House-backed language she had proposed last year. The bill headed to the floor Wednesday is too narrow, Coakley said, because language restricting prosecution to activities directly affecting gaming creates a loophole “that would allow many significant criminal players … to avoid prosecution and continue to threaten public safety.” In a letter delivered to senators Monday and obtained by the News Service, Coakley used the example of a prostitution ring in a town neighboring a casino. She said the ring’s leader could escape prosecution because the activity could be considered not directly affecting gaming. “The Senate gaming proposal limits the tools that law enforcement needs to get these bad actors off the streets so that legitimate business opportunities can flourish,” Coakley wrote. She asked senators to adopt the “enterprise crime amendment” filed by Sen. Steven Baddour.
--State House News
The fact is, it took a former AG to embarrass our current AG into finally, and even then only into marginally, doing her job. And yet, I was told me that I should be actually be happy about this - that this was a "big deal for Martha?"  Their exact words.

So ok.  When exactly did the bar slip so low in this State that we should all be referring to a sitting AG as if she's a 4 year old who finally made boom-boom in the potty after 2 years of constant pleading and encouragement.

Martha Coakley should be against casino-related crime, dammit.  Because it creates casino-related crime-victims, that's why. We elected her to prevent crime victims,  not to be another high-paid bureaucrat with a law degree.

But no.  Instead, our AG "asked senators to adopt the 'enterprise crime amendment' filed by Sen. Steven Baddour" - which is hack speak for "I'm afraid that this is a bare-minimum requirement for me to save face over my otherwise ill-handling of this issue due to my close personal relationship with Therese Murray.  I wish I didn't have to inconvenience you with this, but as you can see, I'm getting a lot of heat, and frankly the whole things sort of reminds me of being forced to go shake hands with voters over at Fenway when I'd much rather be in my La-Z-Boy watching a movie on Lifetime."

Not to be out done, Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanag Tribe has also been inconvenienced. When he discovered that the Senate's bill left out a provision for a Tribal casino, he railed,
"The poor Indian tribe is getting it stuck to us again."
Yeah that blows.  Now, instead of being sovereign casino bazillionaires, Cromwell's 1,500 member middle-class Cape Cod tribe will have to subsist on the paltry multi-million dollar scraps of tax-free federal aid the government throws their way every year.

But Cromwell won't have long to suffer.  If slots are legalized in MA, the tribe will go to congress (by the way, this would happen even if they won a commercial casino license) and say, "we are the tribe that met the Pilgrims and we can't even get a casino! This is an outrage. We are a sovereign nation!  We have our rights.  If slots are legal in a state then tribes can have them on their land.  Give us land so we can compete with fair economic advantage!  Did we mention we're the tribe the met the Pilgrims?!"

At some point there will be a Congress that will give them land, and the state will undoubtedly sign a compact, having sold it's backbone for 3 destination resort casinos.

Alternatively, Congress will not give them the land.  And so, this notoriously litigious Tribe will once again go to court - where they will win - because there is already ample precedent for victory for federally recognized tribes in states with casinos.  Only Texas has kept tribes from establishing casinos -  because it simply has not legalized slots and it refuses to be forced to sign a compact with it's federally recognized tribe.  Slot machines have actually been removed from tribal lands in Texas.

Having gone down this road, the Tribe won't have to follow typical federal regulations involving land in trust or existing environmental guidelines, and their casino could potentially go anywhere - no doubt somewhere with excellent highway access and existing infrastructure - and preferably in Northhampton, next door to Stan Rosenberg so he can stare in rapture at it  while sucking on his Kool-Aid hookah pipe.

The Aquinnah, not to be outdone will follow, using the Mashpee as a precedent. This process could go quickly, or it could take 20 years, but it will happen unless major changes in Federal Indian Law are made.  The one sure thing you can count on is that Mass. Taxpayers will fund this and future litigation for decades to the tune of millions. 

And all because Bob DeLeo's dad was a maitre d' a Suffolk Downs restaurant.  A proud dad - but one who, unlike his son, doesn't underestimate the dangers of gambling or overestimate it's rewards.
Even though Al DeLeo loved the track, he recognized its dangers, to the point that he forbade his son from gambling. Robert DeLeo remembers one occasion when he bet on a horse, won, and bragged to his father.

“I was as proud as a peacock,’’ he said in a recent interview. “I said, ‘Hey, Dad, I won a race.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to lose too many. I don’t want to hear it. Don’t even go there, pal.’"
As D day spins closer we'll no doubt have to hear more from the loquacious Senator Pacheco (D - Raynham Dogtrack), who'll try to convince us that the Track is the economic engine of the South Shore - which never fails to remind me how, even back in it's heyday, twenty years ago, I couldn't convince my co-workers to go there after work - and it was literally right around the corner.   At the hearing it became obvious Sen. Pacheco was oblivious to the fact that UMass. Prof. Clyde Barrow had been exposed as an industry insider, putting his work on a pedestal again and again as better informed members of the audience rolled their eyes and twittered their amazement .  For three years casino and slot opponents have barraged Sen. Pacheco with calls and letters, only to be swatted away like flies at a picnic.

And from what I understand, Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstien, former horse track employee, and my personal favorite source of unintentional comedy, has been slated to be on the conference committee which will hash the nitty gritty of any proposed legislation. Which is only natural, since her bold championship of the Fluffernutter as the State's official sandwich, and recent comparison of gambling addiction to a Yankee Candles compulsion make her the obvious choice for a voice on legislation which will eventually hurt families, cost some people their lives and pave the way for new sovereign nations.

Did legislators really think 60 Minutes showed up at the public hearing to record their brilliance for posterity?

Therese Murray, the puppet master who's orchestrated this play for the past three years, has refused to meet with casino opposition at all.  Content to stroll the marble floors of the State House with her inner circle, she remains blissfully oblivious and hauntingly silent to their concerns. Ironically, I was living in Plymouth in 1992 when she first ran for Senate.  Figuring a woman would better represent women and families in the legislature and I gave her my vote.  How was I to predict that nearly 2 decades later, Murray would become a great champion of an industry that spawns bankruptcy, divorce, foreclosure, domestic abuse and child abuse and neglect wherever it goes.  Ka-Ching!

And then there's Deval.  Yesterday, the Sun King demanded "a good, fair comprehensive and thoughtful gaming bill and I want it by the end of the sesssion" - no doubt so that he can jet off on vacation - probably to whack golf balls off the roof of the Dubai Hilton, or soak up some of the French Riviera. Or maybe off once again to his book publishers - like he did in 2008, leaving the rest of us to endure a 15 hour hearing on the very issue that he ignited.

To be sure, Deval will get his gambling bill in time, but the train for fair, comprehensive and thoughtful has already left the station.

Having been a witness and part of this circus for the past 3 years, I already know that it's outcome is sure to be stranger than fiction, and have little to do with good policy. Deval will sign off on gambling legislation if, for no other reason, than he is doggedly determined, finally, to win this one - oddly oblivious to the fact that the gambling industry earns it's keep by making losers feel like winners.

At the moment, the legislature is writing yet another chapter in history that, when read at some later date, will leave people shaking their heads in disbelief with every turn of the page.  Why didn't they listen?  What was the rush?  Why didn't they just commission an independent review... What were they afraid of...  How did they get away with it?  Why did so many just go along...  Couldn't they see how bad the process was?

The truest tragedies of history don't get their start on the pages of a book, they happen in voting booths and under golden domes, at the hands of people who were convinced they were doing the right thing.

The people need jobs?  Well then,  "Let them eat slots!"

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