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


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. 

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 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! 

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.