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

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