Thursday, April 15, 2010

When Stupid People Ruled the Earth

A few days ago I opened my morning e-mail to find one anonymous comment waiting for moderation. It consisted of exactly two words:
your stupid
Now, it's not like this is the first time I've received a misspelled indictment of my intelligence, nor would I ever consider myself a guru of grammar (in fact my videos are a veritable Where's Waldo of misspellings)  - but c'mon. In the three years I've been writing this blog, I've probably banged out about 2 million words - a comparatively small  number of which are spelled incorrectly.  But some anonymous somebody shows up here one night, taps out a two-word insult about how dumb they think I am -  and manages to screw up 50% of it right off the bat.

Welcome to my world.

Speaking of which, for the last two days, I've been glued to the House 'debate' on Speaker Bob DeLeo's gambling legislation. And it was ugly.  Based on my observations, allow me to breakdown the party affiliations of the Massachusetts House for you:  Thoughtful People, Stupid People, and Lemmings.

Thoughtful people get the facts, exhibit empathy, consider future implications, think about the long-term common good, and are capable of imagining a world beyond their own district.

Lemmings can be thoughtful, too, but it doesn't matter because in the end they'll just do what they're told.

Stupid people are pretty much the opposite of Thoughtful People.

Due the legislative bell curve, all members of the House are forced constantly to make justifications in order not to seem too extreme. Thoughtful people have to justify having a moral compass by producing spreadsheets which prove that doing the right thing is also the fiscally responsible thing.  Lemmings have to justify their lack of fortitude by coming up with realistic explanations for their voting inconsistency.  And Stupid People have to justify supporting things most of us know are wrong by insisting over and over again, and in a very loud voice, that everyone's already doing it so it must be OK.

The thing about stupid people, though, is that they don't actually know they're stupid. Which, if you're tuned in to American's Funniest Home Videos, is what you're counting on. But when runner-ups from the Darwin Awards are on the floor of the House creating major legislation that will unequivocally result in crime, addiction, bankruptcy, child neglect and suicide, it's just plain scary.

Case in point - amendments. After DeLeo filed his bill, many of the Thoughtful members of the House filed amendments to try and make gambling legislation, if passed, safer - or at least to give future Mass gamblers a fighting chance against addiction.

Like the amendment to put clocks on the walls in casinos or slot parlors or to label slot machines with the actual odds of winning.

And yet... one by one, the Stupid members voted them down. Yup. They not only voted to expand gambling - that wasn't enough - they also voted to make it easier to expand gambling addiction.

One amendment - a total no-brainer that would prohibit casinos from marketing to people who'd voluntarily put themselves on the Self-Exclusion list, barely, and I mean barely, passed. In fact 76 Stupid People, including several members of our own South Shore brain trust - Reps Calter, Canessa, Flynn and Canavan - voted against it. That's right, folks. They voted to make it OK for the gambling industry to entice problem gamblers who'd made the effort to place themselves on a do-not-contact list.

Including Rep. Kath-Anne Reinstein, my favorite source of unintentional comedy, who felt that telling casinos who they could and couldn't market to was pretty much the same thing as telling Yankee Candle they couldn't hand out coupons to entice the public to go buy their tea lights and air fresheners.

And speaking of Stupid People, a few weeks back, some colleagues and I were attending a regional selectman's meeting when Rep. Canessa showed up. About two minutes after he started talking, contradicting himself and otherwise babbling nonsensically about what little he knew, yet how sure he was, as how the proposed gambling legislation could effect tribal land-in-trust decisions, I idly wrote "When stupid people ruled the earth..." across a page in my notebook.

The woman next to me, leaning in to see what I'd written, whispered, "That's what you ought to use as the title of your book."

Let's just say I haven't ruled it out.

But it's not just the Stupid that gets to you after awhile. It quickly became apparent during the hearings, which at times more closely resembled a Las Vegas gambling expo than the floor of the Massachusetts House, is that you can't make Stupid People care. You can't turn them into Thoughtful People by trying to generate empathy. They are completely limited by their own experiences and simply do not care about the anonymous people who'll be hurt by their gambling bill. Period. Oh, sure, some of them made the effort to say they did - but their actions spoke differently - especially when it came to the hundred or so amendments.

But aside from not caring, or realizing that they're stupid, a lot of Stupid people also think they know everything - so obviously there's no need to do their homework.  As the web designer for, I can assure you that virtually none of the House members have ever even visited that site - which is a vast resource of apparently wasted information - or did so for only a few seconds.

Case in point, a lot of Stupid People spoke about jobs.  Did I say 'spoke'?  I meant 'practically bleeding from the eyes and prostrate in exaltation over the promise of casino jobs' - of as if these jobs were the difference between life and death. This was a particular point of outrage for me because I know what kind of jobs these places offer, and what they pay. In fact, there was a time when I had to work a lot of these type of jobs (sometimes simultaneously) before finding decent employment at a Massachusetts company that paid an actual living wage. I took the lowest paying, entry-level job at that company and my life immediately got better. But no, instead of creating the real jobs that real people really want and need, Stupid People hear the word "Job" and think it automatically puts food on the table. 

But facts had no place on the floor of the House, where people who'd grown up in and around racetrack districts couldn't fathom that the industry is dead and dying and even slots aren't saving the day anymore.  They can't fathom that they've latched onto the industry playbook like the gullible goofballs they are and swallowed it's every promise and lame justification like a pack of hyenas tearing into a freshly killed gazelle.

But who knew that Stupid people were fans of science fiction. In fact, my favorite moment of fantasy came when Rep. Canavan from Brockton, speaking in defense of the bill, created an vast, alternate universe where the Raynham dog track employed hundred's of thousand's of people and provided the very economic backbone of the South Shore. Seriously.

But mostly, it seemed, the Stupid People were just so happy - gleefully, spastically, droolingly happy - to have found in Bob DeLeo that one powerful leader, one of their own, a racetrack demi-god of political persuasion, to advance their long-abused agenda of stupidity - a bill which was clearly conceived and written by people who would misspell a two-word insult - and which passed the House 120 - 37 - and now moves on to the Senate.

This morning, as the TV news ran a quick blurb about the passage, I knew what most people across the Commonwealth were probably thinking; "Well, if so many members of the legislature passed this bill, it must be a good one. Right?"

Because most people think you have to be smart, or at least have the best interests of the people of Massachusetts at heart when you're a legislator. Three years ago, before my sojourn into the dark world of casinos and slot machines, I know I did. Most people have no idea of how really stupid and shortsighted some of these reps are, how most of them didn't bother to do their homework, how they cavalierly blew off amendments that could have kept them safe or that the person they sent to Beacon Hill, whose salary they pay, has been a better champion of the gambling industry than they ever were to them and their progeny.

But let's not forget the lemmings.

Rep. Ellen Story, a well-known progressive, provided us with this classic moment in backbone-free legislative history,
"No. 1, this bill is going to pass. There is no question it has enough votes. The second is that a vote against it would be symbolic, but meaningless. I've been in the Legislature for 18 years and it was only in the last year and a half that I've been invited to be in the inner circle of advisers to the speaker."

But a particular disappointment to me was Rep. Strauss who represents part of Middleboro, including the part where a friend of mine lives. A while back, I think it was 2008, we met with Strauss over breakfast at Percy's and told him what we'd learned about the industry. He seemed like a smart, but cautious person.  Months later, we were thrilled to discover that Strauss was part of panel debating the casino issue in New Bedford, taking the anti-casino side. But yesterday, for reason I have yet to discover, Strauss joined the other lemmings and jumped off the cliff.

Aside from my own disappointment, I feel particularly bad for my friend from Strauss's district, who has, for three years straight, worked tirelessly to educate legislators and the public about his issue. I mean, I've always known my rep is part of the hard-core upper echelon of Stupid. He runs unopposed every year and is retiring after this term is up, leaving me no recourse but to give him the finger as I pass by his house on the way to the gym. But Strauss - he was supposed to be one of the good guys. One of the Thoughtful guys. And he's not. He's a lemming who left his spine on the back of his chair at yesterday's hearing.  And I'm hearing stories like that from all over.

So, this morning I e-mailed Strauss this picture.

So now we move to the Senate, where stupidity also runs unchecked. Pacheco, Menard, and Morrissey - I've heard them all talk on this issue - and believe me, it's all Stupid, all the time.

So my recommendation is to contact the Governor. Write and call him and then do it again. He's not Stupid, but I'm not convinced he's Thoughtful either. He's a wildcard - which means there's a chance. And as every gambler knows, where there's a chance, there's hope.

Last evening my kids and I unpacked the groceries with the debate streaming in the background from my computer. As the hearing was nearing its end, we were halted by the touching words of Rep Patrick from Falmouth, fighting back tears as he spoke of how this bill would hurt families.  He knew.  His own accomplished father had sometimes abandoned Patrick and his siblings on the beach, alone, while he answered the call of the racetracks.  We listened to Reps. Provost and D'Amico recite hundreds of facts which I knew were falling like snowflakes on deaf ears, and the kids watched me turn the volume down on Rep Martin Walsh, an angry pro-slots cheerleader from Dorchester, whose booming voice, brimming with impending victory - a victory for Stupid People everywhere - crackled defiantly from my computer's speakers even turned down to low. 

That's when I brought a page on the USS-Mass web site up, and called the kids over.

"Sometimes," I said, "I'm not sure you guys really understand why I've spent so much time, even time away from you, trying to stop casinos and slot parlors.  I mean, everyone has their reasons.  But this is mine."

Then I hit down arrow, and we watched the page scroll down and down and down, revealing one brief paragraph after another about children who were abandoned, or hurt, or who died because someone, in some other state house, had voted to expand gambling.  Children who were left alone in hotel corridors, trunks of cars, on on side streets in the freezing cold and the sweltering heat, hungry, crying, frightened.  Children and babies who had to be 'revived'.

They both stared at the screen, moving by too fast to actually read anything, waiting for the cursor to come to the end of the page, but which somehow kept going - long past the time when it rightfully should have run out of those little paragraphs.  And I wondered if they were as surprised as I'd been, the first time I scrolled down through all those paragraphs.

"These are just the ones that made the news," I explained.  "Just the ones that made it to my desk.  Most of them we'll never hear about."

And I looked at their faces to see if they understood why I just couldn't let anyone allow this to happen here.

But when the cursor finally came to rest on the final paragraph, with Marty Walsh still thundering triumphantly in the background, another look at my children's faces revealed that it wasn't their mother's motivation that they couldn't understand.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Tiger Treatment

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Know What You Did Last Session

Having built the web site for United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, I know from the many examples of other states that the impacts of expanded gambling are inevitable.

But it bothers me to read story after story, news article after article, report after report about crimes committed, communities hurt and lives destroyed, with seemingly no consequences for those decision makers who passed legislation without independent cost-benefit analyzes, public input, or even bothering to do their own homework, especially after gambling lobbyists pumped millions into the process.  I mean, taxpayers pay legislators salaries, and we should expect them to make sound decisions, without caving to political pressure.

My regular readers are familiar with my one of my most-read posts, Ring of Fire, which is about a young boy growing up without a dad, a dad who lost his hope and all the bill money at a Rhode Island casino, then took his own life.  And when you think of it, a few years ago there were legislators in RI debating whether or not to expand gambling, just like they're doing here in MA right now.  And they weren't thinking about that boy or the other consequences of their decision.  Those sort of things don't happen right away.  They were giving in to the short term promises of gambling revenue.

Therefore, I've created one more web site, I Know What You Did Last Session, to give credit where credit is due, in the event that legislation is actually passed to expand gambling in Massachusetts.

The site is a work in progress, I'm still adding pictures etc, collecting news articles, hoping people will eventually share their stories and leave their comments there.  I'd appreciate your suggestions as how to make it better.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Today in Low Expectations...

The Middleboro Board of Selectmen has approved funneling $50,000 in casino planning funds from the the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to renovate the Lincoln Lynch school, which will be leased this summer to Massasoit Community College.

Chairman of selectmen, Pat "Tankman" Rogers justified the expenditure by calling the move...
a great use of the money to prepare an economic workforce to work at the resort, and an educational opportunity for our young adults right here in Middleborough... [or even adults] to learn locally and prepare for the future.

Rogers statement officially confirms Middleboro as the "Appalachia" of the Northeast.

Further cementing the town's utter lack of self-esteem, yesterday, Middleboro voters once again returned Steve Spataro to the board of selectman, a governing body where, in light of Pat Rogers remarks, he clearly belongs.

In neighboring Bridgewater, voters eagerly gear up to throw off the shackles of a similar system of government which, like that in Middleboro, has repeatedly returned entrenched, financially-incompetent, self-serving nincompoops to office.

And so Pat, in honor of your inspirational 'vision' for the youth [and adults] of Middleboro, a town where, last I heard, you no longer even live, this one's for you.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bob DeLeo Reveals Plan to Increase Crime in Massachusetts

At a heavily attended press conference, Speaker Robert DeLeo detailed his plan to increase crime in Massachusetts.

In addition to authorizing two resort casinos and up to 750 slot machines at the state's four race tracks, DeLeo's plan proposes dramatic increases in both money laundering and enterprise crime.

The plan also requires taxpayers to fund two new crime fighting agencies - a new Division of Gaming Enforcement in the attorney general's office, and a gaming enforcement unit within the State Police.

In anticipation of gross negative impacts to host communities, DeLeo's plan authorizes a special Community Mitigation Fund, which would be funded by a one-time payment of $15 million from licensing fees, and 2 percent of the tax on gross gaming revenue. At least until the State needs more money, or the first dip in gambling revenues. Or both.

The plan also provides for a series of other special funds to pay for gambling addiction management services, capital projects, manufacturing, community colleges, tourism, economic stabilization, education, the arts, open space, animal husbandry, charity bingo, mosquito spraying, greyhound adoption, toys for tots, urban renewal, cold fusion, necromancy, economic stimulus, elective plastic surgery, clam bakes for shut-ins, medical experiments and various regional tractor pulls, with room to include any other special interests that would help the speaker attain the votes he needs.

These special funds would also be financed by a portion of one-time licensing fees and a minuscule, unspecified percentage of future gambling revenues. The Speaker anticipates that these accounts will be fully funded until the State needs more money.

Immediately following the press conference, House Minority Leader Brad Jones called it a "good starting point." He said in a statement, "Because, not only does Beacon Hill have some of the best minds you could find anywhere, but I'm also confident that we can work together in a bipartisan manner to make Massachusetts the first place in America, or the world for that matter, to actually do gambling legislation 'right'."

"It doesn't sound like enough slots, from what I heard," stated Sen. Michael Morrissey, "From everything I've heard, the more slots - the more money we legislators get to spend, so why not go for it." When Morrissey was asked how many slots he'd like to see, he suggested, "somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty to thirty million. Yeah. That'd be good. No. Forty Million. No wait. Fifty. Fifty... Fifty-Five million slot machines."

Plainridge Racecourse chief operating office Gary Piontkowski told the News Service he believed 2010 was finally the year he'd realize his long-held dream of lowering the State's expectations to his own. Asked if 750 slot machines were sufficient since previous proposals had recommended 2,000 per track. Piotkowski said, "I always thought a good number was around 1,500. But It is what is is. No complaints here. As long as the industry gets a toehold, we'll see those numbers go up soon enough."