Monthly Archives: March 2008

Misplaced criticism of DiMasi

A Globe editorial today is really unfair in the way it portrays House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s “lobbying tactics” in defeating Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino proposal. The editorial says of DiMasi:

He does not support the introduction of slot machines at the racetracks — a wise decision, because the model has more negatives and doesn’t generate the kind of jobs and revenues associated with destination casinos. Yet while lobbying House members to kill the casino bill, he promised at least three legislators that he would not block their attempts to bring a racetrack slots bill to the House floor. And this from the leader who predicted Tuesday that casinos would “cause human damage on a grand scale.”

How obtuse can you be? DiMasi allowed the casino bill to come to the floor, where it died a natural death, assisted by DiMasi and state Rep. Dan Bosley, D-North Adams, a recognized expert on the false promises and social ills of casino gambling.

Now certain legislators want a “racino” bill to come to the floor so they can go on record as voting for it, thus pleasing racetrack operators in their districts. That’s fine. As the editorial points out, DiMasi opposes slot machines at casinos, and we can be reasonably sure that a bill allowing them won’t pass.

What’s laughable about the editorial is the inconsistency. DiMasi gets criticized for using his influence to defeat a casino bill that he had allowed to come to the floor. And then he’s criticized for supposed hypocrisy over racinos because — you guessed it — he’s going to allow a bill to come to the floor.

Sounds to me like DiMasi is being perfectly consistent. House members get to vote on controversial legislation. And DiMasi, as speaker, gets to let his members know where he stands. It’s called democracy.

Casino bill defeated by — well, a lot

Whether it was 106-48, as Casey Ross reports in the Herald, or 108-46, as Matt Viser and Andrew Ryan write in the Globe, the House defeated Gov. Deval Patrick’s three-casino proposal by an overwhelming margin today. Technically, the bill was sent to a study committee, but we all know what that means.

Ross’ is by far the more colorful of the two accounts, as he describes angry losers jeering and booing as the proposal went down to defeat. It is true that the casino opponents, led by House Speaker Sal DiMasi, had an unfair advantage — they had the facts on their side, as well as the moral high ground. All that and arm-twisting, too.

In retrospect, it seems clear that DiMasi knew he was going to win all along, and that whatever pressure he put on lawmakers was designed to run up the score in order to make sure that Patrick doesn’t try this again. Patrick can still be a successful governor. But he’s got to walk away from this terrible mistake.

Not quite dead enough

The good news is that Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to build three casinos in Massachusetts will be defeated later today (Globe story here; Herald story here). What matters now is that any plans to bring casinos here remain properly dead and buried.

Which brings me to this story in yesterday’s Brockton Enterprise. Alice Elwell reports that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe continues with its efforts to bring the world’s largest casino to Middleborough, unveiling plans for a gambling emporium of three or four floors and an adjacent hotel that could be as high as 18 stories. And get this: Apparently that’s not as bad as had been expected.

The Mashpee can’t go ahead with a casino — or, at the very least, will face daunting obstacles — unless the state legalizes what’s called Class III gambling. So the House’s pending vote against Patrick’s proposal is key. Without Class III gambling, the Mashpee could only build a glorified bingo hall. And, as the Cape Cod Times has reported, the feds seem determined to scale back such operations, as video bingo has morphed into just another form of slot machines.

What could change all that is if the House, having taken a principled stand against the governor, now turns around and allows the state’s financially ailing racetracks to install slot machines. Elected officials are reportedly under a lot of pressure to allow “racinos,” as they would be known.

There are two problems. First, racinos are just a bad idea, bringing with them the same social ills as casino gambling, if on a smaller scale. Second, they would require state approval of Class III gambling, thus opening the door to Native American casinos such as the one proposed for Middleborough.

Not that there’s much likelihood of a casino’s ever being built in Middleborough. Federal approval could take years, and there were so many problems with the miserable way that the selectmen’s deal with the Mashpee was approved that opponents should be able to keep it tied up for a long, long time.

But the right answer to expanded gambling is “no,” and it’s important that state officials keep that in mind. House Speaker Sal DiMasi deserves our gratitude for using his muscle for the good of the commonwealth. Now’s not the time to go all flabby.

Finally, let me venture into the treacherous “what’s my solution?” debate. It’s a phony construct, but it’s one Patrick himself keeps bringing up. I’m not going to talk specifics. I’ll only point out that the state and local tax burden in Massachusetts is ranked 28th nationally — about average. It’s neither outrageously high nor dangerously low.

Given that, a reasonable person might think that any budget shortfall we face could be solved with spending cuts, perhaps a modest tax increase and a determination to live within our means. Not very sexy, and nothing for huge new spending programs. But there you have it.

Newspapers’ silver lining

In my latest for the Guardian, I take a look at the annual State of the News Media report, produced by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and find some counterintuitive reasons for optimism. The most important: though the newspaper economy is weak and getting weaker, the papers themselves — in print and online — are not losing readers.

Obama’s speech

Barack Obama’s speech was first-rate — passionate yet subdued, easy to grasp yet complex in Obama’s implied demand that his listeners hold a number of contradictory views simultaneously. My suspicion, though, is that the controversy over his former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has left Obama with a narrower coalition.

More than anything, the events of the past week play into the argument made by Hillary Clinton — that Democrats just don’t know enough about Obama. Even though the Wright stuff has been out there for many months, it’s not blowing up until now. Who knows why?

The point is that it’s all too easy to imagine some “independent” Republican group making a devastating ad out of the Obama-Wright connection this fall.

End game on casinos

A group of Deval Patrick supporters, on the day of a House hearing on the matter, is circulating an open letter denouncing the governor’s proposal to build three casinos in Massachusetts. Only a few names are attached at the moment, but as you can see from the comments at Blue Mass. Group, there’s a lot of interest starting to build. Here’s a highlight from the letter:

Resort casinos are a mechanism for transferring money from poor and middle class people to wealthy corporations. Any revenue that leaks out to the state via taxation along the way is far short of the amount necessary to ameliorate the social and economic damage that the industry causes.

Resort casino gambling would involve our state government in condoning and encouraging behavior that has led in far too many cases to personal financial ruin, the breakup of families, domestic violence, and child neglect. In addition to these social costs, resort casinos draw money away from local restaurants, stores, and farms, compounding the injury. So presenting resort casino gambling as a source of revenue that would benefit our communities is misleading. The academically documented experiences of other states suggest that resort casinos damage, rather than boost, local economies.

Gee, sounds exactly like House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who denounced casinos in his strongest language yet this morning in a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Unlike DiMasi, the Patrick supporters can’t be characterized as basing their opposition on personal animus toward the governor.

Also at Blue Mass. Group, Ryan Adams posts new polling data showing that two-thirds of respondents are opposed to seeing a casino built in their community. No surprise. As readers of this blog know, residents at the Middleborough town meeting last summer voted overwhelmingly against an advisory question asking whether they wanted to see a casino built. Unfortunately, most of the attention was given to town meeting’s approval of a deal the town had reached with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in case a casino is built despite that opposition.

Finally, Matt Viser reports in today’s Globe what casino opponents have been saying all along — that there is nothing inevitable about the Mashpee Wampanoags building a casino in Middleborough or anywhere else.

Globe op-ed page gets bloggy

I’d think this was a good idea even if Media Nation wasn’t featured in the debut. The Globe op-ed page today unveils “VoxOp,” a round-up of opinion from outside sources such as local blogs and student newspapers.

One suggestion: It would be more useful to online readers if the items were attached to the permalinks of the actual blog posts rather than to the home pages.

By the way, the Herald has been quoting bloggers in its “Monday Morning Briefing” for quite a while, though none this week.

E-mail request

OK, here’s the latest. I have come to the sad conclusion that I may have to phase out my longtime personal e-mail address, dan {at} dankennedy {dot} net. I’m receiving hundreds of spam e-mails a day, and just under 95 percent of them are associated with that address. It’s been hopelessly compromised after years of being out there on the open Net.

The problem wasn’t with Gmail. The problem was that Gmail’s spam filter was being forced to more than it should.

Perhaps I’ll find a way to revive it. For the time being, though, I suggest that if you want to reach me, you do so through my Northeastern account, listed in the right-hand column of this blog. Most of you are already doing that anyway.