Category Archives: Politics

Booze, pills and the economics of casinos

Caesar

Caesar

The chaos that has broken out over the split between Suffolk Downs and Caesars Entertainment is good news for casino opponents. At the very least, it increases the likelihood that East Boston residents will vote no on Nov. 5. At most, we may be able to look forward to delays and lawsuits for years to come.

I was particularly struck by the accusation — reported by Mark Arsenault in The Boston Globe — that Caesars separated one wealthy gambler from his money by keeping him liquored up and plying him with painkillers. I know nothing about the details of that accusation. But it actually fits well with the business model for casinos.

I’ve flagged this before, and it’s worth flagging again: according to Michael Jonas of CommonWealth Magazine, casinos could not survive if it weren’t for the problem gamblers who provide a disproportionate share of the revenues. Jonas explains it this way:

Just how much of the revenue casinos bring in is from the losses of those with gambling problems? One of the most thorough studies of this issue was done in 2004 in Ontario, where researchers had a sample of residents maintain diaries logging their gambling expenditures. The study, prepared for the government-supported Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, estimated that 35 percent of Ontario casino revenues were derived from moderate to severe problem gamblers. Such gamblers accounted for 30 percent of revenue from casino table games and a whopping 62 percent of revenue from slot machines.

I remain appalled that Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature legalized casinos and slots, which are associated with higher rates of crime, divorce and suicide. But I’m optimistic that these social parasites can be stopped one at a time.

Below is a statement from No Eastie Casino:

EAST BOSTON, Mass. — Oct. 19, 2013 — For more than a year, No Eastie Casino has pushed the City of Boston and Suffolk Downs to share more information about Suffolk Downs’ proposed Caesars Entertainment Resort. After ignoring repeated calls for greater transparency and concerns about Caesars’ solvency raised by East Boston residents, on Friday Suffolk Downs dropped the operations partner it chose in 2011 to run a casino in East Boston, Caesars Entertainment, only after state investigators informed them that Suffolk Downs likely would not pass the background check if Caesars stayed on. The Boston Globe reported that a number of concerns were brought to Suffolk Downs’ attention, including Caesars’ alleged business ties to organized crime.

But East Boston casino opponents say the stunning news late Friday demonstrates that residents cannot trust Suffolk Downs when it comes to whom they choose to bring into the neighborhood, said No Eastie Casino co-chair Celeste Myers.

“As recently as two months ago, Suffolk Downs owner Joe O’Donnell stated that Caesars was ‘as professional as they come,’” Myers said, pointing out Suffolk Downs’ frequent assertion that it shares Caesars’ values. “Clearly, they did not do due diligence in vetting Caesars — a company with which they have had a relationship since 2011 — and only ended the relationship when forced to do so.”

She added that Suffolk Downs has now picked two corporations, Caesars and Vornado Realty Trust, that have been unable or unwilling to pass background checks. In March, Vornado put its 19 percent stake in the casino plan into a blind trust after the majority of its executive team refused the state’s mandatory background checks. To our knowledge, Vornado has not divested completely from the casino partnership and voters remain in the dark about who will pick up its nearly one-fifth share in the project.

Caesars’ sudden departure also raises serious questions about the value of the City’s and Suffolk Downs’ host community agreement and shows that the promises in the mitigation agreement were made to be broken. Many key elements of the mitigation agreement-including key components of the jobs and small business plans-were tied to Caesars’ employee practices and Total Rewards programs. (Download our 16-page mitigation analysis here.)

No Eastie Casino leaders on Saturday formally called on Suffolk Downs to withdraw its casino application, in light of the information that emerged late Friday, and to share full details about their casino plans — including what they knew about Caesars and when they knew it — with the community at large.

“Now, more than ever, our neighbors and voters are seeing the glaring problems in the Suffolk Downs casino plans and the flaws in transparency that have plagued this fight from the start,” Myers said. “We hope Suffolk Downs and the City of Boston do the right thing and withdraw their support of this project. Until they do, our campaign will continue to reach out to and educate voters until we are victorious on Nov. 5.”

Talking politics with Storify

Voters in Boston today are heading to the polls to narrow the field of 12 mayoral candidates to the two who will be facing off against each other this November. My students are learning how to use Storify to aggregate and curate Twitter and other forms of social media. Here is the Storify I put together as a demonstration.

Obama, Syria and presidential incompetence

I think attacking Syria is a bad idea. But what I really don’t understand is the incompetence the Obama administration has shown. It seems to me that quick retaliation in the form of a few cruise missiles might have had some deterrent effect (or not), and it’s the sort of thing presidents do on a fairly regular basis without going to Congress.

So now we’re in the midst of an all-out congressional debate over whether to take action that is supposed to be fairly limited. I don’t blame people for worrying this is going to be another Afghanistan or Iraq, because that’s how the White House is treating it.

And I find myself in the position of not wanting to see us do anything but at the same time hoping the resolution passes so that Obama isn’t completely neutered for the next three years. What a mess.

Hold the uplift, and make that shower extra hot

9780399161308_custom-4ec8d3a4e862d4dbc42dedad106a97aecb8dda44-s2-c85Earlier this month my wife and I were watching the news when Patrick Leahy came on to talk about something or other — I don’t remember what.

Leahy, 73, has been a Democratic senator from Vermont for nearly four decades. Normally that stirs up feelings that, you know, maybe it’s time for the old man to go back to the dairy farm and watch his grandchildren milk the cows.

But I had been reading Mark Leibovich’s “This Town.” And so I felt a tiny measure of admiration for Leahy stirring up inside me. He hadn’t cashed in. (His net worth — somewhere between $49,000 and $210,000 — makes him among the poorer members of the Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.) He hasn’t become a lobbyist. He apparently intends to die with his boots on.

That amounts to honor of a sort in the vomitrocious Washington that Leibovich describes in revolting detail — a town of sellouts and suckups (“Suckup City” was one of his working titles), a place where the nation’s business isn’t just subordinate to the culture of money and access, but is, at best, an afterthought.

If you plan to review a book, you shouldn’t “read” the audio version. I have no notes, no dog-eared pages to refer to. So consider this not a review so much as a few disjointed impressions of “This Town,” subtitled “Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital.”

Mark is an old acquaintance. He and I worked together for a couple of years at The Boston Phoenix in the early 1990s before he moved on to the San Jose Mercury News, The Washington Post and, finally, The New York Times. (Other former Phoenicians who’ve reviewed “This Town”: Peter Kadzis in The Providence Phoenix and Marjorie Arons-Barron for her blog.)

There are many good things I could say about Mark and “This Town,” but I’ll start with this: I have never known anyone who worked harder to improve. It was not unusual for me to leave the Phoenix in the evening while Mark was working on an article — and to come back the next morning to find him still at it. The result of all that labor is a finely honed sense of craft that most of us can only aspire to.

As virtually every reviewer has pointed out, “This Town” begins with a masterful description of the funeral service for “Meet the Press” impresario Tim Russert, an ostensibly mournful occasion that provided the media and political classes in Washington with an opportunity to carry out the real business of their community: talking about themselves and checking their place in the pecking order.

There are so many loathsome characters in “This Town” that you’d need an index to keep track of them all. And Leibovich puckishly refused to provide one, though The Washington Post published an unofficial index here. For my money, though, the lowest of the low are former senator Evan Bayh and former congressman Dick Gephardt — Democrats who left office but stayed in Washington to become highly paid lobbyists. Bayh, with his unctuously insincere laments over how broken Washington had become, and Gephardt, who quickly sold out every pro-labor position he had ever held, rise above (or descend below) a common streetwalker like Chris Dodd, who flirted not very convincingly with becoming an entrepreneur before entering the warm embrace of the film industry.

Also: If you have never heard of Tammy Haddad, Leibovich will remove your innocence. You will be sadder but wiser.

Because Mark is such a fine writer, he operates with a scalpel; those of us who have only a baseball bat to work with can only stand back in awe at the way he carves up his subjects. Still, I found myself occasionally wishing he’d grab his bat and do to some of these scum-sucking leeches what David Ortiz did to that dugout phone in Baltimore.

Mike Allen of Politico, for instance, comes off as an oddly sympathetic character despite the damage he and his news organization have done to democracy with their focus on politics as a sport and their elevation of trivia and gossip. (To be sure, Leibovich describes that damage in great detail.) I could be wrong, but it seems to me that that Mark was tougher on Allen in a profile for the Times Magazine a few years ago.

Thus I was immensely pleased to hear Mark (or, rather, narrator Joe Barrett) administer an old-fashioned thrashing to Sidney Blumenthal. It seems that Blumenthal, yet another former Phoenix reporter, had lodged a bogus plagiarism complaint against Mark because Blumenthal had written a play several decades ago called “This Town,” which, inconveniently for Sid Vicious, no one had ever heard of. More, please.

I also found myself wondering what Leibovich makes of the Tea Party and the Republican Party’s ever-rightward drift into crazyland. The Washington of “This Town” is rather familiar, if rarely so-well described. The corruption is all-pervasive and bipartisan, defined by the unlikely (but not really) partnership of the despicable Republican operative Haley Barbour and the equally despicable Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe.

No doubt such relationships remain an important part of Washington. But it seems to me that people like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and their ilk — for instance, the crazies now talking about impeaching President Obama — don’t really fit into that world. And, increasingly, they’re calling the shots, making the sort of Old Guard Republicans Leibovich writes about (Republicans like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, for instance) all but irrelevant.

But that’s a quibble, and it would have shifted Mark away from what he does best: writing finely honed character studies of people who have very little character. “This Town” is an excellent book that says much about why we hate Washington — and why we’re right to keep on doing so. Hold the uplift. And make sure the shower you’ll need after reading it is extra hot.

Juliette Kayyem and the view from 2001

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Juliette Kayyem

Terrorism expert Juliette Kayyem, a former federal and state official and former Boston Globe columnist, may run is running for governor in 2014. In late 2001 I wrote a brief profile of her for The Boston Phoenix. Yes, it’s a little gushy — it was for our “Best” issue, and Kayyem was one of our designated “Local Heroes.”

But read this and weep:

Her biggest worry about the Bush administration’s approach is that, by tilting its priorities toward security rather than liberty, it is sending a negative message to the moderate Arab countries that are part of the fragile anti-terrorism coalition.

If Kayyem could give the administration one piece of advice, it would be to drop the “war” metaphor. With September 11 behind us, the pursuit of Al Qaeda well under way, and the anthrax attacks now believed to be the work of a domestic Unabomber type, the worst of it may already be over — yet the use of the word “war” justifies anti-liberty policies that serve no purpose in rooting out terrorism.

Kayyem is a smart, serious person, and in an uninspiring field, she could surprise people.

Photo via Wikipedia.

Muzzle winner gets its final comeuppance

How sleazy do you have to be before you’re found to lack the morals necessary to operate a slots parlor? Very sleazy indeed. Mark Arsenault of The Boston Globe reports that former Plainridge Racecourse president Gary Piontkowski’s habit of stuffing cash into his pockets — $1.4 million in total — was just too much for state regulators to overlook.

Last month, we bestowed a 2013 WGBH News/Portland Phoenix/Providence Phoenix Muzzle Award upon the racetrack for its unsuccessful attempt to abuse the libel laws in order to silence a local blogger who opposed a slots license for the Plainville facility.

And today, in his Boston magazine blog, David Bernstein lays out Piontkowski’s relationship with former senator Scott Brown.

None of this should surprise anyone. It’s simply what you get with large-scale organized gambling. No casinos. No slots.

How George Kariotis aided a Republican revival

George Kariotis

George Kariotis

In 1986, when I was working for the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn, I had a chance to interview business executive George Kariotis after he was drafted by the Republican State Committee for the mission impossible of running against Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Kariotis has died at the age of 90, according to this obituary by Bryan Marquard of The Boston Globe.

I remember very little about the interview except that Kariotis seemed like a good, sincere guy, and that he was far more conservative than most Massachusetts Republicans of his era. I’m not sure I knew until reading Marquard’s obit that Kariotis was a fellow alumnus of Northeastern University. (Here is an interview with Kariotis published on the Northeastern website.)

What I do remember vividly, and which Marquard only alludes to, were the circumstances that led to Kariotis’ candidacy. The Republicans had lost their two leading gubernatorial contenders. Royall Switzler dropped out after it was revealed that his claim to have fought in Vietnam was false. Greg Hyatt quit the race amid bizarre stories about his working in his office pants-free.

The Republican meltdown gave Dukakis’ then-nascent presidential candidacy a boost. But Kariotis’ decency and relentless focus on the issues may well have paved the way for 1990, when Republican Bill Weld was elected governor and the party made major gains in the state Legislature.

Photo via Northeastern University.

Gomez-mania and its limits

Gabriel Gomez working the crowd

Gabriel Gomez meeting and greeting

Watching TV and following Twitter last night, I saw a lot of praise for Gabriel Gomez’s running a credible campaign and doing better than expected.

Really? Gomez lost by 10 points. Scott Brown lost by eight last November. Although Gomez didn’t have to contend with President Obama being on the ballot, as Brown did, a low turnout was supposed to help Gomez — and he certainly got that.

My guess is that Gomez got the bare minimum of votes available to virtually any Republican and failed to build on it at all. The fact is that he lost by a substantial margin to Ed Markey, an uninspiring Democratic candidate. (A fading Brown did better against Elizabeth Warren, a rock star compared to Markey.) The extent of Gomez’s defeat was right in line with most of the polls, so he most definitely did not do better than expected.

I doubt any Republican can win federal office in Massachusetts right now because congressional Republicans are so unpopular here. But Gomez didn’t help himself by claiming to be a moderate, taking clear stands against abortion rights and gun control, and then ludicrously trying to convince voters that he’d done no such thing.

Sorry, folks. A star wasn’t born last night.

Photo (cc) by Mark Sardella and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Debunking the “partisan shifts” on surveillance

The most important (and chilling) finding from the latest Pew Research Center/Washington Post survey is that 56 percent of Americans say they support the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone records, email and other electronic traffic.

A few, though, have pointed to a chart showing supposed hypocrisy on the part of Democrats. In January 2006, self-identified Democrats opposed the NSA’s surveillance programs by a margin of two to one. Today they support those programs by an almost identical margin.

The chart is helpfully labeled “Partisan Shifts in Views of NSA Surveillance Programs.” But what really matters is a parenthetical: “See previous table for differences in question wording.”

So I did, and you can, too. The 2006 survey, by ABC News and The Washington Post, was based on the following proposition: “NSA has been investigating people suspected of terrorist involvement by secretly listening in on phone calls & reading emails without court approval…”

This time around, Pew and the Post put it this way: “NSA has been getting secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism…”

I added the emphasis in both instances to highlight the differences. Under George W. Bush, without court approval; under Barack Obama, with court approval. And: “listening in on phone calls” in 2006 versus “track[ing] calls” in 2013. A considerable difference, regardless of what you think of the NSA’s activities (and, for the record, I’m glad they’ve been exposed).

Three tough losses in Boston politics and media

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Paul Cellucci

The Boston political and media worlds have suffered three tough losses recently. The most prominent was former governor Paul Cellucci, who died on Saturday after a courageous battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Cellucci was a dedicated public servant and a class act. The first time I met him was in 1988, when he and Dick Kraus — both of them were state senators — debated as stand-ins for George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis at the Arlington cable studios.

I got to know Cellucci better when I was working on a profile of him for The Boston Phoenix in 1997. The then-lieutenant governor’s career was at a low ebb — The Boston Globe had revealed that he’d run up $750,000 in personal debt, and state Treasurer Joe Malone was thought by many observers to be the frontrunner for the 1998 Republican nomination for governor.

But Cellucci came across as polite, philosophical, even funny, responding “Are you talkin’ to me?” when someone told him he resembed Robert De Niro.

“This is a very cyclical business,” Cellucci told me at the time. “You’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to catch some breaks. And some years you catch the breaks, some years you don’t.”

He steady demeanor served him well both in his political career and in his illness. The following year Cellucci was elected governor; he later served as ambassador to Canada. Since announcing in 2011 that he had ALS, he had been a visible and effective advocate for research into the disease. He will be missed.

• Richard Gaines was a legendary longtime editor of the Phoenix. Yet even though I worked there for nearly 15 years, our paths never crossed. (We met once at a party.) Today many former Phoenicians and others who knew him are mourning his death at the age of 69.

Gaines led a “tumultuous life,” to borrow a description from a friend of mine who worked with him. He was widely praised for his intelligence and his skill as a reporter and editor. In the latter part of his career he worked for the Gloucester Times, where he became a respected expert on that city’s troubled fishing industry.

I got to know Gaines’ wife, Nancy Gaines, when she worked at the Phoenix in the late 1990s. My thoughts go out to her at this sad and difficult time.

• Christopher Cox was someone whose byline I remember seeing in the Boston Herald, but I had no idea about how many lives he had touched until he died recently, and his friends began paying tribute to him on Facebook.

I also had no idea what an accomplished journalist he was until I read this tribute by David Perry in The Sun of Lowell, where Cox had also worked. A remarkable life and career. Read it.

Photo via Wikipedia.