Tag Archives: Deval Patrick

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.”

Globe seeks to force Patrick to turn over records

This is why large, well-funded news organizations still matter.

The Boston Globe reports that it has won a favorable court ruling in its three-year quest to obtain the names of people who have received large financial settlements from the state.

The administration of Gov. Deval Patrick, no friend of the state’s public-records law, had fought the request from the beginning — its defiance of a ruling by Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office led the Globe to sue — and the governor may yet file an appeal.

At issue: “the names of 89 individuals who received settlements of $10,000 or more between January 2005 and March 2010.”

That’s our money. Good for the Globe for pushing to find out who got it and why.

Mass. teachers join the national surveillance state

Photo via Wikimedia Commons (click here for info)

Teachers in Massachusetts must now submit to being fingerprinted. And another part of our liberties just died.

This happened so quickly and quietly that I had no idea it was in the works until I read a small Associated Press item in the Boston Globe this morning. Googling revealed a detailed story published by Patch. The new law, signed on Thursday by Gov. Deval Patrick, pertains to everyone who works at schools and child-care centers. As this press release from the governor’s office makes clear, the law applies to private-school teachers as well.

Please read this sentence twice: The information would be forwarded to the State Police and from there make its way to the FBI.

It’s always easy to defend such measures as being in the best interests of kids. And if you’ve got nothing to hide, why should you care?

Let me offer a hypothetical. A teacher’s fingerprints could turn up in an investigation that has nothing to do with kids. That teacher will then be hauled in the police for reasons that have nothing to do with why the fingerprints were submitted in the first place — putting teachers at greater legal jeopardy than those of us whose fingerprints are not on file.

In effect, teachers are becoming part of the national surveillance state as the price of being employed. Taken in isolation, maybe it’s not a big deal. Several other states, including New York, already fingerprint teachers. But it chips away at our freedom, and it’s too bad Patrick decided to pander rather than use his veto pen.

MuckRock.com and the potential power of crowdfunding

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 7.58.38 PMThis interview was previously published at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

The first time I heard of Michael Morisy and MuckRock.com was in 2010, after the site was targeted by a bureaucrat working for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

It seems that MuckRock, using the state’s open records law, had obtained information about how food stamps were being used in grocery stores. The data, which did not name any individual food-stamp recipients, had been lawfully requested and lawfully obtained. But that didn’t stop said bureaucrat from threatening Morisy and his tech partner, Mitchell Kotler, with fines and even imprisonment if they refused to remove the documents from their site.

They refused. And the bureaucrat said it had all been a mistake.

Now Morisy is preparing to expand MuckRock’s mission of filing freedom-of-information requests with various government agencies and posting them online for all to see. The just-launched Freedom of the Press Foundation has identified MuckRock as one of four news organizations that will benefit from its system of crowdsourced donations. The best-known of the four is WikiLeaks.

The foundation’s board is a who’s who of media activists, including Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, Josh Stearns of Free Press and the journalist Glenn Greenwald, now with the Guardian.

“The Freedom of the Press Foundation can be a first step away from the edge of a cliff,” writes Dan Gillmor, author of “We the Media” and “Mediactive.” “But it needs to be recognized and used by as many people as possible, as fast as possible. And journalists, in particular, need to offer their support in every way. This is ultimately about their future, whether they recognize it or not. But it’s more fundamentally about all of us.”

What follows is a lightly edited email interview I conducted with Morisy about MuckRock, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and what comes next.

Q: Tell me a little bit about MuckRock and its origins.

A: I’d been really frustrated that we hadn’t seen much innovation in newsgathering generated by journalistic organizations. You see lots of innovations in how stories are told, but they’ve been generated by companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — all wonderful organizations, but ones which generate news as a byproduct, and where the journalistic function is by far secondary to business considerations. My co-founder and I wanted to create a startup where creating news was a core part of the business, and where the news was both user-generated and -directed as well as verified.

Since requests on MuckRock come from — and are paid for by — our users, we are able to align our business and editorial goals almost perfectly. We don’t sell advertising, we don’t put up paywalls. We just help people investigate the issues they want to, and then share those results with the world.

We’ve know been growing as a business and as an editorial operation for three years, with a part-time news editor and two fantastic interns.

Q: What sorts of projects are you involved in today?

A: Our biggest project to date is a partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the Drone Census, which has broken a lot of major stories around the country. We let anyone submit an agency’s information and then we follow up with a public records request. So far we’ve submitted 263 requests to state, local, and federal agencies, the vast majority of which were suggested by the public. And it’s helped shed more light on a program that police departments and drone manufacturers are very purposefully keeping quiet.

We’ve also gotten to cover some really interesting local stories, such as getting the late Boston mayor Kevin White’s FBI file and taking an inside look at the timing of a drug raid, as well as national stories.

Q: What is the nature of your relationship with the Boston Globe?

A: MuckRock was invited to be part of the Globe Lab‘s incubator program a little over a year ago. We’ve received free office space and, most important, a good mailbox to receive the dozens of responses we get back every day. It’s also given us a chance to bounce ideas back and forth with their technology and editorial teams, and we’re in the early stages of a collaborative project with them.

They also recently launched The Hive, a section focused on startups in the Boston area. Given my experience running one and my editorial background, when they were looking for someone to manage and report for that section, I was a natural fit and thrilled to be invited to cover startups in the area. It’s a dream job, and it means I now have two desks, and often wear two hats inside the same building.

Q: How did you get involved in the Freedom of the Press Foundation?

A: Trevor Timm has been our main point of contact with the EFF working on the drone project, and he’s been absolutely great to work with. He reached out to us about a week ago and said that he was working on a new venture to help crowdfund investigative journalism projects, and we were honored to be thought of. It turns out he is the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, so we got lucky to be working with the right people.

Q: Do you have a goal for how much money you’re hoping to raise through the foundation? What kinds of projects would you like to fund if you’re successful?

A: We’re kind of going into this with an open mind and a hopeful heart. Any amount raised is greatly appreciated, but this will help jumpstart several new projects similar in size and scope to the drone effort, which has had an amazing response, including nods from the New York Times and many other outlets. It may also give us the flexibility to fund important stories that maybe are not as sexy. We were really interested in funding an investigation into MBTA price jumps for the disabled, for example, but our crowdfunding efforts on Spot.us are essentially dead on arrival. Having a reserve will allow us to take gambles on stories like that without having to choose between making rent and breaking news.

Don’t sell Scott Brown short

Scott Brown

This commentary also appears at the Huffington Post.

Will Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts win re-election this November? Or will he be defeated by his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren? The answer, clearly, is “yes.”

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while. Frank Phillips’ story in today’s Boston Globe on Democrats who are panicking over the latest polls seems like as good a hook as any, so here we go.

From the moment Warren announced her candidacy, I’ve been struck by the fever-pitch feel that has permeated the race. Not among ordinary voters, of course; they won’t tune in until after Labor Day. But political junkies are fully engaged, as you know if you dip into the Twitter streams at #masen and #mapoli.

It seems to me that we’ve got a race between two very good candidates. I think Warren is the best the Democrats could have hoped for — not just better than the unknowns and wannabes who were running before she got into the race, but better than any member of the state’s Democratic establishment, with the possible exception of Gov. Deval Patrick.

Warren is articulate, she’s an economic populist, she combines insider experience with outsider credentials (how many people have managed to piss off both Republicans and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner?) and she’s almost as pretty as Brown.

Elizabeth Warren

Nor has she made any major missteps to this point. Brown supporters have tried to make hay of her endorsement of the Occupy movement, but that’s not going to play. The repeated references to her as “Professor” Warren are kind of pathetic. Anti-intellectualism does not have the sort of appeal in Massachusetts that it does in, say, Texas.

But some Democrats seem surprised, at the very least, that Brown didn’t topple like a rotten tree at the first sign that he’d have a serious opponent. Those sentiments vastly underestimate Brown’s strengths. In fact, I can think of two only first-class political talents to emerge in Massachusetts in the post-Michael Dukakis era: Patrick and Brown. (If Mitt Romney didn’t have a zillion dollars, I’m not sure he could win a seat on the Belmont Board of Selectmen.)

Democrats ignore the reality that no one is really angry at Brown other than liberal activists. He was elected just a little more than two years ago, and the glow from his startling victory over state Attorney General Martha Coakley has not fully faded. Massachusetts voters have traditionally liked having a Republican in a statewide position, and with the governor’s office now in Democratic hands, Brown has that working for him as well. My sense is that a lot of voters are still rather pleased with themselves for their role in Brown’s win, and it’s going to take more than Warren’s just showing up to get them to change their minds.

Nor should anyone discount Brown’s political instincts, which are superb. Brown has been a master of not taking strong stands on divisive issues, leaving himself free to bend when it’s necessary for his survival as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. It took a while, but he eventually came around to voting for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He was among the very few Republicans who voted in favor of financial regulation, although he also loses points for his role in weakening those regulations.

The outlier in Brown’s record is his staunch support for the Blunt amendment, which would undo President Obama’s compromise on birth-control coverage at colleges, hospitals and other secular employers owned by religious institutions. Although Brown’s stand doesn’t seem to have hurt him in the polls so far, I think those who argue his rising poll numbers reflect public support for Blunt are wrong. Again, people just aren’t paying attention yet.

Why did Brown do it? Who knows? Maybe he’s acting on principle. Maybe the Senate leadership believes it has let Brown stray from the reservation too often and demanded his fealty on this one. In the long run, Brown’s support for Blunt will probably hurt him at the margins, but it’s not likely to determine the outcome of the race.

So what will determine the outcome? My guess is turnout. If this weren’t a presidential-election year, Brown would probably be a shoo-in for re-election. But with Obama on the ballot, a lot of people in Massachusetts are going to come out on Election Day looking to vote a straight Democratic ticket. The likelihood that Romney will be Obama’s Republican opponent only makes matters worse for Brown. Romney is not popular here except among the state’s tiny band of Republicans.

Predictions are futile. But I would imagine that whoever wins, it’s going to be extremely close. My advice: Don’t sell Brown short. And chill out. It’s only March.

Photo of Scott Brown by Dan Kennedy. Photo of Elizabeth Warren by the U.S. Treasury Department via Wikimedia Commons.

About those non-public public records

It’s Day Two of Hard Drive-gate, and I’ve got a few questions.

As you may know, the Boston Globe reported yesterday that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s office let staffers buy their computer hard drives on their way out the door, and servers were scrubbed clean, meaning there are no email records from Romney’s time in office.

Anyway, here’s what I’d like answered:

  • The Globe reports that the emails are not public records, and would not be subject to a public-records request. Yet Secretary of State Bill Galvin says the emails nevertheless should have been turned over to him for filing in the state archives. Are there any circumstances under which the records could be made public? If not, isn’t this a story about nothing?
  • Why wasn’t this an issue in 2008, the first time Romney ran for president? Romney wasn’t some back-of-the-pack lightweight that year. He was the most credible alternative to John McCain. Did no one ask for this stuff back then?
  • Doesn’t Romney’s campaign have a point when it claims that the revelation may be a politically motivated attack by Gov. Deval Patrick? After all, it comes during the same week that Patrick slimed former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, the most prominent opponent of his cherished casino plan.
If Romney had destroyed public records that we had a right to see, that would be one thing. So far, though, it’s unclear whether the emails met any reasonable legal definition of public records.

At casinos, compulsive gambling is the whole idea

The appalling decision by state leadership to build three casinos and a slot parlor in Massachusetts is a disaster-in-the-making on many levels. Studies have shown that proximity to casinos correlates with increases in crime, divorce, even the suicide rate.

And here’s another. Though compulsive gamblers may make up a small proportion of the population (between 1 percent and 5 percent, depending on which study you look at), casinos are utterly dependent on those folks coming in and blowing the grocery money. Michael Jonas of CommonWealth Magazine writes:

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.

Jonas also quotes Gov. Deval Patrick as saying, once again, that the legislation now hurtling through the Legislature will include money for treating compulsive gamblers. But there’s no logic to Patrick’s position. Within the casino industry, compulsive gambling is not a bug — it’s a feature, vital to its business model.

What’s taking place on Beacon Hill right now will live in infamy. Patrick’s legacy as governor will be his leading role in foisting this miserable enterprise upon the public.

Also: Harvey Silverglate writes in the Boston Phoenix about his angst over being a libertarian who opposes casinos and slots. As he notes, there’s nothing libertarian about what will take place in Massachusetts: this will be a government-run operation from the start.

If you really want to gamble, maybe we can start taking bets on which ex-legislator will be hired as the $150,000-a-year executive director of the Massachusetts Gambling — uh, Gaming Commission.

More Big Dig problems you don’t have to worry about

State officials want you to know that there is absolutely no reason for you to worry about the massive sinkhole that’s been discovered beneath a portion of the Big Dig. As a public service, Media Nation wants to remind you of other Big Dig problems — just teeny little glitches when you think about it — that you also don’t have to worry about:

  • Corroded 110-pound light fixtures that could fall on your car while you’re driving through, but that have been supposedly fixed. What? Sounds dangerous? Why, state transportation secretary Jeffrey Mullan didn’t even think it was necessary to tell Gov. Deval Patrick. Mullan is now leaving state government because he didn’t get a raise.
  • Leaks so extensive that they are beginning to damage the steel girders that support the Tip O’Neill Tunnel. Oops — sorry to sound like an alarmist. Our leaders want you to know that the leaks are the equivalent of the water that comes of “three garden hoses.” How can something you use to water your lawn possibly be dangerous?
  • Crashing three-ton ceiling panels of the sort that killed Milena Del Valle in 2006 as she and her husband were driving to Logan Airport. Again, no problems — they’re using better glue now or something.
If there are any other Big Dig problems that you absolutely, positively don’t have to worry about, please add them in the comments. Those are just the ones I could come up with off the top of my head.

In Massachusetts, silence is literally golden

Deval Patrick

When state officials pay someone to go away, they often pay for that person’s silence, too. That’s what Boston Globe reporter Todd Wallack found in a review of “more than 150 large severance and settlement agreements signed by state agencies since 2005.”

More than half contained either a confidentialty or non-disparagement clause, and one in five contained both, Wallack reported in Sunday’s Globe. And the practice persists even though Attorney General Martha Coakley has ruled such clauses are illegal in most cases.

Wallack’s findings point to an unfortunate reality: Gov. Deval Patrick, despite his reformist credentials, is no more a fan of open government than his predecessors regarding information that could make him or his agency heads look bad.

As Wallack notes, it was a big deal when then-state treasurer Tim Cahill’s use of confidentiality agreements was exposed a few years ago. Now it turns out that the practice is far more widespread than anyone knew at the time.

Consider this story in context. In 2008, Colman Herman reported for CommonWealth Magazine that the public-records law was a shambles, and that Patrick — like his predecessors — had made it be known that he considered many of the executive branch’s actions to be exempt from the law,  a questionable proposition. (Note: I have contributed articles to CommonWealth, and my Northeastern colleague Walter Robinson is quoted in Herman’s story.)

Patrick was portrayed as having turned over records voluntarily despite his contention that he didn’t have to. But for advocates of open government, it’s clear that what’s needed in Massachusetts is root-and-branch reform. Anyone want to guess at the chances of that happening?

Update: Herman reports on some recent efforts to strengthen the law in a post for the New England First Amendment Center, but makes it clear that we’re a long way from true transparency.

Photo (cc) by Scott LaPierre via Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

A First Amendment hero-in-the-making

Michael Morisy

Last night I met a fledgling First Amendment hero: Michael Morisy, co-founder of MuckRock, a site where he posts public documents he obtains from filing public-records requests.

Morisy, as you might have heard, may be in trouble because of how Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration handled his request for records about how much money has been spent at various Massachusetts businesses under the federal food-stamp program.

The state complied with Morisy’s request. Then, in a classic CYA move, the administration — realizing after the fact that the release may have violated federal law — sent a letter to Morisy informing him he could be subject to a possible fine or imprisonment if he doesn’t take the information down. It was a ridiculous threat, and Morisy has refused to comply. The courts have consistently ruled that, under the First Amendment, the onus for keeping private records private is entirely on the keeper of those records, not on those who would publish them.

Nor is the privacy of any food-stamp recipients at risk. The records published by MuckRock, according to this Boston Globe story by Noah Bierman, do not identify any recipients.

It doesn’t seem likely that Morisy and his tech guy, Mitchell Kotler, are in any real trouble. In a follow-up in the Globe by Jonathan Saltzman, we learn that the Patrick administration issued a second CYA to cover its first CYA, assuring one and all that it never, ever intended to threaten MuckRock. Oh, no, of course not.

“At this point, I think the legal issue will blow over,” Morisy tells Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix. “But it’s still interesting, because all of a sudden people got very interested in what we’re doing.”

Still, you never know. Last night Morisy attended a panel discussion I moderated at Boston University on “Legal Liability in the Age of WikiLeaks,” with local First Amendment lawyers Jon Albano and Rob Bertsche. Bertsche, who has agreed to represent Morisy for free, made it clear that he doesn’t consider MuckRock to be out of the woods just yet.

Given the public attention this issue has received, I think Gov. Deval Patrick himself should announce that Morisy and Kotler are in no danger for posting records they received as a result of making a legitimate public-records request. Patrick should apologize while he’s at it.

Photo is from Morisy’s LinkedIn profile.