Thursday, December 18, 2008

Casino Capitalism, Anyone?

Thank you Bumpkin, for posting the vids of Chairman Bond discussing the guilty plea and his perception of what it may mean for the continued enforceability of the IGA as a contract between the Town of Middleboro and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. I remain bemused at Chariman Bond's willingness to set aside Mr. Marshall's concealment of a rape conviction, and lying to a government body as "personal" matters, completely separate from and non-indicative of how Mr. Marshall might discharge a public trust, or how he might interpret "good faith," but I digress.

I received something interesting in the mail today, a letter from StopPredatoryGambling.Their focus is combatting the proliferation of aggressive advertising for state lottery product. In it, Mr. Les Bernal, their Executive Director, made some interesting observations: "in the midst of a global economic crisis, plummeting pension values, unaffordable health care, high food costs, and millions of American families facing foreclosure ::Fiferstone raises hand:: --state government...continues to agressively advertise predatory lottery products."

In our case, we might substitute -"our chairman of the Board of Selectmen continues to state his faith in the revenue potential of a predatory gambling enterprise."

Mr. Bernal goes on to say, "This is not about whether people can gamble, or about people playing poker on Friday nights...It is about the practice of using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit [that] has become the preferred method for governments to raise money for public services." Remember that stewardship thing? I think may have mentioned it...

Mr. Bernal's letter also made another interesting and fairly disturbing point. There are unsettling similarities between the present addiction of governments (large and small) to gambling proceeds as a revenue source, and the feeding frenzy that preceded the subprime mortgage meltdown. "AIG and Lehman Brothers executives were part of what has been recently called "casino capitalism", using predatory practices and financial gimmicks to promote an illusion of free money, at the expense of unsuspecting Americans." Speaking of the subprime mortgage mess, and casinos, and capitalism, and meltdown, Nevada currently has the highest foreclosure rate in the country. Las Vegas, long the glittering jewel in the crown of the U.S. casino industry, and a real-estate success story, now has an astonishing 48% of mortages on single-family houses in its metropolitan area underwater (the owner owes more than the house is worth). By contrast the national average for single family houses in which the owner owes more than the house is worth, is 18%. That's definitely good, but certainly it's better than something approaching "1 in 2."

As Mr. Bernal says, "Why would anyone think a government run like a casino {or for the benefit of of a casino, for that matter} is going to turn out any better?"--emphasis mine

Given the recent revelations about incomes earned by tribal leaders, and Mr. Marshall's antics leading up to federal recognition, some of the things that I'm annoyed [read mad as hell] about are:

1. The lack of contingency in the IGA. Any agreement of the magnitude of the IGA should have had a contingency spelled out explicitly within it, as a matter of course. What happens if, for whatever reason, the agreed-upon enterprise does not go forward? Most divorce and separation agreements (the effective ones, anyway) have a contingency of some kind. For example, what happens to monies set aside for college education for a dependent child if, for whatever reason, that child does not attend college? What do the parties agree to do in that event? Last summer (after the meeting at which the vote was taken and the IGA signed) I pointed out to Mr. Bond that it appeared to me that the agreement lacked a contingency, and I wondered if that might be a problem. Now Mr. Bond has articulated publicly that this could be a problem, or at the very least, that the town may now be running more risk than it factored into its calculus when it decided to accept the proffered annual mitigation payment and enter into the agreement in the first place (gosh, that sounds depressingly familiar).

I feel sorry for the people who grudgingly supported the casino idea because they thought it was "better than low income housing." Given the fact that there is no contingency in the IGA, and the fact that the land is owned by a private entity (Trading Cove at Mashpee is an equity partnership and is definitely not the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe) , which has a perfect right to dispose of the property as and how it sees fit. Those who sought to prevent the use of the land for low-income housing by voting in favor of signing the IGA may very well find that the land on Precinct street is ultimately used for exactly that which they sought to prevent with their vote at the TMFH. If such a thing comes to pass, those folks have my condolences, and I will welcome my new neighbors to the neighborhood. After all, it's just a short walk from my house.

2. The concept that we can now negotiate the mitigation upward, to what it should have been in the first place. I'm sorry, but no amount of money will offset the damage this thing will do to us if it is "successful." Conversely, no figure anyone chooses to write on a piece of paper will actually translate into money in the town's bank account if the enterprise fails to succeed because there are too many others of its kind in existence already, it is too similar to the all the others in all important respects, and if the others are overleveraged, and resort to cannibalizing each other in a grim effort to stay alive in a shrinking economy. In short, if Middleboro builds it, who's to say anyone will come? Gamblers seem to be staying away from the enhanced, hyperthyroid Connecticuit casinos in droves. Lurk on and check out the reservation casino news from Indian Country - in three words, it's not good. I also wonder what will happen to Michigan's 20 and counting casinos (and their deep-pockets financial backers) when the auto industry finally collapses. I wonder how they, and the state, are going to fare? Probably not well.

3. The continued reliance upon legal experts enmeshed with the gambling industry. Nuf said. I think we ought not to draw from the same poisoned well whence was drawn the water for the first batch of Kool-Aid. At the very least, we need a second opinion, from someone prepared to advocate on behalf of the town, and preferably someone who has some expertise in civil and criminal liability exposure connected with financial malfeasance. I agree with Bumpkin that that no one in our town government is guilty of wrongdoing, but again, what is the risk and exposure to the town and its officers, given the antics of the former tribal chairman and any other tribal officers that he may name? Middleboro needs a legal advocate who can effectively gauge that risk. I'm not convinced that Mr. Whittlesey is thus equipped.

4. The continued silence of the current Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Leadership. Ms. Andrews, you have some explaining to do, most of all to the members of the tribe. But by all means, maintain your silence. What is it that a spokesperson does, again? Mr. Hendricks, why are Ms. Bingham and her son Steven not reinstated to full tribal rights and priviledges immediately? Has the tribe not spoken on this matter, and was she not right after all?

In my very humble opinion, it's time to stake the "magical casino" vampire for the final time, bury it, and then sow salt on the ground where we've buried it. There's some land on Precinct street where such a healing ceremony might be carried out, but we'll have to get permission from the property owner first. I'm definitely in favor of job creation and economic development. I was out of work most of this past summer, and in November my husband was laid off after 15 years at the same place of business. However, neither he, nor I, believe in the tooth fairy anymore. We never believed in the casino fairy either, not even when he stood before us in the High School auditorium, and promised us that anyone needing a job would find one at the Resort-Bingo-hall.

I firmly believe that we're not going to achieve economic development for Middleboro by revisiting our now-soured deal with the devil. If we do that we'll have no one but ourselves to blame. Ms. Bingham no longer needs to try to tell us exactly what sort of people we're dealing with. Now we know. The disgraced former tribal chairperson has convicted himself out of his own rascally mouth rather than face a jury of his peers. He will cooperate fully or do serious time. He will tell the federal investigators everything, and omit nothing.

The casino fairy and his magical enterprise were a fever-dream. It's time to wake up. We have to give up the idea that any one enterprise will rescue us in one fell swoop, from the effects of decades-long crisis management and shortsightedness. By all means, we should hope and pray for the best, but the hard, cold reality is that we must arrive at a consensus on how we want our town to propsper, and then be willing to work hard, together, to achieve that common purpose.

To continue to believe in this "easy money" fairy-tale of a mega-destination-resort-whatever (whether reservation or commercial) or that the legalization of class III gambling will cause the Town of Middleboro"get well" fiscally, is to sow the wind. If we continue selfishly and destructively to prey on the weakness of others for our own profit, we will reap what we sow. ...the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.

I may not believe in the tooth fairy, and I'm definitely much too old for Santa Claus, but I do believe in community preservation. I plan to support the CPA. Better the CPA than the IGA. The CPA, to me, is a windmill. Who knows? In an economic whirlwind, windmills just might prove useful.


Bellicose Bumpkin said...

It's wonderful to have you back in the blogsphere - I couldn't argue with anything you've said.

You're point about waking up from this dream is right on. There has been a cost to this casino that we haven't counted yet. How much time and money have we wasted on this endeavor? $200K for Whittlesey, $100K for TMHF at a minimum. The talents and time of dozens of very smart people have been sucked into the vortex of a storm that is not even going to come.

Case in point: After a full year of regional meetings about SouthCoast rail, none of which were attended bya single Middleboro official, we are going into crises-mode at the 11th hour propbably just in time to effect the color of the hand soap in the station rest rom. Too many of our resources have been squandered on the casino. That goes for locals too. Many of us have spent a shocking amount of time studying, opposing, or promoting this issue.

Carl said...

Glad to see you up and posting again. All it takes is a good indictment to get the creative juices flowing, eh. This whole scandal is anything but over. I'm waiting for the second wave of corrupt individuals to receive their papers from Mr. Sullivan. So much for doing a casino the right way.

Nocasino said...

BB makes an excellent point. The money that has been wasted on this project is obscene. That is, I think it is? Since we have yet to see the minutes of the exceutive sessions we really do not know what has gone on behind the scenes by our employees, the BOS and the past town manager.

I wish I was as sure as everyone else seems to be that our BOS and past town manager are not involved in any illegal behavior.

Fool me once, shame on you...

Fiferstone said...

Fife here: Thanks Nocasino, and yes, the time and energy that has been squandered on this fool's enterprise does have my undies in twist. Most infuriating is the fact that this did NOT have to be this all...there were several communities throughout the country who had had the same atrocity visited upon them, and our elected leaders could have spoken to their counterparts there about what the impacts were projected to have been, and what they actually turned out to be. So far as I am aware, such discussions did not take place save for between people who had opposed the project in those communities, and their counterparts here, who oppose the project. Also, there were people who knew more about Marshall than we did, who had good reason to scrutinize his actions closely, and who tried to advise us to look more closely ouselves. One of them was asked "do you have a question?" and then weas told to shut up, when she tried (respectfully and in full accordance with the rules of town meeting) to tell us what she knew. As I said, it's time to stake this undead corpse of an idea and bury it. I prefer to wait until evidence comes to light, before I presume to judge the members of our BOS or other town officials as anything other than tragically misguided, naive and shortsighted. None of those are actionable offenses. We had the opportunity to register our displeasure with their handling of the situation at the last election, and we chose to continue to place our faith in several of those same people despite what we had seen. Our choice. Also, see what Mr. Hendricks has chosen to say, in his first statement since the plea bargain (and so far as I can tell, the charges) became public. The first targets of his ire are "tribespeople" who are damaging the casino plans by speaking to members of the media agains the advice of the tribe's legal counsel. Might these members also be the same people who asked inconvenient questions and were ignored (and even snunned)? Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Please judge them by their actions, and ask yourself if you want your community to be tied indefinitely, to such individuals in a business relationship. If you don't, now is definitely the time to say so.