The Casino Question: Round and Round She Goes
The people of Revere have spoken—again. And yes, they really do want a casino.
Last week, voters in that North Shore community approved Mohegan Sun’s $1.3 billion casino proposal for Suffolk Downs racetrack by a firm 63 percent. This was the second time Revere voters OK’d a casino; back in November, they approved a project that would have straddled the border between Revere and East Boston. East Boston voters, however, rejected the plan, sending casino backers into a retrench. In the end, the project was shifted a few hundred yards to fit entirely within Revere, and the Mass Gaming Commission agreed to allow the matter to come to another vote.
Suffolk Downs wasn’t the only entity granted a new lease on life by last week’s results. Mohegan Sun, whose plan for a Palmer casino was rejected by voters there in November, now lives to fight another day for the sole Eastern Mass. casino license. Later this spring, the Gaming Commission will decide whether to grant that license to Mohegan Sun or Wynn Resorts, which has proposed a casino in Everett. (Meanwhile, Western Mass., once a hotbed of casino activity, is now down to one applicant: MGM, which wants to build in Springfield’s South End.)
Complicating matters, though, is the recent announcement by Northeast Realty, owner of the property in Palmer once targeted for a casino, that it is suing its one-time partner Mohegan Sun. The lawsuit charges that the casino company violated an agreement with Northeast Realty by entering into secret negotiations with Suffolk Downs even before the November Palmer vote. It also suggests that Mohegan Sun in essence threw the Palmer election so it would be free to pursue the Suffolk Downs project, a claim Mohegan Sun has denied. The lawsuit asks the court to block Mohegan’s bid for the eastern casino license.
That case notwithstanding, last week’s results in Revere end a losing streak for casino interests; in addition to Palmer and East Boston, voters in West Springfield and Milford also rejected casino proposals in recent months. The Revere win also offers a bit of respite from a string of embarrassments that have plagued the casino selection process of late.
There was, for instance, Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby’s disclosure, late last year, that Paul Lohnes, the owner of the Everett property where Wynn would build its casino, is a former business partner of his. While Crosby received clearance from the state Ethics Commission to vote on the Eastern Mass. casino license anyway, Caesars Entertainment has sued the MGC, saying Crosby’s ties to Lohnes resulted in the company’s being treated unfairly in the license process. Caesars had been Suffolk Downs’ original choice for a casino partner, until the racetrack dropped the company last fall over concerns that it wouldn’t pass the MGC’s screening process. In its lawsuit, Caesars says it received unfairly stringent scrutiny from Crosby to advance Lohnes’ project in Everett.
More recently, the Gaming Commission came under fire for its “lavish” spending, in the words of a report by the Boston Business Journal, on things like meals, parking, hotels and airfare. The report detailed such questionable expenses as a $110 wine bar tab and a $422 limousine bill. In its defense, the MGC has said that the bulk of its costs are not picked up by taxpayers, but rather by the casino companies vying for the licenses it will grant.
Meanwhile, another pending legal action could be the biggest game changer of all: This spring, the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court will rule on whether a proposed 2014 ballot question to repeal the state’s casino law can go forward. Last year, Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Martha Coakley rejected the ballot question as unconstitutional. Casino opponents, organized as Repeal the Casino Deal, have challenged that ruling, taking it to the state’s highest court. (See “Casinos in Court,” Dec. 10, 2013, www.valleyadvocate.com.)•
That’s Not a Puddle, It’s a Pothole
Winter is icumen in/Lhude sing Goddamm/Raineth drop and staineth slop/And how the wind doth ramm!
But Ezra Pound, who offered this parody of an ancient song about summer, didn’t mention winter’s latest blow to Valley residents: potholes.
Have we got potholes!
In Easthampton, five tires went flat on police cruisers during the weekend of Feb. 22 because of potholes. In Springfield, MassLive is inviting people all over the Valley to send in photos of the most outrageous craters in the roads and offering to send the pictures to the “powers that be.”
The tricky thing about the potholes last week was, as Greenfield Department of Public Works director Art Baker explained to the Advocate, “You couldn’t see them because they were covered with water.” People would drive into what they thought were puddles, he explained, but beneath the water were rim-bending pits.
So is this winter really worse than usual, or what? Said Baker, “It’s the constant freeze and thaw effect. It started in January and prompted the potholes to get started early.”
Public Works director Jim Mulvenna in Westfield agreed. “They normally don’t come this early in the season,” he said “We did have a little melting in January that got the water into these cracks.”
But there’s more to it than the weather, Baker said. During the last two years, Chapter 90 funding—the money that pays for basic road repairs—has remained level at $200 million annually, an amount the Massachusetts Municipal Association says is not enough to keep the state’s roads maintained. On January 19 the MMA, at the behest of local officials, wrote the state Department of Transportation urging that Chapter 90 be funded at $300 million a year.
With the money they have now, Baker explained, communities can only patch one pothole at a time, and then the potholes are likely to reappear because what’s really needed is new pavement. “We really need a change in that funding so we could redo whole roads,” he said. “Instead of just cold-patching the holes, we need to permanently fix the road by resurfacing it.”
“Years ago, we used to get quite a bit more money than we get now,” said Mulvenna. “The more money we had, the more we could attack some of these roads that we know are in rough shape. But I think this year we’re seeing potholes where we haven’t seen potholes before.”•
An Evening With the Stars: Frances Crowe and Amy Goodman
It’s lucky that Frances Crowe will be able to come to her birthday party March 11—lucky, that is, that she’s not in jail. On January 15, the Valley’s grande dame of peace and justice activists, who will be 95 March 15, was arrested for trespassing at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant near Brattleboro (did we mention that she’s also an anti-nuclear activist?) She’s been arrested too many times to count, and served time, too.
Crowe, a Northampton resident, began her career as a peace activist by counseling conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War. An enduring theme in her life, especially in her work as a leader of the local American Friends Service Committee, has been helping young people bring their consciences to the fore when deciding whether or not to join the military. Crowe has helped innumerable people find their moral grounding as they confront a world in which constant conflict has almost effaced the distinction between wartime and peace, and human concerns come second to the dictates of power and money. In addition to her work with the AFSC, she was active in the founding of Traprock Peace Center (Deerfield), the Committee to End Apartheid (Springfield), and the Valley Peace Center (Amherst), among other organizations.
The gathering to be held at UMass-Amherst March 11 will bring Crowe together with her friend Amy Goodman, the fearless, indefatigable reporter whose name is synonymous with her radio program, Democracy Now. Among the prizes Goodman has won is the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.” The Right Livelihood Award Foundation called Goodman’s body of in-depth investigative reporting “an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.” Also on hand will be Mike Burke, senior news producer for Democracy Now, who is a UMass alumnus and a former reporter for the Greenfield Recorder and the now-defunct Springfield Union.
According to the event’s hosts at UMass radio station WMUA, “Amy will be interviewing Frances and WMUA will be interviewing Mike.” A talk by Goodman is also on the program. The event, which will be broadcast live from WMUA, is free and open to the public. Bowker Auditorium, 100 Holdsworth Way, UMass-Amherst, 7 p.m. March 11.• —SK
A Food Co-op for Holyoke?
Cynthia Espinosa has worked on the issue of food insecurity in Holyoke for a number of years, including during her time as manager of the farm program at Nuestras Raices. So she was intrigued when a proposal emerged to start a café and green grocer’s in the city’s Farr Mansion, a historic property on Appleton Street that had fallen into disrepair.
In the end, the market and café didn’t materialize; the Holyoke YMCA, which had bought the building in 2011, rejected the plan, opting instead to raze it to create a parking lot. While that decision disappointed neighbors and preservationists who hoped to see the mansion saved, Espinosa was eager to see momentum for a market continue. “I just didn’t want people to lose focus on the idea,” she said.
Now she and other residents are working toward the creation of a grocery co-op in downtown Holyoke. Last weekend, the group held a community meeting and potluck dinner to get the ball rolling.
A co-op could fill a number of needs in Holyoke, David Gowler, another organizer, told the Advocate. “Holyoke is a city that needs business development and that needs new employers, that could use some good quality food, could use a market which features produce grown in Holyoke and nearby, and that encourages farmers in Holyoke and nearby by providing another market for them,” he said. The project also fits with the Morse administration’s focus on economic development and job creation, especially in the city’s downtown, he added. (Marcos Marrero, the city’s economic development director, did not return a call for comment by deadline.)
It’s too early to talk about a site for a potential co-op or other specific plans, Gowler said. “The first step is just to gather ideas from the diverse people in Holyoke, from our community, to see what people want and need and think,” he said.
While Gowler brings valuable experience to the project—he’s an employee and former board president at Northampton’s River Valley Co-op, and in 2012 he led a successful drive to form an employee union there—he stressed the importance of that community input. Still, he said, he has some ideas that he’s “prepared to throw into the pile of ideas that we gather from the community.”
For instance, he’d like to see a Holyoke market that’s owned by its workers. “My personal, individual perspective is that the hierarchical management structure is a failed model, and that to really work in a cooperative spirit and work with cooperative values at this point, you need to have a worker-collective model,” he said.
Espinosa hopes to see a market that’s responsive to the diverse groups that make up Holyoke, both in the food it carries and the cultural and community events it hosts. “I would love to see it have culturally appropriate foods for everybody in the city so that no culture feels left out,” she said.
And as an educator—she’s working on a graduate degree in environmental education at Antioch University—Espinosa hopes to help residents see the economic, health and community benefits a co-op could bring to the city. “There’s always this division in Holyoke,” she said. “There are always the ‘isms’; the ‘old and new.’ I don’t see that at all. Let’s move forward. Let’s make Holyoke healthy in any way that we can.”
For more information about the co-op project, contact Espinosa at firstname.lastname@example.org or Gowler at email@example.com. • —MT
Netflix Deal With Comcast May Compromise Net Neutrality
By Ben Lambert
Netflix will reportedly pay Comcast to improve the speed and quality of the streaming service for Netflix movies. The unprecedented deal is a cause for concern to tech analysts and net neutrality activists alike, who worry that it will rewrite the rules that have governed the business of the Internet for years.
Under the agreement, Comcast will directly route Netflix’s traffic to consumers rather than through a third-party company or “backbone” provider. This will improve the speed and smoothness of Netflix’ streaming service for Comcast customers, but represents a change from the traditional Internet model.
Typically, traffic is routed through third-party “backbone” companies which then partner with Internet service providers. This anonymizes Internet traffic—everything the backbone company sends to the ISP is delivered as a bundle, rather than on a site-by-site basis—and ensures “settlement-free peering,” in which companies charge consumers for their services but not each other, as no company has the necessary leverage to do so.
However, because of Comcast’s sheer size—it is currently the nation’s largest internet provider, and recently made a bid to acquire Time Warner Cable, the second largest—it was able to persuade Netflix to pay a fee to connect directly to customers. Analysts worry that this will create market pressure for other Internet companies who don’t want to see their sites load more slowly than their competitors’ to pay ISPs for the privilege of going around backbone providers—a cost they would logically pass on to consumers.
Net neutrality activists are concerned that this creates a precedent for Internet traffic to be treated in various ways instead of being taken as a whole from each backbone provider. Net neutrality would then no longer be the default law of the land, and the FCC—which has faced setbacks in its ability to regulate the Internet since a federal appeals court vacated its 2010 Open Internet rules— may be unable to force companies to abide by the standard.
Taking Up the Cudgels for the Middle Class
“I had to protect people from the people who would beat them up economically.” That’s how former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich defines his life’s mission in the introduction to the film Inequality for All, to be shown at Next Stage in Putney, Vt. March 6. The documentary on the destruction of America’s middle class won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013.
The film, narrated by Reich, tells its story by tracking the lives of families who experienced wrenching downward mobility. Supporting those narratives are solid numbers that track the widening gap between high and low incomes, and other economic data that leave no room for charges that the hardship stories are merely anecdotal.
There’s another message, too: that the economy is socially crafted, hence not mere bad luck but injustice is often responsible for the downward slide of family finances. As Reich told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now after the film was released late last year, “... the economy is not... a state of nature. The economy is a set of rules. It’s based upon, basically, rules that are decided upon by our democracy. And if our rules are generating outcomes that are unfair, that don’t work very well, that don’t spread enough of the gains of economic growth to enough people, we change the rules.” It’s the kind of film that should get us to start calling our congresspeople—or replacing them.
Inequality for All screens at Next Stage, 15 Kimball Hill Road, Putney, Vt. March 6 at 6:30 p.m. (http://nextstagearts.org/ai1ec_event/robert-reich-inequality-for-all/?instance_id=2567). The event is sponsored by Vermont-National Education Association. Admission is free; local legislators will be on hand for a discussion afterward.• —SK