The Environment Should Be a Factor in Siting a Casino in Eastern Mass.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's still early in the race to license three casinos in Massachusetts, but Suffolk Downs in East Boston seems to have the momentum needed to gain the one big prize available in the eastern part of the state. It holds the favored position despite the glaring downsides to a casino in that spot.

Let us count some of the ways that the old racetrack on the Boston-Revere line doesn't fit the bill for a large, resort-style casino:

One, it's out of the way and hard to get to. From downtown Boston, you have to drive there on Route C-1 or take the MBTA's Blue Line. Thanks to the role C-1 plays in servicing Logan Airport, traffic is already backed up in that area for hours on many days. It can only get worse when thousands of gamblers enter the mix, every day and night.

Two, it has no synergy with the convention center, the hotels, the restaurants, the clubs and the other attractions of downtown Boston. People will not go to Suffolk Downs as part of some other activity or reason to be in Boston, such as attending a convention, visiting the city's historical sites, or going out on the town for the night.

Three, a casino at Suffolk will add to existing congestion in three communities that are densely settled and already very busy: East Boston, Revere and Winthrop. It will thus make life harder for the hard-working folks of generally average (or lower) means who have lived there, worked there, and built those communities for generations.

Four, if horse racing is going to die a natural death in eastern Massachusetts without a rescue from the casino industry, as appears inevitable, talk of a casino at Suffolk forestalls a larger, more important discussion about the best way to reuse the racetrack. It could be argued, for example, that creating more housing in Boston is a higher priority than licensing a casino, and that a transit-oriented housing development is a better way to go, long-term, because the site adjoins the Blue Line, and because the line's Suffolk Downs station could easily accommodate the folks residing in a new "commuter village" there.

To this list we can legitimately add environmental concerns.

In an opinion piece published yesterday (2/22/12) in the Boston Globe, ("The state of green. Patrick has a good track on environment, but there is still a lot of work to be done"), former state senator George Bachrach, now president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, nailed this point when he said:

"Casinos are now on center stage. We need economic development and jobs. The question is where? Foxwoods was built in the middle of nowhere, in the Connecticut countryside. Forty thousand cars a day make the pilgrimage, adding to our pollution. When Massachusetts builds casinos, they must be accessible to an existing infrastructure without putting endless cars on parade, poisoning the air we breathe and despoiling the open spaces we value."

Where in eastern Massachusetts is the most accessible existing infrastructure for a casino? Only in downtown Boston -- and especially near South Station and the convention center. You could get to a casino there by plane, train, bus, car and boat, and you could easily walk to that casino from several excellent, large hotels already operating in that area.

But no one's talking about a downtown casino. All we hear about is Suffolk Downs.

It's still early in the race, though.

Read the entire Bachrach piece at:

Some Random Thoughts on a Warm Friday Before Presidents Day

Friday, February 17, 2012

There must be something a little crazy about a 50-degree day in February, something that brings out the Andy Rooney in me, that makes me think the blogosphere is in need of my random observations and pronouncements:
  • Back in January, Denise Andrews, a freshman state rep from the town of Orange, went to the podium during a formal House session expressly to complain that so many of her colleagues were chatting among themselves during the debate on an education collaborative reform bill that no one could hear what was being said. "We wonder in today's society why in the classroom teachers are not listened to," Andrews lamented. "Yet, we sit here on Beacon Hill and do not listen to each other." Her point was driven home later when State House News Service reporter Colleen Quinn asked several legislators what they thought of Andrews's complaint. Each replied that he had been unable to hear her because there was so much noise in the House at the time, so they could not comment on what she said.
  • Young Joe Kennedy the Third heard enough during his recent listening tour of the Fourth Massachusetts Congressional District to persuade him he had to run for Barney Frank's seat. I've never kept score on these listening tours, but I can't recall anyone completing one and announcing he could find no good reason to run and was swearing off the idea of ever seeking elective office. I should go on a listening tour simply to capture the distinction of being the first "tourist" to declare, "I ain't running. The people don't want me." (Trust me, they would not.)
  • Nurses are pushing once again for a mandatory staffing bill, meaning the ratio of nurses to patients in hospitals would be set by law. In previous sessions, bills like this have been enacted in the House, only to die in the Senate. When opposing these bills, hospital administrators always say they need flexibility when making staffing decisions, which may be true. (It's also better than saying their institutions cannot afford to pay for the ideal number of nurses on a patient floor and, besides, the public is not willing to pay for the highest and best levels of nursing care.) As the son of a registered nurse, (one of the best ever, she was), I can't help but believe that, if most front-line nurses in Massachusetts are convinced that mandatory staff ratios are needed to ensure good, safe, thorough care, this bill should pass.
  • I was glad to hear that Boston Mayor Tom Menino has dropped the idea of building a new city hall in South Boston. (He told WBZ radio in January, "I have no plans at this time to move city hall down to the waterfront.") It's not that I want to preserve the unique but stubbornly inhumane edifice in Government Center. I just think it's neat that the State House, the old State House, City Hall, and the old City Hall are all within a short walk of one another in downtown Boston. Convenient, yes, but more important is the statement it makes that the business of Boston is fundamentally governmental. We see a concentration of action there that explains the pulse of our capital city, a small metropolis powered by a big political heart. Yank city hall from the center of Boston and you damage the body politic in unexpected ways.
  • With a smile, I noted that a voter interviewed in New Hampshire by the New York Times before the presidential primary said he was going to vote for Romney because Mitt and his sons had once rescued a family whose boat was sinking on Lake Winnipesaukee, several hundred feet from the Romney's lake-front home. "It tells me he (Romney) would get done what needs to be done at any moment," said Harry Spain, age 85, of Belmont, N.H. I laughed not because Spain was unfairly crediting Romney -- the rescue story is true, and it reflects well on Mitt and those perfect boys of his -- but rather because it reminded me that the rescue had taken place late on a Sunday afternoon at a time when Romney was serving as governor of Massachusetts, and that many people at the State House subsequently marveled at Romney's ability to perform such deeds after a weekend of summer fun and relaxation. As one wag on The Hill put it at the time, "You gotta give it to Mitt. Most people in this building would have been in no shape to rescue anybody after a weekend of partying at the lake. That's when it pays to be a Mormon."
  • It's been known for a very long time that it's better for elderly folks to stay in their homes, and receive care in their homes if they need it, than to go into nursing homes, where the care can get expensive and impersonal. That's why freshman Quincy rep Tackey Chan, who was the star of the staff of former State Senator Michael Morrissey before running for office himself, deserves high praise for a bill he's filed, An Act to Provide an Income Tax Exemption for Families Caring for Their Elderly Relatives at Home, which is now before the Joint Committee on Children and Families. Anybody caring full time for an elderly relative deserves a tax cut. They're saving the health care system a bundle.
  • Sure every city and town official in Massachusetts is happy now to be saving shovelfuls of money on snow removal during this eerily warm and snowless and rainless winter. But these are some of the same folks who'll be telling us in August we have to support tax overrides to pay for drilling new municipal wells because aquifers were not replenished by the usual winter precipitation.
Sorry. I feel better now.

Newly Released JFK Recordings Bring to Mind the Involvement of Torby Macdonald

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The recent release of audio recordings made in the Kennedy White House jogged my memory about a story I heard one night many years ago in Malden about Torbert H. Macdonald, Harvard football star, World War II naval hero, lawyer, spouse of a Hollywood starlet, Congressman, and lifelong friend of JFK. It was a tale hinting strongly of intrigue and uncertainty at one of the early, critical junctures of the war in Vietnam.

On January 24, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston declassified and released to the public the final 45 hours of White House recordings that the president secretly made of meetings in the Oval Office. The batch included a conversation the president had on September 10, 1963, with Army General Victor Krulak and Joseph Mendenhall, an advisor to the State Department, regarding a fact-finding visit they had made to Vietnam at the behest of the president.

Kennedy was perplexed that two intelligent men had come back with such different impressions of one country. The war against the Viet Cong, the general said, "will be won (by the United States) if the current U.S. military and sociological programs are pursued." But the man from the State Department wasn't buying it. "The people I talked to in the (South Vietnam) government," Mendenhall said, "when I asked them about the war against the VC (Viet Cong), they said that is secondary now -- (that) our first concern is, in effect, in a war with the (allied) regime here in Saigon. There are increasing reports in Saigon and Hue, as well, that students are talking of moving over to the Viet Cong side."

After a pause, the president asked, "You both went to the same country?" There was nervous laughter, then Kennedy said, "I mean, how is (it) that you get such different -- This is not a new thing. This is what we've been dealing with for three weeks. On the one hand, you get the military saying the war is going better and, on the other hand, you get the political (opinion), with its 'deterioration is affecting the military'...What is the reason for the difference? I'd like to have an explanation what the reason is for the difference."

In the fall of 1963, there was growing disenchantment in the Kennedy administration with the president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, and with the influence exerted by Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, and Nhu's imperious wife, "Madame Nhu," on the affairs of their war-enfeebled nation. Our ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, was pressuring Diem behind the scenes to banish his brother and sister-in-law from the government. And according to secret State Department cables that were made public years later, President Kennedy's doubts about Diem's reliability as an ally in the war against the communists were so great that he was ready to explore the establishment of an alternative government in South Vietnam.

On November 1, 1963, six weeks after Kennedy's Oval Office colloquy with Krulak and Mendenhall, and three weeks before Kennedy would be killed in Dallas, there was a coup in South Vietnam. Both Diems were killed. Madame Nhu was sent into exile. To this day, the supposition persists that the Kennedy administration supported the overthrow of the Diem regime, actively or tacitly.

In the late-1970s, I was a reporter at the Malden (MA) Evening News, covering city government. My attendance at all meetings of the City Council and its various committees was required. At that time, Joseph Croken was the Malden City Clerk, meaning he took care of all of the Council's paperwork, helped run the Council meetings, and maintained all Council records. Previously, Croken had been the top aide to Torby Macdonald during Macdonald's 22 years in the U.S. Congress as the representative from the Seventh Massachusetts District (1954-76). Macdonald served until his death in the spring of 1976 at the age of 58.

One night, close to 10 o'clock, after a particularly long and drawn-out City Council meeting, Croken told me that Macdonald had traveled to Vietnam just before the coup against the Diems. I cannot remember the date, or even the year, when I heard this from him, and I have only a vague memory of the story having been prompted by some matter concerning local Vietnam veterans that was a topic of discussion at that night's Council meeting.

I had followed Croken to his office across from the Council chamber to photocopy a document in his possession, and as I was copying, we somehow we got talking about the war. "You know, Torby went to Vietnam not long before the president died," Croken said. "I was never sure why he went. He said very little to me about the trip. I always thought maybe he'd been sent there by the president on sort of a personal diplomatic mission."

"Wouldn't that have been around the time the Diems were killed in that coup?" I asked.

"That's right," Croken said.

"Do you think he (Torby) could have been checking things out in Saigon for the president, maybe to verify information Kennedy had been given, or was carrying a personal message from the president to someone in the government?"

"It's possible, I guess," Croken said. "Torby, like I said, never talked much about the trip. And before we knew it, the president was dead, Torby was devastated with grief, and the war went on. The thing (the trip) just faded."

If there was a secret at the heart of Macdonald's 1963 trip to Vietnam, it most likely died with him. He was a true friend and confidant of Kennedy's from their freshman year at Harvard, when Kennedy's father, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, insisted that his son room with an athlete because he didn't want his son to become an Ivy League twit, and Kennedy was placed with Macdonald, a handsome and gifted athlete who had grown up in Malden, the son of a renowned high school football coach. They remained close throughout Kennedy's life. Macdonald was an usher, for example, in Kennedy's wedding to Jacqueline Bouvier, and Macdonald would frequently visit with Kennedy at the end of his White House work days. Macdonald, however, was scrupulous about not trading on the fact he was close to the Kennedys.

It is not unreasonable, therefore, to speculate that the president sent Macdonald, who had significant military experience, to Vietnam in order to benefit from his first-hand impressions, and perhaps to help him find his way to the truth through the contradictory reports he was receiving from the State Department and the Pentagon. Any conjecture beyond that gets pretty wild.

Deval Is Always Ready to Road-TestThemes for His Friend Barack

Friday, February 3, 2012

You have to say this about our governor: he's a good man to have in your corner, loyal as hell. Just ask Barack Obama, for whom Deval Patrick travels the country as a surrogate in the president's re-election campaign.

Patrick raised almost $600,000 in 2011 for his "Together" political action committee (PAC), the vehicle he uses to pay for the political missions he goes on for his friend the president. On any given weekend, you may find our governor in California or the Carolinas as the keynote speaker at big campaign fundraising dinners for state Democratic organizations.

Patrick is a polished, warm and inspiring speaker, as the Republicans learned to their chagrin in 2010, so he's good at packing the house wherever he goes. He's a definite commodity for his party.

In a State House News Service report this week on "Together," the PAC's executive director, Alex Goldstein, was quoted as saying he is "extremely appreciative of the generous support we continue to receive. These resources will be critical in the days ahead as the governor continues to engage in the national debate about the future of our country, and the importance of governing with the values of generational responsibility and the politics of conviction as our compass."

Together. Generational responsibility. Politics of conviction as our compass. These are among the key words for Deval Patrick this year, and for Barack Obama as well. View them as foundation stones in the platform of a party preparing for battle with a Mitt Romney whose career was built on the economic principle of "creative destruction."

When you hear Deval Patrick speaking in these terms, as he artfully did in his annual State of the State address on January 23, he is simultaneously beating the drum for two administrations with deep Chicago roots, his own and Obama's. The notes Patrick plays now will be picked up later by Obama and amplified. When the economy is barely out of neutral, where else the can the Democrats take this campaign but "We're all in this together, we're doing our best, and why would you ever think those Republicans will do more for you than we will"? For the Obama political team, that approach has the added attraction of having worked quite well for Patrick in his rough-and-tumble reelection fight with Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill.

Now Patrick didn't write his State of the State address just to warm up the nation's living room for Obama, but it's hard to read excerpts from that speech like the following and not see how well they shore up the particular, difficult position the president now finds himself in:

  • "This is my sixth speech of this kind. In that time, the world has experienced dramatic change and even turmoil. A global economic collapse. Slow job growth. Crumbling infrastructure. Growing inequality. A public craving change. Periods of challenge and uncertainty are not new -- not in Massachusetts and not in history. What defines us is not the challenge, but how we meet it. We remember with gratitude the generations before ours who rose to the challenges of their time and left for us a better Commonwealth. Thanks to them, many of us in this room tonight sit where our parents and grandparents could hardly imagine."

  • "Now we face our test. It is a test for our time and for the future. And while others elsewhere in positions like yours and mine succumb to division and stalemate, we here pulled together and, for the good of the Commonwealth, made hard choices."

  • "We have risen to past challenges -- and we will rise to these -- if we stay true to our values and work together. When we stay true to our values, we make decisions for the good of our future, choices that transcend momentary political convenience. I still believe that our Commonwealth is a community and that we have a stake in each other."

  • "When we work together, when we put aside sound-bite politics and insider games, we can overcome any challenge. I have no doubt about it."

  • "The challenge facing people in doubt about the future of their American Dream and their place in the workforce is ours, too. The challenge facing small businesses and working families struggling with the cost of health care is ours, too. The challenge facing those who fear for their safety and those seeking a way back, successfully, into mainstream life is ours, too. We can meet those challenges if we work together. After all, we are here today because someone did the same for us."

You do not have to accept Mitt Romney's formulation (as I do not) that he is on a quest to "save the soul of America" to appreciate the grand scale of the coming Obama-Romney showdown, which will pit the urban ethos of a dense, immigrant, Democratic stronghold like that of Chicago against the pioneering, fend-for-ourselves, western homesteading ethos like that of Salt Lake City.

Who do you think is more likely to win: Chicago or Salt Lake City?