Archive: December, 2009
The Fix is In, Part One: How casinos hijacked the House of Representatives last night - and intend to do it again tonight.
Last night, the State House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 711, which legalizes tables games at like blackjack and poker at Pennsylvania casinos.
Of course, that's not all it does â not by a long shot: lend me your eyes and ears, readers, and I'll tell you all about it.
Part One: The Great Santoni
Table games have been on the docket for some time. Although they still hadn't been legalized in the state, Governor Rendell included somewhere between $200 and $300 million in projected table game revenues in the state budget.
Which put considerable pressure on the legislature to pass the measure â pressure some members of the legislature and the Governor amped up still more by holding hostage funds allocated for state schools and other institutions.
But the vote on SB711 had been getting delayed, over and over again â perhaps because the votes weren't there, yet â and debate didn't begin until early last week.
But no sooner had debate started, than the debate was cut off by Democratic leaders (generally, Democrats have favored this bill and Republicans have opposed it), who, last Thursday, abruptly vanished from the House floor and left for the weekend.
The reason soon became clear â on Friday evening, the House intranet revealed a new amendement to SB711, introduced by Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni.
It was an omnibus amendment, combining elements of other proposed amendments and a slew of clauses of mysterious origin. One important clause ensured that this amendment obliterated and replaced all previous amendments.
In other words, it wasn't just an amendment to the bill - it was the bill itself.
In fact, Santoni introduced not just one but four such bills - almost identical, but containing tiny differences that made it necessary for any critical legislator to read not just 130 pages of amendments in two days, but quadruple that number.
Nonetheless, when debate began Monday afternoon, legislators had identified all sorts of questionable provisions in the bill.
It's important to remember that table games were never expected to bring in much money: $200-$300 million isn't much next to the state budget. So why the hard push to get this legislation passed?
One answer may be that while it doesn't do much for state coffers, the bill is the realization of all sorts of favors - unrelated to table games, in many cases â to both the casinos and the loyal legislators who do their bidding.
Here are a few examples:
- The bill levies a tax of only 14% on table game revenues â compared with 55% for slot machines. A license to operate table games would cost only $16 million â despite studies presented to the House which suggested that such licenses might be worth more than $50 million.
Why tax table games at such a low rate - especially since legalized gambling is supposed to be a means of raising revenue for the state? Representative Paul Clymer, long opposed to the expansino of gambling in Pennsylvania, points out that these figures - the 14% and $16 million â are familiar: they're the same figures suggested by the Innovation Group, a consulting firm tied to the gaming industry.
""You can see the voice and face of the casinosâ influence in this legislation â they know what they want,â Clymer said on the House floor. "We're giving these licenses away."
- Although gambling has been billed as property tax relief, the bill pays money first into a state "rainy day" fund, which might not fill for several years. Only then would the revenues g to property tax relief.
The bill does, however, contains sundry earmarks for pet projects and unnamed entities around the state. Representative Mike Turzai read aloud form a list compiled by his staff on Monday night. It included community colleges, tiny municipalities, a particular medical school (on whose board sits Louis DeNaples, indicted last year for allegedly lying about mafia ties to get a casino license; he was cleared when he agreed to cede the business to his daughter).
See a list of the earmarks compiled by the Commonwealth Foundation.
None of these pet projects are necessarily bad - but they're almost certainly a favor to someone, for something: very possibly to the Democrats kind enough to get behind Santoni's amendment.
- The bill contains a provision that would allow Foxwoods to extend its license beyond the deadline currently provided for in state law. Why would such a favor be extended to Foxwoods, which has been so far unable to get the financing to open up shop on the waterfront?
- The bill allows casinos to extend credit to patrons â a practice that was explicitly banned in Act 71, the original gaming law (passed in the middle of the night with no debate) that brought slots to Pennsylvania. The gaming industry has argued that credit lines are necessary to making table games work â why, then, does this bill allow the casinos to extend credit to slots players as well?
The granting of credeit by casinos allows the casinos to pursue their money beyond the walls of the casino â as evidenced by cases in Connecticut, where Foxwoods has taken out liens against debtors and pursued their debts in court.
All these provisions and many, many more â some of which we won't find out about until later, undoubtedly â had been rolled into one big, fat amendment at the last minute by Representative Dante Santoni.
It was a risky move, in a way: Santoni had alienated some Democrats with his bill. But the calculation was clear: Santoni figured he - and his unknown collaborators - had worked enough favors into the bill to please enough Democrats to pass the thing.
And it worked.
Next post: how the Santoni amendment was passed, and how further amendments aimed at protecting gamblers were derailed by an 88-year-old man and an obscure parliamentary maneuver -- and what it all means for us, tonight.
This holiday season, I received many holiday wishes:
George Hamilton is hoping for a gift card to Hollywood Tans in his stocking.
Beautiful Woman is hoping for lots of new customers at Cheerleaders Gentleman's Club.
Ben Franklin wants lots of new children to visit his giant statue at the Franklin Institute.
Pete Pryor wishes for the sounds of thunderous applause in Theatre Exile's "Any Given Monday."
Cupcake Man is hoping to find a good home after he leaves Cream and Sugar.
Help us make some half-priced holiday miracles come true by visiting HalfOffDepot.Com/Philly
Win tickets to see Davy Knowles & Back Door Slam for this New Year's Eve at the World Cafe.
Philly humanists to celebrate something that kinda, sorta coincides with Christmas, but does not involve God or the baby Jesus
Hot off the press release wire:
No God?...No Problem!" Some ask what do non-believers celebrate?
President of the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia, Joe Fox, recalls attending a Humanist conference in Phoenix "Humanicon" in 04 and reading a headline in a newspaper "Non Believers gather at a Humanist conference". Fox was offended by the headline. "My Humanist life-stance has many beliefs including good morals, values and ethics, but belief in a God is not one of them", said Fox. So what do Fox and many other Humanists celebrate during the holiday season? HumanLight, a humanist winter holiday, celebrated on or about December 23. It is a time for celebration and community for those who wish to affirm the positive values of humanism during the time period of the "traditionalâ winter holidays.
"Humanist families enjoy the holiday season in many of the same ways that other people do,â said Fox, father of two. "Many people are under the false assumption that humanists are a bunch of Scrooges who don't celebrate the winter holidays, but actually, we humanists appreciate and enjoy the season in ways that reflect and promote the humanist values of reason, hope, community, and compassion."
"Because humanists shy away from rigid rituals, the specific elements of HumanLight celebrations will differ from region to region, and even year to year," continued Fox. "But they often include a meal with friends and family, dance, song, gift exchange, and short talks, discussions, or readings. Some aspects are similar to religious observances while others are different."
"In 2001 humanists in New Jersey inaugurated HumanLight as a specifically humanist observance. Since then it has spread to dozens of cities around the United States.â
Joe Foxâs chapter, the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia (HAGP), celebrates HumanLight this year on Sunday, December 20th, from 12:30-4pm at the Williamson Restaurant in Horsham, PA. Festivities include Wondergyâs "CoolScienceâ, an interactive family program fit for the season which explores how things freeze; live music from the band Letters From June; and keynote speaker Jennifer Michael Hecht, a historian and award winning poet whose best selling books include Doubt: A History and The Happiness Myth. HAGP co-sponsors this celebration with the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia.
A listing with HAGPâs and many more of this year's celebrations along with much more information can be found at the HumanLight website at http://www.humanlight.org/.
What Tiger Woods has done make a laughing stock out of his marriage, his squeaky clean image, the idea of upwardly mobile infidelity, an illustrious sporting career has gone from bad to ridiculous in the weeks since its first gossipy announcement. No doubt about it. He ainât good and he ainât smart. But something got me thinking about Woods decision to take a step back from the game he made so powerful, so alive golf, not sport-fucking. That something is Chris Brown.
How can you live in a world where Tiger Woods is embarrassed (and rightfully so) enough so that he feels he has to leave the sport heâs excelled at and made better and more gigantic in his wake YET Chris Brown gets to punch a woman in the face, bite her ear, Twitter-bitch about the condemnation heâs received (see below) AND continue on blindly and unapologetically with his career, including recording and releasing CDs (Graffiti) AND sell out shows like last nightâs gig at Electric Factory? After thinking about this dilemma all weekend I couldnât even make myself want to see Brown last night, curiosity or not. Todayâs report doesnât help me feel better about the woman beater.
Tiger all is not necessarily forgiven yet. But use a golf analogy and play through. If Brown doesnât have to leave, you certainly donât.
This bit from this morning's NY Daily News' Gatecrasher column further illustrates Brown's boneheadedness:
The scorned singer had a meltdown on Saturday after he visited a Walmart in Wallingford, Conn., that didn't carry his new CD, Graffiti.
"im tired of this s--t. major stores r blackballing my cd. not stockin the shelves and lying to costumers," he ranted on Twitter while at the store. "what the f--- do i gotta do...WTF... yeah i said it and i aint retracting s***. im not biting my tongue about s else... the industry can kiss my a--."
Brown, who supposedly has curbed his emotional tirades since his altercation with Rihanna last February, had visited Walmart after several of his fans used Twitter to inform him that stores were refusing to carry his CD.
"They didn't even have my album in the back," Brown spit of the Walmart. "not on shelves, saw for myself. the manager told me that when there are new releases its mandatory to put em on the shelves.. BUT NO SIGN OF GRAFFITI."
And it looks like Brown will be near tears if he comes looking for his CD in New York City, too: Popular music stores including Colony, Bleeker Music Store and Other Music Incorporated have confirmed they are not selling Brown's album.
A salesperson at Bleeker Music replied to our query with an emphatic "Hell, no."
Although bigger chains in New York City like Kmart and Best Buy do have "Graffiti" in stock, it doesn't seem to be helping sales much: estimates out over the weekend report the album hasn't sold more than 100,000 copies in its first week - a dismal number compared to sales of his second album, "Exclusive," which sold over 295,000.
We wonder how Brown will react to that news.
Department of Didn't See That Coming: The Phils, as per Sports Illustrated, appear to be in the process of a deal which would bring Toronto ace Roy Halladay to the Phils (which has been long and widely speculated) and possibly send Cliff Lee to Seattle (which would the shocker/bummer here). The rumored deal would also include Halladay signing a contract extension, which would take some of the sting out of losing Lee.
So Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut for Lieberman, Conn. seriously) has decided that this compromise of a compromise of a compromise of a public option will not be suiting him, no sir. Even though he supported this exact same goddamn thing just a few months ago, as an alternative to a real public option. Check it:
In the vid, Lieberman appeared to go further than the current Senate deal, which would expand Medicare to those aged 55-64, saying he supported the idea of expanding it to people aged 50 and over. Lieberman referenced his proposal along these lines during the 2006 campaign, and added:
"My proposals were to basically expand the existing successful public health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaidâ¦
"When it came to Medicare I was very focused on a group post 50, maybe more like post 55. People who have retired early, or unfortunately have been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and theyâre too young to qualify for Medicare.
"What I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare early and again on the premise that that would be less expensive than the enormous cost. If youâre 55 or 60 and youâre without health insurance and you go in to try to buy it, because youâre older â¦ youâre rated as a risk so you pay a lot of money.â
And even though he stumped for it in 2000, as a veep candidate. And even though, a week ago, he told Democratic senators that he supported it. And even though this plan, milquetoast as it is, has yet to be scored by the CBO. And even though Lieberman promised his constituents in 2006 that he would fully support the Democratsâ universal health care agenda And even though Lieberman has been caught lying about how much the various health plans would cost.
This is, as columnist David Faris pointed out last week, the sad state of affairs in which we find ourselves, in which one petty man with a grudge against the progressives who nearly threw his ass out on the street a few years back can derail the reform that millions of Americans have sought for decades, to settle a score. It's bad enough that the White House has to grovel before the likes of Olivia Snowe to nudge the ball forward; itâs worse that this sniveling prick, this unprincipled wretch of a human being, will probably get what he wants.
The White House doesnât seem to have much of an appetite to use reconciliation to get health care reform through the Senate. And efforts to ameliorate the role of the filibuster havenât gathered much steam (although, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa is toying with the idea of eliminating it altogether, which seems like a better idea before you consider the words "President Sarah Palinâ â¦ shudder).
So now what? I'd love to see the Dems boot this little leech from their caucus, strip him of all his seniority and committees and make him run as a Republican in 2012 after a few years as a nothing backbencher in the Senate. Itâs high time to kneecap the bully. But I donât get the feeling that dish is on the menu.
It's Our Money features an excellent report today by Kirstin Lindermayer on the prevalence of random library closings around the city:
On any given day this year, one or more branches of the 54-branch Free Library of Philadelphia have been closed unexpectedly due to staff shortages.
The daily closings have increased significantly since September, ranging from four to seven branches on most days. Ten branches closed or reduced their hours unexpectedly Dec. 3, for example.
Are we surprised? We are not. (Are we speaking in the first person plural for some reason? We are!)
Not surprised, because we saw this coming long ago: the moment, in fact, Mayor Nutter announced that all eleven libraries would remain open â but didn't give the Library back the money he had already cut anticipating the closings! (A move I dubbed the Nutter Special in a recent column).
That's not the only thing he didn't give back: even while librarians waited in ever-mounting fear for the pink slips that the mayor assured were on their way, he was already gutting libraries of their security staff.
Library guards, if you recall, were transferred to city prisons.
When the mayor did an about face and declared the system open for business, with no closures, those guards were already gone â a problem which, almost a year later, hasn't been rectified.
In addition to shrinking staff numbers, new regulations instituted in February require a library branch to have four workers, including one security guard, in order to open. But the system hasn't had enough guards to meet this requirement for months, partly because 11 guards were transferred to other city duties last December. The library replaced them with contract guards but money for that has run out.
Likewise, lower-level administrators â the people who check out your books for you, etc. â were transferred to 311: which was, of course, the mayor's pet project.
My colleague Doron Taussig presents the situation astutely:
You have to wonder whether it makes sense to stick to a five-day schedule, given these circumstances. And if you want to be a little cynical, you have to wonder whether the city isn't sticking to the schedule simply so it can say the libraries are open five days a week ... even though they're not, really.
Mayor Nutter ought to either restore the funding he took away, or be responsible enough to close some branches, even one branch, if he intends not to pay enough for the current system to work properly.
Or maybe there's another solution, I don't know: I'm not the mayor.
But Nutter is, and he'd better do something.
What We've Found: PA courts investigation, U.S. hikers tried as spies in Iran, climate change a U.S. security threat, tensions high at Copenhagen and Rutgers food-donation effort backfires
Julia Harte with your morning fix.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee will investigate Pennsylvania courts, following charges that cases are routinely dismissed too early, witnesses are intimidated and convictions are rarely made, Senator Arlen Specter declared over the weekend.
The Iranian judiciary announced a trial based on espionage charges against three American hikers who were detained by Iranian forces when they inadvertently strayed across its northern border with Iraq.
Climate change will be one of the security threats included in the U.S. Defense Department's 2010 review of its highest priorities, following the October establishment of a new Center for Climate Change Study at the Central Intelligence Agency.
Tensions were high at the climate change conference in Copenhagen, where representatives from developing countries threatened to leave on the grounds that the conference would result in a plan wherein they'd be forced to place unfair restrictions on their own emissions.
An effort by Rutgers students to donate leftovers from their meal-plans to a soup kitchen in New Brunswick backfired when university administrators prohibited the practice and the soup kitchen personnel refused to distribute the food because they couldn't vouch for its safety.
Caught this little slice of life on the Atlantic this morning, an interview with a prostitute in South Philly. Princess, as she's called, got laid off from her job as an office manager and has been unable to find work since, so, in her words, "I's opening my pussy for business." Her two kids, the story tells us, know what she does for a living, as does her approving father. For what it's worth, I'm sort of conflicted on the issue of prostitution: On the one hand, I'm of a libertarian bent on most social issues; what consenting adults do, no matter the arrangement between them, is none of our business. On the other, the prostitution industry carries with it an almost inherent exploitation of women.
Princess, meanwhile, adamantly defends her chosen profession:
"I cause pleasure. I provide a service that brings people pleasure. I won't service married men or women, men of the cloth. See even hos got rules of morality," she laughs. "But seriously, I can understand why people who been brought up one way think it's immoral. I don't understand why it's illegal. With our government needing money, I wish I could pay taxes."
Curious to know what you Cloggers think.
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