A couple days ago, I received the following e-mail from Matt Cameron, who identifies himself as General Counsel to the No Eastie Casino group.

In it Mr Cameron makes clear that my speculation was wrong; that the No Casino group was not, as I had opined, at least partly funded by Steve Wynn, whose Everett casino project moves in direct competition to the proposed Suffolk Downs casino. I made the mistake of ascribing some sensible economic motives to a group that moved to stop 4500 local jobs and $ 52 million in Boston mitigation money. It appears that instead, the No Eastie Casino group — or various of its people — acted not just to disapprove an East Boston casino out of a moral objection to casinos in general.

They are certainly entitled to their view. And so is the rest of the City of Boston entitled to its views; and i to mine : I could not dissent more from their view that casinos are BAD. That said, I am reprinting the e-mail that i received albeit leaving out portions that do not speak to the letter’s point. And now to the relevant portions of the e-mail, noting the excisions with the usual … punctuation mark :

“This completely unsupported (and unsupportable) conclusion is deeply offensive to myself, the other members of No Eastie Casino’s core team, and the hundreds of volunteers who sacrificed so much to make this victory possible. We all did this work for exactly the reasons you outlined in your analysis of the “front-line activists” who make up the “NURM” you identified within the same piece–most especially . Quite a few of us went part-time, stopped paying our mortgages and student loans, gave up other opportunities, and spent long nights away from our families to make this happen. No one has promised any of us jobs, money, or any other benefits for what we have done–and continue to do–to keep a casino out of Suffolk County despite being outspent nearly 50 to 1…

“As a registered ballot question committee, No Eastie Casino is required to file a campaign finance report like any other political campaign. Our reports are readily available here:

These reports account for every dollar of our campaign. There were no giant briefcases full of cash or midnight meetings with Steve Wynn in Groucho Marx glasses at Santarpio’s. East Boston did it, and we are fiercely proud of our work.

These reports account for every dollar of our campaign. There were no giant briefcases full of cash or midnight meetings with Steve Wynn in Groucho Marx glasses at Santarpio’s. East Boston did it, and we are fiercely proud of our work.

In a way, I suppose it is a compliment that people like you and Mayor Menino continue to insist that there must have been some other outside money or influence over such a successful campaign, and that those half-wits and illegals over in East Boston couldn’t have possibly gotten out of bed before noon–let alone managed to convince 4281 of their neighbors to vote against one of the most predatory industries in the United States. But it’s getting old.

Your “analysis” of a group of 750 people you have no personal knowledge of and did not take the time to so much as Google reads as an open admission to a reckless disregard for the truth and a cynical slap in the face to the NURMers you have gone out of your way to identify and praise…I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hold you to something approaching basic journalistic ethics. Correct it.

Matt Cameron
General Counsel, No Eastie Casino



^ Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse in Brian Percival’s World war Ii pot-boiler “The Book Thief”

—- —- —

Call me a curmudgeon, but it seems today that all the haute, wild-fire books that are flimsy quick reads, hitting on one or two hot issues and built around a slightly-more-than two-dimensional hero or heroine, have become sure-fire template fodder for profitable spins into film. “Twilight” maybe the most egregious example and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” itself notoriously birthed from the “Twilight” franchise, is one in the making. Then there’s the “Hunger Games.”

What a book about the Holocaust might have to do with this phenomenon may seem far flung or troubling, but Markus Zusak’s novel, which the movie “The Book Thief” is based upon, is little more than a safe PG watering down of the horrific events that took place in Germany leading up to, and during, World War II. It’s more young adult than dramatic literature or historical record. As a matter of fact, it’s not history at all, but historical fiction, another genre, along with YA, rapidly budding and laying fertile ground for studios execs who see a ready and willing-to-pay audience lined up en masse for a cinematic translation of their beloved book.
It’s a lazy and vacant process, but also good business.

That said, the film adaptation of “Thief,” has much in its corner. Brian Percival, the hand behind the hit PBS series “Downton Abbey,” directs ; Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush and Academy Award nominee Emily Watson head the cast. Unfortunately, the material, while earnest, is beneath them. Percival at times seems a bit befuddled by the bombast going on in the bigger world, and it doesn’t help that his ability to string together tight cloistered moments of intimacy, which worked so well in the smaller medium, gets compromised in the grander, more urgent framework.

For all purposes, Western Europe could be Middle Earth and the Nazis orcs, as all are essentially grotesque minions performing their bloody tasks sans remorse and often with a trace of glee. The imperiled heroine driving the plot comes in the pint-sized form of Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a young curly-locked waif embossed with wide wondrous eyes who, on the run with her mother (who’s an accused communist under scrutiny), is turned over to the tart tongued Rosa (Watson) and her reserved husband, Hans (Rush) for foster rearing.

Much of what we learn about Liesel is told to us in ominous voice-overs by Death, who admits he is smitten with the girl as he pays a visit to the fleeing family, aboard a train, to claim her younger brother. Why Death is so infatuated with Liesel is unclear, but our notorious and unseen narrator speaks with avuncular charm as if this were a Christmas tale (voiced by Roger Allam) and calmly assures us with his sagacious omniscience that all is as he says it is; and it’s easily and wholly believable despite the troubling the nature of the source.

The meaning of the film’s title stems from Liesel’s penchant for pinching bound tomes; something ironic initially, because she can’t read and is routinely chided at school for her developmental inadequacy. Early on she nips a gravedigger’s manual, and later pilfers books from the library of a Nazi commandant, whose wife has taken a liking to Liesel. Hans catches onto Liesel’s activity and the pair forge a palpable bond during covert candlelight reading sessions. Rosa too begins to soften from her austere facade, but then the nascent familial unit is challenged when they take in Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jewish refugee whose father saved Hans’s life during the first world war.

Nélisse, who looks something like Emma Watson from her Harry Potter years, handles the burden of the focus well. She’s solidified by (Emily) Watson and Rush who go a long way to cement over the maudlin air-brushing. The film does well to give Liesel complex affections for the older Max and her towheaded classmate, Rudy (Nico Liersch).

In the fantastical distillation of events and atrocities, much of the outside pressure comes from basement sweeps (for Jews) by friends and neighbors now serving the Fuehrer and Brown Shirts who bully the fleet-footed Rudy for idolizing Jesse Owens. The cinematography by Florian Ballhaus (“Devil Wears Prada”) is artistic and opulent, especially the stunningly stark opening sequence as a black train (and later, a black limousine) travels through the snow covered countryside, endlessly pristine and crystalline. The metaphor for innocence and darkness is conspicuously there, but rapturous to behold no matter what.

For what it is — a foot in the door of Ann Frank’s world– “Thief” may pay dividends if it channels young viewers to Wikipedia to review history and fact. Other films that have played loose with the record, “Life is Beautiful” and “Inglorious Basterds,” have done well by deepening the understanding of the horror and inhumanity. “Thief” unfortunately is a heart-string pulling yarn ostensibly spun for the marketplace that employs the world-changing war as a plot driving backdrop. It’s shameless artifice and in that, true meaning is lost.

— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies



^ Walt Michalik of Roslindale : a question that went right to the heart of economic matters

—- —- —

Last night, at Hyde Park Main Streets’s tribute to City Councillor Rob Consalvo — retiring after 12 years service — I ran into an old friend, Walt Michalik, who lives in Roslindale and supported me the one time that I put aside political work for others to become a candidate myself. That was 1986. I had known Walt, and, very early on, as I visited “people of influence” in my “Rozzie” neighborhood seeking support, before I actually made a decision to run, I knocked on his door. (He was, in fact, my first such visit.) Walt was a Democratic activist. He knew that I was a Republican. So he asked me : “what is your opinion of the prevailing wage law ?”

For those who don’t know, the Prevailing Wage law, also known as the Pacheco Law, requires that on all State-funded contracts, the contractor pay his workers, whether they are union members or not, the same hourly amount that prevails in union-labor contracts. It wasn’t a law that I had thought much about and wasn’t something that I had planned to base my candidacy upon. So I didn’t answer Walter right away. But I knew a lot of ironworkers well, and I knew that they spent their big paychecks and thus brought a lot of prosperity to a lot of businesses. So an answer came to me :

“You know what, Walter ? I don’t see how taking money out of the pockets of workers helps the economy.”

Walter shook my hand, a handshake of solidarity.

Well, that was then. A generation has passed; and the answer that I came up with that afternoon opened the door for me to understanding how a democratic economy works — and should work ; it begins with the customer.

1.The less customers a business has, the less it prospers.

2.The less that a person earns (or receives by way of public assistance if that he needs), the less of a customer he can be.

3.An economic policy that impedes worthwhile money from accruing to most people defeats itself.  This axiom is one big reason why I support the welcoming immigration policy that until the past 90 years or so was America’s boon. Every immigrant is a potential customer and this grows the economy. This same axiom is why I support Massachusetts’s impending minimum wage hike. The more that workers earn, the more they can spend.

Quite frankly, the above is my ENTIRE economic policy. All else is commentary and implementation.

One hears the political Right talk about businesses being “job creators.” But businesses CANNOT create ANY jobs unless there are customers for its products or services. The more customers, the more jobs. Angel investors for start-up businesses want to know, first of all, who and how large will be the “market” — i.e., the customers — for that start-up’s offerings. No “angel investor” I have ever presented to requires the business plan to pay workers so little that they need public assistance to make ends met. Just the opposite ; angel investors want the start-up’s workers paid enough that they will stay, not leave, and thus (1) see the venture through to success and (2) avoid the huge costs, in money and time, of hiring and training replacements. I also know no “angel” investor who doesn’t want a start-up’s workers to not have paid sick time. Angel investors know that life is hard enough; a start-up shouldn’t make things harder for its workers than they already are.

Just who, then, does the political right speak for as it pursues “job creator” corporate tax breaks and opposes both workers’ wage hikes and the social safety net ? It doesn’t speak for workers, obviously, and it doesn’t speak for venture capitalists or the management of smart businesses. So who then ?

Speculators figure prominently among those who push this destructive agenda. Stock market funds often push publicly owned companies to cut back everything and anything in search of maximum immediate buy and sell gains. For the sake of purely paper windfalls these money poolers would trouble every other interest in our society. Unhappily, these money pools have drawn to them more and more money that, instead of investing in economic innovation, which bears vast risk and takes long time to accrue, seek sharp-fingered quickie hits; arbitrage — the most economically useless item in the entire money picture.

Even the money-lender has his place in an economy. Yes, he seeks interest on his money and does no work to earn it other than to have it to lend. But the money lender knows that if the borrower doesn’t prosper, he won’t get paid back. Yes, the lender may, if not paid back, claim the borrower’s assets as security; but no money lender wants those assets; he wants his interest and he wants his principal repaid.

For the stock trader, however — the arbitrageur — it;s just the opposoite,. He DOEs wnat that asset. He buys it at current value and dumps it at whatever higher value he can squeeze out of it by whatever means and as soon as possible, even if it means destroying the business and laying off its workers. This is what Bain Capital did, famously, during Mitt Romney’s partnership there and was a major reason why his candidacy for senator in 1994 earned the enmity of a majority of voters.

Not all stock buyers and hedge funders pursue a strategy of profit by desruction. Many investors buy in or the long term — and the huge success of a long term investment, wisely chosen, says all that needs be said : look at Warren Buffett, who has become a multi- billionaire by buying and holding, forever it seems, well chosen businesses whose management he supports and whose growth — in the classic economic manner I have outlined — he encourages. But for every dollar invested with the Warren Buffett sort of investor, 1000 dollars are invested these days with swift destroyers.

It is difficult to conceive legislation that will curb the economics of profit through destruction, that will not also limit the free movement of capital to positive purposes. But we are not helpless as a society to limit the impact of arbitrage money. We can impose a strong societal disapproval upon those who would profit by hurting all who stand in profit’s way. We can continue to angel-fund innovation businesses and support their entrepreneurs — and approve them socially too, social approval being one of a society’s strongest ways of policing good works and bads. At the same time, we can make it quite clear that he who would take money out of the pockets of workers lies beyond the pale of approval.

You don’t have to be a Wal-mart. You can be a Costco. It is an outrage that we allow low-wage employers to leave their staff no choice but to need taxpayer dollars in order to make ends meet. It’s also a no-growth policy, maybe even a recession policy. It is stupid. And immoral.

So how do we fight this stupidity ? Simple. It really does start with the question that Walt Michalik asked of me on a February afternoon 27 years ago.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere