Joe’s Take: 8/28/2014

In search of fresh beginnings …   

bio-pic-newHere in South Jersey we are winding up the most perfect summer of good weather anybody can remember. Long strings of perfect days of sunshine, temperatures in the 70′s and mid-80′s, and just enough rain to keep the grass green and the corn growing. Every weekend has been a shore businessman’s dream, with the TV weathermen and women looking for ways to spice up the delightful monotony of reports that keep repeating  “sunny, warm and getting better”. Hunting up old hurricane footage is the best they can do for now.
Such perfect days breed laziness. Even the squirrels beneath my windowsill are taking their time hiding the food they’ll need next winter. Usually they scurry around,  busily hiding away their supplies to be dug up in February’s snows. They’re doing it now, but are downright lackadaisical about it.

We locals can’t afford such laziness now. When these last few days of summer are gone and the kids are back in school, the casino industry will pull in its belt. Thousands and thousands of our friends and neighbors will be out of work, and no new jobs in sight. The politicians will make speeches and hold meetings, but having set the conditions leading to the coming disaster with their short-sighted policies they can’t be counted on for good answers now the chickens have come home to roost.

For years as the national economy shriveled up informed critics damned the big corporate  executives for what they called “next-quarter priorities,” meaning they directed their companies toward whatever would yield immediate and short-term profits, neglecting the wiser but less sexy investments in tools, product development and worker-retraining that would insure long-term survival. One industry after another eventually paid the price for such foolishness. Detroit lost its leadership in car manufacturing to the Japanese; computer manufacturers here withered while South Korea, China and the “little dragons” of Asia flourished at America’s expense, and the telephone industry lost its lead to smart phones from Samsung and Finland’s Nokia

Now it’s our turn. I don’t blame the casino industry. They have no choice but to chase their market wherever it goes. If the slot players get tired of taking the bus, the casino industry  builds casinos in Philly; if the gambling “whales” want to take their big betting bucks to more exotic ports, they build in Hong Kong or Macao. They don’t care one way or another about Atlantic City, anymore than sharks care where they swim. If you want to survive you have to follow your food supply.    Simple as that.

There is no similar excuse for the politicians. Unlike casino’s the public can’t pick up and move that easily. We have homes; we have kids in school; we have families and friends and neighbors and churches and synagogues that together make up the very roots of our lives.

Protecting all that is what we pay the politicians to do. It’s their job to see the roads are kept in good repair, the Boardwalk planks are replaced, the bridges kept safe and the police and fire departments open and alert. We pay them to think ahead about stuff too big for us to handle individually, like how to encourage the kinds of businesses and activities that create and maintain that core ingredient of civilization, jobs. And this they failed to do. The Congress couldn’t muster the votes to deal right with the coming unemployment, and our state leaders got tangled up in bridge closings and mutual back-stabbing and back-scratching at our expense.

It’s fun to blame them, but it does no good to use our politicians as scapegoats. As Churchill and Kennedy both noted, “If we sit in judgment of the past, we lose the future.” What we need now is new thinking, and new thinkers. Clearly the future does not lie with newer and bigger casino’s. Does anybody think that if we build a casino twice the size of Revel our problems would be solved?
I think it’s time for the non-governmental organizations to step forward. It’s all well and good for Governor Christie to convene a “summit”, but I doubt much will come of it except more talk from politicians about saving the tourist industry because “that’s all we have.” What we need is not empty speeches founded on dead ideas, but exploration of fresh ideas. Let us imagine, for example, that Stockton decided to use its academic reach to set up an open forum based on the assumption that we put the gambling-oriented tourism industry on the back burner and see what else we can come up with. I wouldn’t downplay the importance of going after world-class conventions, like the ever-fascinating TED gatherings where new ideas find their outlook. But it’s not gambling that draws that crowd.

Maybe our future is in the world of high-tech; maybe in medicine; maybe in making drones or researching. Let’s open our minds to the world as it is and can be, rather than trudging along in the rut of old failures.

© 2014 Joseph T. Wilkins

Joe’s Take: Aunt Tess and The Donald…

bio-pic-new“They should start answering their phones with ‘Trump’s Casino. Trump ain’t here,’” she chuckled. The Assisted Living hasn’t slowed Aunt Tess even a little bit. She still gets a kick out of landing one in somebody’s ribs. I was glad I wasn’t today’s target. She got the line from the famous old radio show, “Duffy’s Tavern”, which opened with a growly-voiced bartender answering the phone with “Duffy’s Tavern. Duffy ain’t here.” Tess was right on the money. These days, Trump ain’t here either.

She’s rough on Trump because in her book loyalty is a prized virtue. You don’t make friends and then abandon them when the going gets tough. But loyalty  and “The Donald” don’t fit in the same sentence. Atlantic City’s in trouble and thousands of casino workers are about to get laid off, but The Donald wants out. When there was money to be made he was all over us. But he doesn’t want his name associated with failure after he spent all that time, money and energy convincing the suckers it was a synonym for “success.” Once he was slathering his name all over town. Now he’s suing to get it taken off the aging hulks trapped in Atlantic City’s Sargasso Sea of derelict casinos. If ever there was a case for a consent judgment, this is it, and good riddance.

I give The Donald full credit for creating jobs in town while he was here. Of course, so did Sonya the Madame while she was here and Nucky Johnson before that. Jobs are jobs and always welcome. But the guy who really sized up The Donald was the late Mike Royko, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who greeted Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal” with the quip “How to be worth $30 million. Inherit $60 million and lose half!”

Royko had it right. Fred Trump, The Donald’s old man, reportedly left an estate of $250 million to be divided among his kids when he died a few years ago. But The Donald didn’t have to wait. When one of his casino’s was on the ropes in the 90′s old Fred sent in his lawyer, who bought millions of dollars worth of chips and neither cashed nor gambled them – a quick, no paperwork family loan that raised eyebrows at the Casino Control Commission. They found the transaction was a dodge that violated New Jersey’s casino law and regulations meant to monitor financial transactions and keep the mob out. But it helped The Donald pay the interest on his mortgage and let him continue his masquerade as a successful businessman, no matter how many  Bankruptcy petitions he filed.
No doubt Aunt Tess and I should have more respect for The Donald. Surely there must be somebody not in his Will or on his payroll who likes him. But The Donald doesn’t quite make the cut with Aunt Tess. In her book he ranks somewhere between Daffy Duck and Mr. Peanut.

Nothing personal. I doubt she’s ever met the man. Neither have I, but I’m sure he doesn’t kick his dog or whip the help, although that “Your Fired!” humiliation he dished out on his TV show comes pretty close. Made me wish one of his victims would come over the table and have at him on behalf of self-respecting job applicants everywhere.

“Bad enough to not get the job,” Aunt Tess snorted, “but who needs some rich blowhard throwing it in your face on nationwide television?”
“And what did the guy ever do for Atlantic City that we should want his name on the buildings?” she asked as the waitress brought her favorite Creme Brulee on our monthly lunch date.

I wasn’t about to  defend “The Donald.” I don’t like the Koch Brothers either, but at least they write decent sized checks for charitable stuff. The Donald does it with a lot fewer zeroes just before the decimal point.

“The Smoking Gun” website, ever alert for world class hypocrites, did their homework on Trump’s charitable giving – then dubbed him “the least charitable billionaire”. I’m not talking about the tuxedo and dance floor stuff; he always buys tickets for the gala’s, and I’m sure he’s good for a thousand here and ten thousand there when they’ll print his name in the program. But I’m having trouble remembering what big civic thing he ever did for Atlantic City.  A baseball field? A basketball court? Housing for the poor? A school in town? I’d be glad to hear I’m wrong about that, but doubt if I will.

“Tell him not to let the door hit him in the butt on his way out,” Aunt Tess said.

© 2014 Joseph T. Wilkins