Morning Reading, 1/12

Just some links to what I was reading today. As much for my own benefit as yours.

An Open Letter to Sheldon Adelson

Dear Mr. Adelson,

Why are you spending so much time and energy fighting Internet gambling?

In recent interviews you’ve tried to claim there’s a moral issue at stake here:

Adelson, best known for building upscale casino resorts in Nevada and more recently in Asia, wants to persuade Congress to ban Internet betting. He says the practice is a danger to society…

While I believe this is a misguided point of view– prohibiting adults from engaging in vice reflects a Puritanical morality I don’t subscribe to and makes accessing those vices, which they will still do anyway, more dangerous– at least it’s a principled point of view. But do you really believe online gaming is less moral than casino gaming? Why? And if you did believe this, why did you try to get involved in Internet gaming back in 2003?

Let’s look at the rest of that quote from the Washington Post article:

…and could tarnish the industry’s traditional business model.

In other words, the “traditional business model”of land-based casinos might suffer if people could safely wager small amounts from the comfort of their homes, instead of having to travel to a casino to place bets.

I think that’s the real issue here: you’re worried that Internet gaming will cut into your profits, and you’re prepared to spend as much money as possible to ensure you can continue to monopolize gambling as much as you possibly can. But it’s short-sighted, it’s greedy, and I’m asking you to stop.

According to Bloomberg, as of today, November 21, 2013, you are the 14th-richest person in the world, and close enough to Jeff Bezos that you were ranked #13 just a couple of days ago. Let that sink in. The 14th-richest person in the entire world.

(If you want to feel even better about that achievement, consider that numbers 9-12 are the Walton heirs. You’re the tenth-richest person who largely built wealth from his or her own achievements in the world!)

You’re worth nearly $33 billion. You’re also eighty years old.

Do you need more money? Do you need more money to the degree that you’re willing to spend money to attempt to kill an industry, to attempt to legislate your competitors out of existence, to strip ordinary people’s rights and their ability to make a living by playing games of skill? Do you need more money such that you need to rig the system permanently in your favor to make it? Do you need more money that you’d rather spend your octogenarian years trying to outlaw legitimate businesses instead of spending time with your family?

I could understand if you were fighting this on a purely business level and relished the challenge of keeping land-based casinos competitive against the looming rise of online gaming. They say the reason many wealthy people continue working well into old age is that they love their work. It’s their life.

But this isn’t you loving your work. This isn’t you coming up with brilliant business strategies. This is you trying to buy legislation to give yourself a monopoly. What kind of business principle is that? It’s a shady, dishonest, deceptive one that runs against both the principles of the free market and the principles of individual liberty that are supposed to be cornerstones of the United States of America.

You don’t have a right to keep making money under your “traditional business model.” Times change, technology evolves, and businesses adapt or die. What would you have thought if Borders dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into trying to outlaw amazon.com? Or if Blockbuster had done the same to try to outlaw Netflix and other streaming media? It would be ridiculous on its face and anti-competitive, right? Yet you are doing the same thing in your own industry.

The worst part of your anti-internet gaming crusade is that it’s criminally shortsighted. If you’re really worried about Internet gaming cutting into your profits, you’re thinking about the issue in the wrong way. One look at how the online poker boom drove massive amounts of traffic to the World Series of Poker should be enough to put the lie to the idea that Internet gambling businesses will hurt your casinos. If anything, they’ll encourage people who do well gambling online to try their luck at your casinos.

Or are you worried that people might become better at gambling if they have access to it safely, legally, and cheaply from their own homes– and you only want suckers coming into your casino? That’s a galling idea. Deliberately keeping people ignorant and keeping them from developing valuable skills is a pretty twisted practice, especially when its only purpose is to further line the pocketbooks of a man worth thirty-three billion dollars.

You have enough money that you could live the rest of your life comfortably as well as ensure that none of your progeny will ever want for anything for many, many generations. Why do you need more, especially when it will come at the expense of so many people? What of all the people who would have jobs in the legal Internet gambling industry? What of all the people who have the bankroll and the talent to make a comfortable living for themselves from their own home with legal online gambling, but don’t have enough to fade the high variance of live gaming, or don’t want to move to Las Vegas or Atlantic City?

I’m one of those people. I spent my twenties developing a skill that allowed me to do something I love and make a comfortable, if not ostentatious (okay, occasionally ostentatious), living.  Then my ability to do so was crushed by the Justice Department’s enforcement of the UIGEA, a misguided bill that a lame-duck Republican congress had to attach as a rider to a port security bill because they knew such a shady, unnecessary piece of legislation wouldn’t pass any other way. What about me? What about all the others like me?

We’re not degenerates. We’re people who saw an opportunity and developed a skill that allowed us to take advantage of that opportunity. In a country where decent jobs are increasingly scarce and developing a specific skill to a professional level is the only way to guarantee any sort of income, that kind of initiative and entrepreneurship should be lauded, not crushed. It’s the very literal example of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” that so many business-minded conservatives, such as yourself, say we need more of from our young people today.

I learned a lot from playing poker beyond how to play poker. I learned risk assessment. I learned how to maintain emotional control. I learned financial management. I learned to better understand both my psychology and the psychology of others. I learned how to spot dishonest people and crooked games. I believe this skills will help me well in other areas of life. Why are you hellbent on denying people the opportunity to better themselves?

Is this what you want your legacy to be? The man who used his vast fortune solely to grow richer and richer for himself, by crushing new industries and technological advancements? By deliberately slowing down the growth and development of a potentially lucrative industry, at a time when the economy is struggling to recover from the massive greed of a handful of bankers given too much free reign to gamble?

That’s the great irony of your crusade. If you really believed that gambling was morally wrong, and if you wanted to be doing something to prevent gambling from damaging lives, there’s a great cause for you to take up and use your resources to lobby for regulation to protect ordinary people. Lobby to put strict regulations back in the banking industry and harsh penalties for bankers who commit fraud. Make it impossible for bankers to gamble with the security of the nation. Make it impossible for investment bankers to deliberately sell bad investments to clients while betting against those same investments to line their own pockets. Support a re-institution of Glass-Steagall. Support Elizabeth Warren’s efforts to rein in irresponsible bankers. I’m not a policy expert on the issue, but I’m sure with your vast wealth, you could pay lobbyists to write the legislation for you and finance politicians who will put it into place.

Online gaming and investment banking were both largely unregulated for most of the 2000s. Only one of them actually caused large-scale damage to the economy and to many human lives.

Even if you don’t take up this cause, I urge you do something that makes people’s lives better. A small sliver of your fortune could be used to, say, bring potable water to the third world. Or food. Or medicine. Or you could use that money to develop green technology, to research clean and renewable sources of energy. Again, I’m no expert on these subjects, but I’m sure with your wealth and business acumen, you can not only identify the best programs and charities to most effectively and efficiently make those things happen, but you can appropriately fund them to reach their goals.

Again I ask: what do you want your legacy to be? Do you want to remembered as a man who spent every last minute of his life simply trying to amass more and more wealth for himself, consequences and others be damned? Or do you want to be remembered as a philanthropist, a humanitarian, someone who used his tremendous resources for the good of mankind and planet Earth? You can’t take the money with you, but your name will live on beyond your death. What that name means is up to you.

Please stop your misguided crusade of greed and begin using the vast resources at your disposal to do something to help humanity, Mr. Adelson. We’ll all be better off for it, you and yours included.

Regards,

Nath Pizzolatto

Today’s example of cruelty in service to ideology comes from Ohio

ThinkProgress reports:

John Arthur is dying. He is in the terminal stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease and has entered hospice care. Arthur is also gay, and in a 20 year relationship with a man named Jim Obergefell. Because the couple’s home state of Ohio will not allow them to marry, Arthur and Obergefell recently flew to Maryland together and were legally married on the tarmac — just weeks after the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality decision in United States v. Windsor. Arthur was unable to rise from his hospice bed.

In his final days, Arthur wants to honor his commitment to his husband. He wants his own death certificate to list Obergefell as his “surviving spouse.” And he wants to die knowing that his partner of 20 years can someday be buried next to him in a family plot bound by a directive that only permits his lawfully wedded spouse to be interred alongside him. And, on Monday, a federal judge ruled that Arthur should indeed have the dignity of dying alongside a man that Ohio will recognize as his husband.

And now, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) wants to take that dignity away from Mr. Arthur. The day after a judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring Ohio to list Arthur’s husband as his “surviving spouse” on his death certificate, DeWine announced that he would appeal this decision and try to strip a dying man of his final wish.

There is no reason for Mike DeWine to fight this except abject cruelty. There is no infringement on the rights of the people of Ohio. There is no economic concern involved. There aren’t even political points to be scored. There is only, “I want you to die knowing we denied you and your loved one’s right to be recognized as a couple. And I want him to suffer even more once you’re dead.”

I continue to post these things because I dream of a day when people will read them and say, “Wait a minute. Why do we allow ourselves to be governed by people with such obvious contempt and hatred for us?”

Texas forced-birth laws aren’t just misguided, they’re vicious and cruel

Great column by Kurt Eichenwald in Vanity Fair. These laws not only take away abortion services and other birth-control related services for women, they take away their ability to get breast cancer screenings and other preventative, potentially life-saving medical care.

I’m never referring to the “Pro-life” moment with those words again. They don’t care about life. They care about forcing women to have consequences for having sex.

I do not like the particular logic

that says things like “America is the land of the free, we wouldn’t spy on our own citizens” or “The President is a good guy, he wouldn’t misuse that information.”

First of all, America is a nation comprised of many people, of widely varying morals, ethics, goals, motivations, skills, abilities, talents, and character.

Second of all, your character doesn’t define your actions; your actions define your character.

Five Items That Give Me Hope Today

1)The U.S. Army blocked soldiers from accessing The Guardian from their networks (wouldn’t want them to know what’s going on in America!) and Alan Grayson immediately introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill prohibiting that.

2)A federal judge has made his temporary injunction regarding the Ohio Secretary of State’s attempt as voter suppression permanent.

3)The Justice Department is recommending reduced and alternative sentences for drug offenders.

4)“Bipartisan Backlash Grows Against Domestic Surveillance”

5)I didn’t come up with a fifth one, but five just sounds much better than four.

What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

Here’s what disturbs me so much about the current political discussion, and in particular the social issues the Republican party seems to be doubling down on: So much of our current social policy reveals a deep contempt for those different than us, a lack of empathy, a lack of compassion, a dehumanization of the other.  I just can’t relate to that, and it deeply distresses me.

Continue reading What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?