Friday, May 11, 2012

The "house" that gambling built.

We all remember the description of Yankee Stadium as the house that Ruth built.  When it comes to the new Vikings stadium, it's fair to describe it as the house that gambling built.  That's because the state's share of $350 million is largely funded from expected tax revenues generated by electronic pulltabs and bingo machines.

We've been vehemently opposed to the expansion of electronic gambling, which is the most predatory form of gambling. Electronic or video gambling is the most addictive form of gambling.  Studies estimate that a third to half of video gambling in casinos comes from just one percent of gamblers - those who are the problem gamblers.  

The state's plan calls for the placement of the electronic gambling devices in at least 2,500 bars and restaurants across the state with 25,000 or more machines used.  That means we'll be blanketing the state with these addictive gambling machines and they'll be used in establishments where alcohol is served.  A bad combination to say the least.

Many have questioned whether the electronic machines will actually generate the revenues they're projecting.  Comments by charitable gambling advocates in the media today only reinforced this concern.  
King Wilson, Executive Director of Allied Charities of Minnesota, said the conference bill retains a split in charitable gaming tax revenue that is less favorable than they wanted: The state would get $59 million per year and the charities would get $13 million.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," Wilson said. "At this level, we're not convinced the machines are going to be economically viable."

Wilson said it may not make sense for organizations to install electronic pull-tab and bingo games at this level of taxation.

"I hope it'll be successful," he said. "I hope we're wrong."

The state depends for its share of the stadium funding on taxing new, electronic forms of charitable gaming. Critics have said the funding mechanism is unproven. 

That's coming from the people who should know, those on the ground in the establishments which are expected to use the machines designed to generate the revenue.

What does this all mean?  If they're right, the legislature will be looking for additional funding sources next year or the year after.  What might they be?  A further expansion of gambling?  Slot machines in bars and restaurants?  State run casinos at the horse tracks and elsewhere?  

What the legislature did this week may well have been sowing the seeds of a massive expansion of gambling in our state.  I certainly hope I'm wrong but I've seen in the past how not only do individauls get addicted to gambling so do policy makers who see it as easy, cost free money.  In reality it's anything but cost free.  It destroys individuals and families and corrupts our culture with a get rich quick mentality.  Video or electronic gambling is a predatory business product which is dependent on indebtedness and addiction to be profitable.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Standing up for human rights in China.

Here's an interesting commentary on the Chinese human rights advocates and the price one of them has paid standing up for his convictions - blind, dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Eric Metaxas, who wrote a great biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, noted that
The story of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is the stuff of which movies are made: illiterate until he was in his twenties, he not only taught himself how to read, he taught himself the intricacies of Chinese law.

He used his legal skills to defend the victims of government oppression: disenfranchised peasants, the disabled, and women forced to have abortions as a result of China’s infamous “one-child” policy. This last effort officially made him an enemy of the state. He was arrested and convicted on what most observers consider to be trumped-up charges.

After serving fifty-one months in jail, he was placed under house arrest. In an effort to silence him, officials surrounded his home with guards, surveillance cameras and even installed a jamming device to prevent him from communicating with the outside.

In response, Chen played what the “New York Times” called a “cat and mouse game” with his would-be jailers: He tried to a dig a tunnel, smuggled videos and, finally, on April 22nd, he escaped. The escape was so well-executed that his jailers didn’t know he was gone until the following Thursday....
 Metaxas notes that Chen is motivated by his Christian faith.
Throw in details like actor Christian Bale’s being manhandled by Chinese guards when he tried to visit Chen, and it’s little wonder that the media is all over the story. Yet, in all the coverage there is no mention of what motivates Chen Guangcheng: Namely, his Christian faith.

Chen is part of what is called the “weiquan movement.” It’s a group of “lawyers, activists, intellectuals and ordinary citizens who aim to push the boundaries of reform by using China’s existing laws and courts to defend human rights.” They are overwhelmingly Christian. Li Subin, one of the movement’s best-known activists, says that he takes his inspiration from Proverbs 21:3, “to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

This willingness to push has made them a target for Chinese officials. Like Chen, Li has served time in prison for his efforts on behalf of the poor and marginalized.

Reading about Chen, Li, and their comrades, I couldn’t help but think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his comrades. In both instances, the response to monstrous evil was to speak out at great personal risk. Just as Bonhoeffer decided that his place was in Germany alongside his suffering brethren, Chen has said that he does not wish to leave China and wants to “continue his efforts for Chinese society.” However, as I record this, it appears that he now fears for the safety of his family and may seek asylum in the U.S. for himself and his loved ones.

Whether he will get the chance is another question because, in another unfortunate parallel, it’s not-at-all clear that the rest of the world is willing to hold China accountable. News reports use words like “complicated” and “crisis” to describe the impact of Chen’s escape on US-China relations — relations in which righteousness and justice are trumped by dollars and yuan.
It's easy to forget the sacrifice many are making or willing to make in defense of a higher law.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Leaving America...because of taxes.

The tax policies in the US are starting to scare away the wealthy who are changing their citizenship to avoid our heavy tax burden.

This story points out that the number of Americans jettisoning their US citizenship increased from 235 in 2008 to 1,780 in 2010.Wealthy Americans are choosing to give up their U.S. citizenship rather than pay high taxes when living outside of the country, according to a new Bloomberg report. The number of people giving up their nationality at U.S. embassies has risen over the past few years after facing a crackdown on tax evasion.

Four years ago, whistle-blower Bradley Birkenfeld triggered a crackdown on tax evasion, which was meant to stop wealthy Americans who stored money in offshore accounts to avoid paying high taxes.

Though this was intended to stop Americans living in the country who stored money in other places, it also applies to individuals living outside of the U.S. who store money in the banks of countries they reside.

The U.S. is the only nation in the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development that taxes citizens wherever they reside. In facing taxes within foreign countries they live in as well as paying American taxes due to their U.S. citizenship, many wealthy Americans are weighing whether remaining a U.S. citizen is worth it.

Andy Sundberg, secretary of Geneva’s Overseas American Academy, shared that 1,780 expatriates gave up nationality at U.S. embassies last year, which is an increase from 235 in 2008. The number has increased so quickly that the embassy redeployed staff to clear the backlog of Americans queued to relinquish their passports.

Another reason Americans are ready to give up their passports is that many non-U.S. banks feel it’s too risky to deal with Americans abroad after the Birkenfeld and the U.S. probed USB and 11 other Swiss financial firms for aiding offshore tax evasion.

Due to difficulties acquiring accounts in some countries and facing taxes from the United States, Americans are deciding  that giving up their U.S. passports and relinquishing their citizenship is the right choice to make.

I suspect that number will only grow if major tax increases are used to address our enormous federal government deficits and debt problems.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

As the stadium turns.

The status of the Vikings stadium seems to change by the day or hour.  There was quite a bit of momentum behind the governor, Vikings and Minneapolis proposal which included electronic gambling as the funding mechanism for the state's portion.  Support dropped because of concern over the expansion of gambling and whether the projected revenues were really viable.

Next came the use of bonding to pay for infrastructure of the stadium.  That lasted a couple of days.  With questions raised over the ability of bonding funds to be used for the stadium that was then dropped. Now, the gambling proposal is back on the radar although some say it will fail if a vote is taken on the House floor.

Others are talking of user fees for things associated with the team and using income taxes derived from player salaries to pay for the stadium.

Who knows where it will end up.  There are about four floor session days left before the legislature must adjourn.  The governor could call them into special session but who knows if that would happen.