Part I of this article can be found HERE.
In Part I, I covered Freedom of Speech on Internet. What follows is Part II that will cover Commitments and Open Mindedness and Compassion.
Living up to Treaties and Commitments
The second issue which was stated to me as being of critical importance is the candidate's belief in living up to promises and treaties. This issue seemed to come out of the current government's decision to ignore WTO rulings against the country and instead rewrite commitments it made to allow other countries to provide gambling services to America. To many of those in the industry, the U.S.'s tactics in regards to Antigua was nothing less than deplorable. Many also acknowledged that the issue isn't over. It is almost unanimous among the people I spoke to that at some point in the near future other forms of interstate online gambling will occur in the U.S. The belief is it will start with poker networks run from California or casinos and poker offered to other states from Nevada or New Jersey. At that point, Antigua (and possibly other countries) will once again approach the WTO and the USTR and argue that the decision on compensation for Antigua rendered by the WTO was wrong because these new offerings are proof that the issue was never about remote horse racing only. The hope at that point is that a more liberal President who understands the ramifications of breaking a contract will ask the USTR to take a closer look at the original agreement. More importantly, they want to ensure that the government will live up to its word and that any strategic plans they make will not be derailed because the government isn't as good as its word.
Ironically, Ron Paul is probably the worst candidate in this regard. His platform involves removing the United States from the UN and the WTO and doing what it thinks is best without outside influence. Unfortunately, that simplistic ideal is not feasible in today's global economy. Other Republicans that seem to agree with Paul's sentiments are Romney and Huckabee. In fact, when reading Huckabee's comments about free trade and the U.N. one gets the impression that if he had his way, America would have a huge wall around it and not deal with the outside world. The one Republican who is heavily on the side of the WTO and trade agreements is John McCain, but he has also stipulated that trade should be stopped if it involves "security risks". That of course tends to raise eyebrows in the gambling community because the UIGEA was attached to a security bill, which of course McCain happily voted for. More importantly, McCain has denounced instances where countries have tried to renege on agreements and he has acknowledged that trade that is purely protectionist is always disastrous for the nation. As for Rudi Giuliani, it is absolutely unclear what he believes concerning the issue of trade agreements, but chances are his views are close to McCain's. One of the respondents made it clear how they felt about the Republican's on this issue: "If a Republican came to me tomorrow and told me that the New England Patriots went undefeated in the regular season, I would recheck the standings. They have proven themselves to be lying, whining protectionists who care about no one else but themselves."
On the Democratic side, Barack Obama rates the highest on this issue. Obama is clearly for free trade and insists he respects all commitments. His statement in December that in the area of foreign policy, ideology is getting in the way of facts and reality is reassuring. Perhaps as President he would recognize that reneging on commitments for ideological purposes is never acceptable and will reopen the Antigua issue. Perhaps it's not likely that Obama would step up to the plate on this issue, but it's virtually guaranteed Romney or Huckabee wouldn't readdress it. One of the respondents was so convinced of Obama's sincerity in this regard that he is campaigning heavily to get Obama elected as the Democratic leader. "Obama is the real deal, and in the end he will do the right thing for America and for our industry," the respondent told me.
Hillary Clinton and John Edwards also strongly support free trade and fairness in trade agreements, although Hillary has expressed concern with some free trade agreements that she said have proven to be bad for America. Nevertheless, it was under Bill Clinton's administration that NAFTA was introduced and America's commitment to the WTO was strengthened. Without question, Hillary had a large roll to play in that administration so there is no reason to suspect that she would back down from commitments she makes.
Again, just because a candidate believes in free trade and living up to agreements it isn't a guarantee that they will do the right thing with Antigua and the EU if elected. But what is certain is that under a President who does not believe in living up to his/her promises there is almost no chance that the issue of offshore gambling will ever be revisited.
The third issue that almost all respondents expressed concern to me was that they wanted a candidate who had an open mind. Without doubt, one of the biggest frustrations with the current regime has been its unwillingness to listen to dissenting opinions or ideas on social issues. Whether the issue has been stem cell research, same sex marriage, the war on drugs, euthanasia or gambling, the Republican government has been unwilling to listen to other arguments. Even when it was clear that other politicians (often including fellow Republicans) didn't agree with Bush's stance, and tried to pass a bill that was counter to his views, Bush either vetoed opposing legislation or had it passed in a different way. In fact, more bills were vetoed under this administration than any other in history. When stem cell research activists, including Nancy Reagan, tried to provide arguments why stem cell research was important and had nothing to do with killing innocent babies, the current regime remained undeterred and continued to insist it was, the facts be damned. And with online gambling, even when bills to prohibit online gambling kept failing to pass congress, the Republican government kept putting it back on the table as if to say "you are wrong, now pass this." In fact, that was what happened precisely when the UIGEA was passed by using the backdoor tactic of attaching it to an unrelated anti-terrorism bill. And, of course, on the issue of the WTO commitments the current regime refused to even listen to Antigua or the EU. The US government was insistent it was right and that there was nothing to evaluate. Consequently, they never did meet with Antigua's government or legal council to discuss the matter. So all the gambling community wants is a willing ear. Perhaps one of the bookmakers understood this best when he stated to me by email, "In our company everybody's opinion is important. In fact we have a company meeting every Monday and we encourage each person from management to the bet clerks to provide their input on how we can improve. I've been in this business a long time, but I realize there is always something new to learn."
It seems that many of the respondents simply want the politicians to listen to reason why online gambling could be worthwhile rather than saying "no" and running away when someone tries to make a sound argument about the issue. Without question, it was this unwillingness to listen to reasoning of any sort that has frustrated Barney Frank, Robert Wexler, Shelley Berkley and other pro-gambling advocates in the government.
Which candidate would be the most open minded on social issues is clearly subjective, although clearly Romney and Huckabee will be guided by their faith like the current regime and will denounce any social policies that the church doesn't approve of. In fact, Huckabee even acknowledged this in an interview to ontheissues.org when he stated, "My faith does affect my decision process; it explains me."
It is widely accepted that Giuliani would likely be the most liberal of the Republicans in accepting contrary ideas to the generic Republican stance, but it is also accepted that any Republican would be committing harie karie if he came across as pro gambling, pro drug reform, pro abortion, pro embryonic stem cell research, etc. Like it or not, the religious right currently controls the Republican agenda. On the democratic side, all 3 candidates are seen as being receptive to new ideas, but the name that was mentioned most emphatically to me in this regard was Hillary Clinton. Obama and Clinton each had the same amount of support in my informal focus group, but while Obama supporters said they were confident that he would listen to all concerns and that he would be open to ideas regarding gambling, particularly since he is an acknowledged poker player, Clinton supporters seemed emphatic that she would not only listen to ideas, but is truly ready for change. One of the respondents told me that while they can't go into detail for reasons they couldn't discuss, they can assure any readers that if Clinton is elected there will be massive change in all social areas, including online gambling. In fact, his exact words were, "I know Hillary Clinton's camp well, and if she is elected things for our side will be better than ever within four years."
In any case, all that the gambling community can ask for is that the next President listen to reason. After eight years of talking to a brick wall, Americans deserve that courtesy.
The last quality that a couple of the respondents mentioned to me that was important to them was compassion. They seemed to believe that the current government was somewhat heartless, and that they only cared about their own agenda. Asked what exactly they meant by that, one of the respondents replied as follows:
"There are people who rely on our industry for survival. When the U.S. decided to rewrite its commitments, not once did they care about the jobs that were lost or how the people in Antigua were going to feed their families if their only source of income was removed."
Clearly this is a valid point, and without doubt the current government has been less than compassionate. I am still reminded how the government, after killing four Canadians in a friendly fire attack in Afghanistan, simply shrugged its shoulders and essentially said, "oh well, that's war." And I am also reminded of the time when some people in the current regime (when appearing before a house committee meeting on stem cell research) were more concerned about whether Michael J. Fox was faking his Parkinson's symptoms, rather than being concerned about the ravages of Parkinson's disease.
That's not to say that all Republicans today are heartless, as nothing is further from the truth. But it would certainly be nice to have a government that thought of others, both in America and globally before it made a final decision. I won't try and suggest which candidates are most compassionate, because I don't know them personally, nor do I believe that many of the respondents know the candidates personally. I'll let others more wise than myself do the judging.
As for the final count of my informal focus group, there were a total of 31 people interviewed either by phone, IM or e-mail. Many respondents e-mailed only a couple of lines in response to my questions, while others were happy to talk for up to a half an hour. Of those 31 respondents, eight stated that they felt Clinton was the best option for president, five stated that Obama was the best option, two stated that they believed Edwards was the best candidate. And the vast majority, sixteen respondents, stated that they really had no preference one way or the other, just as long as it wasn't another Republican president.
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