The Taj Mahal becomes the fifth Atlantic City casino to go out of business since 2014, when four others, including Trump Plaza, shut their doors
Nearly 3,000 workers lost their jobs, bringing the total jobs lost by Atlantic City casino closings to 11,000 since 2014
Chuck Baker, a cook at the Taj Mahal since the day it opened in April 1990, was on the picket line outside the casino at the moment it shut down. He was here when the doors opened in April 1990 and wanted to be there when they closed as well
Atlantic city, October 11, 2016: Donald Trump opened his Trump Taj Mahal casino 26 years ago, calling it “the eighth wonder of the world.”
But his friend and fellow billionaire Carl Icahn closed it Monday morning, making it the fifth casualty of Atlantic City’s casino crisis.
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The sprawling Boardwalk casino, with its soaring domes, minarets and towers built to mimic the famed Indian palace, shut down at 5:59 a.m., having failed to reach a deal with its union workers to restore health care and pension benefits that were taken away from them in bankruptcy court.
Nearly 3,000 workers lost their jobs, bringing the total jobs lost by Atlantic City casino closings to 11,000 since 2014.
Picketers affixed an anti-Icahn poster that they had signed to the casino’s main Boardwalk entrance door. It proclaimed “We held the line.”
“We held the line against a billionaire taking from us!” said Marc Scittina, a food service worker at the Taj Mahal’s player’s club since shortly after it opened in 1990. “This battle has been going on for two years.”
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The union went on strike July 1, and Icahn decided to shut the place down a little over a month later, determining there was “no path to profitability.”
The Taj Mahal becomes the fifth Atlantic City casino to go out of business since 2014, when four others, including Trump Plaza, shut their doors.
But this shutdown is different: it involves a casino built by the Republican candidate for president, who took time out from the campaign trail to lament its demise.
“I felt they should have been able to make a deal,” Trump told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “It’s hard to believe they weren’t able to make a deal.”
Chuck Baker, a cook at the Taj Mahal since the day it opened in April 1990, was on the picket line outside the casino at the moment it shut down. He was here when the doors opened in April 1990 and wanted to be there when they closed as well.
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He led a moment of silence among the otherwise rowdy 200 or so picketers on the Boardwalk outside the casino “before we shut down Taj Mahal.”
“This didn’t have to happen,” he said. “To [Icahn], it’s all just business. But to us, it’s destroying our livelihoods and our families. You take away our health care, our pensions and overload the workers, we just can’t take it.”
Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union, said virtually all of the striking workers feel the same way.
“Everybody has their Popeye moment: ‘That’s all I can stands; I can’t stands no more,’ ” he said. “The workers made a choice that they weren’t going to accept benefits and terms of employment worse than everyone else’s. I applaud them: for the first time in 30 years, workers stood up to Carl Icahn and made him throw in the towel.”
Icahn reached his own Popeye moment on Aug. 3, when he determined the $350 million he had lost investing in, and then owning, the Taj Mahal was enough. It was then that he decided to close the casino, fearing he would lose an additional $100 million next year.
“Today is a sad day for Atlantic City,” he said Monday. “Like many of the employees at the Taj Mahal, I wish things had turned out differently.”
The union reached contracts on June 30 with four of the five casinos it had targeted for a possible strike — including the Tropicana, which Icahn also owns. It granted negotiation extensions to three others: the Borgata, Resorts and the Golden Nugget. McDevitt said talks with the Borgata will begin this month, followed closely by the remaining two.
The Taj Mahal joins the Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza and Revel in the growing club of Atlantic City casinos that, since 2014, have succumbed to economic pressure brought about in large measure by competition from casinos in neighboring states. The city now will have seven casinos.
Later Monday, newly unemployed former Taj Mahal workers were to begin signing up for unemployment benefits and temporary help with utility payments at a union-run resource center at a nearby hotel.(VOA)
Indian politics is always under international coverage
India is witnessing political shift due to its leaders and their transformation
The great democracy was electing its national leader. It was a fight between the party in power with a leftist tinge; and the more conservative opposition with its upstart candidate. The media was rooting openly for the leftist candidate and would stop at almost nothing, even vilifying the conservative upstart as evil, not just wrong. The candidate on the left seemed to feel entitled, that being head of state was all in the family. And, as you probably have guessed, that candidate lost. You might or might not have guessed that, despite the familiarity to American voters, this was not the United States. It was India.
India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism. Its candidate, then 43 year old, Rahul Gandhi, was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Prime Ministers; and though India is the world’s largest democracy, not the world’s largest monarchy, it was “his turn” to take the nation’s top spot.
The similarities between the Indian Congress Party and the US Democrat Party stop, however, with how the two parties and their dynastic candidates reacted to their defeats. While there is ample evidence that the Democrats are moving further to the left, India’s Congress, and especially its former candidate, seem to have taken the lessons of their defeat to heart. Moreover, we too often gauge a polity’s position on the left-right spectrum by which major party dominates. In the Indian case, however, we get a deeper understanding by examining changes in the out of power party.
The Indian National Congress Party was founded in 1885 and, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, was the principal leader of the movement that led to India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947. It has ruled India for roughly 57.5 of its 70.5 years as a modern nation (81.6 percent of its entire existence). Congress fashions itself left-center party with “democratic socialism” as one of the party’s guiding principles; and over the years, I have written a number of articles, criticizing what I believe to be weak Congress policies. It has followed the lead of soft left European parties, in contrast with the Indian nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Amitabh Tripathi is a well-known Indian political commentator. I caught up with him in New Delhi in February and asked him about how the Congress Party was reacting to its crushing 2014 defeat.
RB: So, was the 2014 election a strong statement about traditional Indian politics?
AT: Definitely. Till 1991, Indian politics was at a status quo with socialist, leftist, and communist stances prevalent. After 1991, right wing politics emerged as a political force. Since then, Indian politics has shifted to the right; and from time to time for more than two decades, left and right engaged in direct political confrontations. Congress led the coalition of leftists; and the BJP emerged as the leader of the right. The BJP ruled the country for six years (1998-2004) and its policies swung to the right, including a vocal and unapologetic relationship with Israel, moving forward strategically with the United States, and exploring India’s role in the Indian Ocean to contain China and its imperialistic ambitions. When the BJP lost power to a Congress led coalition in 2004, the Indian polity again shifted left; and Congress became a complete replica of its 1960s self—a totally leftist party.
In 2014, when elections occurred, the Indian polity moved on to the right on issues from economics to culture. Before the election, Congress did not read the undercurrent of the people and moved even further left on those issues. This has been widely acknowledged as the reason for its crushing defeat.
RB: So it was a real shift to the right among Indians, which sounds a lot like our own experience in 2016. In the US, the losing Democrat party has reacted by moving further left. Has India’s Congress tried to understand the reasons behind its defeat?
AT: The latter statement is correct. Immediately after losing the elections, Congress realized it was not simply an electoral defeat. Its ideological stagnation led to the historical loss. And it tried to rectify that and re-invent itself.
RB: How have they done that?
AT: I observed it on three fronts, three major decisions. First, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the former party President and current head of the dynastic family, took an almost “voluntary” retirement. She had become the face of hard left and anti-Hindu policies.
RB: Sounds familiar. Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi has become the same here, but she does not seem to be going anywhere.
AT: Second, in ten years of Congress rule, they openly flaunted themselves as very pro-Muslim, which irritated the majority Hindus in India. But last year, in prestigious elections in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Sonia Gandhi did not address a single rally. Plus, Congress Party Vice-President (now President) Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run). We believe he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party. Some people might say it was an opportunistic political move, but I would say it was a well-calculated shift in the party to shed the tags of pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu.
Third, since the days of the freedom movement before independence, and during the rule of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi (almost the entire period from independence to 1984); Congress followed the policy of demonizing the wealthy and glorifying the poor. It seems, however, that Rahul Gandhi wants the population to know that he strongly favors the wealth generating middle class and capitalism; he opposes only crony capitalism. He says the poor should aspire to become wealthy through greater opportunities and employment.
RB: What about Rahul Gandhi himself? Does he have a future in Indian politics?
AT: Since 2014, we have watched his evolution from entitled politician to serious politician who understands the people’s aspirations and country’s need. Perhaps most importantly has been his understanding of foreign policy and India’s role and responsibilities at a global level. He has said that he’s ready to take the responsibility of the office of Prime Minister if elected, and he could make a formidable candidate.
RB: I’ve heard a lot of people talking positively about him and his growth in my time here. I believe you also told me he has spent a lot of this time really listening to people from all classes and communities. Thank you, Amitabh ji, it’s always a pleasure to hear your thoughts, and always a pleasure to be in India.
In a larger context, we have seen a reaction against decades of leftist overreach worldwide: Donald Trump’s election; Brexit; and a number of elections in Europe rejecting the European Union and loss of national identity (most recently in Italy). There has been little focus on Asia perhaps because it has not been in the orbit of traditional left-right equations in the West. India, however, has become a major player on the world stage under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has historical conflicts with both Pakistan and China, and can be a major bulwark against Chinese expansion westward. India also has strengthened its alliances with both the United States and Israel while maintaining relations with Iran. The rightward movement there is highly significant in plotting future Indian geopolitical moves.
[Richard Benkin is a human rights activist and author with a strong concentration in South Asia. Amitabh Tripathi appears often on Indian television and in other media. He is also a contributor to What is Moderate Islam, edited by Richard Benkin. This interview was conducted in New Delhi on February 27, 2018, while Benkin was there as part of a recently-concluded human rights mission.]