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Nationalize liquor laws…Straight up!

January 28, 2018 3 comments

I am arguing in favor of nationalizing liquor laws, by which is meant laws pertaining to the hours of service licensee liability and the taxation of beverage alcohol.  These regulations are currently a mish-mash of Federal, state, local and regional dictums which are very contradictory yet serve entrenched interests.

My argument is not against the serving of commercial interests but rather that these interests should be brought together under one national doctrine.

Nor am I advocating alcohol consumption per se.  I am arguing in favor of national law regarding the sales hours and taxation of beverage alcohol.

Additionally I advocate a national policy regarding licensee liability.  Massachusetts follows the doctrine of Dram Shop liability which can make defendant licensees civilly liable for a claim by a plaintiff.  Additionally, this responsibility extends to the license itself as any crime permitted on premises is applied to the licensee.  I am in favor of Dram Shop liability on a national basis.

In 1984 Massachusetts(MA) adopted a phase-in, known as the “step years,” twenty one(21) for legal drinking with those already franchised as twenty(20) year-old legal drinkers “grandfathered” as legal with the age being increased annually until all in the state of MA were 21 or required to be so in 1986.

Even more than thirty years ago the contradictory nature of liquor laws was apparent as the N.Y. Times noted that MA governor Michael Dukakis said “we have to” change the drinking age so as not to lose an estimated $25.5 million in Federal funds.

  http://www.nytimes.com/1984/12/05

Even more contradictory is that in 1973 MA had made eighteen(18) the legal drinking age following 18 year-olds getting the right to vote in 1971 via the Amendment XXVI.

  https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment

Taxes on beverage alcohol are often cited as the rational for local liquor laws.  “Sin taxes” boast the advantage of being a voluntary sales tax for a product that is not essential.  Here in MA taxes are levied on wholesalers and passed along to on-premise providers and retailers.

MA currently taxes at a rate of $4.05 dollars per gallon of wholesale sales which ranks MA 34th. among all states.  On a more practical level this means that a one liter, 33.8 fluid ounce bottle is paying 33.8/128 ounces=$2.64 in MA state tax.  This example applies to 40% alcohol by volume distilled spirits.

However, neighboring New Hampshire has no state liquor tax and is thus able to undercut the prices of MA retailers close to the N.H./MA state line.

  https://taxfoundation.org

Has a MA person become a better person for not participating in what some describe as MA “confiscatory” liquor taxes by visiting N.H?

I think not.

Has the New Hampshire retailer done anything illegal?

No.

Has the Massachusetts purchaser done anything illegal?

No.

However, the mere expedient of crossing a state line should not result in a price that is any lower or higher than what wholesale prices and the market dictates.

Indeed, an examination of tax rates on distilled spirits reveals Washington to have the highest rate at $33.54 a gallon in stark contrast to N.H’s tax-free policy.  MA ranks 34th. in per-gallon rates as of 2016.

  ibid tax foundation

Another area of differences between states lies in closing hours for venues which serve alcohol.

However, even within states local laws differ.  New York City allows bars to open at 7 A.M. and serve until 4 A.M.

  http://www1.nyc.gov/nyc-resources/faq/482/how-late-can-a-bar

However, my hometown of Port Washington, Long Island, N.Y. permits 8 A.M. for opening and 2 A.M. for weekdays while restricting 4 A.M. to weekends and the nights before legal holidays.  (No citation available).

As per MA and N.H. with their taxation policies what we have here is an arbitrary set of laws established for no defined purpose whose effect is dismissive of consistency and hurts commerce.

While Port Washington is hardly the urban behemoth of New York City this is not morally sufficient to deny folks access to a legal product while burdening New York City with potential public safety issues.

New Orleans offers 24 hour alcohol service which is among the attractions of Mardi Gras.  Certainly, the New Orleans adult beverage business benefits from 24 hour service but folks not wanting to be subjected to non-stop revelry will be disinclined to reside in a city that might otherwise be a good location.

Yet, Baton Rouge, Louisiana restricts service to 2 A.M.

Once again there does not seem to be any substantive reason for such an extreme variance in service time.

It is worth mentioning that Louisiana ranks 43rd. in taxes at $2.50 per gallon of distilled spirits.

  ibid resources

In this way 24 hour service enables increased consumption thus enabling a relatively low tax rate.

It might be objected that varying laws are acceptable and even morally worthy as the Constitution specifies that unenumerated rights return to the states.

  https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment

However, states’ rights were the basis for slavery and segregation, surely an ignoble tradition.

Moreover, drinking is not a ‘right’ in the Constitutional sense so nationalization would not be needlessly restrictive.

Yes, states have the right and the need to levy taxes but this should not be at the expense of legitimate commerce or circumventing Federal authority.

Indeed, the debate over ‘unenumerated rights’ of the IX Amendment have been going on since the ratification of the Constitution in 1787.

ibid constitution center

Additionally, both honest confusion and deliberate malfeasance are encouraged by this crazy quilt of regulation and anarchy simultaneously.  Localities desiring to make themselves appealing need to develop attractions other than unbridled drinking.

Conversely, there is scant moral justification in barring access to a legal product legitimately obtained.

Yet, all states abide by a 21 year-old requirement for legal drinking thus contradicting the argument of nationalization being too difficult to create and maintain.

  My argument is for the nationalization of all drinking legislation regarding liability, taxation and hours of service.

This national reform would yield benefits both tangible and moral.

A national liquor tax would remove onerous mandates that both stifle and increase business thus permitting market forces to prevail.

I argue that a national liquor tax have its proceeds divided by the proportion of sales tallied by each state and distributed per those percentages.  The digital technology of our 21st. century makes this a practical technique which would be implemented via the indirect subsidy provided by the lower taxed states having to meet one national standard.

Hours of service would be set nationally as well.  While drinking isn’t a ‘right’ in the Constitutional sense, I argue that it is immoral for authorities at the state or local level to set guidelines that grant or deprive drinkers access to beverage alcohol by the dubious virtue of location.

Public safety is best served by setting a consistent moral tone in the writing of laws that are clear and easily understood by all concerned parties.

I will speculate that the elimination of 24 hour drinking in New Orleans may well reduce that city’s homicide rate even as Mardi Gras tourist traffic would likely diminish.

  http://nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2017/01/shootings

I propose national hours of 8 A.M. to 3 A.M. with no exceptions for legal holidays.  Establishments would be free to close earlier but state or local legislation would not be able to impose a change in hours.

Consistent standards would enable tax collection, serve legitimate guests and lessen the excesses of the adult beverage industry.

Justice is best served straight up.

WORKS CITED

  AP.  “Bill to Set Drinking Age at 21 In Massachusetts Is Signed.”  nytimes.com New York Times 5 Dec. 1984. Web. 27 March.  2017

  http:www.nytimes.com/1984/12/05/us/bill-to-set-          drinking-age

  Tax Foundation.  “How High Are Taxes on Distilled Spirits in Your State?”  2016

  https://taxfoundation.org/how-high-are-taxes-distilled-spirits

  Constitution Center.  “Amendment XXVI Right to Vote at Age 18.  Constitution Center.  Web. 28 March 2017

  https://consitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment

  Constitution Center.  “Non-Enumerated Rights Retained by People” Constitution Center.  Web. 28 March. 2017

  https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment

  Lane, Emily.  “With spike in violence, new Orleans had more shootings per capita than Chicago in 2016.”  NOLA.com.  The Times-Picayune, 27, Jan. 2017, Web. 28 March. 2017

  http://nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2017/01/shootings

 

 

 

 


 

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2:30 A.M. MBTA Service: An idea whose time has come again.

June 27, 2017 1 comment

I propose restoring Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority(MBTA) late night service(LNS) until 2:30 A.M. on Friday, Saturday and the evenings before legal holidays.

  From March of 2014 until March of 2016 the MBTA offered LNS carrying 16,000 riders nightly for its first year before declining to 13,000 riders by February, 2016 (1)

  I propose doubling the late-night subway and grade level train fare to $4.20 from the $2.10 charged on stored value cards.  (Paying by the trip is $2.40)

  This would defray some of the cost of LNS and enable the return of this economically justifiable, convenient and safe means of travel.

  Casual phrases such as ‘world class city’ are often bandied about when Boston is spoken of.  Yet, the last outbound trains from Park St run at 12:54 A.M.

  The benefits of restoring LNS MBTA service would be numerous.

  Hospital and hotel workers work a variety of shifts.  As Boston proper has gentrified many of these working folks cannot afford to live within walking distance of their jobs.

  Furthermore even as taxis have been supplemented by Uber, Lyft and a variety of car services transportation expenses can be a significant part of a working person’s take-home income.

  Even at the UberPool-Boston rate of $6-8, (2), from Massachusetts General Hospital to Harvard and Comm. Ave(s) in Allston this prorates to about $660, $6 x 110 weekend trips=$660 annually for a late-night employee working weekends at $12/hr.  This amounts to about a week’s take-home pay.  Considering the large number of hospital and hotel staff working after 1 A.M. this has a considerable effect upon workers and employers.

Have mercy!

 LNS service would benefit already existing retail outlets.  24 hour super markets such as Star Market at 53 Huntington Ave. and the Star market at 33 Kilmaronock St. would gain a clientele for whom late night grocery shopping is a practical necessity and more economical than a convenience store.

  The LNS which ended in March of 2016 was not the first foray of the MBTA into extended hours.  From 2001 until 2005 the Night Owl service offered bus service until 2:30 A.M.  However, the scattered stops and slow speed worked against the service’s popularity and the Night Owl was attracting a mere 600 riders on Friday, Saturday and nights before legal holidays before being cancelled in 2005.

  The LNS initiated in March of 2014 and cancelled March 18, 2016 carried 16,000 riders by train nightly for its first year before declining to 13,000 riders nightly by February, 2016.

 The cancellation decision was made by a 4-0 unanimous decision of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board on January 25, 2016.  (1)

  Leaving aside the question(s) of whether applying and norming the subsidy cost(s) through the entire day(s) would be a valid statistical method, the MBTA nonetheless claims the net marginal cost of LNS is $14 million annually based on a fare of $2.10 per rider.

  My proposal is to increase the LNS fare to $4.20 and thus halve the net marginal cost.

  Assuming ridership remains the same, and I do know what they say about assume, the net marginal cost would sink to $7 million annually!

  What the MBTA has not acknowledged is that the increased business enabled by the LNS would create taxable income some of which could be earmarked towards reducing the MBTA’s chronic operating deficit.

  Boston is a challenging city to drive in even under optimal conditions.  Dark winter nights make this intrinsic challenge even more treacherous as snow and ice pile up.  This challenge is compounded exponentially when large numbers of folks exiting bars and clubs congregate on the sidewalks and streets.

  From 1993 to 1999 I worked at a variety of venues in the Theater District and witnessed departing guests hanging around the area until 3:30 A.M. while socializing, eating snacks and attempting to hail taxis.  The crowds milling about caused significant litter problems, interrupted traffic and ultimately endangered the safety of those hanging around.

  My current employer takes the provisions of MA Dram Shop Liability as established in 1983, (2), very seriously.

  However, even the best managed established establishments are not immune from “pre-gaming” and drug use by guests that leads to slow exits, littering and dangerous and endangered crowds after closing.

  During the lifespan of LNS from 2014 until its cancellation in 2016 my employer did not have this problem as the last Green Line from Kenmore Square departed outbound at 2;30 A.M. allowing sufficient time for the fifteen-minute walk from my employer to the Kenmore Square MBTA station. 

Management mentioned, on more than 1 occasion, that folks tended to leave in order to catch the last train.

  On February 17, 2017 I asked my Assistant Manager, A.M; about my proposal to restore LNS MBTA by charging a double fare.

S.G: So how has the discontinuation of late-night service affected us?

C.M: It has discouraged travel from our customers in Allston as they can’t afford a cab or even Uber or Lyft.  They would have to leave with folks that they don’t know and a lot of our people just won’t do that.

S.G: What do you think that comes to in dollars?

A.M: About 5-10%.  It’s not nothing over the course of a year.  When did it end anyway?

S.G: March 18th. of last year.

A.M: Close to a year, huh.  You know another thing is that there isn’t the parking around here that there was even a year ago and when the Sox start up again it’s like [the parking] at least $30 and that is tough for kids even though most of them don’t have cars.  We don’t really get the trusties, [students who are completely supported by their parents and have leased cars through the school year], our kids are just looking for a good time.

S.G: Do you think our crowd would pay for a double fare after 12:30 on Friday, Saturday and nights before legal holidays?

A.M:  That would be $4.20, right?

S.G: Yes.

A.M: I would [use the LNS service] if I were in school and lived in Allston.  You would keep the service running until a last departure from Kenmore at 2:30 like before?

S.G: Yes.

A.M: I think that it’s a good idea and would keep some drunks off the road.

  On Saturday, March 11, 2017 I decided to investigate my manager’s assertion regarding the slow departure of guests now that LNS was no longer available.  I left my security post with the permission of my supervisor at 1:45 A.M. as last call was being given.  I observed a dozen guests in front of the building which was surprising considering the 15 F weather.  After clearing the building at 2:30 A.M. I returned to the entrance of the building and found 30 folks smoking, eating pizza and looking for a hook-up.  Folks wandered into the active traffic flow attempting to flag the passenger filled cabs that veered to avoid hitting the remaining revelers.

  Smartphones were frantically employed as folks tried to reach Uber and Lyft but evidently the cold had prevailed over economic opportunity.

  At 2:45 A.M. I left work and there were still 6 guests eating pizza and smoking by the front of the building while discarding the crusts and butts on the sidewalk.

  This scene would not have occurred were the LNS still running.

  “Better safe than sorry,” is more than a cliche’, it is a sound operating principle which would be activated by the renewal of LNS even at double the fare.

  Additionally, lessened consumption of fossil fuel by drivers would have positive environmental effects.

  Enabling employment and entertainment, preserving public safety and environmental sustainability, MBTA LNS at a double fare is an idea whose time has come…again!

ALL ABOARD!

WORKS CITED

1) uberPOOL…Share the ride, split the cost.  Page 1, Web, 6 March, 2017

https://get.uber.com/p/uberpool-Boston

2) Dungca, Nicole.  “MBTA to end late-night service by mid-March.”  Boston Globe, 29 Feb, 2016.  Web. 3 March, 2017

https;//ww.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/02/…late-night-service-end-march…/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michio Kushi: July 17,1926-December 28, 2014

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Michio Kushi passed on 12/28/2014 from pancreatic cancer. 

The 1st. Unitarian Universalist Arlington St. Church here in Boston will be hosting a memorial service and reception at 12 noon on January 31, 2015

www.michiokushi.org

Mr. Kushi was a proponent and teacher of macrobiotics, literally “large life,” and the founder of the Erewhon natural food stores in Boston and Cambridge and the 7th. Inn and Sanae restaurants here in Boston.

Folks are sometimes surprised to learn that  I have been a vegetarian for over 35 years.

It was with sadness that I learned of the passing of Mr. Kushi although we had never met.

Mr. Kushi’s Boston store at 342 Newbury St; currently occupied by a Ralph Lauren ‘Rugby’ store  was where much of my early education as a vegetarian was gleaned.

(Erewhon also had a store on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, MA between Harvard and Porter Squares).

My veggieism began covertly as even I wasn’t completely cognizant of  the first stirrings of what has come to be a life-long path.  During my very first time living outside of the confines of my Mom I was unwilling to clean and even less willing to spend to purchase meat.  To be sure I was working in restaurants at that time as a dishwasher and busser so flesh was on the menu if not in the refrigerator.

In 1978 I was a 20 year-old Counselor-in-Training at the Unitarian Universalist Rowe Camp and Conference Center Junior High Camp  where I read Frances Lappe’s DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET, 1974, ISBN-13 978-0345321206  (This ISBN is for the 10th Anniversary revised edition).

DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET changed my life forever.  Ms. Lappe’s concentration on eating lower on the food chain by the virtue of protein combinations not only cleansed diets but pointed the way to a sustainable form of food economics.

A year later I was in the midst of my 1st. spring in Boston when I lost my job under nebulous circumstances.  Vowing to eliminate immoral acts from my day-to-day life meat was purged from my diet.

Erewhon became my market.

“Erewhon” is an anagram for “nowhere” and ‘Erewhon’ is an 1872 utopian novel by Samuel Butler about communal living.

Erewhon was well ahead of the curve regarding the availability of items such as soba noodles, wheat grass, bok choi, arugula and mung sprouts at a time when the ‘produce’ section of the Westland Ave. Stop n’ Shop deemed Romaine(Boston) lettuce to be “exotic.”

Erewhon featured framed calligraphy of Mr. Kushi’s thoughts from the exposed brick walls long before they had become a cliche’.

(The exposed brick was the cliche’, not Mr. Kushi’s thoughts).

Mr. Kushi was a proponent of macrobiotics and eschewed red meat, dairy, refined sugar and virtually all added ingredients artificial or not.

Mr Kushi also stressed seasonal and local cuisine to more perfectly attune one to one’s locale.

I followed macrobiotic for several weeks and although I was delighted that my 17th. bout with post-adolescent acne had been quelled the extreme weight loss engendered was not practical for my way of life.  By the end of the summer of 1979 I had phased into the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that has served me well  to this day.

Erewhon represented a retail culture that is now an endangered species in our smartphone/social media millennium.  I remember very well learning the differences between “wheat” and “whole wheat” and between udon and soba noodles not from the staff but from Erewhon shoppers.  Indeed shopping at Erewhon was nutrition for the intellect as well as the body.

Erewhon had precious little competition for its market of veggies, macrobiotics buffs and what would now be called “foodies”.  Boylston St. offered Nature Food Center which plied enormous 1000 count jars of 500 milligram Vitamin C along with carob coated wheat cookies that tasted like carpet remnants soaked in Nestles’ Quik.

Erewhon offered many tastings of its wares and this budget challenged consumer gleaned small meals from strategic arrivals at 5:30 P.M.  Folks wandered around stuffing themselves with organic figs from Bulk Foods containers long before Whole Foods Market realized that “theft” increased sales and the Whole Foods market demographic could afford the markup that endorsed “theft”.

Sad to say but Erewhon was plagued not just with customers seeking freebies but with rampant shoplifting as the staff was disinclined to interrupt those seeking 5 finger discounts.

“Communalism” is a lofty aspiration but an impractical one at the urban, retail level. 

Many a time I wandered through Erewhon with a bag of autumnal Bartlett pears and whole wheat linguini seeking to pay for my goods at the all-too-often unattended registers.

Erewhon practiced a “non-hierarchical” form of management which manifestly failed to collect the prices charged.

Mr. Kushi’s management acumen was minimal at best.  Mr. Kushi’s restaurants, the 7th. Inn at 288 Boylston St; and Sanae at 324 Newbury St; were interesting attempts to bring macrobiotic cuisine to dining.

The 7th. Inn on Boylston St. in the space now occupied by the Four Seasons Hotel was the loftier of the two as the 7th. Inn featured table service from servers in brownish aprons and white shirts without ties.  Even the modest prices of their brown rice and sea vegetables were above my ken at the time so I never sampled the fare.

A press release heralding the opening of the original Sanae notes  that “the SANAE faculty graduated from the heavy hippy drug scene”.

Bon appetit!

Sanae on Newbury St. fared better as it offered counter service only and a hand-lettered selection whiteboard enabling guests to mix and match proteins, veggies and starches.  Sanae was open for several years and closed abruptly in 1982 before re-opening in 1983 as…the 7th. Inn!… before shuttering for good later in 1983.

Erewhon’s food distribution business likewise closed in 1983 although cereal with the “Erewhon” monicker is till sold here in the 21st. Century at my local Whole Foods Market. Erewhon’s website: www.erewhonmarket.com

is unclear as to whether the current business sprouted from Mr. Kushi’s.  Tony and Joesephine Antoci bought Erewhon in 2011.  The website notes that “since the late 60s” Erewhon has been in the natural foods business.  It is not clear whether this Los Angeles based company bought the name or the business in its entirety.  Any further information on this matter would be welcomed by this author.

Mr. Kushi crossed my mind from time to time as I shopped at such  grocers  as Jamaica Plain’s original Arborway Natural which put a familiar face on wholesome food.  Bread & Circus, especially in its Westland Ave; Fenway store organized the shelves, brought in bar codes and was eventually bought out by corporate behemoth Whole Foods Market in 2003.

Today Whole Foods Market operates a 59,000 square foot supermarket in Manhattan’s Time-Warner building.

While Mr. Kushi was far from the ideal CEO he brought to Boston a dietary awareness that had been flying underneath the radar for some time.

“Food faddists” and “health nuts” were the tags attached to pioneers such as Adelle Davis whose LETS EAT RIGHT TO KEEP FIT in 1954, ISBN 4-87187-961-5 and Euell Gibbons’ STALKING THE WILD ASPARAGUS of 1962, ISBN-10 0911469036.  Both Ms. Davis and Mr. Gibbons earned the attention and couch of Johnny Carson.

Mr. Kushi was in the right place at the right time culturally as baby boomers aged into the thoughtful eating that would become the “foodie” market of our 21st. Century.

Having said that, Mr. Kushi’s holistic happenstance approach to business has been emulated by no one.  Indeed, his message might have had significantly more effect had his stores had been profitable.

It is a testament to the worth of his ideals that his influence is noted by many including this scribe.

Mr. Kushi was years ahead of the curve in making available tamari, sea vegetables and an array of Asian wheat and rice noodles.

Locavores and vegans are the unwitting progeny of Mr. Kushi.

Mr. Kushi seems to have been a more than decent man in his personal life, opening his Brookline home to many and living in accordance to his ideals.

Mr. Kushi’s philosophy and diet are not exactly mine.  But like Stephen Gaskin of the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee and the author of “Hey, Beatnik” his ideas contributed much to my collage as much as for what they aren’t as for what the ideas are.

Mr. Kushi, thank you.

Peace, Steve