Monday, December 28, 2009

Pocono Record has it right...

Oh, yeah, brother: preach it:

...the wine kiosks smack more than a little of Big Brother. Without a live person monitoring wine purchases, consumers will face some pretty intrusive procedures before they can walk out of the supermarket with a bottle of cabernet to go with their steak au poivre.
The editorialist at the Pocono Record puts their finger right on the wine kiosk problem. When you buy a bottle of wine at a private store in New Jersey/New York/Delaware/Maryland/etc., that's all you buy: a bottle of wine, and you walk away. When you buy a bottle of wine from one of these Wine-O-Mats, you buy a lot more: you buy a breathalyzer test, you buy an ID scan linked to what you bought (and how much you bought), you buy the knowledge of how much wine you buy over a year, and -- at least, according to the head of the PLCB's employees' union -- you buy an etched code on the bottle that links it to you...and all of that goes on your permanent record.

Is that what you want from your government? Big Brother literally looking out at you from some ridiculous wine-vending machine, sniffing your breath and taking your picture just so you can get a bottle of Yellow Tail (because I'm sure there will be Yellow Tail in these things, they've got a whole section of their own in the stores)? I mean, I'm not a huge fan of the Patriot Act, but at least I can understand why the government might want to listen on phone lines to pick up terrorist activity...why the hell do they want to keep a record of which bottle of wine I bought? What damned business is it of theirs?

It might be time to throw some bottles of wine in the Philadelphia harbor...

Monday, December 21, 2009

"How to Avoid Selling Wine in Pennsylvania"

Nicely done piece on the "wine kiosks" at Vinography; go have a look.

Here's how it starts:

So if you had a bunch of grocery stores, and those grocery stores sold wine, but you didn't really want people to buy any wine, what would you do?

One of the things you might consider doing would be to lock all the wine away in cabinets, so that people couldn't touch the bottles.
And it goes on in that vein, brilliantly. Seriously, folks, as the commenters to the post say: why aren't Pennsylvanians more insulted by this?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

17% expansion in number of State Stores in 2010!

The PLCB is planning to expand the number of State Stores from 620-ish to over 700 in 2010!

Holy crap! Really?

No, not really. It's that stupid wine kiosk idea again, and it's almost here, despite its obvious stupidity and iffy ethical status of the contract (not that "iffy ethics" should surprise anyone in this context). And according to the PLCB...each one is a Store.
"What we are proposing is a wine kiosk. This counts as a wine and spirits store. It will be within the store. There will be 100 of them around the state. They will have some of our most popular wines," said Nick Hays, PLCB spokesman.
So...what about all the worry that "more outlets means more problem drinking"? Well, once again, that only applies to a projected increase in privatized stores, not when it's the good old PLCB. Are you surprised?

Wine kiosks. God help us.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Conti & Stapleton on PCN again...

Sorry I missed this one: Joe "CEO" Conti and PLCB chairman PJ Stapleton were on PCN's call-in show again on Monday (thanks to the readers who sent me the link!). Check it here for now; go to the PCN Call-in. I'm listening to it now.

Bill to Abolish State Liquor Stores to be Introduced in January!

Holy crap! Can you believe it? Just saw this today, and my head exploded.
Lawmakers are introducing a new measure aimed at getting the state out of the booze business.

Senate Democrat Tim Sheldon is proposing the state privatize liquor sales. "Immediately, you would save the $53 million or so that it costs to operate state run liquor stores with state employees. This is a luxury that we can't afford in our state."
Sheldon said the system can be set up just like in other states that allow liquor sales in grocery and convenience stores.
The liquor control board would continue its enforcement efforts. "It could be done in a very safe, controlled way using the private sector outlets. The taxation would still be collected by the state, the regulation would be made by the state," said Sheldon.
The proposal will get its first vetting when lawmakers return to Olympia in January.
 Wait, what? Olympia? Oh, bummer. This is about privatizing the state liquor stores in Washington. Damn.

Doesn't Pennsylvania have one legislator like Tim Sheldon? No, instead, what we get are guys like Representative Neal Goodman (D-123, Schuylkill County, pictured to the left), who recently said in the Pottsville Republican-Herald when asked about the prospect for beer sales in grocery/convenience stores and gas stations: "This is something the LCB (Liquor Control Board) would have to drive. I don't think this would be something legislatively-driven. This is a debate I'm willing to have ... but it really needs to be thought out thoroughly." That's why I really worry about the caliber of legislator in this state. This is not something the LCB "would have to drive." The PLCB has already done a lot towards allowing this kind of thing; they've granted licenses in a surprisingly liberal manner to Wegmans, Giant Eagle, Sheetz, and others. This is one area where I've got nothing but praise for the PLCB. They've been ready for years, and they're pretty clear about it:
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said groceries and convenience stores could have offered beer decades ago.

"The market changed. The law has not," said Nick Hays, a spokesman for the PLCB."The Pennsylvania liquor code does not address whether supermarkets may or may not sell alcohol. It doesn't permit them; it doesn't not permit them."
Hays is right: it's the code. Which, Representative Goodman's limited knowledge -- or deliberate obfuscation -- to the contrary, is something that has to be changed by the Legislature.

There's no need to bury it in a committee for thinking it out thoroughly, either (like they did with that "sixpack law" we were supposed to get two years ago). We've thought it out thoroughly, time and time again, and then nothing gets done. Which has nothing to do with the "thought out thoroughly" part, except the bits that deal with the political calculus. Your legislators want to please you, but mostly they don't want to piss off industry groups like the tavern owners or the beer wholesalers. The whole purpose of this blog is to change that equation.
Readers...if you're an interested citizen, write your legislator. It's easy, go do it (type your ZIP code in the box, and you'll get e-mail contact to Da Gov and your state legislators). If you're a reporter, please, please, please, take my ideas, take my passion, steal it with no attribution, but use it. Hammer at this ridiculous system, at the convoluted crap of The Almighty Liquor Code, at the entrenched stalinist edifice of the State Store System, at the arrogant monopolist attitude of Joe "CEO" Conti, at the wasteful and questionable spending on the Courtesy Contract and the Great Table Leaf Re-Branding.
Because the time is as ripe as it has ever been. Yuengling COO Dave Casinelli nailed it recently: "Ultimately, the consumers will speak," he said. "There's a groundswell out there. Both sides are kind of a stand-off right now." Damn straight. Why should Washington have all the fun?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

First courtesy training, now this

The PLCB, fresh from blowing millions of your tax dollars out of their butts* with the Courtesy Contract and the Great Table Leaf Re-Branding, is now going to spend even more PA police officers how to use Facebook.

It's not that simple -- it never is -- but it's close. As you probably know, underaged drinkers are often dumb enough to post their drunking (intentional misspelling) pix on social networking sites. Hell, everyone knows it, and has known it, as this story about it from 2006 shows. The Bensalem PD is already using it for their own horny purposes. But that's not going to stop the PLCB from spending more bux to jump on this.

Here's the syllabus for the 8 hour course:
According to Leslie Coombe, director of the Liquor Control Board's Bureau of Alcohol Education, the Navigating Cyberspace training will cover:

•Social networking sites and how young people use them;
•What distinguishes social networking sites from one another;
•How to navigate social networking sites; and
•How to develop information from social networking sites into evidence.
So that would be:
  • Facebook, MySpace, craigslist, Twitter -- Farmville; pix of chix and crappy music; all beer u can drunkk $5 dude; LOL RT LOL!
  • Your mom's on FB too, MySpace looks like a cat threw it up, craigslist is about the bux, Twitter s shrt lol.
  • Create a false identity. Login. Start friending/following like mad; lie when necessary. Click on links. Txt. Google site for "beers" "crunk" and "funnel". Call it a day, go get a beer.
  • Lie to some kid about who you are, get an invite to a party. Show up with the squad, arrest all the kids you can catch, bust the owners of the house, too.
  • And one more thing: Entrapment Is Something That Happens to Other Cops.
Hey, officer, just kidding about that last one, really. But I'd love to see what the folks at the Chambersburg Public Opinion would have done with this one. We're sending police officers to school for a day to learn how to Facebook? Are you kidding? My mechanic told me his small-town PD has a cyber-enforcement unit. Cops are up to speed already, and if they aren't, a one-day course ain't gonna do it. God, this reminds me of the narc convention in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

I did say it wasn't quite as simple as the others, and here's another reason. The money comes from a grant...from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, the "business association" of control states' liquor monopolies. Where does their money come from? To tell the truth, I don't know (I do now; see below). Google has, for now, failed me. But I do have a call in to them, asking that very question, and I'm hoping for an answer (because I'm writing a piece about this, too). But if NABCA is funded by the control states' booze agencies...guess what that means? Give you a hint: those aren't monkeys flying out of your butt.

Update: I did get back with the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, and it turns out that they get only a small amount of money from the states, less than a third of their operating budget. Most of their funds come from selling reports to investment analysis firms, the booze industry, and importers/wholesalers; they have solid, gilt-edged data from the states (it's every sale from every store in the state, as opposed to the patchwork reports from private-sale states), and it's valuable. Good idea, actually. fear, the PLCB's wasting someone else's money this time. Whew.

*Paraphrasing a great line from one of my fave movies, "The Iron Giant," where Gen. Rogard says "You realize how much hardware I brought out here? You just blew millions of Uncle Sam's dollars out of your butt!" I know just how he feels...and yeah, Joe "CEO" Conti, it was our tax dollars, because if you hadn't wasted it on this project, it would have gone into the general fund, where it would have become fungible revenue. PLCB revenue wasted is the same as taxes to cover the hole.

Friday, December 4, 2009

You gotta see this

Just go here and look at the picture and caption. Well worth your time, but be prepared to laugh out loud. Gotta love irony.

First, Do No Harm

Can you see those beer neons? Victory, Smithwick's, and a very rare Weyerbacher neon? I apologize for the quality of the iPhone shot, but it's all I had with me.

Why'd I take this picture? Because you're looking at a gas station that's selling beer in bottles, cans, and Pennsylvania. It's the Interstate Market, just south of I-78 at Easton, and very much on the PA side of the Delaware River. And right under the big sign advertising the fuel prices was a sign that read "On tap today: Sierra Nevada."

I felt very much "out of control." How was this possible? More to the point, why does the MBDA have its panties in a terrible knot over Sheetz stores selling beer while not a word of protest accompanies this madness of selling beer right where people buy gasoline! Amazing. Cynically, I suggest it's because this one store represents no real threat to business, and the MBDA's cries over exposing children and driving dangers are simply bullshit, covering their real concern: Sheetz can offer bottleshop convenience in a lot of places. I would suggest that the MBDA would be much better off spending their time and money lobbying for a sixpack sale law for distributors.

Anyway, things were strangely peaceful. I didn't see one person sucking on a bottle of irresistably nearby and cold beer while they gassed up their car. No one peeled out of the place waving an open bottle out the window. There weren't raving crowds inside the store demanding beer, cold beer, open bottles of it right now!!!

No, what there was...was some people having lunch (sit-down tables), and some people buying sodas, and five nice taps and empty growlers waiting to be filled. Peaceful. Restrained.

Where's the threat? What's the big deal about selling beer at gas stations?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

God Almighty only asked for ten...

Saw this over at City Paper; Drew Lazor's on the job. Ultimo Coffee/Brew bistro has opened their doors -- back in May -- but while their coffee has been nothing short of frackin' amazing (See? Was it really that hard?), there's still no beer in their big, beautiful coolers. How come? That would be the PLCB.

See, much as apparently almost everyone in the area (and this one fella, out here in Bucks) would love for that great beer to show up, one guy is holding things up by saying he doesn't want their license approved. According to The Almighty Liquor Code (Section 4-402), if anyone within 500 feet of the place objects within 15 days of the application, there has to be a hearing. Now, said 'one guy' apparently lives over 600 feet away, but remember the prologue of The Almighty Liquor Code:

This act shall be deemed an exercise of the police power of the Commonwealth for the protection of the public welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the Commonwealth and to prohibit forever the open saloon, and all of the provisions of this act shall be liberally construed for the accomplishment of
this purpose.
So there you are. Although, as alluded to in the post title, God required Abraham to find 10 righteous men in Sodom; the PLCB is willing to hold things up for just one? And where does it say that setting up the hearing has to take six months?

The hearing will finally take place on December 11, and the 'one guy' (no relation to Berwick Brewing, née One Guy Brewing, of course) will get an opportunity to stand up and state just why it is that they object to the license. Assuming they show up...I'd love to hear what their beef is, and I'd really like to see if it's worth one person having held up a the business of a person who has demonstrably improved the Newbold neighborhood. Or if it's just hot air. Not that I'm pre-judging, or anything.