Monday, September 30, 2013

Let's Play "Spot the Lies!"

In the world of privatization, it seems that some opinions can't be bothered to rely on pesky things like truth, opting instead to build their "cases" on what Steven Colbert would call "truthiness" - things that sound true, until they are confronted with those annoying facts.

Such appears to be the case with Donald Cohen's opinion piece on PA Privatization appearing this week on The Patriot News, titled "Lawmakers should just say no to booze privatization: As I See It."

How Cohen apparently sees "it" is through rose-colored - but not fact-tinged - glasses. Cohen is, according to, "the executive director of In the Public Interest, a nonprofit comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting, based in Washington D.C." Red flags should be raising in your brain as you read that (it's not possible to determine, through scanning In the Public Interest's Website, where and from whom they get their funding).

You should head over to and give Cohen's ill-conceived OpEd a read, if only to get your blood boiling. I think we could start a serious game of "spot the lies!" in that piece, though it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. If it were a drinking game, you'd be hammered before you were halfway through reading it.

Many commenters on the original piece have beat me to the punch on this game, and following are two highlights from that discussion. One comes from a commentor called BertB:
"An analysis of state data by the Keystone Research Center found that states with tighter control over the sale and distribution of alcohol have lower rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths than states that take a more hands’ off approach." 
Except for PA which is in the lower half of the states in DUI, underage DUI, binge drinking and underage binge drinking.

Really, the only way that rational alcohol enjoying people can tolerate this stuff is to turn it into a game, right?

So... let's play!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

10 Questions for the PLCB

  1. Why do you cheat the residents of Pennsylvania by having wine and liquor only bars and restaurants can order?

  1. Why do you cheat the residents of Pennsylvania by giving bars and restaurants a 10% discount but not a case discount to consumers?

  1. Why do you cheat the residents of Pennsylvania by only having liters at special prices at about 2% of the stores?

  1. Why do you cheat the bar and restaurant owners of Pennsylvania by not allowing those who don’t live anywhere near a store that carries liters from ordering them?

  1. If the PLCB is doing such a good job of controlling alcohol then why are the Pennsylvania alcohol fatality rates not better than the national average?

  1. If the PLCB is doing such a good job educating Pennsylvanians then why do you spend more on advertising then education? Why is the state 28th (Statistically average) in DUI rates?

  2. If the PLCB is one of the largest liquor buyers in the United States (which it is) then why don't Pennsylvanians have the best prices across the board? Why are there so many things on clearance all the time? After 80 years one would think you should know your customer base better. You’ve been told to run it like a business then be more like Walmart who doesn’t seem to have any problems selling all their stock, having low prices and making money.

  1. Staying with Walmart, why does their barcode system work so much better then the PLCB’s? You don’t see little stickers with new barcodes on Walmart products but you certainly do in the liquor store.

  1. Renaming things does not change them.  Going from Specialty Items to Luxury Items and renaming stores from Wine & Spirits to Fine Wine and Good Spirits only wastes money.  How much did just those things really cost to implement?
    We know about the $3.7million paid to an out of state consultant but how many meetings and man hours were wasted on it? How much are 600 signs going to cost and whose relative is going to get that contract?  Is the total more or less than the wine kiosks? Remember they weren’t supposed to cost the state anything either.

  1. Why can't there be 20-30,000 sqft stores in Philly and Pittsburgh? The PLCB doesn't have any problem with a few little stores open 3 or 4 days a week with limited selection in Podunkville why shouldn't they have a few of the biggest stores in the biggest cities? What business ever did well by having the exact same thing everywhere no matter what the customers wanted or would buy?

In conclusion, based on your success with wine kiosks, the new website, the horrid Oracle upgrade implementation, failure to provide correct information for beer registration, courtesy contract fiasco, Mother’s Day ads, blaming the date rape victim, unneeded renaming of things, unimproved fatality and DUI rates, the 36 years it took to move from counter stores to self-service, the 70+ year schedule the current store upgrade is on and the numerous failures Pennsylvanians don’t know of yet, why should we trust you when you say you can “Modernize”? 

Privatization IS Modernization. Accept nothing less.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Privatization Works - An Update

In my post Privatization Works earlier this month I mentioned that I didn't have any employment figures for Alberta.  Thanks to the good folks at the Commonwealth Foundation we do now.  They report that employment went from 1,300 when the government ran things to 4,000 after privatization.
Alberta only has 3.75 million residents, Pennsylvania has 12.75 million. - you do the math.  The union myth that jobs will decrease because of privatization is not true.  It wasn't true in West Virginia, it isn't true in Alberta and it certainly isn't true in Washington.

The legislature is back in session so be sure to write, call or visit your representative or senator and tell them that you want them to get off their ass and do something for the consumer and not the special interests - privatize.  (Just do it nicely)

Privatization IS Modernization, accept nothing less.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

PLCB - Moving at the speed of business. 1930's business.

Just an observation.

I like numbers, I like to see in cold hard print if things are as people claim.  This causes me to wonder why it takes over six weeks to post a pdf of a mimeographed copy of an un-audited financial report on the PLCB website?  Lately (the last few years) these reports have been showing up at the end of August but not this record year.  Maybe record slowness is part of the record year?  It's not like they don't have the info, the press release was back on August 5th so to cherry pick and report some numbers you basically have to have all the numbers available otherwise things don't match up when you do release the information to the public. There will be some interesting numbers showing up in a future blog post depending on when the PLCB hires somebody to figure out the internet for them.

Stay tuned.

Privatization IS Modernization - Accept nothing less.

UPDATE:  Here it is two weeks later and still nothing from the PLCB.  It is now two months since they released some cherry picked numbers so the question I'm asking besides what is taking so long is what are they not wanting us to see?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Where oh where has the bourbon gone? - A rant.

Let me start off by saying that cherry flavored, peach flavored, maple flavored, honey flavored, apple flavored, spice flavored et al whiskey IS NOT BOURBON.  It may have started off with bourbon but the end result is not. These abominations are made for women and frat boys who think they want to drink bourbon but don't actually appreciate the flavors and subtleties that real bourbon has. Every crap flavor some chemist dreams up takes shelf space away from America's spirit. 

Bourbon can't be made anywhere but the US.  It is protected just like Scotch can only be made in Scotland and Cognac only in France. Apparently it isn't protected from the "new coke" syndrome. Every new flavor decreases the shelf space of an established brand or pushes them out of the store entirely. Flavored whiskey makes up less than 10% of sales but has more shelf slots then its sales would indicate. Jim Beam's Red Stag (real bourbon fans call it something else) for example has 4 flavors now with each taking up at least one facing on the shelf.  This pushes classic bourbons like the following off the shelf.

Old GrandDad 114
Old Forester
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon
George Dickel #8
George Dickel #12
Elijah Craig 1.75L
Eagle Rare 1.75L
Four Roses Small Batch
Evan Williams 1783
Evan Williams Single Barrel
Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve

I'm sure there are others but that is all I can remember.

While some are available SLO that is not the same as having them on the shelf. You don't have to wait for weeks to buy something on the shelf.  The PLCB selection of bourbon is already poor and having flavored bastardizations taking up space doesn't help. Our state store system claims to have about 87 Bourbons and Ryes (including multiple sizes of the same thing and not counting flavors) on the shelves across the state.  Binny's in Chicago with just 29 stores claims 227. Therein lies the difference between having some cube rat in Harrisburg pick for you or having the market, meaning you the customer, decide what products should be sold.

Privatization IS Modernization.  Accept nothing less.

Friday, September 6, 2013

I'm gonna miss Joe "Water Heater" Conti

Acting CEO Joe Conti has finally left the PLCB after collecting about $67,000 for 6 months of "emergency" part-time work.  I say acting because he never really was a CEO. He never took responsibility for anything. Never made a sound business decision and never did anything that improved things for the public or even the store workers. Wine kiosks were "innovative"  so much so that he doesn't care if it takes 20 years to settle the lawsuits. "We may have had an error in judgment, and this may be played out over years or decades in litigation, but this was not a faulty fiscal decision.” . Vodka for Mother's Day went over so well that the ISSU, the union of state store managers, called the CEO and the LCB "You are collectively the number one drug pushers in Pennsylvania.".  Obviously that was $142,000 not well spent.

Then there is the $33 million extra that the new computer system cost.  Why?  The AG says it is because the PLCB basically didn't read and understand the contract.. You can read even more background about the events leading up to this in the 2009 Audit. This lead to the double ordering and storing wine in trailers.

That alone would cause the board or the shareholders (US) to remove the CEO but not old Joe he kept chuggin' along with sweetheart deals for Jose Garces giving him a state store within his restaurant - the only one in the state and never repeated.  That lawsuit by other Philly restaurateurs was settled after Jose Garces actually got a license.  Since that was looking like it would work out for awhile Joe tried to get his daughter a job with Stephen Starr by offering him the same special treatment - or at least that is what the AG says.  That investigation for nepotism and graft is still ongoing but it didn't stop the PLCB from bringing Joe back after he resigned. Supposedly for the emergency reason to find his own replacement even though the Governor said he wasn't going to fill the position. Then there was the questionable contract with the husband of a regional manager to teach the clerks how to say please and thank you. Commonly known as "Smile" training it compared the stress of working a register with the stress President Kennedy felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  This went over so well that he approved a second year of it even though customer complaints INCREASED after the training. The Auditor General said: "Although this contract was awarded according to the letter of the law, there are several incidents that occurred that raise serious concerns and put the PLCB's procurement procedures in question." And that isn't the first or second or third time the AG has commented on the PLCB procurement or implementation process. (Audits 1992, 2000, 2007, 2009. 2010, 2012)

There is more, so much more but it all is just repeats of his hubris and lack of business sense and of how out of touch the PLCB system is with the wants and needs of the citizens. "The state alcohol system is a Fortune 1000 company", Conti once said and he was a guy who once helped run a restaurant for a while in charge of it.  He said: "At the end of the day, you want convenience,” and to that end he closed 45 stores, gave us wine kiosks and admitted the state still had 30 unprofitable stores in rural areas, but that they lose less than $1 million annually combined (I guess that makes it OK).  If you can't make money in a liquor store with a complete monopoly then something has to be wrong with the system.

I'm gonna miss you Joe, you were the best friend privatization had but I have faith that whomever they find to replace you or any of the board members will be just as incompetent, inexperienced in business and out of touch with the desires of the public and that gives me hope that privatization will take hold here in Pennsylvania.

How can you hate a guy who's lasting legacy will be making the clerks wear "world -class" aprons like Williams Sonoma?

Privatization IS Modernization - Accept Nothing Less

Monday, September 2, 2013

Privatization works.

Twenty years ago today Alberta Canada started the process to privatize the government run liquor stores much like Washington did last year and like Washington they did it fast and full bore. So what did they get for their efforts?

Increased selection. True in both places. Washington has over 30 superstores now (with more being built) where it had none before and Alberta went from 2,000 items available to tens of thousands.

Increased convenience. Washington went from 329 state stores to 1500 private stores.  Alberta went from 200 stores to 2,000 stores

Decreased Impaired death rate. Washington DUI and DUI crashes are both down over 9% since privatization. Alberta's DUI death rate at 1.1 per 100,000 it is lower than any state and half of what it was, 

Increased employment.  Washington had 931 state store workers. 3 warehousing firms alone hired 1,100 workers. Each of the over 30 superstores needed 25-40 workers and the 1,100 new stores needed some workers. While I was unable to find Alberta's liquor store employment from 20 years ago it is safe to say that going from 200 stores to 2,000 stores and the associated warehousing and transportation certainly resulted in more jobs.

Alberta is still working on wine in grocery stores 20 years later, much like we are still working on the same thing 80 years later. However, the system has been a boon to consumers and created a new entrepreneurial class in Alberta, both through retailers and licensed liquor agents.

As the linked article above points out "It seems ridiculous grown adults in this country should have to buy a legitimate consumer product directly from a government depot. While alcohol abuse is associated with social ills in some cases, that some people don’t mix well with booze is no reason for a government monopoly."

Privatization IS Modernization. Accept nothing less.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hello and Goodbye

I'd like to thank Lew for this opportunity and hope that I can approach his standards.  I know he'll be watching so I'll try to do my best. 

Not being shy I'll jump in with both feet and start now with some "convenient" facts about PLCB convenience.

"Dale Horst, director of retail operations for the PLCB, said the board decided to extend hours at many of its stores as part of a broad effort to meet increased customer demand."

OH - 1 Sept - stores open 5:30AM to 1AM at discretion of the owner and / or local ordinance. 2 Sept - Stores open 5:30AM to 1AM at discretion of the owner and / or local ordinance.

NY - 1 Sept - stores open noon to 4AM at discretion of the owner and / or county ordinance. 2 Sept - Stores open 8AM to 4AM at discretion of the owner and / or county ordinance.

NJ - 1 Sept - stores open according to local code, most allow Sunday sales 9AM to 10PM. 2 Sept - Stores open according to local code, most will allow normal hours on Labor day 9AM to 10PM.

MD - 1 Sept -  stores open according to county codes, no state limits on hours, most open on Sunday. 2 Sept - Stores in all but 2 counties open.

DE - 1 Sept - stores open noon - 8PM (subject to local ordinances). 2 Sept - Stores open 9AM to 1AM at discretion of the owner.

WV - 1 Sept - stores open from 1PM to 2AM at discretion of the owner for beer and wine only. 2 Sept - Stores open from 7AM to 3AM for all sales at discretion of the owner.

PA - 1 Sept - 75% of stores closed, remaining open noon to 5PM. 2 Sept. - All stores closed.

True customer convenience comes from supplying a product or service that the customer wants in a manner that they want it.  All of the states have regulatory boards but only one severely limits the customer to what THEY want and not what the customer wants.  As you can see PA is still the most inconvenient place to shop of all the surrounding states and a few extra hours does not change the system that is in place. We need to demand better. We need privatization.

Goodbye, and Hello

As I mentioned in my last post, there is going to be a major change in this blog.

I'm going to stop writing it.

I have accepted a full-time position as managing editor of Whisky Advocate magazine, which starts today. Part of the terms of employment were that my writing is to be exclusive to the magazine, so I agreed to stop writing further on this blog.

However...the blog will go on. "Albert Brooks," an active proponent of privatization who has supplied ideas for posts to me in the past (and a tireless researcher of the PLCB's financials), and Joe Richards, who writes the 1WineDude blog, have agreed to post here on an occasional basis to keep things moving along. I welcome them, and thank them, and hope you'll enjoy what they have to say.

This means a lot to me. I've wanted "Albert" (yes, it's a pseudonym, and I understand and support his reasons) to have a broader forum for some time. Joe will add a new dimension to the blog. I've always wanted to have more about wine here, because it's a vitally important reason for privatization, and I simply don't know that much about it.

So this is going to work well. I'll still be reading, of course, and I'll still be moderating the comments; same rules apply, so only make personal assaults on Albert and Joe if you want to be the only person who reads them! Stay on topic, and we'll be fine.

I'll also encourage you to read what Jon Geeting has to say about State Store privatization at the Keystone Politics blog; I do, and I've quoted him frequently here and on Twitter. Jon and I don't agree 100% on how privatization should be done -- I don't think any two Pennsylvanians do! -- but he eloquently makes the case for liquor privatization from a Progressive standpoint, showing how this is not your usual "privatization" issue.

I truly hope that the major reason for the blog staying open will go away after the September session of the Legislature...but that's not the way to bet. We'll see. Good luck to everyone involved in the fight for privatization. Remember:


Accept no substitutes!