I’m of two minds when it comes to California raising taxes on wine, beer and spirits. (Yes, that issue is still on the table, and was the subject yesterday of a hearing by the Assembly Committee on Health.)
California, like other states, is in the toilet financially, and Schwarzenegger and the (mostly Democratic) legislators are looking for every dime they can raise. (Republicans are calling for spending cuts.) Schwarzenegger is a Republican, of course, but at least he has the cojones to admit he’s raising taxes after promising not to because California is on the verge of fiscal Armageddon and he has no choice. Ronald Reagan did the same thing when he was Governor; he raised taxes after saying he wouldn’t. Reagan and Schwarzenegger, like most Governors, are political pragmatists in the long run.
I don’t mind an honest discussion over taxes vs. spending cuts. But the discussion turns dishonest when the likes of Assemblyman Jim Beall (who introduced the alcohol tax hike bill) and the Marin Institute step in to spread their skein of lies and half-truths. The Democrat from San Jose and the fiercely anti-alcohol Marin Institute insist their support for the alcohol tax hike isn’t because the money is needed, it’s because the alcoholic beverage industry “causes” fetal alcohol syndrome and DUI fatalities and must “pay” for its sins.
“The industry must start paying its fair share for the problems their products cause,” Beall insists. On his government website, he goes even further:
“The alcohol industry creates devastating problems – traffic accidents, alcoholism – and walks away with money stuffed in its pockets while the public — including non-drinkers — are left to pay billions for the mess.’’
His friend Bruce Livingston, the Marin Institute’s executive director, backs up these incendiary falsehoods. “Now is the time to charge Big Alcohol for the $38.4 billion … in harm their products cause every year in California.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the alcohol industry doesn’t “cause” anything. It’s stupid people who cause problems: the idiot mother who gets loaded while pregnant, the moron who drinks and drives. Blaming a winery because someone who drinks their wine got into a traffic accident is just plain stupid-headed and unfair. It reminds me of the burglar who tried to break into a store at night through a rooftop window and fell through, hurting himself. He sued the store he was trying to rob! “It wasn’t my fault I got hurt, it’s because they put a dangerous window there and they should have known better.”
I DON’T THINK SO, KNUCKLEHEAD!
I can do no better than to quote this statement from a professor at Trinity College in Connecticut:
“Mr. Beall and Marin’s whole strategy of taxing people sober (with the long-term goal of eventually going back to prohibition) is fatally flawed…Research indicates that the heaviest drinkers do not curb their drinking in response to higher prices, unlike light-to-moderate drinkers, for whom there can be positive health benefits…If alcohol abusers are truly addicted, will an extra ‘dime a drink’ stop them? Will a career criminal decide to not get drunk before his next crime spree because of a 10-cent-per-drink tax? Of course not.”
Look, I fully recognize that some people have a substance abuse problem, whether it be with alcohol or drugs. So before you slam me for not “getting it,” let’s get the foregoing straight, okay?
Having said that, last week’s news that President Bush, for the first time, candidly talked about his history of alcoholism has me wondering why so many people who go through this struggle end up talking about Jesus Christ. I mean, do you have to be an ex-addict to discover that old time religion?
CNN reported on Bush’s fess-up, quoting him as saying, “I’m a faith-based guy. Sometimes, to help change a person’s behavior, you have to change their heart.” We have to understand “faith-based” in the context of another quote in the article, from a baseball player named Josh Hamilton, who told Bush that his own drug addiction was cured only after “I opened my heart, and that following night I committed my life to Christ.”
That’s what makes me uneasy with this entire anti-alcohol movement. I’ve posted many times on this site about neoprohibitionism and accompanying moves to curtail the use of alcohol, if not to eliminate it altogether. When I wrote my blog on “Seven reasons not to vote for Sarah Palin if you love wine” (Sept. 7), it alluded to this concern. I have little problem with professionals who rightfully point out the dangers of excessive use of substances, including alcohol, and I understand, as I explained above, that some people feel they just can’t take a single sip of alcohol without endangering themselves. Hell, I have relatives in that sad situation, and I feel sorry for them.
But why do so many of these crusaders have to juxtapose Jesus Christ and born-again Christianity with their recoveries? Do the two have anything to do with each other? Does that mean an agnostic can’t be a recovering addict, or a Jew, or a Buddhist? When my Jewish relatives went to AA and gave up alcohol, they didn’t run all over the place yakking about Moses and Abraham, they just quietly got their stuff together in a dignified way. Why can’t people like Hamilton and Bush do it the same way? It’s their religious certainty, and the need to pompously showcase it for everybody else, that bothers me about these recoverers — the same ideological certainty Bush displayed in his disastrous war in Iraq, in the anti-science bent of his administration, in his reflexive instinct against gay people, in the arrogant middle finger he gave to the rest of the world through his go-it-alone foreign policy. I could go on and on. I completely agree with Oliver Stone, who said:
There’s nothing more dangerous for America than an ex-alcoholic President who tells you to believe in Jesus.
And before you accuse me of being anti-Christian, I’m not. Hello! Jesus was a great Jewish rabbi. What I’m against are Christians who want to impose their narrow religious beliefs on the rest of us, tear down the wall between church and state, and replace the Constitution with Leviticus.
By the way, Mr. Bush, what about your use of cocaine?
On Monday, back to wine!
Our neoprohibitionist friends at The Marin Institute are at it again. I mentioned these anti-alcohol crusaders last week, after they freaked out about funny whiskey ads on buses. Now, they’re carrying the battle to social media (and the young people who hang out there). The latest is what they call “the country’s first anti-beer ad contest.” Marin Institute is calling for “youth from 13 to 20” to create “original anti-beer ads of 30 to 60 seconds…”. The campaign is dubbed Free the Bowl, as in Super Bowl. Seems the beer ads on America’s favorite televised sporting event of the year are offensive to the Institute’s Board of Directors, and they’re out there recruiting impressionable young people to their cause. First prize for the lucky young videographer: “a brand new 13” Apple Macbook with Final Cut Express 4.0 software.”
Heck, if I was 18 years old and into making videos, I’d enter the damn contest myself, and if I won, I’d celebrate by drinking a bottle of Champagne.
Crushpad is a very cool place in San Francisco where, for money, you can produce your own wine, under your own label, made from grapes grown in some very good California vineyards. Now, they have a cool thing they’re calling The Wine Bailout, AKA Dude, where’s my 401K?
Before I sound off on it, I need to get this off my chest: I HATE to give free publicity to businesses that are shamelessly angling for it. Which Crushpad is: I got a personal email from them. The gist is, you pay $39 as futures on a 2007 Napa Cabernet that will be bottled next August. Then, “If the Dow goes down, you get an economic stimulus check of $2 per bottle for every 100 point drop. If it goes up, then your 401K is looking good and the maximum of $39 is a steal for similar wines we produce that command $75+ at retail.” It’s hard to know, under these circumstances, whether to root for the Dow to go up, or down. If it falls 2,000 points, you get your wine for free (actually, Crushpad would have to pay you a dollar). If it goes up, you’re still guaranteed the 39 bucks.
It’s a cute scheme and maybe worth looking into. We’re all a little meschuggina with the markets tanking; maybe The Wine Bailout is a way to laugh through the tears.
Another interesting post from WineDiverGirl, who continues to explore the ways wineries and bloggers can work together. As readers of this space know, I was critical last month with some suggestions WDG had made, although I allowed as to how she was asking some interesting questions. Read her new post. The money line isn’t from her, but from the blogger 1WineDude [Joe Roberts], whom she quotes: Heaven knows I’ve got no problem whatsoever being courted by winemakers, PR contacts, or the wine media in general (in fact, my view is that it’s about time this has happened). The trick is maintaining the willpower to keep a unique, individual, and (hopefully) credibly opinionated voice as a blogger while the “courting” ramps up. As one who’s long used to being “courted,” I couldn’t agree more.
There seems to be a movement around the world to ban alcohol advertising. From Australia to France, from England to right here in the U.S.A., even the most inoffensive ads are under attack. In this country, at least 11 transit systems — including Los Angeles MTA and Golden Gate Transit — have banned alcohol ads. In France, cradle of gastonomy, the courts have affirmed the illegality of Internet wine advertising. In Australia, the NSW Health Minister again has demanded a total advertising ban on all alcoholic beverages.
Leading the charge against alcohol in this country is the Marin Institute, a San Rafael-based non-profit largely funded by the Buck Trust. The Institute’s attitude toward all things alcoholic is the opposite of a smiley face — a frowny face that never met a drink it didn’t hate. On their blog is a post that criticizes a bus booze ad from Marker’s Mark whiskey that reads “blue or red, Democrat or Republican, we’re all united in one party: The Cocktail Party.” I think it’s funny, but the Marin Institute says the ad “trivializes the election,” as if a little humor about politics is unpatriotic and bad. Paging Tina Fey!
Times are tough all over the world, and it seems like politicians — clueless when it comes to actually solving problems — are letting themselves off the hook for their ineffectualness by blaming alcohol, among other things, for the situation. This is a first step toward the Nanny State, a big government that “protects” its citizens by intervening in their personal lives and institutionalizes its own narrow interpretation of moral behavior. This is not only dangerous, it’s downright silly, because no form of prohibitionism ever has worked. A study of the relationship between restricting alcohol ads and alcohol consumption came to the following, unsurprising conclusion:
“The relationships between consumption and alcoholism rates for the U.S. and advertising regulations were very weak and not statistically significant. Subsequent to a restriction on beer advertising in Manitoba, beer consumption in that province rose at a similar rate as in a control province of Alberta. It is considered unlikely that restrictions on advertising will reduce consumption.”
America has far more serious problems than banning Marker’s Mark ads from buses on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The last time anyone proposed a big tax hike on alcoholic beverages, including wine, was back in the early 1990s. I dont recall all the details, but the industry widely regarded this as an attack by neoprohibitionists (a term that, I believe, Wine Intitute’s then-chairman, John DeLuca, coined), and DeLuca himself led the charge against the “sin tax” hike. He didn’t entirely succeed in eliminating it, but the eventual rise amounted to only a penny for a glass of wine.
I was against a tax on alcohol, especially on wine, at that time, as I believed wine to be a civilizing influence, and things that calm and relax adult humans ought not to be taxed. But here we are, some 17 years later, and once more a serious proposal is on the table to tax wine, beer and spirits. This time, it comes, not from neopros, but from California’s Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who according to what I’ve heard enjoys a little nip of something now and then. Here’s a link you a YouTube that seems to be Arnold in a Japanese drink commercial, and back in his weightlifting days he made no secret of his affection for beer and wine.
That ain’t no girlie-man Chardonnay
Anyway, this time around, I have to reluctantly support the Governor’s proposed tax hike on alcoholic beverages. The particulars, according to Meininger’s Wine Business International, are that the proposed tax increase will amount to about five cents for a glass of wine. If you assume 8 glasses of wine per bottle, that’s a rise of 40 cents per bottle, which doesn’t seem like all that much to me, if it will help bail California out from the enormous fiscal hole we’re in.
Republicans, who never saw a tax they liked, have reacted predictably. Here’s a snippet from former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s website, which contains an official statement by the Sonoma County Republican Party, in which they censor the man they call, without affection, the Governator:
“Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger…has reached across the aisle and found his true niche as just another, run-of-the-mill tax and spend liberal.” The declaration of censorship also says that the proposed excise tax hike “would equate to a tax on wine grape growers of $217 a ton of grapes, more than the average cost per ton for the majority of wine grapes grown in California.” Actually, this isn’t true. According to the 2007 Grape Crush Report, published by the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture, the average price per ton of wine grapes, red and white, last year in California was $565. But, hey, what’s a little exaggeration when you’re making a political point?
Look, nobody wants to see taxes go up just for the hell of it. But anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave knows that California is broke, with all that implies for roads, schools, cops, the environment, fighting fires, hospitals and the rest of the infrastructure and services upon which we depend every day. In my judgment, 40 cents per bottle of wine isn’t too much to pay for keeping our state alive.
You’d never know it, but Dec. 5 marks the 75th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition, an historic landmark we should all be celebrating. Instead, the date seems likely to come and go with hardly a murmur in the wine industry.
Our friends in the beer industry have taken notice. The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) yesterday issued a press release calling the anniversary “a great time to recognize the success of the past 75 years of effective, state-based alcohol regulation.” I’m not sure how successful our “state-based alcohol regulation” system has been, what with the confusion and obstructionism in certain states following the Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm decision. But we should certainly have learned some valuable lessons from the debacle of Prohibition. Chief among them is that you cannot legislate morality. (People opposed to same-sex unions should heed this lesson well.) Another lesson is that we should always be on the lookout for signs of neoprohibitionst revanchism.
Who brought us Prohibitionism? The folks in the temperance movement, that’s who — priests and ministers who told their flocks that alcohol was sinful (despite the fact that Jesus seemed to rather like it). They were aided and abetted by organizations such as the Anti-Saloon League and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, as well as crazy zealots like Carrie Nation, who invaded bars wielding a hatchet.
The delightful Ms. Nation. Note the warm smile and twinkling eyes
It was they who drove Prohibitionism forward, putting intense pressure on (hypocritical) legislators who voted for the 18th Amendment. President Wilson properly vetoed it, but the Congress overrode his veto. Once again, we see a Democrat struggling to preserve an existing freedom, while conservative zealots try to take that freedom away from the people.
Anyway, even though the wine industry isn’t planning on any formal celebrations, that shouldn’t stop us individually from recognizing Dec. 5 as a special day, and vow to never again let government take away our rights.