Philadelphia Soda Tax Reality Check

2017062101025444_DMR_AP3I7328We have not lived in Philadelphia for over twenty years now, but I still work within the city limits. My youngest son finds living in the city more energetic and interesting than our sleepy ‘burb. That’s fine for him, but the methods The City has chosen to fund operations and programs (i.e. taxing people and property more than ever) have made our decision to leave seem all the wiser.

Horror stories abound on how The City has executed its real estate reassessment initiative. Tales of how the Philadelphia Beverage Tax (PBT) has affected the people are far less dramatic, but perhaps more insidious for those who live and work there.

I haven’t really paid much attention to the dynamics and effects of the PBT, aside from noticing a 33% increase at the office vending machine and changing my drink-buying habits accordingly. Instead of laying out $2 for an 18.5 ounce bottle (formerly $1.50) of Turkey Hill’s magic ice tea elixir, I began to lug 64 ounce bottles into work, purchased near home at a savings of over $4 per bottle based on volume.

I guess you tend not to think about such things until you are gobsmacked through real-life experience. So after that adjustment was made, I never gave the issue another thought. Not my problem anymore …

06-16-16 Soda tax

Then a few weeks ago, I forgot a critical ingredient to my latest healthy lunch fad (Greek yogurt*, honey, fresh berries, granola* … * low sugar options) at my Philadelphia work location. Granola – the critical missing ingredient – brings it all together.

So I trudge over to the local ShopRite to granola-up and – being low on precious Turkey Hill DIT – I decide to check on availability and price. After over a year of not buying ridiculously taxed, unsweetened drinks, the horror must have faded from memory.

For home use, I buy the full gallon (128 oz.) version of Turkey Hills best. Simple math and you can see where this is headed.

At home (Acme Markets) I pay $2.99 a gallon. (Sale price this week $1.99!) As I wander the ShopRite aisles, I eventually find the object of one of my obsessions … at $5.12 a gallon!!!

Pretty sure I now have PTSD (Philadelphia Tax Stress Disorder) …

DISCUSSION POINTS:

(I don’t pretend to have all the answers … just questions, reactions, and observation … and maybe one solution)

1. How does such a phenomena NOT affect the food shopping habits of Philadelphia families, the profitability of City food markets, and the tax revenue projections?

I know my shopping habits would be affected if still living in Philly. People are not likely to shop twice for groceries just to avoid an intrusive tax. More likely is the obvious solution of moving all grocery shopping outside the City limits.

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2. Does the tax impact the economically disadvantaged in Philadelphia disproportionately?

It’s easy for most to hop in the car and head over the City Limits to shop in suburban soda tax havens. But what about the poor? Do they shoulder the disproportionate bulk of the tax burden, when bad habits are hard to break and the corner bodega is the only short-term food source?

3. It’s difficult to deny the health benefits of laying off sugary foods and drinks. This is how Government justifies taxing cigarettes. So what happens to the economic goals of the tax if the citizenry wised up and changes their drinking habits?

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Philadelphia levies a 1.5 cent/gallon vs. the above

Frankly, this will end up being a win-win for the City of Philadelphia, regardless of where actual soda-tax revenue falls.  If the citizenry fails to make healthier choices, the city cleans up.  If they are successful in changing their habits and sugary drink sales – and the taxes – dry up, the city will claim Healthy Choices Victory!

4. If the selling point is #3 above, why are drink distributors (who actually pay the tax to The City) allowed to price the tax across its entire product line … whether the drink contains sugar or not?

This really rubs the wrong way! Sugar tax? Fine … So why are Philadelphians and visitors paying the tax on drinks without sugar?!?

One might understand if the tax 1.5-cent tax was applied proportionately over sugar and non-sugar drinks. But my calculations indicate that the full tax is being paid on non-sugary drinks as well, which should at the very least be considered a fraudulent act on the consumers!

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Do you see a common thread?

5. A “Big Aha” was revealed last week, when John Dougherty – leader of the Philadelphia chapter (Local 98) of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – was revealed to have supported the sugary drink tax as a way of punishing the local Teamsters affiliate for running a political ad during the 2015 Philadelphia election that portrayed Dougherty in a negative light.

The really funny twist to this curiosity is that apparently Johnny Doc targeted the wrong union!

Now I doubt Dougherty carried the day for the tax-happy leaders of Philadelphia; but it is an odd twist to see labor unions trying to stick it to each other using a general tax issue!

6. This discussion will become much more interesting if reliable grocery sales data were shared alongside the figures for actual beverage-tax collections. Both The City and grocery industry affiliations have been lobbing claims back and forth about the health of the city’s grocery industry as affected by the tax.

Frankly, I would be shocked if the figures did not show a significant decline in grocery sales in the city (as adjusted for the ridiculously high beverage tax). I would be even more surprised if The City ever admitted as much!

7. Finally, as recent as last year the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were willing to package $5.7 billion in tax breaks and incentives to mega-billion-dollar Amazon in a failed attempt to get the corporation to locate its eastern headquarters there. This in addition to huge financial packages to keep other corporate entities, such as Comcast and some Philadelphia sports teams in the city, and other smaller real estate abatement used to attract development.

Putting aside smaller development deals, and recognizing the civic commitments by those “such as” corporations named above, would it be too much to ask potential mega-tax-break corporations to pick up the tab for an initiative like full-day kindergarten as a legitimate giveback to taxpayer-funded corporate largesse?

In reality such a giveback would benefit employees of those city-based corporate entities by ensuring more attractive public education alternatives. This would be – in effect – an indirect employer-provided benefit, especially for those younger corporate employees with young children or expecting them in their future.

To me, it sounds a lot better than punishing those without the wherewithal or strength to break an unhealthy and expensively taxed bad habit.

Free Speech, the NFL, … and what about Security Clearances

To be honest, my nose was never out-of-joint over the protests by NFL players during img_0042-1the  National Anthem.  But in the interest of honesty, I will admit I have been a fan of the NFL (Fly, Eagles fly!) since the 1960s.

It’s not that I agree or enjoy watching million-dollar athletes taking a knee or raising a fist in protest of a Country that enables their lucrative careers. There are quite simply expressions that madden me much, much more, such as the burning of U.S. flags.  However, I do reserve a special level of rage for the sickly Westboro Baptist clowns, who are fond of expressing their Rights in the most insensitive ways at the most inappropriate times.

Maybe I prefer reserving my wrath for the greatest threats to Free Speech. The rage and discomfort we endure is the price one must pay for belief in our Constitution and for faith in the world’s most successful free and open republic.

Amendment I, United States Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Free Speech requires an appreciation for Advanced Citizenship in the U.S. of A.  The more centered and focused you remain on the guiding principle of Free Speech, the more likely you will recognize that such citizenship sometimes requires herculean self-control when someone expresses thoughts and ideas in ways that infuriate.

It’s a concept a lot of people have a difficult time accepting, whether the issue involves a student opting to sit for the Pledge of Allegiance or a couple of knuckleheads burning an American flag.  And sometimes – maybe at when it’s needed most – a remarkable moment unfolds in a way that’s unexpected and ultimately memorable!

And yes, when Rick Monday swooped to the rescue of the national standard, he too was expressing his Right to Free Speech as well!  He spoke with his actions.

Advanced Citizenship – a level of patriotism fewer Americans seem to achieve of late – demands the ability to grit our teeth and chalk your outrage up to a higher national calling. Not that such a thing makes the demonstration any easier to accept. Consider these challenges a test … an opportunity to exercise your appreciation for the ability of those with whom you disagree to exercise their Free Speech, not matter how infuriating.

And no … the excuse that “They do it!” is insufficient.  Let their actions define their character and Patriotism. Don’t let your reactions negatively define yours.

Keep in mind, it’s the lesser of us who choose to shout down or violently suppress Free Speech. It’s a tactic favored by those who would rather tell us what to think or how to vote at the point of whatever weapon might be handy. White supremacists and elements of the Far Left, such as Antifa, have much in common in that regard.

In the case of the National Football League, their recent misguided attempts to rein in the pre-game protests in the face of withering public opinion (more free speech about Free Speech) actually exacerbated the problem. My opinion is that the Players would likely have allowed the protests to die had they not been confronted in such a direct and public way.

But even as I encourage a daunting level of civic sainthood, I cannot give those Westboro Baptist idiots a sliver of accommodation. They are vile, mean-spirited, and unworthy – in my estimation – of even being called Americans.

Yes, if nothing else, I am a flawed American. But I can live with that …

There are nuanced limitations to this Freedom of Speech thing.

  1. You cannot scream “Fire!” in the proverbial crowded theatre.
  2. You cannot express thoughts or opinions under the name of your employer, especially if they serve to somehow conflict with business or embarrass them among consumers of their products.
  3. You cannot defame an individual or organization with false statements. A student’s free speech rights are limited somewhat while in school.
  4. You cannot openly exhort people to violence.
  5. At events deemed to be National Special Security Events (e.g. political conventions, inaugurations, Super Bowl), your Speech can be restricted to specified protest zones.
John Brennan

former CIA Director John O. Brennan

The recent hullabaloo over the National Security clearance of John Brennan, former head of the CIA, appears to fall into several of the above exceptions. Brennan’s security clearance was revoked by the Trump Administration, likely at the direction of President Trump, for – among other things – making wild, unsupported accusations of Treason on the part of The President.

My rationale for accepting the Trump Administration’s action against Brennan comes from the following:

  1. Although precedent has set the standard that former National Security officials keep their clearances in order to assist succeeding officials in consultation during sensitive events, the same precedent forms a link (in my mind anyway) between the former officials and the current Administration. In some ways, the relationship mimics the employee-employer relationship ,,, in a quasi kind of way. If the former official becomes an embarrassment to the Government, the Government should exercise their authority to withdraw the privilege of access to sensitive information.
  2. Brennan was spouting a lot of unsubstantiated viewpoints that in essence defamed the Government and The President. It would be impossible for anyone to successfully argue that Brennan – or anyone else – deserves to retain such access as they openly and continuously cause embarrassment and suggest treason unencumbered by any attempt to factually document the accusation.
  3. Yes, rescinding such access is a bit retaliatory in that it can affect Brennan’s ability to benefit monetarily. Yet that very sentiment underscores in a way that quasi-employer-employee exception to Free Speech. Ask yourself if any Administration (the quasi-employer) should allow a pointed and factually unreliable critic the ability to earn money using the very information managed, controlled, and heavily relied upon by the current Government? Seems like a slam dunk …
  4. Removing his security clearance does nothing to restrict Brennan’s Free Speech. He can still appear in forums, on cable TV, in print media. Brennan can say anything he wants, subject to the restrictions the rest of us are expected to observe. He might not make as much money doing it as he did before (in theory), but nothing about removing his clearance affects his ability to express his views.

And there you have the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of a beautiful Freedom instilled upon a Free People to ensure their freedom prospers and perhaps spreads to freedom lovers the World over!

Mothers Day Afternoon Delight

Perhaps the glow from our Jamaican couples massage had not completely faded. Maybe it was the Mimosas and Bloody Marys we enjoyed during Mother’s Day brunch.

Brian had left for work. Alex was still in the house, but occupied elsewhere.

Carol surprised me from behind, her hands delicately grabbing my shoulders. She whispered in my ear, “Do you want to do that thing you do so well?”

“Uh … OK”, I replied. “Are you sure? Alex is still here and the timing’s a bit weird.”

“Please”, she breathed. “I have been waiting so long …”

.

.

.

And that’s how I ended up painting ceilings all Mothers Day afternoon!

Cupid the Terrorist

Love Hurts … Love Stings …

img_1769Was getting My Beloved’s Valentine’s Day offerings together this morning including my usual MO of leaving a card strategically placed in the kitchen for Carol’s discovery, when I suffered a self-inflicted paper cut on my upper lip.

(Did you know could cut a New York strip steak with the edges of a Hallmark envelope?!?)

So now – All Day Long – I will be reminded just how bittersweet Love can be.

Remember … when Valentine lets loose his Arrows of Love, the person on the receiving end gets a nasty puncture wound.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Out, Damned Holes!

The holes! Those holes!

Rippling through my cloud-like lawn,

Leaving grass entrails

In bright greens and dark fawn.

Those holes, damn holes … Could be moles

Or voles or Middle Earth lawn trolls.

Had one not known better, they might just consider

This a violent protest by the Lawn Antifa!

Now just settle down, you bloody lawn neophyte!

Both knowledge and experience doth shine a bright light

Where the untrained Turf Brain might see disaster,

The wise, old Lawn Prophet sees good health for your pasture!

corer

How core aerator works

Not quite Shakespeare,
Not quite Milton …

In other words, it’s The Best Time of the Year to aerate your Lawn!

For focused discussions, see the following …

Poking Holes in the Patient – Lawn Year (LY) ’14

Getting a Spring-loaded Start – LY13

Everyone’s Lawn Looks Great in April – LY11

aeration

How Aeration benefits your Lawn

 

Wayne Simmonds – Ice Warrior

Heading down to the Flyers game tonight. Most likely playing out the string now … but, GO FLYERS!

Cranky Man's Lawn

Wayne Simmonds (17) Wayne Simmonds (17)

Confession time …

I have a man-crush on Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds!

It’s not the kind of crush that should cause Mr. Simmonds any discomfort nor any concerns that perhaps he has picked up a deranged stalker.  My crush is based solely on his hockey skills and style of play.  In the tradition of hockey players and ice warriors, who have called Philadelphia home, he is the epitome of Flyers hockey!

Simmonds style best exemplifies Gary Dornhoefer Simmonds style best exemplifies that of
Gary Dornhoefer

Tough, nasty when necessary, high-energy, and talented, Simmonds’ on-ice play harkens to the days of Gary Dornhoefer, Bob “The Hound” Kelly, Tim Kerr, John LeClair, Rick Tocchet (Watch the linked video. Trust me.), and Bobby Clarke.

Simmonds hardly ever looks as pretty on his skates as most of those named above, but his heart and level of effort never comes up short in comparison to…

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Did Putin’s Kremlin hack the Oscars?

kremlin

Possible origin of Best Movie conspiracy

Mistrust in the motivations and actions of the Russian government has been growing since allegations of Russian hacks against the U.S. election process have been made in the fallout from Hillary Clinton’s come-from-ahead loss to President Donald Trump last November.

And let’s face it, why wouldn’t the Russians want to destabilize or at least create disillusionment and distrust in American institutions???  As recently as the Obama Administration, there was an attempt made to sway the British electorate on the Brexit vote, and the dispatch of a DNC (Democratic National Committee) operatives to Israel in a bid to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yet at some point someone has to draw another red line.  Messing with the Oscars might just be A Bridge Too Far!  It’s not a far leap to suggest the Russkies might be interested in causing Academy Award angst, despite the fact that ratings for last Sundays show came in at an all-time low.

Anyone working in an office where a water cooler might be located, can attest to the confusion, anger, and conspiracy theories bantered about the morning after Warren Beatty looked as if looking for the hidden Punk’d cameras.  At least he collected himself sufficiently to make the best decision – for Warren Beatty – and hand the card to Faye Dunaway, so she would go down in “lone assassin” history.

warren-beatty

Does Warren Beatty appear drugged in this photo?  Was he slipped a mickey by Faye Dunaway?

Come to think of it though, why did Warren Beatty seem to sense the card was wrong??  Was he tipped off by the Kremlin??  Or did Beatty sense DNC-like duplicity in Hollywood???

We need to know!

And if that wasn’t enough to convince you of potential Putin-esque skullduggery, consider gross ticket revenues for the eventual Best Picture winner, Moonlight ($22.2 million), versus faux winner La La Land ($140 million) and Hidden Figures ($152 million).

Talk about ignoring The Popular Vote!!!  There must be an investigation!

Finally, consider these bizarre visuals.

Whatever your impressions of the bollixed Best Picture announcement, you have to consider the somewhat Slavic features of Brian Cullinan, the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant responsible for the Oscar’s  “nuclear football”.  He looks like a Russian general!

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PWC’s Brian Cullinan

 

 

Then consider the striking resemblance Cullinan has to Jason Bourne, renown renegade U.S. spy, whose whereabouts are unknown and loyalties routinely questioned.

 

 

 

 

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CIA operative extraordinaire, Jason Bourne

To further blow your mind, did you know Jason Bourne was actually AT THE OSCARS Sunday night?!?

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Bourne doing an unusually poor job of blending in. Did he slip Kimmel the phony Best Picture envelope as Kimmel tried to pick up one of these ladies?  Were these women Bourne plants?!?

Heck … We needed less circumstantial evidence to realize Hillary Clinton was lying and condemning her to the Ash Heap of History!

Now about that Special Prosecutor …

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