An Open Letter to the “Astroturf” Drink Tax Foes-Retracted

Due to a hasty skimming of a Pittsburgh Tribune Review article, the YT had carelessly and incorrectly associated FACT, with the DC lobbying firm, the American Beverage Institute. They are apparently waging separate campaigns against the proposed drink tax. Despite the fact that the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, the primary source of FACT’s funding(as in single largest contributor), is affiliated with ABI, that does not constitute a direct link.

Dear Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT),

As a former restaurant employee, who has done eleven years hard time, primarily in mom-and-pop or local chain establishments (including some who are involved with FACT), I’m well aware of the difficult nature of that industry. You may also be aware that it is financially much more difficult for eateries that don’t have the State’s consent to sell alcohol, with its hefty mark-up. I’m not sure how the County’s other purveyors of alcohol are faring, but it’s absurd for any of the men who make up FACT’s board of directors to cry indigent or that their particular alcohol centered businesses will be drastically affected by the proposed 10% levy.

Do you worry about corporate chains running you out of business? Personally, if I were you, I’d be more worried about them than any drink tax or even the costs of fair treatment of the people whose labor you profit from. Do you think that being installed as an astroturf (a fake grassroots organization, created by lobbyists and PR firms that is meant to appear local and spontaneous) group for lobbyist Rick Berman, whose American Beverage Institute is the brains and bankroll behind your FACT group and the stopdrinktax.com website, could have some undesirable long-term consequences? Do you think Mr. Berman is more concerned with his Allegheny County pawns, who put the petty in petit bourgeois or his other clients, which include:

American Restaurant Group, Anheuser-Busch, Arby’s, Brinker International, Burger King, Carson Restaurants Worldwide, Chili’s, Chi-Chi’s, Cracker Barrel, El Torito, Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, Hard Rock CafĂ©, Hooters of America, Inc., Houston’s Restaurants, International House of Pancakes, Jack-in-the-Box, KKR Enterprises, Luby’s, Marie Callender Pie Shops, Marriott Corp., Metromedia Restaurant Group, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Panda Management Company, Perkins Family Restaurants, Rare Hospitality International, Red Lobster, Shoney’s, Sizzler, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday’s, Uno, Vicorp Restaurants, Wendy’s and more than I cared to copy and paste, but none of those omitted were local brewpubs. Seems like Stockholm syndrome or just little suicidal to me.

Granted you must be thrilled with some of Mr. Berman’s other work with front groups such as the Employment Policies Institute, which does all it can to keep the minimum wage as low as possible, the anti-worker Center for Union Facts, but not for you, for his big clients. Berman and Co. have even set up a group called Activist Cash, which seeks to discredit any organized opposition to their clients interests by painting them as recipients of dirty money or most ironically as front groups, like FACT and all the other Berman constructs.
The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) obviously doesn’t spend it’s money wisely, as the first priority of any bureaucracy is to ensure it’s own continued existence; the agency’s stated function is secondary. Contrary to what the media would have you believe, wages and benefits are not the problem, silly underwater tunnels that lead to casinos and management bonuses are the problem. Unlike yourself, I truly believe that bus drivers, as well as all working people, including those who make you fat, deserve a decent material standard of living.

Given the vast sums of public money that is spent locally to militarize law enforcement and on handouts to corporate parasites, I agree that the poured-drink tax wouldn’t have been my first choice, but at the end of the day, I’m more concerned with public transit than your profits. Nothing personal. You shouldn’t be shocked that I’m concerned with the interests of my social class, the same as you are concerned with yours. Life’s tough, just like you tell your employees if they need a weekend off.

However, your affluence comes with a high social cost and I’m not referring to the obvious things like drunk driving and heart disease and agribusiness. There are enough paid expert witnesses and politicians and activist-types to deal with that. I’m talking about the compensation and general treatment of the people who work themselves to death, so you don’t have to. Most of you only pay your waitstaff $2.83 an hour, because you can legally get away with it, and few if any of you offer any type of benefits to non-management. I’m talking about health insurance, not a 20% discount while they are at work. I wonder how many of your employees are forced to apply for medical assistance and how many of them fall through the cracks because “they earn too much”? Your exploitation of working people creates a burden on what passes for a “social safety net” in the US.

Your establishments are unsafe for the people who work there, physically and mentally. You pit workers against one another as another means of control, beyond your cameras and ID numbers and magnetic cards. Your schedules are erratic and subject to change at moment’s notice, and posted at the last possible moment, sometimes a day or two after it is already in effect. The hours are bad and it is hard to have much of a life when a shift typically starts in the afternoon and ends late at night. People who work in food service often carry on their social life while on the job which can lead to a hostile environment with all the near incestuous mating, dating and breaking up. Sexual harassment is so prevalent it often goes unnoticed, as there is nothing to contrast it with.

You also have a drinking and substance abuse problem. Not you personally, well, not all of you anyway. The industry, especially the trendy establishments, seem to favor a certain kind of lecherous, pretentious, Trustafarian, with a fondness for Peruvian marching powder, as the ideal candidate for management. You’ll turn a blind eye to all the open consumption of alcohol and other less socially acceptable inebriates, because you know if they sobered up, they’d never come back for more abuse from you and your customers. The police and courts are more than happy to deal with uninsured people who are having a substance abuse problem, by locking them up, since your industry’s aversion to employee benefits turns their medical issue into a moral/legal one. At least it’s one industry that has never really taken up the disturbing practice of urine testing.

I’m aware that you feel there is already too much State interference in your privileged existence as a business owner, but remember, like the lobbyists you are in bed with, the State is no more concerned about your continued financial well being as you are about a worker’s, and would love to replace all of your establishments with corporate chains. When that day comes, remember, you had a hand in your own undoing.

Sincerely,

Arson Daily

PS-Apparently alot of people aren’t fooled by this, since their online petition only had 4510 “signatures” as of 10:15 am 11/16/07

Recommended Reading:

Abolish Restaurants from prole.info

The Fix Was Always In?

casino_1.jpg

Pittsburgh has many bridges. Depending on which statistics you cite, we have more bridges than Venice. This makes the plan to build a pair of $435 million, 1.5 mile tunnels under the Allegheny River, for our model railroad-sized subway (The “T”) seem even stupider than your average underwater tunnel. There’s obviously some kind of kickbacks or rebates or baksheesh involved, the North Shore (the developer euphimism for the North Side, my ancestral homeland) Connector project, but what?

The purpose of this white elephant has been a mystery to me, since it was first announced in 2002. It would appear to be just another corporate welfare handout, to the owners of sports teams who play in publicly funded stadiums or the riverfront condominium developers, but it still seems like a lot of trouble, even for such valuable “corporate persons” as the Pirates or Del Monte. Not the nearby hospitals.

Then the answer was made very clear, December 20, 2006, when it was announced that PITG Gaming would be granted Pittsburgh’s lone casino license, to be built on the North Side and likely serviced by the North Shore Connector. Direct public transit access will make poor and/or elderly people’s money much more accessible to the casino owners, and the money that would have otherwise been spent on parking or jitneys (whose powerful lobby is behind the public transit service cuts/fare hikes, methinks) can be more responsibly deposited into a slot machine.

The 2002 plan to build the underwater tunnel certainly creates the impression that all the politicking and other unspeakable acts that inevitably transpire during a battle for a city’s sole slots license, were performance art. It turns out that it’s just another publicly funded, automated slaughter house conveyor belt, as if the digital lights and sounds and credit cards couldn’t do the job fast enough.

These may be Mussolini’s “on time” trains, or maybe Trotsky’s? This isn’t meant to be a moral tirade against gambling, just contempt for State gambling. It doesn’t matter where you live, odds are you can find some Texas hold-em or a craps game or a block pool. If you have to gamble, do it with friends.

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